Participant Advisory Council

The Participant Advisory Council serves as the voice of our key participants. As a consultative body, the role of its members is to provide the organization with insight into the needs, challenges, and opportunities to help The Welcoming Center improve the realization of our mission of promoting inclusive economic growth through immigrant integration.


  • Provide information about the needs, challenges, and opportunities facing The Welcoming Center’s participants in the region.
  • Serve as a sounding board regarding decisions affecting The Welcoming Center’s core programs.
  • Help ensure The Welcoming Center’s accountability to the community of past and present participants and help ensure that we are fulfilling our mission.
  • Promote the organization’s mission, programs, and services.
  • Provide guidance on participant engagement strategies and retention.

Current Members


Coral I. Zayas-Colón


pronouns: she/her | ella/ela 

I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Puerto Rico. In 2018, I moved to Philadelphia to advance my graduate studies at Temple University (TU), majoring in sociolinguistics and applied linguistics. Currently, as a PhD candidate, I work at TU as an adjunct professor and research assistant. My scholarly work revolves around the understanding of marginalized languages in education, language planning and policy, and linguistic identities. Recently, my work has focused on assessing culturally responsive language teaching strategies in multilingual communities.

As a scholar-practitioner, I intentionally focus my community engagement and organizing agenda on work related to my professional training with hopes to bridge sustainable partnerships. That is why I am part of the core team of the Let’s Talk Philly! (LTP) as an evaluation coordinator, examining the program’s outcomes and participants’ development. My work in LTP enriches my philosophy and identities as a language educator, learner, and researcher.

Moreover, the opportunity to collaborate with LTP was one of the outcomes of completing the Immigrant Leadership Institute (ILI) at The Welcoming Center. ILI served as a springboard to integrate myself into projects and community initiatives in Philadelphia. In addition, ILI supported me to hone transferrable skills such as project management, multicultural competence, teamwork, among others. Therefore, I did not hesitate when I was invited to join the Participant Advisory Council. It has been a unique opportunity to contribute to the development of the organization that has been key to my growth as a community organizer and innovator.


Eduardo Gouvea


My name is Eduardo Gouvea and I am a mechanical engineer from Brazil. I worked as an engineer for 3 years in Brazil and moved to Philadelphia in 2017 to live with my wife. When I moved to Philadelphia, I joined the International Professionals Program, which was an invaluable program as I got my bearings and adjusted to the work culture here. I currently work as a Business Development/Sales Director at a railroad construction company, where I help to prospect new projects and assign those projects to our offices across North America. I joined the Participant Advisory Council because the Welcoming Center helped me a lot when I had just moved here and I want to help immigrants the way I was helped. I believe that my analytical skills and my ability to think outside of the box are great assets that I can bring to the table.


Erick Barragan


My name is Erick Barragan Ramirez, I graduated with a law degree from La Barra Nacional de Abogados in Mexico City. He then went on to get a Masters in Law, specializing in Mexican constitutional law and human rights.

In 2015, I became the Secretary of the Interior at Cenegas, the public entity in Mexico created to assign capacity rights for pipelines previously owned and operated by the country’s national energy company, PEMEX.

By 2018, I had left the government workforce of my home country and came to the U.S., where with the help of the Immigrant Leadership Institute and Manuel Portillo I was able to find a job as the legal coordinator at Esperanza and got my first taste of community work at the organization.

That experience took me on to Catholic Social Services under the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where I try to keep helping the immigrant community.


George Dong


My name is George Dong, I moved to Philadelphia in May 2017 from Shanghai, China. I worked as a software engineer for 20 years. When I moved to Philadelphia I found it difficult to get back into my profession. So I joined the International Professionals Program at the Welcoming Center. Now I work as an IT Analyst at Danella Construction Companies. I joined the Participant advisory Council because I want to help shape programmes for other immigrants like me. I believe my analytical skills is my greatest asset.


Karen Cervera


My name is Karen Cervera, and I am originally from Mexico City. I arrived in the U.S. in 2016 in Houston, TX, and then moved to Philadelphia in August 2018.

I have a bachelor’s degree in business administration, and I speak Spanish, English, and French and am learning Japanese. My dream has always been to work with people and experience international life, so when I moved to the U.S., I was very excited about this new chapter; but didn’t realize all the barriers that existed between me and reaching my dreams and goals.

Trying to find myself and my purpose again, I joined the 6th cohort of the Immigrant Leadership Institute at The Welcoming Center in early 2020. The following months were full of learning, challenges, and growth. The result was meeting amazing people and leaders, and in May 2020, together with a great team, the creation of our program Let’s Talk Philly! Conversation Circles; now growing to become its own organization.

The support of The Welcoming Center has been life-changing, and now I am very grateful and honored to be part of their Participant Advisory Council as a way to keep working together to support our communities to find their sense of belonging and autonomy in the U.S., and to achieve their dreams and goals.


Mamadou Ndiaye


Profile coming soon!


Monica Molina


My name is Monica Molina, I came here from Colombia 5 years ago. During 3 years I was working hard learning English, trying to be adopted to my new community and looking for professional opportunities in Philadelphia. During that time I was also working online as a software developer until I became a Data Integration Analyst at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Now I enjoy the opportunities to be a volunteer and help my community and other immigrants to have a better life in the USA. For that reason, I feel very motivated and committed to being apart of the Participant Advisory Council because it’s a good way to keep connected with other immigrants and help each other. We can work together to suggest and participate in the construction and improvement of programs oriented toward immigrants. The greatest skill I bring to this group is teamwork.


