A Lake Charles native, Willie Landry Mount is proud to call Southwest Louisiana home. She is a graduate of McNeese State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. In 2016 she was awarded a Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by McNeese State University.
In 1993, Willie was elected the first female Mayor of Lake Charles. After serving over 6 and a half years as Mayor, Willie became the first woman elected as a Louisiana State Senator from District 27 in 1999.
Willie currently serves on the Library Board of Control for the Calcasieu Parish Public Library, Lakeside Bank Board of Directors, Louisiana Community and Technical College System Board of Supervisors, Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana Board of Directors, Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Board of Directors, McNeese State University Foundation Board of Directors, President of the Boy Scouts of America-Calcasieu Area Council and Chair of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities Board of Directors.
Pilar Blanco Eble is the Director of Principal Gifts and External Relations at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She works with donors and community partners interested in strategic investments to advance university priorities. Previously, she served as the Associate Director of the International Student Program at the University of Minnesota, Morris, where she was the designated SEVIS representative and worked to expand international partnerships around the globe. Prior to her time in Minnesota, Pilar worked in university advancement at The University of Mississippi and Tulane University. Pilar earned her bachelor's degree from UL Lafayette, her master’s degree from the University of Mississippi and is current doctoral student at UL Lafayette working on Ed.D. in higher education administration.
Pilar is married to Michael Eble, and has 4 children Ben Michael, Eli, Miles and Oliver. Pilar is a member of Sacred Heart Catholic Church and serves on the Building Campaign Committee, and member of the Falcons Club for the Episcopal School of Acadiana.
Kathy Kliebert currently serves as the representative of the Louisiana Medicaid Managed Care Organization Association providing legislative and consulting services for the five Medicaid health plans in Louisiana. Prior to this role she served as Secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals from March 2013 to January 2016 after a long-term career in public service in Louisiana. She was been a leader in the Department for more than 28 years, where she led efforts to promote independent living for individuals with developmental disabilities and transform behavioral health care services for hundreds of thousands of Louisiana residents. Prior to her appointment as Secretary, Kliebert served as the Department’s Deputy Secretary, where she provided leadership to the agency’s program offices, including the Offices for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities, Behavioral Health, Public Health, and Aging and Adult Services.
She has over 26 years of experience as a licensed clinical social worker and has a master's degree in social work. She currently serves as chair of the Bridge Center for Hope, serves as past chair of the Louisiana Educational Television Board.
Ms. Kliebert has been married for 41 years, has three children and seven grandchildren.
Born and raised in Natchitoches, I am a graduate of Northwestern State University and Louisiana State University/Baton Rouge (B.S. Business/Marketing), as well as real estate courses including residential appraisal courses. Married to Kevin Bolton, we have three children, six grandchildren, and one great grandchild. I am a former employee of NSU, Louisiana Department of Urban and Community Affairs in Baton Rouge, Twin Valley RC&D (USDA/NRCS eight parish program), and the City of Natchitoches Community Development Department.
Many will remember me as co-owner of Manning Mini-Storage on Keyser Avenue for ten years. However, selling real estate had been my goal for many years. With my children raised, I established Bolton Realty in 2006. In 2017, I was able to purchase Collins and Stamey Real Estate, a long-standing leader in the Natchitoches market, which allowed us to continue growing.
I believe that we all have a role in building strong communities. In addition to serving as the City Planning Commissioner, I have served as President of Cane River Children Services; LA School for Math, Science & the Arts Parents Organization; Keep Natchitoches Beautiful, and am a member of Natchitoches/NSU Symphony Society, Natchitoches Historic Foundation, Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches and PEO Chapter AP. Recently became a founding member of Ellevate LA, a statewide group working to empower the voice of the women of Louisiana.
Serving as 2016 Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors was part of seven years on the BOD. Worked for the creation of annual luncheon for members comparable to the State of the Union, reporting on local economic conditions and trends. Worked on Task Force then first Chairman of the Natchitoches Community Alliance. Worked to re-establish the Education Committee which grew into the A+ Coalition. The transition from Christmas Festival to a functioning Chamber focusing on member services was a challenge but I believe it was worth the effort.
