Investing in People, Strengthening Communities

Board Members


CAAB's Board of Directors

Chair:                  Joseph Vaughan 

Vice-Chair:         Ryan Palmer

Treasurer:          William (Bill) Spinnell

Secretary:           PJ Harris


Wayne Chopus

Sheida Elmi

Sheida Elmi is the Research Program Manager at the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program (FSP). She believes in learning directly from people’s lived experiences to elevate, shape, or otherwise influence policy, product, and programs that can improve family financial security. Sheida manages FSP’s Consumer Insights Collaborative, an effort across nine nonprofits to collectively understand and amplify data about the financial lives of families with low- or moderate-incomes. She supports research efforts related to guaranteed income and cash infusions, wealth building, liquid savings, public and workplace benefit arrangements, and other projects connecting short- and long-term financial security. Before joining Aspen, Sheida was an Associate Manager with The Pew Charitable Trusts. There, she led quantitative analyses, in-depth interviews, and focus groups to explore how families fare across different measures of financial well-being. Before that, she was a research analyst at MEF Associates, where she helped evaluate federal programs aimed at promoting economic security through education, matched-savings accounts, and employment and training programs.

Sheida received a Master of Public Policy degree from UC Berkeley, and a Bachelor’s degree in political science and international studies from Northwestern University.

PJ Harris 

Secretary of the Board of Directors

PJ Harris is a double graduate of the University of Virginia, a DMV native, corporate attorney, and Co-Founder of Humanitru: a CRM platform specifically designed to service the unique needs of nonprofits. He graduated from UVA College of Arts and sciences in 2013 and UVA Law in 2016. He is currently the Optimization & Enablement Leader of the Alpha+ Strategic Deals Management team at EY, where me oversees execution and operations for a 75-member team supporting EY’s largest and most complex deals.

English and Law degrees notwithstanding, PJ is enthusiastic about innovative technologies, entrepreneurship, nonprofit enablement, and community development. From his prior nonprofit board service, to his experience fundraising and maintenance of legal compliance for startup ventures, to negotiations contracts with Fortunate 500 companies, PJ has a proven track record of being committed to the growth and prosperity of ventures at every stage of the business life cycle.

PJ enjoys supporting UVA sports (especially basketball) and volunteering for Big Brothers Big Sisters. He is also passionate about supporting his family’s intergenerational business, Lamont Homes, which provides assisted living services to adult DC residents in need of mental and behavioral health support

Shae Harris

Gabriel (Gabe) Lazarus

Gabriel (Gabe) Lazarus is a senior marketing leader in medical device and healthcare technology with a proven track record in launching products, developing markets, and leading strategic and annual operating plans. Throughout his 15+ year tenure at Medtronic, he has had roles of increasing responsibility. In his current role as Sr. Director of Global Renal Denervation Market Access at Medtronic, he leads a team collaborating on the global commercialization of the Medtronic Blood Pressure Procedure.  He is also the leader of Medtronic Cardiovascular’s Health Equity Workstream. In this role, Gabe leads a cross-divisional team focused on driving equitable access to Medtronic technologies.

Gabe previously held leadership roles in commercial operations in Puerto Rico and Caribbean Islands, serving as Director for the Cardiovascular business in Latin America, as well as other leadership positions in Switzerland and the U.S.  Prior to Medtronic, Gabe worked as a journalist for Bloomberg News in Madrid, Spain, as well as prior roles in politics and financial services.

Gabe holds an MBA from the Darden Business School at the University of Virginia and a BA from Rutgers University. Gabe lives in the greater D.C. area with his family.  An active member of the local community, he also previously sat on the board of Jubilee JumpStart, which is focused on providing high-quality early education for children from families with the least access.

Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz

CAAB's CEO & Executive Director  

Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz is the CEO & Executive Director of Capital Area Asset Builders (CAAB). He is an Asset Building, Financial Capability and Financial Services professional with over 20 years of experience in a broad spectrum of executive management, strategic planning, program & project management, team management, business development and investment strategy & portfolio management in 1) the Asset Building field working with Non-Profit Organizations, Small Business Entrepreneurs and Low- and Moderate-Income Families, and 2) the Wealth Management and Investment Management fields servicing Wealth Management Firms, High-Net-Worth Individuals & Families, Endowments, Foundations and Retirement Plans. Joseph was previously CAAB's Acting Executive Director, Deputy Director and Director of External Relations.

