John Merz
Chief Executive Officer 

Robert Blakey
Chief Financial Officer 

Rob came to CAHS in 2013 and became the Chief Financial Officer in 2015.  As the CFO, he has responsibility for upholding strong financial management and accountability, while providing timely, accurate, and reliable financial information and enhancing internal control.  Rob also oversees our fiscal sponsorships and human resources.  Prior to joining CAHS, he worked in the accounting department of the Friendship Service Center of New Britain and has experience with accounting for small businesses.  Rob earned a Bachelor of Arts in economics from the University of Connecticut in 2006, as well as a Master of Arts in Economics from American University in 2007.  In 2018, he completed a Master of Science in Accounting from the University of Connecticut. 


Sheryl Horowitz, PhD
Research and Evaluation Consultant

Sheryl came to CAHS in 2010 with the goal of implementing Results Based Accountability evaluation within the family of programs administered and operated by CAHS. Sheryl has a background in anthropology and has worked in community-based organizations and non-profits doing research and evaluation on programs to improve the health and quality of life of low income and marginalized populations. Most recently, Sheryl worked with the Institute for Medical Quality in California to assess an educational mandate to train physicians to communicate effectively with patients from diverse backgrounds. Sheryl received her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and completed post-doctoral work at UC Berkeley in Demography and at Stanford University in Population Ecology.


Elizabeth Fraser
Policy Director

Elizabeth W. Fraser is a Policy Director at Connecticut Association for Human Services. Elizabeth works with a wide variety of social service agencies, task forces and legislative officials to advocate for legislative change, sources of funding and the building of self-sustaining and accountable social development programs. Elizabeth has been in this role for 3 years. Prior to CAHS, Elizabeth was the Director of the Middletown Even Start Program. Prior to Middletown Even Start, Elizabeth has spent 25 years in both the public and private sector in the field of Early Childhood. Elizabeth holds a Master’s in Education Degree from Cambridge College in Cambridge, Massachusetts and a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Early Childhood Education and Human Growth and Development from Wheelock College in Boston, Massachusetts.  She serves on the Connecticut Two Generation Interagency Council, both the Early Childhood Alliance Steering Committee and Advocacy Committee and the Connecticut Parent Power Steering Committee.


Takima Robinson
Director of Asset Building Programs

Takima comes to us with a wealth of experience and knowledge from her recent role as Social Services Coordinator with the Better Tomorrows Social Services organization in New Haven and her ten years of experience as a VITA Site Coordinator between Better Tomorrow and LifeBridge Community Services in Bridgeport, CT. Takima has worked in the human services field for nearly 20 years. Her mission is to enhance the social functioning and interactions of individuals, families, and communities by involving them in accomplishing their goals and alleviating barriers which may prevent them from becoming successful.

CAHS is very fortunate to have Takima on board. Takima will continue to work on strengthening our communication with all of our partners, increasing our visibility, and will continue to improve our outreach and recruitment efforts and asset building.


Amanda Onochie, CNP
CT Money School Program Manager

A Certified Nonprofit Professional (C.N.P) of 6 years Amanda joins CAHS with varying experience in project/nonprofit management, strategic partnership creation and community development. Working alongside South Texas residents she engaged at-risk communities in areas of adult education & holistic health while addressing chronic illness through neighborhood workshops. To further test her theories between the social determinants of health and its affect on communities, Amanda served as an Economic Development Adviser to local nonprofits and several entrepreneurs in the municipality of Ozurgeti, Sakartvelo. Her motivation to switch into Financial Capability came from her interactions in life insurance with LMI populations in Connecticut. A returned Peace Corps Volunteer and City Year alum, Amanda has a Bachelors in Public Administration and is currently enrolled in Villanova University for Agile Management. Amanda’s goal within CAHS is not only to introduce families to the principle of Saving but for each family to see themselves as an asset deserving of investment.


Denise Kelly-Bryan
Financial Empowerment Center Financial Counselor

Denise joined the CAHS family in March 2020. She comes to the organization with nine years of extensive financial experience. Denise earned her Bachelors degree in Executive Business Management and her Masters degree in Business Administration from Bay Path University. She is very passionate about helping others and will work diligently to aid in providing financial stability and awareness to the citizens of New Haven.


