The Mighty Writers Team

Tim Whitaker

TIM WHITAKER, executive director, began his career teaching fifth and sixth grade in Philadelphia before becoming a writer and editor. He was the editor of Philadelphia Weekly (1994—2008), and previously the editor of PhillySport and Pittsburgh magazines. Whitaker was a head writer at NBC Radio and has written for PBS, The New York Times, Washington Post and Philadelphia Inquirer. He was the executive producer of an award-winning documentary on the history of soul music radio in Philadelphia and the author of “Crash: The Life and Times of Dick Allen.”


RACHEL LOEPER, education director, has taught ESL, remedial reading and creative writing. In 2011, the Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool Network honored her as an Afterschool Champion. She served as an Afterschool Matters Fellow with the National Institute on Out-of-School-Time from 2010-12 and wrote, “Combat Sports Bloggers, Mad Scientist Poets and Comic Scriptwriters: Engaging Boys in Writing on Their Own Terms,” (Afterschool Matters, Spring 2014). Email:


NAOMI LEVECCHIA, development director, worked in fundraising for The Westfield Symphony and American Repertory Ballet. Prior to her nonprofit work, Naomi practiced law, working with the public defender’s office and law firms. Originally from Toronto, Ontario, Naomi reads as much as possible (especially anything by or about Winston Churchill) and lives with more than 3,000 books. She has a bachelor’s degree from the Eastman School of Music, a master’s degree in French Horn performance and ethnomusicology from the University of North Texas and a law degree from Rutgers, Camden.

AUDREY PANCOE, accountant, earned a BS in Accounting from St. Joseph's University. She is passionate about her family, cooking, trees, gardening and reading.

Ann Drabick

ANN DRABICK, development associate, is a reader and writer from Doylestown, PA who received her bachelor’s degree in English from Penn State and her master’s in Nonprofit Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania. Before joining Mighty Writers, she worked with organizations in Philadelphia including HIAS Pennsylvania, Repair the World, and Project Safe. Catch Ann posting about Mighty kids on our Instagram, picking up The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster when she needs inspiration and reading her poetry throughout the city. Email:


NANCY SHAW, development associate, loves connecting youth with reading, writing, and the arts. She was the first Director of Education at People’s Light, then Director of Academics at Philadelphia Futures, and most recently Director of Administration and Advancement at Widener Partnership Charter School in Chester. Prior to her non-profit work she taught American literature and writing at Villanova University and Ursinus College. She earned a BA from St. Olaf College (Northfield, MN), an MA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a PhD in American literature from Cornell University.


KHALIA ROBINSON, program director at MW West, received her degree in communications from Clarion University. Her passion for writing and creative arts first brought her to MW as a volunteer in the fall of 2013, when she first launched the popular “Carpe Diem” writing workshop. Email:

Amy Banegas

AMY BANEGAS, program director at MW North, earned her Masters of Arts in English with a concentration in Journalism from Arcadia University and a Bachelors of Science in Secondary Education with a concentration in English Literature from Temple University. Amy has been an English teacher for 14 years in North Philadelphia and has previously worked at Congreso de Latino Unidos as a youth coordinator. Her passion is writing poetry, journalism, creating art and working with youth in Philadelphia. Email:


NELIA DIAZ, program director at El Futuro, began her career working with young children in Central America before she began teaching Spanish in Philadelphia classrooms. Nelia is a strong advocate of early childhood education and believes strongly in the value of learning to read and write in both Spanish and English. Nelia left her home in Honduras in 2011 and says she's learned to love our city's cold winter seasons, believing that pencils become magical and books become magnetic on snow days. Email:

Jamiliah Thompkins Bigelow-768x777

JAMILAH THOMPKINS-BIGELOW, program director at MW South, earned her M.S. in education from the University of Pennsylvania and worked as an English teacher for over a decade before joining Mighty Writers. As a fellow with the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC), she writes anti-racism curricula and facilitates anti-racism workshops. She is passionate about reading and writing children’s literature and her critically-acclaimed debut children’s book, Mommy’s Khimar, was published in spring 2018. Email:


JAMES OWK, program manager at MW South, received his degree in World History from Temple University. Since Fall 2011, Owk has been supervising middle school writers in the afterschool program and leading the weekly Teen Scholars program.


CHRISTINA RISSELL, program manager at MW West and MW’s mentorship coordinator, is a 2008 Ohio Wesleyan University graduate. Hired as MW’s very first intern in 2009, Christina served as a tutor and workshop assistant. She subsequently spent four years implementing federal government funded mentorship programs in the public schools. Christina works to foster mentorships so meaningful that students will want to become mentors themselves in the future. Email:

NAEEMAH SULUKI, program manager at MW West, holds a bachelor's of Science from Antioch College, in Education and Linguistics, and holds a Masters Degree in Education, Technology, and Curriculum from Temple University. Naeemah has been teaching for over a decade. She is innovative, has a passion for high-quality customer service, and loves to teach using hands-on activities. She volunteered in summer 2017, at our Summer program, and was hired quickly thereafter at Mighty Writers West.

Mario Meza

MARIO MEZA, program manager at Mighty Writers El Futuro, earned his M.S. in education from SUNY, Buffalo State College. In 2017, Mario moved to Philadelphia to volunteer as an Artist Teacher for the cultural program Taller Puertorriqueño helping students to understanding the real value of their Latin heritage. Mario’s passions are music and teaching. He is looking forward to sharing a wonderful creative writing experience with you.


Vanessa L. Malave, program manager at Mighty Writers Camden, earned her B.S. in Business Management from Rutgers University Camden. In 2007, Vanessa, a Camden native, was the recipient of the New Jersey State award for leadership. A lover of literature, Vanessa has written many poems expressing her interest in love, cultural diversity and art. She is currently writing her second young adult novel. Email:


SHANISE REDMON, program manager at MW South, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Temple University in 2013. Joining as a workshop leader for "The Creative Process" and "Books to Blues" in 2013, Shanise served as a dedicated volunteer for three years before being hired as a staff member in 2016. She currently facilitates the Teen Scholars and mentorship programs at MW South. Shanise anticipates earning her Masters degree in Africology and African American Studies from Temple University in May 2018, at which time she'll begin her PhD. journey.


TIERRA JONES, program manager at MW Penrose, graduated with Bachelors degree in Telecommunications from Pennsylvania State University and dual Masters in Non-profit Development/Global Leadership and Administration from Fairleigh Dickinson University. A passionate and organized community leader, Tierra volunteered at Penrose Rec Center for seven years before she was hired to bring Mighty Writers programs to the center.

EVA SMITH, program manager at MW Rivera, spent four years in Uruguay teaching English after graduating with a degree in Spanish from Temple University in 2009. Also while in Uruguay, Eva wrote stories designed to assist ex-pats for OlaUruguay magazine. Eva has volunteered as an excursions and literacy educator at a foster home in Uruguay, and at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She's now MW's program manager at Rivera Recreation Center (located at 5th and Allegheny).

MARTHA COONEY, lead toddler instructor, grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania on a Mayor’s Scholarship. She holds a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from City College New York, where she focused on children’s storytelling. Martha lives in Philadelphia where she performs as a comedian and storyteller and publishes work for children, and is the founder and director of StoryUP! ( She joined Mighty Writers as a volunteer in 2012, and helped launch our first toddler programs in 2016.