Our Staff

As a multicultural organization, ECDC's staff reflect the diversity that is the hallmark of who we are, what we do, and the newcomers we serve. Between them, our staff members speak over 30 different languages.



Tsehaye Teferra


Dr. Teferra is founder and president of the Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC), Inc. which was established in 1983. His leadership and vision have shaped ECDC from a start-up agency with an initial budget of less than $100,000 to a major community-based organization with an annual budget of over several million. ECDC now offers a wide range of cultural, economic, educational, and social services at the local and national levels through its headquarters operations and through ECDC African Community Center (ACC) branch offices in Denver, Colorado, Las Vegas, Nevada, and Arlington, Virginia.

While meeting the many challenges of running a multifaceted organization, Dr. Teferra is also active in civic, professional, and local community affairs. He frequently lectures locally and nationally on African issues and cross-cultural studies and has testified before Congress. He has served as Chair of the Resettlement Committee of Refugee Council USA and as a member of its Finance Committee; and Vice Chair and Chairman of the Virginia State Refugee Advisory Council. He was appointed by the Arlington County Board to serve as a founding member of the Arlington County, Virginia, Multicultural Commission; as well as a member of the County’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Task Force for Arlington’s Future, and the Diversity Dialogue Task Force . Dr. Teferra currently serves as a member of the Board of InterAction; the Board of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization in Arlington, Virginia.

A native of Ethiopia, Dr. Tsehaye Teferra received his undergraduate degree from Haile Selassie I University in Addis Ababa. He then earned an M.S. in Applied Linguistics and a Ph.D. in Sociolinguistics from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he also served as a Research Associate in the School of Languages and Linguistics. Dr. Teferra was an instructor at The Catholic University of America and the Foreign Service Institute and was an Assistant Professor in the African Studies and Research Center at Howard University. He served as a cross-cultural instructor in the Peace Corps’ in-country training program and taught at several institutions of higher learning in Ethiopia before coming to the United States as a UNESCO Fellow in 1972.

Recognition and Awards

  • Selected as a White House Champion of Change in 2012.
  • Received the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago’s Pioneer Award for Leadership, Advocacy and Networking in October 2009.
  • Honored in May 2008 by the Society of Ethiopians Established in Diaspora (SEED) for his many years of public service to Ethiopian and Africans in Diaspora.
  • Honored by Bank of America in 2006 with a Local Hero Award of Excellence for contributions as president of ECDC and the Enterprise Development Group through support to low-to-moderate income entrepreneurs.
  • Honored by the City Council of the City of Los Angeles in 2005 with an Award of Appreciation for his contributions to improving the lives of refugee and immigrant newcomers to the United States.
  • Recognized in 1991by former President George H.W. Bush for outstanding record of community service.
  • Recognized in 1991 for outstanding contributions to the country by then Ambassador at Large and U.S. Coordinator for Refugee Affairs Jewel Lafontant-Mankarious.

Allene Wright

Senior Vice President

Allene oversees ECDC's Ethnic and Preferred Communities (PC) Programs. She is also engaged in development activities, human resources, and works with ECDC's branch offices. Ms. Wright recieved a B.A. in German from Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, Indianna, and did graduate work at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. She has been with ECDC since 1986.

Azeb Tadesse

Director of Finance

Azeb provides management, control and administration of all fiscal operations of ECDC its and its branch offices. Ms. Tadesse has over 12 years of finance experience. She has an MBA from Strayer University in Arlington, Virginia.

Branch Office Directors

Redda G. Mehari

Managing Director, African Community Center (ACC), Las Vegas, Nevada

Currently, Redda overseas ECDCís African Community Center (ACC) in Las Vegas, Nevada. Prior to this assignment, Redda helped to organize and open this same center for the first time in 2003. He served as the director until his departure in 2006. From 2010 through 2013, he was the Managing Director of the ACC whose service covers Northern Virginia, Southern Maryland, and the District of Columbia until his return to Las Vegas in April 2013.

Before ECDC, Redda worked for government, non-profit, and international organizations in various capacities. His experiences overseas include administering a refugee camp in the Sudan, and providing cultural orientation to U.S. -bound Ethiopian refugees. After coming to the United States, he was the director of a refugee resettlement program for Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada. He also administered a state-wide Wilson/Fish program in Nevada.

