About the Bloggers

SharonNewWebSharon Parks

Sharon is the President and CEO with the Michigan League for Human Services. She has been with the League since 1977, starting as a policy analyst, and most recently serving as Vice-President for Policy.

Sharon has been responsible for direction and coordination of the League’s policy and legislative activities related to a range of state and federal social welfare and fiscal policies. She represents the League on public policy issues before the Michigan Legislature, state commissions and task forces, the community at large,and state and national media. Sharon is also a frequent presenter before state and national audiences and she has authored numerous analyses and special reports on fiscal issues and issues affecting low-income families and individuals in Michigan.

Sharon currently serves as a member of the Michigan Council for Labor and Economic Growth and is Vice-Chair of the Council’s Low-Wage Worker Advancement Committee. She is also the Vice-President and board member of The Michigan Prospect and serves on the board of the Michigan Nonprofit Association. Sharon has a degree in journalism from Michigan State University.

Lawrence (Lary) O. Wells

Lary is the Chief Operating Officer of the Michigan League for Human Services and has been with the League since January 1990.

Primary duties at the League center on services to other nonprofit agencies, in addition to administrative responsibilities in legal, budgeting, payroll and personnel issues at the League. He has been the primary technology person at the League and has the responsibility of helping to keep the computers and the network up and running.

Also CEO of the League’s wholly owned insurance agency, the Michigan League Insurance Project for Nonprofits, Inc., he is a licensed Life, Health, Property and Casualty agent in Michigan, selling such policies to League nonprofit member agencies. He is the author of the insurance chapter in the Michigan Nonprofit Association’s Michigan Nonprofit Management Manual. He has been an Adjunct Professor in accounting at two local business colleges, and is a regular lecturer at nonprofit conferences across the state on lobbying regulations, fundraising, and nonprofit management issues.

Lary also serves as President of the Board of the Human Services Association Workers’ Compensation Fund, Treasurer of the 501 Alliance, on the Board of the Legal Services of South Central Michigan, and on the advisory committee to the Michigan Poverty Law Program, and the State Planning Body for Legal Services. He has a B.A. in Business from Michigan State University, a law degree (J.D.) from Wayne State University Law School, and Master’s of Business Administration – Accounting and Tax from Western Michigan University. Prior to coming to the League, Lary held various positions in Legal Services programs in Michigan and, for a short time, was in private practice.

Jane Zehnder-Merrell

Jane is Director of Kids Count in Michigan and Senior Planning/Research Associate at the Michigan League for Human Services.

Since 1994, Jane has managed the Kids Count in Michigan project that produces an annual data book on child well-being and conducts an ongoing public information campaign around children’s issues. This collaborative project between the League and Michigan’s Children participates in a broad national effort supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation to monitor and improve the wellbeing of children. Jane currently serves as co-chair to the Child Care Task Force and secretary for the Michigan Coalition for Children and Families.

Previous to joining the League staff, Jane managed the Survey Research Facility at the Project for Urban and Regional Affairs (PURA) at the University of Michigan-Flint. She has a B.A. with distinction, a secondary education teacher certificate, and a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Michigan.

JudyWebJudy Putnam

Judy is communications director for the League. She is responsible for media relations, Web and new media content, the League’s First Tuesday newsletter and other communications.

Judy joined the League in 2007 after more than two decades as a newspaper reporter, including 15 years as a statehouse reporter. She worked for the eight-daily Newhouse chain in Michigan, covering the capital and editing Washington Bureau copy. Beats included social services, corrections and education. Prior to that, she worked at the Fort Worth (TX) Star-Telegram, the Grand Prairie (TX) Daily News, the Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger and the Adrian Daily Telegram.

She currently serves on the board of the Mid-Michigan chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Judy has a degree in journalism from Michigan State University.

Karen Holcomb-Merrill

Karen currently serves as the State Fiscal Project Director with the League. In that capacity, Karen oversees the League’s budget and tax policy work and analysis. She also coordinates communication with policymakers on these issues.

Karen is an experienced coalition-builder and advocate. Prior to coming to the League, Karen was the Public Policy Consultant for Tobacco-Free Michigan, working for smoke-free laws. Before her tenure at Tobacco-Free Michigan, Karen served as the Executive Director of Common Cause in Michigan for 14 years. Karen is a graduate of Albion College, with a degree in Political Science and an emphasis in Public Policy.

