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 & Executive Assistant

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!

Zain Abedin

Director, Community Development

Zain is ARDN's Director of Community Development, 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

Director, Research and Programs

Scott is the Director of Research and Programs at the ARDN. 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

Manager, Capital Funding

Asad is the Capital Funding Manager 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 conducting 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, SUAP

Julia is the Program Manager for Substance Use and Addictions Programs. 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

Lead Analyst

Shadi is the Lead 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 and has recently completed his Masters in 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.

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.

Azam Khattak

Research Analyst

Azam Khattak works with the ARDN as a Research Analyst. He specializes in research investigation, data analytics and business case development and has assisted with initiatives such as the Rural Homelessness Estimation Initiative that provides the necessary data required to highlight the need of developing affordable housing in rural communities across Canada. Prior to joining ARDN, Azam worked for the Government of Canada as a Capital Assistant in Indigenous Services. Azam is motivated and passionate about affordable housing industry and making use of his skills and expertise to support the development of healthy communities. His experience working with client needs and objectives in small and focused communities allows Azam to be an important of the ARDN team.

Azam completed a Bachelor of Commerce with a major in Finance and a minor in Management Information Systems from the University of Alberta. He was the External Director of the Business Finance Association and president of a mental health club during his time at the University of Alberta. During his time at university, Azam was an avid volunteer, having volunteered with Learning Beyond Borders, Kids Help Phone and the Student Union Market Research Team in the past.

Jayde Roche

Project Manager

Jayde Roche is a Project Manager with ARDN, and has double duties as both a network developer and project coordinator. Born and raised in St. Albert, Alberta, Jayde has since created the national network focused on rural and remote housing and homelessness. Before joining the ARDN, notable volunteer experience includes working with youth and immigrant communities in Edmonton.

Jayde holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Alberta with a double major in Anthropology and Latin American Studies. She also has a Certificate in Community Engagement and Service Learning and a Certificate in International Learning from the University of Alberta.

Conner Platten

Community Development Coordinator

Conner is the Community Development Coordinator for the Sustainable Housing Initiative. During her time as a Community Development Coordinator she has create awareness and generated leads for potential opportunities, assisted with developing and managing ARDN project proposals, and helped facilitate communications between the Agriculture & Food Council and ARDN.

She is currently pursuing a BSc. in Agricultural Business Management at the University of Alberta. Conner was born and raised in Edmonton but has lived in British Columbia, exploring local food production and enjoying an outdoor lifestyle, as well as Nova Scotia where she began her studying at Dalhousie University. She has returned to Alberta to focus on agriculture and rural developments within the province.

Conner is passionate about connecting communities to local food production and green spaces. She volunteers at multiple community gardens and organizations who aim to address local food security issues. 

Alyssa Schatz

Reaching Home Assistant

Alyssa works for the ARDN as the Reaching Home Assistant. She works with the Program Manager of Homelessness Initiatives to provide support for community organizations and not-for-profits as they work on their Reaching Home projects. She also collaborates with other staff at the ARDN to provide contributions to other projects. Alyssa grew up in Leduc, Alberta and is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Economics. She is an active part of the Métis community.

Alyssa spent nearly nine months in Hong Kong working with women and teenagers recovering from addictions. She then spent two years studying Social Entrepreneurship in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She is a member of the Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, the Council for the Advancement of Native Development Officers, and the International Society for Ecological Economics. She is currently volunteering with the City of Edmonton’s Recover program to help create a prototype for sleep hygiene and micro-shelters for Edmonton’s homeless population.

Alyssa is passionate about ecological economics and sustainable economic development for indigenous communities. She loves fresh coffee and spending time outdoors.