Center for Transformative Action

CTA helps create communities that are socially just, ecologically sound, and work for everyone.

The Center for Transformative Action (CTA) helps create communities that are socially just, ecologically sound and work for everyone. We do this by providing educational programs and fiscal sponsorship services to innovative social change initiatives. These projects work to transform the structures as well as the habits of mind that produce inequities in our communities, country and the world. Through their innovative methods, as well as their successes and challenges, they show us what is possible.

Our Vision: We envision change makers everywhere engaging and strengthening the power of the heart to remake the world.

Our Mission: We are an alliance of individuals and organizations inspired by principles of nonviolence and committed to bold action for justice, sustainability, and peace. CTA supports change makers with the tools to build thriving, inclusive communities that work for everyone. We serve our projects, the public, and Cornell University by offering educational programs and strategic organizational resources.

Commitment to Diversity, Antiracism, and Abundance Thinking

We know that to achieve an equitable, socially just, and ecologically sound society, we must work to dismantle the systems, structures and relationships of power that perpetuate racism, oppression, and exploitation.

We recognize that to develop effective solutions to intractable problems, we must build fierce alliances across difference, support the assets of places and people, and take the lead from those with lived experience who intimately understand the problems we seek to address.  

We also believe that our ability to create communities that work for everyone rests on our capacity to listen to each other with curiosity. This means being willing to suspend our position for a moment to truly hear and understand what another is saying. Then, authentic dialogue can ensue and unforeseen possibilities emerge.  

Thus, taking time to build relationships, to acknowledge the complexity of historical and current experiences, and to work toward trust are fundamental to creating an inclusive organization as well as a community that is actively dismantling systems and norms that perpetuate oppression and exclusion. 

These practices are central to our mission and require continuous attention as well as intention. To this end, we commit to:

  • educating ourselves about racial justice, racial violence, and white privilege;
  • examining and undoing norms that can replicate exclusionary practices and power structures within our organization;
  • resisting in our decision-making the competitive, urgent, individualistic, either/or, right/wrong scarcity mindset dominant in our culture; instead, cultivating collaborative, both/and, asset-based and abundance thinking, all of which takes time;
  • supporting programs that center the leadership, insight, and experience of those they aim to serve;
  • promoting policy and practices that increase the diversity of our staff and participants;
  • fostering an inclusive and accessible workplace where everyone has the experience of being heard;
  • engaging thoughtfully in antiracist actions that work to dismantle the structures, power relationships, and habits of mind that perpetuate inequitable outcomes within our organization, community, and society: and
  • establishing accountability processes throughout our organization to hold ourselves to these commitments.
Theory of Change

History and culture have produced social norms that structure how we work, socialize, engage, and even think. Layered within them are messages about what is good, right, worthy, and heroic—and what, or who, is not. While these messages may guide us to behave well, they also reinforce a fear of those unlike us. This fear and the anger that runs close on its heels shut down our natural impulse to empathize and connect—to act from the heart. 

“Us vs. them” thinking, polarized positioning, and discord across differences such as race, class, ethnicity, religion, or political leanings result. Experiences of being threatened and wronged by the “other” can justify patterns of exclusion, injustice, and violence that tear at the fabric of our communities—and our very being. 

Transformative Action calls for courage to break the silence that surrounds these injustices; patience and compassion to build an inclusive movement for systemic change; imagination to stay free from “us vs. them” strategies; and inspiration to envision new solutions to common challenges. 

When we animate the power of our hearts in these ways, bold actions result:

  • We find common purpose with others
  • Take pressing social problems in hand
  • Live our lives out loud
  • Listen deeply, act courageously
  • Transform ourselves and each other
  • And ultimately co-create thriving, inclusive communities that work for everyone.

At CTA, our projects and initiatives engage and strengthen the power of the heart, and our services support bold change makers. Because Ithaca, Cornell University, and New York exist in a far-reaching network, the impact of those empowered through our programs ripples across the country and the world, transforming lives and communities. This is our vision for change.

CTA and Cornell University

The Center for Transformative Action is an independent 501(c)3 affiliated with Cornell University. As an affiliate, our center plays a unique role by offering courses and programs to Cornell University and serving as an incubator for innovative nonprofit social ventures on campus, in our community and across New York State.

Since 2008, we have been teaching courses in social entrepreneurship at the university and leading Cornell’s involvement in the Ashoka U network of changemaker campuses.

CTA began as the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy in 1971 to house the social justice efforts that emerged from Cornell United Religious Work in the 1960’s. In 2006, we re-focused our vision to deal with a polarized global society and brought transformative action to the forefront of our efforts, changing our name to reflect our new vision. In 2011, we expanded our fiscal sponsorship offerings to include projects from across New York State. 

Board of Directors

CTA’s board of directors is responsible for overseeing the activities of our entire organization, including all our projects. The board meets every month except for July.

Glen Dowell
Glen is a professor of management and the Senior Director of the MBA and MPS programs in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

Susan Fleming
Susan is an educator, researcher, and business consultant who focuses on women in leadership.

Dhyana Kuhl Gonzalez
Dhyana teaches English in the Ithaca City School District.

Rob Klein
Rob is a Psychology PhD in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology student.

h3. Heather Kolakowski, Secretary
Heather is a lecturer in food and beverage management in Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration.

Laura Larson
Laura is the owner of the Odyssey Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Ithaca.

Dominick Recckio
Dominick is the Communications Director for the Tompkins County Administration.

Denise Ramzy
Denise is a Senior Lecturer in Design Strategy in the Dyson School of Applied Economics at Management at Cornell University.

Michelle Thevenin, President
Michelle is the Director of Development at Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca.

Martha Williams
Martha is the membership coordinator for Black Farmers United of New York State. She also sits on the Farmer Training Program Advisory Committee of the Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming.

CTA Audited Statements

To review our recent audited statements please download the following file.

CTA Picture

Meet the team that makes everything we do possible.

Anke Wessels

Executive Director
Anke Wessels has served as the executive director of CTA since 1998. She is inspired everyday by the diverse and talented people she works with, people committed to living a life of purpose... Read more +

Lee Marsella

Director of Operations
Lee Marsella has been with CTA since 2013. She has a degree in Accounting and enjoys working for an organization that does good work in the world and that values her contribution to that work. Read more +
(607) 319-2602

Naomi Smith

Program Manager
Naomi Smith joined CTA's team in early Spring of 2018. Her passion for nature, art and culture, and vibrant communities led her to an educational background in natural resource sustainability, graphic design, and communications. Naomi loves working for an organization whose values align with her own. Read more +
(607) 319-2602

Christina Mead

Bookkeeping Coordinator
Christina Mead joined the CTA team in June 2020. She is delighted that through CTA, her love of numbers and spreadsheets can support work for justice and positive social change. Read more +

Brooke Ashton

Operations Coordinator
Brooke Ashton joined the CTA team in February, 2022. She has degrees in sociology and public administration and a background in administration in the private and nonprofit sectors. She brings commitments to social justice and equity and supporting the work of organizations that make positive changes in the everyday lives of individuals and communities. Read more +

Francesca Austin

HR Coordinator
I have a degree in English Literature and am inspired by people, unique perspectives, nature, and art. I'm so happy to be a part of the community here in Ithaca and at CTA. My interest in HR lies in creating a comfortable environment for everyone in the workplace, and am eager to help out in CTA's mission of making the world a better place. Read more +
Volunteer opportunities at CTA will change your life.

Get connected