2018-19 Team

We are delighted to introduce our newest participants for Project Change. These young men and women represent a diverse reflection of our state and aspire to give something back to the young people of Maryland.

JennyJenny Mendez -Guerrero at MHP

Jenny Mendez-Guerrero is a senior at the University of Maryland studying Family Science. She was born in San Miguel, El Salvador and came to the United States at the age of 2. Although Mendez-Guerrero isn’t a Montgomery County native, she grew up in the DMV area–DC and Prince George’s County– and wishes to be a part of Americorps: Project Change in order to serve high need communities and gain experience working with nonprofit organizations. After graduating, Jenny would like to pursue a masters in social work and counseling.


EricEric Portillo at MHP

Eric Portillo was born and raised in Washington D.C and is beginning his first year as an AmeriCorps Project CHANGE member. He graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland with a degree in Theater, Film and Media Studies. He loves helping other and has in the past volunteered with Habitat with Humanity and Latino Student Fund. He has a passion for film-making and looks forward to working with students and his community.


Julius Williams at MHP 

Julius Williams ;a poet , an inspired future philosopher. Second semester student of Montgomery college. Pursuing an AA in Teaching, making a difference is my dream but empowering the youth is the key. The sky is the limit so iam soaring with my mind. I am a first year Americorps member.



Kathy Ghayour for  MCPS at Brown Station Elementary School Two Way Immersion Program 

Kathy was born and raised in Montgomery county Maryland. She is of Iranian and Chilean descent and is a mother to 2 radically different kids. She’s a jack of all trades, but likes to focus her time on helping others. She’s had bumps in the road and likes to use her experiences in helping others in need.



Oneyda Hernandez for MCPS at Kemp Mills Elementary School 

Oneyda is currently a senior at the University of Maryland where she is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology. Oneyda credits a high school internship at an optometry office for exposing her to career opportunities in the medical field and influencing her passion for optometry early on. After undergrad, she plans on attending optometry school with the goal of one day opening her own optometry clinic to aid underprivileged communities. Oneyda is passionate about increasing minority representation in the medical field and believes that she can make a difference by exposing young people to a wide variety of career paths and opportunities early on. As a member of Americorps, she hopes to inspire the children in her fourth grade class to consider future careers in the medical field.


Kimberly Jackson at Community Bridges



Candace MarshallCandace Marshall at Community Bridges-High School Program Specialist.  Candace is a graduate from Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Public Health. During her time in Philadelphia, she had the opportunity to intern for both the non-profit and government sectors to address health barriers and limited resources in the urban city. Her work involved providing safe sleeping environments, facilitating SIDS risk reduction and infant care education to low-income families, in addition to program planning and website updating efforts to increase physical activity amongst middle-aged adults in the city’s parks. Candace also has experience mentoring and tutoring youth, participating in prevention intervention events, and conducting workshops and home-visits. She aspires to continue serving the maternal and child health population to combat health disparities, access to affordable resources, chronic diseases and health literacy amongst underserved populations locally and abroad. Born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, with familial roots from Ghana, she will be working with the high school after-school program as an AmeriCorp Member during her year of service with Community Bridges, to empower and guide the girls to their bright futures as healthy women. Candace enjoys baking, watching documentaries, and attending musical events in her free time.

Maria Arriaza-Polanco at Community Bridges
Maria is a newly welcomed member of Community Bridges, she will be working with the middle school after-school through her year of service with AmeriCorp. She is a current student at University of Maryland University College and also a Community Bridges Alumni! Prior to UMUC, Maria attended Morgan State University in Baltimore after graduating from our local Springbrook High School! Maria was born in Guatemala and moved to North Carolina in 2004 prior to moving to Maryland. She has spent the last 9 moth recovering from a car accident, but that doesn’t stop her passions to help others. Her interest run wild when pertaining to art or education, which is what leads her towards her dream of being a surgeon. Maria wishes to use her position here with community bridges to help further the goals and dreams of the girls in the program she once benefited from. She will be working with the middle school after-school program.

Sylla Salematou at YMCA Benchmarks

Salematou sylla at YMCA benchmark middle school program specialists: Salematou sylla Graduated from Springbrook High School with a high school diploma in 2017. While in school she was involved with a lot of activities including African American Association and community bridges.  She also was quite involved in her community being known as the  tall Loud friendly girl. Involving herself in low income and unfortunate family like herself. Salematou has experienceWorking with kids trough out all her life In events she host in her community.  Born in New York raised in France and in Maryland with a family originally from guinee A small country located in west Africa you will see her honoring her year serving in  AmeriCorps Serving at YMCA benchmark Teaching kids the right path having fun but never forgetting their school path as well . Salematou Enjoys doing make up cooking and volunteering in soup kitchens


JauNelle HugeeJauNelle Hugee for MCPS at Takoma Park Elementary School. Jau’Nelle is a Washington, DC native that has a strong commitment to serving communities that are under-served and creating safe spaces for vulnerable youth. The passion and dedication she has for serving those in the greatest of need has led her to being an AmeriCorps Project Change 2018 – 2019 member. Jau’Nelle has a background in communications and community service but is seeking to advance her career specifically in early child hood education with a concentration on children with special needs. The alarming rate in which children are diagnosed with autism has created in her, a sense of urgency to obtain more knowledge and conduct research for how to create education plans that address this growing population in the public education system. Jau’Nelle is using this year of service as an opportunity to gain access into the Montgomery County school system to develop hands on experiences with students that have special needs, acquire mentorship with educators, and obtain access to educational resources that will propel her passion and her outreach in under-served communities. She is planning to complete this year of service and begin her second year to maximize her community outreach and implement her research to develop lessons and strategies designed for the success of students diagnosed with autism.


