Ilyssa Manspeizer, Ph.D.

Executive Director

Ilyssa Manspeizer is an anthropologist with 30 years of experience working in community-based development and natural resource conservation. Formerly the Executive Director of the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation, she has also managed programs and conducted research on conservation and community development in the United Kingdom, Ethiopia, Zambia, and the United States.  Ilyssa has a wide diversity of experience, including managing and administering non-profits, raising funding for community investment, enhancing community-centric development strategies, developing urban parks, conserving and monitoring African elephants, and evaluating rural African community development programs.

Ilyssa directed the award-winning Emerald View Park initiative for the MWCDC for 7 years, working closely with the community to build Pittsburgh’s newest regional park on 260 acres of formerly mined, denuded and dumped on land on the steep slopes of Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington neighborhood.  Under her direction, the organization raised more than $3 million in investments in the Park, resulting in the creation of a 20 mile trail plan and 10 miles of trails, the creation of the Emerald Trail Corps, the restoration of Mount Washington’s priceless view corridor, the removal of over 300,000 pounds of dumped garbage, the planting of more than 5,000 trees, and the creation of a treasured Park on land once thought to have no intrinsic value.

Ilyssa has a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Binghamton University (State University of New York), an M.Sc. in Nature Conservation from University College London, and a B.S. in Environmental Science from Cook College, Rutgers University.

Ilyssa and her husband Brian have called Pittsburgh home since 2006 and are grateful to have raised their four children here. Ilyssa has also served on the Board of Jewish Family & Community Services. When she’s not at work, with her family, or volunteering, you can find Ilyssa running the woodland trails in Frick Park.

Thomas Guentner

Director of Land Stewardship

Thomas Guentner brings a decade’s worth of leadership experience with equal experience as a trail builder to the Landforce management team. Thomas received a BS from Slippery Rock University for studies focused on Public Relations and Sociology. He has worked as a court appointed advocate for Children and Youth Services and as a direct care worker specializing in independent and transitional living for teens aging out of the system before beginning a tenure with the Student Conservation Association as a crew leader and environmental educator.

Thomas was able to hone his project management and leadership skills as the manager of the Emerald Trail Corps workforce development program for the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation where he assisted in the development of Emerald View Park, Pittsburgh’s newest regional park, employing close to 50 adults with barriers to long term employment. Thomas has completed training workshops in trail building and design through the Professional Trailbuilders Association and in sustainable land care through the Phipps Conservatory. He is also certified in Soren Eriksson’s Game of Logging, the National Green Infrastructure Certification Program, and as a Pesticide/ Herbicide Applicator. Thomas has represented Landforce at numerous conferences, including: City Parks Alliance Greater and Greener Conference, PA Greenway and Trails Summit, Pennsylvania Parks and Recreation Society, American Society of Civil Engineers Sustainability Conference on Green Cities, and Institute for Sustainable Communities’ Peer Learning Workshop. His presentations range have included: workforce development in urban spaces, stormwater management through green infrastructure, trail and greenspace development, and building collaborative workforce programming. Thomas also sat on the Technical Advisory Committee for Pennsylvania’s State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan for 2020-2024.

Thomas has entrepreneurial experience as a former small business owner as well as a creative background as a writer and musician. Restless by nature, when he is not curating his record collection, playing music, playing ice hockey, or making pizza and pierogies by hand, Thomas can usually be found somewhere in the woods with his partner Kira and their loyal adventurer, Bear Bear von Bearenstien, the Duchess of Houndoggia.

Jasimine Cooper

Director of Workforce Development 

Jasimine A.M. Cooper is a native of Pittsburgh, PA. The youngest of seven siblings, Jasimine has always felt the desire to work in the helping capacity. Experiencing the highs and lows of growing up with a single parent in the inner city, Jasimine’s passion to help people who need it most was ignited at a very young age.

Jasimine attended Edinboro University of PA, and graduated with a B.A. in Criminal Justice. At Edinboro she learned that social service is one of the most important aspects of criminal justice. Jasimine began her career in the social service field and has held positions as a Caseworker, Direct Service Worker, Lead Trainer and a Manager in the nonprofit sector. She brings nearly 15 years of front line work experience to Landforce. Staying actively involved in the care and concern of inner city youth, Jasimine also sits on the board of directors for G.O. Girls, a non-profit agency that helps youth who are aging out of the foster care system.

