2017-18 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.

Haily Gonski at Hospice CaringHaily-150x150

Haily Gonski is in her second year as an AmeriCorps Project CHANGE member, working with Hospice Caring. She will be working alongside the director of children’s bereavement services to facilitate bereavement support groups in Montgomery County Schools as well as assisting with the planning and facilitation of Camp Erin, Hospice Caring’s bereavement camp for children. Haily was born and raised in Connecticut but, attended the University of Maryland where she graduated with a degree in Psychology with a focus on child development. The past few years she has worked with children in various settings including preschools, family resource centers, and with Linkages to Learning. In her spare time she enjoys hiking, going to the beach, attending music festivals, and watching the Patriots.

rosaRosa Diaz at YMCA Benchmarks

Hello, my name is Rosa Diaz. I get referred to as rosy when you know me well. I am in my second year with AmeriCorps. My birthday is March 09 which presumably makes me 21 years old and a Pisces. I am the youngest of four. Two sisters and one brother. What I love the most about that is, it makes me an aunt of five too! Two nieces and three nephews to be exact. Out of the many things that I value, Family is at the very top of my list for sure! I graduated from John F. Kennedy HS, class of 2014. Currently, I am enrolled in Montgomery College majoring in communications. One of my short term goals is to transfer to the University of Maryland within the next year or so.


Wendy Pintado at MCPS Saturday  School

Wendy is a Montgomery County Alumnus who is every excited to give back to her community. Although she was born in Silver Spring, her family is from Guayaquil, Ecuador. She is currently a senior at the University of Maryland pursuing a degree in family science. She has done a great amount of community service in the past. She has volunteered as a mentor for Sisters in Action, at S.O.M.E soup kitchen, at Walter Pierce Park and for K-9 Lifesavers. She is very passionate about education and working towards closing the achievement gap. She wants to be able to mentor first generation students like herself who many times don’t have the resources in their life to seek advice to apply to college from their friends or family. She hopes to serve as a role model that inspires others to pursue higher education despite any kind of financial background. This is her second year of AmeriCorps, where she is serving  with Project Change at the Saturday School and also at Blair High school helping out in the ACES program.

deepnaDeepna Anand at  MCPS Study Circles

Deepna Anand was born and raised in Maryland and attended Montgomery County Public Schools. Deepna is entering her third year as an AmeriCorps Project CHANGE member, working at Montgomery County Public Schools’ Equity Initiatives Unit. She studied psychology at University of Maryland, Baltimore University. In her free time, she loves to travel. She has been to places such as India, Egypt, Poland, Israel, Her dream is to travel the world.  She is a MASSIVE Harry Potter fan, Wingardium Leviosa. After completing her year at AmeriCorps, she hopes to continue her education by pursuing her masters in social work.


doloresDolores Byrnes at Study Circles

Dolores Byrnes is a writer and anthropologist. She grew up in Warren, Ohio and has a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Cornell University.






Zainab Lawal at Community Bridges 

Zainab has joined AmeriCorps Project for her first year as a program specialist for Community Bridges. She is recently graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park with a Bachelor’s in Family Science. Zainab attended elementary, middle, and secondary education in both Ibadan, Nigeria and Montgomery County, Maryland. As a daughter of two West African immigrants, working to empower young girls from immigrant families and marginalized groups is exciting and important. Her interests are in gender equity, immigrant health, cross-cultural communication and social justice. After completing her AmeriCorps service year, Zainab plans to pursue a career in global public health after earning a dual master’s in Social Work and Public Health as well as PhD in Health Behavior. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, traveling and watching Grey’s Anatomy.


Bertha VargasBertha Vargas at MCPS Gaithersburg Hisgh School METS/ESOL Program

My name is Bertha Maria Vargas. I am 22 years old and was born and raised in Montgomery County, Maryland. I have one younger brother and my parents are immigrants from Nicaragua. I graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in 2012 and then went on to graduate from Marymount University in 2017. I received a Bachelors degree in Biology with a secondary education teaching licensure. I am very excited to work with some amazing AmeriCorps individuals at Project CHANGE!


