Casa Staff2018-08-08T18:41:15+00:00

Casa Marianella Staff

Jennifer Long

Executive Director

Originally from Dallas, TX,  Jennifer Long has been the director of Casa Marianella since 1998.  Jennifer’s initial training and inspiration in homeless services was a year of service with the Los Angeles Catholic Worker in 1978. She received a degree in Social Philosophy from UC Santa Cruz and a Masters degree in ESL from UT Austin.

Melissa Buhrt

Originally from Indiana, Melissa started her journey at Casa Marianella in 2009 as a Keep Austin Housed Americorps member. Before coming to Austin, Melissa earned a degree in International Studies and Spanish from Indiana University Bloomington. She also attended Lauterstein Conway School of Massage and is a licensed massage therapist. She has studied in Barcelona, Spain and Costa Rica. She has traveled throughout Europe and Mexico. Melissa enjoys learning from Casa residents and community members and is constantly inspired by their strength and resiliency. She continues to to work at Casa because she loves the community that continues to grow and change. She wants to be a part of a community focused on welcoming immigrants.

Brooke Van Court

A native Texan, Brooke graduated from the University of Houston with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology in 2010. After university, Brooke taught English language in Peru for one year and later traveled to many countries in South America. She then came to Austin and found Casa Marianella; she immediately felt drawn to the community! She volunteered for one year as an ESL teacher and cooked for the residents one night a week. Afterwards, she became a full time staff member to learn more about immigration and the resettlement process in Texas.

Rosalie Miller

Rose is from Hudson, MA. She studied Sociology at the University of Massachusetts: Amherst. Her favorite travel destination thus far is Cuba. Her next planned adventure is to Ethiopia. When Rose discovered Casa, it was love at first sight.

Erin Edmonds

Erin is from Salem, OR. She attended Pitzer College and majored in intercultural studies. She studied abroad in Nepal. She misses the buddhist nuns of Bigu, Nepal. She decided to work at Casa because she wants to make America great again. Her life ambition – to try every kind of Haribo gummy product.

Paula Blaha

Paula Blaha grew up in many places and came to Austin after high school to pursue a music degree from U.T., where she studied organ with Frank Speller and eventually received degrees in computer science and linguistics. She has lived for a month or two at a time in Tunisia, Egypt, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, and Mexico, and has traveled through many parts of Europe and Mexico.

Hector Kuhn Naranjo

Born in Bolivia, Hector grew up in Peru and Colombia, and lived in Germany for 30 years. He received his Diploma of Traditional Chinese Medicine at “Shou Zhong” in Germany (2001) and his Masters Degree in Oriental Medicine at “AOMA” in Austin, TX. He has traveled to several countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, South American and Central America. He came to Casa to serve the underprivileged Hispanic community and refugees. He has worked at the “Clinic for Oriental Medicine” in Casa Marianella for 7 years.

Mercedes Wanguemert-Peña

Chapman College
Political Science – such a long time ago!

Vanessa Villarruel

Vanessa is originally from Chicago, IL and graduated from Eastern Illinois University. She is the child of Immigrants who traveled from Mexico to the U.S. in the 1970’s. She hopes one day to start a nonprofit in Jalisco, Mexico focusing on education. She enjoys coffee, watching sunsets, and debates.

Miriam Fiorentino

Miriam grew up in Pennsylvania as well as Italy, and lived the past 5 years in California. They consider, however, home wherever their friends are and deepest memories have been. They attended Messiah College and studied history and politics, with special interest in: postcolonial history, African & Asian history, as well as international and comparative politics. They are humbled and grateful to be working at Casa, hoping they are beneficially doing their small part to welcome and support asylees. They love the deep sense of community, the passion of their colleagues to make a difference, and the manifestation of what they believe the world can be. They are constantly amazed by the residents, and don’t take for granted the ability to come alongside others, and to learn and grow through these interactions. Overseeing the new hosting program, they hope to continue to share how Casa is changing lives and how others can get involved.

Theresa Snow

Theresa is originally from Austin and got her B.A. in Human Geography from UC Berkeley. She completed a year of coursework in Granada, Spain to study the geography and anthropology of global migration patterns. Having visited Casa Marianella multiple times in high school, she was inspired to return in full force to better understand immigrant resettlement in Texas. The vibrant love, generosity, chaos and silliness of Casa might just render it the best dang job she’s ever had. You can catch her at the rock gym, on the basketball court, or hanging at the park with her dog, Moose.

