Kelly Carnes

Kelly Carnes

Executive Director

Kelly spent the majority of her early career at the Smithsonian Institution, serving first at the Smithsonian Castle, then the National Museum of Natural History where she spent a decade elbow-deep in the coolest science on Earth, before transitioning to head Communications at the Smithsonian’s contemporary art arm, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. That experience in the visual arts built a foundation for a transition to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. As Director of Public Relations for all non-classical programming she repped hip hop, comedy, jazz, international programming, theater, dance, ballet, the Reach project, and the JFK Centennial, in addition to being responsible for the Center’s signature annual red carpet events. She then started her own consulting company and grew the business from scratch to earning $750k in revenue and representing more than 50 clients across a wide variety of industries. She went in house with one of those clients, Planet Word, for a year as their Deputy Director to help get the new museum launched and more operationally sustainable. She is continuing that work of growing and scaling mission-driven cultural non-profits by applying her depth of entrepreneurial experience and creative leadership to Heard.


Alexandra Fleming

Creative Writing 

Alexandra Fleming has been a print and TV journalist for 25+ years. Her clients are People magazine, the Washington Post, and Swedish Broadcasting. She has a BA in journalism/news-editorial from San Diego State University. In 2012 she co-wrote “Full of Heart,” Iraq War vet JR Martinez’s memoir, which became a NYT best-seller.

She leads a Heard class called “Journalist for a Day,” which teaches students that the skills journalists practice in their trade — curiosity, precision, and objectivity — are powerful assets that can be applied by everybody in everyday life.  

Her favorite thing about being a part of Heard is having the privilege to share ideas with people who are interesting, inquisitive, expressive, and open to considering divergent viewpoints — and to see in real life how important it is for everyone to be heard.

In her spare time, Alexandra fosters kittens and teaches Life Skills ESL to immigrants and refugees. Read more about Alexa (and hire her!) here.

Bharati Soman


Bharati Soman has been an active performer and voice teacher for almost 20 years. Past credits include leading roles in opera companies throughout Northern California, including Cinnabar Theater, Pocket Opera, Livermore Valley Opera and Sacramento Opera.  Currently, she can be seen performing with Sopranessence, a vocal ensemble dedicated to “rebooting classical music,” for which she also serves as Co-Artistic Director.
As a voice teacher, Bharati has worked with students ranging in age and ability, from beginners to professionals, including singer/songwriters. Although her own background is steeped in classical music, Bharati teaches a variety of styles from choral and congregational music to Indie Rock and R&B. Bharati’s greatest joy is watching her students’ self-confidence blossom as they learn to access their authentic voice.  She holds a Master of Music and Performer Diploma from Indiana University, Bloomington and a Bachelor of Music from James Madison University.

Chè Monique

Chè Monique

Public Speaking Instructor

Chè Monique is a captivating public speaking instructor whose unique journey from the depths of the sea to the podium has mesmerized audiences far and wide. This Alexandria, VA local not only brings a wealth of experience in public speaking but also adds a touch of enchantment as a renowned mermaid entertainer and founder of the Society of Fat Mermaids.

From the halls of West Potomac, where Chè Monique lettered in debate and oratory, to the screens of Netflix’s “Merpeople” and Amazon Prime’s “Embodied,” she makes waves in both the spoken word and underwater realms. Her magnetic presence has graced numerous documentaries and news features, including notable appearances with NBC Universal and UK’s TV 4.

Chè Monique is a sought-after guest on podcasts and television shows, including the Sissaundra Lewis Show on AftroTV and the Fat Joy Podcast. Embracing the dynamic performing arts scene of the area, she serves as a recurring panelist for Team Rayceen Productions and frequently hosts local variety shows.

