Milagros Baez O’Toole, Chairwoman
Milagros Baez O’Toole was born in San German, Puerto Rico and came to New York City with her family in the early 1950s. She serves on the Executive Boards of various other organizations, namely, Chair of The Puerto Rican Family Institute, Treasurer of its Hope for Children and Families Foundation, and Board member of its Head Start Policy Board. She also serves on the Executive Board of The Institute for the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Elderly and is a retired Founding Board member and Treasurer of the National 100 Hispanic Women, Inc. Her career in civic service spans over thirty five years. She has served as Deputy Commissioner for Administration and Planning Services for various NYC agencies, including the Department of Probation, the Human Resources Administration, and the Department of General Services. She was the first woman and Puerto Rican appointed by Governor Cuomo to the position of Deputy Commissioner for Operations for the NYS Office of General Services where she served from 1986 to 1995.
Carmen Villa-Lugo, Esq., Vice Chairwoman
A Bronx resident her entire life, Carmen Villa-Lugo, of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent, has dedicated her career to community service in the South Bronx. She became involved with the Acacia Network family in 1997 when she joined the Board of BASICS, Inc. as Vice Chair. She has since become the Chairwoman of the BASICS Board of Directors, and serves as Vice-Chair for the Acacia Network Board, as well as for many of the entities that operate under the Acacia tree.
A graduate of New York Law School, Mrs. Villa-Lugo has served as Court Attorney to several Judges of The Civil Court of the City of New York, in Bronx County, for over 15 years. Over her 30 year career, in addition to practicing law, she has worked extensively in the area of social services for several nonprofit organizations.
Eduardo Alayon, Treasurer
Eduardo Alayon was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico and moved to the Bronx at an early age. He holds a Masters Degree in Social Work and Administration from Hunter College. Mr. Alayon serves as Treasurer of the Acacia Network Board of Directors, and as Chairman of General Development Orientation Council, Inc. (GDOC), a branch of Acacia Network, which provides services for individuals with mental illness. For 30 years, Mr. Alayon has served as the Support Service Manager for the South Bronx Mental Health Council, Inc. where he administers the mental health treatment programs and the community residence programs. He has served on numerous Bronx community-based organizations Boards. He currently serves on the Bronx Community Health Network, Inc. Board of Directors.
Henry Comas, Secretary
Henry Comas is a lifelong resident of New York City. He received his Bachelors Degree in Urban Planning from the State University of Buffalo. In addition to serving on the Acacia Network Board of Directors, Mr. Comas is a member of the Board of Directors of East Harlem Council for Community Improvement (EHCCI), a branch of Acacia Network.
Mr. Comas holds the title of Operational Specialist for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development Regional Administrator Office, where he coordinates programs with other federal, state and local agencies to assure effective linkages. Additionally, he serves as the New York Region II Continuity of Operations Coordinator. His twenty-year career at HUD has made Mr. Comas an expert in intergovernmental relations and various Federal urban programs.
Iris W. Ramírez, Member
Iris W. Ramírez was raised in Peñuelas, Puerto Rico and in Waterbury, Connecticut. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Latin American and Caribbean Studies from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. Ms. Ramírez has been a Bronx resident since 2001. Ms. Ramirez also serves as Treasurer on the Casa Promesa Board and as Secretary on the South Bronx Management Company Board, both subsidiaries of the Acacia Network.
Ms. Ramírez has been serving the community for a number of years. She has been a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City since 2004 and is a founding member of Latino Bigs, an affinity group of Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City. Ms. Ramírez is also a founding member of the Bronx Volunteerism Coalition which works to increase Bronx resident participation in volunteer-driven groups. She also serves on the Board of Mercy Center located in the South Bronx. Ms. Ramírez works as a Paralegal specializing in Business Immigration Law.
Raul Russi, CEO
Raul Russi is the Chief Executive Officer of Acacia Network, Inc. As such, he provides executive management of the day to day operations of the largest Puerto Rican-founded organization in New York, with an annual budget of more than $300 million in revenue and $400 million in assets. Acacia Network employs more than 2,500 individuals and serves over 120,000 people a year in the areas of Primary Healthcare, Behavioral Health, Substance Abuse Treatment, Affordable Housing, Transitional Housing for the Homeless families and individuals in partnership with the City of New York, Real Estate Development and Management in New York City, Albany, Buffalo, Florida and Puerto Rico, as well as Economic Development. In 2012, Hispanic Business magazine recognized Acacia Network as the 2 nd largest Latino Non Profit Organization in the United States and in 2013 and in 2013 Hispanic Executive Newsletter (http://hispanicexecutive.com/2013/acacia-network/ featured Raul in an article New York’s Finest.
Raul was born in Patillas, Puerto Rico and migrated to Buffalo, New York with his family as a child. His professional career began in 1971, when he joined the Buffalo Police Department and became Buffalo’s first Hispanic police officer. During his fifteen year career as a police officer, he excelled as a dedicated and conscientious officer and arrested and convicted more violent offenders than any other officer in the department’s history. He is also credited with implementing recruitment initiatives to increase minority hiring. He retired after he was shot in the line of duty in 1985. He was awarded the Department’s Purple Heart. He then joined the State Commission of Correction’s Citizens Policy and Complaint Review Council. In 1986, he became Superintendent of the Erie County New York Correctional Facility. Three years later, he was appointed Chairman of the New York State Parole Board and CEO of the Division of Parole by Governor Mario Cuomo. In 1995, he became the first Puerto Rican/Latino Sheriff of the City of New York. As Sheriff, he led an agency of 346 personnel and managed the collection of approximately $100 million in outstanding judgment debts on behalf of the City of New York and private sector clients.
Raul also built an impressive record of accomplishment in the human service arena beginning in the early seventies. In 1973, he created the Consortium of Spanish Speaking Organizations, the first full service agency headed by a Puerto Rican/Latino in Buffalo, followed by the founding of the Western New York Hispanic and Friends Civic Association. He provided the leadership and spearheaded the creation of Western New York’s first residential substance abuse treatment program, Horizon Village, then incorporated and chaired the board of La Alternativa, Buffalo’s first Hispanic based substance abuse prevention program. He then merged La Alternativa with two other organizations to create Buffalo’s largest Hispanic Organization, Hispanos Unidos de Buffalo, which has joined the Acacia Network as an affiliate since 2011.
In 1996, Raul was appointed Commissioner for the New York City Department of Probation, the nation’s second largest Probation Department. Additionally, he has held positions as the Executive Vice President of America Works, where he developed a program that focused on training and securing employment opportunities for individuals affected by the criminal justice system. In 2001 he became the Executive Director of Basics, Inc. and led Basics until 2009 when it affiliated with Promesa and established the network he now leads, Acacia Network, Inc.
Raul Russi has four children and lives in Manhattan with his wife, Rody Reyes-Russi, his daughter Crystal and his youngest son, Joshua.
Hon. Hector L. Diaz, President
The Honorable Hector L. Diaz was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico. Prior to his appointment as President of Acacia Network, he served as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for BASICS/Promesa Systems, Inc. Mr. Diaz is a member of the Board of Trustees of Boricua College, The University of the State of New York Education Departments Local Government Records Advisory Council, and of the Board of Trustees for the Unified Court System Bronx County Law Library.
Mr. Diaz served as New York City Clerk and Clerk of the Council and as the Bronx County Clerk for over 14 years. As County Clerk, Mr. Diaz was designated Commissioner of Jurors and Clerk of the Supreme Court. He has the distinction of being the first Latino County Clerk in the State of New York. He represented Bronx County with distinction for seven consecutive terms as Member of the New York State Assembly, where he created the New York State Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force.