Aaron Levenson

Aaron grew up in Massachusetts. He studied International Affairs and Economics at Lafayette College in Easton, PA. Aaron worked for Partners in Health as a communications officer in Chiapas, Mexico and later in Rwanda. Aaron joined Casa to gain more on the ground experience of working at a non profit. One day Aaron plans to lead a major non profit organization that hopefully eradicates extreme poverty from the world.

Kate Poor

Originally from Boston, MA, Kate studied in Ithaca, NY for four years, where she received a B.A. in American Studies and Feminism, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Cornell University. After graduation, she moved to Mumbai where she worked for an artists’ co-op and an aftercare community run by and for survivors of human trafficking in India. Her interest in immigration issues stems from her parents’ human rights activism and prompted her move to Austin to work with Casa Marianella. As a new Encargada, Kate has been inspired and humbled by the radical care, resilience, and love that uphold the community at Casa.

Cecelia Forberg

Cecelia is originally from Northwest Indiana. She attended DePaul University in Chicago, IL where she studied Geography and International Studies. She spent a semester in Vina del Mar, Chile and also enjoyed traveling to Argentina and Peru. During her time in Chicago, she worked in refugee resettlement which sparked an interest in migration. She found her way to Casa through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

Marissa Trussell

Marissa grew up in different places, but has recently spent a lot of time in the Chicago area where she received her degree in Sociology and Conflict Resolution at DePaul University. After graduating, she got certified in TEFL and went off to teach and travel in Ecuador and Spain. She has returned to Austin to be closer to family and feels extremely lucky to have found Casa where she can learn more about immigrant and refugee resettlement, grow and serve a community she cares deeply about. She hopes to continue to see the world someday, but for now-Casa has her heart!

Elena Colon

Elena grew up in southeastern Massachusetts. She has been involved with multiple non profit organizations over the past 8 years and has spent time traveling and working with an NGO in rural India. With a strong passion for health and reproductive justice, she provides hands on support as a medical case manager at Casa. She is also a birth companion and student midwife with Mama Sana Vibrant Woman, an organization which intersects with Casa and Posada as it provides prenatal and postnatal support for women of color in Austin.

Melissa O’Sullivan

Melissa grew up in Austin, and studied at the University of Texas, graduating in 2017 with degrees in Art History and Biology. After graduating, she started working at Casa, not knowing exactly what to expect, but quickly came to realize that Casa is a truly special place. She has found such a warm and welcoming community, and is always in awe of the strength and compassion of the residents. She is grateful to be part of an organization that is doing such urgent and important work.

ESL Coordinator

At Casa since 2014, our ESL Coordinator brings a background of teaching English, Spanish, ESL, and intercultural studies in public and private schools (high school & middle school, college, adults), corporations, and nonprofits in the US, Latin America, and Spain, as well as working with international students and volunteer teams, leading cross-cultural service projects, and coaching.  Has multiple teaching certificates and graduate degrees and is a Qualified Administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI).  Our ESL Coordinator loves working with and equipping our dynamic, dedicated, and creative teachers, as well as contributing to all of Team Casa!

Karen Dale Wolman

Grants Manager
Originally from New York, Karen Dale Wolman’s activism started in L.A. during the ACT-UP and Queer Nation days.  She then went to work for a mostly gay Latino AIDS organization, wrote a couple of novels, taught college and found grant writing as a way to support nonprofits.  As her grandparents and great-grandparents left Eastern Europe when it was very unsafe to be Jewish in that part of the world, the work of Casa Marianella is dear to her heart.  Karen earned a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California and a B.A. in Communication Arts and Media from Queens College, City University of New York.

Posada Esperanza Staff


Patti McCabe

Patti is from Austin, Texas. She attended Boston College and studied Psychology. She has traveled to Spain, Mexico and Italy. Her favorite destination so far is Mexico City. She decided to work at Posada to return the gift of hospitality to newcomers in need.