Redda studied history at the Haile Selassie I University in Ethiopia and the District of Columbia Teacher's College in Washington, D.C.

Melissa Theesen

Director, ACC Denver

Melissa Theesenís experience with refugee resettlement and community organizations spans direct service to key leadership positions. Prior to her current role, she served as Executive Director of Children's Future International. She has worked in Guatemala, Mexico, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, India, Nepal, and Cambodia, and spent extensive time working in East Africa. Her professional experience includes grant writing, leading fundraising campaigns, refugee resettlement, acting as a liaison for governmental programming transitions, social business development, volunteer management program development, managing individuals from multiple cultures, managing multiple stakeholder groups, and consulting with the United Nations. She holds a Masterís degree in Nonprofit Management from Regis University and a bachelor's degree in International Studies, Peace and Justice and Religion from Hastings College.

Sarah Zullo

Managing Director, African Community Center (ACC), D.C. Metro

Sarah Zullo oversees social service support programs targeting African newcomer communities in the Washington, D.C., area. The programs address employment and job placement, cultural adjustment, domestic violence prevention, health education, housing, immigration, interpretation and translation, information and referral, refugee resettlement, and youth life skills. Prior to coming to Arlington, Ms. Zullo worked for the ECDC African Community Center in Denver for nearly four years, serving as Resettlement Manager for almost two years of that time. Since moving to Arlington in 2012, Ms. Zullo worked as ECDCís Special Programs Officer at the national level. She holds an M.A. in Public Administration from the University of Colorado. Her prior work experience includes working as a Volunteer Resources Manager and a TANF Project Job Developer. She also served as an intern in the Office of the Colorado State Public Defender. In addition to English, she speaks Amharic, French, and Spanish.

National Program Staff

Anam Gnaho

Associate Director, Self-Sufficiency Programs

Anam oversees ECDC’s self-sufficiency programs, including the Matching Grant, Preferred Communities, and Refugee AmeriCorps programs. She monitors and evaluates programs, provides technical assistance and training, and assists with proposal writing and research. Prior to ECDC, Anam worked in various capacities for governmental, non-profit and international organizations. Ms. Gnaho received a law degree from the University of Pune in India; a Master’s degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University; and a Master’s degree in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University.

Arya Karki

R&P Program Officer

Arya serves as ECDCís lead on Minors as well as Health and Mental Health issues. Prior to coming to ECDC, Arya was an Employment Specialist for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Silver Spring, MD. Arya spent three years at the Resettlement Support Center (RSC Africa) as a Caseworker and a Resettlement Officer where she interviewed refugees throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Arya has a Bachelorís degree in Sociology from the College of William and Mary and a Masterís degree in Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Benaiah Duku

Program Officer

Benaiah conducts ECDC’s refugee allocations process, including attending weekly allocations meetings, requesting assurances from site offices, reviewing and submitting reports, and following up on inquiries regarding the status of pending cases. In the past, Mr. Duku worked in various capacities for the government of Sudan, the Office of African Studies at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, and the International Organization for Migrations (IOM). He has experience both in governmental and non-governmental organizations and has specialized in cultural orientation.  Mr. Duku received a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Social Studies from the University of Khartoum, and holds a Master’s degree in Political Science, Development Option from the American University in Cairo.

Emily Nesheim Bullock

Associate Director, Refugee Resettlement Program

Emily is responsible for the day-to-day operations of ECDC’s refugee resettlement efforts. Before joining ECDC, she was the Immigration Services Coordinator in the Refugee Resettlement Department at the Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. Emily holds a Master’s degree in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, and a Bachelor’s degree in Global Studies and Political Science from the University of Minnesota.

Fazela Mahmoodi

Program Specialist

Fazela is the Program Specialist for the Matching Grant program at ECDC. Previously she worked for Deloitte LLP and International Executive Services Corps in implementing development projects for USAID-Afghanistan. She holds a B.A. in Economics from Washington College and is passionate about economic empowerment and self-sufficiency of refugees and immigrants.

