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Featured Speakers

2017 AARP Livable Communities National Conference, Dallas, Texas

Julian Castro and Nancy LeaMond

Photo by AARP

Julián Castro, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and a former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, speaks with Nancy LeaMond of AARP.


Nancy LeaMond: Executive Vice President, Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer, AARP

As the AARP executive who oversees the AARP Livable Communities initiative, Nancy LeaMond, the AARP Livable Communities team and AARP Texas are the hosts of the 2017 Annual AARP Livable Communities National Conference. A nationally recognized leader on health, retirement security and other issues important to older Americans, LeaMond's career spans 35 years in the government and nonprofit sectors. As the head of AARP's Community, State and National Affairs division, LeaMond leads a team of 650 staff and more than 17,000 volunteers across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. As AARP's chief advocacy and engagement officer, LeaMond leads the association’s government affairs work and legislative campaigns and is responsible for driving AARP’s social mission on behalf of people age 50+ and their families. She also oversees AARP’s public education campaigns, community outreach and volunteer engagement. LeaMond holds a bachelor’s degree from Smith College and a master's degree in public policy and urban planning from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She is a former trustee of Smith College, a member of the KB Home National Advisory Board on home and community development, and a board member of the International Women’s Forum of Washington, D.C. Every year since 2011, she has been named by The Hill as one of the nation's top lobbyists.


The following speakers are listed in alphabetical order. To learn more about the event, visit the main page for the 2017 AARP Livable Communities National Conference.


Kathleen Brasher
Principal Lead, Age-Friendly Rural Communities, Northeast Health Wangaratta, Australia

Kathleen Brasher has been involved in the international age-friendly movement since 2006, when she contributed to the World Health Organization’s global age-friendly cities guide. A member of the WHO Strategy Advisory Group for the Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities, Brasher has advised governments and advocacy organizations across Australia and New Zealand. She has been an invited delegate to the International Symposium on Age-Friendly Rural and Remote Communities, in Winnipeg, Canada, and was seconded to the New York Academy of Medicine to assist with the development of the International Ageing in a Foreign Land Research Consortia protocol. Brasher is also a member of the Building an Age-Friendly USA steering committee with Grantmakers in Aging. A trained nurse and midwife, Brasher holds a bachelor’s degree and a Ph.D (in sociology of health and illness) from Monash University. She earned her graduate diploma in arts from the University of Melbourne. Brasher has certificate-level training in counseling and mediation with a focus on elder mediation. In addition, she is a nationally accredited mediator and a member of the Australian Association of Gerontology, the Australian Institute of Company Directors and the International Federation on Ageing. (When not working to inspire the world to value growing old, Brasher can be found knitting beanies, cuddling her new granddaughter, or trying to improve her golf swing.)


Janee Briesemeister, Chair, Austin Commission on Seniors

Appointed to the Austin Commission on Seniors in 2015 and elected its chair, Janee Briesemeister led the work on drafting the city’s age-friendly action plan, which was adopted by the Austin City Council last year. She also serves on the Austin Joint Inclusion Committee and the Austin Multi-Modal Consumer Advisory Committee. Briesemeister has nearly 30 years of experience in consumer advocacy, policy development and advocacy issue campaigns at the state and national levels. While working as a senior legislative representative at AARP and advocating for affordable home utility services, Briesemeister received the Lyn Bodiford Award for Excellence in Advocacy. Previously, Briesemeister was a senior policy analyst at Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of the independent, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. Now a consultant, Briesemeister continues to advocate for consumer advocacy and energy affordability with clients including the National Consumer Law Center and various state utility consumer advocacy offices. 


Julián Castro
Former Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Former Mayor, City of San Antonio, Texas

Born and raised in San Antonio, Julián Castro was elected to the San Antonio City Council at age 26 and became the city’s mayor eight years later in 2009. He was named to the World Economic Forum’s list of Young Global Leaders in 2010 and recognized by Time magazine as one of "40 Under 40" rising stars in American politics that same year.