Raymon Diaz at Lead4Life 

Ray is originally from Brooklyn, New York, live in Phoenix, Arizona from 2011-2017 and moved to Maryland in 2018. He has an extensive background in management and leadership, Associates in Business and Bachelor’s in Public Administration. Ray is all about the community and can use his experience and background in both education and business to help make a change. Finally, Ray loves to cook, be creative, and spend time with family.




Daniel Diaz for MCPS at Saturday School

Daniel has vast leadership, military, and administrative experience but his heart lies in teaching and training. Currently pursuing a doctorate degree in Educational Leadership, AmeriCorps provides even more opportunity to share knowledge and leadership with the next generation of learners. Daniel works full time as a contracted training manager for the government and is excited about the AmeriCorps opportunity as an extension of his previous service to country. On his personal time, Daniel enjoys music, singing, and also spending time with family.



Sonia Jouonang for MCPS at Gaithersburg High School

Sonia Jouonang at Gaithesburg High School as an ESOL Para Educator. She attended Bethesda Chevy Chase High and went on to Montgomery College. She vowed to use a gap year of service where she would be giving back to the local community. Sonia hopes to use her experiences as having once been a student coming into a new country and school system to help others in the community that are going through the same difficulties such as language barriers.




Jennifer Okosun for MCPS at Thomas Edison School of Technology

Jennifer  Yolanda Okosun  is a native of  Silver Spring, MD  who is passionate about community involvement, outreach and volunteering. Her passion led her to both AmeriCorps and Street Sense, a DC based nonprofit media center, as a  marketing and communications director. At Street Sense she brought on a new  donor based on her social media marketing strategies which was highlighted in the Washingtonian. Jennifer is a graduate of the Entrepreneur Training Success program  at Empowered  Women International  and studied Hospitality Management at Stratford University as well as Communications at the University of Maryland University College. She has over five years of event planning and marketing  experience which  includes; being a  speaker at the 6th  Annual Passion  Over Poverty Talent  Show for Domestic Violence  Wears Many Tags organization,  educating teens  on how to market  their talent and being  a Teacher’s Assistant at Prince George’s Community College for Event Production and  Design.  Currently,  Jennifer is  a freelance marketing  consultant, entrepreneur  and mentor with  plans to develop a  single moms ministry and workspace in the future.


AmyTranAmy Tran at Hospice Caring :Amy Tran was born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland. She brings experience working with children as an intern at Cannon Road Elementary School. Amy is a recent graduate of University of Maryland where she received a bachelor’s degree in sociology. Amy is passionate about providing service for the non-profit sector and hopes to give back to the community.








April Hart

April Hart is an Alabama native, but has spent the last 7 years living in Helsinki, Finland, where she obtained her Bachelors of Social Work with an Early Childhood Education minor. April held the role of manager and teacher at an international school in Helsinki for the past 4 years. Through her years of teaching, April was, and remains, a passionate advocate of multicultural education. While in Finland, she also worked as a case manager for a European Union sponsored project, assisting teenage immigrants and refugees settle into their new communities. In this role, she aided her clients as they began the process of integration and acculturation. This year, April will be serving a year with AmeriCorps, working as a Program Leader for the Benchmarks program at Rock Creek Forest Elementary School. After her year of service, April plans to return to school to obtain her MSW. She enjoys running, traveling, foreign languages, and cooking.

Janelle Mack

Janelle Mack, an AmeriCorps Project CHANGE member joins The YMCA’s Youth and Family Services. She works as a Group Leader for Albert Einstein High School’s after school program. While there she is implementing a STEM program that exposes students to the various dimensions of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math and how it can benefit their future as working adults. Janelle possess years of business management and leadership experience, a Masters in Administration of Human Services and a Bachelors of Science degree in Psychology from Wilmington University in Delaware. With education under her belt, Janelle is pursuing her passion of entrepreneurship by developing her own STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) based non-profit organization for students. A Queens, New York native, Janelle has written articles for the Carroll County Times and her alma mater, Wilmington University. She is a Mets fan who loves attending church and traveling to new places.

