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.  Reach out to Lauren at

Brielle Olshan, Director 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. She is chair of the Norwood Environmental Commission.

Joseph Hernandez, Policy Assistant and Lopatcong Creek Initiative Program Manager 

Joe started his work with the Coalition in 2021. With a great passion for the Highlands and it’s ecosystems, he strives to connect with the community using public presentations, workshops, and volunteer opportunities in order to foster an appreciation for the significance of the Lopatcong Creek Watershed. Joe is a graduate of Stockton University in Marine Biology and has developed a broad scope of knowledge in watershed conservation through the New Jersey Watershed Ambassador Program. He also has experience spreading awareness through his YouTube channel, “Joe the Naturalist,” focused on local wildlife.

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.

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.