OUR STAFF

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Robert M. Ponichtera
Executive Director and Founder

Bob and Kennedy girls in Annapolis

Dr. Robert M. Ponichtera oversees the organization’s day-to-day operations, devoting his time to creating a network of partners, generating publicity, and cultivating donors. Ponichtera has more than a decade of experience working for nonprofit organizations, guiding program direction and fundraising activities. Before founding Liberty’s Promise, Ponichtera worked at Freedom House and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where he wrote grants, coordinated program activities, and conducted research. Ponichtera earned a Ph.D. in East European History from Yale University in 1995 and has taught at Yale, Quinnipiac College, Albertus Magnus College, and George Mason University. A native English speaker, Dr. Ponichtera is fluent in Polish. He and his wife, Renata, reside in Alexandria, Virginia with their son, Anthony.

Dr. Ponichtera can be reached at rponichtera@libertyspromise.org.

Fun Fact: Bob is the proud owner of more than 21,000 baseball cards.


Mariam Abdelwahab
Prog
ram Officer, Alexandria City, Virginia

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Mariam Abdelwahab is responsible for the implementation of the internship and Civics and Citizenship engagement programs at Wakefield and T.C. Williams High School in Northern Virginia. Mariam is originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She attended the University of Pittsburgh where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication and Rhetoric and a certificate in Global Studies. During her time at Pitt,  she worked for two years as a Resident Assistant in the college resident halls, served as a volunteer chair for the African Student Organization, managed a local food bank center through the Muslim Student Association, and worked as a tutor with the local Somali-Bantu refugee community. In addition to her on-campus activities,  Mariam spent a semester in the Dominican Republic studying Spanish, a summer studying Arabic in Amman, Jordan, as well as a semester exploring policy analysis and immigration in Spain, Morocco, and India. Mariam is excited about her new position with Liberty’s Promise and looks forward to furthering her passion for empowering young people.  

Ms. Abdelwahab can be reached at mabdelwahab@libertyspromise.org

Fun Fact: Mariam trekked for a week in the Himalayas


Amanda Antiskay
Prog
ram Officer, Prince George’s County, Maryland

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Amanda Antiskay is responsible in leading internship and Civics and Citizenship engagement programs at Parkdale and Bladensburg High School in Maryland. She attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, VA, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Spanish, International Studies, and a minor in Psychology.  During her time at Tech, she served as the President for SalsaTech, a representative for the Latino Association of Student Organizations, and as Secretary for Latin Link, which allowed her to affirm and represent the Latinx culture in the community. Ms. Antiskay has studied and traveled abroad in Ecuador, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Peru, holding a position as a bilingual dance instructor in Cumbaya, Ecuador within the Universidad San Francisco de Quito.  

Ms. Antiskay can be reached at aantiskay@libertyspromise.org

Fun Fact: Amanda loves playing chess and often opens with the Queen’s Gambit or the Vienna Opening.


Carmen Centeno
Program Officer, Montgomery County, Maryland

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Carmen Centeno is responsible for the implementation of our internship and volunteering programs as well as our Civics and Citizenship program and the Civic Engagement for Beginning English Language Learners (CE-BELL) at Northwood High School in Maryland. Carmen was born in San Salvador, El Salvador, and moved to the United States in 2005. While a student at Northwood High School in Silver Spring, MD, she participated in Liberty’s Promise, both in our after-school Civics program and our internship program. After high school, she attended Montgomery College and graduated with an associate degree in teaching. Ms. Centeno has two years’ teaching experience at Jamon Montessori Day School in Silver Spring, MD. Ms. Centeno has also pursued her passion for helping her community through volunteer work with different nonprofit organizations. Ms. Centeno embraced the diversity of all cultures, in addition to sharing her Hispanic heritage with the community. 

Mrs. Centeno can be reached at ccenteno@libertyspromise.org

Fun Fact: Carmen is a Zumba instructor


Melissa Gelinas
Program Officer, Alexandria City, Virginia

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Melissa is responsible for the implementation of the Civic Engagement for Beginning English Language Learners (CE-BELL) at T.C. Williams and Roosevelt High School.  Melissa Gelinas is originally from Saco, Maine.  She graduated from the University of Vermont with a Bachelor’s Degree in Linguistics, and later, from Wake Forest University with a Master’s Degree in Spanish Interpreting and Translation. After graduating, she spent a year in Quito, Ecuador, teaching English class for middle and high school students, as well as business professionals. She has worked as an interpreter in the Forsyth County N.C. public schools, at Forsyth County Department of Social Services, and with World Relief, an organization focused on refugee resettlement.  After working with the immigrant community in North Carolina as an interpreter, Melissa was inspired to do more to help people like the ones she was interpreting form which led her to Liberty’ Promise.

Ms. Gelinas can be reached at mgelinas@libertyspromise.org

Fun Fact: Melissa has a soft spot for dogs- so much that she rescued one in Ecuador and brought it back to the U.S. with her.


