2019-2020 VISTA Project Bios

CCMA VISTA Leader

Bio: Erin Morrissey is a native of New Hampshire. She holds a Master’s degree in international relations and a BA in communication studies from the University of Rhode Island. Erin proudly served in AmeriCorps State and National with the United Way North Shore AmeriCorps Program outside of Boston, MA where she supported and mentored youth English language learners from a community-based nonprofit organization. Erin has volunteered as a peer educator at the University of Rhode Island Women’s Center for Violence Prevention and Advocacy Services during her undergraduate career. Erin is also an alumnus of The Washington Center, where she interned at the public relations firm, Tricom Associates, located in Washington, DC. 

Project:  The CCMA AmeriCorps VISTA Leader works directly with the members placed at higher education institutions across the Maryland-DC-Delaware region to encourage and promote the expansion of service and quality campus-community partnerships.

CCMA P20 CONNECTS

Bio: Hannah Jacobs graduated from New College of Florida in 2018, where she earned her BA in Psychology and Economics. Her degree culminated in an undergraduate thesis about how general stereotypes of race and class affect how women of different backgrounds are perceived by others. In addition, she interned at multiple nonprofits in Florida, working to aid adults with severe and persistent mental illness develop vocational skills and to reform policy for an addiction services organization. 

Bio: Jim Walters is the President of The Walters Group providing experiential learning pedagogy and strategies to address competency-based student learning outcomes. He served as the Director of Student Life at Montgomery College from 1972 to 2014. Walters earned his bachelor’s degree in English from The George Washington University and his master’s in theatre from The Catholic University of America. He served as the chair of the National Society for Experiential Education for many years and has presented at numerous conferences. Jim leads professional development workshops domestically and internationally for the National Society of Experiential Education and has studied community organizing through the Harvard Kennedy School.

Project: The P20 CONNECTS program will build local K12, higher education, and community-based organization coalitions to improve college, career, and civic readiness among students – particularly those in poverty – by engaging students in multi-grade level service-learning activities that address local needs.

Allegany College of Maryland

Bio: Danfry Nieves was born and raised in Paterson, NJ. He graduated from a two-year program at Bergen Community College after which he transferred to a four-year program at William Paterson University. Danfry graduated with degrees in geography and GIS as well as history. After a year of service with NJCDC, an AmeriCorps social service program in Paterson, NJ, he went to Presque Isle, ME to serve at University of Maine of Presque Isle. There, he worked and helped with civic engagement. Danfry’s hobbies include watching wrestling, puzzle making, and collecting.

Project: The Allegany College of Maryland collaborative project addresses the number and percentage of students who do not seek additional education and training beyond high school. To help alleviate the chronic problem of income disparity in Western Maryland, this project has developed a three-year plan that aims to address education and economic opportunity by creating a resource program including financial aid workshops, workplace tours, and an opioid addiction course, all aimed to increase the percentage of students who go on to higher education to better themselves and the economic vitality of this rural community.

Community College of Baltimore County

Bio: Amanda Campbell is a native of Owings Mills, MD. She graduated from Towson University with a BS in Psychology in 2017. During her first-year post grad, Amanda served with The Literacy Lab, an AmeriCorps/ Reading Corps project, as a Literacy Tutor in a Title 1 DC Public School. She began her master’s at Liberty University in the summer of 2018 to obtain her degree in Human Services Counseling. Amanda is tremendously passionate about today’s youth and ensuring that they have the confidence to reach their full potential.

Project: The Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) Pathways to College, Career & Civic Readiness (PC3R) program assuages the adverse impact of poverty by providing college students and low-income youth learning resources and civic engagement opportunities in support of their academic and future career success.

Central Kenilworth Avenue Revitalization (CKAR) Community Development Corporation

CKAR Affordable Housing

Bio: Brontë Nevins is a native Marylander and recent graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she earned her BA in Public Health and Social Policy. As a student, she developed a passion for housing issues while performing casework and advocacy at the Red Cross and Harriet Lane Clinic. She later interned at the Baltimore City Department of Planning and Johns Hopkins Economic Development Office, where she performed analyses to enhance the racial and economic equity of community development efforts. She also has done extensive qualitative research on community change with the Poverty and Inequality Research Lab, including writing an award-winning thesis on young people’s responses to the Freddie Gray protests.