For my professional organizations, I served as LA Realtors PAC Trustee 2012-2014 and the 2013-2014 President of Natchitoches Board of Realtors. In 2015, served as LA Realtors (LR) Assn Regional Vice President. Voted Member-At-Large by LR Assn Board for 2016-2019. Served on Task Force to merge Central LA and Natchitoches local Boards into Greater Central LA Realtor Assn (GCLRA). Voted 2018 GCLRA Realtor of the Year (9 parishes) and 2019 Louisiana Realtor of the Year. Served as LR Association Member Services and Marketing Director in 2019. Also served 2017-2018 on GCLRA MLS Committee and 2018 Chair of Governance Committee. Member of LR Mandatory Forms and Bill Review Committees. Previously served on LR Appraisal, Legislative and Strategic Planning committee. Completed LR Leadership in 2015.
I am proud to provide full service to buyers and sellers in and around historic Natchitoches. Being able to do what I am so passionate about for a living is such a blessing.
Former State Representative Julie Stokes gained traction early in the business community as a CPA, a small business owner, and a leader within many organizations, such as the Jefferson Chamber, the LCPA, the YLC, the Regional Transit Authority, the University of New Orleans and various civic and economic development entities. Over her seven years of service in the Louisiana Legislature, Julie Stokes gained a strong reputation as non-partisan policy advocate and a cancer survivor. Mrs. Stokes gained significant experience with the Louisiana budget, comparative state tax policy, oversight of legislative audit, Louisiana’s economic development incentives, and Louisiana’s Department of Health policies. After receiving numerous accolades for her work in the Legislature and then leaving public life behind in 2020, Mrs. Stokes has opened Flame Consulting to continue supporting projects that she is passionate about, like cancer advocacy and helping worthy causes and organizations with fundraising, strategic planning and consulting.
Cassie founded Shoreline Strategies, LLC in late 2015 after spending over a decade working in national, local and state politics. She has worked at all levels of government – from presidential campaigns to party committees, from City Hall to Capitol Hill. And she has experience in every facet of the political landscape – from digital strategy to copywriting, from political consulting to fundraising, from writing legislation to influencing policy.
Prior to starting her own business, Cassie served as the Senior Digital Marketing Specialist for Email at the Republican National Committee, the Senior Digital Strategist and Speechwriter at the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the Lead Digital Political Copywriter on the Romney for President Campaign. In each of these roles, Cassie led the copywriting production from start to send, helped build the email marketing and online fundraising programs, and set fundraising records. She was the first true political digital copywriter for the GOP.
Before embarking on the national political scene, Cassie served as a consultant and lobbyist. She got her start in national politics on Capitol Hill, while working as a legislative staffer for the Congressman of the New Orleans area on Hurricane Katrina, BP Oil Spill, health care, postal service, veterans affairs, and other issues. Prior to working on Capitol Hill, Cassie worked on city and state campaigns in Louisiana.
Cassie is a proud New Orleans native and alumna of St. Mary’s Dominican High School and Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication. She has a B.A. in Mass Communication with a concentration in Political Communication and a minor in Leadership Development. In 2007, Cassie was elected Student Body President of LSU, and she served on the LSU Board of Supervisors and other state-wide boards.
She enjoys helping other businesses succeed, doing pro bono work, volunteering, networking, and mentoring young professionals, particularly women.
Valerie Aymond is the CRO (Chief Resource Officer) for Gilchrist Construction Company, a Louisiana-based heavy highway contractor. Her oversight includes the company’s resource divisions, including Human Resources, Information Technology, Organizational Development, Safety & Risk Management, Transportation, and Equipment.
Val is a 1995 graduate of Louisiana State University at Alexandria where she majored in Business Administration. She is a graduate of the ABA National & Graduate School of Human Resources at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado. Val returned to the classroom and graduated Summa Cum Laude in May 2015 from Louisiana Tech University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership with a concentration in Project Team Management.
Valerie holds several Human Resource designations; she is a Certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), a SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SCP), and is a Certified DDI (Development Dimensions International) Instructor.
Val served on the Central Louisiana Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors from 2013-2017, and chaired the Chamber Board in 2016. She is active in the Central Louisiana economic development community and serves as a board member and also on the Executive Committee for (CLEDA) Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance. She began service as a Board of Trustees member for the Rapides Foundation in January of 2020.