During Jasimine’s free time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, is actively involved in the Pittsburgh Alumnae Chapter of her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, Inc., volunteering throughout the city, and being outdoors.

Kayleigh Del Cotto

Director of Strategic Partnerships

Kayleigh Del Cotto comes to Landforce with over a decade of career experience in program management and nonprofit supervisory roles within the workforce development space. Kayleigh earned her Masters in Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh which first brought her to Pittsburgh. Although she is a midwesterner at heart (Michigan) and a proud Michigander, she calls Pittsburgh home. Kayleigh learned early on in her career that she liked roles that allowed her to form strong connections with people and also offered a variety of projects to work on simultaneously. As a result, the majority of her career has been at the confluence of workforce development and refugee resettlement.

Her first role was at the Pittsburgh refugee resettlement agency Acculturation for Justice, Access and Peace Outreach (AJAPO) where she worked as an employment coordinator and case manager. She enjoyed welcoming new neighbors to the city and supporting them in their job search process. In this role, Kayleigh found a passion for connecting employers to employees and job seekers to work and careers. She continued to expand her workforce development and partnership building experience as the Learn & Earn Manager at Partner4Work, a summer youth employment program — a partnership between the city, county and workforce board. There she gained a greater understanding of the American workforce and how workforce policy impacts Pittsburghers directly. She brought this experience to her most recent position as the Director of Refugee Resettlement for a local nonprofit, where Kayleigh built and worked alongside an amazing team of 10. The team was able to offer up to a year’s worth of welcoming, case management, employment and wrap-around services to help recently arrived individuals and families feel at home in the city. 

When Kayleigh is not working you can find her at the gym (she is an avid powerlifter), in the park (learning to roller skate), practicing her Spanish (she loves to travel), or with her bunnies and partner (she also loves to share education on rabbit care).

Marquita Brown

Work Readiness Manager

Marquita Brown comes to Landforce with over a decade of social service experience. As a middle child raised by a single mother, Marquita has made it her mission to assist and advocate for underserved populations. Marquita previously served as a Family Coordinator, a Neighborhood Resource Coordinator, and a Behavioral Health Technician. These positions allowed her to deliver service coordination and case management to a large diversity of families in the Pittsburgh region; as well as provide classroom behavior intervention strategies to several dozen children in an urban Pittsburgh community. One of Marquita’s favorite projects was training workers across three community and school-based teams in a physical health initiative, facilitating and implementing outdoor activities and wellness planning that ultimately supported a holistic approach to treatment and services.

Marquita obtained a B.S. in Psychology, a B.A. in Liberal Studies, and a Certificate in Children’s Literature from the University of Pittsburgh. Marquita has memberships in the Association of Child & Youth Care Practice, Inc. (ACYCP) and the National Association of Parliamentarians (NAP). These associations allow her to stay connected to child and youth work as well as keeping her grounded in the importance of democratic decision-making in a professional setting. In 2013, Marquita received a Credential for Strengths-Based Family Workers, in 2017 she obtained an Associate Level Certification as a Child and Youth Care Practitioner (CYC-A), and in 2018 she received training as a Wellness Coach.

In her free time Marquita enjoys spending time with her daughter, traveling to Philadelphia to visit family, listening to music, taking walks, and remaining active with Upsilon Eta Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., in which she celebrated 16 years of membership in March 2020.

Shawn Taylor

Site Supervisor, Construction Specialist

Shawn Taylor was one of the Emerald Trail Corps’ original members, joining in 2011, and being promoted to Crew Leader in 2012. With nearly 10 years of trail construction, environmental stewardship, and leadership experience, Shawn has guided the hand-construction of over 20 miles of woodland trail in the southwestern Pennsylvania area, including Pittsburgh’s newest regional asset, Emerald View Park.

A graduate of South Vocational Tech High school, with knowledge in outdoor power equipment technology small engine mechanics Shawn provides technical know-how and vision to each project he has worked on. Shawn is a certified Tree Tender and has participated in several trail building and design workshops through the Professional Trailbuilders Association. Shawn completed his National Green Infrastructure Certification Program training in 2018 as well as the Sorren Eriksson Game of Logging training classes, and in 2019 Shawn successfully completed the Phipps Sustainable Land Care course. His motivation for success and leadership began with his participation in the A. Philip Randolph Institute and extended to his time as a Grounded intern working on sunflower harvesting for Biofuel use and community outreach. Shawn is a self taught small machine operator with experience on skid steers, dozers, and small excavators. 