As mayor, Castro led a voter-approved effort to significantly expand high-quality, full-day pre-kindergarten. He also established the Café College, a one-stop center offering San Antonio students with guidance about applying to college. Castro also brought a sense of urgency to revitalizing the city’s urban core, launching a "Decade of Downtown" initiative that resulted in thousands of new housing units in the center city. Among Castro’s goals was to make San Antonio a leader in the 21st century global economy. Under his leadership, San Antonio ranked first on the Milken Institute's Best Performing Cities list, received an A+ grade for doing business by Forbes and was the only Top 10 city at the time to achieve a Triple-A bond rating with each of the three major ratings agencies. 

In 2014, President Barack Obama named Castro to his Cabinet as the 16th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). As secretary, Castro oversaw 8,000 employees and a budget of more than $46 billion. In 2015, HUD launched Connect Home, a partnership among Internet service providers, housing authorities and nonprofits to expand broadband service to residents of public housing. During Castro's tenure HUD was recognized as one of the most improved federal agencies. 

Castro received his bachelor's degree from Stanford University and his juris doctor from Harvard Law School. He and his wife, Erica, have a daughter, Carina, and a son, Cristián. Castro's twin brother, Joaquin, represents the 20th Congressional District of Texas. Julián Castro serves on the board of directors of the LBJ Foundation and Common Sense Media.


Robin Chase, Transportation Entrepreneur

Robin Chase is the co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar, the largest car sharing company in the world. She's also the co-founder and a board member of Veniam, a vehicle communications company that’s building the networking fabric for the so-called "internet of moving things." In addition, Chase is on the boards of the World Resources Institute and the internet service company Tucows. She serves as an advisor to the French National Digital Agency and is a member of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Advisory Committee on Automated Transportation and the Dutch multinational DSM's Sustainability Advisory Board. The author of Peers Inc: How People and Platforms are Inventing the Collaborative Economy and Reinventing Capitalism, Chase works with cities to maximize the coming use of self-driving cars. A sought-after speaker, Chase lectures widely, is frequently featured in the media, and has received numerous honors including being listed among the "100 Most Influential People" (Time), "Fast 50 Innovators" (Fast Company) and "Top 10 Designers" (BusinessWeek). Chase is a graduate of Wellesley College and MIT’s Sloan School of Management. She was a Harvard University Loeb Fellow and is the recipient of an honorary doctorate of design from the Illinois Institute of Technology.


Joe Chow, Mayor, City of Addison, Texas

Re-elected this year, Joe Chow is the two-term mayor of Addison, Texas. He previously served on the Addison City Council, for which he was first elected in 2002. Chow has served as a member of the Dallas Assembly, North Dallas Chamber of Commerce and the Texas Association of Business. He has held leadership roles in the Addison Business Association as well as the Metrocrest Chamber of Commerce. Chow received his bachelor’s degree from National Chung Hsing University in Taipei and completed his master of administrative studies degree at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. A restaurant owner and insurance agent, Chow holds a real estate license and is on the board of the Greater Dallas Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce.


Stephanie Firestone, Senior Strategic Policy Advisor, AARP International

As a member of the AARP Livable Communities strategy team, Stephanie Firestone collaborates with both national and international organizations to further the Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities, the Decade of Healthy Aging, the Global Campaign to Combat Ageism and other international initiatives. As a 2015-2016 Health and Aging Policy Fellow, Stephanie worked with the American Planning Association and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, helping local leaders to create more inclusive communities. As the director of livable communities at the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), Firestone worked to create multi-stakeholder partnerships, develop action plans and enhance their capacity to create communities that are livable for people of all ages and abilities. Resources developed by Firestone for local change-makers include n4a’s Making Your Community Livable for All Ages: What’s Working!, which was downloaded more than 100,000 times in the first month after its 2015 release. Firestone holds a master's degree in urban planning from the University of Virginia. 


