Anthony Tassi, Chief Executive Officer

Anthony joined Literacy Partners in 2013 after leading the New York City Mayor’s Office of Adult Education for five years during the Bloomberg Administration. Previously, he served as a health policy advisor in the mayor’s office for four years. During that time, he saw how strengthening adult literacy programs would not only improve education outcomes, but would have a profound public health impact as well. Anthony is the co-creator of the Emmy Award-winning We Are New York video series. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, he is a (reasonably) fluent speaker of Italian and Portuguese, an ongoing student of Farsi and Spanish, and would love to master Nepali someday. The most inspiring part of his job, he says, is “seeing what our students are able to do with the resources we provide and how powerful they really are to make huge changes in their lives.”

Saira Abbasi, CUNY Service Corps Member

Saira Abbasi was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan. From a young age, Saira was interested in learning how computers work and decided to become a web designer/ software developer. She graduated from high school with a major in computer science. She studied various web design courses during her summer break before moving to New York. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Technology from New York City College of Technology. She loves cats and is enthusiastic about photography. In her spare time, she visits new places and captures exciting photos for her personal blog. She also prefers to spend her time meeting new people and sharing experiences that emerge from diverse backgrounds. In the future, Saira would like to work with a reputed and fast-growing software house that will challenge her capabilities.

Sung E Bai, Chief Operating Officer

Initially a student activist, Sung E has been a social justice advocate for most of her life. Along with being executive director of a NYC community organization for over 11 years, she has been part of many national movements, and taught Asian American and Women’s Literature courses in local colleges. As a young child in Queens, NY, she befriended the bookstore staff near where her parents worked, and spent hours reading books each day. Her decision to get a BA and two masters degrees in literature was inspired by her coming to consciousness through the writings of Audre Lorde, Franz Fanon, Toni Morrison, Jamaica Kincaid, and many others. Both a mother of a public school student and a martial arts teacher, Sung E comes to Literacy Partners with a guiding mantra from Frederick Douglass: “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

Sari Barocas, ESOL Teacher and Site Coordinator

Sari is glad to work in a program that acknowledges the critical role of parents in passing new knowledge on to their children. She teaches introductory and intermediate English classes in the Highbridge section of the Bronx. Sari earned a BS in psychology from the University of Colorado Boulder and a master’s degree in education from the Bank Street College of Education with a specialization in infant and parent development. She credits her grandparents—Turkish immigrants—with teaching her about other cultures through the dolls they brought home from their travels and The Secret Garden and the Nancy Drew book series with sparking her imagination.

Sandra Cespedes, ESOL Teacher and Site Coordinator

Formerly a local television news journalist, Sandra teaches beginning English for parents in Corona, Queens. “Information is power, and I became a teacher to help people become empowered through language,” she says. Newly arrived in the Unites States from Peru at age 17, Sandra learned English while earning her BA in bilingual journalism from Lehman College, and went on to earn her MA in teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages from Hunter College. Now, she even prefers to read her favorite Latin American authors in English. Sandra feels a strong connection to her students: “I’m not just a stranger who’s trying to teach them English,” she says. “I know it’s difficult, but it’s definitely possible.”

Gohar Chichian, Senior Manager for Development and Communications

Born and raised as an Armenian American in Queens, Gohar developed a passion for immigration and education in New York City. She has a BA in political science with a concentration in peace and justice studies from Pace University, and is pursuing a master’s degree in public administration from Baruch College. Gohar comes from a background of fundraising and communications work in non-profits and with New York elected officials. The Harry Potter series, among other fantasy novels, inspired her love for reading and creative writing, and she hopes to publish her own book one day. She is an avid fan of sports, politics, and Armenian food.

Trinidad Difo, City Tech Human Services Intern

Trinidad is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services at New York City College of Technology. As a student who learned English as second language, she credits her middle school teacher for taking the time to enforce the importance of literacy in everyday life. When she is not in school or working, you can find her reading self-help books or spending time with her family and friends.

Carlos Garcia, ESOL TA

After years of pursuing acting, Carlos realized two things: One, he is not destined to play Marty McFly in a farfetched Back to the Future reboot; and two, his years of observing and understanding people melds naturally with his passion for helping them. A Queens native, Carlos has always had a passion for understanding people, and lifting their spirits. After years in the hospitality industry, he realized he wanted to help people in a more meaningful way. After witnessing a close friend embark on a teaching career, Carlos realized this could be the new passion he’s been looking for. Interning here at Literacy Partners has been an invaluable experience that has confirmed that this new teaching path is the right one. His other hobbies include Stephen King Novels, video games and comic books. He is an encyclopedia for the show Lost.

Marta Garcia, City Tech Human Services Intern

As she grew up in Guatemala City, Marta loved looking at her fathers’ old books from elementary school. Her favorite book was Barbuchin by Daniel Armas Lopez and Virgina R. de Armas. As the oldest of four children, Marta took care of her three little brothers, providing her with an introduction to early childhood education and care giving. She graduated with a teacher certificate in Guatemala and worked at an elementary school, recognizing the importance of reading on child development. Literacy Partners captured her interest as she experienced learning a language from scratch to navigate life in the United States, and the impact it has on children. Marta is a human services student at City Tech college with a minor in psychology. In her spare time, she volunteers at the Brooklyn Library and an animal rescue center.

