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. 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

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.

Brielle Olshan, Director of Membership & Administration

Brielle joined the Coalition in 2020 and implements development activities, administers the Small Grant Program, serves as liaison to the Board of Trustees and various Committees, manages fiscal sponsorships with member organizations, maintains the website, and leads the Coalition’s DEIJ initiatives. Aside from her work with the Coalition, Brielle is the chair of the Norwood Environmental Commission, loves hiking, gardening, and traveling.

Dylan Medici, Manager of Outreach and Education

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 Program Manager

Ian 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, Event Coordinator

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.