Head of Development
Head of Construction
Dir. Digital & Innovation
Dir. Global Partnerships
Senior Project Manager
Sr. Accountant & HR Manager
Assistant VP, Investments
Film & Photo Lead
& Creative Director
& Senior Designer
Chef and Creative Director
Lela Goren is the Founder and CEO of The Plant. She believes in the power of community and feels that physical spaces can bring people together to create experiences that shift mindsets and nurture innovation. The Plant is an integral part of this belief, a place for people to come together to feel a sense of community, to create economic, social and environmental change that shape and solve global issues. A home to solve our planets most pressing issues. A home for climate solutions.
Lela has spent over 20 years as a real-estate developer and investor. She has developed millions of square feet of real estate in New York and globally, including mixed use, residential, office and retail in all phases of assembly, acquisition, finance, design, construction, sales and marketing. Lela is the Founder and CEO of The Lela Goren Group which was born out of her desire to envision and develop new chapters for overlooked buildings full of stories and rich with history. She has worked alongside communities to harness new resources and encourage revitalization while fusing the old with new, rural and urban, art and culture. Most recently, Lela worked as Chief Development Officer at WeWork, overseeing acquisitions, design, development and construction and later as Vice Chair with WeWork, one of the fastest growing companies in New York City history and globally. Before WeWork, Lela was Senior Vice President of Acquisitions and Development at Extell Development and later became the Co-Founder and CEO of the Extell NY Regional Center where she was Partner on numerous Extell development projects.
Earlier in her career, Lela worked at the United Nations, WIPO, where she clerked for former Judge Meir Gabay at the United Nations Administrative Tribunal. As an intellectual property lawyer with a Masters’ degree in International Law, Lela witnessed change happen, or not happen, during her years at the UN in Geneva and then in New York City. Lela believed then as she believes now, that positive change occurs when people are dedicated and passionate, which drives her vision for The Plant.
Her civil engagement work has earned her numerous awards including the 2013 Civic Spirit Award by the Women’s City Club of New York. In 2016 she was named the Women Builders Council Developer of the Year and in 2017, she was recognized for her social activism and awarded the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect Award. She sit on the boards of Reentry Rocks, an organization that helps formerly incarcerated women achieve their goals and become leaders and Donor Direct, an organization that helps women’s rights groups around the world.
As a former professional basketball player, Lela enjoys playing zone defense with her biggest passion, her three children.
Tenzin Seldon is the Co-Founder & President of The Plant. She has spent her career, over a decade in climate, tech, migration and social enterprise. She has been at the intersection of building social impact companies, philanthropy and building international refugee policy. At The Plant, Tenzin is responsible for leading the local, national and global programming. She will be creating the internal engine of The Plant, working with anchor climate partners, bridging investors and philanthropists, and scaling the global vision for the company. In addition, she will be overseeing the international accelerator with Techstars x The Plant to find and fund entrepreneurs working on distinct climate solutions.
Tenzin served as Senior Advisor, Board Member of Earth's Call Fund, in partnership with Lever for Change, which deploys 100 MM for solutions in the climate crisis. She is the founder of Kinstep, a social enterprise platform that connects immigrants to safe and steady jobs across the US. Tenzin worked at the United Nations Regional Office of Asia and the Pacific and the United Nations Environment Programme, where she monitored and recommended policy for the region's disaster relief efforts. She has been a visiting lecturer at Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley. Tenzin’s work has been recognized around the world: as Forbes magazine "Most Likely to Impact the Next Century," World Economic Forum Global Shaper, a Harry S. Truman Scholar by the US Congress, and one of OZY Magazine’s “5 Civil-Rights Leaders for a New Generation. In 2018, she received the 21st Century Icon Awards by the London Stock Exchange. Most recently, she was honored at the United Nations as an Innovative Disrupter.
Tenzin graduated top of her class at Stanford University and went on to be the first Tibetan-American Rhodes Scholar at University of Oxford. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking in nature, badminton, paddle boarding, and going on meditation retreats.
Sharon Harsa is the COO and CFO of The Plant. Tasked with overseeing all aspects of The Plant’s operations and finance, Sharon manages grants and operational partners and ensures smooth and efficient processes throughout the organization.
