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.”

Arifa Ali, Communications Intern

Born in Brooklyn and raised in a first-generation Bengali-American home, Arifa’s interest in different cultures and passion for social justice issues grew as she got older. She is a third-year student pursuing a BA in political science with a minor in human rights at Hunter College. Literacy Partners mission to help develop the literacy and language skills of low-income parents spoke to her as her own parents struggled with English when they first came to the United States. Arifa loved to read books as a child, and her collection of books continue to grow to this day. With prior experience interning at a non-profit organization which helped minority groups, she hopes to expand her knowledge and spread awareness with issues regarding illiteracy and immigration. Arifa enjoys exploring the city, discovering new restaurants to try, and is always happy to meet new people.

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.

Aarushi Bhardwaj, Development Intern

Aarushi Bhardwaj was born and raised in Delhi, India. From a young age, Aarushi was interested in development and reducing inequality, which was seen far too often in India. She graduated from Rutgers University in 2017 with a Master’s degree in public administration. As part of her graduate research, Aarushi interned at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and worked closely with LGBTQ and underrepresented communities. Her research explored the issue of homelessness and its correlation with social injustice. Aarushi’s interest in social inclusion and justice took her to the United Nations as a Youth Delegate to design solutions that drive actions for sustainable development through a unique global platform. In the future, Aarushi would like to develop innovative policies that address issues such as poverty, inequality and social injustice. 

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.

Flor de Maria Eilets, Social Worker

Flor de Maria Eilets, LMSW, brings a passion to her work that was shaped by her childhood in Callao, Peru, where girls and low-income people had little access to education. Although her own home had no books, her aunt brought Flor de Maria to her secret meetings with a boyfriend, at the library, leaving her to read anything she liked, from murder mysteries to Don Quixote—still her favorite book. Flor de Maria’s strong sense of curiosity led her to seek out an education, first in Peru and then in the United States, where she earned a BA from Mercy College and master’s degree from Lehman College. She has spent her career in social work advocating for and developing adult literacy programs.

Marta Garcia, CUNY Service Corps 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.

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.”

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.

Adriane Lee, ESOL Teacher and Site Coordinator

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.

Kate Maloy, High School Equivalency Teacher

Visiting New York City for the first time at the age of 10, from Atlanta, Kate Maloy knew she was a New Yorker. Now she is making the city a better place for people who want to grow as readers and writers. A teacher in Literacy Partners’ high school equivalency program, Kate has been teaching literacy and writing to adults and young adults for 10 years. As an actor and comedian, Kate played Hillary Clinton in The Key of Awesome’s Hamilton parody and in commercials—including one for Kit Kat candy bars. On school vacations, Kate can be found writing, reading books by Patrick O’Brian, working with Artistic New Directions, and caring for her son’s four-foot-long classroom snake, Hank. She lives with her family in the Bronx.

Sang Ngo, Media Project Intern

Born in Vietnam, Sang and his family moved to Ohio when he was 8. Growing up, he cherished the companionship of Matilda by Roald Dahl. “Like so many other immigrant children, I had to be the voice for my family when we first moved here,” Sang says. His experience translating for his parents led him to work with Habla, a student organization on campus at Stanford University, where he is studying biology. Sang became an instructor and trained volunteers on approaches to teaching English to adults. “Many of our partners are not literate in their native language, which makes it even more difficult to learn English. They feel burdened because they struggle to help their children with academic work,” he says. His work with Habla inspired him to improve literacy in immigrant communities, and led him to Literacy Partners (and New York for the first time)!

Lionel Ouellette, Director of HSE and Staten Island Programs

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, Assistant 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.

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.

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.

Shellyn Willis, Administration Intern

A native New Yorker and recent transplant, Shellyn comes from a family background of teachers, medical field workers (Ward Secretaries, RN’s), architects and military personnel. They instilled in her the value of a good education. She grew up with a passion for books and the love of reading. While her mother worked the second shift at a hospital, Shellyn would read her favorite books, like Cat in the Hat and Curious George, with her sitter. When her mom took her to the library to get her very own library card, she explained that reading was essential to school success and pursuing life’s goals. Interning at Literacy Partners has inspired Shellyn to return to college and pursue a degree in business management.