Meet Our Local Heroes

Local heroes are the heart of GRACE Cares work. These leaders are from or live in the communities that they support. They understand the needs and are able to envision solutions that are in alignment with their communities. GRACE Cares supports these heroes in creating and growing local organizations utilizing their unique resources.

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

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.

Sergio Hurtarte joins the GRACE Cares Board from Guatemala, where he is CEO and Investment Manager of Soporte Global and MK Innovations. Sergio received his degree as a Public Accountant and Auditor with a minor in tax law from Universidad Francisco Marroquin. He has served in financial oversight positions with Shell Oil, the Kellogg Company, and Procter & Gamble, developing new business models, providing strategic guidance and support, financial forecasting, and analyzing financial data for organizational growth.

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.

Rita Bacho is originally from the Upper West Region, Wa, Ghana. She lived, schooled and worked in Ghana for over 27 years. She earned a Doctor of Medicine (MD) from the University for Development Studies in Ghana. She earned a Master of Public Health (MPH) from the University of New England. She is also a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES). She worked at Tamale Teaching Hospital for 3 years as a General Practitioner. She worked in various departments at Tamale Teaching Hospital including pediatrics and public health.

Rita is very passionate about helping poor and marginalized communities access health resources as well as better resources to improve their overall quality of life. Her passion for helping people access better health and quality of life informed her decision to embark on several community health outreach programs including hypertension, diabetes, tobacco, Guinea worm, obesity, HIV/AIDS and malaria control programs in Ghana and in Tennessee (USA).

Rita moved to Clarksville, TN, USA in 2015, where she decided to pursue a career in Public Health. Rita is currently a Project Coordinator at Providence Health and Services, Portland OR. Her passion for serving diverse populations in health and wellness, especially underserved and marginalized populations aligns with GRACE Cares’ mission, inspiring her to become a part of the many positive changes that GRACE Cares is making across the globe.

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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