About Us

The Welcoming Center promotes inclusive economic growth through immigrant integration.

The Welcoming Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Philadelphia that promotes inclusive economic growth through immigrant integration.

Founded in 2003, TWC works to open doors of economic opportunity for immigrants of all education and skill levels and build immigrants’ individual and collective agency to address barriers to integration and wellbeing.

TWC collaborates with its participants, a broad spectrum of organizations, and public and private sector institutions to advance learning, shape policy, and grow the economy.

Meet Our Founder

A professional physical therapist from County Monaghan, Ireland, Anne O’Callaghan, founder of The Welcoming Center, came to the United States in 1970.

Anne aimed to build a career in Philadelphia, but she learned that because she was foreign trained, she could not take the Pennsylvania State Medical Examiners’ Physical Therapy licensing exam without which she could not practice in the state. It took three years for her to get her Pennsylvania Physical Therapy license at a time when Physical Therapists were very much needed in the State. Anne had a very satisfying career in community health and teaching physical therapy students at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 2000 while volunteering for an immigrant resource center which primarily helped Irish-American immigrants, Anne encountered a woman from China, who spoke almost no English, but was seeking help finding an ESOL class for her son. Anne’s experience trying to find ESOL classes for this lady brought home to her how exponentially more difficult the integration experience is for immigrants with limited English-speaking abilities. Anne decided that she had to do something to create a centralized resource center for immigrants where they could easily access information about ESOL, jobs and establishing small businesses as they started their new lives in our region.

In 2003, Anne and her close network of friends and supporters opened the Pennsylvania Immigrant Resource Center, which ultimately became The Welcoming Center.

This organization has carried out her vision for over a decade. To date, The Welcoming Center has served over 17,000 people from over 150 countries around the world, promoting inclusive economic growth through immigrant integration, just as Anne envisioned.

Meet Our Team

Gretina N. Aaron, Career Specialist

Gretina N. Aaron is a Career Specialist at The Welcoming Center. She has a true passion for helping others to succeed while preparing them for life-changing opportunities towards becoming successful. She believes embracing every moment with confidence to overcome life obstacles is the key to a successful lifestyle. Her educational background at Temple University and her professional work experience has allowed Gretina to demonstrate her servant leader skillset to multicultural generations. Gretina has also developed a strong sense of giving back through voluntary services, community development, and teaching financial literacy and digital literacy. These were life-changing events in which she discovered her calling in life, to empower others by providing networking resources, career development, and motivation towards rebuilding lives. Her unique professional background as a human resources leader aids her in mentoring others and providing them with the tools needed for career advancement.

Daniel Atik, IPP Employment Specialist

Daniel Atik is the Employment Specialist for the International Professionals Program. In this role, he assists skilled immigrants in finding employment in their desired fields. Daniel is the son of immigrants from Syria and Turkey, having immigrated with them to the United States when he was two years old. As a child, he directly saw the positive impact of community services which helped connect immigrants, like his parents, to resources and a shared community. Bilingual in both Arabic and English, he graduated from Wesleyan University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Religious and Middle Eastern Studies. During college, he interned at various organizations including the Arab-American Association of New York and The American University of Beirut. In his spare time, Daniel enjoys reading, playing board games, learning languages, and obsessing about movies.

Louise Bittout, Communications Manager

Louise Bittout is the Communications Manager for The Welcoming Center. She graduated from Concordia University with a Specialization in Communications and a Minor in Women’s studies. Louise is the proud child of immigrants. Her parents are originally from France but are also from immigrant families. Her father is Algerian, and her mother is Spanish.

Immigrant stories have always been a close and important aspect of Louise’s life, thus leading her to The Welcoming Center. She hopes she can help immigrants in new ways that weren’t always available to her family. Louise also hopes to find a way to give a voice to children of immigrants during her time at The Welcoming Center. She loves traveling, movies, and her two cats!

Inez Bruce, Student Support Coordinator

Inez Bruce is the Student Support Coordinator at The Welcoming Center.

