Julia M. Somers, Executive Director

Julia has been the Executive Director of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition since the launch of the organizationin 2006. Julia provides the comprehensive strategic direction and financial management for the Coalition. Julia’senriched experience includes having been the first Executive Director of the Great Swamp Watershed Association, a not-for-profit environmental organization founded to preserve and protect the 36,000 acres of the Great Swamp watershed.

Elliott Ruga, Policy & Communications Director

Elliott has over 25 years of environmental and historic preservation advocacy experience. Working with the Coalition since November 2007, he leads the implementation of media and educational campaigns, attends Highlands Council meetings and interacts with state legislators and regulators, Council staff, provides guidance to groups working to protect Highlands resources, and reaches out to municipalities regarding municipal conformance.He has a professional background of communications and multi-media production (awarded 2 Emmys), including 17 years at NBC.

George Stafford, Uphold the Highlands Program Director

George’s career in government service, politics, business and as a columnist and publicist has given him the background needed for implementing our Uphold the Highlands Campaign. His experience holding government positions allows him to relate with a customized pitch to elected leaders about the importance of promoting strong protection for the Highlands, helping them make the connection and understand that what happens in the Highlands affects them.

Lauren Swern, Development Director

Since May 2013, Lauren works on diversifying and expanding our grant funding opportunities and increasing our organization funding sources. She teaches grant writing and fundamentals of fundraising certification programs at County College of Morris, serves on the Street Smart Advisory Morristown Committee, the Marketing Dinner Club and is a Jersey Shore Public Relations and Advertising Association award judge. She comes to the Coalition with a background in fundraising, marketing, public relations and retail operations.

Chrissie Larson – Development Associate

Chrissie joins us with many years of experience working on fundraising events both as a volunteer and professionally with ANJEC. She coordinates events to raise both funds and awareness of the Coalition.

Brielle Olshan, Manager of Membership & Administration

Brielle joined the Coalition in October 2020. She maintains the Coalition’s membership database, handles membership renewal cycles, processes and tracks donations to the Coalition, and manages fiscal sponsorships with member organizations. Additionally, she oversees the Small Grants Program and provides technical and administrative support to the Board of Trustees. Brielle joins the Coalition with policy, planning, and development experience from The Land Conservancy of New Jersey and the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed.

Juniper S. Leifer, Project Coordinator

Juniper began working for the Coalition in 2014, actively educating and engaging Lopatcong Creek watershed residents through presentations, workshops, and volunteer opportunities while reaching out to local and state officials to raise awareness about the importance of river-friendly living throughout the Watershed. Juniper has had diverse roles as a community leader. Her experiences include: Director of Lopat Speaks, Minsi Trails Council Boy Scout Camp Director, newly appointed to the Lopatcong Environmental Commission, and Corporate Trainer.

Zachary Cole, Outreach & Education Director

Zac joined the Highlands Coalition in 2018. He holds a Masters Degree in Environment & Sustainable Development from University College London and has worked with a variety of approaches to sustainable development in Europe and the US. Now he manages our outreach programs here in the New Jersey Highlands, and coordinates our social media. Zac is enthusiastic about the outdoors; cycling, rock climbing and hiking. Get in touch to arrange a presentation about our work, invite us to an event or for a bike ride through the Highlands.


Karen Buchanan, Bookkeeper

Since 2006, Karen has maintained the New Jersey Highlands Coalition’s bookkeeping, including recording financial transactions, managing accounts payable and receivable, reconciling bank statements, completing annual tax forms, preparing monthly financial reports and budgeting and assisting with yearly audits.