Val is also a board member for the Rapides Workforce Investment Board and was appointed by the governor to serve as a member of the Louisiana Workforce Investment Council in 2017. She is a member of the Central Louisiana Technical and Community College Institutional Advisory Committee, a member of the Alexandria Downtown Rotary Club, and serves as a Secretary of the Rapides Symphony Orchestra Board of Trustees.
Diane T. Baum is CEO and Environmental Director of Baum Environmental Group based in Baton Rouge. After leaving the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in 1995 she founded Baum Environmental Group to assist clients with the maze of new and often changing environmental regulations with lowered costs and better procedures.
Diane is a licensed commercial and residential contractor and provides contracting services with environmental management and compliance to clients throughout the state. Baum is one the first woman to operate and run a future waste tire processing facility in Baton Rouge. This tire processing facility will provide strong end-market uses for problematic scrap tires throughout the state. The company also provides construction and installation of pioneering sewer treatment plants that clean wastewater to meet the strictest state standards. Baum also focuses on ways to ease the burden of environmental procedures required in the residential and commercial construction industry through the consistent implementation of new ideas. Diane’s continuous passion has been inventing unique innovative methods and products that can make methods better and less expensive for the construction sector.
Diane is the 2020 Chairman for the Greater Baton Rouge Home Builders Association (HBA GBR) and was the Chair for Professional Women in Building (PWB) in New Orleans (HBA GNO). Diane also serves on the state and national boards for the Home Builders Association. She is an active member in the Louisiana Associated General Contractors (AGC), Concrete and Aggregate Association of Louisiana (CAAL) and the Louisiana Asphalt and Pavement Association (LAPA). Diane studied Forestry/Wildlife at Louisiana Tech University and has credentials in LEED AP, Green Verifier, Certified Professional in Municipal Stormwater Management (CPMSM) and a Third-Party Building Code Inspector.
Ms. Bronfin has spent the past 25 years as one of Louisiana’s preeminent advocates for young children. She founded the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children and served as its Executive Director for five years before implementing a successful succession plan and becoming its Policy Advisor. She established the organization as the leading independent source of data, research, and policy proposals on issues related to young children in Louisiana, earning more than 250 media stories about the organization and its work. Her efforts played a key role in the comprehensive reform of Louisiana’s early care and education system, and in approximately 10,000 more low-income Louisiana children gaining access to publicly funded, high quality early care and education. Before founding the Policy Institute, she spent eight years with the Tulane University Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health as a Policy Analyst and Assistant Director of BrightStart, where she helped design Louisiana’s early childhood Quality Rating and Improvement System and the nationally-recognized package of School Readiness Tax Credits. She is a former attorney with Jones Walker Law Firm in New Orleans and has served on numerous non-profit and state boards focused on improving outcomes for children and engaging women as leaders in our democracy. She is a recipient of the BGR’s 2020 Excellence in Government Award for Citizenship, AVODAH’s 2019 Partner in Justice Award, Kingsley House’s Champion for Children Award, and Agenda for Children’s Voice for Louisiana’s Children Award. A lifelong Louisiana resident, she graduated summa cum laude with a BA from Yale University, and magna cum laude with a J.D. from Tulane University School of Law.
Charmaine Caccioppi serves as the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the United Way of Southeast Louisiana and oversees United Way’s Governmental Relations and Community Impact departments. She is responsible for the development and implementation of the government relations strategies related to United Way’s three goal areas, including education, income and health, through the development of relationships with key internal and external constituents.
She currently serves as Chair of the Louisiana Women’s Policy & Research Commission, chair of Education’s Next Horizon, and as a board member for the Bureau of Governmental Research, Louisiana Budget Project, and New Orleans Family Justice Center.
Her many accomplishments, include, but are not limited to, securing a $90,000 United Way Worldwide grant for the purpose of establishing a United Ways of the Gulf Coast and championing state legislation that ensured High Quality Childcare Standards, School Readiness Tax Credits, the establishment of the Child Poverty Prevention Council and the first refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in the South.
Mrs. Caccioppi advocated for the successful historical passage of Domestic Violence bills signed into Louisiana law aimed at stopping domestic abuse and in 2016 is featured in the award winning Five Awake –Domestic Violence documentary film. Historical passage of domestic violence bills was made again in 2017 and in 2018 including gun divesture!
