Our Team

AQUINAS CENTER BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Daniel Colbert, Esq. serves as the Vice Chair of the board and was introduced to Aquinas Center through a law fellowship with Drexel University. He helped to facilitate the center’s partnership with Liberti Church, which includes the annual Easter Outreach, an ecumenical retreat program for college students, and volunteer opportunities for adults and families. Daniel provides important support to the community through immigration related advocacy. He enjoys backyard gardening and home brewing. Daniel and his wife recently bought a home near the center.

Matthew Davis
 serves as Secretary for the board. He is the Director for the Office for Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Matthew is from Millville, New Jersey and studied Religious Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. He did an additional 2 years study of Philosophy at Kenrick Glennon Seminary and St. Louis University. He has taught ESOL in St. Louis, Boston, and in the Dominican Republic. For six years, he helped refugees in Boston secure employment and job training. He spent 1.5 years living and working in the Dominican Republic before taking his current position.

María Paula Ghiso, Ed.D
 serves as the Board Chair. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University whose scholarly interests include early childhood literacy, multilingualism, teacher education, and children’s literature. Her current research investigates the transcultural and multilingual literacy practices of Latina/o emergent bilinguals as they document their neighborhood experiences through multimodal forms of inquiry. María Paula is a former New York City dual language teacher and has facilitated professional development in a range of national and international contexts.

Michael Jordan Laskey
 is the director of Life & Justice Ministries for the Diocese of Camden, NJ. Before moving to the diocese, Mike was a program coordinator for the Center for FaithJustice, a Catholic nonprofit that runs service immersion trips near Trenton, NJ.  Mike completed an MA in theology from the University of Notre Dame through the university’s Echo: Faith Formation Leadership Program, and he has a BA in English, also from Notre Dame. Mike lives with his wife in Haddon Township, NJ. He blogs for the Camden diocese at http://camdenlifejustice.wordpress.com.

Lan Ngo, Ph.D. serves as the Board Treasurer and was introduced to Aquinas Center through her graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.  She has been in the field of education for over a decade in various roles, including as a teacher, research fellow, and the director of a university writing center.  Lan is currently a project manager in edtech at Penn, where she is also an education lecturer.

Roedy Wibisono is a proud husband and a proud father. He seeks to live everyday in God’s name and spread his word thoroughly. Roedy is an active member of the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Community with leadership roles in the Indonesian Catholic Community or KKI. He resides in South Philadelphia.

STAFF TEAM

Lila Bhide is the center’s part time Garden Coordinator. She  has years of experience with farming, youth engagement, food justice, and cooking. She helped lead youth and farm programs with The Food Project in Boston and has worked locally with Urban Tree Connection and the University of Pennsylvania.

 

Bernard Convento was the very first Aquinas Center volunteer back in 2012 and is a graduate of our Youth Voices program. Bernard is the facilities coordinator, a critical part of the Encounter Team that creates a welcoming space for visitors and neighbors alike. He is a South Philly resident and will be a first year college student this fall.

 

Shirley Dessein, MSW is serving as the lead social worker for Aquinas Center while also working full time at Lankenau Hospital. Shirley is a graduate of West Chester University with a Masters in Social Work. She loves working with people and enjoys cooking and dancing. Shirley is from Maplewood, New Jersey now living in Philadelphia.

 

 Raya Fagg serves as the Beginner instructor for our Adult ESoL classes. Frustrated with rote ESoL teaching, she was inspired to teach useful skills for English learners and joined our team. She works full time during the day in Upper Darby and in her free time she likes to cook and work in her garden.

 

Chris Geraghty serves as the resident advisor and the College Access Coordinator. He provides hospitality in a variety of ways, frequently welcoming visiting groups with a hot cup of coffee and plenty of pens to complete forms. Chris is also a volunteer catechist for the parish’s Spanish language sacramental prep program.

 

 Heather Hillas is a teacher for the Adult ESoL program on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, some of Heather’s favorite pastimes are walking in the local parks with her dog Rose, listening to British mystery audiobooks, trying out new (simple) recipes and playing board games with friends.


