Our Team

Senior Accountant

Alton Aimable

As Senior Accountant, Alton has supported the financial health of Ascendant since joining the organization in 2009. Alton is responsible for preparing financial statements, coordinating with property management, managing grants, and supervising accounts payable and receivable. Alton is also a board member of Tropical Fete, a Brooklyn-based non-profit organization that provides classes and mentoring in Caribbean music and performance for youth.
Chris Cirillo
Executive Director/President

Chris Cirillo

Executive Director/President

Chris Cirillo

Executive Director/President

Chris Cirillo

Chris Cirillo became the Executive Director/President of Ascendant Neighborhood Development in July 2012. Since arriving at Ascendant, Chris has expanded the organization’s work to include neighborhood planning, historic preservation, and asset management. He also helped to establish the Northern Manhattan Collaborative and was an early supporter of Landmark East Harlem. Before joining Ascendant, Chris spent 6 ½ years as Vice President for Development at The Richman Group. Chris also held several positions at the NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development over ten years, including Director of Large Scale Development and Assistant Commissioner for Neighborhood Planning. Chris is a graduate of Brown University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies. He recently completed his Master of Science in Historic Preservation at Pratt Institute, and teaches in the Real Estate Practice and Historic Preservation programs at Pratt. Chris is a member of the Board of Directors of the Historic Districts Council and the Board of Directors of Friends of La Marqueta.
Catherine Duncan
Operations & Resident Experience Manager

Catherine Duncan

Catherine Duncan has an A.O.S in Facilities Management Technology. She joined Ascendant in July 2007 as a Concierge, soon moved up to an Office Administrator position, and was recently promoted to the role of Operations & Resident Experience Manager. As O&REM, Catherine keeps Ascendant running by supporting the finance, human resources, and general administrative functions of the organization. She also closely coordinates with residents and Concord Management regarding property management issues.
Derek Gaskill
Project Manager

Derek Gaskill

Derek Gaskill joined Ascendant in 2018 as a development intern, and now serves as the organization’s Project Manager where he oversees various projects relating to affordable housing development, preservation, and neighborhood planning. Derek holds a certificate in Civic Engagement and Leadership from the Murphy Institute and a Master’s in Urban Policy from Hunter College. His graduate capstone, “Protection is Not Enough”, analyzed the barriers transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorker’s encounter when seeking housing. Prior to pursuing an Urban Policy degree, Derek spent five years working as a New York City licensed sightseeing guide.
Matthias Helfen
Communications & Neighborhood Engagement Manager

Matthias Helfen

Matthias Helfen joined Ascendant in April 2020 and oversees press briefs, newsletter publications, fundraising campaigns, and digital content, including AND’s website development & management. Matthias extends this skill set for the Landmark East Harlem coalition (LEH). With a background in community advocacy, Matthias explores intersectional issues to produce inclusive narratives and strengthen AND’s relationships with the residents and community stakeholders of East Harlem and Northern Manhattan. Matthias received a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Colorado and currently sits on the Executive Board of the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust (BQLT) as Grants Committee Chair.
Ryan Hicks
Senior Asset & Sustainability Manager

Ryan Hicks

Ryan Hicks has worked as Asset Manager at Ascendant and the Northern Manhattan Collaborative since 2015, and is responsible for the long-term financial health of more than 2,700 affordable housing units across Northern Manhattan. He has previously worked in housing development, local community planning, and the authoring of in-depth housing studies for the cities of Atlanta, GA and Rocky Mount, NC. Originally from Atlanta, he spends his spare time exploring all five boroughs and seeing way too many movies at repertory cinemas. Ryan graduated with a Masters in Regional Planning from Cornell University.
A.L. Hu
Design Initiatives Manager

A.L. Hu

A.L. joined the Ascendant team in October 2019 as an Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow. As Design Initiatives Manager, A.L. uses their architectural and community organizing experience to grow Ascendant’s capacity for building-specific and neighborhood-level community-based design. A.L. is licensed to practice architecture in the State of New York. They graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation with a Master of Architecture in 2017. They are a member of and a conduit connecting many design and advocacy organizations, including Design As Protest, Dark Matter University, The Architecture Lobby, and AIA New York.

Our Board

We rely on our board members for their expertise, guidance, and passion for preserving and developing affordable housing for New Yorkers. 
Interested in joining our board? We’re looking for new members!
Email Executive Director  Chris Cirillo with questions about how to get involved.

Margaret Davino

Margaret Davino is a partner in the New York City and Princeton, NJ offices of Fox Rothschild LLP, a 950 attorney firm, and a member of the firm’s 95-attorney health law group. Former general counsel to medical centers in New York and New Jersey, Margie is an experienced and effective health care attorney who handles a broad spectrum of health care matters, including transactional, compliance, contractual, corporate, regulatory, governance, managed care/payer (including value-based arrangements) and risk management issues. She speaks frequently on multiple health care-related legal topics. In addition to serving on the Ascendant board, she serves on the board of trustees for Saving Mothers (an organization dedicated to eradicating preventable maternal deaths and birth-related complications in developing countries), Lifespire (a nonprofit serving individuals with developmental disabilities) and SFDS (a low-income housing development organization). Margie has been included on the list of “Super Lawyers” for Health Law in New York by Super Lawyers Magazine every year since 2007. She is past Chair, Health Law Section of the NY State Bar Association, is a board member for the Health & Hospital Law Section of the New Jersey Bar Association, and Chair of the Providers and In-House Counsel Committee, NY State Bar Health Law Section. She is a member of the American Health Lawyers Association. She is also a registered nurse.