Mrs. Caccioppi was inducted into the Louisiana Center for Women in Government and Business Hall of Fame in 2014. She received the Libby Milton Champion for Children Award in 2016 and Crimestoppers’ George Loker Community Service Award in 2017.
During her 20 years of service with the United States Senate, Mrs. Caccioppi served Senators J. Bennett Johnston then Mary Landrieu, working on major economic development projects throughout Louisiana and Nationwide, including: transportation infrastructure development for ports, airport, highways and railroads; defense and university research projects; flood control and hurricane protection projects; natural resources research; major federal procurement for several federal agencies.
An accomplished visionary with a focus on results and a stellar track record for leading companywide optimization, Monique Robinson Clark has been helping healthcare companies enhance their operational development and progression for more than 15 years. As Director of Clinical Operations, she leverages her excellent strategic planning and implementation, program development and change management skills to ensure successful outcomes for both patients and team members at LSU Healthcare Network.
Prior to joining LSU Healthcare Network, Monique was an Associate Consultant for Corcoran Consulting Group and the Director of Operations for SEECA Inc. In both capacities, Monique’s stewardship of improved workflows, processes, procedures, quality control and marketing initiatives precipitated increased client and patient satisfaction as well as a significant boost in revenue generation.
Monique is as dedicated to building better community as she is to her work in the healthcare industry. Among several organizations to which she contributes her time and resources, she is a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Inc. and a member of the Board of Directors for Bayou Community Academy Charter School in Thibodaux. Most recently, Monique participated in the New Orleans Regional Leadership Institute Class of 2018 and Leadership Louisiana Class of 2020.
Possessing a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and an MBA in Healthcare Management, Monique is the recipient of numerous awards including the 2015-2016 Rotary Club of Houma-Terrebonne Rookie of the Year Award and the 2017 Dillard University 40 Under 40 Award. Monique is also a published author, a much sought-after public speaker and a course presenter and panelist for the 2019 ASCRS/ASOA Annual International Conference. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, Zumba, and spending time with her husband.
Donna D. Fraiche, founder and president of Fraiche Strategies, LLC, recently retired from forty-five years in the active practice of health law. Utilizing vast experience gained from a lifetime of focused client representation and governance positions, she has formed a consulting firm for client-focused strategic policy, health care policy and facilitation.
Having founded her own law firm in the 1970’s, Donna practiced thereafter at a number of national law firms throughout her legal career. She retired from Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz in 2020.
Donna currently serves on the boards of three publicly traded companies where she holds roles ranging from lead independent director to committee chair of multiple committees.
Donna is also co-owner and co-manager of River Regional Properties, II, III, LLC, Fraiche Family, LTD, LLC, Nola Wine Merchant, LLC, and additional small and real estate holding businesses.
Valerie Grubb is an innovative, visionary, operations leader with an exceptional ability to zero in on the systems, processes and human capital issues that can hamper a company’s success — and a strong history of solving those problems with maximum buy-in and minimal disruption.
She is particularly adept at helping people acquire the skills they need in areas such as developing existing employees, recruiting new talent, and forming cohesive teams — all critical for long-term organizational growth.
Immediately prior to founding Val Grubb & Associates in 2008, Valerie served as the Vice President of Strategic Operations & Initiatives at NBC Universal, where she oversaw activities from business development to quality initiatives in preparation for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China.
Earlier, Valerie was a key figure in the start-up of Oxygen Media. As Vice President of Operations, Val’s responsibilities encompassed all areas of back-office operations including human resources, risk management, training, facilities, security, travel, purchasing and real estate operations for all U.S. Oxygen offices. She was also a key part of the sale and transition process when Oxygen was ultimately purchased by NBC Universal. Val also served as Corporate Director of Operations for Barry Diller during the inception of InterActive, Corp. While with IAC, she was a significant contributor to the company’s aggressive acquisitions strategy, managing the integration of newly acquired companies into the IAC corporate umbrella.
Valerie started her career in engineering, first at Allison Engine Company, an aircraft engine manufacturer and division of General Motors which was later sold to Rolls-Royce, plc. (Val played an instrumental role in the transition.) She spent 11 years in an engineering capacity and ultimately became Director of Public Affairs, traveling the world promoting Rolls Royce products and services.