Naomi Garcia, CUNY Service Corps Member

Prior to Literacy Partners, Naomi worked with elementary students at an after school program she attended as a child. After giving back to her community, she found a great love for children’s books. She helps her family learn English with books that have detailed illustrations and words that are easy to understand. At first, her grandmother felt silly reading children’s book, but after reading she noticed an improvement in pronouncing words. Naomi is currently a Queens College student pursuing a degree in Psychology. She loves learning about sports and running with friends and family.

Luan Gashi, Programs and Communications Intern

Luan is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in advertising and marketing communications at The Fashion Institute of Technology. Born and raised in Prishtina, Kosovo, Luan and his family came to the United States as refugees in 2000. Growing up, reading was one of his great escapes and he tried to immerse himself in as many books as possible. A few of Luan’s (current) favorite authors include Oscar Wilde, Charles Bukowski, Christopher Marlowe, and Jhumpa Lahiri. He has a background in fine art, including painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpting. Luan has been fine-tuning his graphic design skills and has created logos for skin care products, clothing designs, album covers, and much more. On days when he’s not reading in some dingy cafe, or tucked away in the corner of his studio covered in paint, he finds himself writing; anything from poems, to short stories, to scripts. Luan hopes to, as Bukowski once said, “Find what you love, and let it kill you.”

Esther Georges, City Tech Human Services Intern

Esther is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Science at the College of Staten Island and plans to attend medical school. Born in Brooklyn, Esther is Haitian-American and has immigrant relatives spread all over the globe. Esther’s goals range from becoming an Orthopedic surgeon to becoming a professor in the field of medicine. Esther she vows to never stop learning; she grew up reading Leo Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde, William Shakespeare, and her favorite author, Emily Bronte. She also indulges in French literature since she is minoring in French. She is an avid Crossfit athlete and disciplines herself to her sport and coursework. Esther understands that no single approach is right for every individual and that is why she joined Literacy Partners, hoping to help improve lives through the power of language!

Yevgeniya Gershkovich, Senior Bookkeeper

After moving New York City from Moscow in 1993, Yevgeniya simultaneously learned English and earned a BS in accounting at Touro College, from which she graduated summa cum laude. As a non-native English speaker, Yevgeniya relates to the challenges that Literacy Partners’ students overcome. “As a child, my favorite toy was a book,” says Yevgeniya, whose favorite way to spend time now is reading and discussing books with her grandchildren.

Emily Harting, Director of Development and Communications

Emily has never known a time in which reading wasn’t a constant source of inspiration, escape, and wisdom. Her earliest memories are of sitting with her grandmother who read Heidi to her. Emily’s grandmother had MS and used a wheelchair, but through books, she explored the world—and took Emily with her. Emily comes to Literacy Partners having worked in development and communications since 2000, including a ten year stint at the Center for Constitutional Rights as the Associate Director of Development. She was drawn to Literacy Partners by its social-justice approach to literacy and now connects our work with our donors, supporters, and others enabling them to make a real difference in the lives of our students and their families.

Fatema Kabir, CUNY Service Corps Member

Fatema is a forensic psychology student with a deep rooted love for math and giving back. After tutoring the children around her neighborhood, she became fascinated in the different ways that bilingual people, especially kids, learn and use different linguistic tools for comprehension. This need to understand the way people learn and use language inspired Fatema to vie to become a researcher in the neuropsych field. In her free time Fatema is watching math videos and obsessing over Hercule Poirot.

Adriane Lee, Senior Program Manager, We Speak NYC

For Adriane, one of the most rewarding moments in teaching her English for Parents I and II classes in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, is when students report that they understand the announcements on the subway. “It opens up a whole new world for them, and that success makes them even more motivated to learn,” she says. At Literacy Partners, she embraces the challenge of helping students improve their English skills and become more comfortable with their day-to-day obligations as parents and community members. A choreographer with a BA from the University of California, Berkeley, Adriane’s most recent favorite book is The

Vulcanus Levi, Assistant Manager of Programs

Vulcanus teaches the Literacy Partners Study Hall—a time for high school equivalency class students to receive one-on-one help. He is passionate about high school education and has taught for the NYPL. Vulcanus manages the Books of Their Own program, which provides brand new children’s books to our students, supporting parents to read with their children. He also coordinates all aspects of the high school equivalency evening classes, recruits new students, and manages our volunteer program. A lover of word meanings and mysticism, he is the only member of the staff to have created his own name: Vulcanus, after the Roman god of fire, and Levi, after Eliphas Levi, an author of books on magic and the occult.

Rosa Loza, Associate Manager for Development & Communications

As a child, Rosa fell in love with short stories, particularly the stories of Aesop. When she was attending Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru (PUCP) in Lima, where she grew up, she realized the lack of comprehensive education reform. She says, “in order to create change, it’s necessary to educate parents first – so that they can invest in their child’s education.” Her love of literacy and interest in dual-generation education led her to Literacy Partners, and a “mission that is close to my heart.” Rosa previously worked in development at Citizens Union. She has a Bachelor’s degree in sociology and latino studies from City College.

