The Rise Women’s Leadership Conference is not the product of one individual but rather a powerful collective of women trailblazers and leaders, across diverse for and non profit industries throughout New England.  This collaborative of strategic advisors volunteering their time to bring the magic that is an impactful, must attend conference!

Hilina D. Ajakaiye, MBA

Founder of R.I.S.E. Women’s Leadership Conference,

Marketing Leader, Ahold Delhaize

Hilina D. Ajakaiye

Hilina Ajakaiye is a sales and marketing leader for Ahold Delhaize. She was recognized as a 2019 by Rhode Islander of the Year by Rhode Island Monthly.  Additionally, Hilina was recognized as a 40 under 40 winner by Providence Business News (PBN) and inducted into the Magical Circle of People We Admire by the Big Brother’s Big Sisters organization.

Nationally, she has been recognized for excellence and among female movers and shakers in the North American retail food industry by Progressive Grocer.  She is a member and committee lead within the Network of Executive Women (N.E.W.) spanning more than 10,000 members, 950 companies, 100 corporate partners and 20 regions.

Hilina is a dynamic leader balancing marriage, motherhood and career.  In addition, Hilina served on the board of directors for Progreso Latino, Rhode Island’s largest nonprofit organization serving the Latino and immigrant communities, in the capacity of the Vice President. She is also on the Board Of Directors for Big Brother’s, Big Sister’s Of Rhode Island and has been a big sister for the last 5 years.


Hilina finished her bachelor’s degree at the age of 20 and In 2017, Hilina earned her M.B.A from Northeastern University. With an amazingly talented collective and partnership of women trailblazers and leaders, she brings you R.I.S.E.


Katje Afonseca

Executive Director,

Big Brothers, Big Sisters.

Katje Afonseca is an inspirational leader with over 15 years of experience in the nonprofit sector.  Her career began at Big Sisters of Rhode Island as a marketing intern; in 2013 she returned to the organization as Development Director and in 2016 became the nonprofit’s youngest Executive Director in its 50 year history.  As Development Director, Katje created a partnership with Alex and Ani that has become a National relationship, raising significant funds for Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliate organizations across the United States.


As Executive Director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ocean State, Katje is responsible for establishing and ensuring the mission, strategy, goals and vision of the organization are achieved.  Katje provides the key leadership role for the organization in operational, programmatic and fund development activities. Katje’s area of expertise include both fund development and program operations and strategy. She has raised more than $1.5 million for nonprofit organizations over the last 15 years through various channels including special events, grant writing and building individual and corporate philanthropic relationships.


Katje is a graduate of Leadership SouthCoast and Leadership Rhode Island and was named one of Providence Business News’ 40 Under 40 winners.  She has volunteered as a Year Up mentor and a Big Sister mentor.  She currently serves on Big Brothers Big Sisters of America’s (BBBSA) National Leadership Council’s Fund Development Committee and Small-Medium Agency Alliance Steering Committee as well as the BBBSA National Marketing Task Force, the Workforce Partnership of Greater Rhode Island’s Youth Committee and Million Women Mentors Rhode Island’s Leadership Team.  Katje resides in North Providence with her husband, Donaldo, and their one and a half year old daughter, Lua.


Executive Vice President

Director of Community Investment

United Way

Angela Bannerman Ankoma is the Executive Vice President of Community Investment at United Way of Rhode Island (UWRI). Angela serves as the lead staff for UWRI’s grant-making, public policy, government relations, research and evaluation and UW 2-1-1 work. This position leads a department focused on implementing key programs and initiatives designed to achieve the programmatic goals in United Way of Rhode Island’s Strategic Plan.


Prior to her role at UWRI, Angela worked RI Department of Health (RIDOH) as Co-Director of the Health Equity Institute where she oversaw the implementation of RIDOH’s leading priorities on health equity and social and environmental determinants of health. Angela served as the Principal Investigator for two federally funded Office of Minority Health initiatives ($2.7 million total) called Princes to Kings Mentorship Youth Initiative (P2K) and RI-Girls Empowerment and Mentorship Support (RI-GEMS). Both programs are charged with improving long-term health outcomes among minority youth. Angela studied both Public Health and Social Work at Columbia University and has varied experience in public health program design and implementation, research, couples and family counseling and community based initiatives that are systemic drivers of health inequalities.

Angela is deeply engaged in local community investment efforts. Angela serves as the Chair of West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation (WEHDC) in Providence’s West End neighborhood; a community she has lived in for nearly 40 years. Angela is one of the founding members of WEHDC’s nationally recognized Sankofa Initiative. The Sankofa Initiative is a multimillion dollar culturally grounded project that combines housing, a world market and farm to improve health outcomes among Providences growing immigrant community.