A sought-after Speaker, Coach and Training Expert, Valerie regularly presents at conferences and company off-site meetings to motivate and engage employees and senior leaders alike. Her expertise and vibrant approach are also in constant demand for corporate training initiatives.
Valerie graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from Kettering University and obtained her MBA from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. She remains highly involved with the Kelley School as an active member of the Dean’s Advisory Council and the Women’s Philanthropy organization at the IU Foundation. She is also the President of the NY-Chapter of Women in Cable Telecommunications
Julie Schwam Harris
Julie Schwam Harris is a New Orleans native, educated in New Orleans Public Schools and a Summa Cum Laude graduate from Newcomb College of Tulane University. She worked in City Government for 16 years, including the first five post Katrina recovery years, and has led and participated in numerous political campaigns. She does part-time consulting and is a volunteer advocate on women’s and human rights issues.
Julie believes that grass roots action and advocacy matter, and that individuals should not only work to elect candidates who support their issues but also communicate with elected officials after they take office. She helped organize the Legislative Agenda for Women (LAW) coalition, which advocates on issues related to women and families predominantly at the state Legislature. Issues include access to health care; economic security policies regarding equal pay for women, raising the minimum wage, affordable quality child care, paid sick and family leave and sexual harassment; comprehensive sex education and solutions to violence against women.
Governor John Bel Edwards appointed Julie to the Louisiana Women’s Policy and Research Commission in 2016.Julie is a member and supporter of numerous local, state and national civic, rights and advocacy organizations.
In honor of her work in government and with organizations that seek to ensure equal rights and opportunities for all, Julie was named the 2015 recipient of the National Council of Jewish Women’s Hannah G. Solomon Award and the 2016 recipient of the ACLU Ben Smith Civil Liberties Award. She has also received the Newcomb Alumnae Association Community Service Award and was an honoree of the New Orleans Family Justice Center and the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. – Epsilon Sigma Chapter.
Sandra Lombana Lindquist has over 25 years of experience in economic and community development in the New Orleans region. She earned her B.A. in Business & Latin American Affairs from the University of Texas and has a master’s degree from Tulane University. She is currently the Executive Vice President – Chief Operating Officer at the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce.
Sandra has a passion for promoting women’s networking in the workforce. She is the creator of the first women’s collaborative conference, a full day professional development conference for women, which is launching this year in New Orleans. She is the co-creator of the Chamber’s Women’s Business Alliance; a co-founder of the original Women & Wine on Wednesday in which she & her colleagues were recognized as “People to Watch - 2007” by New Orleans Magazine; and, an invited member of Power of Women whose mission is to bring women together in a trusting environment to share ideas and best practices.
In 2015, Sandra was chosen as one of five locals to represent the New Orleans business community to visit Japan and discuss the importance of resiliency post disasters like Hurricane Katrina, and she was nominated as one of 50 women for New Orleans CityBusiness’ Women of the Year. In 2016, she represented the New Orleans Chamber in Leadership Louisiana and graduated from Delgado’s Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program, an intensive educational program which teaches techniques for running a successful business. Sandra completed her accreditation as a Certified Chamber Executive (CCE) in 2018 making her the only practicing chamber executive in the State of Louisiana with this accreditation.
Sandra is a graduate of the inaugural class of the New Orleans Regional Institute (NORLI) and the Jefferson Chamber Leadership Institute. She has sat on various boards and committees including the Louisiana Industrial Development Executive Association (LIDEA), the New Orleans Regional Chamber of Commerce, and is currently the Incoming President for the Louisiana Chamber of Commerce Executives (LACCE).
She is married to Eric Lindquist and has a seven-year-old son named Colt.
Dr. Markey Pierré’s lifetime commitment to professional excellence, community service, and good public policy has led to substantive progress for the State of Louisiana in many areas, including K-12 and higher education, construction, health care, maritime law, and municipal government. During her 20 plus year career as a successful business owner and executive, author, motivational speaker, lobbyist, and adjunct professor, Dr. Pierré’s philosophy of inclusive leadership resulted in pioneering legislation that has had far-reaching positive consequences for generations to come. For the past 13 years, Dr. Pierré championed the interest of her clients as the President and Managing partner of Southern Strategy Group of North Louisiana, a full-service governmental consulting firm based in Shreveport, Louisiana. Dr. Pierré has been extremely successful in building partnerships across different ideologies, sometimes bridging deep divides to drive public policies that benefited everyone involved. Her client list ran the gambit from Fortune 500 corporations to school boards to gaming and entertainment venues, municipal entities, and professional and trade associations. In this role, Dr. Pierré cemented her reputation as a powerful force and highly effective advocate to have on one’s team.
