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.”

Mohamed Abouseria, CUNY Service Corps Intern

Mohamed joined Literacy Partners because he believed that “education is a really strong weapon.” He was drawn to the organization’s dual-generation approach and the important of educating parents, who can then help their children. Mohamed’s favorite book is American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. He attends the College of Staten Island as a pre-med student majoring in biology.

Abena Baah-Fordjour, CUNY Service Corps Intern

A native of the Bronx, Abena became an avid reader when a friend lent her Twilight in the 6th grade. Both an introvert and aspiring author, books served as her most influential companion and sole source of entertainment. Currently, she is a third-year student in a 7-year BS/M.D. program with the hopes of becoming a psychiatrist. Her strong desire to work directly with her community led her to working at Literacy Partners and empowering adults to achieve their larger goals through literacy. She especially believes that literacy and a wholehearted enjoyment of literature is the best form of education and awareness of the world around us.

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.

Iza Benedicto, Analytics Intern

Iza Benedicto is a first-year graduate student in the Education Leadership Policy and Advocacy program at New York University. Prior to her enrollment at NYU, Iza worked as an AmeriCorps member at College Track, a college access program helping low-income, first-generation students of color be the first in their family to go to college. As an alumna of the program, she was eager to give back to the organization that provided her access to opportunities. Her passion for equity and justice has been influenced by Paulo Freire and Audre Lorde. Iza holds a B.A. in Social Welfare from University of California, Berkeley.

Gina Bravo, CUNY Service Corps Intern

Raised in a first-generation family in Washington Heights, Gina understood the important role reading has at a young age. As a child, she was eager to learn and quickly turned to reading as a never-ending source of education. By expanding her English language comprehension, Gina could better assist her parents in learning the new language. She is currently attending The City College of New York pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in sociology. Gina enjoys being engaged with her community and is always on the lookout for new opportunities to give back, as well as a good book to read.

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. 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.

Hilary Downes, Social Work Intern / Educational Counselor

For Hilary, books were commonplace in her childhood home of Portland, Oregon, where she loved to read the Ramona Quimby and Anne of Green Gables series. She fell in love with the art of storytelling, and studied film and creative writing at Hampshire College. Hilary has an MFA in film from Columbia University, and is pursuing her master’s degree in social work from NYU. As a freelancer, Hilary works in commercial production. She was drawn to Literacy Partners because of the way it “enriches people’s lives through the development of the mind and self esteem.”

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.

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.

Hans Gonzalez, Communications Intern

Born in Salcedo, a small town in the Dominican Republic, Hans had a unique connection to books – he was named after Danish children’s book author Hans Christian Andersen. When he was six, his father purchased two encyclopedias, introducing him to all kinds of information and the power of reading. Hans is a freelance photographer pursuing a BA in Communications at Baruch College, calling communication “essential in business and in life”. Currently, Hans is reading Principles by Ray Dalio.

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.

Ravenn Haynes, CUNY Service Corps Intern

Ravenn first picked up a book at the age of 2 – from then on, she was hooked! This desire to read rapidly grew, as she was accepted to Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, where she was able to develop and perfect her other passion, dance. With the coupling of exploration through movement and literature, Ravenn only found it fitting to delve into poetry and short stories. Her favorite book growing up was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and her favorite character was Jo March. Presently, she is a senior Accounting and English dual major at CUNY Queens College.

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.

Omwattie Motee, CUNY Service Corps Intern

Reading became one of Omwattie’s hobbies after being introduced to Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, one of her favorite authors. As an intern for Literacy Partners, she is interested in creating good relationships between parents and children through education. Originally from Guyana, Omwattie is now a student at City College majoring in biology. In her spare time, she meditates, cooks, and dances.



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.