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Our Staff

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. G. R. – 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 – Programs Director

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.

Justin Spees – Development Director

Justin is the Development Director at Bethesda Cares. Previously he ran the development program for the quarterly magazine The American Prospect, where he managed a budget of almost $2 million. Before he entered the nonprofit sector, he worked on numerous political campaigns as a fundraiser, where he developed an aggressive fundraising strategy based on developing strong personal relationships with donors and community members.

Stefani Schaper, MSW – Program Manager, Supportive Housing Services

Stefani has nearly ten years of professional experience providing direct services in the non-profit sector throughout the Greater Washington region. Since graduating with her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from James Madison University, Stefani has worked in homeless services, mental health rehabilitation, and domestic violence victim advocacy. More recently, Stefani has completed her graduate work at the Catholic University of America, and received a master’s degree in Social Work this month. Directly prior to starting with Bethesda Cares, Stefani worked with an agency providing service coordination and resource navigation to homeless individuals and families in the D.C. area. In her role, Stefani worked closely with the District of Columbia’s Continuum of Care, including active collaboration with the DC Coordinated Entry Systems as well as serving as a non-profit member of the Interagency Council on Homelessness Youth Committee, coordinating the committee’s Youth Advisory Board.

Cornelius Kuteesa – Program Manager, Homeless Street Outreach

Since joining Bethesda Cares in 2019, Cornelius has played a key role in helping dozens of people move off the streets and into subsidized permanent supportive housing. More recently, Cornelius has lead outreach teams during street counts and coordinated the inclusion of volunteers from the National Institutes of Health into the Bethesda Cares late night street outreach activities, which has benefited some of the most medically vulnerable individuals experiencing street homelessness in Montgomery County. Additionally, Cornelius brings talents from his previous work experience and knowledge of mental health services/behavioral health programs in Montgomery County, and more than four years of working for DMH-funded community-based mental health programs in the Boston, Massachusetts area. Cornelius earned his master’s degree in Sustainability and International Development from Brandeis University, Heller School for Social Policy and Management. While in graduate school, he worked with the Disability Rights Fund (DRF/DRAF) in Boston, MA where he supported the African Regional Director in empowering grassroots CSOs to advocate for policy reforms in their various countries to make them inclusive of all people, especially for persons with disabilities

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.

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 – Senior Specialist – Critical Time Intervention

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.

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.

Lydia Yosef – Outreach Specialist

Lydia obtained her Bachelor’s in Social Work from University of Maryland – Baltimore County and she has been active in homeless services with experience in homeless systems in the local area. Before coming to Bethesda Cares as an Outreach Specialist, Lydia held a frontline staff role at a Women’s Shelter. She then transitioned into case managing Families and Children in housing programs in DC, before coming back to Montgomery County working as a shelter case manager. In that role, she worked with some of the most vulnerable adults in Montgomery County and helped them attain housing. In her free time, Lydia’s passions include linguistics and Prison Abolition, and she actively works with mutual aid organizations in Southeast DC. Lydia is currently working towards obtaining her Social Work Bachelor License in the state of Maryland.

Lisa Lincoln – Supportive Housing Specialist

Lisa Lincoln brings a variety of human services experiences to Bethesda Cares. Most recently, Lisa founded and coordinated a food pantry for a food insecure population, serving an average of 60 families per week, during the pandemic.  Lisa also served as a health and wellness coordinator for an urban nonprofit. Lisa has a master’s degree in Physical Therapy and brings her experience in direct care to human services.

Carlos Ramirez – Street Outreach Specialist

Carlos has assisted and advocated for many victims of domestic violence in Montgomery County as a Legal Advocate for a local nonprofit domestic violence legal clinic. Carlos also has professional experience from working with private law firms and the District Court of Maryland for Montgomery County prior to joining Bethesda Cares. Carlos graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Gabe McKenna – HIP Service Coordinator

After graduating from St. Mary’s College of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in English, Gabe worked for the Literacy Lab where he conducted research-based early literacy interventions with kindergarten through third grade students at a Title I elementary school in Northeast DC. Prior to joining Bethesda Cares, Gabe served in a variety of roles at A Wider Circle, a nonprofit committed to eradicating poverty through basic needs provision, workforce development, and community engagement. In his most recent role as Senior Client Relations Coordinator, Gabe facilitated appointments for clients to receive quality furniture and home goods free of charge from A Wider Circle. In his spare time, Gabe is an avid reader, runner, and cyclist.

Siomara Bonilla – HIP Service Coordinator

Siomara is a Housing Initiative Program Services Coordinator at Bethesda Cares. A UMD graduate with a Bachelors in Criminology and Criminal Justice, Siomara has been an avid advocate for different populations throughout the community. Siomara began community involvement while in High School through the Gandhi Brigade, a group of students using digital media to advance social justice. Siomara also focused on children and educational issues during early advocacy work activities. In addition, Siomara was an advocate for victims of domestic Violence through the House of Ruth MD throughout Montgomery and Prince George’s County, in addition to work as a Transitioning Youth Coordinator for The Arc of Prince George’s County serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and supporting populations in their desires for more independent life.  

Valentina Caro – Community Engagement Coordinator

Valentina Caro is a graduate from the University of Florida. She obtained her Bachelors of Arts in Anthropology. For the last three years she has worked in organizations such as the United Nations Department of Communications and International Relations as an intern and NORC at the University of Chicago as a Research Associate. Her work as research associate has given her the skills to implement digital recruitment campaigns and social media content that targets specific populations at risk. She has conducted several formative research projects that involved focus groups, findings, and dissemination of material. Valentina is excited to join the Bethesda Cares team and looks forward to building a strong digital presence and continuing to develop new partnerships for the organization.