As a leader in the mermaid community, Chè Monique can be found regularly hosting livestreams and sitting on panels at conventions such as the California Mermaid Convention in Sacramento, Momo Con in Atlanta, and MerMagic Con in Silver Spring. She brings a fresh perspective to public speaking instruction, recognizing the variety of settings in which individuals need to show up and use their voice. In the diverse landscape of public speaking in 2024, Chè Monique’s guidance empowers individuals to navigate and excel in any situation.

Chris Thomas

Chris Thomas

Poetry / Spoken Word Instructor

Chris Thomas is a Queer Black Non-Binary individual wielding words to champion Child Abuse Prevention, LGBTQIA rights, and Mental Health Awareness. An award-winning poet and devoted teaching artist, C.’s impact is profound.

Recognized by NUSPA in 2015, C. mesmerizes audiences as a performer and leads at venues like Angelina College, Georgetown University, Jefferson University, and Howard University.

Collaborating with NVAFA and Carlyle House, they curate events celebrating African American excellence. Their workshop, Writing to Wellness™, empowers healing through poetry amid trauma. Advocacy spans educating adults on responding to Child Sexual Abuse and board service.

C.’s influence appears in publications like The Zebra and Swerv Magazine. They are love in action, amplifying marginalized voices. Through poetry and advocacy, they shape an inclusive world.

Elizabeth (Betsy) Allen

Creative Writing

Elizabeth (Betsy) Allen is a native of Defiance, Ohio, and holds a BA in journalism from The Ohio State University, and an MA in English and MFA in fiction writing from George Mason University. Over the years, she has worked as a corporate communications specialist, public relations manager, creative writing workshop leader, and freelance writer and editor. Allen currently teaches Advanced Composition at George Mason. Her short stories have been published in several dark fiction anthologies, and she also is the co-author (with Ben Small) of The End of Gath, a Steampunk graphic novel trilogy. Allen lives in Alexandria with her husband and a noisy Corgi. In her spare time, she indulges a crossword puzzle obsession and frets about her children and grandson. She believes in the power of stories—to transport us, to show us what has been and what could be, to help us recognize our shared humanity.

KaNikki Jakarta

KaNikki Jakarta

Author/Performance Poet/
Teaching Artist

KaNikki Jakarta is a performance poet. Born in Mobile, Alabama, she earned a BA in public relations / marketing.

Jakarta is the author of three novels, two poetry collections, and a memoir, including Alabama Girl, Virginia Woman (Great Publishing Company, LLC, 2021), and the coauthor of The Ultimate Guide to Self Healing Volume II (Brave Healer Productions, 2020).

Jakarta is the inaugural poet in residence for Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association. She hosts #KaNikkiHarmony and facilitates several workshops in Alexandria, Virginia. She is also the cofounder of Keep the Mic On, an online, womyn-led artistic experience, and the first African American poet laureate of Alexandria, Virginia. In 2022, Jakarta received an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship.

Keely Kirk

Keely Kirk


Keely Kirk teaches improvisation as a life skill for Heard. She is an improvisation performer and the founder of Playing Outside the Lines, where she provides team building workshops for Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, law firms, accounting firms, nonprofit organizations, and schools. She trained and performed with Mental Floss and Laughing Gas Comedy Improv of Miami, Florida, as well iO (formerly Improv Olympics) and Second City of Chicago. Since 2010, Keely has also taught, developed and marketed an improv curriculum at The Little Theatre of Alexandria.

Laya Monarez

Visual Artist

Laya Monarez is a transgender Latinx artist based out of Washington DC. She studied at the Corcoran College of Art and Design where she received her BFA in 2005. She has had several murals in the DC area, many of which were commissioned by the Latin American Youth Center. You can find her murals at the Park View Rec Center in Petworth and one of her restorations on Klingle Road in NW. She previously had murals at the National Zoo and Pinch Nightclub. Laya is skilled in the mediums of oil painting, acrylic painting, water color, stone carving, wielding, drawing, ceramics, and mixed media. Her primary focus is on oil painting but she is a very skilled sculptor as well. Laya’s paintings have been shown at the Greater Reston Art Center, Mclean Project for the Arts, Cheshire, Hole in the Sky, Artomatic, The DC LGBTQ+ Community Center and the Art Museum of the Americas.