Ben Johnson
Program Officer, Prince George’s County, Maryland

Ben is responsible for leading the Civics and Citizenship engagement program at High Point and Northwestern High School in Prince George’s County, Maryland. He attend Christopher Newport University where he received a degree in Spanish and Political Science, and minors in Leadership Studies and National Security Studies.  During his time at CNU, Ben was involved with a variety of performing arts groups including Expansion A Cappella, Initiative Student Theatre, and a rock band in addition to other campus activities.  Upon graduating, Ben worked for CNU in the Student Engagement office connecting at-risk students to the resources necessary to excel and succeed.  Prior to joining Liberty’s Promise, Ben spent a year in the Dominican Republic coordinating a volunteer program while teaching English to disadvantaged students.  

Ben can be reached at bjohnson@libertyspromise.org

Fun Fact: Ben can name and identify every country in the world!


Muska Kamran
Program Officer, City of Baltimore, Maryland

Muska Kamran is responsible for the implementation of the internship and Civics and Citizenship education programs in Baltimore, specifically at Patterson and Ben Franklin High School. Muska was born in New York but moved back and forth between the U.S., Afghanistan, and Pakistan until she was 7, when her family decided to permanently live in the U.S. She attended Johns Hopkins University and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Political Science and Master of Arts in History as part of a 4-year BA/MA program. While at Hopkins, Muska worked as an intern at Campus Ministries. She also led external community relations for the Muslim Association to raise awareness about Islam and Muslims in America. Muska has also worked with youth at Liberty Elementary School, where she mentored highschool YouthWorkers for their educational and professional development, and as Director of Camp Kesem, where she organized a camp for kids affected by a parent’s cancer. She speaks English, Pashto, and Urdu.

Ms. Kamran can be reached at mkamran@libertyspromise.org

Fun Fact: Muska has over 70 first cousins.


Julien Labiche
Senior Program Officer, Montgomery County, Maryland

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Julien Labiche is responsible for the implementation of the internship and Civics and Citizenship education programs in Gaithersburg and at John F. Kennedy High School (Silver Spring). Mr. Labiche was born in the rural town of Mende in central France. After high school, his interest in foreign languages and humanities led him to pursue studies in English. He studied at Université Paul Valéry in Montpellier, where he obtained a degree in English Studies, and another one in French as a Second Language. He studied abroad for one year at Wittenberg University in Springfield, OH, where he happily immersed himself in American culture. Upon returning to France, Mr. Labiche earned certification to teach English as a Second Language. For the next three years, he taught at various public schools in the south of France. He then decided to move to the United States, where he got married. He taught high school French in Virginia, and eventually moved to the Washington DC area, teaching French in a language institute before joining Liberty’s Promise. A native French speaker, Mr. Labiche is fluent in English.

Mr. Labiche can be reached at jlabiche@libertyspromise.org.

Fun Fact: When Julien lived in Virginia Beach, VA, he played lead guitar in a rock band.


Katherine Rocha
Program Officer, Montgomery County, Maryland

Katie Rocha is responsible for the implementation of the internship and Civics and Citizenship education programs in Silver Spring and Wheaton High School.  Katie is originally from Virginia Beach, Virginia and graduated from the University of Virginia with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology.  While at UVA, Katie served as a committed member of the Latino Student Alliance and volunteered as a mentor to Hispanic youth in the Charlottesville community. Prior to working with Liberty’s Promise, Katie worked as an advocate for domestic violence survivors and implemented a youth program in the rural community of Helena, Arkansas.  

Ms. Rocha can be reached at krocha@libertyspromise.org.

Fun Fact: Katie loves studying modern art, especially works by her favorite artist- Mark Rothko.


Jacqueline Fernandez Vela                                                                                                                                                                                                         Program Officer,Wheaton High School and Gaithersburg High School, Maryland

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Jackie Fernandez is responsible for the Civic Engagement for Beginning English Language Learners (CE-BELL) at Gaithersburg and Wheaton High Schools in Maryland. Jackie was born in Mexico, and immigrated to the United States in 1999. She graduated from Pomona College with a BA in Latin American Studies and International Relations. Prior to joining Liberty’s Promise, Jackie worked with low-income, minority students through the Questbridge and Upward Bound programs. Drawing from her own experience in the United States as an immigrant, what she learned at the university, and in her community, she aspires to be welcoming, supportive, and a resource to immigrant youth and immigrants overall.

Ms. Fernandez Vela can be reached at jfernandez@libertyspromise.org

Fun Fact: Jackie has shaken former President Barack Obama’s hand at the CHCI (Congressional Hispanic Caucus Gala).


McKenzie Williams
Program Officer, Fairfax County, Virginia

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McKenzie grew up in Vienna, VA and graduated from James Madison University with a Bachelor of Science in Technical Writing and a minor degree Health Communication Studies. While at JMU, McKenzie was a member of Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed service fraternity on campus. Through APO McKenzie was an engaged member of the Harrisonburg community, and worked as a volunteer coordinator for The Salvation Army Youth Program. In addition to The Salvation Army, McKenzie volunteered at the local Boys and Girls Club and participated in two service spring break trips to Nicaragua and The New England Center for Homeless Veterans. McKenzie’s passion for working with youth, and implementing programs to help them succeed, led her to the position of Program Officer for Fairfax County schools and Part-Time Outreach Officer at Liberty’s Promise. At Liberty’s Promise, she looks forward to the growth that both she and the youth will experience over the years to come.

Ms. Williams can be reached at mwilliams@libertyspromise.org

Fun Fact: McKenzie was supposed to be an April Fools baby, but decided to play her first trick by being born on Valentines Day instead.


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