Who We Are







Julia M. Somers, Executive Director

Julia Somers, NJ Highlands CoalitionJulia has been the Executive Director of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition since the launch of the organization in 2006. Julia provides the comprehensive strategic direction and financial management for the Coalition. Julia’s enriched 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.  Julia is Chair of the Board of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, a Board member of the New Jersey Environmental Lobby, and recently was appointed by the Governor to serve as a Public Member of the New Jersey State Planning Commission.

Elliott Ruga, Policy and Communications Director

Elliott Ruga, NJ Highlands CoalitionElliott 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. Elliott Ruga is a registered Government Affairs Agent. He has a professional background of communications and multi-media production (awarded 2 Emmys), including 17 years at NBC.

Lauren Swern, Development Director

Lauren Swern, NJ Highlands CoalitionSince joining NJHC in May, 2013, Lauren has developed and led a variety of fundraising initiatives which support the organization’s programming and operating budgets. She brings to the Coalition a background in fundraising, marketing, public relations and retail operations. Lauren also serves as Lead Instructor at County College of Morris, overseeing the nonprofit certificate program and teaches some of their fundraising courses alongside talented nonprofit leaders to develop future talent; builds, reshape, and reinvigorate fundraising and nonprofit management participants. Lauren is a member of a variety of professional organizations including the Grant Professional Association (GPA), Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), and Women in Development (WID) and is an organizer for the NJ Environmental Fundraisers Gathering and The Marketing Dinner Club.

Brielle Olshan, Director of Strategy and Operations

Brielle Olshan, NJ Highlands CoalitionBrielle 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. She is chair of the Norwood Environmental Commission.

Dylan Medici, Manager of Outreach and Education

Dylan Medici Dylan grew up in Rockaway Township and received his B.A. in history from Rutgers University. He began his environmental career in 2020 by serving two consecutive Americorps service terms: with the NY-NJ Trail Conference in the Catskills, and with the Student Conservation Association at Minnewaska State Park Preserve in New York. He brings with him a background in creating sustainable and equal access to the outdoors through education and volunteer service. He continues to volunteer throughout New Jersey and New York with the NY-NJ Trail Conference and Jolly Rovers Trail Crew to build hiking trails.

Ian Brastow, Policy Associate and Lopatcong Creek Initiative Project Manager

Ian Brastow, New Jersey Highlands Coalition, Policy Associate and Lopatcong Creek Initiative Project ManagerIan joined the Coalition in October 2022. Ian has his B.S in physics and environmental studies from Haverford College and his M.S. in Geography and GIS from West Chester University. Ian has served as a consultant for NASA, researching light pollution across the Colorado Plateau, and has worked as night sky ranger at Great Basin National Park. In his free time, Ian enjoys tabletop roleplaying games and is a talented leatherworker.

Jen Wanisko, Events Coordinator

Ian Brastow, New Jersey Highlands Coalition, Policy Associate and Lopatcong Creek Initiative Project Manager Jen joined the Coalition in October 2022 bringing with her a blend of programming, event planning, fundraising, and communications experience. A native of Phillipsburg, she earned a B.S. in Environmental Education from Slippery Rock University and worked for YMCA Camp Bernie, Riverbend Environmental Education Center, and Hunterdon County Department of Parks and Recreation before transitioning to a career in nonprofit fundraising. Jen is responsible for the car treks, hike-a-thon, golf outing and other special events to support the Coalition’s mission.

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.