Mike Baker

Acting, Public Speaking, Voiceovers

Michael J. Baker, Jr. is an award-winning actor and vocalist. He was a featured soloist at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The White House, Wolf Trap for the Performing Arts, and Lisner Auditorium. He was honored by “DC Metro Theatre Arts” as one of the area’s Best Directors in 2017 for his work on A Christmas Carol and as one of area’s Best Musical Actors for his portrayal of “Fagin” in Oliver. He also won The Little Theater of Alexandria’s Best Director and Best Musical Performer in 2018. Baker is also a seven-time Emmy Award-winning TV host, reporter, producer and sixteen-time Emmy nominee, and is an accomplished videographer with five Videographer Awards. His other TV work has garnered five National Telly Awards and a Marcom Creative Award. Baker is currently the President of National Arts Television, with  productions appearing on BRAVO Cable Network, NBC, PAX-TV, Comcast Sport Network, Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, and in public television syndication. Baker is currently an adjunct in the NOVA English Department, teaching English and poetry. He teaches public speaking seminars to the winners/inmates of the annual Heard writing contest.

Nina Sichel

Creative Writing 

Nina Sichel has published poetry, memoir and creative nonfiction, and co-edited two collections about cross-cultural international childhoods, Unrooted Childhoods and Writing Out of Limbo.  She leads local guided writing programs and memoir workshops. She is been a part of Heard since its inception, and is thrilled to see the program stretch and grow and reach so many emerging writers and artists.

Phallon Perry 

Creative Writing 

Since the age of nine, Phallon has found writing to be her refuge. After attending Indiana University and Northwestern University where she honed in on her craft, Phallon began to write stories for children, young adults, and adults young at heart. She is the author of three books: Dream to be from A to Zzz, Austin’s Pansies, and her most recent book, Like a Butterfly was co-authored with her five year old daughter, Autumn. Today, you can find Phallon traveling back and forth between her hometown of Baltimore, MD and her new home in Alexandria, VA. You can also learn more about Phallon here.

Rebecca Scruggs

Rebecca Scruggs

Dance Instructor 

Born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area, Rebecca Scruggs received rigorous dance training at BalletNova Center for Dance in Falls Church, Virginia. Summer intensives with programs like Joffrey Jazz & Contemporary in New York City and with companies like Christopher K. Morgan & Artists, have expanded Rebecca’s movement repertoire. Rebecca received conservatory-level training in acting, directing and technical theatre and is a member of the International Thespian Society. She also studied voice with Harnes Selway Arts. In 2018, Rebecca earned her Bachelor of Arts in Dance from Shenandoah University. She has since performed with Momentum Dance Theatre, DHH Dance Collective, and the Effervescence Collective as well as choreographed for DHH Dance Collective. Rebecca currently teaches at DanceXpressions Performing Arts Center, takes dance classes to maintain their training, and models occasionally with local photographers.

Sharmila Karamchandani

Visual Arts 

Sharmila Karamchandani is a freelance graphic designer, art educator, and an entrepreneur coach has a passion for design and working in arts education and community non-profits. She is a multidisciplinary artist and works in mediums such as painting, jewelry design, photography, calligraphy, henna painting, mixed media collages, and fiber arts. Sharmila acquired her MFA in Graphic Design from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and has been teaching graphic design for more than a decade in several local colleges and universities. Recently, what gives her the most joy is to facilitate weekly art workshops through Heard and to work with marginalized groups.

Sharmila displays and sells her creative work through Khush Designs.

