Barra Awards


2016-2017: Barra Awards nominators represent a broad cross-section of fields and communities served within each of our areas of interest (Arts & Culture, Education, Health and Human Services). Nominators provide perspectives and insights from their years of work in and with the community.

Bios reflect nominators’ experience at the time of their participation in the Barra Awards process.

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Denise Ashe

Denise Ashe is President and CEO of Montgomery County Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC), a workforce development and youth enrichment center in Norristown, Pennsylvania. OIC opened its doors in 1965 as the second of now 44 OIC affiliates worldwide. Its mission remains to “help others help themselves.” In addition to her 15 years at OIC, Denise serves as president of Norristown Rotary Club and Norristown Area School District School Board.

Gary Bell

Gary Bell has been Executive Director of Bebashi since 1996. Previously, he was Director of Adult Services at Episcopal Community Services which provides a range of services for older adults, the homeless, people living with HIV and other communities. Gary is also an individual and family therapist, with a private practice in Plymouth Meeting. He lives in Montgomery County.

Erin Bernard

Erin Bernard is a public historian, social practice artist and curator. She is the creator of the Philadelphia Public History Truck. History Truck’s awards include Best In Real Life Project of the Year from the Philadelphia Geek Awards (2014) and a John Andrew Gallery Community Action Award from the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia (2015). Her work has been exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania and Asian Arts Initiative. She is a Senior Lecturer of Museum Studies at the University of the Arts and an Adjunct Professor of History at Moore College of Art and Design.

David Bradley

David Bradley is a theater director, arts producer, teacher and consultant based in Philadelphia. He’s Founding Director of LiveConnections, which inspires learning and builds community through collaborative music-making. David’s a long-time company member of People’s Light & Theatre Company, and a frequent collaborator with Philadelphia Young Playwrights, the National Constitution Center, Theater of War Productions and Temple University’s Institute on Disabilities. He’s taught at Arcadia University and the University of the Arts.

Rita Buckley Connolly

Rita Buckley Connolly was appointed Executive Director of the Domestic Abuse Project of Delaware County in 2002. Her prior professional affiliations include: VHA Inc., Albert Einstein Healthcare Network, the American College of Physicians and the Crozer-Keystone Health System. Ms. Connolly is a licensed attorney, a member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, a Diplomate in the American College of Healthcare Executives and a long-standing Member of the Editorial Board of the American Marketing Association’s Journal of Healthcare Marketing. She lives in Bryn Mawr with her husband

Maria DiBello

Maria DiBello, RSM, is Director of Programming at the Cranaleith Spiritual Center, a sanctuary in the service of wholeness and transformation in Philadelphia. Cranaleith serves many of the region’s social services organizations. Maria’s experience includes education, parish adult faith formation and house of prayer ministry. Currently, she is a retreat facilitator and spiritual director with a special focus on accompanying those living on the margins of society.

Philip Fitzgerald

Philip Fitzgerald is passionate about strengthening under-resourced communities and improving the lives of children and youth. Currently, he is a program officer at The Philadelphia Foundation, overseeing youth grantmaking as well as evaluating general operating and capacity building requests. Previously, Phil worked in corporate giving and community outreach and managed a grantmaking initiative to improve early childhood education in Southeastern Pennsylvania

J. Rudy Flesher

J. Rudy Flesher lives and works at the intersections of art, politics, philanthropy and civic engagement. He is a social impact consultant and currently serves as the Philadelphia Coordinator of GivingTuesdayPHL. He also serves the Boards of Folsom Street East and the William Way LGBT Community Center. He is past Co-President of The Spruce Foundation.

Beatriz Garces

Dr. Beatriz Garces is a dentist with strong roots in Philadelphia’s Latino community. In addition to owning her own practice, The Garces Dental Group, she is a part-time faculty clinician at three regional universities. In 2012, Beatriz founded the Garces Foundation to support to the Philadelphia immigrant community. Beatriz was born in Havana, Cuba.

Jamie Gauthier

Jamie Gauthier is the Executive Director of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia (SBN), a business membership organization building a just, green and thriving economy. Prior to SBN, Jamie served as a Program Officer with Local Initiatives Support Corporation and as an accountant in the for- profit sector. She is a resident of West Philadelphia.

