HENRIETTA WHITE-HOLDER FOUNDER & CEO Henrietta Tonia, a native Liberian, is a humanitarian/social entrepreneur/community builder, and passionate advocate for the disadvantaged and underserved. In 2008, with an unexpected “gift” of only $1,000, Henrie founded the non-profit NGO, Higher Ground International. Since then, Henrie has accomplished a lot with very little. In addition to lobbying to end the 14-year civil war in Liberia and helping to integrate and empower young refugees in Rhode Island, Higher Ground has brought clean water and sanitation to Liberia, with the installation of latrines and hand-pumps in rural villages in Arthington, Liberia. In 2015, Henrie—who understands the power of a warm hug—opened the Rukiya (the Swahili word for “Rising Up/Progress”) Center on the South Side of Providence, RI. The Rukiya Center was the first venue of its kind in Providence to offer intergenerational programs, women and youth empowerment programs, the Sweetie Care Program for African immigrant and refugee elders, and workforce and literacy programs. Henrie has 26 years’ experience working in the non-profit sector in Rhode Island, including nearly two decades of service to those with differing abilities. Henrie attended Rhode Island College and Johnson & Wales University. A lifelong learner, Henrie is 2011 graduate of Leadership Rhode Island and is currently participating in the Executive Director Leadership Circle at the United Way of Rhode Island. Henrie has received numerous recognitions for her work. She was named by Providence Monthly as one of the "Ten to Watch" in 2012. Henrie received the “Extraordinary Woman Award for Education” from the Women Development Institute in commemoration of International Women’s Day. In 2013, she was conferred the RI Liberian Humanitarian Award and is a recipient of the President’s Chair from Johnson & Wales University John Hazen White School of Arts & Science for her contribution to the Johnson & Wales Community. In October 2015, Henrietta received the Christina Bannister Community Service Award from the Rhode Island Black Business Association (RIBBA). In addition, Henrie has received numerous congressional citations, community service and humanitarian awards, including The Providence Newspaper Guild John F. Kiffney Public Service Award in 2017.  Her work with Higher Ground International has been featured in many local and international publications.

HENRIETTA WHITE-HOLDER

FOUNDER & CEO

Henrietta Tonia, a native Liberian, is a humanitarian/social entrepreneur/community builder, and passionate advocate for the disadvantaged and underserved. In 2008, with an unexpected “gift” of only $1,000, Henrie founded the non-profit NGO, Higher Ground International. Since then, Henrie has accomplished a lot with very little. In addition to lobbying to end the 14-year civil war in Liberia and helping to integrate and empower young refugees in Rhode Island, Higher Ground has brought clean water and sanitation to Liberia, with the installation of latrines and hand-pumps in rural villages in Arthington, Liberia.

In 2015, Henrie—who understands the power of a warm hug—opened the Rukiya (the Swahili word for “Rising Up/Progress”) Center on the South Side of Providence, RI. The Rukiya Center was the first venue of its kind in Providence to offer intergenerational programs, women and youth empowerment programs, the Sweetie Care Program for African immigrant and refugee elders, and workforce and literacy programs.

Henrie has 26 years’ experience working in the non-profit sector in Rhode Island, including nearly two decades of service to those with differing abilities. Henrie attended Rhode Island College and Johnson & Wales University. A lifelong learner, Henrie is 2011 graduate of Leadership Rhode Island and is currently participating in the Executive Director Leadership Circle at the United Way of Rhode Island.

Henrie has received numerous recognitions for her work. She was named by Providence Monthly as one of the "Ten to Watch" in 2012. Henrie received the “Extraordinary Woman Award for Education” from the Women Development Institute in commemoration of International Women’s Day. In 2013, she was conferred the RI Liberian Humanitarian Award and is a recipient of the President’s Chair from Johnson & Wales University John Hazen White School of Arts & Science for her contribution to the Johnson & Wales Community. In October 2015, Henrietta received the Christina Bannister Community Service Award from the Rhode Island Black Business Association (RIBBA). In addition, Henrie has received numerous congressional citations, community service and humanitarian awards, including The Providence Newspaper Guild John F. Kiffney Public Service Award in 2017.  Her work with Higher Ground International has been featured in many local and international publications.

