Anthony Tassi, Executive Director

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.”

Destevon Aponte, Spring Intern

Born into a predominantly Spanish-speaking household, Destevon has always loved the challenge of learning and perfecting two languages. As a very young child, he was accountable for completing his homework on his own, because his mother worked and his grandmother knew only Spanish. Like many of the children of Literacy Partners students, he translated English into Spanish for his family members, and even for other community members. Destevon’s favorite novels are Monster and The Giver, and he loves to read on his phone during his free time. He likes to say that “knowledge is power, so think of reading as a key to success.”

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.

Lilah Burke, Communications Intern

Lilah is a Georgetown University undergrad pursuing a degree in foreign service, concentrating on the history of imperialism. Born and raised in New York City, she regularly reads The New Yorker and New York magazine, but her favorite book is East of Eden. In high school, Lilah volunteered at Bluestockings Radical Women’s Bookstore and Activist Center, where she learned about the impact that books and information can have on people’s lives, as long as there is access.

Phil Cameron, Adult Basic Education and High School Equivalency Teacher

When he’s not teaching Literacy Partners classes at the Kingsley Early Learning Center on Staten Island, Phil—who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English—finds himself immersed in Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings books with his two sons. It was becoming a parent that drew him to the Literacy Partners’ dual-generation approach. “It’s my goal, as a teacher and a parent, to empower not just one generation but the next, and that means passing down my love for learning and literacy,” Phil says. The Brooklyn native spent six years in Seattle—where he gardened, hiked, and drank a lot of coffee—before moving to Staten Island, a locale whose green space reminded him of the Pacific Northwest.

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, Development and Communications Manager

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. 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.

Kevin Furman

Kevin Furman, Outreach Coordinator

Literacy Partners’ two-generation learning model has personal resonance for Kevin, who received his bachelor’s degree in human services and public administration from City College, just days before his daughter’s graduation from Spelman College. “We studied together on the phone!” he says. Like many of the students he now recruits, Kevin received his high school equivalency degree while raising a family. “I know how frustrating it can be when you don’t fit into the traditional education system,” he says. A devotee of biographies—whose lifelong favorite book is the Bible—Kevin, formerly a mental health advocate, sees his work as a golden opportunity to give people in his community the tools they need to succeed.

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.

Avery R. Klotsche, Social Work Intern

Avery has carved out a unique professional niche, merging literacy with his passion for social justice. It was his experience conducting creative writing workshops for victims and perpetrators of family violence as well as LGBTQ people that led him to change careers, from higher-education policy to social work. Now, with a bachelor’s degree in English (with concentrations in creative writing and LGBTQ studies) from Arizona State University, Avery is a graduate student at NYU Silver School of Social Work. A writer and poet, he has been published in literary magazines such as LunaMerge, and Trans Anthology. Avery believes that education promotes empowerment and resilience in all.

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, Program Coordinator

Vulcanus teaches the Literacy Partners Study Hall—a time for high school equivalency class students to receive one-on-one help. He also helps coordinate other aspects of the evening classes and recruits new students and volunteers. 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.

Lionel Ouellette, Director of 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, Analytics Manager

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.

Timothy Ruffin

Timothy Ruffin, HSE Curriculum Developer and Lead Teacher

Tim’s favorite books are about adult learning, but he credits his childhood favorites, the Babar series, with teaching him how to get into trouble—and strategies for getting out of it. An adult-education instructor for nine years, Tim teaches high school equivalency and college prep classes at Literacy Partners. With a BA from Rutgers University in history and African American studies, an MA in history from Montclair State University, and an MsEd from Capella University, this New Jersey native likes teaching adults because they are especially motivated to learn. “When each new person passes the exam, it’s a huge weight off their shoulders,” says Tim, who is thrilled that some of his first Literacy Partners students are now applying to college.

Manzar Samii, Manager of Special Projects

Manzar’s favorite place to read is on a sunny park bench in a hidden corner of Prospect Park—a long way from her childhood home in Tehran, Iran, where she lived until she was five. She spent the balance of her childhood in Santa Fe, New Mexico, graduated from American University in London, and earned a master’s degree in gender, media, and cultural studies from the London School of Economics. Fluent in Farsi, Manzar lives in New York City because it’s the “most international place in the United States and represents the American dream of so many immigrants.”

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.