Meet Our Local Heroes

At the core of the work carried out by GRACE Cares are the local heroes. These individuals, born or residing in the communities they support, possess an in-depth understanding of the unique needs of their community. Their keen insight drives them to envision solutions that harmonize with their community’s collective ethos. GRACE Cares provides crucial backing to these heroes, fostering the creation and expansion of local organizations that leverage their unique resources for the benefit of the community. This collaboration ensures that local solutions address local issues, enhancing their effectiveness and long-term sustainability.

Afshan is a graduate of McGill University, currently working in marketing at Aavrani in New York City. The Lucknow Project initiative was started by her mother, Seema Holder, and sister, Nazeela Nasseri, as a continuation and expansion of aid to their ancestral village on the outskirts of Lucknow, India. Afshan began teaching at 15, creating an intern program which brought youth from around the world to help teach for weeks at a time. Being involved with GRACE Cares has helped her gain a grounded understanding of the world and more importantly an understanding of the importance of local contexts in development.

Afshan Nasseri

Lucknow

Wilfred was born on January 5, 1990, in the town of San Juan Comalapa, Chimaltenango, Guatemala, and is of Maya Kaqchikel ancestry.

His father was a humble agricultural worker of strong integrity and his mother was known for her strong leadership in support of women. Wilfred is the second child of three siblings. He grew up with his sisters in a home of simple means but within an environment of strong unity and full of love. Thanks to the sacrifice of his parents, he was able to develop himself through primary and secondary school and some university-level education. He currently lives with his wife and two children, for whose well-being he strives daily.

Since childhood, he has faced the daily hardships which are a common reality for many Guatemalan families. Because of the lessons imparted by his grandfather and his mother, both known as strong leadership figures in their communities, he has taken up the mission of following in their footsteps to plant seeds of change in the field of community development. According to his abilities and the means within his reach, he has worked since adolescence to support families of limited means, groups of women and couples in natural family planning lessons. Currently he is the director of GuateBuena, which he leads with the support of founder Andrew Becker and GRACECares.

Wilfred Antonio Son Sotz

GuateBuena Association

Blessed is from Zambia, where he worked in HIV prevention programs and there he met and married Libby Bennett a Peace Corp Volunteer from Brattleboro. Blessed moved to VT in 2008 and is now a District Epidemiologist for the state of VT. Ever since he came here he wanted to help his community back in Zambia.

The urban areas of Chongwe and (downtown) Lusaka are critical sub-towns populated by low income families with difficulties meeting most standards of living, such as education, housing, and food. For this reason, the MYEP’s Mobile Book Program and instructor-led Literacy Sessions are essential for the development of children in the city’s community. They provide an opportunity to read in a safe, interactive atmosphere, play games, and tell stories together. Helping children succeed, both in school, and professionally, drives Blessed to develop new assistance programs for his community. The MYEP provides components for growth and creates an opportunity for children to learn. The parents benefit too. They gain hope and confidence for a better tomorrow by attending reading and play time sessions with their children. They also learn nutrition and sanitation in the kitchen during cookery classes.

Blessed Ngoma

Munali Youth Empowerment Program

Jefferson Guyo Badiva was born and raised in the heart of the Galana area in Kenya. He comes from the Watha community, a Cushitic people living in the semi-arid Galana region of south-eastern Kenya. Guyo plays an important role in the community and is very keen to work with local agencies for the betterment of his people. He was fortunate to enroll in university in 2015 and is pursuing a Bachelor’s of Law in Nairobi.  Guyo’s aim is to use his law education to help his people gain official recognition as an ethnic group in the eyes of the Kenyan government to preserve, develop, and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories and their ethnic identity as the basis of their continued existence as a people. The Watha community is truly excited to collaborate with GRACE Cares in relation to work on a water project with the intention of helping the community access clean drinking water and combat diseases such as cholera and typhoid as well as ward off crocodile attacks.

Jefferson Guyo Badiva

Watha

Marissa is currently based in Baitoa, Dominican Republic, where she is the Executive Director of Project Hearts, In this role, Marissa leads a team of locals who empower residents with education and practical knowledge, especially in regard to health and sanitation. As Project Hearts supports the community so they can transform their own neighborhoods, GRACE Cares supports the organization with technical guidance. For over 15 years Marissa has worked in nonprofit administration and is still passionate about bringing light to dark places and situations.