Jason Gillespie

Program Officer

Jason serves as ECDCís Matching Grant Program Officer. Before joining ECDC, he worked as an R&P Program Officer at USCRI. Jason got his start in refugee resettlement with Lutheran Social Services in Silver Spring, MD where he served as a Job Developer and later Employment Manager. He holds a Masterís Degree in Conflict Resolution with a Certificate in Refugees and Humanitarian Emergencies from Georgetown University. He received his B.A. in Sociology from the College of Wooster.

Kathryn Culhane

Program Officer

Kathryn is a Program Officer for the Preferred Communities program primarily focusing on Refugee AmeriCorps. Kathryn served two years as an AmeriCorps VISTA service member serving refugee and immigrant communities in Minneapolis, MN. Kathryn has a B.A. in Political Science and Global Studies from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.

Luwam Alemayehu

Program Officer

Luwam is a Program Officer for the Preferred Communities program. Luwam has a B.A. in Psychology and Sociology from the University of Washington, Seattle and work experience in research, curriculum development and mentoring.

Meron Seyoum

IT Specialist

Meron is responsible for providing IT technical assistance and support for ECDC staff. She also provides programmatic and technical support for ECDC’s Web Based Database System. Meron has a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Science and recently got her Master of Science degree in Technology Management from George Mason University, School of Business.

Rebecca D. Hailemeskel

R&P Program Specialist/Family Reunification

Rebecca is responsible for managing assurances, inquiries, case reports and the family reunification program. She has over ten years of experience in international and local NGOís as a gender advisor, program manager, project coordinator and a trainer. The thematic areas she was involved in includes issues of human trafficking, child protection, HIV/AIDS, gender mainstreaming, and womenís empowerment. Rebecca holds a Masterís degree in Gender Studies from Addis Ababa University and a Bachelorís degree in Organizational Management and Leadership from The International Leadership Institute in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Reza Yawari

Program Officer

Reza serves as ECDCís Preferred Communities Program Officer. Most recently, Reza served nearly five years with the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan as Country Strategic Advisor and previously worked with the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea as a Public Information Officer. Reza has worked with national and international organizations and has a strong network of contacts with the media and NGOs. Reza is on a volunteer board of advisors for Silk Road Leadership ,a non-profit organization based in the United States. He also served on the board of directors for the Afghan Social Marketing Organization, a USAID funded project. Rezaís background includes political engagement, public diplomacy affairs, strategic communications and messaging, project design and project management.

Steven Gallo

R&P Program Officer

Steven serves as ECDCís lead on family reunification processing, which includes AOR, CAM, and Lautenberg processes. Prior to his work with ECDC, Steven has worked for LIRS and CWS local affiliates in the U.S., St. Andrewís Refugee Services and Refuge Egypt in Egypt, and UNHCR-ICMC in Ecuador. Steven has an MA in International Human Rights Law, as well as a Graduate Diploma in Forced Migration and Refugee Studies from the American University in Cairo and holds a B.A. in Political Science from Brooklyn College with minors in Italian and Spanish Languages and Cultures.

Vanessa Reintertson

R&P Program Officer

Vanessa serves as an R&P Program Officer, providing guidance on Cultural Orientation, supporting affiliate staff training, and bolstering monitoring and evaluation efforts. Much of her previous work has focused on capacity building and systems strengthening to improve individual and community well-being. Vanessa has engaged in internationa; development in Cameroon, South Sudan, and Swaziland working to improve education, health, and psychosocial outcomes. Domestically, she has supported quality education and financial empowerment with low-resource communities. Vanessa holds a Master of Social Work degree from Washington University in St. Louis and a Bachelor's degree in Sociology from the University of Minnesota.

Yeshareg Haileyesus

Program Specialist

Yeshareg is Program Specialist for Processing in the Reception and Placement Program. Her prior positions include Engineering Assistant, Data Entry Supervisor at ABB, Inc. Yeshareg has a diploma in Hotel Management and a Librarianship Certificate from Mendoza Training College and Oxford College, respectively. She lived and worked in London before relocating to the U.S.

Wossenseged Hailu

IT Manager

Wossen is the IT Manager overseeing the information technology system for ECDC headquarters and branch offices. He manages database, messaging, network, security, server, VPN, and ECDC's website. Wossen has a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.