Who We Are


Brandon Van Tassel

Director of Natural Resources

​​After receiving his degree in environmental science with an emphasis in ecology from Bemidji State University, Brandon joined Community Action Duluth in July of 2015.  Being able to teach and help others while restoring the environment for the future is what drives him in the work. In his free time, Brandon enjoys woodworking, DnD, MTG, hiking, and sailing.

Caitlin Vander Wal.jpg

Caitlin Vander Wal

Benefits Outreach Specialist

Caitlin started working at Community Action Duluth in 2017 after working as an administrative assistant at an urgent care facility where she learned about the complicated health care industry. Now she uses the knowledge she gained to help participants navigate the complex path to acquiring health insurance. Caitlin grew up on a dairy farm in southwestern Minnesota with her parents and three siblings. She moved to Duluth to complete her bachelor’s degree in anthropology, German studies and linguistics. After graduation she realized how much she loved Duluth and decided to make it her home. In her free time she enjoys skiing, mountain biking, and playing piano.


Carmen Esquilin

Financial, Employment, and Education Coach

Carmen is originally from the Bronx in New York City and went to college at St. Peter University in New Jersey. She graduated with a degree in communications and worked as a housing case manager for an organization that focuses on homelessness in Jersey City prior to moving to Duluth. Carmen came to Community Action Duluth in June of 2019 to be a part of our coaching team.


Cassy Burr

Coaching and Counseling Supervisor

Cassy joined Community Action Duluth as a coach in 2016. Prior to that she interned with the Reentry Services program at SOAR Career Solutions. Cassy embraces Community Action Duluth’s philosophy of radical hospitality and their belief that people are naturally creative, resourceful and whole.  She aims to narrow the race and class divide in our community that is created by material and stigmatic barriers. Cassy has a bachelor’s degree in social work and sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Outside of her work at Community Action Duluth, she works at a restaurant/brewery, coaches mock trial at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, and enjoys hiking with her partner near their home in the Chester Park neighborhood of Duluth.


David Huntley

Manager of Human Resources

David has been working at Community Action Duluth since March 3rd, 2020. He was originally born in Minnesota, but has lived in Indiana, Wisconsin, and Maine. He’s currently working as a human resources consultant specializing in industrial/organizational psychology. His passion in human resources stems from the ability of the role to help both businesses and their employees be as successful and happy as possible. Some of his hobbies include hiking, climbing, and watching sitcoms on Netflix.


Dawn Paquette

Receptionist/Child Care Coordinator

Dawn joined the team in January 2019 and enjoys being a part of something that will have a lasting impact on the poverty in our community. Within her role at the Community Action Duluth, she likes being in the middle of the office to form bonds with her co-workers and supporting them in any way to help others. Outside of work she loves being a mom, going to concerts, and Halloween!


Eli Curry

MFIP Employment Coach

Eli has lived in Minnesota his entire life and grew up in the Twin Cities. He moved to Duluth for school and recently, he graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth with a four year degree in sociology. In September 2019, he came to Community Action to be part of our coaching team. Watching people succeed in their goals and bringing about positive change in the community are a few of the things that inspire him in his work. During his time here he has found a great community in the outdoor rec scene in the Twin Ports area and enjoys rock climbing, biking, camping, as well as playing guitar and reading.


Evan Flom

Seeds of Success Program Coordinator

Evan has a background in community development and social justice and has further built on that backdrop specifically through work within the food system. He believes that farming is the bedrock of our communities and breaking bread is one of the best ways to make a new friend. To do just that, he joined the team in July, 2019.  Food has the power to connect people and cultures; because of this, fighting for equal access to healthy food is what drives him in the work he does. As Cesar Chavez said, “the fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.” Outside of work, he spends his time cooking, eating, writing, reading, photography and being with people he loves.  One summer he even traveled around Lake Superior on foot!


Inge Maskun

Health Coach

Inge joined Community Action Duluth in the spring of 2016 and has been guiding, supporting, and empowering participants to reduce stress, increase energy, lose weight and improve their total well-being ever since. Her coaching is rooted in being positive and helping participants heal and thrive through food and lifestyle choices. Born and raised in Indonesia, Inge grew up with a grandmother who relied on folk medicine—spices and herbs—for curing illnesses because modern medicine was expensive and doctors were hard to access. She views food as a source of healing. Inge’s background includes the completion of an intensive 40–week course at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City, a Tobacco Treatment Specialist Certification from the Mayo Clinic, and Stanford University’s Chronic Disease Self-Management Program.

Jeff Longenecker.jpg

Jeff Longenecker

Executive Director

After working as a director at an early learning center, Jeff came to our agency as our Executive Director on July 1st, 2018 and is committed to empowering people to reach their goals in life.  Previously he had worked as an elementary teacher and served as a leader within nonprofits coming from the education field.  Growing up camping on the north shore and now with a cabin in the area for 25 years, Jeff loves the nature and community of the north shore. Knowing we can all use some help along the way, Jeff gets his energy from seeing what can be accomplished when support is given.  The celebrations of life and community when we work together and build relationships gives Jeff his passion. When Jeff has free time, he enjoys hiking the north shore, completing home improvements, socializing with friends, and being with his husband Paul.