Marissa Doiron

Project Hearts

Dr. Namaya (MIA, MSN, D.Sci.) is a poet and artist who has worked in peace building and community development all of his adult life. He served in the Peace Corps in the mid-1970’s and then worked in Morocco with Catholic Relief Services in the 1980’s. He received his Master’s in International Development at the School for International Training. With his wife Zoe Kopp and nephew Kenneth Giancola he founded GRACE Cares in 2002. Namaya is the Director of the B4 Peace projects because of the importance of peace and social justice in every community. He has worked on B4 Peace projects worldwide, including Chile, the Dominican Republic, Palestine, Vietnam and the US.

Namaya

B4 Peace

Cindy entered the GRACE Cares world in 2016 to redesign their website. She eventually moved into supportive roles and took over the day-to-day financial operations as well as maintaining the website. She is proud to be part of this organization that supports others in their missions that help communities thrive.

Cindy holds a BA in Sociology, an AA in Computer Technology and is a website designer, a Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach and a yoga teacher. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, hiking and snowshoeing and spending time with her two little granddaughters.

 

Aziza joined the GRACE Cares team in 2020. As Program Coordinator, she supports the Executive Director and the Program Manager in coordinating meetings, tasks, and communication between the GRACE Cares team and our partners. She also works on creating documents and templates to help organize information and workflow within GRACE Cares as well as with partner projects.

As a licensed TESOL trainer with SIT Graduate Institute since 2017, Aziza is proud to have led teacher training workshops to support educators in Algeria and abroad. Aziza proudly founded her own business, Pathways Training Center, a quality training institution offering blended TESOL Courses as well as language courses and vocational training for personal and professional development.

She is delighted to use her skills and experience to contribute to GRACE Cares' impact with all the wonderful projects we are helping our partners to implement.

Austin joined GRACE Cares as an intern in 2021, helping with social media, then transitioned into his current role as a Communications Specialist. He operates GRACE Cares’ social media accounts. As a Communications Specialist, he makes sure there’s always engaging content on Instagram and Facebook.

Austin is proud to have graduated Magna Cum Laude from UMass Amherst in 2017 (Phi Beta Kappa). He has published short stories in print and online magazines in the US and abroad.

Most of Austin's extra time is spent writing fiction or playing basketball with the local Men’s League; as well as meeting new characters every day in the high school where he teaches.

Austin joined GRACE Cares as an intern in 2021, helping with social media, then transitioned into his current role as a Communications Specialist. He operates GRACE Cares’ social media accounts. As a Communications Specialist, he makes sure there’s always engaging content on Instagram and Facebook.

Austin is proud to have graduated Magna Cum Laude from UMass Amherst in 2017 (Phi Beta Kappa). He has published short stories in print and online magazines in the US and abroad.

Most of Austin's extra time is spent writing fiction or playing basketball with the local Men’s League; as well as meeting new characters every day in the high school where he teaches.

As Program Manager, Dorothee has provided support to project leaders and partners based on their goals and needs since 2022. She enjoys working in International Development and supporting people with ideas and a passion for changing their communities.

Over the years, she has had the pleasure of working with numerous organizations and in multiple roles in the US and abroad. She worked in International Development for nine years, led an advocacy coalition, worked with fire-affected communities in Northern California, organized communities for political/initiative-based work, and so much more.

When not working, Dorothee loves being outside, traveling, and exploring with her husband and 7-year-old son.

Lamia Lahrech joined the GRACE Cares team in August, 2018 as the Executive Director. Under her direction, GRACE Cares continues expand project engagement and refine the organization's processes.

Lamia holds a  PhD English Language and Literature “Trauma Studies” and is an  International Consultant.

Cherise Adjodha is a human development practitioner with 25 years of human rights and sustainable development experience, working with some of the world’s leading global agencies. She is building on her work through the application of advanced systems thinking and applied positive psychology. Currently she is engaged in emerging discussions and work on global catastrophic and existential risk, with a focus on  addressing what is being termed the ‘metacrisis’, with the Civilization Research Institute. Her technical skills include designing and conducting research, developing policy and programmes, developing and delivering training and providing quality assurance, technical support and advisory services on many areas of work including poverty reduction, gender equity, complex systems analysis and climate change mitigation and response.

