Dee Ann Benard

Executive Director

Dee Ann is the ARDN's inaugural executive director.  After earning her B.Sc. (Biology) and M.Sc. (Plant Pathology) from Simon Fraser University, Dee Ann moved to Edmonton in 1994 to work with Alberta Agriculture.  Eventually, she joined private industry to manage the Alberta operation of Integrated Crop Management Services (ICMS), Inc. Later, she moved to the Alberta Research Council (now called Alberta innovates) in Vegreville where she worked first as a plant pathologist, and later in business development. In 2004, she joined the newly formed Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta (ARECA) as executive director, a position she held for over five years.  

Dee Ann served as a member of the Agriculture and Food Council for several years, where she held roles such as Chair of Advancing Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food and Treasurer.  She is an active volunteer in her community and in her professional life.  Dee Ann enjoys skiing, kayaking and hiking.

Scott Wnek

Director of Finance & Administration

Scott joined ARDN as Director of Finance & Administration in 2018 to continue a lengthy career in the not-for-profit sector. Born and raised in Red Deer, he moved to Edmonton in 1986 to study at the University of Alberta. After earning his B.Sc. (Psychology) and MBA from the University of Alberta, he spent 23 years with the Heritage Agricultural Society in Stony Plain in a number of roles including marketing, accounting, finance and administration, which gave him a well-rounded skill set in the management of not-for-profit organizations. With experience in rural tourism, agriculture, education, culture, farmers' markets, and social entrepreneurship, Scott hopes to help make a difference in Alberta's rural communities.

Scott loves fishing and camping in the great outdoors, playing competitive sports, and caring for his pets, including a miniature golden doodle and a salamander.  

Joshua Bénard

Program Director, Housing

Josh is the Program Director of the Sustainable Housing Initiative (SHI). Josh joined the ARDN with the goal of creating a cost effective mechanism for building affordable housing in rural Alberta. His work experience is diverse, and ranges from sales, estimating and project coordinating for a manufacturer of exterior building envelopes, to project managing residential, commercial, institutional and industrial construction projects. Josh was the recipient of a prestigious scholarship to George Brown College, and was involved in the Program Advisory Board of the technology department. He worked with the Department of Applied Research and Innovation at Red Deer College to help develop emergency and transitional shelters.

Zain Abedin

Manager, Community Development

Zain is ARDN's Community Development Manager, a unique position that works in consultation with rural communities to identify issues and develop strategies to provide solutions accross all ARDN's initiatives, especially housing and homelessness. He has international sales and account management experience with significant experience in developing and maintaining major customer accounts in the Oil & Gas industry. He also owns and runs a boutique consulting & branding firm, which fuels his interest in design and technology.

He has authored an award winning guide to estimate rural homelessness in rural communities across Canada, "Step-by-Step Guide to Estimate Rural Homelessness", which is now being adopted by communities in provinces across Canada and also gaining traction internationally. In the past, he has also been successful in raising funding for a local start-up in the social entrepreneurship space. Zain is personally motivated to work in this space with an attitude of “making things happen for the greater good”. His skills include developing strategies and leading a diverse team to execution. He has a degree in Finance/Management from the American University of Sharjah and an MBA in Innovation and Entrepreneurship from the University of Alberta.

Jonn Kmech

Program Manager, HPS

Jonn is the Program Manager for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS) Initiative. He was born in Calgary and grew up in Brooks, Alberta, moving to Edmonton in 2005. He has a B.Sc. in Physiology from the University of Alberta, where he also served as the Editor-in-Chief of The Gateway, the UofA student newspaper. Prior to the ARDN, he worked as a research assistant in the UofA’s Department of Psychiatry for three years.

Jonn works with various community organizations and not-for-profits in Alberta providing support for them as they implement their HPS projects and work towards ending rural and remote homelessness around the province. In his spare time, Jonn volunteers for Amnesty International and the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights. His interests include politics, psychology, philosophy, human and animal rights, film, and music. Jonn was the 2018 recipient CMHA Edmonton's Stamping Out Stigma award.