Project: CKAR’s affordable housing project is partnered with Kaiser Permanente and will address the challenges to good health and wellness in the target communities of Riverdale Park, East Riverdale, and New Carrollton through construction of affordable housing.

CKAR Improved Health and Awareness

Bio: Mattea Keister is from Denver, CO and recently graduated from the University of Kansas where she earned a BS in biochemistry and a minor in Spanish. As a student, she conducted undergraduate research in Epigenetics, volunteered at her local hospital, and was an active member of several pre-medical organizations. In the future, Mattea aspires to continue addressing inequality in the US healthcare system as a physician.

Project: This place-based initiative, in collaboration with Kaiser Permanente and the University of Maryland School of Public Health/Center for Health Equity, will address the challenges to good health and wellness within target communities in Prince George’s county. It will repurpose a vintage cafeteria as an operating culinary arts training café, as well as run health and wellness programming out of the space.

CKAR Workforce Training

Bio: Imari Alvarez was born in Bronx, NY but was raised in Baltimore, MD. She has recently completed a BS in Health Science at Coppin State University. While attending one of her classes she noticed the health disparities in correlation with low income, poor housing, food deserts, and lack of education. From this discovery she was determined to help individuals gain services in these areas in order to improve their health. Imari is planning on pursuing her Master’s Degree in Public Policy and Administration to create or enhance policies/programs that tackle on the health disparity issue.

Project: This project will support and lift the community out of poverty by offering a holistic suite of workforce training programs leading to job placement. In partnership with Employ Prince George’s, the county’s workforce development and training program, CKAR will serve as an affiliate site and job center.

Frederick Community College

Bio: Arth Sharma is from central Massachusetts, but grew up in Prince George’s County, MD. He wants to become a doctor one day and enjoys volunteering in local initiatives and hospitals. Arth values mentoring and working with new people to understand the social contexts of different populations and help him better empathize with his future patients. This is his first year with AmeriCorps VISTA and first time volunteering in higher education administration.

Project: Career and College Readiness of Underrepresented Student Populations and Completion Initiative (ELLTCI) is the result of a commitment to ensure that outreach and programming meets the needs of English Language Learners by developing messaging and support systems that engage the interests of immigrants, their families, and their communities. The primary audience is first generation students, students identified as at-risk, and English Language Learners.

Frostburg State University

Bio: Jenica Braxton is a graduate of Frostburg State University where she studied theatre and became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. She has worked as a teacher in pre-k, elementary, and middle school where she taught theatre, language arts, science, social studies, reading, math, and college and career readiness skills. She uses her leadership skills to influence and empower youth and adults to aspire to be their best selves.

Project: The Frostburg State University P20 CONNECTS project works with after school programs that serve students in 6th through 8th grade, specifically targeting students that are low-income and eligible for free and reduced meals. This project also focuses on expanding existing math, science, and language arts programming, with skill/character development components to enhance children’s leadership, communication, teamwork, conflict resolution, coping, and other skills highly desired by future employers.

Loyola University of Maryland

Bio:  Bria Anderson lived in DC working for the Drug Enforcement Administration before she moved to the Baltimore area. She graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 2018, where she received a degree in International Studies. Following her passion for helping people, Bria is looking forward to joining the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland this upcoming spring. In her free time, when she’s minding her boring business, she enjoys eating pizza, hanging out with her ‘baby-dog’ Coco Vida, and adding to her new record collection.

Project: The Loyola University of Maryland School Capacity Builder project will serve to prepare two low-income African American and historically divided communities’ youth to learn safely together in a newly merged and rebuilt public school. With an educational focus, this project will develop and implement mediation resources and practices for long-term youth and family success. The project will build relationships between leaders of the divided neighborhood and school families and research best practice anti-violence and community building programming.

Maryland Institute College of Art/Baltimore Design School

Bio: Amanda Waggoner is a recent graduate from Loyola University Maryland, where she studied English Literature and Peace and Justice Studies as a student in the university’s Honors Program. Outside of the collegiate classroom, Amanda remained active on campus as Resident Assistant, club president, peer mentor, and contributing author to the university’s literary magazine. Born in Staten Island and raised exploring New York City’s boroughs, Amanda is passionate about the exploration of justice through artistic mediums, intersectional feminism, poetry, travel, authentic human connection, stand-up comedy, and trees.