Sihnuu Hetep

Yoga Instructor

Sihnuu Hetep, a seasoned yoga and meditation instructor with a 500-ERYT/YACEP certification, brings a wealth of knowledge rooted in nature, Kemetic principles and Ancient Chinese philosophy to her teaching. Beyond her role as an educator and mother, Sihnuu is dedicated to guiding individuals on the transformative journey of self-reclamation. With over a decade of experience, she seamlessly melds ancient traditions with contemporary tools, offering her wisdom to the D.C. community and beyond.

Her profound mission is to foster self-sustaining healing practices that empower individuals and uplift communities.

Sihnuu Hetep’s expertise has earned her recognition in notable publications and campaigns, such as Yoga Journal, Mantra Wellness Magazine, Essence, Girls United by Essence, Athleta, and more.

Solveig Eggerz

Creative Writing 

A native of Iceland, Solveig Eggerz, has authored two novels, Seal Woman and Sigga of Reykjavik. She holds a PhD in comparative literature from Catholic University. Solveig was a reporter for the Alexandria Gazette Packet and has worked as a journalist, a professor of writing and research, and as a teacher at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Her writing has appeared in such places as The Northern Virginia ReviewDelmarva Review, and Palo Alto Review. Through creating and teaching her writing classes for Heard, Solveig has learned that everyone has a story to tell or write..

Walker Valdez

Walker Valdez

Poetry/Spoken Word 

Walker Valdez is a Bolivian American spoken word poet, performance artist, and educator who resides in Falls Church, Virginia. His storytelling will often contain themes of identity, and is blended with humor and wordplay to speak on the Latin American experience. Mr. Valdez is an alumni from the award-winning arts collective Spoken Resistance where he acted, wrote and performed original poetry and monologues, and is a graduate of the NALAC (National Association of Latino Arts and Culture) Leadership Institute in San Antonio Texas. He has performed at The Studio Theatre, GALA Hispanic Theatre, The Rayburn House Office Building, American University, Marymount University, among other venues, and was selected to participate in the 2004 Hip-Hop Theater Festival in Washington D.C. He has received a B.A. in English (Performance Media track) from Marymount University and a M.Ed in Special Education from George Mason University.

He is currently working full time as a special education teacher in Northern Virginia. Mr. Valdez is a firm believer of the power of the arts, and the idea that creativity lives inside all of us, but just needs a little inspiration to come out. He is glad to be part of any organization who strives to give a voice to those underrepresented in the community.

Wendi Kaplan


Wendi R. Kaplan is a poet and was the City of Alexandria Poet Laureate from 2016-2019 where she conducted poetry classes, readings and events to create connection and build bridges among different communities in Alexandria. She understands that in good times and hard times poetry brings joy, support, and awareness. Wendi facilitates the writing of poetry and believes that poetry can give people a voice, even when they feel they have none. Wendi has a master’s degree in social work as well as a certification in poetry therapy. Wendi says, “Being a part of Heard allows me to work with people who know the power of the creative process as well as introduce poetry to people who need to be heard! It has been such an honor to help people turn their troubles, difficulties, hopes and dreams into poems.”


Michael Collins

Collins Consulting Group/Board Chair

Mike Collins grew up in Brownsville, Pennsylvania. He retired from the United States Navy as a civilian program manager, and is currently a consultant with them, with expertise in research, development, and acquisition programs. Mike has been an active volunteer throughout his life. He coached youth sports for many years in Manassas, Virginia, and held several leadership positions with Manassas Presbyterian Church. He attended Virginia Tech on a basketball scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering. He earned a master’s degree in engineering management from Old Dominion University. As the Heard board chair, Mike is excited about working with the new board members who have so much talent and energy and to see what new ways the wonderful artists and clients will continue to express themselves. In his free time Mike likes to take long and short tours, travel with his wife (and Heard’s executive director), and play with their five grandchildren.

