Robyn Hyden returned to Arise as executive director in 2018, having previously worked as one of the group’s north Alabama organizers from 2013 to 2017. In her most recent role as director of grants management at the United Way of Central Alabama, she was responsible for fund development and evaluation for numerous poverty alleviation programs. Robyn is a Pelham native and a graduate of Vanderbilt University, where she edited the Orbis student newspaper. She also worked as an Americorps VISTA volunteer at the Alabama Poverty Project and directed development and communications at Urban Ministry in Birmingham. She lives with her husband, Zac, in Montgomery.
Presdelane (Pres) Harris
Presdelane (Pres) Harris is Arise's organizing director. She has worked for Arise since its founding in 1994 and has a B.S. in justice and public safety from Auburn University at Montgomery and an M.S. in management from Troy University. She has lived in Montgomery her entire life and enjoys spending time with family and friends, working in her church, watching movies, and singing along with gospel/ inspirational CDs.
Jim Carnes is Arise's policy director. He grew up in Columbus, Miss., and graduated from the University of North Carolina. He began his editorial career at Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1977. After directing the Teaching Tolerance project at the Southern Poverty Law Center from 1995 to 2003, he joined the Arise staff to work on the Amendment One tax reform campaign. He worked as Arise's communications director before becoming policy director in 2013.
Chris Sanders is Arise's communications director. He is a lifelong Alabama resident, a member of the Alabama State Bar and a two-time graduate of the University of Alabama, where he earned a J.D. and a B.A. in journalism and political science. Chris chairs the communications advisory committee for the State Priorities Partnership and serves on the editorial board of The Alabama Lawyer. He also is a founding member of the University of Alabama Community Affairs Board of Advisors and served as the founding chair of the board's Public Health Committee. Chris is a former editor-in-chief of The Crimson White and was an articles editor for the Alabama Law Review. He joined the Arise staff in 2007 as a policy analyst on tax and budget issues and became communications director in 2013.
Cover Alabama Campaign Director
Jane Adams is Arise’s Cover Alabama campaign director. She is a ninth-generation Alabamian and lives in Huntsville. She earned a master’s degree in theological studies from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., where she studied the ethical implications of public policy. Before joining Arise in 2020, Jane worked as a senior policy analyst for Bread for the World. While at Bread, she co-chaired the Save for All coalition, the largest anti-poverty coalition in the United States. Jane also spearheaded strategy for the Interfaith Health Care Coalition and the Faithful Farm Bill Coalition.
Amber Haywood is Arise’s development director. She is an Alabama native who grew up just outside of Birmingham. She graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she earned a B.A. in African American Studies and led the undergraduate chapter of the NAACP. Before joining Arise in 2020, Amber served as the director of development for Teach for America Alabama, and as a development consultant for YR Media, Brothers @ and the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation.
McKenzie Burton joined Arise as a development associate in 2021. She has a background in electoral campaigns at many levels, where she worked to develop and implement grassroots field strategies. Before then, she worked in youth ministry and outreach in the Episcopal Church. McKenzie graduated high school in Birmingham and has a dual B.A. from the University of Georgia in history and women’s studies.
Celida Soto Garcia
Hunger Policy Advocate
Celida Soto Garcia is Arise’s hunger policy advocate. She is a Birmingham resident and graduated from Rutgers University with a dual degree in administration of justice and sociology. Celida grew up as a Jersey girl speaking Spanish first, and she has participated in movements related to economic injustice, women’s rights, food sovereignty, public safety and criminal justice reform. She came to Arise in 2019 with a long and diverse work experience, ranging from child welfare services to disaster recovery assistance to fostering community engagement as an educational liaison with the UAB Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center. Celida seeks to contribute to the popular education needed to grow, connect and build in any language that speaks to connectivity.
Senior Policy Analyst for Taxes and Budgets
Carol Gundlach has been an Arise policy analyst since 2013. She previously worked as executive director of the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence and as state coordinator of the Alabama Coalition Against Hunger. She has an M.S.W. degree and has taught social work policy and community organization at Auburn University and the University of Alabama.