CLIFF WOOD BOARD CHAIR Cliff is the Executive Director of the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy, a public-private partnership that manages Providence’s downtown public space. He is the Director of Public Advocacy for the Providence Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering economic development, sustained investment, and a vibrant neighborhood in downtown Providence. As a former Providence City Council member, Cliff served as Deputy Majority Leader and Chairman of the Committee on Public Education. A long-standing leader in Providence’s efforts to reimagine its downtown district, Cliff has previously held positions at Cornish Associates, a New Urbanist development company formed to rebuild Providence’s urban core, and was the founding director of Providence's Department of Art, Culture and Tourism, where he co-founded the Providence Sound Session music festival. Before moving to Providence in 1997, Cliff coordinated strategy for the US Climate Action Network to lobby for an effective international treaty on climate change. He is a proud father, a happy husband, and an avid, working musician. 

CLIFF WOOD

BOARD CHAIR

Cliff is the Executive Director of the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy, a public-private partnership that manages Providence’s downtown public space. He is the Director of Public Advocacy for the Providence Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering economic development, sustained investment, and a vibrant neighborhood in downtown Providence. As a former Providence City Council member, Cliff served as Deputy Majority Leader and Chairman of the Committee on Public Education. A long-standing leader in Providence’s efforts to reimagine its downtown district, Cliff has previously held positions at Cornish Associates, a New Urbanist development company formed to rebuild Providence’s urban core, and was the founding director of Providence's Department of Art, Culture and Tourism, where he co-founded the Providence Sound Session music festival. Before moving to Providence in 1997, Cliff coordinated strategy for the US Climate Action Network to lobby for an effective international treaty on climate change. He is a proud father, a happy husband, and an avid, working musician. 

WEAYONNOH NELSON-DAVIS, JD BOARD VICE CHAIR Weayonnoh immigrated to the United States at the age of sixteen, escaping the Liberian civil war.  Currently, she oversees the day-to-day operations of Community Legal Aid's medical-legal partnership with UMass Memorial Health Care. This State-funded legal aid program addresses the unmet legal needs of low-income families through a new pro bono initiative.  Her areas of practice include medical-legal partnership, public benefits, housing, and family law.  As a former Bart Gordon Fellow with South Coastal Counties Legal Services, she focused on promoting diversity and breaking down barriers created by structural racism.  Weayonnoh has also co-facilitated a Health Systems and Policy Course at Alpert Medical School of Brown University and taught a civic engagement law-based course as an adjunct professor at the Community College of Rhode Island.  

WEAYONNOH NELSON-DAVIS, JD

BOARD VICE CHAIR

Weayonnoh immigrated to the United States at the age of sixteen, escaping the Liberian civil war.  Currently, she oversees the day-to-day operations of Community Legal Aid's medical-legal partnership with UMass Memorial Health Care. This State-funded legal aid program addresses the unmet legal needs of low-income families through a new pro bono initiative.  Her areas of practice include medical-legal partnership, public benefits, housing, and family law.  As a former Bart Gordon Fellow with South Coastal Counties Legal Services, she focused on promoting diversity and breaking down barriers created by structural racism.  Weayonnoh has also co-facilitated a Health Systems and Policy Course at Alpert Medical School of Brown University and taught a civic engagement law-based course as an adjunct professor at the Community College of Rhode Island.  

JULIA NOGUCHI BOARD SECRETARY Julia is the Assistant Director of the Doctoring Program at Alpert Medical School of Brown University, where she runs the Community Mentor Program—a program that allows preclinical students to gain real-world experience with healthcare providers and their patients. Prior to coming to Brown, Julia worked as a Writer/Editor for Partners In Health, an international nonprofit that provides health care in resource-poor settings, and at Harvard Medical School, where she was a Research Coordinator in the Department of Social Medicine. Her interests include the socioeconomic determinants of health, immigrant/refugee access to health care, and food insecurity in urban areas. Married with three young, athletic boys, Julia’s extracurricular activities include driving for hours within a 5-mile radius. In the off-season, (which she has yet to experience), she enjoys small home improvement projects that she will one day see to completion, running outdoors, and writing of all kinds.

JULIA NOGUCHI

BOARD SECRETARY

Julia is the Assistant Director of the Doctoring Program at Alpert Medical School of Brown University, where she runs the Community Mentor Program—a program that allows preclinical students to gain real-world experience with healthcare providers and their patients. Prior to coming to Brown, Julia worked as a Writer/Editor for Partners In Health, an international nonprofit that provides health care in resource-poor settings, and at Harvard Medical School, where she was a Research Coordinator in the Department of Social Medicine. Her interests include the socioeconomic determinants of health, immigrant/refugee access to health care, and food insecurity in urban areas. Married with three young, athletic boys, Julia’s extracurricular activities include driving for hours within a 5-mile radius. In the off-season, (which she has yet to experience), she enjoys small home improvement projects that she will one day see to completion, running outdoors, and writing of all kinds.