Staying true to form, Dr. Pierré has taken on another opportunity to have an essential impact on the community and corporate sectors with her fundamental skills for success. In her new role as the Vice Chancellor of External Affairs and Chief of Staff for Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, Dr. Pierré is the point of contact for critical initiatives and responsible for the development and implementation of the strategic agenda to represent both organizational and operational initiatives. Using this platform, she provides effective communication and guidance as it relates to external affairs reaching local, state, and federal agencies. In partnership with the Senior and Human Resource leadership for LSU Health Shreveport, Dr. Pierré leads the planning of special events to ensure there is diversity and inclusion in recruitment and retention of groups underrepresented in healthcare.
Throughout her professional career, Dr. Pierré has earned numerous honors for her professional excellence and unwavering commitment to community service. She has received the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Businesswoman of the Year Award for Shreveport-Bossier African American Chamber of Commerce and was named one of the Top Businesswomen in Shreveport-Bossier by SB Magazine. Dr. Pierré is also a recipient of the prestigious Virginia K. Shehee Most Influential Woman Award and she broke barriers by becoming the first African American woman to chair the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce and the Independence Bowl of Shreveport.
Susannah Walter Poljak is an attorney with more than 20 years of experience in a wide range of practice areas from complex contract litigation to intellectual property. She has been admitted to practice in three states—California, New York, and Louisiana. She is currently an early childhood consultant with Step Forward of North Louisiana, which has created a community-wide leadership group that is working to foster and promote healthy early childhood development. In addition. Ms. Poljak is a member of the Leadership Louisiana 2020 class and serves on boards supporting the arts and education in Caddo Parish. She received a Bachelor of Arts from Vanderbilt University and a Juris Doctorate from Fordham University.
Deborah Randolph, IOM is the President of the Central Louisiana Regional Chamber of Commerce, a position she has held since August of 2011. During her tenure, the 1,200-member organization based in Alexandria, earned accreditation by the U.S. Chamber at the highest level, with 5 Star Distinction. Deborah serves on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Committee of 100, Louisiana Military Advisory Council, Louisiana Policy Institute for Children Board, LA State University of Alexandria Foundation Board, Rapides Regional Medical Center Board and is the Past President of the LA Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. She is a member of the Alexandria Rotary Club and is a Paul Harris Fellow.
Libbie Sonnier, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children where she leverages 20 years of professional experience supporting young children and their families. Recognized for her tenacity and deep commitment to children, Dr. Sonnier has led teams in system-wide initiatives for the betterment of children, families, caregivers, and practitioners. In her first two years with the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, she helped secure $18M in new early care and education funding in the Louisiana budget, three new sources of recurring state revenue to expand access to quality early care and education, and guided the use of more than $300M in federal COVID relief dollars to stabilize child care. She also has doubled the organization’s research and media engagement outputs and grown its staff while securing the organization’s first seven figure grant, and nearly doubling its annual revenues.
Prior to taking on leadership of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children in 2019, she served as a state director of two federal programs, where she managed multi-million-dollar budgets. She developed and implemented pilot programs for children, birth to age five, in four states across multiple agencies and community partners to improve the efficiency and efficacy of direct services for children and their families. Dr. Sonnier’s experiences conducting longitudinal and experimental research allow her to translate scientific findings into meaningful and practical policies that support better life outcomes for children. She is coauthor of multiple publications and technical reports, training curricula, and, with Drs. Sharon and Craig Ramey, The Four Diamonds Checklist and The Quality System to Achieve Results for Young Children in all Settings (Q-STAR).
Dr. Sonnier is the recipient of the Hulick Serving Spirit Fellowship Award for her commitment to individuals with disabilities across the life course, the Rotary Club’s Extraordinary Woman “Rising Star” Award, a New Orleans City Business 2020 Women of the Year honoree, a 2020 Leadership Louisiana participant, and was named one of 16 Women Paving the Way for Louisiana’s Future by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana in 2021. Dr. Sonnier received a Doctor of Philosophy in human development from Virginia Tech, a Master of Education in early childhood intervention and family support services from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Bachelor of Science in special education with an emphasis in early childhood intervention from the University of Southern Mississippi.
