Legacy’s staff is a group of highly dedicated individuals, many of whom were integral to the founding of the organization and its continued growth. Our combined experience in cross-cultural training, conflict resolution, community development and exchange programs gives us the ability to meet the needs of those experiencing great changes. Our staff team brings together people from a wide range of backgrounds. Among our staff are individuals fluent in Amharic, Arabic, English, Farsi, French, and Spanish; conversant in Russian; and with basic skills in Bahasa Indonesia and Croatian. We have a wide network of colleagues who join us for specific projects and contribute their expertise.
J.E. Rash, President and Founder
Mr. Rash’s career includes studies in law, cross-cultural communication, and comparative religion; work in advertising and media; and the design of training programs and curricula for educators, parents, and youths. He has traveled extensively throughout the US and to Greece, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, Spain, Syria, and Turkey to lecture on education, conflict prevention and resolution, dialogue, democracy and civic education, and inter-religious understanding. His most recent book, Islam and Democracy, has been distributed in English, Russian, and Kazakh.
Shanti Thompson, Vice President: Director of Training
Ms. Thompson is involved in the design, funding, and program and financial administration of Legacy’s projects. She has over 30 years’ experience directing initiatives, developing training programs and curricula in leadership, pluralism, conflict prevention and resolution, cross-cultural communication, and civic education. Ms. Thompson has authored three published curricula and has directed projects in the U.S., Spain, Russia, and Ukraine. She has visited 23 different nations, and worked closely with adults and teens from Israel and Palestine, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Russia and Ukraine.
Mary Helmig, Vice President: Development
Ms. Helmig directs many of the organizations’ international leadership training programs. She is fluent in French and conversant in Bahasa Indonesia, and has traveled to Indonesia and the Middle East many times to direct various Legacy projects involving adult and/or youth audiences focused on leadership development and on inter-religious dialogue. As Director of the Global Youth Village, she has 18 years experience managing international, multicultural staff teams, mounting annual training programs, and providing leadership development experiences to people ages 15 – 40.
Marlene Ginsberg, Vice President: Professional Programs
Ms. Ginsberg has 30 years non-profit experience, including 15 years directing professional development programs for citizens of Azerbaijan, Belarus, the Republic of Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Ukraine. Topics included NGO development, religion and society, business development, women’s issues, and civic education and engagement. With activities both in the US and in the counterpart country, she has wide travel experience and is fluent in Spanish, conversant in Russian and French. In addition, she has produced two documentaries that have aired on the Discovery Channel.
Leila Baz, Senior Program Officer & Human Resources Coordination
Ms. Baz has been working in the non-profit sector for over 25 years. As Program Director for various Legacy adult professional exchange programs, she has designed and delivered numerous projects for citizens from Azerbaijan, Morocco, Egypt, Belarus, the Republic of Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Ukraine. Focuses have included NGO development, education reform, youth advocacy, conflict resolution, public health, and civic education & citizen engagement. As Staff Director for Legacy’s annual Global Youth Village, she oversees seasonal staff hiring, and coordinates the day to day operations and risk management for this residential program. She also spearheads all outreach and screening for both temporary and permanent staff for Legacy.
Lila Winder, Financial Management
Mitra Nafissian Rash, Senior Program Officer
Mitra holds an MA and AbD in International Relations from New York University. She has worked at the United Nations in New York at the Center on Transnational Corporations and at the Department of Public Information. At Legacy, Mitra acts as project director for professional development programs in public health and education. She also directs Legacy’s NSLI-Y Arabic Language Institute in Morocco, an initiative of the U.S. State Department. A native of Iran, Mitra has lived in the United States for over 30 years and has taught Middle Eastern Studies at Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Atefeh Leavitt, Project Director
Atefeh’s work at Legacy has included program coordination and training in civic involvement and project planning for youth and adults from Indonesia, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf. She is also part of the development and public relations team and is responsible for the website and other media outreach. A native of Virginia, Atefeh has traveled and worked in Bahrain, Egypt, France, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman,and Morocco. She has an MPA in public administration and non-profit management from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. and a BA in Political Science from Randolph Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, VA.
Matthew Lakenbach, Project Director
Matthew is experienced in Middle East peacemaking, program management and government relations. He joined the Legacy team in 2009. He has worked with current and former members of Congress and civil society partners, both in the U.S. and the Middle East. Previous experience includes working as a writer and editor—including at the Salt Lake 2002 Olympics—and as an intern for Senator Joe Lieberman. Matthew is also the Founder and Executive Director of the Middle East Peace Civic Forum, a non-profit organization that promotes peace through constructive dialogue within the Abrahamic family. He has an MA in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University’s School of International Service in Washington, DC, and a BA in Political Science and Economics from Washington University in St. Louis.