Helen Haynes

Helen Haynes is the Chief Cultural Officer for the City of Philadelphia, Office of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy (Creative Philadelphia), appointed by Mayor Michael Nutter. Prior to joining Creative Philadelphia, Helen was the Director of the Office of Cultural Affairs at Montgomery County Community College for twelve years. Helen previously served as the Managing Director for Full Circle Theatre and Director of the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts.

Ami Patel Hopkins

Ami Patel Hopkins is the Vice President of Teaching, Learning and Innovation at the Philadelphia Education Fund. Previously, she served as Deputy Education Officer to Mayor Michael Nutter. Ami currently serves as a board member of YESPhilly, is on the Executive Committee of PhillyCORE Leaders, and is on the Advisory Board of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association.

Amanda Jefferson

Amanda Jefferson is Executive Director of Summer Search Philadelphia, a national youth development organization that is helping 200+ low-income students in Philadelphia to develop the skills and character traits they need to become college-educated leaders who give back to their families and communities. Amanda began her career in Washington, DC in international education, worked in Chile while completing a bilingual MBA and then returned to the U.S. to advance Wharton Executive Education’s Social Impact initiatives.

Kim Kirn

After serving as the organization’s Program Director for seven years, Kimberly Kirn became Need in Deed’s third Executive Director in July 2012. Need in Deed uses a teacher network model to bring service-learning to 3rd through 8th grade classes in Philadelphia public schools.

Tamela Luce

Tamela Luce is the Senior Program Officer for the North Penn Community Health Foundation and leads the foundation’s efforts to improve nutrition and food access in Montgomery County. Currently, she serves as Co-Chair for the Greater Philadelphia Food Funders. Tamela has a Master of Public Administration degree, with a concentration in nonprofit management, from West Chester University and a Bachelor’s degree in Institutions and Policy from William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri.

Rob Lukens, Ph.D.

Dr. Lukens strongly advocated for education and outreach as President of the Chester County Historical Society (CCHS) from 2011 to 2015. Rob’s association with the Chester County Historical Society began in 1993, as a volunteer during his under-graduate studies. Later, he was an intern at CCHS and then became Collections Manager. Rob left CCHS in 2003 to become the Head of Collections at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. His career then took him to Historic Yellow Springs and the United States Capitol Visitors Center before bringing him back to CCHS. Rob brought a special combination of his professional attitude and contagious enthusiasm for local history to all of his efforts. Sadly, he passed away on August 2, 2015 following a long fight with cancer.

Douglas Miller

Doug Miller is the Historic Site Director of Pennsbury Manor, the reconstructed home of William Penn on the Delaware. He has over 25 years of experience as a museum director having served as Director at Hope Lodge, Graeme Park, Washington Crossing and Curtin Village. Doug is an accreditation peer reviewer for the American Alliance of Museums and he serves as a volunteer consultant in AAM’s Museum Assessment Program

Selina Morales

Selina Morales is the Director of the Philadelphia Folklore Project (PFP). PFP works to preserve and strengthen the folk cultural life of our communities because they believe that the quality of urban life is directly related to the persistence, diversity and vitality of our vernacular folk cultures. Selina has been an invited speaker in university and community settings on social justice and folklore, Latino folklore, folklore and education and other topics.

Thoai Nguyen

Thoai Nguyen is Chief Executive Officer of Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association Coalition (SEAMAAC), an organization based in South Philadelphia that serves and advocates for hundreds of immigrant and refugee families each year. SEAMAAC’s partnerships include over 40 local and regional entities, encompassing government, healthcare providers and non-profit agencies.

Alain Oliver

Alain Oliver is the Executive Director of Maternal and Health Consortium (MCHC) of Chester County. MCHC delivers intense home-visiting services to support pregnant and parenting women to ensure that their children start healthy, stay healthy and succeed in school. Alain is bilingual in English and Spanish, was born in Cuba and shortly thereafter immigrated to the United States. Alain resides in Chester County with his wife and four young children.