Kevin McKay, CUNY Service Corps Member

Kevin believes that there is no better way to live his life than by positively influencing others and helping them build a strong educational foundation. He has worked with students in Mexico, Jamaica, Korea, and New York City. He is currently finishing his Associate’s Degree in Bilingual Childhood Education, and plans to attend City College. Knowing that New York is a multilingual community, Kevin wants to serve the community using what he has learned as a guide. His hope is to continue to serve the city by making it a meaningful place for learning.

Melina Mejia, City Tech Human Services Intern

Melina was born in the Dominican Republic and resides in Washington Heights, a community that is very diverse but strongly populated with Dominicans. She’s pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services at the New York City College of Technology. As a child, she loved reading the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary. She now enjoys reading romantic books by Nicholas Sparks. Some of her favorite authors include Paulo Coelho, Marcus Zusak, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ernest Hemingway, Stephanie Meyer and Dr. Seuss. When she’s not reading, you can find her watching Netflix series, listening to music, watching makeup tutorials on YouTube, or doing volunteering work. Through New York Cares, she has found different organizations where she volunteers during her spare time, such as food pantries, churches, and city markets. Overall, Literacy Partners has captivated her interest on how they devote time to their students by motivating and inspiring them.

Lionel Ouellette, Director of Strategic Initiatives

Lionel joined Literacy Partners after concluding four years of education-management experience, based abroad. His professional work includes leadership in publishing and adult literacy across cultures. With his MA from Columbia University Teachers College and a BA in literature from the University of Michigan, Lionel’s steadfast commitment to education as “a tool that enables us to live more empowered lives” continues to grow out of his personal love for reading. He started with comic books and eventually discovered the artistry of acclaimed writers such as Toni Morrison and poet Ko Un. When he’s not at work, you can find him outside somewhere, with his Kindle.

David Rothenberg, Associate Director of Programs

David has held many roles in the field of education since earning a master’s degree in humanities, with a focus in international human rights, at Florida State University. After graduation, David stayed on at FSU as an adjunct professor before moving to South Korea, where he worked for more than five years as an ESL instructor, researcher, and course developer. David takes a student-centered approach to education: “Learning and teaching are the primary means to gaining access to the many amazing opportunities available today,” he says. “The more we can help students integrate into their communities, the more they will be able to take advantage of the services and support networks available to them.” When he’s not at work, you can find David at the gym or working to promote human-rights education.

Sarai Rodriguez, City Tech Human Services Intern

Sarai is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services at CUNY City Tech. As a first generation Nicaraguan-American, she is passionate about helping others in her community and wants to make a positive difference in people’s lives with a career in social work. She says, “Reading was always one of my favorite past times and to be able to use it as a way to connect and help others is so amazing.”

Allison Sciplin, Deputy Director of Development

From an early age, Allison has possessed a great love for reading and books. She often travels to small towns and scours used bookstores, looking for unique and little-known books by African American authors.  It is a fitting pastime for Allison, who still owns her first picture book, by Langston Hughes. Allison grew up immersed in a world of the arts and books in her home state of Ohio. A former educator and dancer with an MFA in theater, she transitioned into fundraising after a first career in arts programming. Prior to Literacy Partners, she worked for the Primary Care Development Corporation and Bank Street College of Education. Through her work at Literacy Partners, Allison says, she hopes others will fall in love with reading and books, just as she did.

Lorna Torres, Executive Assistant

Born in Nicaragua, Lorna grew up near the Grand Concourse in the Bronx in a predominantly immigrant community and attended City College. “I understand firsthand the pressures and obstacles facing young people, especially immigrants, in finishing their educations,” says Lorna, whose mother, like many Literacy Partners parents, relied on her to translate English conversations into Spanish. When Lorna’s son, Jonathan, was a toddler, her favorite books to read to him were The Cat in the Hat and I Love You Forever.

Alejandra Vilca, CUNY Service Corps Member

Alejandra is part of the Learning Together program, which is exciting since she has had a passion for books since she was a child. She is currently a student at The College of Staten Island pursuing a bachelors degree in international business. After moving from Perú to Long Island 5 years ago, she gained a passion for languages, allowing her to pursue a minor in Spanish and ASL (American Sign Language). Alejandra believes Literacy Partners’ mission is encouraging and empowers communities. In her spare time, Alejandra likes to get creative in the kitchen, read, and watch thriller movies.

Nityanand Wachche, Analytics Intern

Nityanand is pursuing his masters in information systems with a concentration in data analysis at Pace University. Prior to Pace, he worked as an Associate Consultant for Capgemini India pvt. Ltd, in Mumbai, India, with vast experience on Salesforce Salescloud. Nityanand got his Bachelor’s degree in computer science from Mumbai University, India, where he was head of public relations for ACM Chapter and University Representative in student council. He is pursuing a career as a data analyst. Nityanand is passionate about photography and in his spare time, he likes to capture photos, read cognitive psychology-related books, and listen to music.