Jessica Starns-Debetaz has earned a reputation as one of the nation’s top advisors on alcoholic beverage control law and policy. Born and raised in the Capital Region, Jessica served as the Executive Council and Director of Policy, Legal and Governmental Affairs for the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (“ATC”) from 2009 to 2016. While at ATC, she was seconded to the Governor's office to lead tax and commerce policy during the 2015 legislative session and served as Special Counsel to the Commissioner of Administration from Sept-Dec 2015. In 2016, Jessica launched a boutique legal and governmental affairs firm that now counts as its clients the LA Hotel & Lodging Association, Chase Health Care, and numerous alcoholic beverage, vape, and CBD clients. She also serves as legal counsel to numerous craft breweries and distilleries and national retail alcoholic beverage clients with a primary focus on providing federal, state, and local business licensing and regulatory compliance services.
Jessica is known nationally for her expertise on alcohol and tobacco policy and regulation. She is the author of "The Dangers of Common Ownership in an Uncommon Industry: Alcohol Policy in America and the Timeless Relevance of Tied-House Restrictions," published by the Center for Alcohol Policy in 2017. She has served as a guest speaker on alcohol and tobacco policy at over 25 state and national industry association, legislative, and legal conferences and previously served on the annual symposium policy planning committee for the National Alcoholic Beverage Control Association.
During her time at ATC, Jessica was awarded as “Division Star” out of over 700 Department of Revenue employees for demonstrating exceptional personal performance standards. She played a vital role in converting a $500,000 agency deficit to over a $1.2M surplus by developing and implementing solutions to increase productivity and initiating technological advancements. She also drafted and played an instrumental role in the passage of over 55 bills and regulations focused on helping good businesses grow, enabling emerging marketing trends and practices, and simplifying regulatory processes. She is perhaps most proud of developing and executing an ATC initiative to bring public awareness to human trafficking. Jessica now uses these skills to serve her firm’s clients and advance their business agendas.
Jessica is a graduate of Chapman University, Dale E. Fowler School of Law where she was appointed to the Honor Council, was an administrative law research assistant, and was a member of the Tax Law Society and Public Interest Law Foundation. Starns obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree from Tulane University with a double major in sociology and mass communications.
Monique Thierry is executive director of the Congressional and Public Affairs Southwest-South Central Regional office, which represents eight states. She leads the region’s efforts in strengthening its operations and relationships with member businesses, associations, and chambers of commerce. Working with member organizations, a variety of entities and elected officials on pivotal issues, programs, and services, Thierry develops and maintains legislative, political, and grassroots resources to achieve the U.S. Chamber’s public policy goals. Thierry brings strong roots and a wealth of experience in the business community to the position. Previously, she served as vice president of government affairs for the 5-star U.S. Chamber Accredited Chamber Southwest Louisiana, the voice of business for the five parishes in Southwest Louisiana. There she created and led its first-ever government affairs program. Under her leadership and vision, Southwest Louisiana earned recognition as a vital region of the state. She advocated for public policy issues benefiting the economic development interests of Southwest Louisiana, overseeing and developing strategies for education, energy and environmental issues, offshore oil revenue sharing, infrastructure, hurricane recovery and coastal protection and restoration. Through influential programs such as Chamber SWLA Day/Shrimp Boil in Baton Rouge and Legis Gator, the preeminent comprehensive legislative wrap-up in the state, she earned statewide recognition for raising awareness of the region’s significance. During the 2011 redistricting process, Thierry led the advocacy efforts to keep the historic Louisiana Acadiana region along the I-10 corridor intact under one congressional district. The region was the only area in the state to retain a majority of its original district. Thierry is a graduate of the historic Xavier University of Louisiana. She is also an alumna of Leadership Louisiana, a nationally recognized statewide program geared to effectively address key public issues and empowers civic-minded citizens to become involved in issues affecting their communities and the state. Leadership Louisiana boasts a broad network of over 1,000 alumni from every region and sector of the state. Thierry has held various leadership roles in state and federal politics, including serving in the Louisiana administrations of former Gov. Kathleen B. Blanco and current National Urban League President and former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial. She also was as a member of Governor Bobby Jindal’s Transition team. Thierry is a graduate of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Organization Management as well as the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Education and Workforce Business Leads program. In addition, she served on the U.S. Chamber’s Small Business Council and Energy and Environment committees. Thierry currently serves on the Council for a Better Louisiana Board of Directors, is a member of the Mystick Krewe of Louisianans, and is a part of Power of 100 Women of Louisiana.