Shawn enjoys working outdoors and providing a sense of brotherhood among his team. From work to recreation he enjoys all things outdoors. He also enjoys cooking and home DIY projects as hobbies. Shawn is a perfectionist who has an eye for detail and takes immense pride in his work.

Rickey Hebron Jr. 

Site Supervisor

Rickey Hebron Jr. was born and raised in Philadelphia, and moved to Pittsburgh in 2019. He joined Landforce as a Crew Member in 2020. After successfully completing his time at Landforce he moved on to a local landscaping company where he worked his way up from Laborer to Grass Foreman, before returning to Landforce as a Site Supervisor in 2022.

Rickey is a graduate of Olney High School. He is a certified Tree Tender, is certified in chainsaw safety through Soren Eriksson Game of Logging, and is OSHA 10 and First Aid/CPR/AED certified. Rickey brings valuable experience in green infrastructure maintenance, invasive species management, trail building and maintenance, planting, and tool use to the Landforce team.

In his free time Rickey enjoys playing basketball and rooting for his favorite football team, the Philadelphia Eagles.

Anders K. Jeppesen

Project Manager

Anders joins Landforce as an educator with over ten years of experience working as a teacher in Denmark and as consultant for a youth development program in Pittsburgh. He has a bachelor’s degree in geography and teaching from Zahles Teaching College in Copenhagen and an MA in International Development from the University of Pittsburgh.

Anders’ passion for community service and green space was first honed as an upper-level science teacher in Denmark. In 2012, he and his wife moved to Pittsburgh, a transition which opened up an opportunity to pursue his graduate studies. With a major in NGO and Civil Society and a Minor in Urban Affairs and Planning, Anders was able to finish his degree as a green technology fellow at Landforce in 2017, before becoming a program and curriculum consultant at Open Field, a youth development program targeted at immigrant and refugee communities in and around Pittsburgh. During the global pandemic, Anders temporarily relocated to Denmark, where he worked as a teacher and joined the board of Life in Village and School, a non-profit organization that tries to breathe new life into a rural part of Denmark.

Now back with his former colleagues at Landforce, Anders is excited to work alongside a team of energetic people who share his passion for environmental sustainability and local community building. When he is not at work, he enjoys taking his wife, Pernille, and two sons Oskar Emil and Otto to various skateboard parks around Pittsburgh or on hikes along the trails of Western Pennsylvania.

Tricia Dougherty

Director of Operations

Tricia joined the Landforce team in a shared role with the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association in 2018. Prior to her work with Landforce she honed her problem solving, management, and operations skills as a legal assistant at a small law firm for five years.

She has a degree in Political Science with certificates in Women’s Studies and European Union Studies from the University of Pittsburgh. During her undergraduate program Tricia had the opportunity to work for the Women’s Law Project.

She enjoys editing documents, organizing, and making lists. She has served on several boards including with the Garfield Land Trust, the Mayor’s LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council, and Equality Pennsylvania drafting numerous minutes, bylaws, and reports.

In her free time she enjoys listening to podcasts, hiking, and lounging on the porch with one of our office dogs, Pandora.

Elijah Johnson

Communications Manager

Elijah Johnson is a recent alumnus of Savannah State University, a historically Black institution and Georgia’s oldest public university. He received his Bachelor’s of Business Administration in Marketing.

After completing two internships with the National Park Service, Elijah decided he wanted to work in land conservation and also give back to his community. He realized while interning with the National Park Service that it’s vital to learn not only about the many national parks, but also the stories they tell and the majestic beauty and enrichment they add to our everyday lives.

As the new Communications Manager, he will bring his passion for the visual arts and targeted messaging to create business-changing content. He has a proven track record of developing and implementing marketing strategies for brands that increases brand awareness, generates sales, and increases market share. He is excited to convey the stories of Pittsburgh’s land and the people who help restore it.

When Elijah is not working, he enjoys cooking and experimenting with new cuisines. He appreciates the music of Janet Jackson, SWV, and Beyoncé. He also enjoys visiting art museums.