Madison Roese

Madison is originally from Dallas, Texas. She graduated from Bennington College where she studied Psychology, Philosophy, and Ceramics. Starting her work with Casa Marianella as an intern at Posada Esperanza in the Winter of 2012, Madison eagerly joined the staff full-time upon graduation. After a year of service through AmeriCorps, she has decided to stay on at Posada Esperanza because of the magical community and much needed hospitality found there.

Clare Deck

Clare is from Oakland, California. She moved to the Bronx, New York to attend Fordham University where she studied English and International Studies. In writing her senior thesis on why the U.S. government responds differently to different groups of immigrants seeking protection, Clare decided she wanted to pursue direct service with the immigrant community after graduation. She joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and was placed at Posada Esperanza, where she quickly fell in love with the community she found there. After her year of service with JVC was up, she decided to stay on at Posada through AmeriCorps, because she felt there was so much more for her to learn. Clare loves her work at Posada, but in her free time she also enjoys reading, running, and finding new places to dance.

Ellen Curry

Ellen grew up in Springfield, IL and then spent four years in St. Louis, where she studied Speech-Language Pathology and Global & Local Social Justice at Saint Louis University. During college, she spent a semester abroad in Madrid, Spain and a summer volunteering with the Border Servant Corps in Las Cruces, NM, where she recognized her passion for immigration work. In the midst of a tense political climate, she finds that Posada Esperanza encapsulates the hope that lies in community. She feels humbled to be a part of these women’s and children’s journeys.

Laura Messenger

Laura is originally from Massachusetts. She graduated from Kenyon College in Ohio with a degree in Spanish and Political Science and a concentration in Latino/a Studies. She moved to San Antonio, TX in 2016 to work in a 9th grade Algebra I classroom. After speaking with students who had recently moved to the United States, she was inspired to work with immigrant populations, and moved to Austin to be a Family Advocate at Posada Esperanza. She hopes to pursue a career in social work. In her free time, she enjoys running, backpacking, and watching scary movies.

Briana Ramos

Briana is from Rockford, Michigan. She attended Michigan State University where she studied Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Community Governance and Advocacy and a minor in Spanish. She has been looking to work in a non-profit like Posada Esperanza for a few years now and when she saw the AmeriCorps posting online she knew she had to apply! So far she is loving Austin, Posada and the population they serve. In her free time she likes exploring the many places to hike around Austin and dreaming about her next vacation.

Rachael Hellman

Rachael was born in Pittsburgh but grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania where she spent way too much time at diners eating pie that she didn’t even want. She studied Creative Nonfiction Writing and African Studies at the University of Pittsburgh and spent a semester abroad in Cape Town. Throughout college, Rachael volunteered with a refugee resettlement organization and knew that she wanted that feeling of “traveling at home” in her future. After working as a copywriter in Austin for three years and cooking Sunday spaghetti at Posada, Rachael joined Posada as an AmeriCorps member. She feels privileged to know the women and kids of Posada at such a hopeful (and uncertain) time in their lives.

Legal Clinic Staff

Elise Harriger

Elise is one of the attorneys at Casa Marianella and director of the legal clinic. She works with asylum seekers and immigrant victims of crime. Her inspiration for doing immigration law came from the year she served as an Americorps member at Casa Marianella in 2004-05. She attended UT for undergrad and law school and Oxford University for grad school.

Sarah Woelk

Sarah has worked at the legal clinic since January 2011. After retiring from Texas state government, Sarah spent a year as an Americorps volunteer in a bilingual classroom. Her work with immigrant families led to her interest in immigration law.

Benefits Clinic Staff

Kim Wied

Kim is from Austin, Texas. After a bit of globetrotting, she settled in Bangkok, Thailand, for six years to work on poverty-reduction focused policies and programming in developing countries. During this time, she volunteered to assist political asylum seekers living in Bangkok, and realized that she wanted to commit her career to this line of work. She then pursued her M.A. in International Development, with a focus on gender and human rights (in complex emergencies and migratory contexts). Kim is constantly inspired by the Casa Marianella community!

Maddie Riley

Maddie grew up in California, then moved to Portland, OR to attend Lewis & Clark College. She always loved Spanish, and ended up majoring in Hispanic Studies. She studied abroad in Chile during college and spent 6 months in Colombia a while after graduating. When she moved to Austin, Maddie started volunteering at Casa Marianella. After her first visit she couldn’t stay away, and started working in the Benefits Clinic eight months later.