Traci Thompson has over 16 years of experience working in the health care industry. Based in Baton Rouge, Traci is the System Director of Advocacy and Public Policy for CHRISTUS Health, an international Catholic, not-for-profit health system comprised of almost 350 services and facilities, including more than 60 hospitals and long-term care facilities, 175 clinics and outpatient centers and dozens of other health ministries and ventures. In her role, she works to develop and implement a strategic, comprehensive effort to advance CHRISTUS Health’s state and federal policy and advocacy priorities, with an emphasis on the Louisiana region.
Prior to joining CHRISTUS Health, Traci worked as a health care attorney representing hospitals and health systems for over ten years with a focus on transactional and regulatory health law. Her experience also includes several years of service on the Louisiana Task Force on Telehealth Access, which helped to prepare her for her role in overseeing CHRISTUS Health’s telehealth advocacy efforts on both a state and federal level. In addition, Traci has given a significant amount of her time to serving on boards and charities including Women’s Hospital, the Emerge Center, and the Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre. She has been consistently listed in Super Lawyers, the Thompson Reuters lawyer rating service, as a Rising Star in Health Care in Louisiana. She has also achieved a Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ Peer Review Rating and is a member of the Louisiana Law Review. Traci is the co-author of Goodnight Cavaliers, a best-selling children’s book.
Traci is a graduate of the Paul M. Hebert LSU School of Law and obtained her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia. Prior to returning to school to earn her law degree, Traci worked as an Associate Director with the Advisory Board, a health care consulting company, where she advised hospitals and health systems on health care research and best practices.
Traci is married to Michael Thompson and has two children, Charlie and Benjamin.
Mary-Patricia Wray, founder of Top Drawer Strategies, is a graduate of The Ohio State University (B.A.) and Loyola University New Orleans College of Law (J.D.). Before moving to Louisiana from Ohio in 2008, she worked for Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, later head of the Consumer Affairs Protection Agency. After focusing on constitutional law and administrative procedures in law school, MP, as she is affectionately known, put her knowledge to good use at the Louisiana Capitol. In 2012, she began representing clients focused on improving their communities by investing in public education and increasing access to high quality healthcare. She also works on policy issues surrounding criminal justice reform, healthcare delivery systems, economic development, multimodal transportation, coastal transportation, affordable energy, finance and tax issues, non-profit advocacy and local and municipal government. MP is an adjunct professor of law at Tulane Law School in New Orleans where she teaches Legislative and Administrative Advocacy focusing on legislative drafting and agency rule making.
Her expertise in messaging to moderate voters, and ability to persuade women voters, has led her to win three statewide campaigns in five years. MP served as one of the only staffers in the early years of John Bel Edwards’ 2015 campaign, securing victory for the only Democratic statewide elected official in Louisiana and the only Democratic governor in the Deep South. Her award winning advocacy contributed to another upset victory, 2018’s “Yes on 2” ballot initiative to erase one of Louisiana’s last remaining Jim Crow era laws and require the use of unanimous juries. She also led the successful statewide “No on 5” campaign, against payments in lieu of taxes, and the Foster Campbell for Public Service Commission campaign, a 24 parish race, in 2020.
Mary-Patricia serves her community through volunteer leadership in Girl Scouts Louisiana East as a lifetime member of Girl Scouts USA, having earned her Gold Award, the highest award in Girl Scouting as a member of Buckeye Trails Girl Scout Council Troop #1567. She is a member of the BREC Foundation Board, chairing its public relations committee and focusing on work to reinvest in the life and health of the greater Baton Rouge community. She is involved in the Tulane and Loyola University communities, working to promote public interest as the highest good in every curriculum. She is the proud mother of Henry Lee and Weber Wray and resides in Baton Rouge with her husband, Ira.