Jane Hess Collins
Founder & Executive Director
Jane is the founder and 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.
Elizabeth (Betsy) Allen
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.
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.
Creative Writing Instructor
Nancy Carson offers creative writing workshops and courses aimed at reminding folks how much fun writing can be, and how it shapes our thoughts and memories. And our view of the future. Nancy has done writing most of her life, though her professional career focused on national policy issues. She worked for many years in an agency of the US Congress. She holds a master’s degree from the John F. Kennedy school at Harvard. She is active in Alexandria community issues including affordable housing and ending hunger.
Creative Writing Instructor
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 Review, Delmarva 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..
Creative Writing Instructor
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.
Tina Kantiano has over 30 years of dance experience and has shared the stage with Patti Labelle, Savion Glover, and Gregory Hines, and danced and choreographed for the NFL Baltimore Ravens cheerleader squad. Her students have danced with P. Diddy and Ludacris, and in movies, Cirque De Soleil, and the traveling company of Cats.
She teaches dance for Heard, where she inspires each of her dancers with her “can-do” attitude, challenging them to achieve their personal best in dance and in life. She selects dance moves that teach the athletic and artistic skill while emphasizing teamwork, individual excellence, and respect.
Tina’s favorite thing about Heard is its mission to bring a productive form of expression to everyone. Tina loves that Heard breaks down the common barriers and self-doubt around having a voice and gives those who may have not previously been comfortable or empowered to tell their story a means and a safe environment of discovery.
When she’s not in the studio, Tina counts the minutes until her son gets his driver’s license, travels with her husband, and does freelance writing and marketing strategy.
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.”
Visual Arts Instructor
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.
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.
Marci Lash is an international thought leader and authority in the etiquette, professionalism and protocol industries. She is the founder and Chief Etiquette Officer of Contemporary Etiquette Institute, a social and business etiquette consulting firm. Marci holds a master of arts in advertising and a bachelor of arts degree in journalism. She is formally certified in Multilateralism and International Protocol by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, and as an etiquette consultant through The Etiquette Institute in St. Louis, Missouri. Internationally recognized for her expertise, Marci’s experience includes hosting events at the White House, managing a G8 Conference dining event on behalf of former Vice President Al Gore and coordinating national black tie functions. Marci also has over 20 years of experience in the public relations and marketing industry, working with Microsoft, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Entertainment Industry Council in Hollywood. She is a lover of good manners, business professionalism, civility and thank you notes.
Visual Arts Instructor
Alison McHugh is an art therapist, using her talents as an art teacher for the HEARD team. She has taught for almost 20 years in private and public special education as an art therapist, working with students on the autism spectrum or with emotional disabilities. She currently teaches at Cedar Lane High School in Fairfax County Public Schools. She received her master’s degree in art therapy from the George Washington University. She loves being a part of Heard because she can share her love of scrapbooking and paper-crafting with women who most need the artistic outlet. When she’s not scrapbooking, she’s cheering on her World Champion Washington Capitals or planning her next Disney trip for her family—her husband of 13 years and her 10-year-old and 7-year-old boys.
Creative Writing Instructor
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.
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.
Christopher “C.” Thomas began his career as a serial open mic attendee in 2004. He is a Darkness to Light’s Authorized Stewards of Children® Facilitator and a 2019 Finalist for Poet Laureate of Alexandria. He was named a Pioneer of Poetry by NUSPA (National Underground Spoken Word Poetry Awards) in 2015, C. Thomas has performed at Studio 2001Art Gallery, Busboys and Poets, Angelina College, Howard University, Prince George’s Community College, Thomas Jefferson University, Old Dominion University, Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Glen Forest Elementary School, Carlos Rosario International Charter School, and Journey of Faith United Methodist Church. His work has appeared in Swerv Magazine, Reflections: Prince Georges Community College Fine Arts Magazine, Stoked Words: An Anthology of Queer Poetry from The Capturing Fire Slam and Summit, and Imagoes: A Queer Anthology along with several of his own publications: Moodz’ Ring, Voices Carry, Coloring Outside The Lines, and Bernard’s Bedroom. C. Thomas is also involved in Child Abuse Prevention Awareness, Black Lives Matter, Mental Health, SGL (Same Gender Loving) and the LGBTQ+ community. He joined Heard in full excitement because he believes everyone deserves to have a voice.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
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.
Alexandria Detention Center/Board Secretary
Gloria Wright was born and raised in Greenville, Mississippi. She served in the United States Navy and has over 20 years’ experience working in corrections. She is the Programs Manager for the Alexandria Adult Detention Center where she implements Cognitive Behavioral programs, GED, ESL, Life Learning, Women’s Empowerment, mentoring, and certificate programs to help returning citizens gain employment. She is a member of the City of Alexandria Re-entry Council, a Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) coordinator, and is trained and certified as an Equal Employment Opportunity Investigator (EEO), Pretrial/Probation case manager, and Certified Custodial Technician Trainer. She holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration from the University of Phoenix and a master’s degree from Ashford University’s Forbes School of Business in organizational management. As a Heard board member Gloria is most looking forward to trying new ventures and making a difference. She spends her free time with her family and friends, gardens, walks, works in her yard, and enjoys time with other members of the Good Time Gang Cigar Club.
Chief Operating Officer and Executive Assistant for Marie Force
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 15 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 marginalized 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.
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.
Joanne Marie Clark
Senior Researcher/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.
Millennial Outreach Director
Danielle “Dani” Perry began as our volunteer Development Director of Heard. She completed her Master of Social Work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore School of Social Work with a specialization in Community Action and Social Policy in 2020, and is now an Emergency Management Specialist. Danielle is an Alumni of the Sondheim Nonprofit Leadership Program and has several years of experience working within the nonprofit sector.
Dani loves being a part of Heard because she is passionate about serving marginalized populations and working to create a more equitable world. “Because everyone deserves to be Heard”, connected deeply with Danielle and she is honored to be a part of the Heard Team. As the Millennial Outreach Director, Dani shares Heard’s “5 Steps to Local” model with millennials and others to encourage them to adopt that model in their communities. Dani is also the founder of “Let’s Talk Dani P“, an online platform dedicated to conversations around social justice and change. In her free time, Danielle enjoys listening to music, writing, and painting.