Sharon relocated to New York City, from Ohio over 20 years ago, while working with Hugo Boss during their expansion throughout the US. In her role, she was integral in evaluating potential retail locations and supporting outlet store operations. Later in her career she gained extensive experience in the finance and operations of various companies spanning the fashion, beauty and home goods industries including roles at Reed Krakoff, Ouidad and La Perla. She has helped companies define and enhance their financial operations while driving profitability through marketing, operational initiatives and business development. Most recently she was CFO of Assembled Brands and General Manager of The Line where she was instrumental in launching content production services that produced editorials and other content for top fashion and consumer products brands. Additionally, Sharon has been a mentor to start-ups through XRC Labs, an innovation accelerator for disruptors in the retail technology and consumer goods sectors as well as Parsons Entrepreneur Academy, a platform to educate and support creative entrepreneurs.
Sharon sits on the board of Valerie Green/Dance Entropy and Green Space and is proud to support the extensive outreach programs they provide the Queens community as well as the incubation of new dance works.
Sharon attended the University of Akron earning a BS in Accounting and is also a CPA. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and three children. In her free time, she enjoys photography, spending time outdoors and dancing. As an avid ballet dancer, she has performed throughout the New York area including at several historic off-Broadway theatres.
Ray Ocasio is the Head of Development for The Plant. He brings over 20 years of development experience leading diverse teams in the creation of millions of square feet globally. As real estate executive he has specialized in complex development structures including, Industrial, Manufacturing, Healthcare, and Mixed-use projects. At the Plant, Ray will orchestrate and oversee the development of The Plant and The Manor utilizing his inclusionary style; extensive development and intergovernmental experiences along with his understanding of entitlements; zoning; landmark preservation; and incentives to bring our pioneering vision to reality.
Ray began his career in politics and public service working for the Manhattan Borough President's Office where he focused on economic and health policy. He later served closely with Hillary Rodham Clinton during her 2000 Senate campaign and as her Executive Assistant in the United States Senate.
Since his tenure in government Ray has supported dozens of Fortune 100 companies leading efforts in master planning; design & construction; workplace strategy; acquisition and disposition of real estate assets. Most recently, Ray was the Managing Director of Project Development Services (PDS) at Cushman & Wakefield where he led teams in the development of projects throughout the tri-state region. From 2010-2016 Ray managed the strategic and tactical implementation of Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation and their Facilities Master Plan (FMP). Ray led the procurement, design, development and construction of a multi-year modernization and expansion effort successfully adding over 2.6 million square feet, representing a 145% growth to the company’s portfolio totaling +$500MM. Throughout his career Ray has developed LEED, WELL and Fitwel facilities and worked with companies to realize energy efficiencies and reduction in utility costs in challenging manufacturing and industrial environments.
Ray received his MSc in Real Estate Development from Columbia University and a BA in Public Policy from The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. He lives in Ridgewood, NJ with his wife and three children.
Brian brings several decades of organizational and construction management experience ranging from small renovations to large ground up projects for national developers, as well as General Contractors.
After many years experience on the General Contracting side of construction, Brian then spent over a decade working for one of the Country’s largest REIT developers where he worked in all aspects of development from design and entitlement to municipal approval, and then from lease and contract execution to construction completion and close-out. He was able to be a key part of some major project expansions and new developments in retail centers throughout the country. Through these joined experiences, Brian has attained a level of knowledge and management capability in construction and development that is respected amongst his peers and colleagues.
Brian has spent the last 5 years as a senior executive at a well-established General Contractor. Responsible for oversight and management of all aspects of operations including estimating, ongoing financial review of projects, negotiation and execution of contracts with clients and sub-contractors, and direct oversight of all project management/execution.
Brian is very excited to become part of such an amazing team with such an important project for our planet and looks forward to the exciting challenges ahead.
Racquel Brown has over 22 years of experience in the construction industry ranging from General Contractors, Real Estate Developers, Construction Mangers/Consultants both in the Public Sector and Private Clients.
Her intuitive ability to understand client needs and an extensive knowledge base, consistent success in creating and improving overall business processes through exceptional skills and abilities in the accounting field has help companies manage the day to day function to run a successful accounting department which is the foundation to any successful business.
Prior to joining The Plant, Racquel served as Manager of Development Finance at We Work, she created procedures for contract processes, payments and budget controls which created a transparent and accountable finance department. Structure, budgeting and accountant ability are the core values- the driving passion for Racquel.
Racquel received her BS in Accounting from University of Phoenix. In her free time, Racquel enjoys traveling, cooking. She is a strong advocate for helping young girls to know their worth and value. Developing the minds and spirts of the young girls, in her life with and those she comes in contact within her travels.
