Photo of Stephen Lakis Stephen Lakis President


Nothing gives me more professional satisfaction than bringing people together to find common purpose. The most rewarding part of my job is seeing new friendships develop between politicians who often don’t even speak the same language–and I’m not just talking about Northerners and Southerners! It’s when a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat share an idea, have a good conversation about an important issue, and then go on to develop a lasting friendship. It happens often at SLLF programs and that’s what makes me feel like we’re doing a good job.

I’ve been here almost from the start. My career began with SLLF in 1972. Yikes! Over the years I’ve worked with some pretty amazing men and women and I’ve seen a lot of things. Through it all, I’ve developed an abiding respect for these regular people who take on the heavy responsibility of public servant and legislative leader. These are good people doing a tough job in often difficult times. I get inspired by them.

I am a lucky man. I have a great family, a few good friends, and a job I love. And did I mention Hope, Hadley, and Sophia? And the young prince, Hayden? My Perfect grandchildren!

I have a BA in Political Science and I studied for a year towards a Master’s Degree (that I never completed). I’m what you call an autodidactic!

Photo of Marcia Vandervoort Marcia Vandervoort Executive Vice President


Sitting on the beach in the summer of 1981 Marcia agreed to do some part-time work for Steve Lakis who had recently been made president of SLLF. He was working out of his home office on the Cape and she was his neighbor and family friend. Thus began the saga of the IBM Selectric typewriter on the dining room table and the humble beginnings of the Foundation of today.

For over 40 years Marcia has been part of the team that creates, plans and manages the Foundation’s national and international educational programs. She’s also assisted in editing several major research studies, and much of the correspondence that goes out. She works closely with the Board of Directors and the National Speakers Conference.

Marcia grew up in Florida and went to college in New Orleans. She and her husband Tom moved to Cape Cod in 1980 and raised their family there. When she’s not working Marcia enjoys practicing yoga, doing crossword puzzles, reading and walking (3 miles a day!). But her favorite pastime is spoiling her two beautiful granddaughters.

Photo of Maria Alexander Maria Alexander Finance Manager


Maria Alexander serves as the Finance Manager and reports directly to the President. She joined SLLF in 2018. A native of Venezuela, she holds a Finance Degree from the National School of Finance from her home city of Caracas. She moved to the United States in 2005 and got her start working in construction accounting in Houston, Texas. After moving east to Massachusetts, she continued to gain experience in commercial property management and office management, including human resources and accounting.

In addition to handling all accounting functions and compliance for the Foundation, Maria works with the President to develop the annual operating budget of SLLF. She also works with our program managers to develop and implement specific program budgets and keep us all on track!

Maria enjoys life on the Cape, taking the outdoors with her family anytime when possible.

Photo of Gianna Diefendorf Gianna Diefendorf Legislative Liaison & Program Coordinator

Gianna is the newest member of the SLLF team. Her attention to detail and excellent organizational skills make her a natural for managing logistics and program planning. Look for her friendly face behind the registration table.Gianna is a native of Cape Cod. She attended Plymouth State University and earned her Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in Sociology and Anthropology. Prior to joining SLLF, she worked as an administrative assistant at the District Attorney’s Office.In her free time, Gianna enjoys traveling, spending time with her large family, and playing with her German Shepherd mixed pup Sadie.

Photo of Mitzi Johnson Mitzi Johnson Director of SLLF’s Beacons of Democracy project & consultant in Leadership and Democracy

She is the former Vermont Speaker of the House and Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, serving in Vermont Legislature from 2003-2021. Most notably, in the early days of the pandemic, she led the House in developing one of the first remote legislating formats in the country, earning a unanimous House vote across party lines on the rules changes needed to do so.Mitzi holds a Master’s in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School, and Bachelor of Science from the University of Vermont. She is a board member for the Vermont Foodbank and the Adaptive Leadership Network, a nonprofit engaged in leadership training and complex problem solving. Her work history includes Hunger Free Vermont, the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force, carpentry and farming.Mitzi lives in Vermont on an island in Lake Champlain where, if she had a shorter to-do list, she would do more woodworking, knitting, kayaking and cross-country skiing.

Photo of Evelene Lakis Evelene Lakis Director of Operations


Evelene grew up in Ireland with a forever passion for America. Now that she’s lived here most of her life, her love for this country has never been stronger.

As SLLF’s Director of Operations, she gets to do the things she loves the most; work for a good purpose, set goals, and help our team achieve those goals. Her attention to detail is unmatched and all of SLLF’s programs reflect her drive for excellence. 

She has been a valuable team member at SLLF for nearly 15 years. Previously, she worked in the United States Congress as office manager to Congressman John Larson (CT) for 4 years. 

At home she loves long walks on the beach, with her dog Yogi, trying out new and healthy recipes and constantly updating the look and feel of her home.

Photo of Kate Levin Kate Levin Director of Strategic Outreach


Kate holds down the fort for SLLF in the Midwest! She was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago before her career as a TV news reporter took her on a tour of midwestern markets, (hello county fairs and farmland!) After working as the capitol correspondent in Madison, Wisconsin she transitioned into politics and worked for Wisconsin Speaker Robin Vos. There, she used her Emmy Award-Winning videography skills to transform the caucus’s outreach with constituents.

Still based in Wisconsin, Kate works remotely for SLLF. She helps to build the curriculum and book all of the wonderful speakers you see at our events. She couldn’t put down the video camera entirely so you might also see her capturing smiles for some marketing materials! In her free time, you can find Kate paddle boarding on a nearby lake, hanging out with her family, crafting, or knee-deep in a DIY project for their home.

Photo of Thomas Little, Ph.D. Thomas Little, Ph.D. Director, Curriculum Development and Research


Born and raised in North Carolina, one of Thom’s roles at SLLF is to translate for President Lakis when he goes south of the Mason-Dixon Line! For more than twenty years, Thom has served as SLLF’s Director of Curriculum Development and Research where he has coordinated programs on everything from biotechnology to crisis management. He has also written case studies on state legislative leadership in states from Alabama to Ohio.

When not watching college basketball (that is required for those born in NC), Thom teaches at UNC-Greensboro and the Institute of Political Leadership. He and wife Catherine are recent empty nesters as daughter Virginia is a new middle school teacher (pray hard) and daughter Rebecca is a Virginia Cavalier. Go Hoos!

Photo of Papalinka Paradise Papalinka Paradise Director of Communications


Papalinka got hooked on politics as an intern for then State Senator John Kerry while studying Communications, Politics and Law at Emerson College in Boston. Years later, she was thrilled to find her dream job at SLLF, allowing her to combine her passion for communications, politics and travel.

For 20 years she has used her communication and design skills to help create meaningful educational programs for our country’s state legislative leaders and our corporate supporters. Her exceptional creative talents in marketing and program design inform everything SLLF publishes and presents to the world (including this website)!

Outside of the office, she enjoys adventuring with her family of five, remodeling her antique home, and taking advantage of all Cape Cod has to offer.

Photo of Mariah Silva Mariah Silva Event and Logistics Manager


Mariah joined the SLLF team as an intern in the winter of 2017. Now, she assists with all aspects of planning SLLF’s many programs. She has exceptional organizational skills and an eye for detail and brings a fresh vision to SLLF. She graduated magna cum laude from Johnson and Wales, in Rhode Island with a BA degree in Event and Hospitality Management.

Mariah loves to stay busy. When not working, she enjoys spending time with her family, being in her barn with her dwarf goats and chickens, traveling and going on adventures with her dogs, Hank, a pug mix and Scout, a black lab.