Joe Sammons, Executive Director
I joined Challenge in November of 2015. Prior to that I served as the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes, creating and completing a capital campaign of over $6 million while building new health centers in Hornell, Corning and Ithaca.
i have served as Executive Director of the Geiger-Gibson Community Health Center in Boston, and as Assistant VP of Operations for Community Healthcare Network in New York City. In these positions I lived and learned the difficult but rewarding work of running community-based non-profit health organizations. Before that, I served on the legislative and district staff of New York State Senator Catherine Abate; I began my career as a grassroots activist with the New York Public Interest Research Group.
Skilled and experienced in non-profit management, community health operations, legislative advocacy and leadership development, my focus at Challenge Workforce Solutions is to steer the agency through a difficult financial recovery while deepening the integration between Challenge’s mission and its businesses, and increasing visibility and impact for the community.
i live in Cayuga Heights with my wife, Mary Schiavone and son, Julian Sammons.
Tess Fraser, Director of Development & Marketing
Tess Fraser is the newest member of our Leadership Team and has worked in non-profit development and communications for the past eighteen years.
Tess has always been passionate about sharing the meaningful impact and achievements of non-profit organizations with the greater community. Having spent more than half of her career working for a human service organization, she feels truly connected to the mission of Challenge and the incredible work that we do. Thrilled to be a part of the Challenge family, she is very much looking forward to sharing our successes with our supporters, connecting with the community, and expanding our development efforts.
Originally from Buffalo, Tess and her family relocated to Ithaca in June of 2017. She loves the natural beauty of the Ithaca area and has found the community to be incredibly loving and welcoming. When not out promoting the amazing work of Challenge, you can find her out on the lake, or somewhere outdoors with her family. Tess lives in Cayuga Heights with her husband and 2 children.
Kim Pugliese, Strategic Director of Human Resources
I have been working at Challenge since October 1, 2014. Deciding to change careers late in life and join the Challenge family was one of the best decisions I have ever made. My role here is not just what I do it’s become who I am. It’s hard to point to one thing as the best part of working at Challenge. I am grateful every day that I can work alongside some of the most genuinely caring and dedicated people I have ever met. The is no greater feeling than knowing the work you do helps other people pursue and accomplish their dreams. If you believe it you can achieve it!
Briggs Seekins, Director of Employment & Vocational Services
Briggs is our Director of EVS. He became part of the Challenge family 9 years ago when he decided to change careers. Tired of breeding cows in Cortland, he wanted a more meaningful job so he decided to go back into Human Services. Before moving to the Ithaca area in 2005 from Maine he taught creative writing and Human services.
His favorite part of his job is working with the participants. “They are harder workers than most people without barriers and most of them complain less.” I’ve have seen Briggs interact with our participants…he is brilliant!
Briggs wants people to know that we help people become more productive and contribute to the community in a positive way.
When Briggs is not at work he spends time working out both for himself and coaching special Olympians. As a boxing enthusiast Briggs also spends time writing for a boxing magazine.
Something surprising that people may not know about Briggs – He is probably the only person in the US that has an MFA in creative writing and can breed a cow! He also served in Desert Storm as an infantry soldier.
His favorite quote (which he may have written and I love) “If God wanted you to be happy, she would have made you a dog!”
Ebru Arslan, Director of Finance and Operations
Challenge is very pleased to welcome its new Director of Finance and Operations, Ebru Arslan!
Ebru was born in Turkey and came to the United States in 2000. She pursued a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Brooklyn College while working full-time at a construction company and later earned a master’s degree in Economics while serving as the Accounting Manager for a specialty food importer.
About 12 years ago, Ebru’s brother came to Cornell and bought a house in Freeville that soon became a favorite summer getaway spot for the whole family. Through these visits, Ebru fell in love with the people and the scenery of the Finger Lakes and began to look for job opportunities in the area.
For Ebru, her new position isn’t just a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city but is also a long-sought opportunity to apply her skills to a worthy mission: “We all have to work for a living, but doing something good for the community is so important to me, and I’m so glad that I got the chance to merge both of these things.”
As a key member of Challenge’s leadership team, Ebru’s ultimate goal is to “ensure a stable future for the agency so we can continue to achieve our mission for the next 50 years.” To that end, she has been working diligently in her first several weeks here to implement new and refined financial models across Challenge’s numerous programs and provide training and support to program directors so they can better set and manage their own budgets.
While Ebru’s financial and managerial expertise is immediately manifest, one talent that Ebru has not yet shared with the Challenge family is her Islamic calligraphy. She is trained in two distinctive styles of this expressive art form—Sülüs and Dîvanî—and plans to create a new piece for our upcoming staff and participant exhibition to be held at the Hilton Garden Inn as a part of Downtown Ithaca’s Gallery Night on October 5. Mark your calendars!