Ben Kostenbader

Ben Kostenbader is a North Carolina native, but has spent his prime years in Maryland. He obtained his bachelors of Science degree in Psychology at Bowie State University and soon after entered the workforce serving in Non-Profits throughout Prince George’s County MD and the Washington DC metropolitan area. He has served as a mentor and case worker for youth within the Truancy Reduction Court & Drug Court System for two years, and provided service coordination for infants and toddlers for the Arc of Prince George’s County MD. After concluding his involvement with Volunteers of America, where he last served physically incapable individuals, he wanted to make a difference on a greater scale by pursuing AmeriCorps Project Change. His placement is within Montgomery Housing Partnership where he is the executive assistant to the site coordinator of Great Hope Homes & Gator Program at Arcola Elementary School. He is also an assistant teacher for both sites catering to Pre-K through 5th Grade. Ben plans to go back to school to obtain his Masters in Professional Counselling Psychology. He enjoys socializing, outdoor recreation, and Abstract Artistry.

Brandon Martinez

Brandon, born and raised in Maryland, is partnered with Montgomery Housing Partnership. His role includes working and planning for an after school program. He’s been volunteering with MHP for 4 years almost. So even though he is just starting his first full time AmeriCorps year of service, Brandon has been working with kids is nothing new to him. He just wants to bring the best out of the kids he gets the honor of working with, and make a difference in their lives big or small. During his free time, he enjoys playing basketball and spending time with all his siblings when he can. The key to his heart is a 10 piece of Lemon Pepper Wings from Wing Stop.

Jennifer Hong

Jennifer Hong graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry. While in school, she participated in organizations like UTeach Outreach and Austin Partners in Education where she provided tutoring and mentorship to student in under-served and under-represented areas of Austin, TX. Upon graduation, she completed a two year research fellowship at the National Institute of Health where she worked on a new way of body scanning, which involved functionalizing fluorescent nano-diamonds. She enjoys hiking and rock climbing, and hopes to go to medical school.

Merary Gutierrez

Merary Gutierrez has joined AmeriCorps Project Change for her first year, and is currently a part of Montgomery Country Public Schools ( MCPS ) Study Circles. She graduated from McDaniel College in Westminster Maryland with a Bachelor’s in Spanish. She was unable to stay for a fifth year to complete the educator’s coursework, but is working on obtaining a teaching certification through alternative programs. She attended schools in Montgomery County for elementary, middle and high school and is excited to give back to the county that provided her with an education. Her interests are in education, equity and diversity, as well as Latin American and Spain history and culture. Merary is excited for what the experience ahead of her will bring, and is especially looking forward to learning what goes on behind the scenes of running a school system.

Kate Ellis

Katie Ellis is working at Hospice Caring, Inc. in the Children’s Bereavement department. Her role includes facilitating bereavement support groups in schools as well as assisting with the planning and facilitation of the agency’s bereavement camp, Camp Caring. In August, Katie completed a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in San Antonio, Texas where she worked at a Catholic Charities Community Center. Katie graduated from the University of Dayton in 2014 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Spanish.

Deepna Anand

Deepna Anand was born and raised in Maryland and attended Montgomery County Public Schools. Deepna is in her first year as an AmeriCorps Project CHANGE member, working at Montgomery County Public Schools’ Study Circles Program. At Study Circles, Deepna is working to identify, examine, and eliminate institutional barriers to African American and Latino student achievement by engaging diverse stakeholders in honest and productive dialogue around race and equity. She studied psychology at University of Maryland, Baltimore. In her free time, Deepna loves to go hiking, traveling, and spending time with friends and family. After completing her year at AmeriCorps, she hopes to continue her education by pursuing her masters in social work.

Jira Churchill

Jira is ecstatic to join YMCA Youth and Family Services for 2015-2016 working in Einstein High School with Montgomery County Public Schools. She has experience in education, community outreach, non-profit and fundraising. Jira received her MSEd in Secondary Education, in NY before relocating to Maryland in 2006. Always seeking for opportunities to integrate education into other facets of living, Jira plans to integrate healthy nutrition as a lifestyle option into activities by inviting nutrition speakers, introducing healthy eating menu options at favorite restaurants and inspiring students to re-imagine food as a nutritious fuel source benefiting active lifestyles and optimal for healthy growth.

Miranda Teel

Miranda Teel is currently a 3rd year Clinical Psychology doctoral student at the American School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University, Washington, DC (ASPPDC). She has a Masters of Science in Psychology with a concentration in Substance Abuse and a Masters of Arts in Clinical Psychology. Miranda recently finished a year of clinical training at DC Superior Court where she provided therapy for female youth offenders. Miranda hopes to go into private practice and specialize in working with children and adolescents. She is working with Project Change at the Saturday School where she assists the Saturday morning school program and also works at Blair High School with seniors helping them prepare for college.

Emeli Oliva

Emeli Oliva was born in Los Angeles, California but raised in Silver Spring, Maryland. While in high school, she discovered her passion for teaching children. She graduated from Montgomery Blair High School in June 2014 and is now studying at Montgomery College. Although the youngest member in AmeriCorps she does not let my age define the work she does with Montgomery Housing Partnership, where she helps students with their homework and teaches pre-schoolers the basics to get them ready for Kindergarten. The things that mean the most to her is her family, community, and becoming a successful elementary school teacher whilst also seeking to receive her psychology degree.

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