Meet Team MEI
not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) charitable organization
originated in 2009 and founded as a nonprofit in July 2013
received 501(c)(3) status in May 2014
based in northwest Arkansas where the largest concentration of Marshallese in the continental United States reside (more than 12,000 residents)
first Marshallese-focused nonprofit formally established in Arkansas
four full-time and three part-time Marshallese staff
opened the Marshallese Resource and Educational Center (MREC) in Oct. 2018
Our Mission: Through educational programming, MEI promotes the cultural, intellectual, and historical awareness of the Marshallese people and facilitates intercultural dialogue to foster positive social change.
Program Coordinator, ESG-Covid-19
Case Manager, Covid-19 Relief,
Program Specialist, Women's Health
Christopher Balos, Climate Ambassador
Project Specialist, Climate and Nuclear Issues, and Education
Case Manager, Covid-19 Relief,
Women's Program Coordinator,
Kristina Stege, International Liaison and Cultural Advisor
Jessica A. Schwartz, Ph.D., Cofounder and Academic Advisor
MEI Board of Directors
April L. Brown, Ph.D.
Sevin Gallo, Ph.D.
Not pictured, Sharlynn Uluitavuki, UAMS Community Health Worker, FDSME-RMI
Carmen Chong Gum, Translator
MEI was cofounded by Dr. Jessica A. Schwartz (N.Y.U. 2012), Associate Prof. of Musicology at UCLA, and Dr. April L. Brown (U.A. 2006), Professor of History at NorthWest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville, Arkansas, in July 2013. Schwartz and Brown are humanities scholars and specialists in interdisciplinary higher education. Jessica spent two years in the RMI 2008-2009 conducting fieldwork, where the idea of an intercultural organization was hatched between she and Deacon Johnny Johnson. She has been working with community members in northwest Arkansas and southwest Missouri since 2010. April is a long time proponent of international education and, as NWACC’s Honors Director 2008-2014, she founded and directed the global themed semester hosted at NWACC in collaboration with Service Learning Director, Dr. Chris Huggard. The focus of the spring 2013 themed semester: the Marshall Islands.
The themed semester, which consisted of joint Marshallese and non-Marshallese community events, brought many of MEI's current team members together for the first time. The semester's premier event: Nuclear Victims and Survivors' Remembrance Day, held at NWACC on Feb. 28, 2013, was coordinated by then-
Jessica Schwartz, Faith Jibas, Carmen Chong-Gum, Chris Huggard, and April Brown pose for a photo on Feb. 28, 2013 at NWACC, following Nuclear Victims and Survivors' Remembrance Day. (Photo provided by Lou Lo)
Consul General Carmen Chong Gum and Brown with the assistance of local Marshallese leaders. The intercultural dialogue that resulted from the event became the basis of MEI's founding.
On the 60th anniversary of the Castle Bravo detonation, MEI hosted its first of several nuclear-focused events. Nuclear Remembrance Day 2014: Reflect. Honor. Educate., was held at the Clinton Presidential Center. MEI's International Liaison, Tina Stege, emceed the event, which included speeches by Rongelap Senator Kenneth Kedi, Ambassador Charles Paul, and Law Professor Michael Gerrard, and cultural performances by Bikinian and Rongelapese people. Early on MEI also developed humanities-based programming, including the ongoing Marshallese Oral History Project (MOHP) - MEI's first grant-funded project by the Arkansas Humanities Council / National Endowment for Humanities in October 2013. The organization also immediately began work to raise educational attainment levels among Marshallese community members, hosting an NWACC enrollment and FAFSA application workshop in the summer of 2013. The Marshallese Empowerment Through Education Project was given a boost in 2016 with a grant from Tyson Foods allowing MEI to develop its first culture and language class and host MyED, Marshallese Youth Empowerment Day, a Back 2 School event, and a mentoring program at Hellstern Middle School. In the summer 2017, MEI was awarded a grant through the Office of Insular Affairs to expand our brief text that accompanied our class, to develop lesson plans for middle schools, and to create public service videos to help newcomers navigate life in Arkansas and the US.
While MEI had heretofore sought funding for specific educational projects, in 2018 MEI expanded its programming to offer direct outreach to Marshallese community members. MEI was awarded two major grants: one from OIA to open the country's first Marshallese Resource and Educational Center (MREC), and a second through the Arkansas DFA and Dept. of Justice to provide culturally appropriate training and outreach for female survivors of violence; both grants were renewed through 2022 and 2021, respectively. OIA funding allows MEI to employ full and part-time Marshallese staff members and offer direct services to Marshallese community members. Staff assist community members with un/employment and insurance forms/applications, notary service, assistance with health insurance and ARKids enrollment, and passport and I-94 assistance, among others. MEI also developed programming specific to women and elders, and continues its work with youth through various projects.
International Liaison Tina Stege leads a Q&A during a Nuclear Forum in Salem, Oregon, May 2016. MEI hosted the event with partners, REACH-MI and the Oregon Marshallese Community. (MEI Photo)
Since March 2020 when the pandemic first directly impacted Arkansas, MEI staff has been dedicated to assisting community members through our Covid-19 Relief and Response Project. OIA's continued assistance kept staff in place and additional federal grants (City of Springdale Block Grant, CARES funding, Northwest Arkansas Council/UAMS CARES support, and ESG Covid-19 grant) and corporate and private donations (Cargill, Coldwell Banker Faucette Realty, Tyson Foods, RMI Government, Walton Family Foundation, UAMS) has provided more than $300,000 for food, PPE, cleaning supplies, funeral, utility, and rental assistance to Marshallese community members, for educational outreach, and to hire additional staff to meet response demands. Staff have worked to educate the community in our office and through PSA's, community drives and outreach events, and translator services. MEI is also currently developing an online training for healthcare providers (anticipated launch in Feb. 2021).
Carlnis preps for a Covid-19 distribution event; MEI staff and volunteers loading up food, PPE, and cleaning supplies; Carlnis, Rotha, and Anita pose for a photo during a break at a testing event in Pocahontas, AR.
Though most of our staff continue to work in Covid-19 relief efforts, particularly through continued rental and utility assistance, MEI is committed to our mission to promote intercultural dialogue and offer educational and cultural programming, including the goal of opening a brick and mortar cultural and community center: Alele Arkansas. MEI will launch Alele Arkansas Online in Spring 2021 developed to showcase Marshallese culture and history online due to the restraints to in-person gatherings and through a grant awarded by the Creative Arkansas Community Hub & Exchange at the Northwest Arkansas Council. MEI has also received support for continued collections of Marshallese stories and songs through a second grant from CACHE and the NWAC, and a humanities database to supplement our textbook and supported by the Walmart Foundation. Given the disproportionate impact that Covid-19 has posed to our community, MEI is hosting a series of forums in spring 2021 to address various inequities.
For more information, contact MEI at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our office at 479-365-7019.
Marshallese youth in a promo for the Bwebwenato community theatre project supported by the Arkansas Arts Center in 2019; staff and board members gather in 2019.
MEI Programming & Activities Photo Gallery
Photos copyrighted. Do not reproduce
without written permission from MEI.