Desirée has managed multi-family and mixed use buildings and the communities that inhabit them for over a decade. Her work entailed developing strong relationships with the community and local officials while working closely with tenants and leading community activities. As a Yonkers resident, she has developed longstanding professional relationships with government officials, local organizations, and the Yonkers community. Her goal is to continue to contribute to the growth, development and success of the City of Yonkers, a city she wanted to call home after her first visit. Due to her strong belief in giving back, she has spearheaded several large community outreach programs within Westchester County. Her charitable work includes organizing one of the largest diaper drives in the area through Kids’ Kloset.
As Head of Community and Government Affairs, she is responsible for working intimately with the Yonkers community on The Plant projects, outreach to government officials in the City of Yonkers, Westchester County and NY State. Additionally, she is collaborating with numerous local partners on programs that focus on green jobs, food security, and climate education.
Desirée graduated with a BS in Public Relations from Utica College and as class president was honored to give the class speech at her graduation ceremony. In her spare time, she enjoys dining locally, traveling abroad, and winning pillow fights at home.
Auston is the Head of Digital & Innovation at The Plant where he helps to lead digital initiatives as well as manage the digital touch points for the company. Previously, Auston was the founder and CEO at Vitality Systems, a health tech startup, where he led a team to create a platform for patients to better understand, manage, and access their healthcare records. At the company he developed the product roadmap, determined functionality priorities, and managed many of the product and project responsibilities of the company.
Auston received a BS in Radio-Television-Film at The University of Texas at Austin where he focused on immersive tech and stereoscopic 3D media. In his free time, Auston loves anything and everything related to music and often DJs at various venues, parties, and events under the moniker Anon.
Nadine Peyser is the founder, innovator and spark behind Nonstop-Enterprises.
Catalyzing partnerships for over 20 years, Nadine engages with changemakers to shape and advance her clients’ needs, whether it is to establish unique corporate partnerships such as those that support a long-term cultural vision, or ones that work to realize a financial mandate towards fundraising, marketing and community goals. An agile thinker, Nadine is adept at stepping in at any stage of the process. She lends her expertise to business development and strategy. Her work includes tactical event ideation, the creation of brand, digital and media alliances, and the procuration of corporate sponsorships that are tailored to be synergistic. Over the course of her career, Nadine has raised $50 million in gross funds from partnerships that she’s conceived, developed, nurtured and grown.
Nadine Peyser holds a BA in American Studies from Skidmore College and an MS in Urban Planning from the GSAPP, Columbia University. At Columbia she was awarded best master’s thesis on the subject of revitalizing Lower Manhattan by converting office use to residential use, when the concept was nascent. She’s held positions at the private Landmarks Conservancy, New York City’s Landmark Preservation Commission and at the J. M. Kaplan Fund. For nearly a decade she served as Director of Corporate Sponsorship & Business Development for Tishman Speyer at Rockefeller Center. Recent clients include The Shed, The City of Miami-Art in Public Places, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, Copenhagen Airport, The Andy Warhol Museum, and Legends/One World Observatory.
Rachel Gogel is a designer, creative director, and public speaker from Paris, France, who is currently responsible for defining The Plant's visual identity. She is committed to helping brands retain their integrity in a world demanding disruption. As a constant champion for organizational culture, Rachel believes in fostering spaces that unlock human potential.
Rachel is a member of the Institute of Possibility, a collective of twenty individuals working to redesign our world for deeper, generative connection. This platform will amplify Rachel’s commitment to supporting womxn-led causes and addressing gender-based disparities in the design industry. Rachel has also been recognized by Inc. as one of 2016’s “30 under 30 Movers and Shakers” and by Forbes as one of 2015’s “30 Under 30” in media.
Rachel has worked at the intersection of advertising, strategy, product, and editorial for over a decade—from launching story-driven experiences at Godfrey Dadich Partners (GDP) to building multidisciplinary teams at The New York Times’ award-winning T Brand Studio and Facebook. She is a passionate people manager dedicated to professional growth, empathy, and inclusion.
Beyond this, Rachel continues to use design as a tool for change and seeks to influence the next creative generation as a design educator. She recently facilitated an SF Design week event called “Promoting Inclusion Through Design,” keynoted Dropbox Design's new online event series for “Ladies Who Create,” judged Core77’s virtual student showcase, and encouraged colleagues from GDP to design Pride-themed Zoom backgrounds, which gained attention from Print magazine. She is an active member of the Queer Design Club and previously served as a board member for the Society of Publication Designers. She currently lives in San Francisco with her fiancée and cat.
You can follow her @rgogel on both Instagram and Twitter and see her work at rachelgogel.com.
Mandisa has been producing events and cultivating communities in New York City since 2005. With Lela Goren Group, she’s been a producer of events at the Women’s Building, including the opening block party and the Annie Leibovitz's New York showing of “WOMEN: New Portraits”.