Angela’s service to the community has garnered both local and national recognition. Awards and recognition include:

Angela has been happily married for over 13 years to her husband, Frank and they have 4 lovely children together. Angela and Frank own a small business called Copa Menswear, a men’s boutique in Providence.


Community Engagement Director, Verizon

Adriana I. Dawson  Vice President, Community Development Officer is responsible for developing, implementing and administering strategic aspects of the  Community Reinvestment Act Program, through building and maintaining relationships with community based, charitable and non-profit organizations toensure the Bank meets the needs of the community and attains CRA compliance goals.

Dawson comes to BankNewport from Roger Williams University, where she served as Assistant Dean of Admissions and Community Engagement for the School of Continuing Studies at the Providence campus. She was formerly the state director for the Rhode Island

Small Business Development Center at Johnson and Wales University in Providence. Dawson earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts and holds a Master of Arts in Management Communication from Emerson College in Boston.

Adriana currently serves as Commissioner for the Rhode Island Commission on Women and Girls and serves on the board of governors for Miriam Hospital. She is a board member for United Way of Rhode Island, an advisory board member for the Latino Policy Institute at

Roger Williams University, and an advisory board member for the Rhode Island State Office of Diversity, Equity and Opportunity.






Senior Web Analyst, EverSource Energy, Boston, MA


Deputy Secretary of State/Director of Administration

Melissa Husband is the Deputy Secretary of State/Director of Administration for RI Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and is responsible for managing the directors and operations of the following Divisions of the Department of State: Elections; Business Services; State Archives, Library & Public Information; and Finance and Personnel. She directs and coordinates the work of these Divisions in a way that enables the Department of State to achieve its mission: to engage and empower all Rhode Islanders by making government more accessible and transparent, encouraging civic pride, enhancing commerce and ensuring that elections are fair, fast and accurate.

Previously she was the Executive Director of Community Action Partnership of Providence (CAPP). Previously she was also an Adjunct Professor Teaching Nonprofit Management in the Community Development Program at Roger Williams University School of Continuing Studies.

Melissa holds a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Roger Williams University and a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Rhode Island. She holds a Master Certificate in Supervisory Management and is a graduate of the Leadership Rhode Island’s 2012 Theta II Class.


She has been an involved member of several boards, committees and commissions as a representative of the communities she serves including: Co-chair of Mayor Jorge Elorza’s Housing and Neighborhood Development Committee, I-195 Commissioner, RI Coalition for the Homeless Board Member and the United Way of RI Community Investment Board Member, just to name a few.



Associate Sales Representative, Stryker


Jessica Khokhlan graduated from the University of Massachusetts Boston with a Bachelor’s Degree in Science. Jessica then interned at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at the Cardiac Center and performed stress tests, EKG diagnostic tests and patient notes. Shortly after, Jessica became a licensed Insurance Agent and worked with Colonial Life for a few years. While licensed with Colonial Life, Jessica worked with her Real Estate Broker/Mentor starting the brokerage, Skylight Real Estate, now based in Quincy, MA. Jessica currently is a licensed Real Estate Sales Manager and Agent, leading a team in all aspects of residential Real Estate to her community of fellow agents. Starting from educating clients with the buying/selling process to helping fellow agents to execute deals unaccompanied. She is excited with the new opportunities the industry is providing and loves to teach and educate all those who are just as passionate and motivated.


Administrator of elections, City of Providence


Senior Vice President, Private Client Advisor

US Trust

Yahaira “Jay” Placencia is a Senior Vice President and Private Client Advisor with U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management, in Rhode Island. Jay leads a team of dedicated specialists who provide tailored investment and private banking services to high net worth clients.

Previously, Jay served as a Senior Client Manager for Bank of America’s Business Banking division, also in Rhode Island. In this role, Jay was responsible for overseeing key commercial client relationships, developing strategies and ideas to support for-profit and not-for-profit entities. She has worked at Bank of America since 2000, promoted to roles of increasing responsibility within the bank. Jay began her career in lending and banking in 1993 with a local non-traditional lender. She earned her B.B.A. from the University of Rhode Island.

Jay is extremely active in the community and has served on numerous boards in Rhode Island. She is currently a member of the Rhode Island Commodores; she serves on the RI Foundation Impact Investment Board and is a member of their Professional Advisory Council.  She is also a director of Northern RI Chamber of Commerce Board and a Trustee of the University of Rhode Island Foundation, as well as a member of the URI’s President’s Advisory Council.  She previously served on the City of Providence Redevelopment Agency, RI Public Broadcasting Station and was Co-Chair of the Transition Team for Providence Mayor Angel Taveras.


