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 through our educational programs, and by supporting system-changing projects with incubator and fiscal sponsorship services. Our 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

We recognize that to develop truly effective and systemic solutions, diverse ideas, experiences, and frames of reference are essential.  Moreover, a wide range of perspectives enriches our discussions, enhances our decision-making process, and makes for a more responsive and sustainable organization.   

We also believe that our ability to solve and move past the challenges of our times rests on our ability to listen to each other with deep respect. This takes being able to suspend our position for a moment to truly hear and understand what another is saying. 

Finally, taking the time to build relationships and develop trust is fundamental to creating an inclusive organization as well as a community that works for everyone. 

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

  • examine and undo the ways in which our organization’s norms and culture may replicate practices of exclusion;
  • create programs with the leadership and insight of those they aim to serve;
  • promote practices that will increase the diversity of our staff and participants; and
  • foster a culture that feels accessible and inclusive, where everyone has the experience of being heard. 
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.

Cathy Enz
Cathy is a professor of strategy and business economics at Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business, and School of Hotel Administration.

Leni Hochman
Leni, retired as the COO of Alternatives Federal Credit Union, has enjoyed a career in community development, working on economic and social justice issues.

Steven Holzbaur
Steven has worked with family farmers and small agriculture businesses, primarily as a consultant, working on marketing and distribution issues.

Dhyana Gonzalez
Dhyana is the New York State Partnership Liaison in the Office of Engagement Initiatives at Cornell University.

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

Steven Messmer
Steven is a local entrepreneur and business advisor.

Dominick Recckio, Secretary
Dominick is the member relations manager at the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce.

Kenneth Schlather, Vice-President
Ken is the executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Tompkins County.

Michelle Thevenin, Treasurer
Michelle is the Director of Development at Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes.

Andrew Yale, President
Andy is a retired Ithaca elementary school teacher and staff developer with varied interests in sustainability and human rights.

CTA Audited Statements

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

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Meet the team that makes everything we do possible.

Anke Wessels, PhD

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 +
(607) 255-5027

Lisa Marsella

Director of Operations
Lisa 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) 255-6202

Rachel Smyk-Newton

Associate Operations Director
Rachel Newton came to CTA in 2016 as part of a career change from marine science and coastal management to non-profit bookkeeping and financial management. She loves working for CTA because there are... Read more +
(607) 255-6202

Naomi Smith

Operations Coordinator
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 +

Brian James

Human Resources Coordinator
Brian James brings a business education and human resources experience to CTA as the organization’s new Human Resources Coordinator. A recent transplant from northeastern PA, Brian is excited to be in Ithaca and even more excited to help CTA and its projects improve the world. Read more +
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