Organizer for North Alabama
Stan Johnson has been a contract organizer with Arise since 1995. He has a B.A. from California State University, Fresno, and a master's degree in urban and regional planning from Alabama A&M University. Based in Birmingham, he works to expand Arise's outreach and growth in north Alabama.
State Policy Fellow
Jilisa Milton joined Arise in 2021 as a State Policy Fellow through the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. She graduated from the University of Alabama as the first person to complete its J.D./M.S.W. joint degree program. Jilisa is passionate about using her interdisciplinary background to ensure that policy and laws are equitable and intersectional. She has nearly a decade of experience working on issues such as anti-racism, criminal justice reform, critical race and feminist theory, mental health advocacy and reproductive justice.
Organizer for Southeast Alabama
Mike Nicholson joined Arise as an organizer in 2018. He holds a B.A. in political science and sociology from the University of Montevallo and is working on a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Alabama. He works to expand Arise's outreach and growth in southeast Alabama, including the Auburn/Opelika, Dothan and Montgomery areas.
Matt Okarmus joined Arise as a communications associate in 2018. After growing up in the Wiregrass area, he attended Auburn University and earned a B.A. in journalism. He went on to work for the Montgomery Advertiser for six years and the Opelika-Auburn News for two years.
Story Collection Coordinator
Whit Sides is Arise’s story collection coordinator. A writer and journalist based in Birmingham, Whit spent more than a decade working in media and advertising before returning to college as a new mom. She earned a B.A. in mass communication from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Before joining Arise in 2020, she investigated stories involving the opioid epidemic, social justice and white supremacy as a reporter in both radio and print. She recently worked with a local startup to produce N95 masks for first responders and front-line workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whit’s family has strong roots in rural northwest Alabama, providing her with valuable perspective and strong motivation to seek out stories of inequity and injustice from every corner of our state. In partnership with the Cover Alabama Coalition, Whit spends her time as a storyteller highlighting the experiences of uninsured Alabamians and empowering people caught in the state’s health coverage gap. If you’re willing to share your health care story, she would love to hear from you.
Juliette Singleton is Arise's office manager. She volunteered with Arise since 2007 before joining the staff in 2012. Since then, she has provided administrative support and reception duties in the Montgomery office. She works closely with the development team and assists numerous other staff members as well. Juliette has the kind voice and big smile that more than likely will greet you when you call or come to the Arise office.
Organizer for North Alabama
Debbie Smith is an organizer with Arise. Based in Fort Payne, she works to expand Arise's outreach and growth in north Alabama. She is from Meridian, Miss., and has a B.A. and M.S. degrees in speech communication from the University of Southern Mississippi. Before joining Arise in 2018, she worked at the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program for six years to improve health coverage for low-income and underserved Mississippians. She enjoys spending time with her family and exploring the Lookout Mountain and Tennessee Valley areas.
Legislative Affairs Coordinator
David Stout is Arise's legislative affairs coordinator. He joined the Arise team in 2013 after spending 15 years editing the Alabama School Journal. Before then, he served as a member of the Alabama Legislature and as mayor of Fort Payne for 13 years. He has a B.A. from Jacksonville State University and an M.A. in American history from the University of Alabama.
Policy Analyst for Human Rights and Consumer Protection
Dev Wakeley joined Arise as a policy analyst in 2018. His work covers numerous consumer and human rights issues, including payday and title lending reform, public transportation and criminal justice policies. He is a Gardendale native who has a B.A. in philosophy from Franklin & Marshall College and a J.D. from the University of Alabama. He was admitted to the Alabama State Bar in 2017. During law school, he served on the Public Interest Student Board executive committee and the Alabama Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Law Review. He also worked on the Elder Law Clinic through the UA School of Law and the Clemency Project for the Federal Defenders Program for the Middle District of Alabama.
Whitney Washington joined Arise in 2020 as a communications associate. She returned to Alabama after living in Nashville for the previous eight years. She has a B.A. in history from the University of Montevallo. Whitney worked as a religious researcher for several years before becoming involved in social justice and politics. Prior to joining Arise, Whitney worked for the Black Lives Matter Global Network, Stand Up Nashville and a political campaign.