Isabel is a bilingual professional with over 8 years of program and data management experience across sectors and industries. She earned a Masters in Quantitative Methods of the Social Sciences from CUNY’s Graduate Center and Bachelors degrees in Economics and Latin American Studies from the University of Miami. This formal education was informed by and is balanced with international experience in social impact organizations, where she’s been responsible for strategic program and measurement framework design, development of indicators and data collection channels, program execution and iteration, and all things analysis: data cleaning, statistical analysis, visualization, and communication of outcomes to diverse stakeholders. Outside of impact learning and measurement, Isabel is called by nature, conflict transformation, and creative exploration.

Noah Steinberg-Di Stefano is a seasoned humanitarian Program Manager with expertise in Cash and Voucher Assistance, Disaster Risk Reduction and food security programming. He has worked on emergency response, refugee support and early recovery projects throughout Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, Colombia, Jordan and East Africa. He has a MA Degree in Sustainable International Development from Brandeis University Heller School for Social policy and published a MA Thesis on Neuroscience frameworks for positive youth development and reducing violent extremism. Noah first connected with GRACE Cares in 2021 and has supported with fundraising and grant writing strategy for partners.

Over the past 10 years, Noah has worked for International NGOs such as Lutheran World Relief, Save the Children, Shelterbox, Malteser International and Global Communities, where he is currently the Senior Regional Manager for Latin America, supporting a portfolio of both humanitarian assistance and sustainable development projects. Noah has worked on both the program management and technical design side of projects as well as contributed to more grassroots fundraising and partnership development efforts. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland with his wife, daughter Issolina and dog Zelda.

Suzanne AndrewWith 17 years of nonprofit and corporate leadership experience, followed by 15 years founding, growing and selling her own businesses, plus multiple volunteer leadership roles, Suzanne is a values driven leader who is passionate about making systems, structures and organizations perform better for all stakeholders.

Skilled in training and public speaking, Suzanne has developed and delivered hundreds of training classes, workshops and presentations. She excels at developing and implementing operations, projects and programs from the ground up. With a passion for change management, Suzanne has successfully led organizations thru IPO, reorganization, merger, rapid growth and sale.

Additionally, with a belief that creating healthy, successful vibrant organizations requires healthy, vibrant stakeholders, Suzanne offers the perspective of 20+ years experience as a yoga teacher and licensed massage therapist, including teaching and mentoring other alternative health care practitioners.

Meghan McClain Garcia was born in West Virginia and grew up moving every few years nationally and internationally with her family. Her early travels internationally inspired her interest in development and healthcare, leading her to study International Relations at the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a minor in chemistry and certificate in Spanish. She went on to obtain her Master’s of Public Health in Epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

It was during her MPH studies in 2012 that she connected with GRACE Cares by way of volunteering with Project Hearts in the Dominican Republic to complete her master’s practicum. She helped design and implement their Community Health Leader (CHL) program that has been ongoing to the present day. After returning from the DR, she remained in contact with GRACE Cares and has served many roles in the organization both previously on the Board and as an employee working to strategically plan, coordinate and develop partner projects, write grants and lend her health expertise. Meghan also went on to become a Family Nurse Practitioner, graduating from Yale University’s FNP program in 2017. She completed a Family Nurse Practitioner Residency at Community Health Center, Inc (CHC) providing primary care in the safety net health setting.  She is currently completing a Fellowship with CHC’s Center for Key Populations integrating substance use treatment, HIV care, and care for other “key populations” into primary care. Meghan is passionate about GRACE Cares’s unique model supporting local heroes around the world to promote development projects at the grassroots level.

Dr. Zoe Kopp is originally from Tarrytown, New York. She has lived and worked throughout the United States, Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. She received her PhD in Health Behavior from Union Institute and University in 2007 and her Master of Public Health in epidemiology and evaluation from Tulane University in 1987. In 1981 she founded North Florida Women’s Health and Counseling in Tallahassee, Florida, and was guest Lecturer at Florida State University. During 1987-1989 she was Clinical Services Officer for International Planned Parenthood Federation and led that organization’s development of clinical guidelines for reproductive health and quality of care initiatives. As Deputy Director for Primary Health Care for CARE International (1990 -1992) she guided health education programming and expanded HIV prevention activities in Asia and Africa. Dr. Kopp, as a consultant to the US Agency for International Development (USAID) programs, authored several texts on Women’s Health/Urology and helped to establish the continuing education department for the Indian Medical Association. Zoe is retired from Pfizer, where she was Senior Director of Outcomes Research, leading international research teams and studies from 1996 until 2012. She and her husband currently reside in Vermont.