Lisa Bélanger

Program Manager, Housing

Lisa works as a Program Manager for the Sustainable Housing Initiative (SHI). She graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Alberta on the Dean’s List, and received three scholarships & two awards for her excellence in academics. While in University, Lisa co-chaired the Alberta Energy Challenge International Case Competition, working with Cenovus Energy to bring innovative solutions to the energy industry. After graduating, she worked with PCL Construction and Kleinfelder Hood Engineering, before developing an interest in working to solve the deficit of affordable housing. Lisa worked on the development of international emergency and transitional shelters before she joined ARDN. Whether working on issues that affect affordable housing, volunteering at orphanages in Africa, dirt biking or rock climbing in the Bow Valley, Lisa brings a high level of energy and skill to everything she does.

Julia Juco

Project Manager - Opioid Outreach Program

Julia is a Project Manager. She is currently managing two projects: the Rural Homelessness Estimation Counts and the Rural Community Opioid Outreach Program. Julia earned a Political Science degree from the University of Alberta, where her area of focus was on immigration, ethnicity, and what they mean for Canadian identity and social policy. Julia was the VP External for the U of A’s Undergraduate Psychology Association. She is orignally from Manila, Philippines, and has lived in Winnipeg and Fort McMurray. In her spare time, she volunteers with the Hand-to-Hand Project and the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers. As an avid gym-goer and hiking enthusiast, she is either thinking about how much protein she should eat or which peak to conquer next.

Asad Bhatti

Research & Financial Analyst

Asad is the Research & Financial Analyst for the Sustainable Housing Initiative (SHI). He graduated from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Commerce with a major in Finance. Asad is responsible for conduction research and financial analysis, and compiling reports for projects in rural communities. His personal interests include financial news, weightlifting and reading about history.

Shadi Merhej

Research & Business Analyst

Shadi is the Business & Research Analyst for the Sustainable Housing Initiative. He was born and raised in Edmonton, and graduated from the University of Alberta with a B.Sc. in Mathematics and Economics. Throughout his degree, Shadi was very involved with the Students’ Union, helping to coordinate the UofA Students’ Orientation program, as well as administering Students’ Union Awards. Shadi is currently working on a Masters in Economics. During his free time, Shadi enjoys snowboarding, volunteering, and good coffee.

Scott Travis

Research Assistant

Scott is the Research Assistant for the Sustainable Housing Initiative (SHI). Born in Hanna, AB, he grew up in windy Lethbridge, where he obtained his B.Sc. in Neuroscience, before moving to Edmonton to pursue a Ph.D. using neuroimaging to study mental health. Scott is passionate about mental health care in Alberta - particularly access to care - and improving the living conditions of vulnerable populations. In his spare time, Scott enjoys running, making noise on his piano and drums, and exploring Alberta’s backcountry.

Abebe Essayas

Research Analyst

Abebe works on the Sustainable Housing Initiative as a Research Analyst. He graduated from the University of Ottawa with a Masters Degree in Chemical Engineering and worked as a Project Control Engineer, managing mid sized Oil and Gas projects, for more than four years at AECOM Corporation in Calgary. From exposure to various aspects of a project he developed a deep interest in the financial and management aspects of projects. In order to become proficient in the business side of things, Abebe joined the MBA program at the University of Alberta. He is currently pursuing his MBA and using his technical, engineering and business knowledge to add value to the affordable housing industry. He serves as the Vice President of the MBA Finance Association at the University of Alberta, and is a strong proponent of giving back to the community. He volunteers as a youth mentor and program coordinator at Excel Family and Youth.

During his free time, Abebe enjoys biking, watching and playing soccer. He is an avid supporter of Liverpool F.C. and the German national team.

Kelly Petraschuk

Office Manager

Kelly is one of the newest members of our team taking on the recently developed role of Office Manager in 2018. Born and raised in Edmonton, she has spent the majority of her work life in the Floral Industry owning and building a prominent flower shop from the ground up. An entrepreneur at heart with crazy organizational skills, she is excited to start a new chapter with ARDN and hopes that her diverse range of knowledge and know-how will allow for the staff’s day to day lives to flow a bit more smoothly!