JHudsonJan Hudson

Jan joined the League in October 2003 after working 30 years for the Department of Human Services (formerly Family Independence Agency and Department of Social Services). Jan’s major responsibilities at the League include healthcare policy analysis and advocacy, and Community Health budget monitoring as well as serving on numerous health-related boards, councils, and coalitions. She has chaired the Medical Care Advisory Council since January 2005.

During her years with the state, she was responsible for budget development, monitoring, expenditure projections, and analysis of numerous Department programs, including Medicaid for about 8 years. She also worked extensively on federal funding for public programs, including Title XIX (Medicaid),  Title IV-E (Foster Care) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Joanne Bump

Joanne serves as a Senior Planning Research Associate with the League. Joanne’s major responsibilities at the League include tax and economic policy, and budget policy for Department of Human Services and School Aid Fund.

Prior to returning to the League in July 2010, Joanne worked in Michigan state government for over 30 years including 9 years with the Office of Revenue and Tax Analysis where she coordinated the Michigan Tax Expenditure Report, the Economic Report of the Governor and the Michigan Economic Review and Outlook, a bi-monthly economic newsletter. She was assigned to the Office of Health and Human Services, analyzing the Department of Human Services public assistance caseloads at the State Budget Office for 9 years.  She also worked as an economist for the House Fiscal Agency.  Recently Joanne developed Long Term Care Services and Support budget requests for the Department of Community Health.

She earned a masters degree from Michigan State University in public sector economics with emphasis in taxation, expenditures and revenues. Her master’s thesis was entitled “Sales Tax on Services, a Michigan Perspective”. She advocated for improving women’s economic and employment policies as a former President of Women in State Government and Women’s Assembly.

Peter Ruark

Peter writes analyses and gives presentations on workforce development, public assistance, family self-sufficiency, wage mobility and low-income tax credits. He produces Economic Self-Sufficiency in Michigan, the annual Money Back in Michigan packet, and the quarterly Economic Security Bulletin. He currently facilitates the Michigan Statewide Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition (and maintains its website), and is an active participant in the Adult Learning Work Group and the National Association of Social Workers—Michigan Chapter.

Prior to joining the League in 2001, he directed an educational after-school program for at-risk children in Grand Rapids, taught English at the university and primary school level in the People’s Republic of China, and worked in the mental health field. Peter has a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy, and a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in policy, planning and administration.

Jacqui Broughton Jacqui came on staff as a Planning/Research Associate with the League in 2006 after working as a research assistant at the University of Michigan.

Jacqui is responsible for researching and analyzing issues related to poverty, workforce development, higher education and financial aid. She also assists with the analysis of state tax issues and the state budget focusing on higher education, community colleges and economic growth, under the State Fiscal Analysis Initiative.  Jacqui uses American Community Survey data extensively and assists with the League’s Web 2.0 efforts.

Jacqui holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Master of Social Work in Organizational and Community Practice, both from Michigan State University. She is a licensed master’s social worker (macro specialty) with the state of Michigan and actively participates with the National Association of Social Worker’s-Michigan Chapter.

Anika Fassia

Anika joined the League as a class of 2010-2012 State Policy Fellow from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Anika’s work focuses on issues of tax policy, budget, immigration, and racial inequities under the State Fiscal Analysis Initiative.

Prior to joining the League, Anika worked with local and state government in Michigan on civil rights, non-profit management, and housing development. She has also done community organizing work in India and Costa Rica.

Anika holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Utah, and a Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan emphasizing in social policy. She currently serves on the board of North American Students for Cooperation, a binational nonprofit promoting community oriented cooperative movements and is the Co-Chair of the Inclusion Committee.

Paul Diefenbach

Paul has been the Data Manager since March 2005. He has a BA in Sociology and a BA in Statistics from Michigan State University. From 1975 to 2002 he was a statistician for the Michigan Department of Human Services. He worked primarily on the federal Quality Control system but also was involved in many special projects. His main duties were sample design, data analysis, report writing, system monitoring and forms design.

After taking early retirement from the state, he had seasonal jobs with a tax preparation service and an educational testing company.


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