At CAAB, Joseph oversees CAAB’s management, strategic planning implementation, and relationships with key funding supporters, private sector employers, media organizations, elected officials in Washington, DC and the Washington metropolitan region.   

Prior to joining CAAB, for over 2 ½ years Joseph was Managing Director of Investment Operations & Portfolio Management at McLean Asset Management, a wealth management firm in McLean, Virginia. Before that position, for over 8 ½ years Joseph was Vice President of Client Services & Managed Accounts at Advisor Partners, LLC, an institutional money management firm in San Francisco, California. His first job was with the San Francisco, California-based global investment management firm Dresdner RCM Global Investors where he worked with corporate retirement and pension plans throughout the US. 

Joseph is a guest speaker and analyst on personal financial planning, tax planning, tax credits for low- and moderate-income families, asset building and other socio-economic matters. Recently he has been interviewed by or quoted in English and Spanish in The New York Times, PBS NewsHour, NPR Marketplace, Bloomberg, CNN, PBS's American Graduate Day, NPR News' All Things Considered, The Kojo Nnamdi Show, Comcast's Newsmakers, WAMU 88.5 FM, DCist, The Right Side with Armstrong Williams, SiriusXM Urban View, NewsChannel 8's Hispanic Agenda, La Opinion, El Diario La Prensa, CBS Radio-WZLZ, Telemundo's Agenda,, Pacifica Radio Network-WPFW, El Tiempo Latino, El Pregonero, H.U.R. Voices on SiriusXM, WHUT's Vocal Point, DC Radio-96.3FM, WERA Radio Arlington, Street Sense, AFRO, The Washington Informer, East of the River Magazine, Washington Hispanic, Telemundo-Washington, Radio America-WACA, La Nueva-WDCN, Guadalupe Radio Network-WMET and Howard University Radio-WHUR. 

Joseph holds a BA in International Relations from San Francisco State University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Policy at American University. Joseph is also a proud graduate of the Leadership Greater Washington's Rising Leaders Program (2015), Center for Nonprofit Advancement's Executive Preparation Institute (2017), Georgetown University's Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate Program, and Boston College's Certificate in Nonprofit Leadership (2019), the University of Oxford's Executive Leadership Programme (2020), and American University's Certificate in Analytics & Management (2021). Joseph is currently pursuing a Master of Public Policy at American University.

Joseph is also involved with supporting non-profit organizations in the Washington metropolitan region: providing pro bono financial planning classes with Washington Area Community Investment Fund (WACIF) and Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC) and having served from 2014-2017 in the Board of Directors of Dream Project, Inc. Previously, Joseph has been a Member of the Investment Committee of The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia, Strategy Advisor to the Executive Director of the Hispanic Committee of Virginia and intern for the United National High Commissioner for Refugees in Ankara, Turkey and Flughafen Frankfurt/Main AG in Frankfurt, Germany. 

Joseph lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife, their two children, and the family's Goldendoodle "Summer".

Michelle Levister

Michelle Levister is the founder of an executive leadership coaching firm, Perceive LLC. She specializes in coaching innovators to cultivate the mindsets and leaderships skills needed to architect and execute strategies for change in startups, corporations, nonprofits, and government agencies.

Previously, Michelle was Deputy General Counsel at Arbitron Inc. (now Nielsen Audio, Inc.) where she advised on complex and growth-oriented legal matters, including new business ventures, global transactions, intellectual property matters, and privacy issues. She was also Director of Government Relations and worked with multidisciplinary teams whose initiatives included congressional and grassroots outreach efforts.

She holds a J.D. from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She obtained  an  Executive Certificate in Leadership Coaching from Georgetown University.

Michelle is committed to volunteerism and to community. She serves on the board of the National Caucus and Center on Black Aging, Inc., a national organization devoted to minority and low-income aging.  She contributes time to coaching emerging leaders through leadership development programs. She also conducts interviews of prospective college students on behalf of the University of Pennsylvania.