Project: The MICA/BDS Literacy and Access Project is a partnership that was created due to a shared commitment to the improvement of educational opportunities and access to MICA for Baltimore City students at BDS. The focus is on developing the BDS library as a literacy hub within the school and the community as well as creating a path of access to an institution of higher education for BDS students.

Notre Dame of Maryland University

Bio: Hannah Cook was born and raised in Maryland, but she chose Cottey College in Missouri to get her degree in English. Through volunteering, tutoring, and campus promotion projects, Hannah realized a passion for nurturing success in herself and others. Her time as Cottey College Chairwoman for the White House Healthy Campus Challenge and as Board Member for Alpha Chi’s first year on campus increased diversity dialogue and earned her the Honorable Service Award upon graduation.

Project: The Notre Dame York Road Education and Service (YES) project addresses the need of low-income students from Baltimore City to receive additional academic and holistic support in order to pursue a college degree. The YES program will engage students from Govans Elementary School and Tunbridge Public Charter School in an academic preparedness program aimed at improving learning outcomes, increasing awareness of higher education opportunities, and expanding community and education partnerships.

Prince George’s Community College

Bio: LaToya Robinson has continuously made contributions towards public service and community partnerships as an educator, strategist and a connector of people over the past 15 years. In a commitment to inspire learning in academe and beyond, her teaching strategies inspire critical thinking along with self-reflection as vehicles for change. As a community organizer, LaToya works with community-based projects that promote education, artistic and cultural awareness, and relationship building. She holds a BA in arts in sociology and a Master’s of Public Administration & Policy Management.

Project: The Office of Service-Learning at PGCC in partnership with Prince George’s CASH Campaign will establish a web-based resource center that will empower families, especially those with low and moderate income, by providing a tool that will assist with their decision-making process. The site will address a variety of issues that affect families, such as: education, employment, personal finances, childcare, and housing.

The Catholic University of America

Bio: Kara Feidelseit was born and raised in Germantown, MD. She attended St. Mary’s College of Maryland where she played on the school’s field hockey team for four years. She graduated in 2019 with a BS in Psychology and plans to pursue a Master’s Degree of Social Work following her year of service. Kara is deeply committed to the ideals of social justice and is excited for the opportunity to serve her community with her AmeriCorps VISTA service.

Project: The Catholic University Cardinal Cupboard project will meet the immediate needs of hunger on campus for both students and staff, as well as providing additional resources around the issue of food security. This 3-year project will provide the campus community with healthy, nutritious food, and wrap-around resources to address the issues of hunger and food security. Food security has been a rising issue on college campuses with notable attention in the District of Columbia.

Towson University

Supporting Returning Citizens

Bio: Allie Weston is from Portland, OR. She graduated from George Washington University with a BS in biological sciences. After college, Allie worked in a residential program for teenage girls in Oregon state custody. This experience fueled her interest in social work and criminal justice and encouraged her to look for opportunities to have a larger impact on the system. Towson University’s Returning Citizens Initiative seemed to fit her interest perfectly and she is excited to be moving back to the East Coast to work with it.

Project: This CCMA AmeriCorps VISTA project will establish and coordinate a sustainable educational program to support returning citizens (formerly incarcerated youth and adults) in their pursuit of higher education. This project includes awareness-building, program creation and implementation, and mentorship. Formerly incarcerated individuals have significantly lower rates of higher education completion and higher rates of unemployment in comparison to their counterparts in the general population.

Model United Nations 

Bio: Cassie Rezac was born and raised in Albuquerque, NM. She is a recent graduate from Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University where she earned her BA in Business (Global Politics) and an International Business Certificate. Cassie gained experience in college working as a Desk Manager for a residential hall, a Junior Consultant Trainee in Spain, a Hotel Management Intern, and an HR coordinator. She joined AmeriCorps VISTA because of her passion for education, empowerment, and international relations. Her specific project also aligns with her future goals of working in a US Embassy as a Foreign Service Officer. She loves traveling and has visited over 20 countries and 36 states so far. When she is not at work or serving the community, she is off exploring. She is an outdoorsy person and spends most of her weekends camping, backpacking, hiking, and adventuring.