Martina Hyacinth
 is the operations coordinator who provides a welcoming presence and facility support at the center. She is a native of the Commonwealth of Dominica, which is located in the West Indies. She came to Philadelphia in 1999 by way of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Martina loves to garden, practice yoga at Studio Mandala, and help the parish with decorations and flowers in the church. She attends Mass daily and likes to bring people together across cultures.

Mara Imms is an Americorps VISTA volunteer serving through a partnership with Catholic Charities USA at the Aquinas Center. She will be coordinating the Youth Mural Corps, building capacity with our ESOL program, and assisting with YEP. Mara graduated in May from Colgate University with a degree in Spanish, although her interests extend to art and education as well. In her free time, Mara can be found drawing, reading, spending time outside, or hanging out with her family.

Carid Maranan is a program assistant in the afterschool program and with Encounter groups on Saturdays. He functions in the role of a youth organizer as part of the Aquinas Center Advocacy Team.  He is a member of the Green & Growing Summer Camp team, serving as Gym Coordinator.

 

Hannah Marks is the Encounter Coordinator for 2018-2019. She is a full time volunteer with the No Risk; No Gain: Franciscan Volunteers program. Hannah arranges immersion experiences for high school and university groups that visit South Philadelphia to experience hospitality, responsiveness, solidarity, and transformation. Hannah is from Louisville, Kentucky and is a graduate of the University of South Carolina.

 

Guadalupe Mendez is the intake coordinator for the Aquinas Center Immigration Legal Services.  She also assists with the Afterschool program and Encounter groups, bringing her love of culture and beauty to our programs. Guadalupe was raised in South Philly, is a fantastic baker, loves to dance salsa, and currently attends Cabrini University.

 

Dr. Tia Noelle Pratt is a Scholar-in-Residence for the 2018-2019 academic year. Her residency at Aquinas Center will take place while she is working on a book project, Black and Catholic, Catholic and Black: Structure, Racism, and Identity in the African-American Catholic Experience and she will accompany our Youth Researchers as they explore themes of welcome and belonging. Dr. Pratt is a graduate of West Catholic Preparatory High School, Chestnut Hill College, and Fordham University. Her research is supported by grants from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and the Louisville Institute.

Kimberly Quintero serves as our Director of Advocacy and Legal Outreach, coordinating all aspects of the Aquinas Center Immigration Legal Services. She is currently pursuing her graduate degree in Global Affairs with a concentration in Gender studies at NYU. During her free time, Kim enjoys learning new languages and exploring new cuisines! She is excited to be back at the Aquinas Center and looks forward to learning and growing with the community.

 

Bethany J. Welch, Ph.D.  is the Executive Director of Aquinas Center. Her research on the Catholic Church and urban revitalization prompted Philadelphia’s St. Thomas Aquinas parish to invite her to help them repurpose a former convent to create a space that builds unity in diversity, supports learning, and inspires thoughtful action. In 2014, Dr. Welch was recognized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops with the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award for how her work addresses poverty and injustice. Welch, a VISTA volunteer from 2003-2004, also received a Spirit of Service Award in 2006 from the Corporation for National and Community Service for advancing transformational change in urban communities through research, planning, and capacity building. She has a PhD from the University of Delaware, MS from the University of Rochester, and BS from Roberts Wesleyan College. Dr. Welch recently co-authored a book on the unique collaborative research undertaken by the Aquinas community and students at the University of Pennsylvania. Partnering with Immigrant Communities was published in 2016 by Teachers College Press. Bethany is an adjunct faculty member in the Religious Studies department at Cabrini University. To see a list of recent publications and upcoming talks, click here.

 

Monika Zurowski, BSW is the Afterschool Program Coordinator for the fall 2018 launch and assists with Aquinas Center Immigration Legal Services as a social worker. She is a graduate of West Chester University and loves to travel!

 

YOUTH TEAM MEMBERS

High school teens with at least one year of volunteer experience can apply for paid positions as research assistants, classroom assistants, camp leaders, tour guides, and Mural Corps members. Available positions are dependent on grant funding and program commitments. Inquire with Dr. Welch about opportunities.