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Our board

Mariama Jallow

Board President

Mariama’s passion for positive youth development is deeply rooted. As responsible citizens of the world, it is her objective opinion that youths are owed a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment where their true sense of identity can be nurtured and preserved. An environment where their emotional, social, cognitive and behavioral competence can develop. Most importantly, the youths are owed are safe environment where they can not only dream of the possibilities, but also understand that anything in life is achievable within reason.

Bennie Herron

Vice President

Poet. Painter. Writer. Teacher. Social Worker. Friend. Husband. Father. Bennie Herron is all of these above, in no particular order. Born in the gang-dominated area of Southeast San Diego to a blue- collar family, Bennie had a challenging but fulfilling childhood. A childhood full of stories that have been the undercurrent of his writing and the basis of his connection with the population that he has served as a Social Worker.

Amma Gatty

Founder & Executive Director

Amma Gatty is a multi-faceted individual whose life is a harmonious blend of roles—wife, mother, Founder/Executive Director, and Family Life Educator and Coach. Her unwavering passion for nurturing the success of children led her to embark on a transformative journey that began with the inception of The Next Star Arts Program in 2015. What initially started as a performing arts program soon evolved into something greater—Culture Encounters, a nonprofit organization dedicated to facilitating enriching cultural encounters from around the world. Born and raised in the vibrant culture of Ghana, Amma’s own migration to the United States in the early 2000s brought her unique perspective and a rich tapestry of experiences. Her academic journey is a testament to her commitment to lifelong learning. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from the prestigious Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, a Master of Business Administration from Strayer University, and a Graduate Certificate in Family Life Education and Coaching from North Carolina State University. Beyond her professional pursuits, Amma finds joy in the simple pleasures of life, from the culinary arts to creating warm and inviting spaces for family and friends. Her essence can be described as compassionate, creative, resilient, and, above all, a cultural ambassador. Amma’s remarkable journey reflects her commitment to fostering understanding and unity among diverse communities. As the Founder and Executive Director of Culture Encounters, she continues to be a driving force in creating a world where cultural appreciation and curiosity flourish.

Sam Adjei

Board Treasurer

Sam Adjei has been a member of the Culture Encounters board since 2023. Previously, he served in various capacities in the private and public sectors and on active duty as a naval officer. He grew up in Ghana, studied in England before moving to California. He has traveled to six continents and more than 20 countries experiencing diverse cultures.

Sam is a lifelong learner and is fascinated about remote sensing, geographic information systems, contracting, national security, and supply chain management. He holds graduate degrees from the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California; Hope International University, Fullerton, California; University of Greenwich, England, UK, and obtained a bachelor degree from the University of Science and Technology, Ghana.

He is a certified contracting professional and a certified acquisition professional. He has additional certificates from Darden School of Business, UVA, Charlottesville, Virginia, and the University of Oxford, England, UK.

Sam is a passionate sports fun who enjoys distance running, playing soccer, and tennis. He has a goal to visit all 50 U.S. States and has so far visited 47 States and counting.

Gerardo Macias

Board Member - Fund Development

Gerardo is a Partner for DHR Global, in the Business & Professional Services, Consumer & Retail, Nonprofit, Education & Sports, Private Equity and Real Assets Practice Groups, located out of the firm’s Monterrey Mexico office.
With more than 20 years of industry and functional experience, he focuses on C-suite and board positions as well as family offices.
Previously, Gerardo was Managing Partner for a boutique search firm leading multiple offices throughout Mexico. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan (CCS). In his free time, Gerardo shares his expertise on his podcast, The Grateful Leader.
Board Member for Culture Encounters in Virginia, Advisory Council Member for CCS in Detroit, and Agroalim Agro Cluster of Nuevo Leon; Advisory Board Member for Polymath Organizational Design & Transformation, and active member of the American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico.

Jackie Granchamps

Board Member

Born to immigrant parents in Brooklyn, Jackie Granchamps grew up surrounded by diverse cultures. She graduated with her BA and MBA from the University of South Florida with specializations in Marketing Strategy and Entrepreneurship. Jackie is the founder & CEO of Cecile’s Bath & Body, a clean skincare brand focused on producing elevated selections that nourish sensitive and melanin-rich skin.