Graciana Garces, Director of Community Engagement, BakerRipley 

Graciana "Graci" Garces brings nearly 20 years of experience in the public sector, with an emphasis on grassroots initiatives, to her work with BakerRipley, a pioneering community development organization. Garces has experience in constituent services, coalition building, neighborhood revitalization and community development and empowerment. As a former chief of staff to state and local elected officials in South Texas, Austin and the Harris County region, Garces has led staff to maintain 24/7 constituent services and develop community response plans that consistently resulted constituent cases being addressed and closed within a week. In 2007 she served as the lead staffer working on the expansion of a no-smoking ordinance in Houston, earning her a position as the grassroots director for the Smoke-Free Texas (SFT) campaign. Garces is a graduate of Texas State University/San Marcos.


Bob Jackson, State Director, AARP Texas

An attorney by training, Bob Jackson joined AARP as a legislative consultant in 2000 and has been the AARP Texas State Director since 2005. Previously, as a partner in Boyer and Jackson, P.A., Jackson practiced elder law in Sarasota, Florida. Jackson has served as general counsel and legislative affairs director for the Florida Department of Elder Affairs and as an assistant general counsel for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. He is an honors graduate of the Florida State University College of Law.


Roger Millar, Secretary, Washington State Department of Transportation

Appointed by Governor Jay Inslee in 2016, Rogar Millar oversees an agency of 6,800 employees, with responsibility for general aviation airports, passenger- and freight-rail programs, 18,600 lane miles of highway, 3,294 bridges and Washington’s state ferries, which is the nation’s largest ferry system. Millar is a second generation civil engineer with four decades of experience in the transportation arena. He has worked in construction, design, planning, research, policy development, management and administration in both the public and private sectors, having served as a public works director, city and county planning director, arterial streets manager and executive of a multi-national engineering firm, among other assignments. Prior to joining Washington State’s DOT, Millar was the vice president of Smart Growth America, providing technical assistance to state transportation agencies. He also served as director of the National Complete Streets Coalition. Millar is a registered engineer in six states. A member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and a certified floodplain administrator, Millar has served as president of the Montana Association of Planners and the Oregon section of the American Society of Civil Engineers.


Nick Mitchell-Bennett
Executive Director, Community Development Corporation of Brownsville

In the mid-1990s, Nick Mitchell-Bennett co-founded a business remodeling and selling historic homes in Brownsville, Texas. Prior to joining the city’s Community Development Corporation in 1997, he served as the director of the Mennonite Partnership Building Initiative, a faith-based housing program also located in Brownsville. Mitchell-Bennett has worked in South Philadelphia with the Point Breeze Community Development Corporation, helping to organize its first housing program. Mitchell-Bennett chairs the board of directors of the Texas Association of Community Development Corporations and is on the board of the National Rural Housing Coalition and Proyecto Juan Diego. A graduate of the NeighborWorks Achieving Excellence Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Mitchell-Bennett holds a master’s degree in economic development from Eastern University and a bachelor’s in political science/international studies from Tabor College.


Betsy Price, Mayor, City of Fort Worth

A Fort Worth native, Betsy Price is the four-term mayor of Fort Worth, which is the 16th largest city in the U.S. and one of the fastest growing. Under Price’s leadership, Fort Worth has become a foremost cycling community, adding miles of new bike lanes and trails. Pedestrian-friendly urban villages are a staple of Price’s vision for rebuilding the city’s urban core and she continues to pursue her long-term goal of linking neighborhoods and job centers with a comprehensive and convenient commuter rail system. Shortly after becoming mayor in 2011, Price launched several efforts to get people more involved in driving local public policy. Her walking and rolling (i.e. bicycling) town hall meetings have received national attention for providing a casual and healthy way for citizens to connect with city leaders. 


Seleta Reynolds, General Manager, Los Angeles Department of Transportation

Appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, Seleta Reynolds is responsible for implementing Great Streets for Los Angeles, a plan to reduce traffic fatalities, improve cycling safety, and expand access to integrated transportation choices. With nearly two decades of transportation experience from throughout the United States, Reynolds has advised transportation technology companies (including WalkScore), served on the board of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals, mentored young professionals through the Women’s Transportation Seminar and done research with various Transportation Research Board committees. Reynolds is the president of the National Association for City Transportation Officials (NACTO).


