The IofC USA Team
Abigail Ballew, MSW
Program Officer for Racial Healing
Facilitator. Advocate. Peacebuilder.
Abigail is a social worker with expertise in macro practice and nonprofit program management. She brings her passion for dialogue as a healing tool to her role as IofC’s Program Officer for Racial Healing, where she directs the Community Trustbuilding Fellowship program.
Abigail has practiced at the group, organization and community level through her work in program design, implementation and evaluation at a variety of nonprofit organizations. She has worked in refugee support services, adoption and child welfare, and physical, intellectual and developmental disability services — including her experience teaching Deaf students in sub-Saharan Africa. For the past eight years, Abigail has engaged dialogue as a tool to foster new relationships, build trust and promote restoration and healing across divisions of faith, race and gender.
She holds a master’s degree in social work from Virginia Commonwealth University and a bachelor’s degree in social work from George Mason University. Before officially joining the team, she completed IofC’s Caux Scholars Program as well as its Community Trustbuilding Fellowship. Outside of work, Abigail enjoys traveling with her husband, Joshua, trying new foods and languages and visiting their wonderfully large family spread around the globe, including Alaska, Europe, North Africa and East Asia.
HR & Operations Director
Generator. Womanist. Spiritual Warrior.
LaDora is the HR & Operations Director for Initiatives of Change USA. She has a deep passion, capacity, and commitment to organizational management, human resources, IT management, logistics coordination, hospitality services, and facilitation training. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in Political Science and a minor in Non-Profit Management from Virginia Commonwealth University.
LaDora has a decade of expertise in the nonprofit sector. Having experienced and witnessed frequent practices of racial inequality and injustice has led her to creating space for women of color who are often siloed and underrepresented in non-profit management. LaDora is resiliently dedicated to identifying ways to shift the narrative in this regard by working with women of color in a range of sectors (including education, faith based communities, and grassroots organizations) to share solidarity, lessons, resources, and strategies.
LaDora is an alumna of the Richmond Christian Leadership Initiative and the Community Trustbuilding Fellowship. She is a womanist and a woman of faith who avidly supports all things created, curated and interpreted by women of color, particularly work exploring the intersectionality of faith, gender, justice and action. She is also an enthusiastic life-long mentor and mobilizer of young women and single mothers.
LaDora was raised in Woodbridge, Virginia. She studied abroad in Brazil during 2010 and fell in love with the rich and diverse cultures of the country, particularly Portuguese and the practices of Afro-Brazilian people. LaDora loves to create memorable life experiences with her son, Kendall. She is consistently inspired by her son’s strength, creativity and voice as an African American boy growing up in a tough and often unkind world. LaDora enjoys singing, reading, traveling, watching documentaries, and baking vegan desserts, especially for her village of family and friends!
Faith Rooted Organizer & Strategist
Organizer. Mentor. Healer.
Allan is a lifelong faith community activist, having started his work at the ripe age of six in his hometown of Baltimore, when he was inspired by a group of pastors working to connect their congregations to their communities through service. As IofC’s Faith-Rooted Organizer, Allan runs programming for faith communities, equipping them with the tools to think theologically and logically about race and the history of Richmond and America as a whole.
During college, Allan engaged with faith communities to change society through mentorship programs and helped to establish a faculty/student collaborative organization called Reconciliation and Conversation for Everyone (R.A.C.E.). Allan has also worked in the corporate world, where he advocated to build an African-American network to strive for racial equity at one of Richmond’s Fortune 500 companies. He also acted as liaison between minority employees and the human resources department when issues involving race arose.
Allan earned his bachelor’s degree in human development and family science from Messiah College. In his free time, Allan enjoys creating music and recording for his podcast dedicated to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called A Difference in Thought.
Pathfinder. Guide. Builder.
Jake spent two decades leading multiracial and multicultural teams in a number of conflict and post-conflict international environments before returning to his hometown of Richmond, Virginia to lead the IofC USA team as Executive Director.
Jake’s 20 years of leadership and management experience span the globe. He worked for Catholic Relief Services in the former Yugoslavia, Southeast Asia, the South Caucasus, the Middle East and the United States. Specifically, Jake has held positions in senior leadership in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia; grassroots development in Macedonia, East Timor, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia; and program design and business development in the Middle East, Africa and India. Before his work at CRS, Jake taught high school English in the Czech Republic, supported independent journalists and libraries in Cuba and assisted a peace psychologist serving survivors of political torture and harassment.
Jake holds a bachelor’s degree in history, summa cum laude, from Virginia Commonwealth University and a master’s degree in international affairs, with honors, from George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. His favorite things include Adriatic mussels, Yugoslav Modernism, resilience, texture and his sons, Henri and Julian.
Chelsea Higgs Wise, MSW
Narrative Change Officer Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation
Activist. Translator. Influencer.
Chelsea is a clinical social worker and intercultural communicator who specializes in connecting underserved and misrepresented communities with policymakers to advocate against racism and misogyny. Dedicated to evolving narratives and policies, Chelsea’s role as Narrative Change Officer within IofC’s Truth, Racial Health, and Transformation program is to help the community create a new narrative that will influence perspectives, perceptions and behaviors, transforming the historic and contemporary effects of racism in the community.
Chelsea, a 2018 Health + Equity Fellow with Richmond Memorial Health Foundation, is an experienced event moderator and dialogue facilitator for topics involving race, history and feminism. She has worked in the greater Richmond area managing mental health services programs for families, youth and individuals. Active in the community, she regularly contributes political and artistic commentary to local publications and co-hosts a radio show called Women and Politics. In addition, Chelsea serves on the Board of Directors for the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority, on the Advisory Board of the Richmond City Social Services and as a member of the Richmond Human Rights Committee. In 2018, she was recognized for her contributions to the city in Style Weekly’s annual “Top 40 Under 40.”