Nawel Boubekri


I am originally born in a town called Madea, Algeria. I was a foreign language teacher in Algeria. I currently live in South Philly and work for the school district of Philadelphia as a bilingual counseling assistant. My job is to serve as a cultural broker and the linguistic bridge between school staff, students, parents, guardians, and the community. Joining the advisory council as a participant is one of the best experiences I have done. I feel great because my voice counts and it is my chance to share my expertize, experience and also raise my questions and concerns. The greatest skill I will bring to the participant advisory council is my own knowledge and experience as an immigrant living in the city of Philadelphia to effectively guide our organization. I am a realistic and honest person. I will give my advice, ideas and expertise that I have by working with immigrants to contribute to our organizations well being while spreading the word about our program services.


Oluyemisi Ajayi


Profile coming soon!


Sarah Bashir


Profile coming soon!


Shan Yang


My name is Shan Yang and I moved to Philadelphia in 2016 from Hubei, China. I used to work as an editor for more than three years and a Chinese teacher for one year. Now I am a volunteer education coordinator helping immigrant children overcome language barriers and get used to their new school life. After graduating from ILI program, I am more than glad to join in Advisory Council to support and advice the current and upcoming programs in Welcoming Center. Every participants is welcome to make suggestions freely and every voice has a response. I feel tight to my community by speaking on behalf of them and spare no effort in making their life in Philly more enjoyable and fulfilling.


Silvia Roldan


My name is Silvia Roldan, I am from Ecuador. I was born in Quito, the capital of my country, but I grew up in Santo Domingo de los T-sachilas.

In 2013, I graduated with a degree in Engineer of Administration of Tourism and Hotel Management from the Universidad Tecnologica America in Cuenca, Ecuador. I worked for the Minister of Tourism, but ultimately decided to move to the United States in April of 2014.

I am motivated by my passion to learn and in 2016 I applied for a scholarship which was granted and upon completion of the program became a member of the International Postgraduates of the Organization of American States. I also earned my MBA in Project Management from the University Rey Juan Carlos, Spain in 2017. During this year I formed part of the 1st Cohort of the ILI from The Welcoming Center which encouraged me to keep organizing events with the group “I Belong”, of which I am part of. Currently I work in a non-profit Health Care organization as an Office Technician Floater, where I have come to realize how fragile the immigrant community’s needs are.

I would describe myself as being ambitious, generous, and kind.  I enjoy helping and encouraging others to pursue their dreams. That is why through my passion to help people I served as a volunteer at the Jewish Relief Agency in Philadelphia by delivering groceries to families in need. Being a volunteer makes me feel connected to others and gives me a sense of community, belonging, and purpose.

I am part of the Advisory Council which fulfills me with the noble purpose of assisting others looking for programs that can help them become integrated into U.S. society.

I believe all immigrants face barriers and that the Welcoming Center can help them overcome them through the positive community outreach we provide. As a consultant, I assist the staff in making decisions about new programs that accelerate immigrant integration, economic advancement, and general well-being in our communities.


Silya Si Hadj Mohand


Hi everyone, my name is Silya, I am form Algeria. I moved to the U.S. in 2020 to join my lovely husband.

It has been always hard to start over in a new country, especially when they speak a language that you don’t. So, the language barrier was the major problem for me to start new life in the U.S. What makes it even harder is that I arrived in the middle of this pandemic, when new restrictions were made by the government to stop the spread of the virus.

I was staying at home for five months like a broken bird, my life and my knowledge about daily life in Philly was limited to what my lovely husband knows. I was focused on the fact that I don’t speak fluently.

The Welcoming Center helped me a lot to have a social life, develop skills, get a job that I want, and build friendships with The Welcoming Center team and participants from IPP, ILI and Let’s Talk Phily programs which helped me to overcome the barriers that I faced. They encouraged me, adopted me, and became my family in the U.S.!

From February to April 2021, I was participant at the International Professional Program (IPP) which is a wonderful program offered by The Welcoming Center to promote immigrants’ integration. During this amazing program I learned how to have confidence in myself and how to put my skills in value. I learned that even if I moved to another country, even I speak English with accent, even if I am still learning English to be fluent, I can do what I did before, what I love because, I could be a good fit with my previous experience from France, international background, master’s degree, certifications and the fact that I speak four languages.

Many thanks to Ben Goebel and Janek Kubik for encouraging and assisting me with job readiness skills, resume, cover letter, mock interview, elevator pitch, networking, connections, job search…

Now, I can say that I am flying again, I encourage all immigrants in Philly to join The Welcoming Center community by registering or volunteering to the different programs. Then, we can fly together.


Yu-Shan Chou


My name is Yu-Shan Chou. I was born in a small town in central Taiwan and I grew up in Taipei. I have a bachelor’s degree in German language and literature. I worked as a purchasing officer and then became a purchasing manager in the business corporations when I was in Taiwan. 

In 2018, I moved to Philadelphia and in 2019, I participated in the Immigrant Leadership Institute (ILI) program at The Welcoming Center where I explored the barriers among immigrants with my team. Based on our personal experiences and after interviewing immigrants around the city, we decided to focus on language barriers and worked on a solution. We organized and launched Let’s Talk Philly! Conversation Circles as an action project in May 2020.

I am very impressed by the work and the efforts that The Welcoming Center has been doing for the immigrants/newcomers around the Greater Philadelphia area. I’ve also met and learned many great things from wonderful leaders in the community through The Welcoming Center networks.

I feel honored to participate and work with everyone in the Participant Advisory Council; it’s quite a great learning experience for me. Being a part of this group provides me the opportunity to express my voices and share my experiences with The Welcoming Center. They listen to our opinions and suggestions to better their programs and services and meet the different needs from the community.

* My mother tongue is Mandarin, I also speak Taiwanese Minnan, a variety of the Hokkien language spoken natively in Taiwan.