The National Fund is governed by a Board of Directors and its advisory Partners Council with leaders from diverse perspectives across business, education, labor management, workforce organizations, and philanthropy.  

Board of Directors

Chairwoman Whitney Smith

JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Head of Regional Philanthropy for North America

Whitney S. Smith leads the Global Philanthropy team for the Central Region (13 states in the U.S. and Canada), which includes $40MM in grant-making aimed at improving economic opportunity for people in the region. Specific priorities include workforce readiness, consumer financial health, small business development, and affordable housing. Prior to joining JPMorgan Chase, Whitney was with the Joyce Foundation for ten years where she was a Senior Program Director managing both the Employment Program portfolio supporting workforce and skill development initiatives, as well as the Joint Fund for Education and Employment.  Prior to joining the Joyce Foundation, Whitney was associate director of the Chicago Jobs Council and worked with homeless families in New York. Whitney is Chair of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions Board of Directors, and is the co-founder of Workforce Matters and of the Chicagoland Workforce Funders Alliance.  Whitney holds a Bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College and a Master’s degree in social service administration from the University of Chicago.  She, her husband, and middle school twins live in Oak Park with their many pets.

Ivye L. Allen

Foundation for the Mid South


Ivye L. Allen, Ph.D. is President of the Foundation for the Mid South, a regional foundation serving Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The Foundation supports programs and initiatives that focus on community development, education, health and wellness, and wealth building. The organization’s successes include assisting new and incumbent workers secure and retain employment, improving school district performance, and supporting more than 75,000 families improve their financial knowledge and assets. Dr. Allen previously served as Chief Operating Officer for MDC Inc. and was Director of Fellowship Programs for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. She has held finance and marketing positions in Fortune 100 corporations. Her education includes a Ph.D. in social policy from Columbia University; an M.S. in urban affairs from Hunter College; an M.B.A. in marketing and international business from New York University; and a B. A. in economics from Howard University.

Earl Buford

Council for Adult and Experiential Learning


Earl Buford joined the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) as president in April 2021 and oversees the national nonprofit organization’s work to improve education-to-career pathways for adult learners. Buford most recently served as chief executive officer of Partner4Work, the leader of the public workforce system for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, where he managed public and private funds to deliver innovative solutions to ensure that current and future needs of businesses and job seekers are met. Buford also served previously as chief executive officer of Employ Milwaukee, where he was nationally recognized for the implementation and integration of a sector-based approach to workforce development. Employ Milwaukee provided employer engagement through Industry Advisory Boards and created Midwest Urban Strategies, a national consortium of urban workforce boards that built an innovative supply-demand model to cultivate talent development and employer engagement in Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Detroit, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and with the U.S. Department of Labor. Buford also led Milwaukee-based WRTP/Big-Step, which aimed at recruiting and building a diverse workforce in construction, manufacturing, and emerging sectors. He has extensive experience in planning and executing workforce development programs aimed at youth. Appointed in 2014 to serve on Vice President Joe Biden’s Advisory Taskforce on Workforce Development, Buford is active with several national organizations including the Board of Directors for the National Fund for Workforce Solutions and advisory boards of the Council of State Governments, National Network of Sector Partners, and National Skills Coalition. His published works include “Connecting People to Work: Workforce Intermediaries and Sector Strategies'' and “The Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership: The Evolution of an Intermediary, the Shifting Target of Twenty-First Century Manufacturing, and the Continuing Relevance of Unions in Labor Markets.” Buford is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in History. He resides in Pittsburgh, PA.

Denise Cherenfant

1199SEIU League Training and Upgrading Fund

Director, Nursing Education

Denise Cherenfant is the Director of Education at 1199SEIU League Training and Upgrading Fund (TUF). With more than 300 contributing employers, TUF is responsible for providing educational services to 150,000 health care workers in 44 healthcare facilities in the greater New York City metropolitan area. Denise directs the academic and support services for entry-level health care workers seeking to become nurses, serving more than 1200 nursing students annually. She led TUF’s efforts to increase enrollment in Bachelor-level nursing programs and created an innovative series of transition-to-practice programs for newly licensed nurses. Mrs. Cherenfant has been a healthcare worker since the 1980s and has had the privilege of working in various titles caring for those in need.  Denise has worked as a homecare worker; certified nursing assistant; physical therapy assistant; and a registered nurse. Denise has been a member of 1199SEIU since 1990; and has served in various capacities in the union, including contractor administrator; organizer; and member of the Executive Council. Denise holds a Master of Science in Nursing Education from Aspen University. She is a member of the Nursing Honor Society, Sigma Theta Tau International-Delta Zeta Chapter, NYONEL and SEIU National Nurse Alliance. Like many other nurses her giving back is not limited to her career. She loves serving her community.  She is a member of several boards, including the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, The Haiti Education Alliance (THEA), and Aspen University. She volunteers with NYC Medical Reserves, Community of Hope where she utilizes her love of cooking to prepare meals for homeless New Yorkers.

