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.

Kelly Petraschuk

Office Manager

Kelly is the Office Manager and Executive Assistant to the Executive Director. Kelly utilizes her organizational skills to support the staff and ensure that the office is running smoothly. Her diverse range of knowledge and know-how allows for the staff’s day to day lives to flow a bit more smoothly! She joined the ARDN in 2018 to start a new chapter with the organization. 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.

During her spare time, Kelly enjoys volunteering at the Edmonton Humane Society, critiquing blockbuster films, travelling and reading the latest bestsellers!

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 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.  

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 across all ARDN's initiatives, especially housing and homelessness. Zain has been working at ARDN for a few years, specializing in managing research, developing financial strategies and creating business cases in an effort to raise funding for projects in rural communities. He has authored the “Step-by-Step Guide to Estimate Rural Homelessness”; an award winning guide to estimate rural homelessness in rural communities across Canada. The guide is being successfully applied across Canada and is gaining traction on an international scale.

Zain is passionate about “making things happen for the greater good” and has an excellent track record of securing funds in the social entrepreneurship space. He has international sales and account management experience in the Oil & Gas industry and runs a boutique consulting firm that fuels his interest in design and technology. Zain has completed a degree in Finance/Management with a minor in Actuarial Math from the American University of Sharjah and an MBA in Innovation & Entrepreneurship from the University of Alberta.

Jonn Kmech

Program Manager, Homelessness Initiatives

Jonn is the Program Manager of Homelessness Initiatives with the ARDN and manages the Rural and Remote Alberta stream of Reaching Home, Canada's National Homelessness Strategy. Jonn currently works with various community organizations and not-for-profits in Alberta providing support for them as they implement their Reaching Home projects and work towards ending rural and remote homelessness around the province. 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 U of A student newspaper. Prior to the ARDN, he worked as a research assistant in the U of A’s Department of Psychiatry for three years.

In his spare time, Jonn volunteers for Amnesty International and the Edmonton Distress Line. His interests include Zen Buddhism, politics, psychology, philosophy, human and animal rights, film, and music. Jonn was the 2018 recipient of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Edmonton's Stamping Out Stigma award.


Scott Travis

Senior Manager

Scott is the Senior Manager of the Sustainable Housing Initiative. Bringing his expertise in mental health research, he joined the ARDN to develop evidence-based methods to improve mental health and quality of life of those living in affordable housing. Scott believes that everyone deserves to be proud of the place they call home, and that improved living conditions will translate not only to improved outcomes in tenants, but also to reduced operator costs and increased community acceptance. He has been a part of the ARDN since September 2018, and his role has since expanded to overseeing the work behind SHI's many projects and initiatives. Born in Hanna, AB, and raised in Lethbridge, AB, Scott was lucky enough to spend much of his childhood on the family farm, and exploring the very windy, southwest Alberta. 

Scott has a degree in Neuroscience with honours, from the University of Lethbridge, and has done his PhD work at the University of Alberta in Neuroscience and Mental Health. In his spare time, Scott enjoys running, making noise on his piano and drums, and exploring Alberta’s backcountry.

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.

Julia Juco

Project Manager - Addictions Awareness

Julia is the Program Manager for Addictions Awareness. Julia earned a Political Science degree (Psychology minor) from the University of Alberta, where her area of focus was on immigration, ethnicity, and its policy implications for Canadian identity. Julia was the VP External for the university’s Undergraduate Psychology Association, and her time during university was spent between academics, volunteering, and trekking with the Outdoors’ Club. Prior to moving to Edmonton for university, she’s lived in Manila, Winnipeg, and Fort McMurray.


In her spare time, Julia can be found volunteering, working out, or planning her next hikes/trips at local coffee shops.

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, administering the Students’ Union Awards.

Shadi is currently working on a Masters in Economics. During his free time, Shadi enjoys snowboarding, volunteering, and good coffee.

Lisa Bélanger (on leave)

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.