Our Board of Directors

President, Berre Burch

Berre Burch, a native Arkansan, is the Director of Project LAST at the Children’s Bureau of New Orleans, where she leads a program that provides no-cost, high quality mental health services to children and adolescents in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes. She is the proud mom of Wren (Garden Room) and Gus (Rabbit Burrow). Her son Elliott attended Abeona House in 2012, before the family relocated to Maryland. Berre earned a PhD in school psychology at Tulane in 2014. She previously received a Master’s degree in art therapy from George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree from Hendrix College.

John Alford, Secretary

As the Chief Network Growth Officer John manages the team of Relationship Managers at the KIPP Foundation. Additionally, John directly supports a portfolio of regions including New Orleans, Memphis and Delta.  Prior to returning to KIPP, John worked at the New York City Department of Education where he served as Senior Director in the New Schools office, training founding and turnaround principals as a key strategy in the District’s turnaround effort. 

Prior to that, John was the Founder, CEO and middle school principal at Langston Hughes Academy Charter School in New Orleans.  John helped establish New Schools for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and taught fifth grade math at KIPP Ujima Village Academy.  John spent four years with the KIPP Foundation during its founding years, first as a Trailblazer and later as the National Director of the Trailblazing team.  John has a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from NC A&T State and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Mercedes Montagnes, Board Member

Mercedes Montagnes is the Executive Director of the Promise of Justice Initiative. Mercedes was born and raised in Toronto, Canada and first moved to New York City in August of 2001. A passion for criminal justice reform and love first brought Mercedes to New Orleans in 2007. After graduating from law school and clerking, Mercedes made her permanent home here in 2012. Since then, she has been working with the vibrant community of justice seekers in Louisiana. Mercedes is the proud mother of Eleanor in the Beehive and is grateful every day for the love she gets at school.

Cynthia Bankston, Board Member

Cynthia recently joined the board in June 2018 as the treasurer. Cynthia works closely with the board and executive director to monitor the budget and report and help maintain the fiscal health of Abeona House.

Cynthia is a native of Washington Parish, Louisiana and graduated from Mt. Hermon High School. Cynthia earned her bachelor’s degree in accounting and minor in professional writing from Southeastern Louisiana University. Cynthia has worked as an auditor for Postlethwaite and Netterville since 2014. She holds various industry certifications such as Certified Public Accountant and Certified Fraud Examiner which equip her to serve a wide range of clients such as local governmental entities, non-profits, and for profit companies.

Cynthia resides in Covington with her husband of seven years and dog, Google. Cynthia enjoys mastering excel formulas and spending time with her six nieces and nephews in her free time.

Jessica Tolbert, Board Member

Jessica is an Ohio native and graduate of The Ohio State University (B.A – History and Spanish) and University of Kansas (M.Ed.- Curriculum & Instruction). Jessica taught lower elementary in the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans for seven years while also serving as a math coach, Spanish translator and an independent contractor for math curriculum reviews. Currently, Jessica serves as the Director of Talent Recruitment for Collegiate Academies, recruiting the best teachers for high school students in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. 

Jessica lives in New Orleans with her fiancé, Justin,  and can always be found with a good book or podcast and indulging in the food and community that has made New Orleans her forever home.

Ry D’Antonio, Board Member

Born in NJ, raised in MD, and a New Orleans resident of the past decade, Ry is the sole CPA and owner of Encore Accounting, LLC, located in the Bywater. His diverse range of clients include non-profits, musicians, artists, real estate developers, and attorneys, among others. When he’s not crushing tax returns, he plays the drums in the local band, Bon Bon Vivant, and spends the rest of his time with his wife and daughter.  

John Williams, Board Member

John S. Williams is the founding member of the Law Offices of John S. Williams, LLC.
Attorney Williams has fought for the rights of citizens across several states throughout
his career. Attorney Williams defended the rights of consumers against fraud as an
Assistant Attorney General in Arkansas. As an Assistant Attorney General in the
Consumer Protection Division, Attorney Williams educated and fought for clients that
fell victim to scams and business fraud. Attorney Williams went on to become Legal
Director of the Mississippi Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In
this position, Attorney Williams educated citizens and litigated lawsuits to protect his
client’s civil liberties all over the State of Mississippi. These included voter rights cases,
free speech cases, prisoner rights case, and many other types of constitutionally driven
litigation. Attorney Williams then went on to defend the rights of young people as an
attorney at the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana. Attorney Williams filed class action
lawsuits on behalf of young people confined to youth jails as well as represented youth in delinquency proceedings in court. Attorney Williams has focused on systemic impact
litigation and high-profile civil rights matters and maintains a strong commitment to fight in court to protect the constitutional rights of his clients. He is licensed to practice law in state and federal courts in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Since 2005, Attorney Williams has litigated complex civil and criminal cases in these three states and others.
Since opening his firm, Mr. Williams has focused his practice on representing injured
individuals and protecting his client’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit
of happiness.
John continues to be committed to both his clients and his community by civically
engaging and always lending his talents to causes and concerns. John is a recent member of the Louisiana Supreme Court Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee, the Chair of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Louisiana Leadership Council, Chair of the St.Peter Claver Catholic Church Pastoral Council, Emerging Philanthropist of New Orleans (EPNO) class of 2015, President of the Board of Directors for the National Juvenile Justice Network, Board Vice Chair of Courtwatch NOLA and numerous other ad hoc boards for various organizations.

Tayanna Teel, Board Member

Tayanna Teel is the Principal Community Relations Associate on the Community Impact & Investment team at Capital One. Teel oversees the Community Reinvestment Act, local Market President and national racial justice grants in Louisiana that strengthen the community through education, workforce development, small business, affordable housing, financial education, and addressing critical needs. 

Teel relocated from Columbia, South Carolina to New Orleans in 2018. Before relocating, Teel worked at Planned Parenthood South Atlantic in the external affairs department where she managed a community advocacy staff, a four state wide supporter networks with nearly 300,000 people, and built relationships with community partners and government officials. Teel began her career teaching 6th and 7th grade english in Jacksonville, FL with Teach for America. 

While living in Columbia, Teel volunteered with the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network, Columbia College as a student mentor, and the STD Prevention Board with the South Carolina Department of Health. She has volunteered with Emerging Philanthropist of New Orleans and is currently on the board of The Walls Project, an opportunity youth support program based in Baton Rouge, LA. 

Tayanna is a graduate of the University of South Carolina where she majored in Mass Communications and Political Science and is currently receiving her Masters degree in Public Policy and Administration from American University. 

Tayanna is the proud dog mom to a Nala, a 6 year old Pomchi, and Leo, a 6 year old Lab Mix. Teel just celebrated two years of marriage with her husband Carlos Osorio.

Wendy Jung, Board Member

Wendy Jung is a Research Scientist for the Tulane University Infant & Toddler Development Project, where she studies young children in cognitive, perceptual, and motor development.  She also is an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Tulane and Loyola, where she lectures in topics in Developmental Psychology, Infancy, and Early Childhood Education.  Wendy earned a Ph.D. and a M.S. in Psychological Science from Tulane.  She also received a M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction from UNO and a B.S. in Human Development and Family Sciences from the University of Texas at Austin. Early in her career, Wendy worked as an early childhood educator in the New Orleans area. 

Wendy was born in Taiwan, raised in Louisiana.  She currently serves as Chair of the Asian Pacific American Society of New Orleans.  She is also the proud Godmother of Gus in the Fish Cove.  She is a dog mom to Larry, a senior beagle, and volunteers as a foster mom with Animal Rescue New Orleans. She is a charter member of the Krewe of Themis and loves all things with glitter.

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