Before Lela Goren Group, Mandisa served as the Director of Community for SeeMe, guiding a global membership of hundreds of thousands of artists. She has previously worked as a community director for Jack Erwin and 3rd Ward, a multidisciplinary creator space in Brooklyn.
Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Mandisa has lived in New Jersey, California, Georgia & Louisiana due to her father's job at UPS. She originally moved to NYC for a boyfriend, but eventually finished college and started a career of connecting people to community through events and happenings that have touched the world.
Connie Harrigan has over 20 years of experience in the accounting field. Her experience ranges from Bookkeeping Manager, Accounting Manager to Assistant Controller. As Senior Accountant and HR Manager at The Plant, Connie brings a background that covers real estate, banking and CPA firms.
Prior to joining The Plant, Connie served as Assistant Controller for a construction and real estate company where she was instrumental in providing financial advice, creating budgets and projections for major development projects.
Connie grew up in the Caribbean on the Island of Anguilla, but New York has been her home for over 15 years. In her leisure time, Connie enjoys traveling and fun adventures.
After spending eighteen years in Singapore, Leah Zulkoski attended Bates College where she double-majored in Economics and East Asian Studies. There, she focused her studies on the dynamism of the Chinese economy and wrote a senior thesis titled “The Socioeconomic Implications of Interethnic Marriage in Rural China.” After graduation, she joined Moody’s Investors Service where she spent a number of years assigning ratings to Commercial Mortgage Backed Securities. Immediately prior to starting at Columbia Business School, Leah worked on an economic development-focused, ground-up real estate development in Burlington, Vermont. Leah spent her summer internship with the Real Estate Transaction Services group at New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and received her MBA from Columbia Business School in May 2020.
Céleste is a Project Manager, working on the Development team to advance both the Plant and Manor projects.
Previously Celeste worked in park consulting and management. She worked on park projects across the country, consulting mainly on programming and operations of public spaces both pre-and post development. She also managed a public park, planning and executing free public programming, and helping to manage events and daily operations.
Céleste plays Ultimate Frisbee in her free time, and her team finished the 2019 season ranked 8th in the Northeast.
Céleste received a BA in Urban Studies from Vassar College.
Joan Vogt has been a part of the evolution of the film industry in Yonkers from the beginning. At The Plant, Joan is the Head of Film & Photo.
Joan loves her long lasting relationships within the industry. For the past 20 years, Joan has been the Liaison for film/photo at Alder Manor. She turned incidental revenue into an economic driver for the historical site. Over time, and with the dedication of the City of Yonkers, Joan has been a part of the film boom, with a catalogue of shoots from artists like Annie Leibovitz, Robert De Niro and Beyonce.
Joan has an MFA in Fine Art from CUNY Lehman. Finally moving “up the line”, Joan now lives less than 3 miles from Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, where she works with other activists to advocate for the community.
Gary has been the Facilities and Site Manager for the Lela Goren Group since 2016. At The Plant he will maintain both The PowerPlant and The Manor where he works on the HVAC system, roof repairs, and overall site work.
In 2010, Gary founded Kesabian Construction where his company worked on commercial and residential development projects in NY. Thereafter in 2017, Gary was the Facilities Manger at WeWork Head Quarters where he managed a team which maintained the building facilities including the IT equipment, electrical, plumbing and all other related maintenance work. He also has a strong background in residential and commercial construction.
Born in Armenia, Gary came to New York when he was two years old. When Gary is not busy at work, he likes to go fishing and spend time with his family.
Bjarke Ingels started BIG Bjarke Ingels Group in 2005 after co-founding PLOT Architects in 2001 and working at the Office of Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Through a series of award-winning design projects and buildings, Bjarke has developed a reputation for designing buildings that are as programmatically and technically innovative as they are cost and resource conscious. Bjarke has received numerous awards and honors, including the Danish Crown Prince’s Culture Prize in 2011, the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 2004, and the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Award for Excellence in 2009. In 2011, the Wall Street Journal awarded Bjarke the Architectural Innovator of the Year Award. In 2016, Time Magazine named Bjarke one of the 100 most influential people in the world today.
Alongside his architectural practice, Bjarke has taught at Harvard University, Yale University, Columbia University, and Rice University and is an honorary professor at the Royal Academy of Arts, School of Architecture in Copenhagen. He is a frequent public speaker and has spoken in venues such as TED, WIRED, AMCHAM, 10 Downing Street, and the World Economic Forum.
