THE MANTON AVENUE PROJECT’S BOARD OF DIRECTORS (September 2021)
Michelle Cruz, Chair. Michelle is a singer, songwriter, farmer, food blogger, entrepreneur, and community arts advocate. She blends her love of community and the art of the story into her work in Publicity at Spia Media/Fox Point Cape Verdean Heritage Place, Trinity Rep’s Director of Community Engagement, and her own work with her budding lifestyle brand, Natural Creola. Cruz connects and builds trusted relationships with community partners across the state and nation. She often participates in community-building events; whether her brainchild, Community Sing, in Downtown Providence, voter registration events, or marching with FPCVHP’s St. Antonio Society Procession to lift up the heritage of Cape Verdeans in Fox Point. On a national scale, Cruz was one of 15 chosen in the nation to be part of the USDA’s Advisory Committee on Minority Farmers and proudly serves currently, advising USDA Secretary Vilsack on the implementation on methods of maximizing the participation of socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers in USDA programs, and civil rights activities within USDA. Recently, Cruz developed the Green Light Ghost Light Project (an initiative to give Veteran Voices thorough theater at Trinity Rep) and believes everyone can learn from different perspectives and she certainly wants to highlight how the arts can be transformational in our lives and community. In addition to her role as our new Board Chair at The Manton Ave Project, Michelle is also part of the Fox Point Cape Verdean Heritage Place, The Food Advisory Committee for Rhode Island Congressman Jim Langevin, Northeast Farmers of Color, Black Farmers, and Urban Growers, Food Solutions New England Trailblazer.
Melenie Charles, Vice-Chair. Melenie Charles is a Vice President at Merrill working as a licensed Supervisor of Relationship Managers, who oversee investment accounts for High Net Worth individuals. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Management Studies from the University of the West Indies. Melenie has been in the Financial Services industry for over 25 years working in several roles having studied and achieved various designations along the way. When not at work, Melenie enjoys traveling and watching sports, specifically tennis and has had the opportunity to be live at some of these events over the years.
Lisa Kerr, Secretary. Lisa Kerr (she/her) is an artist and collaborator, whose work explores the intersections of story, education, and activism. Lisa is a graduate of the Trinity Repertory Conservatory, and holds a BA in Organizational Leadership and Change through College Unbound. She continues to explore the use of art as medium for community-building and advocacy as a graduate fellow at Merrimack College, where she is pursuing a M.Ed. in Community Engagement. Lisa has worked throughout New England with such organizations as The Manton Avenue Project, Newport County Choral Collective, Salve Regina University, Looking Upwards, The Providence Children’s Museum, Strange Attractor Theater, Mystic Seaport Museum, and The All Children’s Theater. She and her husband live in Portsmouth, RI, and are parents to two excellent humans and a few ridiculous pets.
Jessica Toporoski, Treasurer. Jessica is the Human Resources Manager at Trinity Rep and has been on the MAP board for three years. She holds a degree in Accounting and MBA from Johnson and Wales University.
Michael Fournier served in Senior Leadership roles with the YMCA’s of Greater Providence from 1996-2014 when he retired at 35 years with the YMCA organization. Led system wide efforts around Board Development and Governance, Strategic Planning and Comprehensive Fund Development. Since retirement from the Y, has provided capacity building support to over 25 small and mid-sized non-profits throughout RI and SE Mass. Michael has also been contracted by the United Way of RI to facilitate a Learning Circle Cohort annually for Executive Directors of non-profits with budgets under 1 million. Michael lives in Cranston with his husband David Liddle.
Dilania Inoa Senior Program Manager, Elementary & Middle School Programs at the Swearer Center at Brown University. Inoa works with other Center staff to provide support to students involved with education and literacy projects at the elementary and middle school levels. For the past fifteen years, Dilania has worked with many community organizations in Providence and other neighboring communities. Dilania has lived in Rhode Island for nearly eighteen years, after her family immigrated to this country from the Dominican Republic. She graduated from Central High School, Providence, in 1994 and served as an AmeriCorps volunteer before entering Brown. She graduated from Brown in 1999 with a degree in Latin American Studies. Dilania has served on the Providence School Board and is also a past board member of the RI Commission for National and Community Service. She has held the titles of Miss Rhode Island Latina, Miss Latina USA and Ms. Rhode Island Belleza Latina, enabling Dilania to work with Latino communities locally, nationally, and internationally.
Amy Lopes attended Rhode Island College where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education with a concentration in Language Arts. In May of 2021, she graduated from Brown University with a Master of Arts degree in ESL and cross-cultural studies. She has been a classroom teacher at William D’Abate Elementary School in the Olneyville section of Providence for the past 25 years. She has served as a member of the school’s Instructional Leadership team and served on various committees. Amy is a strong advocate for her students and their families. She has been involved with The Manton Avenue Project since the birth of it. She holds this program near and dear to her heart for she has seen the impact it has made on her students. Amy resides in Rumford, RI with her husband, two daughters, and dog.
Max Mendoza is the Manager at Chilangos Restaurant in the heart of Olneyville. He holds a BA in Business Administration. Having grown up in the neighborhood and seeing the changes and development in the community throughout the years, it only feels right to be part of an organization that is inspiring future generations! “I believe in MAP and find it rewarding helping the kids!”
Santina Siena is a retired Ob-Gyn physician and has lived in Rhode Island since 1982. Siena received an ScB degree from Brown University, an MD from Cornell University, and completed her ob-gyn residency at New York Hospital – Cornell. She was employed at RIGHA/HPHC from 1982 – 1999 and was in private practice (University Ob-Gyn) from 2000 until she retired in 2015. She is a clinical assistant professor emerita at Brown University.
Joe Wilson, Jr. holds a BA in Political Science from the University of Notre Dame, and an MFA in Acting from the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theatre training program. He is an Assistant Professor/Artist-in-Residence at Wheaton College, Norton, MA, and is an Adjust Professor at Emerson College in Boston, MA. He has worked On Broadway (2000 Tony Award-nominated production of Jesus Christ Superstar, and 2018 Tony Award-nominated Iceman Cometh starring Denzel Washington), Off Broadway, as well as performing in regional theaters around the country. He has taught acting, art activism, and lectured at the high schools, colleges, universities and at conferences locally and around the country. Wilson is in his 16th season as a member of the Resident Acting Company at Trinity Repertory Company, serves as Trinity’s Coordinator of Activism through Performance, and the Founder of Trinity Rep’s Center for Activism and Performance, as well as the Producer the annual community art making collaboration “America Too”, held at Trinity Rep every Fall. He has been honored by the Rhode Island Black Heritage Foundation, and is a Fox Foundation Fellow for Distinguished Achievement in the Arts administered by the Theatre Communications Group, New York City. This year Joe was honored by the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities with its’ Public Scholar’ Award. The awards states that, ”Joe Wilson Jr. is a force who uses his skills, his talent, and his passion to enact, concretely, what the humanities can do to change the world. He models on stage, in his writing, in his teaching, and in his support of many organizations what he would like to see in our world today. He is the epitome of the better world we can imagine together and he will continue to use the humanities, the common experiences that link all of us, to pull us forward, with him, toward this better world, the one he has dedicated himself to create.” He received the 2019 Providence NAACP’s Medgar Evers Award for Public Service. Most recently, Joe was inducted into the City of Providence 2020 MLK Hall of Fame for Outstanding Service. Joe currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Manton Avenue Project in Olneyville, and the Center for Reconciliation at the Cathedral of Saint Paul in collaboration with the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island. Joe had the most fun a few years ago serving as a Grand Marshal for PVD Fest held in Providence every June.