Paula Gilberto

United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut

President and CEO

Paula Gilberto joined United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut (United Way) in Hartford, CT, in March of 1998 as vice president, community services, with oversight for annual funding of programs and initiatives and its nonprofit resource and volunteer centers. She provided leadership in developing United Way’s community priorities, associated multiyear goals, and an outcome-based orientation to program investments. In January 2007, Ms. Gilberto was named senior vice president with expanded responsibilities in strategic planning, resource development, community engagement, and initiatives with local, regional, and national partners. She became president and CEO in April 2016. Ms. Gilberto has led development of public/private partnerships addressing grade-level reading, student achievement, financial security and workforce development. She chairs the steering committees of Hartford Generation Work and Workforce Solutions of Metro Hartford and is on the board of directors of Capital Workforce Partners, the region’s workforce development board. On a national level, Ms. Gilberto has served on various United Way Worldwide task forces and project teams developing organizational standards and replication of successful education and financial security initiatives. Prior to joining United Way, Paula was with the American Red Cross in various managerial positions for the area chapter and Connecticut Regional Red Cross Blood Services.

Michael Gritton


Executive Director

Since Michael B. Gritton's appointment as executive director of KentuckianaWorks in August of 2002, the agency has made several changes geared to creating a 21st-century workforce while improving services to its seven-county region. The result: 12,000 people found jobs, 46,000 received financial aid and career counseling, and more than 5,000 adults completed postsecondary training and found work in the past decade. Mr. Gritton was the co-founder and policy director of MassINC for five years, a non-partisan, nonprofit, state-level think tank in Massachusetts focused on expanding the size of the middle class in that state. While in New England, he also served as the communications director for a state political campaign. He is a member and past president of the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s Workforce Development Council and serves on the boards of Greater Louisville, Inc. (the Louisville Chamber of Commerce) and the University of Louisville’s Community Partnership. He also chairs the Jefferson County Public School’s Adult and Continuing Education Committee. Mr. Gritton, has a law degree from Columbia University School of Law in New York City.

Alejandro Mendoza

Optimax Systems

Human Resources Director

Ale’s foundation of experience and desire to work collaboratively with others was obtained while serving in the United States Air Force from 1998 – 2006.  As the Human Resources Director at Optimax, Ale’ has an integrated role serving as a cross functional bridge within the organization’s strategy while supporting Business unit functions in their strategic roles.  Externally, Ale’ works to collaborate and build relationships and alliances with institutions, agencies, colleagues, and potential employees.  Ale’ holds an associate degree from Monroe Community College, a bachelor’s degree from Rochester Institute of Technology, a master’s degree from St. John Fisher College.

Joanne Pokaski

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Senior Director of Workforce Development and Community Relations

Joanne Pokaski is the Senior Director of Workforce Development and Community Relations at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.  Under Joanne’s leadership, BIDMC has launched programs that sponsor employees’ training and promotion to 13 hard-to-fill occupations, including medical coders and central processing technicians.  BIDMC also provides career and academic counseling and free on-site pre-college courses and college-level science courses for all employees. She founded and for seven years chaired the Boston Healthcare Careers Consortium, which convenes Boston’s employers, academic institutions and workforce system to improve training pathways that lead to healthcare jobs. Prior to BIDMC, Joanne worked as director of a one-stop career center and worked at Goodwill Boston and the Clinton White House.  Joanne earned a Bachelor’s degree in Government from Harvard College and a Master’s degree in Public Affairs from Princeton University. Joanne is a member of Boston’s and Massachusetts’ workforce investment boards.

Peter Strange

Messer, Inc.

Chairman Emeritus

Peter S. Strange is Chairman Emeritus of Messer, Inc., the parent company for Messer Financial Services and Messer Construction Co., a regional general contractor and construction manager. A graduate of the University of Cincinnati in Civil Engineering, Mr. Strange began his career with Messer as a co-op student. In 1989, he led negotiations resulting in the purchase of all outstanding Messer stock by management and employees. He served as CEO of the Messer companies from 1990 through 2013. Mr. Strange has served on many community and industry boards, including serving as board chair for the Cincinnati Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, board chair of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and board chair of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. Currently he serves on the board of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, and on the boards of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Museum, and the Employee-Owned S Corporations of America. Mr. Strange's test for leadership is simple: If you think you are a leader, look behind you. If there is no one there, you're just out for a stroll. Mr. Strange and his wife Ginger reside in Erlanger, Kentucky. Their greatest accomplishments are their children—Andrew, Carrie, and Matthew, and their eight grandchildren.