Harrison Rue
Community Building and Transit-Oriented Development Administrator
City/County of Honolulu

Tasked with implementing transit-oriented development (TOD) strategies around Honolulu's 20-mile rail line, Harrison Rue's work involves managing neighborhood TOD plans, codes and ordinances, infrastructure investments, catalytic projects, connectivity and placemaking initiatives, climate adaptation efforts and the development of affordable housing. Rue has decades of experience in smart growth and sustainability, scenario and corridor planning, green building and green infrastructure, climate mitigation and adaptation, construction management, public participation, and implementation strategies at the rural, urban, regional, state and federal levels. He is the founder of the Citizen Planner Institute and was a principal at the consulting firm ICF, which had him creating guides and tools for federal agencies and leading post-disaster long-term recovery planning efforts in South Florida, Houston and Iowa. The author of the EPA's Guide to Smart Growth and Active Aging, Rue coined the term "age-friendly.


Eric Schneidewind, Board President, AARP

A member of the all-volunteer board of AARP, Eric Schneidewind is serving a two-year term (ending in 2018) as its president. As AARP’s principal national volunteer spokesperson, Schneidewind presents the positions and views of AARP to its members, volunteers and the public. A retired partner with the Varnum LLP law firm, where he is of counsel specializing in energy law, Schneidewind has been chair of the Michigan Public Service Commission, deputy director of policy and consumer protection for the Michigan Insurance Bureau and an attorney for the Michigan State Housing Authority. His other volunteer roles include service as state president of AARP Michigan, secretary for the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association and more than 20 years of volunteer work at homeless shelters. A resident of Lansing, Michigan, Schneidewind holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley and earned his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School at Ann Arbor. 


Jean Setzfand, Senior Vice President, AARP Programs

Jean Setzfand leads a team that produces interactive educational programming about the health, wealth and personal enrichment concerns of people age 50 and older. The department she manages is home to the AARP Livable Communities team, which drives towns, counties and cities to be more livable for people of all ages through educational resources and engagement efforts aimed at local leaders, policy makers, planners and citizen activists. Setzfand comes to the AARP Livable Communities initiative after several years of leading AARP local engagement work in dozens of municipalities nationwide. She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in finance from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. 


Janice Sparks
Senior Staff Analyst, Houston Department of Health and Human Services

Janice Sparks has worked on numerous aging-related research projects at the University of Kentucky, Harvard University and the Harris County Area Agency on Aging. Sparks received her bachelor’s degree from Texas Woman’s University and doctoral degree from the University of Kentucky. She is the manager of Care Connection Aging and the Disability Resource Center, writes grants and develops special projects for the Harris County Area Agency on Aging and helped produce the report Aging Agenda for Houston-Harris County: Moving Toward an Elder Friendly Future.


Jeff Speck, City Planner and Urban Designer

A city planner and urban designer, Jeff Speck is also a writer and lecturer who travels the world advocating for more walkable cities. As director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts from 2003 through 2007, Speck oversaw the Mayors' Institute on City Design and created the Governors' Institute on Community Design, a federal program that helps state governors address and prevent the challenges caused by suburban sprawl. Previously, Speck spent a decade as the director of town planning at Duany Plater-Zyberk and Co., a leading practitioner of the New Urbanism, where he led or managed more than 40 of the firm’s projects. Speck is the co-author of Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream as well as The Smart Growth Manual. His most recent book — Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time — became a bestseller among planning/design titles. The Christian Science Monitor calls Walkable City "timely and important, a delightful, insightful, irreverent work."


Natalie Turner, Senior Programme Manager-Localities, Centre for Ageing Better

The Centre for Ageing Better is a charitable foundation that's part of the United Kingdom’s What Works network of organizations. Natalie Turner handles the center’s place-based work on aging, which includes strategic partnerships with Greater Manchester and Leeds, and manages support for the United Kingdom Network of Age-friendly Communities. Previously, Turner was a member of the AARP International team in Washington, D.C., where she was responsible for identifying and translating international best practices in aging for a United States context. Turner held responsibility for several of AARP's global relationships and was part of the program team leading the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities. Prior to joining AARP, Turner was the head of programs at Age UK London, where she led the development and delivery of programs for and with older Londoners. She earned her master's degree in development from DSC, Dublin.


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