Julia Cheng - high res.jpg

Julia Cheng

Finance Director

Julia officially joined our staff in 2011, after two years of LISC AmeriCorps service at Community Action Duluth as a tax preparer and financial counselor. She strives to foster racial equity through economic empowerment and regards taxes as a social justice issue. Her passion shows in her dedication to the Free Tax Site as a means of engaging our entire community in breaking the cycle of poverty. Julia also strongly believes the arts are essential. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in international studies from Johns Hopkins University. She was a newspaper photojournalist in the Boston area before moving to Duluth in 2004, and is an amateur cellist and Community Action's past resident filmmaker. She is an alumna of Duluth's first round of Anti-Racism Study Dialogue Circles, Leadership Duluth and the Intermedia Arts Creative Community Leadership Institute.


Karen Walter

Benefits Outreach Program Coordinator

Karen began her career in nursing in Minnesota and Iowa and moved from nursing into underwriting health and life insurance.  Following her underwriting experience, Karen worked in social services.  She is passionate about the people she serves and takes great care to make certain participants are able to understand their health and food support eligibility. She assists in fostering trusted relationships, navigating and simplifying difficult processes, advocating for her participants, and being proactive in fostering system changes that benefit all people.  To her, Community Action Duluth represents a group of caring individuals with the experience and tools to support others walking through the complexities of life.  Karen was one of eleven children and was raised in west central Minnesota.  Karen and her husband have four children and three beautiful grandchildren. Time spent with her family re-energizes her. She couldn't be more pleased to live near her grandchildren.  She draws inspiration from living near such a majestic body of water and the north woods of Minnesota.


Madison Ohm

Financial, Employment, and Education Coach

Madison joined Community Action Duluth in 2015 as an intern working in our GED program. In her current role as a coach, she continues to support people in their educational goals, as well as working with them to develop and achieve their financial and employment goals. She is an ardent supporter of economic, racial, gender and educational equity and is dedicated to working for positive social change in our community. Madison enjoys helping people plan their futures, do the work of moving forward, and watching them reap the benefits of their hard work.  She earned her bachelor's degree in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Superior and an associate degree in human services at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College. She loves learning new things and spending time with friends and family.


Noland Makowsky

Accounting Specialist

Noland has a driving passion to learn new subjects and to impart what he's learned to those around him in order to help them live healthier and happier lives. He transitioned to our finance department in February 2016 after initially being hired in January 2015 to be a MNsure Navigator, assist with SNAP food assistance enrollments, and provide outreach work for Community Action.  Noland graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in cell and molecular biology. Someday, he would like to obtain a PhD and study aging. Noland and his wife have lived in the Duluth/Superior area for most of their lives and enjoy taking long walks by the lake.


Paul Sonday

Environmental Tech Lead

Paul came to join our team after completing his Bachelor of Science in environmental science from the University of Minnesota, Duluth. He loves being outdoors and protecting our environment while being able to do that at work. Hobbies that Paul enjoys includes fishing, hunting, camping, traveling, hiking, canoeing, amongst many outdoor activities. 


Randi Omdahl

Financial, Employment, and Education Coach

Randi’s diverse educational background and professional experience has led her on a unique journey to coaching at Community Action Duluth, starting in September 2019. With a background in art, social justice, education and working with the American Indian Community, she has worked in a variety of settings including doing outreach at a local non-profit, teaching in preschool and working in a busy career center in higher education. Along with these skills, she is able to speak conversational Anishinaabemowin.  All this experience has led coaching and helping people to be a natural fit! Seeing participants’ smiles and the look of relief or excitement on their faces when they accomplish a tough goal motivate her in the work she does.  When she is not coaching, you will find her working with her hands, creating artwork, traveling and being outside with nature. In addition, she loves to spend time with her son, her dog Barry and her cat Totoro.  

Susie Green.jpg

Susie Green

Transportation Program Advocate

Susie became a coach with Community Action Duluth’s transportation in 2016. Before that her work began with an internship in which led to an opportunity through LISC AmeriCorps, as well as Community Engagement programming.  She is passionate about connecting with individuals and learning about their needs in order to help them remove their transportation barriers and become self-sufficient. She enjoys her work as she understands that all people navigating systems deserve a path to reach their full potential.  She is committed to increasing equity in the lives of underserved communities in Duluth. Being a women of color, she faces some of the same challenges as the community.  Her goal is to bridge the gap of inequities. Outside of work, she spend lots my traveling and doing road trips.  She always enjoys being with family and friends also reading, music concerts and comedy shows.


Ylaina Allen-Soumpholphakdy

MFIP Employment Counselor

Ylaina started working at Community Action in September 2019.  She moved to the area in 2013 from the state of Virginia.  Prior to Community Action, she worked in the hospitality field for about three years before becoming a Patient Care Associate and an advocate for a short while. She is passionate about her work because she loves to see the participants’ smiles when they reach one of their goals. Her favorite hobbies include baking, reading, and hanging with her kids!  Amongst her many talents she is ambidextrous meaning she can write legibly with both her right and left hand.


Zayla Asquith-Heinz

Tax Site Supervisor

Prior to moving to Duluth, Zayla grew up in a small isolated Alaskan town with just 2,000 people making Duluth feel like a big city.  She worked as a grant writer and media designer for a few different Alaska Native organizations, including a tribal government and a non-profit. She also worked as a small town journalist covering local politics, art, and culture. Her bachelor’s degree in the social sciences inspired her professional work and helped lead her to Community Action Duluth in November of 2019 to work with taxes.  She is passionate about her work because she believes in the positive difference made by the tax site which allows families to receive refunds for education, transportation, a home, retirement, etc. that they are entitled to but often requires time, money, and education to understand.  Outside of work she enjoys Nordic skiing, biking, gardening, and making art.