Meet Our team

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Dr. Robert Ponichtera

Founder/Executive Director

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. Dr. Ponichtera has more than a decade of experience working for nonprofit organizations, guiding program direction and fundraising activities. Before founding Liberty’s Promise, Dr. Ponichtera worked at Freedom House and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where he wrote grants, coordinated program activities, and conducted research. Dr. 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

Fun Fact: Bob has more than 21,000 baseball cards.


Mariam Abdelwahab

Program Officer

Mariam Abdelwahab conducts civic engagement and internship 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 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 refugee community. In addition to her on-campus activities, Mariam spent a semester in the Dominican Republic studying Spanish, a summer studying Arabic in Jordan, as well as a semester exploring policy analysis and immigration in Spain, Morocco, and India.

Ms. Abdelwahab can be reached at

Fun Fact: Mariam trekked for a week in the Himalayas


Carmen Centeno

Program Officer

Carmen Centeno conducts 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. Carmen has also pursued her passion for helping her community through volunteer work with different nonprofit organizations. Carmen has been working with Liberty's Promise since 2014, and is the creator of the Manos Unidas program, which helps undocumented youth get community service opportunities during the summer.

Mrs. Centeno can be reached at

Fun Fact: Due to Carmen's dedication with youth she was recognized as a "DMV Hero" by Univision.

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Ivette Del Cid

Program Officer

Ivette Del Cid conducts civic engagement and internship programs for High Point and Northwestern High School in Prince George’s County Maryland. Ivette graduated from American University with a major in Psychology, and a minor in Education. While at American, Ivette interned at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, working with students in the ESOL program facilitating support groups who had recently arrived to the United States. Additionally, Ivette interned for the mental health department at Marie Reed Elementary School in Washington D.C. Ivette is passionate about working with immigrant and refugee youth. As a first generation college student, she is eager to work with youth on college access and readiness.

Ms. Del Cid can be reached at

Fun Fact: Ivette is a professional at imitating people


Melissa Gelinas

Program Officer

Melissa Gelinas conducts Civic Engagement for Beginning English Language Learners (CE-BELL) at Roosevelt and T.C. Williams High Schools in Washington D.C. and Alexandria, Virginia. Melissa 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 Ecuador, teaching English classes for middle and high school students, as well as business professionals. She worked as an interpreter in the Forsyth County N.C. public schools, at Forsyth County Department of Social Services, and at World Relief. After working with the immigrant community as an interpreter, Melissa was inspired to do more to help, which led her to Liberty’s Promise.

Ms. Gelinas can be reached at

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.


Jenna Hart

Program Officer

Jenna Hart conducts Civics and Citizenship and internship programs at Falls Church High School and Lee High School in Fairfax County, VA. She graduated from James Madison University with degree in Cultural Anthropology and minoring in Humanitarian Affairs and Africana Studies. While at JMU, she served as the founder and director of Camp Kesem, which supports children whose parents have cancer, worked in the Office of Community Service-Learning, coordinating service opportunities for students in the local community, and mentored underclassmen through the Make Your Mark On Madison program. She also interned and volunteered with Church World Service Harrisonburg, supporting the Peer Leaders Program and the Cultural Orientation class. Her passion for empowering immigrant youth led her to join the Liberty's Promise team as a Program Officer.

Ms. Hart can be reached at

Fun Fact: Jenna has seen over 20 Broadway musicals.

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Anne Marie Kelly

Program Officer

Annie Kelly conducts civic engagement and internships at Patterson High School and Ben Franklin High School in Baltimore, Maryland. Annie graduated from the University of Illinois with a Bachelor's Degree in Agriculture and Economics of International Development. While at school, Annie worked as an aid in special education classrooms and volunteered as a tutor for immigrant elementary students. She then interned with Catholic Relief Services in Sierra Leone in the micro-finance department and Ebola virus safety. Before joining Liberty's Promise, Annie was an education volunteer with the Peace Corps in Ethiopia where she taught English and implemented girls' education and life skills projects. Upon finishing her service, Annie wanted to continue working in providing assistance and access to resources for underserved youth populations.

Ms. Kelly can be reached at

Fun Fact: Annie is an adventurous eater and has tried monkey, insects, raw steak, and live octopus.


Julien Labiche

Senior Program Officer

Julien Labiche conducts programs at Gaithersburg High School and at John F. Kennedy High School (Silver Spring), as well as oversight of junior program staff in our Montgomery County office. He studied at Université Paul Valéry in Montpellier, France, where he obtained degrees in English Studies and in French as a Second Language. Mr. Labiche studied abroad for one year at Wittenberg University in Springfield, OH, where he happily immersed himself in American culture. He worked as a certified English teacher at various public schools in the south of France, then moved to the US in 2006 and taught French in high school and at a language institute in Bethesda, MD before joining Liberty's Promise in 2009. He lives in Silver Spring, MD, with his wife and daughter.

Mr. Labiche can be reached at

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


Sophie Mindes

Program Officer

Sophie Mindes conducts civic engagement and internships at Bladensburg High School and Parkdale High School in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Sophie graduated from New York University with a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Child & Adolescent Mental Health in 2016. Before working at Liberty’s Promise, Sophie was a behavior therapist for youth ages 2 to 14 years, working to create an inclusive environment and help build behavioral skills for children with autism spectrum disorder. She then worked as a special education teacher for students with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities for students primarily from Ethiopia, Cameroon, and Senegal. After working with a diverse population of students from different ages, abilities, and backgrounds, Sophie was motivated to join the Liberty’s Promise team! Sophie grew up in Rockville, Maryland and currently resides in Washington, D.C.

Ms. Sophie can be reached at

Fun Fact: Sophie was born on January 1st!

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Savannah Staubs

Savannah Staubs conducts Civics and Citizenship programs at Montgomery Blair and Wheaton High School in Montgomery County, MD. She graduated from University of Maryland, College Park, with a Sociology degree and Environmental Sustainability minor. At UMD, she was a member of Co-op Housing University of Maryland, a non-profit housing cooperative serving the College Park community. She was involved in activism related to the environment, social justice, and the arts. As the founder of a local music venue and community arts space, Savannah aimed to create an inclusive gathering place for all identities. Before joining Liberty’s Promise, Savannah served as an AmeriCorps Service Learning Fellow. She was an advocate for youth involved with the Baltimore City Department of Social Services, providing intensive case management with the goal of empowering low-income families and keeping youth in their communities. Her desire to continue supporting marginalized populations led her to the position of Program Officer at Liberty’s Promise.

Ms. Staubs can be reached at

Fun fact: Savannah hosted a radio show as a DJ.

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McKenzie Williams

Program Officer

McKenzie Williams conducts civic engagement and internship programs at West Potomac High School in Alexandria, VA. In addition, McKenzie works as part-time outreach officer, offering guidance and resources to our alumni. McKenzie grew up in Vienna, VA and graduated from James Madison University with a B.S. 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 worked over 40 hours a semester as a volunteer coordinator for The Salvation Army Youth Program. McKenzie’s passion for working with youth, and implementing programs to help them succeed, led her to the position of Program Officer at Liberty’s Promise.

Ms. Williams can be reached at

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.