Nina Chen, Special Projects Consultant

Nina Chen joined The Welcoming Center in 2013 after a lengthy corporate career as an employee benefits lawyer at the Philadelphia law firm Montgomery McCracken; a recruiter with an executive search firm Salveson Stetson Group; and a partner at Mercer, a global human resource consulting firm.

As a child of Chinese immigrants who realized success after coming to the U.S., Nina is excited to be a part of a vibrant organization dedicated to helping other immigrant families realize the American Dream.

Sam Chanzi, IT Support

Sam Chanzi is our IT Support at The Welcoming Center.

Rochelle T. Cooks, Director of Workforce Development

Rochelle T. Cooks is Director of Workforce Development at The Welcoming Center. She oversees a project bridging the gap between employers and skilled international professionals.

She brings 5 years of experience in workforce development with persons of all ages and skill levels. She discovered this field after participating in a community service spring break trip to Detroit, MI with the UMass Boston Beacon Voyages for Service program. There, Rochelle learned what poverty looks like in the US and how housing demolition and restoration and urban farming could revitalize a community. Since then, Rochelle has recommitted her career to serving individuals in low-paying jobs to empower them to find and retain family-sustaining careers. Rochelle believes education and employment are keys to ending the cycle of poverty and the community is obligated to provide access to these opportunities.

Rochelle received her Bachelor of Art in Psychology and Sociology from the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is a proud Beacon alumna and serves on the External Board of Advisors for Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs. As a lifelong learner, Rochelle is currently completing her Master of Education degree in Adult and Organizational Development at Temple University.

If you would like to learn more about Rochelle or the new employer engagement project, please call or email her. Let’s create access to opportunity together!

Manuel Castillo Figueroa, Cooperative Developer

Manuel Castillo Figueroa is the Cooperative Developer at The Welcoming Center.

Layla El Tannir, Director of Entrepreneurship
Layla El Tannir is the Director of Entrepreneurship at The Welcoming Center. Prior to joining The Welcoming Center, Layla spent nine years at Reading Terminal Market, helping the non-profit and the merchant leadership navigate the competitive landscape, both digitally and physically. Her role focused on: community and corporate partnerships, commercial and temporary leasing, e-commerce, and supported marketing and public relations efforts. 
Layla graduated from Drexel University’s Center for Hospitality & Food Management with a degree in Hospitality Management and a focus on Business and Tourism. As part of her degree, Layla completed her co-op with Global Philadelphia Association, and continued to engage with the organization through the Emerging International Journalists Program. Most recently, Layla joined Global Philadelphia Association’s Board of Directors.  
Aliyah Gardner, Office Manager

Aliyah Gardner is an Administrative Support Specialist at The Welcoming Center.

While working for PNC Bank, Aliyah obtained over 16 years of banking, administrative, and management experience.

She attended Gordon Phillips Beauty in the year 2000 and studied to become a teacher of cosmetology. She also owns a business called Be-Love-Li Beauty where she makes and sells handmade cosmetics.

Aliyah’s heart is with helping individuals that live in poverty-stricken communities. Prior to the pandemic, she and her family would go to Love Park in Philadelphia and feed anyone that was hungry, while food supplies lasted. They called themselves, Mobile Blessings.

Someday soon Aliyah plans on going back to school to obtain a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a focus on public health. With this, she plans to open community centers and community gardens in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, upgrading the world in a positive way, one neighborhood at a time.

Ben Goebel, IPP Program Manager

Ben Goebel is one of the Program Managers of the International Professionals Program. In that capacity, Ben helps make sure that skilled immigrants find the jobs they want in this new country. Ben is a French immigrant living in the United States since 2015 and has lived in Canada, China, and Poland. These international experiences made him go through a lot of barriers that immigrants are facing here. Ben is also heavily involved with the immigrant community of Philadelphia outside of work and graduated from the Immigrant Leadership Institute (ILI) offered by The Welcoming Center. He is part of a group of graduates from the ILI, called I Belong, organizing events all over the city. Ben believes that everyone deserves to be treated fairly and is deeply determined to bring more conversations to feel personally attached to every members of our communities.

Ben lives in Philadelphia with his wife. He loves reading about American history and finding new ways to get involved in his community.

Anuj Gupta, President & CEO

Anuj Gupta is the President and CEO of The Welcoming Center.

Megan "MJ" Johnson, Development & Communications Coordinator

Megan “MJ” Johnson is the Development & Communications Coordinator at The Welcoming Center.

Elizabeth Jones, Director of Strategy & Impact

Elizabeth Jones oversees organizational impact and helps support a learning culture in pursuit of the mission and strategic planning goals. She is responsible for all aspects of monitoring, evaluation, and impact reporting.  She works with program directors to assess need and organizational capacity to deliver program outcomes which uphold the mission and support the relationships of all stakeholders who contribute to shaping the experience of Welcoming Center participants.

Before joining the staff, Elizabeth became familiar with the Welcoming Center by volunteer teaching ESL. For the previous 19 years, she was a founding partner in an architecture and urban planning firm where she worked extensively in community development. Through these experiences Elizabeth gained a keen understanding for the complexities of urban communities and overlapping priorities of various groups, and helped clients develop community-driven projects and sustainable methods for decision-making.

Elizabeth proudly serves on the board of East West InterKnit, a partnership ministry serving those in need around the world.  In her free time she works on writing projects, cooks, travels out of her comfort zone, creates playlists with her kids, learns French, and takes long walks in the city.

Elizabeth has a Bachelor of Arts in Geography from the University of Missouri, Kansas City, a Master of Arts in Geography from Temple University, and a CELTA (Cambridge Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults).

Gabrielle Lantieri, Entrepreneurship Program Manager

Gabrielle Lantieri is the Entrepreneurship Program Manager at The Welcoming Center.

Jessica A. Levy, Director of ESOL

Jessica A. Levy is the Director of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages), responsible for English language development and digital literacy training activities across all program areas at The Welcoming Center.

For many years, Jessica has worked at the intersections of education, the arts, and civic engagement. With over twenty years in the nonprofit & public sectors, she has designed and implemented civic participation initiatives, arts-based community programs, and a variety of education, service, and advocacy events. She was a Founding Partner of The Blue Door Group, a Philadelphia-based consulting company focused on deepening learning and strengthening collaboration through interactive and participatory process design and facilitation.

Jessica’s work has included immigrant rights organizing, community education, and using drama-based approaches to learning and community-building. Jessica has taught graduate-level courses in experiential learning and arts-integrated education with the UPenn’s Graduate School of Education and ESOL and Citizenship classes at District 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund. Her work in English language education has also included developing a curriculum for and co-teaching an Integrated Education and Training (IET) Home Health Aide training program for adult English Language Learners (ELLs). She also designed and taught drama-based ESOL classes for ELLs at Temple University’s Center for American Language and Culture. Jessica brings a strong interest in the role of creativity, arts, and design in learning; and in the role of education / training in supporting community, collaboration, and civic engagement.

You can email Jessica to get in touch with her!

Becca Levy, ESOL Instructor

Becca Levy (she/her) is an ESOL Instructor (English for Speakers of Other Languages).

She is a Jersey-born, pizza enthusiast, bookworm, adult literacy instructor, English language educator, and advocate for the immigrant, refugee, and LGBTQIA+ communities.  

Becca’s educational background includes two bachelor’s degrees from Brown University (International Relations & East Asian Studies), where she first learned to lesson plan in the cafeteria. She also earned her M.S.Ed. in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from Penn’s Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. She has designed language courses for various age groups in a wide range of educational institutions in Rhode Island, Japan, Taiwan, Washington State, and Pennsylvania. 

As a teacher, Becca prioritizes learner voice and agency. In her new position, Becca is humbled to support The Welcoming Center’s participants by combining the science of literacy and language development together with the art of equitable, humanistic, culturally-sustaining instructional practices. 

Becca lives with her beloved partner, dog, and cat in South Philly. She can be found volunteering at the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society, swimming at the gym, stirring tomato sauce, or getting lost in CDs and records. 

Magda Martinez, Chief Operating Officer

Magda Martinez joined the Mural Arts Program as the Chief Operating Officer in August 2018. Previously she served as the Director of Programs at the Fleisher Art Memorial shaping the strategic vision of the institution. In addition she designed and implemented Fleisher’s nationally recognized diversity and community engagement initiatives, which are featured in the publications, Staying Relevant in a Changing Neighborhood: How Fleisher Art Memorial is Adapting to Shifting Community Demographics and The Road to Results: Effective Practices for Building Arts Audiences and the nationally recognized Teen Lounge, an arts based drop in program for young people between the ages 13 – 18 featured in the report Something to Say: Success Principles for Afterschool Arts Programs From Urban Youth and Other Experts.

Magda serves as a board chair of the Philadelphia Cultural Fund and has recently joined as an advisory committee member for The Colored Girls Museum in Philadelphia. She has served on the board of the Bartol Foundation and Taller Puertorriqueño. Magda has advised organizations including the American Association of Museums, Pennsylvania Humanities Council, the national advisory panel for the Boys and Girls club of America national afterschool arts programs and has been. panelist at multiple conferences and workshops including, the National Arts Marketing Project, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the National Guild of Community Arts Education and the Wallace Foundation.

Magda is a writer, vocalist, educator and performer whose passion for and belief in the power of the arts began in her youth. She has written, performed and produced her original works nationally. She is a founding member of Las Gallas, a Philadelphia based artist collective that toured nationally and internationally.

She has received a Fellowship in the Arts from the Independence Foundation, a Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation Artist as Catalyst grant and the Leeway Foundation’s Transformation Award in recognition of her work as a socially engaged community artist.

Manuel Portillo, Director of Community Engagement

Manuel Portillo started in The Welcoming Center in 2014 as Director of the Immigrant Professionals Program to help unemployed and underemployed individuals to develop the skills necessary to access professional employment. He is currently the Director of Community Engagement working to develop participatory strategies to build trust and long-term relationships with participants and immigrant communities.

He is a seasoned non-profit leader who comes to The Welcoming Center after a substantive career in non-profit program development. Manuel is a 25-year Philadelphia resident who is originally from Guatemala and is well-traveled and experienced working with people of diverse cultural and language backgrounds. He is a long-time professional organizer working to address local issues while building immigrant social and economic inclusion.

He worked on developing The Welcoming Center’s Participant Advisory Council and a consultative structure to strengthen listening inside the organizations and sound collective decision making. He is currently leading the design and implementation of the Immigrant Leadership Institute, a program offered by The Welcoming Center where he works on strategic civic participation, innovative approaches to civic engagement, and building inclusive partnerships and policies.

He is currently a member of the Working Families Partnership, a project of AFL-CIO in Philadelphia.

Ayesha Rahim, Student Support & Intake Coordinator

Ayesha Rahim joins The Welcoming Center as the Student Support and Intake Coordinator. She graduated from Brunel University London with a masters in Anthropology and International Development. She brings over 8 years of experience in international education and specializes in culturally sensitive education practices and community building. 
Prior to coming to the Welcoming Center, Ayesha has worked with non profit organizations to ensure immigrant and underserved communities had access to books and literacy resources. She has also taught ESL in Saudi Arabia and Morocco.
Ayesha is well-traveled and experienced working with people of diverse cultural and language backgrounds. She enjoys hiking, baking and watching old westerns.
Rebecca Rathje, Director of Development

Rebecca Rathje joined The Welcoming Center in 2015. She earned her B.A. in Social Science from the University of Michigan and holds a Certificate in Fundraising from the Nonprofit Center at LaSalle University’s School of Business. Rebecca has over 25 years’ experience in non-profit fundraising and management.

Ana Riccomi, Career Specialist

Ana Riccomi is a Career Specialist for Workforce Development at The Welcoming Center, focused on helping immigrants reconnect with their professional careers and improve different areas of their life. She graduated with a master’s degree in Strategic People Management, with a Career Coaching certification. For years, Ana focused on recruitment, talent management and development, strategic HR performance, workforce efficiency, and behavior assessments. Ana is an immigrant from Brazil who moved to the USA with her husband and three children, overcoming many barriers to reconnect with her career here. As a participant, she found TWC to be a reliable place, which then became her workplace. She believes that everything is connected, and the workforce can change the way of being in the world.

Zachary Shapiro, Grants Manager

Zachary Shapiro is the Grants Manager for The Welcoming Center (TWC). At TWC, Zachary is responsible for grant writing, reporting, funding research, and developing relationships with funders. He has experience in research, facilitation, community engagement, strategic planning, and funding development. Most of his professional work has focused on education, workforce development, housing, human trafficking, and harm reduction. Zachary is excited about grant writing at TWC because it’s an opportunity to tell the inspiring stories of both program participants and TWC staff.  

Zachary has a Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan with a concentration in Social Polices and Evaluation, and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Western Michigan University. He is from the Detroit-metropolitan area and loves reading and writing. His interests include history, education, labor, social welfare, and international affairs.

Maureen Smith, ILI Program Manager

Maureen Smith is Program Manager for the Immigrant Leadership Institute at The Welcoming Center.

Maureen is a committed community development professional with a commitment for supporting immigrants, refugees and the community through empowerment, social support, and friendship. She has worked in community assistance for refugee and unaccompanied refugee minors with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Kenya and Botswana. She is knowledgeable in refugee foster care support and community resource development through her work at Bethany Christian Services and a fifiteen year background working with vulnerable communities in Kenya, Botswana and the U.S. through social assistance, support and training.

Bilingual in Swahili and English, Maureen holds a Bachelor of Arts in Community Development and Psychology from Daystar University Kenya with an added creative passion for art and design. She is also a graduate of the second cohort of The Welcoming Center’s Immigrant Leadership Institute and has served on the Participant Advisory Council. Maureen is dedicated, with a heart of encouraging others to realize their potential, utilize their skills in working together towards making a desired difference in our community.

Linlin Wang, ESOL & Digital Skills Training Manager

Linlin Wang (she/her/hers) is the manager of the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) & Digital Skills Training program. Dedicating to language education, Linlin has extensive teaching and administrative experience in programs serving diverse students of all ages and cultural backgrounds. Having worked in public, private, and higher education sectors, Linlin has always enjoyed the most supporting immigrants since she first came to the U.S. in 2014. Linlin has many personal interests such as arts and crafts, cooking, baking, wiffle ball, badminton, board games, (cute) video games, among others. Linlin is also a mom of two cats, one chinchilla, and two hamsters.

Meet Our Board

Hao-Li Loh – Chair

John Touey – Vice Chair
Salveson Stetson Group

Kristy Leong – Secretary

Anurag Jain – Treasurer
PrePay Nation

Miya Choi

Uva Coles
Spring Point Partners LLC

Diane George
La Colombe

Carlton L. Johnson, Esq.
Archer & Grenier P.C.

Shirin Karsan
Drexel University

Paula Pritchett
University of Pennsylvania

Erick Martinez

Daniel P. Bauder
Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO

Anuj Gupta
President & CEO, The Welcoming Center

William A. Stock, Esq.
Klasko Immigration Law

Stephanie Sun
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Anne O’Callaghan – Emeritus
Founder, The Welcoming Center

Our Donors

The generosity of our individual donors, and corporate and foundation funders is what fuels The Welcoming Center’s mission. We’re grateful for their support and optimistic about what we can do together to build Pennsylvania’s economy by providing employment resources for immigrants.

Please contact us about becoming a funder for The Welcoming Center or make a tax-deductible donation.

To see all our Donors, Institutional Funders, and Partners – take a look at our Annual Report!