Debbie Campbell-Rance

Board Member

Debbie is a native of Jamaica, an island that embraces the culture of all its people. The Jamaican national motto is “Out of Many, One People” a statement that speaks to the population’s multiracial and multicultural roots. Jamaican culture is heavily influenced by Africa since the majority of its people are of African descent. However, the British, Indian and Chinese impacted the Jamaican culture via colonization, indentured servitude and trade respectively.

Debbie is an educator and mentor, currently at Virginia State University, an institution that welcomes students from different backgrounds and cultures .Over the past decade, Debbie has served her students best by accepting them as members of the human race while simultaneously learning about them as individuals. Her unique position in the classroom with future world shapers and changers, has made this opportunity to engage with and commit to the mission of Culture Encounters even more critical.

Debbie believes that fostering diversity and inclusion is pivotal to our success as a society and there is no better way to initiate this than to respect others and learn as much as one can about the culture of others. Learning about others through culture exchange fosters understanding , awareness and unity among people.

Sarah Bice

Board Member

Sarah Bice is the owner/founder of Sarah Bice & Associates Real Estate, LLC, a Glen Allen-based real estate firm. In 1989, Sarah Bice came to the US as a scholarship student from China with only two suitcases, $121, and a dream. She landed in Richmond while working with a consulting firm as a CPA and fell in love with this town. Becoming a real estate entrepreneur enabled her to stay in The Richmond area. Sarah’s successful American journey was not a straightforward route. She went back to school and earned her master’s degree in Accounting after waiting on tables, delivering newspapers, and selling cars. She finally built a successful firm and is blessed and grateful! Sarah also passionately serves as a local ambassador, providing help and connections to many new Americans. 

Chad Ownby

Podcast Producer / Team Member

Chad Ownby Is the acting instructor for Next Star! A licensed theatre teacher in the state of Virginia, Chad began his journey with Next Star when they first opened its doors in 2015. Since that time, Chad has written and directed numerous theatrical productions for Next Star including our very first show: “The Meadow,” “Arvolution”, “Cultural Adventure ” and “Alice In Christmas Land”, among others. It has been an honor and a pleasure for Chad to be a part of helping this wonderful program grow and reach as many individuals as possible. Chad feels it is his purpose in life to help students of all ages express themselves creatively and grow as individuals utilizing theatrical endeavors.

Rachel Casali

Volunteer Coordinator / Series Creator

Rachel was born and raised in London and has a long-standing teaching career that has involved designing and delivering course curricula and training programs, teaching adults, young people and more recently children and leading on teacher training programmes in post-19 adult education. Rachel’s specialism is in teaching English to speakers of other languages and she has lived and taught in Ireland, Italy and Mexico at public and private language schools and at PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Rachel has been a teacher educator for ten years and has worked alongside University College London (UCL), Institute of Education, ranked number one globally for  education, in addition to several other well-established universities. Rachel’s time as a teacher educator is a role that she has loved and which she continues to be inspired by.


Rachel has loved working alongside staff teams and individuals for a number of years to coach, support and enable the development of best practice and she has designed and delivered staff development training sessions both at home and abroad, such as in Kathmandu in Nepal before the 2015 earthquake. Rachel has a particular passion for working alongside individuals from marginalised backgrounds to enable and encourage them to develop and to flourish. This is reflected in her long-held roles with students from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds, as a long-standing volunteer in the homeless sector, and more recently in her role in the care sector during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Rachel is delighted to have joined Next Start as Volunteer Coordinator and to have been given the opportunity to design the Meet the Natives sister series’ Create with a Native and Learn with a Native. The inspiration behind the creation of these series is based on Rachel’s research from her MA in Development Education at University College London which she did as a mature student and which deals with themes such as injustice, marginalisation and power relations between the global north and global south.


Rachel is passionate about her family, friends, developing relationships, learning and applying her learning to making a positive difference to the lives of others both at home and abroad, and to making an impact in a way that enables, inspires and is established over time in a sustainable way. Rachel looks forward to continuing to build on this exciting work as part of her role with Next Star.

Emeritus Board Members