Melanie Brumfield

Workforce & Life Development Coordinator/Board Member

Melanie Brumfield was born and raised in Rochester, New York. As the daughter of a pastor, singing, dancing and sometimes acting was a regular part of her life. She attended the School of The Arts high school, where she took part in several musicals and plays. Melanie double majored in Political Science and African American Studies at the University at Albany in Albany, New York, where she also received a Master of Arts in African American history. She recently completed the Post Graduate certificate program at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology for Applied Behavior Analysis. She has over 10 years of supervisory experience in environments servicing vulnerable communities.

Melanie is an avid reader and foodie and is the mother of a beautiful daughter. Human services and helping others have always been a passion of hers. Through advocacy and/or direct services Melanie understands the role of empowering and supporting people from vulnerable populations and the difference it makes.

Jane Hess Collins

Founder and Board Secretary

Jane is the founder  and previously served as the first executive director of Heard. She is a communications consultant and coach with a master’s degree in public relations and corporate communications from Georgetown University, and a retired colonel, United States Air Force. Jane founded the nonprofit to offer a platform for both artists and the area’s adults in need to be heard. Artists are heard by receiving a fee for each class they teach – a feature that Jane implemented after watching her mother, an artist, continually get asked to lower the price of her work. Heard’s clients are also heard through choosing to share their creative work during class or on Heard’s website. In her spare time Jane and her husband love to travel and spend time with their families, where Jane manages Heard through her constant companion, her iPhone.

Julie Cupp

Chief Operating Officer and Executive Assistant for Marie Force/Treasurer

Julie Cupp was born and raised in Alexandria, Virginia. Julie plans reader events for Marie Force/HTJB, Inc., oversees Ms. Force’s self-publishing ventures and manages the E-book Formatting Fairies. Julie has over 20 years of meeting planning experience and is a Certified Meeting Professional where she worked with executive committees and boards of directors to align education and event goals with the organizational budget, membership support and industry enrichment. She attended Virginia Tech and received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix. As a Heard board member, Julie looks forward to providing an artistic outlet for under-served populations and sharing the art of Heard’s programs participants with the community to foster a better understanding of the populations we support. Her passions include live music and theater, yoga, books, local sports teams, travel, art history and finding a piece of art that reminds her of how beautiful this world can be.

Dallice Joyner

Cultural Competence, Racial and Health Equity Trainer for Fairfax County Department of Health

Dallice Joyner grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina. She has over 20 years of supervisory and leadership experience with expertise in administration, partnership building, community health, program development and implementation. Formerly she was the Deputy Director at Friends of Guest House where she ensured high quality program delivery and supporting women re-entering the community after incarceration and connecting with their children, families, and other support systems. Dallice earned a bachelor’s degree in School and Community Health from East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, and holds a master’s degree in education with an emphasis on community health from the University of North Carolina. As a Heard board member, Dallice is excited to support and work with its amazing creatives and to help expose them more to the community. She spends her spare time with her family and close friends, and is interested in social justice and racial equity disparities.

Patricia Washington

President & CEO, Visit Alexandria/Board Member

Patricia is President & CEO of Visit Alexandria where she is responsible for Visit Alexandria’s vision, culture, and data-driven content-first marketing strategy. Under her leadership, Visit Alexandria launched three brand campaigns; developed a robust national media relations effort; expanded video, photo, itinerary and blog content; and increased digital and social media marketing. Patricia led Visit Alexandria’s expanded marketing to diverse audiences with a new “Drop In” campaign targeting Black travelers and featuring iconic and new travel experiences, a Spanish-language campaign, new content supporting AAPI-owned businesses, Latino-and Latina-owned businesses, Indigenous history and experiences and more. All of this has led to increased revenues and national accolades including the city being named as Travel + Leisure’s Best Cities in the U.S. 2022 and one of Condé Nast Traveler’s Top 5 Best Small Cities in the U.S. 2022 . Before coming to Alexandria in 2012, Patricia lived in Philadelphia where she held previous positions in cultural tourism, performing arts, and philanthropy. Patricia is a passionate arts advocate. She serves on the board of the Alexandria Arts Alliance and loves opportunities to attend and participate in music, art, and theater. She is also an avid practitioner of yoga. In addition to the Arts Alliance board, Patricia serves on the U.S. Travel Association’s Destination Advisory Council, and the Northern Virginia Tourism Partnership. Past boards include Alexandria Historic Resources Commission and the Torpedo Factory Art Center Board. Patricia has a JD and BFA from Howard University.