Ryan Palmer

Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors

Gail B. Reisman

Gail B. Reisman is a strategic marketing leader with more than 25 years of experience building high-impact brand experiences that deliver value and growth. Most recently, Gail was Director, Advertising and Brand Engagement at Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (CFP Board), the organization that sets the standards for CFP® certification. In that role, she drove awareness of certification among the public and facilitated access to competent and ethical financial planning. Previously at CFP Board Gail was Director, Marketing, leading planner acquisition, conversion and retention efforts.

Prior to joining CFP Board, Gail was Vice President of Advertising at Brand USA, the first official US tourism organization. Gail launched a global advertising campaign and website for the US and worked with the business development team to create partnerships nationwide.

Gail previously spent eleven years at Amtrak. As Senior Director of Loyalty Marketing, she launched the first national frequent traveler program for the company, building its infrastructure, partnerships and marketing efforts. As Senior Director of National Advertising and Marketing Programs, she oversaw a wide marketing portfolio, including advertising, sports marketing, entertainment marketing, multicultural efforts and events. Gail started her marketing career in brand management for Altria and was previously a certified public accountant.

An active member of the Washington, DC community, Gail has been a project leader for several Compass pro bono consulting projects and a marketing mentor within the DC Chapter of the American Marketing Association. A lover of animals, Gail was an adoption counselor for City Dogs Rescue for several years. She regularly volunteers with the Capital Area Food Bank.

Gail holds a BA in Accounting and Business Administration from Muhlenberg College and an MBA from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband, son and two rescue dogs.

William (Bill) Spinnell  

Treasurer of the Board of Directors 

Bill Spinnell is a Treasury Solutions Officer in Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Specialized Industries group.  He is responsible for the delivery of treasury management and revenue cycle solutions focusing on clients in the healthcare, higher education and not-for-profit industries in the Washington, DC and Central Virginia markets. Bill has a proven track record in customizing solutions to meet the client’s needs.  Bill has been with Bank of America since 2004. Prior to joining the bank, Bill started his professional career with Nestlé, USA as a National Account Manager. 

Bill is a graduate of the University of Washington and earned his degree in Economics.  He attained his MBA with a focus on International Marketing from the University of Maryland, University College.  He is a Certified Treasury Professional (CTP) and active and longtime member of the Association for Financial Professionals (AFP) and Healthcare Finance Management Association (HFMA).   

Joseph Vaughan

Chair of the Board of Directors

Joseph Vaughan is the Director of Federal Government Relations and advises Invariant’s clients on environmental, social, and governance (ESG), diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issues, and financial services policy. With more than 25 years of private and public sector experience, he has been at the epicenter of advising corporate executives and policymakers on the intersection of economic and DEI issues across the workforce, social impact and responsibility, and ESG throughout his career. 

Before Invariant, Joseph was the Senior Diversity and Inclusion Policy Advisor for the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion Chairwoman Joyce Beatty’s (D-OH) office.  In this role, he designed and led the DEI policy agenda, including strategic engagement with C-suite executives and stakeholder organizations.  

Specifically, he developed concrete and actionable legislative and regulatory policy proposals to advance DEI performance in the private and public sectors ranging from supplier diversity, performance transparency, and accountability to board diversity and access to capital and financial products. 

Before that, Joseph founded the Corporate Diversity and Inclusion Forum, where he partnered with organizations to advance DEI performance in the financial services sector.  He also previously held leadership positions at the Williams Group and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.

Mr. Vaughan holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Maryland and completed the Securities Industry Institute at the Wharton School of Business at University of Pennsylvania.


How to give

Now, more than ever, non-profits like Capital Area Asset Builders (CAAB) need your help. Please support CAAB as we continue to help DC residents manage and/or improve their financial situation during these difficult times. If you can't afford to give a monetary gift, please visit our Amazon Wish List where you can choose from a variety of items that CAAB needs in order to better serve our community.

or send a check or money order to
Capital Area Asset Builders (CAAB)
c/o Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz, CEO & Executive Director
1100 15th St, NW, 4th Floor 
Washington, DC 20005