Yasodhara (Dhara) is the Treasurer of GRACE Cares. She lives in Needham, MA with her husband and two sons.

In her professional life, she serves as the Chief of Staff at Plasma Derived Therapeutics at Takeda Pharmaceuticals and has had a career in Pricing and Market Access prior. Dhara is a Speech Language Pathologist by training. She also serves on the board of other non-profit organizations.

Apart from her day job, she is also an artist and enjoys making fancy decorative cakes. Dhara is excited to be a part of GRACE Cares.

Daryl Caggiano joins the GRACE Cares Board from Boston, Massachusetts, where she is pursuing a Master’s in Nonprofit Management from Northeastern University. She has spent the last decade working and volunteering for international NGOs that support global health care, low-caste women in Nepal, and educational opportunities for marginalized girls in South Asia. In her nonprofit work, Daryl has served in various capacities, including board member, secretary, communications director, and copywriter. She is passionate about empowering disadvantaged individuals and communities to realize their aspirations and helping GRACE Cares fulfill its mission to act as a catalyst for development.


Tracie Barham joins the GRACE Cares Board from Escondido, California. She devoted 20 years to serving the community within environmental and human service organizations as an executive director and development director. During that time, she led teams and worked collaboratively with volunteer and staff leadership to build strong donor relationships and raise much-needed funds. Concurrently, she pursued a parallel track of learning and development, including certification as a yoga and meditation teacher, and in 2019 she earned a professional coaching certification and began supporting nonprofit organizations through leadership coaching and fundraising consulting.

When she isn’t working or volunteering, she enjoys hiking, swimming, reading, cooking, spending time with her husband (and her daughter (when she’s home from college), and discovering new ways of manifesting her spiritual practice in all aspects of her life. She is passionate about enacting solutions to climate change in a way that truly meets each person where they are, including addressing the most basic needs of the communities served by GRACE Cares’ partner organizations.

Philippe Elghouayel is an experienced managing director with a demonstrated history of working in the food production industry. Skilled in international project management, Intercultural communication, sustainable development, corporate social responsibility, and capacity development. Strong business development professional with a Diplome Sciences Politiques focused in Political Science – International Economy from Institut d’Etudes politiques de Paris.

Kasey Ochiltree joins the GRACE Cares Board from Boston, Massachusetts, where she is currently the Program Specialist for the Humanitarian Team at Oxfam America. Kasey graduated with her MA in International Peace Studies from the University for Peace in Costa Rica and her BA in Intercultural Studies with minors in Missions and Islamic Studies from Houghton College in Houghton, NY. Her growing area of focus with Oxfam is around Gender Justice and Transformative Leadership for Women’s Rights. Kasey enjoys soccer, photography, and exploring the world. She is very excited for this opportunity to be a part of the GRACE Cares community.

Dean Gallea is a co-founding board member of GRACE Cares. A test engineer with Consumer Reports since 1974, Dean has provided mentorship, technical expertise and capacity building to GRACE Cares projects for over a decade. Dean continues to lead annual service tours in the Dominican Republic with Project Hearts. He is passionate about the transformative effect of technology, arts, health and education for GRACE Cares community partners..

Danielle Huffaker is a social scientist, community development practitioner, and communications professional. She holds a B.A. in Anthropology from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree from the Centre for Development and Environment at the University of Oslo, where her thesis research focused on what the Cosmovision of the Maya people of Guatemala can offer a transformative enactment of climate change adaptation. She has eight years of involvement in grassroots development projects in Indigenous communities in Guatemala, having lived in Guatemala from 2013-2017. She now lives at the Monastic Academy for the Preservation of Life on Earth (MAPLE), a training center for developing leaders able to confront global existential crises with wisdom, love, and power. She is excited to lead the board of GRACE Cares because she finds inspiration in the passionate service of local heroes serving their communities all around the world.

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