Kodi Image

Kodi Seaton

Kodi Seaton is the founder of The Un Group, a boutique creative agency that provides branding, graphic design, marketing and social media support for mission-driven businesses, distilling their needs from rough ideas into authentic brand identities. Current clients include the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Catholic Charities, National Landing BID, and New America, among others. He has also served as a project and social media manager for major brands, conceptualizing and leading social marketing campaigns for companies including Mattel, Robinhood and YouTube. Before pursuing entrepreneurship, his past included a near decade as a Creative Officer for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Kodi believes knowledge and kindness can be shared far and wide, and his passion lies in using art to educate, entertain and empower. Fittingly, Kodi’s name means “helpful,” and his life has always reflected a passion for service and uplifting others. Born to a family of advocates and activists, Kodi continues the tradition by volunteering and fundraising for various causes.

Since 2013, he has served as a “Big Brother” for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. He is a mentor and admissions coordinator for Out in Tech, a haven for current and aspiring LGBTQ+ tech professionals. In 2022, Kodi became a Brand Ambassador for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s College of Media, hosting webinars on creating enduring brands. He also acts as a Media Design Industry Advisor to aspiring teen artists at his alma mater high school.

In his spare time, Kodi exhibits a love of all things creative. He’s an accomplished singer, blogs on his eponymous website, produces and co-hosts a podcast (The Swirl), and is currently developing a novel. Kodi has also been profiled in notable outlets such as People, HuffPost, Yahoo, Extra, Fitbit and more, providing recommendations on fitness and goal setting.

Kodi Seaton was proudly raised in Pennsylvania and Delaware. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Interactive Multimedia Design and Communication from Wilmington University in New Castle, DE. He resides in Washington, DC.

Hilary-Morgan Watt

Hilary-Morgan Watt

Hilary-Morgan Watt is the inaugural Social Media Creative Strategist for the Smithsonian Institution, managing influencers, community partnerships, and video strategy. Ms. Watt has spent the last decade pioneering and innovating with online engagement for the Smithsonian’s community, as the Director of Digital Engagement at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, Manager of Digital Engagement at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. With 18 years of experience in museums and galleries, Ms. Watt has led digital strategy workshops across the Smithsonian and lectured at the State Department, Georgetown University, and George Mason University. She is an Adjunct Professor at the George Washington University (GWU), teaching “Museums & Social Media” in the Graduate Museum Studies program.

A transplant from the Pacific Northwest, she completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts at Southern Oregon University with a double emphasis in oil painting and ceramic sculpture, and completed her Masters in Museum Studies from GWU. Ms. Watt is an active volunteer with the Capital Pride Alliance and the DC Walls Mural Festival.


Joanne Marie Clark

Volunteer Development Director

Joanne Clark recently retired from a 33 year career in international relations, designing study programs for mid-level professionals invited to this country by the U.S. Department of State. An important recent topic of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) has been the impact of the arts on marginalized communities, whether the incarcerated, disadvantaged youth, and victims of abuse and trauma. During her tenure at Meridian International Center, Ms. Clark was responsible for the design and implementation for a number of these projects. She is excited to join the Heard team as a research volunteer with the goal of uncovering information and statistical data relevant to the organization’s community outreach and engagement initiatives.

Ms. Clark grew up in Connecticut, earned a B.A. in French from Manhattanville College in Westchester County, New York, and a Masters in International Transactions from George Mason University in Virginia. She is the owner of Late Bloomers Designs, specializing in original jewelry and photographic products.

Creative Writing

Visual Arts



Public Speaking