Emily Richards, Director of Congregational Life and Director of Religious Explorationdre@uuithaca.org

Emily Richards has served as the Director of Religious Exploration since 2020 and is thrilled to now also be serving as the Director of Congregational Life.  Emily is, along with her family, is a proud member of the FUSIT Community and has been a UU since she was a teenager. With a passion for the important work of ministry, a background in music education, and many years of administrative experience, she feels fortunate to be able to use her talents and expertise to help create community and connection for members of all ages. Emily is also a mom to two girls, a choral conductor and singer, and a lover of cooking, nature, and all things geeky.

Rev. Janet Shortall, Director of Pastoral Care, 607-218-2088, pastoralcare@uuithaca.org

Janet Shortall is an ordained UU minister and has been a member of the First Unitarian Society of Ithaca since 1994. A graduate of Starr King School for the Ministry (UU seminary), Janet accepted a role in 1994 at Cornell University with the active support of Rev. Jack Taylor, minister emeritus of FUSIT. Her 28-year tenure at Cornell has included working as the Associate Director of Cornell’s interfaith center, Advisor to a peer counseling and training program in the Dean of Student’s office, and Director of the crisis management team. Currently, she serves as the Sexual Violence Prevention Coordinator and Victim Advocate. Janet has served FUSIT for many years offering pastoral care when the congregation has not had a minister in place. She is thrilled to be of service in this important chapter in FUSIT’s congregational life.

Stephanie Ortolano, Music Director, music@uuithaca.org

Stephanie Ortolano has been employed at First Unitarian since 2012. Originally hired for 3 months after the unexpected departure of her predecessor, she hasn’t left yet! Stephanie started playing piano at the age of 6 and organ at 12. Her first church job was at age 13 and she has played for a variety of denominations ever since. She is currently in the 2nd year of a 3 year Music Leadership Certification Program through the UUA. One of her favorite things is to collaborate with other musicians as an accompanist.  

Michelle Waffner, Congregational Administrator

607-273-7521, office@uuithaca.org

Michelle Waffner is the Congregational Administrator and has worked with FUSIT since May 2021. Michelle handles all the general office items, updates the website, creates the Weekly Announce email, handles all HR functions, maintains the database and building rentals. Michelle recently completed a Masters in Consciousness Studies and the three-year Hidden Treasure program at Light on the Hill in Van Etten.

Rev. Peaches Gillette, Preacher and Program Associate, assocdcl@uuithaca.org

Peaches has been an educator for more than 45 years in both the private and public school setting and has structured literacy programs for two non-profit organizations including Brooklyn’s Juvenile Detention Center. She taught language arts and poetry for College Initiative Upstate, a program that works to create educational pathways for individuals whose lives have been curtailed by court- involvement or a history of incarceration. Peaches is an ordained chaplain. As such, she has had the opportunity to work with battered women, the mentally disabled and veterans. Peaches maintains an active chaplain relationship with individuals in Bedford Correctional Facility, Albion Correctional Facility and Attica Prison. Peaches is also a Spiritual Counselor and Race-Relations Specialist and a published poet.

Peaches sits on the Tompkins County Human Rights Commision and in the past, has served as a Tri-chair of the Eastern Southern Tier of the Poor People’s Campaign. She presently sits on the Dryden School Board. Although formally educated at Empire State College for her BS in Education and at Fordham University for her MS in Pastoral Care and Counseling, where she was nominated for a Fulbright, Peaches’s compassion developed by experiencing the harshness of racism she faced as a child and by being raised by a mother who did not allow the harshness of being Black in America diminish her sense of peace, her love of others or her faith.

Loretta Heimbuch, Administrative Assistant, adminasst@uuithaca.org

A member of FUSIT since 1982, Loretta has been editing, producing and mailing the monthly newsletter, Ithaca UU Connections, for 17 years. She designs the logo for the stewardship campaign, designs and produces the Annual Report to be presented at the Annual Meeting in May, designs Service Auction promotional materials, and other FUSIT publications, brochures and posters in addition to helping the Congregational Administrator as needed. Previous to working at FUSIT, she had her own design and production business in Ithaca, worked several years for the Racker Center, and used her educational certification in Art and Home Economics while working at Trumansburg Central School for six years. She enjoys hiking, traveling, kayaking, gardening, beach yoga, pottery, watercolor painting and gourmet cooking. As much as is possible, she visits her two grandchildren and their parents in Oakland, California, and her daughter in Littleton, Colorado. 

Madeline Natale, Religious Exploration Assistant, reasst@uuithaca.org

Madeline Natale is a new member of the FUSIT staff and is thrilled to join the community as the new Religious Exploration Assistant. They have spent most of their teen years and early adult life working with youth. She is a 200RYT and teaches mindfulness and yoga for students of all ages. After maternity leave, they are excited to return to work outside the home and connect with the children and families of UU Ithaca. 

Jayne Demakos, Choir Director, choir@uuithaca.org

Jayne Demakos has been a long-time resident of Ithaca, although she recently moved back from the west coast serving a two-year post during the COVID pandemic as music-thanatologist for Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia, WA. She is a certified music-thanatologist and therapeutic harpist and was music coordinator for Hospicare and Palliative Care services for 15 years prior to her Washington post. Also, prior to the pandemic, Jayne was on faculty at Ithaca College teaching Exploring Music as Medicine courses bringing students into skilled nursing and into hospice as musical companions. A long-time choir director, Jayne has had posts as choir director for St Paul’s Methodist Church, Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Parish as well as St. Catherine of Siena Parish. Over the years, she founded many community and secular vocal ensembles including 171 Cedar Women’s Chorale, the Martin Luther King Youth Choir in Corning, NY, Soulstice, Women in Black and the Weeping Planet Vocal Ensemble. As music coordinator, Jayne created community singing groups for community interface with the Hospicare culture serving patients and loved ones. She is a harpist, pianist and vocalist with three audio album releases. She lives on West Hill with her husband and greyhound. She is delighted to be welcomed into the FUSIT Community!

Rachel Seymour, Sexton, sexton@uuithaca.org

Rachel started as the church the Sexton in December 2021. Rachel handles general building care including keeping the sidewalks clean and safe, deep cleaning the many rooms at FUSIT, making sure the building is ready for rentals and Sunday services, and day to day cleaning and building inspections. She likes to swim and bicycle, and enjoys painting “find me” rocks to leave on trails and gift people with. Rachel also cleans monuments at various cemeteries and likes photographing nature scenes.

Lauren Ponzoni, Bookkeeper, office@uuithaca.org