Project: The TU Model UN project gives students the opportunity to practice and advance their writing, research, and oral presentation skills. Through role-playing with other students in a Model UN conference, they advance their problem-solving capabilities as they seek to resolve conflicting priorities, backgrounds, and world views in a peaceful way. Their experiences and the skills that they use in this program help to prepare them for the intellectual challenges of higher education and their future as engaged citizens and members of the global community.

UMBC

Bio: Fariha Khalid grew up in Pakistan and came to the United States in 2012. Since then she has spent a lot of her time at University of Maryland Baltimore County in various capacities. She earned her BA in sociology and is now a graduate student studying applied sociology. Fariha has spent time in two very different countries but she has witnessed food insecurity in both the places. She believes food connects people and bring communities together. She is an avid advocate for zero food waste and likes to share food.

Project: The UMBC’s Retriever Essentials program is a faculty, staff, and student partnership tackling food insecurity in UMBC’s community by offering students access to healthy food and other essential supplies free of charge. Retriever Essentials is aware that food insecurity is often the tip of the iceberg in a student’s financial struggle and can be the first of many barriers to academic success.

Universities at Shady Grove

ACES

Bio: Mary Kate Luft is a native of Bel Air, MD. She graduated with a BA in humanistic studies from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN and completed a supplementary major in International Peace Studies from the University of Notre Dame, in 2017. Following undergrad, she completed a postgraduate diploma in theology and religion from the University of Oxford, UK. During the summers before and after her year at Oxford, she worked for Maryland Conservation Jobs Corps, a state-run program that brings teens from Baltimore City to work in Maryland’s state parks as an opportunity to gain work-experience and outdoor education.

Project: The Universities at Shady Grove Achieving Collegiate Excellence & Success (ACES) Career Readiness Expansion project will build on the existing partnership between the Universities at Shady Grove, Montgomery County Public Schools, and Montgomery College by adding a career readiness component for all participating students. The ACES program increases baccalaureate degree attainment among underrepresented students, and this project will equip those graduating students with workforce skills and professional experiences.

Grover Essential and Beyond

Bio: Mahmoud Nofal was born in Marquette, MI and raised in Damascus, Syria. He received a BA in political science from the University of Michigan in 2018. Mahmoud is passionate about fostering individual political development, and hopes to help increase the impact of Grover Essentials on the community by raising awareness of food insecurity and building financial literacy.

Project: The Universities at Shady Grove Grover Essentials and Beyond project will establish an onsite pantry to increase overall well-being and address food insecurity of students at USG. The goal of the project is to grow and improve Grover Essentials by strengthening operations, researching and developing education interventions, and identifying and establishing internal and external partnerships.

University of Baltimore

Bio: Gabrielle Wilson is originally from Naugatuck, CN, and received a BA in entrepreneurship with a concentration in marketing communications and a minor in environmental sustainability from the Providence campus of Johnson & Wales University. It was while working on her minor that Gabrielle became interested in food sustainability and specifically, food security. Gabrielle served as a CCMA AmeriCorps VISTA in 2018-2019 for Coppin State University, researching and building the foundation for a campus pantry. She is currently working on her MPA at the University of Baltimore. Besides food, Gabrielle is also passionate about music, tap dancing, disaster preparedness, volunteer mobilization, and embroidery.

Project: The University of Baltimore’s Food for Thought Initiative responds to the impact of poverty on students by offering additional programming & resources beyond what is currently offered by the Campus Pantry. Through a series of workshops and educational programs, community members are educated on financial and food security.

University of the District of Columbia

Bio: Cathy Donohu has a history of service and volunteerism. Her first exposure to VISTA was serving in DC Public Schools as a Community Liaison. She is a US Army veteran having served as a Military Police Officer. Cathy received both her a BS in education and MSW from North Carolina State University. She has a wealth of experience working with families in underserved communities as a housing advocate, mentor, and counselor. Cathy enjoys living in the DMV area when she and her husband are not traveling the globe. In her free time, she loves exploring the many wonderful neighborhoods of DC, reading, and is a playwright.

Project: The Office of Military and Veterans Student Services (OMVSS) is dedicated to serving the UDC’s veteran students and the community. OMVSS seeks to address the broad range of educational, economic, social and mental healthcare needs of UDC’s veteran community by building strategic partnerships with other public and private organizations, creating veteran-centered policy initiatives, and developing strong relationships with the veteran community.