Nadia Drew

Nadia Drew has lived in East Harlem for over 50 years. She has worked for many Wall Street companies, has served on Community Board 11, and has been an active AND board member since the 1990s.

Patricia Francis

Bio Coming Soon!

Peter Handel

Peter Handal is President, CEO and a Member of the Board of Directors of SmartSource Rentals, one of the largest national providers of technology solutions for Businesses and Events. SmartSource has 21 offices throughout the United States and serves a wide variety of organizations, including large corporations in virtually every sector, the US political conventions, major athletic and entertainment industry events, trade shows and conferences.

Peter is also CEO and owner of J4P Associates, a real estate concern in Baltimore. Previously, he was Chairman and CEO of Dale Carnegie & Associates, the oldest training company in the world, with 200 offices in 90 countries on 6 continents, training in over 30 languages and publishing a variety of management training books worldwide. In 2014, Peter joined the Board of Directors of Sensor Diagnostics, a Canadian-based company whose technology is dedicated primarily to safe driving. His not-for-profit activities currently include The American Bible Society, Ascendant Community Development, Vista of 5th Org, the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and the Most Holy Trinity Church, where he is a Trustee. Peter has a B.A. from Georgetown University and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago.
Vice Chair

Rocco Papandrea 

Rocco is the Senior Member of the Merrill Lynch Wealth Management Team, PSS & Associates, and has more than 27 years of experience providing financial and wealth management advice and guidance. He is a Certified Financial Planner, Certified Investment Management Analyst, Chartered Retirement Plans Specialist, and a Certified 401(k) Professional.

He has Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management from New York University Stern School of Business, and joined Merrill Lynch as a Financial Advisor in January of 1995. Merrill Lynch has recognized his commitment to his profession and clients with an appointment as Chairman to Merrill Lynch’s Advisory Council to Management, where he represented the interests of Financial Advisors and clients in a forum that is national in scope.

In 2017, he was named to The Financial Times Top 400 Financial Advisors for the 3rd consecutive year. His primary focus is goals based wealth management. Rocco also specializes in retirement, trust and estate planning services for individuals, corporations, small-mid size business owners and non-profit organizations.

Kristen Smith

Kristen Smith is a business attorney in Holland & Knight’s Chicago and New York offices and focuses her practice on multifamily affordable housing finance matters. She represents institutional lenders providing debt financing and investors providing equity financing in the construction and preservation of affordable housing developments eligible for the low-income housing tax credits.

Kristen also represents lenders in transactions utilizing the credit enhancement programs of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. As a former Affordable Housing Fellow at New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), and a former Assistant General Counsel at the New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC),

Kristen has a wealth of experience working with city, state and federal agencies on affordable housing transactions involving tax credits, tax-exempt bonds and multiples sources of subsidy funds in New York City and throughout the United States. She also works with HPD to coordinate its Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises (MWBEs) Building Opportunities Workshops.

Patricio Suarez

Patricio Suarez is a Managing Partner at Grayson Ford LLC, a multi-family office in New York City. He was previously a partner at Anderson Kill, PC, where he worked as a tax attorney. Patricio serves on the Advisory Board to the Cardinal Cooke Guild, an organization dedicated to the promotion of the Cause for Canonization of Terence Cardinal Cooke.


Mr. Warren is a Founding Partner of Workforce Housing Group. Workforce Housing Group has focused on both affordable housing preservation and the repositioning of distressed multifamily properties as affordable housing. Prior to forming WFHG, John worked for 20 years at the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. He served as First Deputy Commissioner of HPD for seven years, acting as Chief Operating Officer of the then-2,700 person, $1 billion annual budget organization, the largest municipal housing agency in the nation. Although he worked on a large variety of initiatives at HPD, he was responsible for managing multifamily properties for virtually his entire tenure at the agency. In addition, John managed the City’s Code Enforcement efforts for eight years. He currently serves as Chairman of Ascendant Neighborhood Development. He has a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of City Planning from the University of Pennsylvania.

Kristina Wiig

Kristina Wiig is a Sales Coach and Sales Strategist with a deep expertise in helping B2B organizations develop and execute a Go-To-Market Strategy. Kris helps to build, market, sell and evangelize products and services that fit a new or emerging market segment that is not being served by existing incumbents in the industry.

She has significant experience with launching sales for disruptive technologies in a variety of industries in including: Financial Data, Technology & Analytics, Interactive Media and Digital Technology, Impact Sourcing, Property Management & Real Estate, Mobile Commerce and Corporate Training & Online Education. Kris is a former Division I basketball player, and played at Brown University.

She has been a volunteer basketball coach since 2001 within the CYO and also works with Positive Coaching Alliance to lead workshops for youth sports organizations on how to build a positive youth sports experience for young athletes.