Chinwe Onyekere

Chinwe Onyekere is the Associate Administrator for Lankenau Medical Center. She is responsible for implementing innovative models for primary care, overseeing the graduate medical education financial enterprise, business development, as well as building relationships with community-based organizations in the Philadelphia area. Chinwe was previously executive director of Health Leads in New York and Program Officer at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Erin Reilly

In 2005 Erin Reilly co-founded Theatre Horizon, an award-winning Equity theater, and led a $1 million campaign to build a new venue for the company in Norristown. She is a director and Equity actress and has appeared on numerous area stages. Theatre Horizon’s Education Department & Autism Drama Program was established ten years ago and now serves 750 children per year. Erin was named one of 76 Creative Connectors by Leadership Philadelphia. She is the co-founder and Board President of Theatre Philadelphia.

Janet Riley-Ford

Janet Riley-Ford is the Chief Operating Officer at the Boys & Girls Club of Chester. The Boys & Girls Club of Chester is proud to have nurtured numerous young people and guide them to successful post-secondary careers by supporting academic excellence, healthy lifestyles, good character and citizenship. Janet is a licensed therapist, graduating from Widener University with a Masters in Social Work. Over the past six years, Janet has worked closely with local government in Chester to establish the Chester Older Youth Plan in hopes of guiding quality youth development for the future in Chester.

Mark Schwartz

Mark Schwartz is Executive Director of Regional Housing Legal Services (RHLS). RHLS is a nonprofit law firm with unique expertise in affordable, sustainable housing and its related components: community and economic development, utility matters and preservation of home ownership. He is a long-time gubernatorial appointee to the Board of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. Mark and his wife reside in Abington Township and love to spend time at the shore with their grandchildren.

Chaya Scott

Chaya Scott is Executive Director of the Coatesville Youth Initiative (CYI). Chaya holds a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership from Immaculata University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Relations (Magna Cum Laude) from Temple University. Chaya is passionate about systems change, youth development and community mobilization. Chaya is a Chester County native and resident of Coatesville.

Kathleen M. Shaw, Ph.D.

Kate Shaw became Executive Director of Research for Action (RFA) in December 2009. Since then, she has greatly increased the scope of its regional and national work while maintaining a commitment to Philadelphia. Prior to her arrival at RFA, Kate served as Deputy Secretary of Postsecondary and Higher Education in the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Kate was also a faculty member at Temple University in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, and served as Chair of that Department as well. Her scholarship has focused on issues of access and equity in higher education with a particular emphasis on policy issues.

Kathy Sykes

Kathy Sykes served as the Director of Intellectual disAbility Services for the City of Philadelphia for 19 years and worked within the office for a total of 34 years.  Since her retirement she has worked as a consultant to organizations that serve people with disabilities, with a particular interest in employment for people with disabilities and assisting organizations to transform their services to those that promote employment. Her career with the City gave her extensive experience working with nonprofits and governmental entities.

Nicholas Torres, M.Ed.

Nicholas Torres has over 20 years of experience in executive management. He built and led one of the largest and nationally recognized human services organization, founded/governed two charter schools, founded a nonprofit focused on scaling high impact social enterprises, and founded a social sector consulting organization.  Currently, he is CEO/Founder of Education Plus Academy Cyber Charter School; Founder and Co-Publisher of a social impact/innovation journal and Lab; President of Education Plus, Inc.; and President of Ed Plus Business Consulting.  He also serves as adjunct faculty at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government/Wharton.

Elizabeth L. Useem, Ed.D.

Betsey Useem has had extensive experience as a sociologist teaching about and researching education reform issues. She has served as Director of Research at the Philadelphia Education Fund and as a Senior Consultant at Research for Action. Prior to that, she was an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts/Boston and was Chair of the Massachusetts Youth Policy Council. Now retired, she is a Vice President of the Board of Episcopal Community Services in Philadelphia, Vice Chair of the Board of the Education Policy Leadership Center in Harrisburg, and a member of the Advisory Board of Healthy Newsworks.

Tony Valdés

Antonio (Tony) Valdés is Executive Director of Children’s Crisis Treatment Center, a non-profit agency specializing in providing behavioral health services to Philadelphia’s children and their families. Tony began his career in behavioral healthcare in 1987 as a Social Worker for Connections CSP, a behavioral healthcare provider, and later served as Executive Director of the Child Psychiatry Center in Philadelphia.

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