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The Mighty Writers Team

TIM with city rep and student Sunny Morgan

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 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.

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ELENA KUPCHIK, finance manager, has worked for more than twenty years in corporate and non-profit finance. Elena has a BA in English from UNC Chapel Hill and a MBA in Finance from New York University. Elena loves reading, running, the New York Times crossword puzzle, movies and spending time with family and friends.

Amy Banegas

AMY BANEGAS, MW's director of mindfulness, earned a Masters of Arts in English from Arcadia University and a BS in Secondary Education with a concentration in English Literature from Temple University. Amy was previously a Philadelphia English teacher for 14 years and worked at Congreso de Latino Unidos as a youth coordinator. She believes the practice of mindfulness is a major asset when working with youth in Philadelphia. Email:

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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:

toddler teacher

AZIZAH GRANT, Mighty Toddlers instructor. "Ms. Z" is a 16-year educator with a degree in early childhood education. Azizah is passionate about bridging education gaps through hands-on literacy work and access to literature for all children, families and communities.


CHRISTINA RISSELL, program director at MW's West Philadelphia location, is a 2008 Ohio Wesleyan University graduate. Hired as MW’s very first intern in 2009, Christina served as a tutor and workshop assistant and subsequently spent four years implementing federal government funded mentorship programs in the public schools. Christina works to foster relationships so meaningful that students will want to return to volunteer at Mighty Writers as adults. Email:

NAEEMAH SULUKI, program manager at MW Mill Creek, 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.

Sara Kennett

SARA DICKENS-TRILLO, bilingual manager, MW Kennett, moved from California to Chester County in 2014. Dickens-Trillo is the  vice-president of Casa Guanajuato, a nonprofit that focuses on Mexian culture, and a board member La Communidad, a health center network in Kennett Square.


Marijke Bau-Madsen. Volunteer coordinator. Marijke anticipates earning a Master of Liberal Arts with a focus in the social sciences from the University of Pennsylvania in spring 2020. She previously completed a B.A. in history and political science from Bryn Athyn College and has explored education through tutoring and museum education. While not directly involved in writing instruction at MW, Marijke believes that writing is empowering and is thrilled to be part of the mission. She loves learning about others' personal interest in writing and looks forward to making connections between MW volunteers and programs.


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:

Amber McGuigan has been active in Camden for over 15 years. In 2018, she was inspired by her personal mindfulness practice to complete the mindful schools' Mindful Teacher Certification Program and 300-hour training.Amber taught mindfulness skills in K-5 classrooms at Forest Hill Elementary School in Camden's Parkside neighborhood. Amber is the mother of four children, ages 4 to 11, who attend Sacred Heart School in South Camden. 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, programming generalist at MW, 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.


NATALIA FERNANDEZ-POUSA, program manager, El Futuro, studied economics at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY, where she tutored low-income children in an underserved city school district. After serving as a tutor in the JumpStart, AmeriCorps program, she found her passion working with people one-on-one. After college, she dedicated her career to empowering low-income New Yorkers to attain empowerment via financial literacy workshops. During her free time, Natalia enjoys bike riding and barbell training. She hopes to compete in a powerlifting competition in the near future. Email: