Who We Are
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 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 Board
Hao-Li Loh – Chair
John Touey – Vice Chair
Salveson Stetson Group
Kristy Leong – Secretary
Anurag Jain – Treasurer
Spring Point Partners LLC
Peter Gonzales, Esq. – President & CEO
The Welcoming Center
Jack Heuer, Ed.D.
University of Pennsylvania
Carlton L. Johnson, Esq.
Archer & Grenier P.C.
Express Employment Services
Patrick M. Mahanger
University of Pennsylvania
William A. Stock, Esq.
Klasko Immigration Law
Office of Pennsylvania Governor
Anne O’Callaghan – Emeritus
Founder, The Welcoming Center
Meet Our Team
Click on each section to read more.
Inez Bruce is the Student Support Coordinator at The Welcoming Center.
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.
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.
Alvaro Drake-Cortes is a Program Manager for The Welcoming Center’s Entrepreneurship program, where he supports immigrant entrepreneurs in establishing and operating successful businesses. Prior to coming to The Welcoming Center, Alvaro worked with departments of health and non-profit organizations, as well as community members and volunteers, to design and implement healthy food access programs that would empower small business owners to market fresh foods in their communities. He was also a certified educator in Philadelphia’s charter school system, and a liaison for the U.S. Army, coordinating with international organizations to deliver humanitarian aid to displaced persons and refugees around the world.
Alvaro is a native of Colombia. He has a deep interest in empowering communities to meet and rise above their social and economic challenges. He believes that “there’s nothing we can’t accomplish – if we are thoughtful in our planning, and diligent in our implementation.”
Alvaro enjoys bringing people of diverse backgrounds together to enjoy each other’s cultures, and has an insatiable curiosity about “the collective human experience.”
Alvaro has an M.Ed, and a BA in film production from Temple University, and holds certificates in project and sporting events management, and coaching. He is married, and is the proud father of two teenage boys.
Aliyah Gardner is 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 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.
Peter Gonzales is the President and CEO of The Welcoming Center. Over the past 25 years, Peter has gained valuable experience providing many of the same services we provide at The Welcoming Center. After graduating from the University of Scranton, he was an ESL and U.S. Civics teacher in Poland and South Korea and served as an International Development Fellow at USAID. After returning to Philadelphia, he managed a community economic development program along a commercial corridor in North Philadelphia while attending law school at Temple University in the evenings. For 10 years, Peter worked as an attorney, first for City of Philadelphia and then in private practice as an immigration attorney prior to joining The Welcoming Center.
As a 2017 Eisenhower Fellow, Peter explored strategies to promote immigrant integration and entrepreneurship in Germany and South Korea.
Peter has completed the Harvard Business School’s Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management program and currently serves on numerous boards including the Douty Foundation, The Merchants Fund, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, the Global Philadelphia Association, and Philadelphia Works, Inc.
Shanira Javier is a career coach at The Welcoming Center.
Megan “MJ” Johnson is Executive Assistant at The Welcoming Center.
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).
Lyla Kaplan is the Grant Manager at The Welcoming Center. For six years, she was the Grant Development Director in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Villanova University. She also was the Grant Manager at Camphill Village Kimberton Hills and worked in public health research at the VA Medical Health Center.
Lyla’s family received invaluable help from immigrant services when they had to leave Poland in 1963. After high school, she was a Rotary exchange student for a year in Brasil and became fluent in colloquial Portuguese and taught ESL. At Ohio State University, she majored in Russian and a personalized honors major “Cultural Psychology.” She received her MS in Psychological Sciences from Virginia Tech.
In her spare time, Lyla makes pots and organizes community pottery shows at farms that benefit the Chester County Food Bank. She is married, has three dogs, a garden, and her son attends Arizona State University. She is honored to be managing the grants portfolio for The Welcoming Center to support immigrants.
Jessica A. Levy is the Instructor of Integrated ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) & Skills Training, responsible for teaching the FOCUS (Foundations of Communication in the U.S.) program and developing other supports and opportunities for English Language Learners across 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!
Nicole Marcote is a Philadelphia native who moved to Spain as a small child, spending most of her youth in the Basque Country. She returned to the U.S. to complete her last year of High School in California, with the intent of returning back to Spain, but after a semester at Santa Monica Community College she knew she would miss the multicultural aspect the U.S. offers and decided to stay, later completing her university degree in English Literature at UCSC.
She arrived to Philadelphia, via NYC where she worked as a translator and web producer. She owned and operated a food business on Girard Avenue for seven years, and some of her entrepreneurial passions include being on the lookout for new opportunities, visual merchandising and networking.
She recently worked at the School District of Philadelphia as a Language Access Coordinator where she supported multilingual families in navigating a new education system and providing resources.
She lives in South Kensington with her husband and two young children.
Magda Martinez is Chief Operating Officer at The Welcoming Center.
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.
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.
Rebecca Siegel is a career coach at The Welcoming Center. She is a part of the workforce development team and will assist in coaching in all aspects of the job search process. She also assists with the International Professionals Program.
Prior to The Welcoming Center, Rebecca has worked in higher education at Temple University in the department of Career and Student Development. After receiving her Master’s in Education Psychology, she enrolled as a PhD student at Temple University studying Educational Psychology and is currently working on her dissertation looking at mentorship for student teachers.
Rebecca is a Philadelphia resident for over 10 years. In her free time, she enjoys trying new coffee shops and hanging out with her pug Sprout.
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.
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.
100 Women Philadelphia
Bank of America
City of Philadelphia, Commerce Department
Delaware County Office of Employment and Training
Fairmount Park Conservancy
Kellogg Foundation – Build from Within Alliance
Patricia Kind Family Foundation
John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Pennsylvania Department of Education
The Philadelphia Foundation
Philadelphia Works, Inc.
Samuel S. Fels Fund
TD Charitable Foundation
Wells Fargo Foundation