Chelsea holds a bachelor’s degree in social work from Longwood University and a master’s degree in clinical social work from Virginia Commonwealth University. Chelsea values genuine connection, authentic relationships and meaningful impact. She is fueled daily by her village of friends and family, especially her young daughter, Chloe. To learn more about Chelsea, visit her website.
Program Director Caux Scholars Program-Caux Switzerland
& Caux Scholars Program-Asia Plateau
Creator. Implementer. Connector.
Jitka is a peacebuilding professional with more than 15 years of experience working with community-based organizations and for-profit development companies. She is the longest-standing staff member of IofC USA’s current team. As the Program Director of IofC’s Caux Scholar programs, Jitka has overseen the implementation of a popular program in Switzerland that trains promising leaders from around the world on conflict transformation, restorative and transitional justice and principled leadership. In 2012, she launched a similar program in India with a focus on sustainable development and trauma healing.
Jitka’s expertise spans conflict resolution, leadership training, nonprofit management and program development. Before joining IofC, Jitka worked with the European Contact Group in Prague, where she developed and managed training programs for government leaders on the inclusion of ethnic minorities and women’s rights. She also has experience coordinating programs and events for Governance Matters, the market leader in nonprofit governance services.
Jitka earned a master’s degree in international politics from American University and a bachelor’s degree in international studies and pre-law from Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles. To say Jitka loves diversity is an understatement: she is from the Czech Republic, is married to an Asian Indian, was vice-president of the African American club at Mount Saint Mary’s and absolutely loves Mexican food. She enjoys traveling and chasing after her rambunctious twin boys.
Program Director NextGen Global Action Initiative
Thoughtful. Empathetic. Peace-Practitioner.
Eliana Jimeno is a professional with over 13 years of experience delivering results for social change in the peacebuilding, development and human rights sectors. Eliana has an extensive track record working with government agencies in her country, Colombia, in areas including public policy, inter-agency cooperation, and victims’ reparations. In addition to serving as a program manager coordinating a regional team implementing a program funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the International Organization for Migrations (IOM), Eliana has strong fieldwork experience developing local projects and building local capacity. She delivered training to about 600 people in 24 different regions in Colombia and supervised an equal number of local projects.
Eliana is a social advocate with the capacity to interact with a diverse array of stakeholders from international organizations, (I)NGOs, to academics, national authorities, and grassroots communities. As a consultant, Eliana has focused her institutional strengthening work in the areas of transitional justice, symbolic reparations, and historical memory. Since 2017, Eliana also serves as the leader of Towards an Inclusive Peace an Caux Scholars Program alumni-led event that is part of the Caux Forum. The event advocates for human-centered approaches to address violent extremism.
Eliana speaks English, Spanish and is currently learning German. She holds a B.A. in Political Science, a postgraduate diploma in Public Policy and Government (both in Colombia) and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University (US), thanks to a Fulbright scholarship. She loves traveling, hiking, swimming, and cooking. In her free time, she enjoys reading literature, scholarly articles and cuddling with her cat. Eliana is based in Vienna, Austria together with her husband.
Sionne Rameah Neely, PhD
Director of Marketing & Communications
Producer. Seer. Amplifier.
Sionne is a womanist researcher, writer, teacher and multimedia producer who spent eight years cultivating critical movements in the artist community of Ghana before returning to her hometown of Richmond, Virginia and joining the IofC team as Director of Marketing & Communications.
In Ghana, Sionne co-created ACCRA [dot] ALT, an independent community-based organization that promotes the socially transformative work of African creatives and artists to global audiences. As part of this work, she also co-founded and helped run the flagship CHALE WOTE Street Art Festival, the biggest festival of its kind in Africa. In addition to her work in the artist community, Sionne built upon her doctoral research on the rights of African women in her role leading the knowledge management division of the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), the largest continental fund supporting and sustaining more than 1,300 women’s rights organizations in Africa.
Sionne received a master’s degree and a doctoral degree from the University of Southern California in American studies and ethnicity. She completed work towards a masters in fine arts from Howard University, where she focused on film production and criticism, and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Georgia. Her multimedia research revolves around independent arts organizing, African women’s rights, African feminism, the rights of artists, the history of music production in Ghana and pan-African recollections of the transatlantic enslaved trade. When she is not at work, Sionne loves to be at the beach, checking out trails, exploring new places, interacting with folks of different cultures, writing and working on her performance art.
Program Development Coordinator
Strategist. Humanitarian. Fundraiser.
Sarah is a career humanitarian aid and international development professional who has spent extensive time managing programs and donor relations in the field. A Richmond native, Sarah returned to Richmond to join IofC as Program Development Coordinator. In this role, she develops program and fundraising strategies, engages institutional and individual donors and writes proposals.
Before joining IofC, Sarah spent more than six years with Catholic Relief Services — at its headquarters in Baltimore and in Cairo — working in various business development roles that focused on programs in Europe, the Middle East and the Mekong region. Sarah started her career at the National Democratic Institute, where she spent almost 10 years designing and managing democracy-building, governance and youth-reconciliation programs in Kosovo, Serbia and Uganda.
Sarah holds a bachelor’s degree in international affairs from the University of Mary Washington and is a graduate of IofC’s Community Trustbuilding Fellowship. When she’s not at work, Sarah divides her time between serving on her church’s governing council, learning how to throw clay pots at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, and walking Richmond’s neighborhoods with her dogs, Maia and Xander.