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A licensed clinical social worker, Dr. Sergio Rizzo-Fontanesi joined AbilityFirst as President and CEO in June 2024. Having worked as a practitioner, a researcher, and an executive in the nonprofit sector, Sergio comes with innovative perspectives, a breadth of knowledge, and robust management experience. He has expertise in program design, planning, and evaluation, having analyzed the program effectiveness of numerous community-based organizations. Formerly the executive director and CEO of Beit T’Shuvah in Los Angeles, Sergio has worked at the intersections of substance use and mental health treatment, reentry and supportive housing services, and education and workforce development.

The son of immigrant parents from Argentina and Nicaragua, Sergio was born and raised in San Francisco and moved to Los Angeles for graduate school at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. While at UCLA, his areas of study and research were nonprofit evaluation, faith-based social services, and the broad intersections between culture, spirituality, and mental health care. After earning his doctorate, he was Senior Researcher and Project Director at the UCLA Luskin Social Justice Research Partnership overseeing a robust evaluation portfolio of nonprofit, philanthropic, and public agencies across Los Angeles County. During this time, he also held a faculty position at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work teaching foundational courses in the graduate program. Sergio combines academic rigor with practical insights to drive impactful change in the nonprofit sector.

In reflecting on the history and mission of AbilityFirst, Sergio explains that “AbilityFirst was built on the ethos of possibility and that is what resonates with all of us. We all want to achieve what’s possible and reach our full potential. This is what we aspire for ourselves, our children, and the future of the world. This is the fundamental core of AbilityFirst’s programs and services.”

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