JussaraJussara Kramer at MHP

Jussara Kramer is the Director of the International Educational Conference & Cultural Exchange (IECE). An annual event which takes place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She has been working as an education consultant for Teachers College Columbia University located in New York. In the past, she worked as a Portuguese professor at Howard Community College, located in Washington DC. She is the former Curriculum Design & Development Director at the Alliance for Community, Teachers and Schools (ACTS). As a director, Jussara evaluated the mission, vision, and values of the Learning Ignited by Family and Teachers Together (LIFT) program. She reorganized the program conceptual framework, and designed workshops, seminars and activities that encouraged parents and teachers’ collaboration at Baltimore City Schools.  Previously, Jussara worked at the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) located in Baltimore and developed a leadership program initiative targeting 4th and 5th graders. The program was designed to develop youth leadership traits, network students with leaders in the community and develop future leaders in the Baltimore City.  Jussara Kramer has received her Bachelor of Education Degree and Masters in Nonprofit Management from Notre Dame of Maryland University. She was a distinguish delegate for the United Nations at the Commission on the Status of Women in 2013 and 2015. In 2016, she traveled to Sweden, Norway, Finland, Amsterdam, and Germany to research education curriculum and school design. In 2017 and 2018 Jussara will volunteer as AmeriCorps Vista because she feels the need to be involved in helping others, learn from diversity, and support the community.


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.


IMG_DanielaDaniela Hernandez at Kemp Mills Elementary

Hello, my name is Daniela Hernandez, I am currently working at Kemp Mill Elementary School,  with AmeriCorps Project Change. I assist the teacher & students with class work & by supporting them with their academic learning, I am also a hair dresser on the side. I enjoy working with kids, I was an intern in Arcola Elementary School with 1st graders.



Ankur pic

Ankur Rastogi at MCPS CREA Program at Thomas Edison High School

A native of Montgomery County, Ankur Rastogi, in Project Change, works with Career Readiness Education Academy(CREA) at Thomas Edison High School of Technology helping students to increase their English and Math proficiency, career skills, and gain a GED.

Prior to AmeriCorps, Ankur attained his BA from University of Maryland(UMD) and MA from Columbia University where he examined the global economic and political order impact on wealth inequality in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa regions. After completing his research and degrees, Ankur, worked with the American Pool Association(APA), where he fell in love with teaching youth billiards and life skills and, as a result, inspired him to continue working with youth.


NoahNoah Hughes at MCPS CREA Program at Thomas Edison High School

Noah Hughes was born in Washington, DC and lived there for 11 years before moving to Bethesda, MD in the summer of 2007. Noah is working with MCPS’ CREA (Career Readiness Education Academy) program, part of the Department of Career Readiness and Innovative Programs. His focus is on running tests and charting the students’ growth over the year long program. Noah is also assisting with the math program, on top of helping make sure the program runs smoothly everyday. Noah Hughes is a computer science/game design major but is taking a break from school to volunteer for AmeriCorps. Noah graduated with honors from Walt Whitman High School in 2014.



EricEric Portillo at Gandhi Brigade

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 Theatre, 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 filmmaking and looks forward to working with students and his community.



AmeriCorpsMDGonzalo Fernandez-Coffee  at Gandhi Brigade






David nrciesseDavid Narcisse 

David Narcisse is a graduate of the great HBCU, Dillard University, located in New Orleans, Louisiana. He is a native of Vacherie, Louisiana, roughly a half hour from New Orleans. He prides himself on being the best that he can be & wakes up each day striving to be better for his beautiful & talented daughter, Daelyn Victoria Narcisse. His skills include aspects of film production, writing in different literary genres & more. He is thrilled to be apart of the Americorps: Project CHANGE & Gandhi Brigade organization. Be on the lookout…



Fiorella Montoya 

Fiorella Montoya is a Peruvian native, but she has been living in Maryland since she was 12 years old. She is currently studying to obtain her B.A. in Secondary Education- Spanish as she aspires to become a teacher. Fiorella is very passionate about education and being involved helping the youth in her community. This is her first year as an AmeriCorps Project CHANGE member, working with Kemp Mill Elementary School Dual Language Program.



ImaniImani Scott 

Currently as An Americorps member I am website developer at MCPS Carver Center, I use HTML and Tron to do routine maintenance on MCPS webpages. I also work at East Potomac Golf Course working within the driving range and proshop, I assign tee time, training sessions and member support. I am a part time student at University of Maryland, I am majoring in software development and cyber security. I currently am working on several projects where I use C Code. I have recently completed a 1 year work force development program that specializes in technical training.I am working towards several certifications such as in A+, Security+, and Network+. While I am currently emerged in a full schedule. I am looking for training courses or programs where I will be able to study, develop and learn several coding languages, such as python and ruby on rails. In the near future my career field will be a software application developer, where I plan on creating my own mobile gaming applications.





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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