University of Maryland, Baltimore

Bio: Quinn Jiles was born in Chicago, Illinois and recently served as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center in Lansing, MI. Quinn has served as a commission member with the Mayors Arts & Culture Commission of Lansing, and as a board member of the Peace Education Center. She enjoys collaborating and creating around community arts advocacy and racial equity with a commitment for social advancement.

Project: Emerging Leaders Academy (ELA) at UMB’s Community Engagement Center (CEC) will prepare young people (ages 12-16) from low income, largely African American households in Southwest Baltimore for civic, career, and college readiness. The CCMA AmeriCorps VISTA member will research, design, implement, revise, and assess a curriculum that emphasizes service learning, community organizing, and racial equity. The VISTA member will recruit and support an initial cohort of preteens and teens who will advise on program development; then the teens will be trained in the subject areas. This cohort of teens will then move into leadership positions facilitating subsequent ELA cohorts.

University of Maryland, College Park

Fostering Terp Success

Bio: Alexander Elliott is a recent graduate of Hood College and decided to do a year of national service because he saw it as an opportunity to do something meaningful for other people and use the skills he developed during his degree.

Project: The Fostering Terp Success Program addresses the struggle of college students to meet the basic needs of housing, food, transportation, and school supplies that are compounded by limited support from a stable network and lack of awareness of financial resources—which make it harder to pursue college and persist to graduation. With partner organizations this project will address the needs of University of Maryland students who have experienced foster care, homelessness, or lack a support network.

Prince George’s Capacity Building

Bio: Amy Engineer 

Project: The University of Maryland, College Park/Non-Profit Prince George’s County (NPGC) capacity building project will increase the number of nonprofits in Prince George’s County who receive capacity building information and services from NPGC, increase the capacity building services that NPGC currently provides, and provide nonprofits in Prince George’s County with volunteers. The main focus will be on community health issues.

Terp Farm

Bio: Nicole Ziesing is a recent graduate from the University of Mary Washington where she earned a BA in sociology. Through her time at UMW she gained a passion for social issues within environmentalism and hopes to work towards a sustainable world. Nicole has a background in volunteering with elementary schools, homeless shelters, and community gardens.

Project: The University of Maryland, College Park Terp Farm is a sustainable vegetable farm which serves as a living laboratory – a place of learning and teaching about agriculture, food, health, and the environment. Terp Farm grows vegetables with the help of students, and donates a portion of each harvest to those in need in the community. This AmeriCorps VISTA project will equip low-income adults studying or working at UMD to develop fundamental tools to promote nourishment, health, equity, and empowerment.

UMD Food Pantry

Bio: Joseph (Brian) Meko is originally from Nashville, TN. He attended college at Elon University in North Carolina where he received a BS in ecological and environmental science with minors in biology and sociology. Before joining Americorp VISTA, he taught English and science to 1st through 6th graders in Thailand and then adult English classes in Argentina. He is interested in both social and environmental sustainability and wanted to refocus his efforts back towards the US to make an impact in the community.

Project: The UMD Campus Pantry will partner with the Capital Area Food Bank and Maryland Hunger Solutions to implement an innovative project to address hunger in the UMD community through programmatic interventions led by students who have experienced food insecurity as well as through strengthening policies on campus for sustainable change.

Wesley Theological Seminary

Bio: Mary Stuart grew up in Atlanta where an early mentor taught her about the impact of educational inequity through a high school learning exchange program. That experience 40 years ago led to a lifelong commitment to community engagement through direct service, nonprofit programming and public advocacy. After graduating from Davidson College, Mary Stuart moved to Washington, DC to serve as a Legislative Assistant to US Senator Wyche Fowler, Jr. (D-GA) for education, environment, appropriations, and energy issues.  While working in Congress, she volunteered as an after-school tutor and summer academy teacher with Higher Achievement. She also worked as a federal legislative advocate for several nonprofits. While raising her four children, Mary Stuart served two terms as Vice-Chair of her local Village Council and completed a Certificate in Nonprofit Management at Georgetown University.

Project: The Let’s Make a Difference Project is a youth development program for high-risk 9th-12th graders in District of Columbia Schools in order to enhance learning and academic achievement as indicated by their increased high school completion standards, improved college and trade school acceptance rates, and greater connection with their community.