TOHIB GIWA board treasurer Tohib is an Accounting Manager at Hanna Instruments Inc., where he assists in achieving operational objectives by contributing accounting information and recommendations for consideration in strategic planning. He has also worked at KPMG as an audit associate, specifically in specialized audit areas such as cash, debt, insurance, and accounts payable, and in the Rhode Island Department of Transportation as a Senior Accountant. In his spare time, Tohib is dedicated to service. He was named the 2016 Big Brother of the year in Rhode Island, and has been a member of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rhode Island Development Committee since 2013. Prior to mentoring he worked as a youth football coach for an inner-city team for 4 years.

TOHIB GIWA

board treasurer

Tohib is an Accounting Manager at Hanna Instruments Inc., where he assists in achieving operational objectives by contributing accounting information and recommendations for consideration in strategic planning. He has also worked at KPMG as an audit associate, specifically in specialized audit areas such as cash, debt, insurance, and accounts payable, and in the Rhode Island Department of Transportation as a Senior Accountant. In his spare time, Tohib is dedicated to service. He was named the 2016 Big Brother of the year in Rhode Island, and has been a member of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rhode Island Development Committee since 2013. Prior to mentoring he worked as a youth football coach for an inner-city team for 4 years.

MICHELLE REGO BOARD MEMBER Michelle is an Associate Professor of Marketing Communications at Johnson & Wales University, where she specializes in project-based learning. Prior to teaching at JWU, she was an adjunct professor at Northeastern University in Boston, MA and also held industry positions on both the corporate and agency sides of marketing. Michelle’s teaching philosophy centers around her passion for cultural diversity and service. She has worked with countless nonprofit and social venture organizations on a variety of social issues with her students.  As Michelle is fond of saying, “marketing isn’t all about selling beer and potato chips.” She believes in the power of communications to advocate for social good and the importance of engaging students with diverse cultural experiences throughout their education to prepare them for a meaningful and successful career.

MICHELLE REGO

BOARD MEMBER

Michelle is an Associate Professor of Marketing Communications at Johnson & Wales University, where she specializes in project-based learning. Prior to teaching at JWU, she was an adjunct professor at Northeastern University in Boston, MA and also held industry positions on both the corporate and agency sides of marketing. Michelle’s teaching philosophy centers around her passion for cultural diversity and service. She has worked with countless nonprofit and social venture organizations on a variety of social issues with her students.  As Michelle is fond of saying, “marketing isn’t all about selling beer and potato chips.” She believes in the power of communications to advocate for social good and the importance of engaging students with diverse cultural experiences throughout their education to prepare them for a meaningful and successful career.

MACKENZIE L"MAREE BOARD MEMBER Mackenzie L’Maree is an Aussie native who has worked for 20 years in the motor industry, from receptionist to General Manager/CEO, operating three branches with 500 employees by her earlier retirement. In addition to her career in the motor industry, she has worked part-time as a model and has also dabbled in the entertainment industry.  As a child, a documentary on Africa that she saw on television changed her life forever. Deeply affected by the devastation she saw due to poverty and civil war, Mackenzie knew that she needed to do something to replace the darkness and despair in the world with light and hope. She began sponsoring children through World Vision, and in 2011, was introduced to Higher Ground International on Facebook. Needing to know more, she decided to surprise Henrietta, Founder and CEO of Higher Ground,

MACKENZIE L"MAREE

BOARD MEMBER

Mackenzie L’Maree is an Aussie native who has worked for 20 years in the motor industry, from receptionist to General Manager/CEO, operating three branches with 500 employees by her earlier retirement. In addition to her career in the motor industry, she has worked part-time as a model and has also dabbled in the entertainment industry.  As a child, a documentary on Africa that she saw on television changed her life forever. Deeply affected by the devastation she saw due to poverty and civil war, Mackenzie knew that she needed to do something to replace the darkness and despair in the world with light and hope. She began sponsoring children through World Vision, and in 2011, was introduced to Higher Ground International on Facebook. Needing to know more, she decided to surprise Henrietta, Founder and CEO of Higher Ground,

