Staff

Melissa Bernard
Melissa Bernard
Program Assistant, The Sunrise Initiative for Human Rights in the U.S. &
Communities for Public Education Reform

Prior to joining Public Interest Projects, Melissa worked as a Girls’ Education and Empowerment volunteer with the Peace Corps in Togo. There, she promoted the importance of educating girls and women, trained local education leaders on gender issues in schools, and partnered with the non-profit Pathways Togo to administer a girls’ scholarship program. In addition to her commitment to volunteerism and social justice, Melissa brings nearly two years of administrative and fundraising experience to her new role. She is a graduate of Saint Louis University, where she studied Communication and Women’s Studies.

Julie Callahan
Julie CallahanProgram Assistant, Fiscal Sponsorship

Julie brings a background in sales, marketing and travel writing to Public Interest Projects. She most recently served as a Development Associate at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Aside from her work in support of women’s reproductive rights, her volunteer activities with New York Cares have included work on child and adult literacy programs for non-native English speakers and feeding the hungry. In 2006 she graduated from Fordham University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English.

Rini Chakraborty 
Senior Program Officer, Four Freedoms Fund
Rini was previously the Western Regional Director for Amnesty International USA. Prior to joining Amnesty International, Rini was the Executive Director of Sweatshop Watch, a US-based organization at the forefront of eliminating sweatshops in the global apparel industry. Previously, she served as the principal legislative advocate and director of the California Immigrant Welfare Collaborative (a former project of the National Immigration Law Center); senior policy analyst with the ACLU of Southern California; policy associate with the Northern California Coalition for Immigrant Rights; and ballot initiatives coordinator with the ACLU of Northern California. An expert in policy advocacy, grassroots campaigning, media, and coalition building, Rini has spearheaded a number of highly visible, groundbreaking campaigns in California, from restoring health and welfare benefits for immigrants and gaining in-state tuition rates for students regardless of their immigration status (AB 540); to passing resolutions condemning the USA PATRIOT Act and vigorously enforcing “sweat-free” procurement laws. Throughout her career, she has worked on the panoply of immigration enforcement tactics – from worksite enforcement policies and immigrant verification screens in public benefits, to post-9.11 profiling and local law enforcement collaboration with ICE. She currently serves on the board of directors for Health Access, International Labor Rights Forum, and SweatFree Communities.

Nanci Champlin
Operations Coordinator, Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation
Nanci Champlin joined the FCCP team in September 2009. Throughout the last 15 years Nanci has provided outreach, administrative, development, communications and program support to some of Oregon’s most effective nonprofits. In her seven years at the Fund for the Public Interest/OSPIRG, Nanci participated in the successful Campaign Finance Reform and Bottle Bill ballot initiatives. She helped broaden the cultural dialogue about environmental issues through street-level arts programming at Orlo, and developed a sustainability plan for a local green design and architecture firm. In March 2009, Nanci celebrated passage of new Wilderness protections for some of Oregon’s iconic wild places – the culmination of her nearly eight years at Oregon Wild.

Henry Der
Senior Program Officer, Four Freedoms Fund
Henry Der is the son of immigrant parents, and has been associated with Four Freedoms Fund since 2006. For more than 22 years, he was the executive director of the San Francisco-based, membership-supported Chinese for Affirmative Action, working to promote the civil rights of Asian American and other racial minority groups in employment, education, voting and access to public services. A former Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya, Henry has also served as Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction at the California Department of Education, with oversight responsibilities for programs that address the needs of adult immigrant, at-risk and special needs students. He was appointed by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to be the State Administrator to bring Emery Unified School District out of fiscal bankruptcy. Active in community and education affairs, Henry has led coalition efforts to promote equal educational opportunities and access for immigrant students at the City College of San Francisco, including the recently-completed construction of the Chinatown/North Beach campus facility serving more than 6,500 adult immigrant students, as well as raising private donations to support education programs at this campus facility. He also currently serves on the University of California President’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion, as well as the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation Board of Directors.