Daniel joined BIG in 2008 and has worked on many of BIG’s most prominent projects and winning competitions, including Tallinn Town Hall, Slussen Masterplan in Stockholm, Astana Library in Kazakhstan, Qingdao Bridge in China and the international competition for a new entrance pavilion at the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec. Daniel was one of the lead designers of the prize-winning Maison Des Fondateurs Audemars Piguet (Audemars Piguet Museum) in Le Brassus, Switzerland and the PARC Jussieu Campus in Paris. Recently, he worked as Project Leader for VIA 57 West, a mixed-use residential building in New York City. Daniel currently oversees the expansion of the Google Campus (Google North Bayshore and Google Charleston East) in Mountain View, California; the Audemars Piguet Hotel also in Le Brassus, Switzerland; the Spiral high-rise and the Eastside Costal Resiliency project (BIG U) both in Manhattan, New York; and the Wilson Secondary School in Arlington, Virginia. With a background as a photographer and graphic designer, Daniel is a strong communicator, leading visualization and graphical representation at BIG. Daniel moved to New York in 2010.
Alana Goldweit is a Designer at BIG. She has collaborated on numerous cultural and residential projects, including future-marking and visionary masterplanning projects such as the UC Berkeley Global Campus masterplan, the multi-award-winning Smithsonian Institution South Campus Master Plan and Oceanix Sustainable Floating Cities. She has managed the coordination of large client and consultant teams, as well as diverse stakeholder groups. In addition, Alana served as Project Leader on BIG’s feature exhibition at the National Building Museum in Washington DC, and led the team to design and curate the large scale exhibition that received 100,000 visitors in its first two months. She spearheaded the design and publication of Hot to Cold, a 700 page book published by Taschen, which highlights 60 of BIG’s latest architecture projects. Alana brings to BIG experience gained at several New York City architecture firms including Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). Alana received a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from Barnard College, Columbia University and a Master of Architecture from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, where her work was exhibited, published, and recognized with honors.
Jim Kirsch developed a passion for food as a child by watching his mother, Abigail, teach cooking classes out of the family kitchen. The seeds of the catering business were planted in the late seventies when Abigail and her husband Bob began catering in Westchester County. In these early days, Jim worked after school and during college catering events. He then gained experience outside the family business working in various Los Angeles restaurants, managing Bloomingdale’s New York restaurants, and launching the equipment rental division for Design Cuisine, a leading Washington D.C. caterer. Jim re-joined the business full time in the late eighties, at which time operations morphed from catering to include exclusive venue management. The Company grew to include diverse operations in New York City, Westchester and Connecticut. Abigail Kirsch Catering became a part of Elior NA in 2016. The company continues to grow with increased resources and scope of services. Jim works closely with senior management, developing and advising on new projects.
Alison Awerbuch, Chef and Creative Director of Abigail Kirsch, leads one of the tri-state area’s largest on and off premise catering companies. As the visionary behind all food, beverage and creative design, Alison oversees a team of talented chefs who work across all Abigail Kirsch properties and off-premise catering division. In addition to overseeing menu development and execution, Alison also works closely with event planners and clients on overall event design. Her ability to continually set new food and design trends makes an Abigail Kirsch experience one of the most unique and talked-about in the industry.
A graduate of the University of Michigan and the Culinary Institute of America, Alison has served on the Advisory Council for Catering Magazine and is a former President of Les Dames d’Escoffier, New York Chapter. Alison has also worked closely with several charitable organizations, serving as a featured chef at The James Beard House annual gala, co-chair for SHARE’s annual fundraising event and as a former board member and current co-chair of Feeding Westchester’s annual gala. Alison has been featured in regional and national print and television media including Vogue, New York Magazine, Town and Country, The Knot and HGTV.
With over 25 years of sales and operations experience in the hospitality industry, including hotel, restaurant and on and offsite catering, Chris oversees and manages the Abigail Kirsch portfolio of properties and its leadership team. Additionally, through AK’s parent company, Elior NA, Chris oversees catering operations for the Dinning & Events Division, which includes Constellation Culinary Group and Design Cuisine, and with properties spanning New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Philadelphia, South Florida and Washington D.C.
Chris joined Abigail Kirsch in 2008. Prior to joining AK, Chris worked for 8 years as a Corporate VP of Food and Beverage for The Glazier Group. At the Glazier Group, Chris oversaw the opening, development and on-going sales/operational management of food service for both the Westminster Hotel in Livingston, NJ and the Reach Resort in Key West. Prior to this Chris, worked in both sales and operations at The Grand Hyatt Hotel in NYC.