Empower Ethiopia was co-founded by Lisa Buoniconto (Executive Director) and Todd Hayes (Vice President). They are  are parents of two boys from the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR) of Southwestern Ethiopia as well as two daughters. Lisa and Todd are passionate about issues surrounding extreme poverty and its effect on the health and welfare of children and their families. For the past 25 years, Lisa and Todd have committed their lives to helping children, either working or volunteering in numerous capacities including foster care, coaching, mentoring, and teaching. Empower Ethiopia was formed with the philosophy that “community” extends to any area where people join together to create positive change. 

Lisa has an M.S. degree in Communication Disorders with a background in speech and language pathology and currently works assisting in the administrative offices at the Menands Union Free School District in Albany, NY. Todd has an M.S. degree in Education from College of St. Rose and is third grade teacher at the Waterford-Halfmoon Union Free School District in Waterford, NY.

Belayneh Woldemariam 

In-Country Advisor

Belayneh  was born in Bensa Woreda, Ethiopia. He holds a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Planning from Hawassa University. Belayneh worked for four years as a program coordinator for Wide Horizons For Children (WHFC) in the SNNPR region of Ethiopia. In addition, Belayneh has experience in teaching at multiple levels including teaching Social Studies and Civic and Ethical Education in Hawassa at the primary school level and teaching Group Dynamics and Conflict Management for School principals and supervisors at Hawassa University School of Education

Belayneh has experience in writing proposals, strategic planning, working with multicultural and dynamic groups, monitoring and evaluation, public presentation, and partnership negotiation. With this history and background, Belayneh hopes to continue to serve his community by addressing the ongoing effects of poverty with a particular concern for child welfare and education. Belayneh presently resides in Hawassa and is employed by Save The Children as READ CO Manager for SNNPRS South Area Hub.

Christy Johnson 

Board Secretary

Christy Johnson serves as Vice President of Governmental & Managed Care Services for Premier Home Health Care Services, Inc. and develops information and research on health policy programs and issues across Premier’s territories and serves as liaison for government and regulatory issues. She also is responsible for the development and oversight of Premier’s grant program. 

 Christy is the Vice Chair of the Hudson Mohawk Area Health Education Center Board of Directors, was the former Board Chair of the YWCA of the Greater Capital Region and has served on numerous home care industry boards and advisory groups. She currently serves on various school-related Boards and Committees in Menands, NY, is a youth soccer coach and former Girl Scout Leader. 

 A graduate of Emory University, she holds a Master’s in Public Health from the University of Michigan.

Valecia Parker 

Board Member

Valecia Parker lives in Menands, NY where she resides with her son Jonathon and dog Spot. Valecia has worked for NYS government for 18 years, first with the Labor Department as a Research Analyst and currently for the Office of the Medicaid Inspector General as a Legal Assistant. Valecia earned her certificate in Computer Software Applications from Hudson Valley Community College, her Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies from Tompkins Cortland Community College, and is a current student in the Legal Studies Bachelor’s Degree program at SUNY Canton. Besides volunteering, Valecia enjoys spending time with family, cooking and outdoor activities.

Saba G. Seyoum

Board Treasurer

Saba G. Seyoum assumed the Treasury role with Empower Ethiopia in March, 2017. Currently, Saba is employed as an Accountant at Auterra Inc. and Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG). Three years ago, Saba relocated from Virginia where she was a Senior Accountant with Virginia Premier Health Plan in Richmond. She was with Virginia Premier for 6 years. Prior to that, Saba lived in Fremont, CA where she was a Staff Accountant with Brocade Communication Systems and Flextronics International for about 6 years. In addition, Saba was an Accounting Coordinator for 4 years at Clorox headquarters in Oakland CA. Saba has a B.S. in Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting from San Francisco State University. Saba resides with her husband and two children in Clifton Park, 

Gabby Fisher
 Board President

  Gabby Fisher is the Founder of co-mads, a business whose mission is to help individuals, nonprofits, and businesses "do more good" in their communities & beyond through consulting services, events, and volunteerism. Gabby is also the Senior Producer for the Capital Region (CapNY) Brand Initiative. Empower Ethiopia connected with Gabby after hearing her as a guest speaker on Start-Up Grind NY which features young entrepreneurs. Her spirit and passion for creating positive change in communities throughout the world was infectious. Gabby began consulting with Empower Ethiopia in the Summer of 2019, and soon after joined the Board in a volunteer capacity. Gabby assumed the role of board president in September 2020. 

Macy Hayes

Board Member

Macy Hayes is currently a student at the University at Albany studying Environmental Science. She has a strong background in volunteering and community service with HOBY Youth Leadership, Pay it Forward, and many student groups including peer tutoring, student engagement, and student government. Macy loves to travel whenever she can, and was inspired to become a board member after a trip to Ethiopia in 2018.