Angela Kahres
Program Associate, State Infrastructure Fund
Angela comes to Public Interest Projects by way of the Picower Foundation, where she served as a grants assistant. She graduated magna cum laude with departmental honors in English from Wagner College, where her activities included founding a club focused on encouraging interfaith dialogue on campus and collaboratively developing a course involving travel to Israel for students to gain hands-on understanding about the conflicts in the area. She has also traveled to Bangladesh, where she worked with classmates to collect water samples from rural villages affected by arsenic contamination
of drinking wells.

Channapha Khamvongsa
Founder and Director, Legacies of War
Prior to joining Public Interest Projects, Channapha worked in the Peace and Social Justice Unit of the Ford Foundation, the Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership at Georgetown University, the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, the Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium Scholars Program and the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging in Seattle. In 2004 she founded Legacies of War, a special initiative of Public Interest Projects. She received her master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University. Channapha was six years old when her family fled Laos to the U.S. in 1980.

Nakisha Lewis
Nakisha LewisProgram Officer, Just and Fair Schools Fund 
Prior to joining Public Interest Projects, Nakisha was the Program Manager at the Schott Foundation for Public Education, a national public charity where she was responsible for developing grantmaking strategies to ensure that all students have access to equitable education resources and a fair and substantive opportunity to learn. Nakisha’s career and community engagement are driven by an unwavering passion for civil rights and justice.  She is a race and gender justice advocate that has been working for social change since her early years as a campus and community organizer in Boston and Philadelphia. She has worked on a range of justice issues, from education and fair housing to welfare and workers’ rights and is currently directing her passion towards building philanthropic support for Black women and girls.  Nakisha is the co-chair of both Grantmakers for Education’s Working Group for Education Organizing and Emerging Practitioners In Philanthropy’s (EPIP) Boston chapter. She serves on the board of Resource Generation and Boston-based Project Hip-Hop and is a 2012-13 Association of Black Foundation Executive’s Connecting Leaders Fellow.

April LindsayApril Lindsay
Executive Assistant 

April has been an Executive/Administrative Assistant for many years.  She has come to Public Interest Projects via The New York Academy of Medicine and the World Health Organization HQ in Geneva, Switzerland.  She moved to NYC in December 2011, having already worked in Australia, United Kingdom, Ireland (where she is originally from), as well as Switzerland.   April has a BSc in Healing Arts and although she loves creating order, structure and systems in the workplace, her art is expressive, free flowing and sometimes very messy.

 

Lisa Mendes 
Staff Accountant
Lisa has over six years of experience in nonprofit accounting and finance. Prior to joining Public Interest Projects in 2009, she worked for the Women’s Prison Association for five and a half years as an Accounting Specialist and Staff Accountant. Lisa graduated from Medgar Evers College and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting.


Ly Nguyen
Program Officer, Communities for Public Education Reform
Prior to joining Public Interest Projects in 2008, Ly completed a one-year internship with the William Penn Foundation’s Children, Youth, and Families program area. Ly is a member of the Fellowship for Emerging Leaders in Public Service, a development program of the Research Center for Leadership in Action at NYU Wagner that brings together emerging leaders working in public service positions throughout New York City. Ly graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania, where she majored in sociology and Asian American studies.

 

Wanda Phipps
Receptionist Wanda Phipps
Wanda has a background in creative writing, freelance journalism and performance.  She studied theater and English literature at Barnard College of Columbia University in New York City, acting at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and poetry at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. Her prior nonprofit experience is in the arts world. For three years at The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, she played a variety of roles such as program assistant, writing workshop leader, community outreach coordinator, advertising salesperson and curator of  two reading and performance series.  Most recently, she worked for two years in the Archiving Services Department of DC Comics.  Currently, she also serves as a  freelance dramaturg and text consultant for the nonprofit experimental theater company: Yara Arts Group, a resident theater group of La MaMa, E.T.C.  She is the author of six books of poetry and has received awards from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Meet the Composer/International Creative Collaborations Program, Agni Journal, the National Theater Translation Fund, and the New York State Council on the Arts. Her poetry has been translated into Ukrainian, Hungarian, Arabic, Bangla and Galician.

