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.”

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.”

Tatyana Cherry, City Tech Human Services Intern

Tatyana is a junior at New York City College of Technology. She is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services, and will be completing her associates degree in one year. Tatyana was born in Staten Island and raised in Brooklyn. Tatyana has 4 years of experience working with children. After completing her Bachelor’s Degree, she wants to pursue becoming a children’s social worker, focusing her efforts on foster care youth. “There’s no shame in receiving help, the assistance is there for anyone who is eligible. I love working with children and parents. After I get my bachelor’s in human services, I will continue my education because I believe that there is always something to learn.”

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.

Marta Garcia, ESOL Teacher

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, Graphic Design Intern

Luan has 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, CUNY Service Corps Member

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.

Hamzah Islam, City Tech Human Services Intern

Hamzah is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services at New York City College Of Technology. Hamzah appreciates his past teachers’ lessons on the importance of education. Hamzah’s favorite inspirational quote is that “nothing is impossible without hard work”. This quote helps Hamzah to aim high and always remember that he is an example to his younger siblings.

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, Associate Director of Programs

Adriane joined Literacy Partners in 2015 as an ESOL teacher. Recurring highlights from her 10+ years experience in ESOL education are seeing the many ways learning happens on a daily basis and getting to witness the resilience of her students no matter what challenges they encounter. In 2017, Adriane started managing Literacy Partners’ We Speak NYC program as a way to help a greater number of English language learners achieve their goals. Under her stewardship, and with the invaluable help from a dedicated team of volunteers and interns, the number of people served in the program has more than doubled in size. Although an unapologetic fan of movies and “prestige” TV, she turns to books for inspiration and insights in travel, behavioral economics, and educational theory.

Vulcanus Levi, Assistant Manager of Programs

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 is passionate about high school education and has taught for the NYPL. He also coordinates the Basic Literacy evening classes 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.

Michelle Lopez, National Director of Parent Education

Motivated by her own struggle with reading, Michelle turned to art and play to craft her own stories. At age 11, she co-created a soap opera with her cousin, a foreshadowing of her work at Literacy Partners. Michelle joined the team to advance media for social impact and leverage partnerships to expand our work nationally by bringing the La Fuerza de Creer initiative into communities. She is an Art Therapist with a Masters degree from Hofstra University and a B.A. in Communication Arts with a focus on film and broadcast from Fordham University. Michelle is also an alumni of the International Exchange Program of the US Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. She joins us from the museum field, where she served as Director of Education & Community Programs at the Children’s Museum of the Arts in SoHo and Manager of ArtAccess Programs & Autism Initiatives at Queens Museum. A leader in the City’s community of early childhood stakeholders, she has an expertise and passion in working with families across cultures to make artistic and educational resources accessible. She believes stories are the artifacts of the soul and looks forward to working with colleagues on promoting the power of storytelling.

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.

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.

Paige Peterson, Author and Artist in Residence

Paige Peterson was the Executive Vice President of Huntsman Cancer Foundation from 2008-2019. She is now a consultant to Huntsman Cancer Foundation. Ms. Peterson facilitated the partnership of Huntsman Cancer Institute and King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

As a member of the Board of Directors of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, Ms. Peterson shares the Council’s commitment to improving American knowledge and understanding of the Arab world.

Paige brings insight from the literary arts and years of experience as a working author and artist to our work. She worked closely with Christopher Cerf, an award-winning author and television producer. She was a researcher and editor on several of Cerf’s books, including “The Experts Speak” and “Mission Accomplished.” The two were co-directors of a Welcome Books’ imprint, Cerf & Peterson, and co-authored a bestselling book, “Blackie, The Horse Who Stood Still,” which Ms. Peterson also illustrated. She also illustrated Jesse Kornbluth’s adaptation of “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens.

Born in Marin County, California, Ms. Peterson is also a painter who is represented by Gerald Peters Gallery in New York City. The prestigious Guild Hall Academy of the Arts in East Hampton has honored her with a lifetime membership. Ms. Peterson lives in New York City. Learn more here.

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, Director of Special Events and Annual Giving

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.