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
five 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.
Benetick Kabua Maddison
Program Manager & Coordinator, ESG
Women's Advocacy Program Coordinator
MREC Program Director
Program Coordinator, Vaccine Outreach
Cofounder and Chief Operating Officer
Community Outreach & 411
National Nuclear Commission / MEI Intern
Kristina Stege, International Liaison and Cultural Advisor, RMI Climate Envoy
Jessica A. Schwartz, Ph.D., Cofounder and Academic Advisor
MEI Board of Directors
Sevin Gallo, Ph.D., Secretary
Lori Williamson Dean, Ph.D. (Incoming member)
Paul Lokebol Swington (Incoming member)
April L. Brown, PhD (Outgoing president)
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. A Back 2 School supply drive and community event has become an annual occurrence.
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 assist female survivors of domestic violence/sexual assault and to provide culturally appropriate training for service providers; both grants were renewed through 2022. 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 to promote leadership, knowledge of traditional Marshallese culture, and educational attainment.
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)
In March 2020 when the pandemic first directly impacted Arkansas, MEI launched our Covid-19 Relief and Response Project. OIA's continued assistance kept staff in place and additional federal grants, city, and private grants allowed us to provide food, PPE, cleaning supplies, and funeral, utility, and rental assistance to Marshallese community members, to conduct educational outreach, and to hire additional staff to meet response demands. Staff have worked to educate the community directly and through PSA's, community drives and outreach events, and translator services. MEI is also currently developing an online training for healthcare providers.
Carlnis preps for a Covid-19 distribution event; MEI's Richard Laraya and staff and volunteers load 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, especially in light of stark inequities made clear by the impact of the pandemic.
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 and friends gather in 2019.
MEI Programming & Activities Photo Gallery
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without written permission from MEI.