 

Lori Rosenblatt
Lori RoseDirector of Operations and Human Resources
Prior to joining Public Interest Projects in January 2008, Lori worked as a licensed fertility nurse for 20 years in New York, where she also served as executive assistant, managed the medical office staff, and provided patient assistance and training. Lori, a native New Yorker, graduated from Queens College and Mandel Medical School. She currently volunteers with children with cancer at an Uptown NYC hospital.


Justin Russo
Justin RussoCommunications Manager
Prior to joining Public Interest Projects, Justin worked at AHRC New York City, a 65-year-old organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities. His background includes more than 12 years of experience in web development, project management for marketing and communications, and workforce training in the non-profit sector. He is an advocate of sustainable systems and emerging communications technologies, particularly concerning freedom of expression and net neutrality. A lifelong resident of the Hudson Valley, Justin has served as a volunteer for several regional nonprofits, including Sustainable Hudson Valley, the O+Festival, and the Winnakee Land Trust. He is currently pursuing an MBA in Computer Information Systems and Sustainable Business Management from the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College.

Jill Savitt
Director, Genocide Prevention Project  Jill Savitt

Jill advises NGOs on advocacy and communications initiatives and directs the Genocide Prevention Project, which seeks to build political will to address mass atrocity crimes. In 2007, when Jill joined Public Interest Projects, she founded and directed Dream for Darfur, a public advocacy initiative to urge the Chinese government to take specific actions regarding the Darfur crisis in the lead up to the 2008 Beijing Games. The New York Times Magazine profiled Jill and the initiative in March 2008. From 2001 to 2007, Jill was the Director of Public Programs at Human Rights First, where she designed and supervised efforts to address the crisis in Darfur, global refugee and asylum policies, and US interrogation policy. Jill has taught a course on human rights advocacy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).  She began her career as a reporter for WAMU, the NPR affiliate in Washington, DC. She graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa from Yale University.

 

Tashie Sloley
Program Assistant, Four Freedoms Fund
Tashie has over two years experience working in the non-profit sector in an administrative capacity, including her work as an Administrative Assistant with NYC Parks & Recreation, Urban Park Rangers where she assisted with organizing and facilitating events and activities for the public. She is currently working towards a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from St. John’s University.

Irene B. Schwoeffermann
Program Director, Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation
Irene comes to the FCCP team from the Coalition for a Livable Future (CLF), a non-profit organization seeking to bring together community partners to address issues of livability, equity and sustainability in the Portland-Vancouver Region. Prior to working at CLF she spent nearly a decade in Washington, DC where she graduated from Howard University and began her career at the national level. Her professional experience includes serving as the Director of the Student of Color Campus Diversity Project for the U.S. Student Association, Program Associate for the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, and Coalitions Director for the Congressional Black Caucus under Chairwomen Carolyn C. Kilpatrick (D-MI) and Barbara Lee (D-CA). Irene is also active in a number of local community organizations and networks, including the Portland African American Leadership Forum, the Portland Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and the Oregon Environmental Council’s Emerging Leaders Board. Irene will serve as lead coordinator of FCCP’s signature programs, including the National Convenings and First Monday Calls. 

Bonnie Velez
Program Assistant, Four Freedoms Fund & Just and Fair Schools FundBonnie Velez

A native New Yorker, Bonnie has deep roots in the Washington Heights community. She attended Vassar College where she earned a BA in Latin American and Latino/a Studies. Before joining Public Interest Projects, Bonnie was a Paralegal at the New York Legal Assistance Group where she represented clients at fair hearings to restore their wrongfully terminated public benefits. Afterwards, she was a Program Coordinator at iMentor where she worked with high school students and young professional volunteers facilitating impactful mentoring relationships. Bonnie is excited to transition from the realm of direct services to philanthropy and is very happy to be doing so at Public Interest Projects.

Natalie Weng
Grants Manager 

Natalie brings experience in both corporate and public service positions. She has held internships with law firms such as Davis Polk and Wardwell LLP and Proskauer Rose LLP. As a Labor and Employment intern at Davis Polk, she assisted lawyers with a wide variety of projects. She has also worked for the City of New York Human Resources Administration Adult Protective Services, where she accompanied caseworkers to the homes of at-risk clients in Lower Manhattan and Mid-town, serving as an interpreter for Cantonese Chinese-speaking clients. Natalie is a recent graduate of Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Government.