Director of Marketing & Communications,

The Lincoln School for Girls


Radio Show Host, WPRO


Radio Show Host, WPRO


Patricia Raskin, host of The Patricia Raskin Show, is a nationally recognized, multi-media radio talk show host and podcast coach. award-winning producer, speaker and author.  She is recognized by her peers and listeners as the “powerhouse voice” behind lifestyle, health and wellness, inspirational, and personal growth talk radio. A “positive media” pioneer for over thirty years, Patricia has been hosting and producing media programs and serving as a catalyst for creating positive change through programs that focus on the positive side of life. Patricia helps listeners turn their obstacles into opportunities and challenges into solutions to make their dreams come true through her renowned interviews with the “best of the best” motivational, spiritual, health, and self-improvement experts.

Over the past 30 years, Patricia has interviewed nearly 3,000 guests on her The Patricia Raskin Show television and radio programs and her programs have aired on Fox, PBS and NPR affiliates, WTKF, 107.3FM and Blog Talk Radio. Patricia has also authored two books, Success, Your Dream and You and Pathfinding: 7 Principles for Positive Living, in addition to writing nearly 800 newspaper columns and producing and hosting over 500 television shows and documentaries.

Raskin hosts and produces radio programs on air, on line and on demand podcasts-  and was one of the first to create positive radio programs on the internet.  As well as many local and regional experts, nationally renowned guests have included Dr. Maya Angelou, Marianne Williamson, Marci Shimoff, Dr. John Gray, Richard Bach, Dr. Andrew Weil,  Debbie Ford, Arielle Ford, Jack Canfield, Dr. Memhet Oz, Lisa Oz, Joan Lunden,  ABC Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary, and award-winning actor Jane Seymour. Raskin  has interviewed talent, writers, producers and directors from upcoming Hallmark Channel’s original movies including Elliot Gould, Patty Duke and Dean McDermott.



Human Resource Business Partner


Cara Sangermano is a Human Resource Business Partner at Stop & Shop. Cara started her career with Stop & Shop in 2003 as a part-time associate, while furthering her education. Since then, Cara has held numerous roles within the organization, including Assistant Store Manager, Regional Training and Development Specialist.

As a HR Business Partner to over 1800 store associates, Cara coaches the operators to foster an atmosphere of respect, teamwork, and fun. Cara works tirelessly to be an advocate for both the associates and for the company by looking for mutually beneficial wins while keeping in mind the best interests of both.

In 2017, Cara received recognition for her efforts and was awarded two prestigious recognitions in the retail industry, the Griffin Report’s “Top 40 under 40” and the Progressive Grocery’s Top Women in Grocery.

Cara earned her Bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management from Rhode Island College and her MBA in Organizational Leadership from Johnson & Wales University. She currently serves on the Executive Board for the Goodwill of RI. In addition, Cara is a member on Stop & Shop’s the Millennial Board.

Cara resides in Greenville, RI with her husband and three year old son. Her free time include spending time family and friends.








Katie Thornell is a Division Pharmacy Manager of Operations at Stop & Shop Pharmacy, Quincy, MA

Katie graduated from Simmons College in 1997 with a BS in Chemistry.  In 1999, she went on to get her BS in Pharmacy from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in Boston, MA.  Her clinical trial research was published in 2005 by Science Direct.  Katie is certified by the American Pharmaceutical Association in Diabetes Management and Immunizations.  She recently completed her MBA at Lasell College in Newton, MA.

Katie has spent her entire career with Stop & Shop.  She began her career in 1999 as a pharmacist and went on to be a pharmacy manager for 11 years.  She has been in her current role supervising pharmacies in the Greater Boston area for 6 years.  In addition to her roles as a pharmacist, Katie has experience in training, compliance and project management.  Stop & Shop has recognized Katie as both a Pharmacy Manager of the Year (2001) and a Division Pharmacy Manager of the Year (2015).

She is an advocate for pharmacists and a team leader at the annual National Association of Chain Drug Stores’ (NACDS) RxImpact Day on Capitol Hill.  She meets with local Congressmen to advise them on current bills that impact not only pharmacy, but healthcare.  Katie is an alumna officer and volunteer at Simmons College.  She also enjoys volunteering at her son’s school.

Katie resides in Beverly, MA with her husband, Todd, and son, Tynan.






As a mom of two who works full time and runs a business, I am extremely selective of how I invest my time and energy. This full day conference exceeded my expectations. The organizers paid attention to every detail and attracted attendees who I fully enjoyed meeting and spending the day with. The speakers were credible, relatable, and informative. This is an event not to miss! Well done.

Cleonie Mainvielle

This event exceeded all of my expectations. It was planned with attention to all details. As both an attendee and an exhibitor, there was many conference staff available to answer any questions to ensure a great experience. The speakers were empowering and inspiring, and I can’t wait until next year!”

Natalia Lima

Exhibitor at RISE

A day filled with inspirational women! I’m so glad I attended this event. I met a lot of great women that are doing fabulous things locally, nationally and internationally. I can’t wait until the next event!

Bria Johnson

Attendee 2018


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