BARBARA(barb) SILVIS strategIC ADVISOR Barbara J. Silvis is an active community volunteer, and serves the community in a number of capacities, including service on the boards of RI Kids Count, the RI State Council of Churches, and the Defiance College Board.  She chairs the Public Policy Committee of the United Way of Rhode Island and is a member of the executive committee of Women United, RI Chapter.  She sings in RPM Voices of RI, a multi cultural gospel choir in Providence and in the Central Congregational Church choir, Providence RI, and volunteers with Higher Ground International, Providence, RI. She lives in Central Falls, RI and is an enthusiastic supporter of this small city, serving on the Central Falls Redevelopment Agency. Barbara is retired from FM Global, Johnston, RI, where she worked for 34 years, most recently as Vice President, Manager of Loss Prevention Web Resources, leading projects to build systems supporting the company's 1500 strong worldwide engineering staff. Barbara holds a BS in engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology, a BA in History from Defiance College, and a MA in History from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

BARBARA(barb) SILVIS

strategIC ADVISOR

Barbara J. Silvis is an active community volunteer, and serves the community in a number of capacities, including service on the boards of RI Kids Count, the RI State Council of Churches, and the Defiance College Board.  She chairs the Public Policy Committee of the United Way of Rhode Island and is a member of the executive committee of Women United, RI Chapter.  She sings in RPM Voices of RI, a multi cultural gospel choir in Providence and in the Central Congregational Church choir, Providence RI, and volunteers with Higher Ground International, Providence, RI. She lives in Central Falls, RI and is an enthusiastic supporter of this small city, serving on the Central Falls Redevelopment Agency.

Barbara is retired from FM Global, Johnston, RI, where she worked for 34 years, most recently as Vice President, Manager of Loss Prevention Web Resources, leading projects to build systems supporting the company's 1500 strong worldwide engineering staff.

Barbara holds a BS in engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology, a BA in History from Defiance College, and a MA in History from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

KATHY JELLISON STRATEGIC ADVISOR

KATHY JELLISON

STRATEGIC ADVISOR

kATHLEEN (TRINKI) BRUECKNER Volunteer ESOL INSTRUCTOR Kathleen (Trinki) Brueckner grew up on Long Island and graduated from Connecticut College with a degree in Government. She has lived in Rhode Island since 1971. Her employed positions have included: work-measurement analyst for Old Stone Bank, event manager for Barrington Books, and high school Spanish teacher. In the 1970s, she served as Director of the Rhode Island Rape Crisis Center (now Day One). Trinki retired in 2013 from teaching English to adult immigrants at Progreso Latino in Central Falls, and now volunteers with Barrington Interfaith Partners, The Center for Reconciliation at the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island, and Higher Ground International where she is developing a literacy program. She is also being training by the Rhode Island State Council of Churches to facilitate “Merciful Conversations on Race and White Privilege” programs. She is a lay worship leader in the Episcopal Diocese. Trinki is married to Tom Brueckner and they have four adult children and one daughter-in-law. Her hobbies include hiking, playing the flute, and studying politics and religion.

kATHLEEN (TRINKI) BRUECKNER

Volunteer ESOL INSTRUCTOR

Kathleen (Trinki) Brueckner grew up on Long Island and graduated from Connecticut College with a degree in Government. She has lived in Rhode Island since 1971. Her employed positions have included: work-measurement analyst for Old Stone Bank, event manager for Barrington Books, and high school Spanish teacher. In the 1970s, she served as Director of the Rhode Island Rape Crisis Center (now Day One). Trinki retired in 2013 from teaching English to adult immigrants at Progreso Latino in Central Falls, and now volunteers with Barrington Interfaith Partners, The Center for Reconciliation at the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island, and Higher Ground International where she is developing a literacy program. She is also being training by the Rhode Island State Council of Churches to facilitate “Merciful Conversations on Race and White Privilege” programs. She is a lay worship leader in the Episcopal Diocese. Trinki is married to Tom Brueckner and they have four adult children and one daughter-in-law. Her hobbies include hiking, playing the flute, and studying politics and religion.

francine connelly volunteer social workers intern supervisor

francine connelly

volunteer social workers intern supervisor

barbara giancola volunteer social workers intern supervisor

barbara giancola

volunteer social workers intern supervisor