Stacy Downer
Financial Empowerment Center Financial Counselor

Stacy Downer is one of CAHS’s certified financial counselors. In her past she was weighed down by the troubles of money; from living paycheck to paycheck, mounting bills and credit collection companies constantly calling her. Stacy decided to work on her finances to change her household and provide her children with a strong financial role model. She applied her newly found knowledge to her longtime check cashing customers- advising and assisting them through financial difficulties. When the check cashing business closed in 2015, Stacy took on a role as a Community Mental Health Ambassador for the Moms Partnership at Yale University which included co-facilitating stress management and financial fitness classes. In 2020, Stacy graduated from Albertus Magnus with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Personal Financial Planning/ Finance. She now dedicates a large portion of her life to aiding individuals and families into a new healthy financial future. 


Joe Fontanarosa
CMS/YMS Volunteer Coordinator

Joe is a graduate from UCONN May 2018 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and a minor in Political Science. Hired at CAHS in November 2018 to fill the Volunteer Coordinator role, Joe brings several years of personnel and staffing experience from working at UCONN to help fulfill partner needs. Joe’s Economics background helps support a passion to spread financial literacy and further economic and financial learning. Joe is not currently going back to school but plans to return in a few years to obtain a Master’s Degree. Joe enjoys reading, hiking, cooking, and watching movies.


L. Vanessa Gruden

Vanessa joined CAHS in August 2016. She began her career in the corporate world but for the past 25 years has worked with nonprofits. Her experience as a bookkeeper and office administrator spans organizations such as the Connecticut Housing Coalition, the Hartford Food System, Connecticut Nonprofits, and the Northeast Citizen Action Resource Center. Vanessa is also executive director of her own small non-profit animal shelter and was a featured writer for Fancy Publications for over 15 years. Vanessa holds a certificate in Nonprofit Management from the Trinity Center for Neighborhoods.


Tori Hamilton
Bank On Program Coordinator

Tori Hamilton is our new Bank on Program Coordinator. Tori is a social justice advocate with extensive experience working with the non-profits, and stakeholders in the city of Hartford. She is dedicated to helping individuals and families obtain financial wellness and become self-sufficient. As a former Housing Counselor and Financial Literacy Specialist she facilitated home buyer education classes, provided one-on-one  financial counseling, and wrote grants for program sustainability. She is also a Certified Consumer Credit Counselor and has assisted over 1,000 families nationwide seeking debt management solutions. Tori will complete  her Bachelors of Science degree in Human Services at Cambridge College in the summer of 2020.


Brenda Moore
Financial Empowerment Center Program Coordinator

Brenda joined CAHS in 2019, with over 20 years of experience in the Human Services field. She holds a Bachelors and Associates degree in Human Services and a Bachelors degree in Theological Studies. A former daycare owner she comes to CAHS with a vast set of business skills, social skills and therapeutic skills. Her background includes work in program development, case management, mental health, direct care services, community outreach and Life Coaching. As the Program Coordinator for this new initiative her key focus is to provide support to the programs programmatic design and implementation. Acting as the principal liaison between CAHS referral partners and hosts Brenda supervises financial counselors and assists in the development of the programs’ sustainability plan.

Brenda’s mission is to understand the whole person and foster a holistic approach to understanding the burden of their plight, she has a strong desire to help individuals reach their full potential and assist them in securing a thriving future.


Yashira Santiago
VITA Program Associate

As VITA Program Associate Yashira’s primary role is to provide administrative support to the volunteers of coalition. Her duties  include: assisting with volunteer recruitment, training, marketing, and media outreach. Ms. Santiago came to us with a wealth of knowledge in the areas of program support, customer service, and data entry. She has 9 years of experience in the non-profit sector and  enjoys the opportunity of supporting low income tax payers.



In Memoriam Gloria Caesar 
Former Program Director

Mrs. Gloria Caesar was an innovative, compassionate, and inspiring mentor to her colleagues and community. A social justice advocate, Gloria stood as the walking example of Servant Leadership. Her absence is felt not only by CAHS and the VITA community, but to all the residents of Connecticut whose lives were deeply impacted by the endless dedication she brought to her work. Serving the community on such a level has definitely left a hole in our team as well as our hearts. CAHS experienced a great loss this year but will do our upmost to preserve the legacy of the former Program Director.

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