John Mendez – Executive Director
Formerly Bethesda Cares’ Director of Outreach and Special Projects, John is Bethesda Cares’ Executive Director. John has multiple levels of experience in evidence-based programs and policy development, including activities associated with CoC systems, State Interagency Councils, and Federal policy initiatives. John has received multiple awards for his work to end homelessness, including recognition from the highly successful 100,000 HOMES Campaign and U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center in Washington DC. In 2012, John was named recipient of the Dr. Wayne Fenton Memorial Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness for Montgomery County. In recognition of his military service and work to end veterans’s homelessness, John had the distinct honor of being Senator Chris Van Hollen’s guest at President Barack Obama’s 2012 State of the Union Address to Congress.
Maria M. Garcia Ripa – Operations Director
Maria has 10+ years of accounting, design and general management experience in the nonprofit and news service sectors. Recognized for demonstrating a natural aptitude for managing the overall operations of a leading organizations, as well as for designing impactful websites and overseeing large teams. Maria has a verifiable history of contributing directly to institutional growth and expansion throughout her career. Professional focal points include team collaboration, leadership, accounting, finance, photography, and graphic design. She attended Universidad Nacional de Quilmes in Buenos Aires Argentina, where she received a B.S. in Social Sciences and Communication.
Deborah Taylor – Program Manager
Deborah has worked with individuals and families experiencing homelessness in Montgomery County since 2008, with much of her focus on HOC’s federal programs for Supportive Housing and Montgomery County’s Adult Behavioral Health clinic. In 2010 Deborah earned her MSW from Catholic University of America with a Combined Concentration (Clinical and Social Change) Deborah has experience providing program direction, case management, individual, group, and family counseling as well as advocacy and has served on Montgomery County’s Continuum of Care Coordinated Entry System Leadership Committee. Deborah also serves as Board President of a statewide family services agency in Pennsylvania.
Wendy A. – Homeless Prevention Program Manager.
Wendy works with clients facing financial crises to assist them with overdue rent or utility bills. In this work, she coordinates with state agencies and other nonprofit groups. Wendy has worked on poverty issues and issues effecting homeless people on the national, state and local levels. She ran a House Committee on Government Operations that initiated groundbreaking hearings and legislation on public housing, homelessness and community development. She has also worked with several governors, advising them on issues facing low-income residents. Wendy authored Working to End Homelessness: A Manual for States. She has also worked with many local programs, including soup kitchens and mobile outreach vans.
Katalin Vladar – Psychiatrist
Dr. Katalin Vladar is a psychiatrist in Washington DC. She received her medical degree from Semmelweis University and has been in practice for more than 20 years.
Lawrence Blake – Meal Program Supervisor
“Blake” is our Lunch Program/Clothing Closet/Shower Coordinator. He is the face of the lunch program and receiver of the food donations; he coordinates meals and oversees our volunteers. Blake also picks and delivers clothing to the closet and supervises a once a week shower program. To read more about Blake, click here for a profile on his work with us in the New York Times.
Mark Babiak – Critical Time Intervention Specialist
Our Critical Time Intervention Specialist, Mark was born and raised in Washington. He attended Montgomery College and was enrolled in the Mental Health Program there; he subsequently transferred to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and received a B.A. from there in 2014, in Social Work and Psychology. Having interned with Bethesda Cares for a year during his studies, Mark has joined staff to work closely with our newly-housed clients, ensuring that this enormously positive, but very challenging transition is a smooth one.
Oumou Cisse – Outreach Specialist
Oumou received her B.A. from Lawrence University in Cultural Anthropology and Studio Art. She comes to Bethesda Cares from a stint in the Peace Corps Fiji program, serving as a youth empowerment and development volunteer who worked with at risk youth.
Melissa McKnight – Clinical Social Worker
Melissa is a licensed clinical social worker with 18 years of post-graduate social work experience in greater DC. She most recently worked as a clinical director at Family Preservation Services in Fairfax, Virginia, and as a clinical social worker on the inpatient psychiatry unit at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital and Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Mary Mahoney – Housing Initiative Program Case Manager
Mary is the Housing Initiative Program Case Manager. In this role she assists 12 formerly homeless individuals maintain their housing by providing the supports and guidance necessary to ensure overall success. Mary began working with struggling populations straight out of college when she found employment with Job Corps. After taking time off to raise her three children, she returned to the field to work with developmentally disabled adults. Later she worked as a case manager for those who struggled with mental illness and housing stability in Baltimore’s Inner City.
Caryn Brandel – Administrative Specialist / Volunteer Coordinator
Caryn began working with homeless individuals while pursuing her combined B.S./M.S. degree in Occupational Therapy from Towson University. During her graduate capstone, she led life skills groups for homeless adults with mental illness at Healthcare for the Homeless; she also has experience with the Clubhouse Model through fieldwork at B’more Clubhouse. Currently, Caryn is pursuing a Master’s of Public Administration & Policy from American University. Her passions include promoting community engagement and increasing resource accessibility for underserved populations.
Nick Heynen – Veterans Supportive Housing Specialist
Prior to joining Bethesda Cares, Nick’s career has involved work with adolescent offenders, addiction treatment programs, and support for people with Developmental Disabilities. The theme dominating his career is the need and ability to get and keep all people connected to their communities. Nick completed his degree in Family Studies at the University of Maryland. Nick enjoys spending time at the pool, riding his motorcycle, and obstacle course racing. Nick and his family are long-term residents of Montgomery County.
Gabriel Santos – Outreach Specialist
Gabriel Santos has spent his career in service to vulnerable populations by utilizing his clinical background and education. This includes five years as a volunteer in Africa, pursuing social justice, identifying and meeting the needs of the poor through service, education and advocacy in remotes areas of Namibia. Later he worked for three years as a Behavioral Specialist for low-income and foster care clients suffering from psychiatric illness in New York State and also with vulnerable homeless populations in Montgomery County, MD. Gabriel has a Bachelor Degree in Psychology, a Bachelor Degree in Intellectual Disability and a Master Degree in Social Psychiatry.
Elizabeth Snape – Saturday Lunch Volunteer Coordinator
Eager to talk with those wanting to volunteer at Bethesda Cares, Elizabeth, a volunteer herself, coordinates our Saturday lunch programs. A dedicated member of our team, she also regularly volunteers in our main office.