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Meet Our Staff:


My position at Program Reach started out as just a job, but it has become so much more because I feel that we are making a difference. I’ve never thought that I would work in a field that gives back because of my educational background, yet here I am and it is empowering me in return. I strongly believe in the mission and I am proud to be a part of something that puts the children first. I love the people I work with and even though I am not in a direct contact with the students, I know that as a team we are changing their lives.

Maya Cernotova, CFO


I chose to work for Program Reach because of its mission. I find that many people overlook or simply ignore one of the greatest investments that we could ever make in this life – an investment into our children’s lives. I say our children because, whether we are teaching them to avoid drugs or sexual activity as a teen, they (collectively) are the ones who will play some part in our future. Whether it’s in our future as an advocate of risk avoidance, a tax paying member of society, the drug addict who kills our family member or the teen on her third pregnancy, with her oldest child at home, we will have provided the opportunity for students to hear a risk-avoidance message in their lifetime.

The result of our work is too important to act as if there is no impact on the world. One child that hears and adheres to our message has the potential to change the cycle for an entire generation! I am motivated to work for Program Reach not only for its mission but I love coming to work knowing that I can count on working with like-minded colleagues with the same enthusiasm and energy towards meeting and achieving our goals. This great work environment is spear-headed by Dr. Coppola who is the driving-force through her guidance and thorough knowledge of not only the field we are in, but also of the attainability of accomplishing our mission to reach out to teens of all backgrounds with the risk-avoidance message.

Dr. Coppola requires that Program Reach disseminates accurate health information and affords its participants the opportunity to exercise their right to choose the healthiest lifestyles- another reason to be proud of what I do. She believes, as do I, that each adolescent is capable of leading a risk-avoidance lifestyle, which is more respect given to them than most of them will ever receive in their lifetime.

I am passionate about the indelible mark that I am able to leave on a generation of children through Program Reach. Our children will have a fighting chance to overcome the negative and never-ending high-risk behaviors facing them on a daily basis. Program Reach’s investments into our children's lives will forever show its imprint through the impact on their communities. To look into the eyes of a child and see the risk-avoidance message resonate with them leaves me with a feeling of great accomplishment. The fact that I impacted not only their future, but mine as well lets me know that there is hope for them and me.

Mary Phifer, M.D., Lead Facilitator


I have chosen to work for a non-profit, and in particular, Program Reach, as a result of both the mission and the team. I have significant previous experience working with low-income, diverse, and urban children, and know how important it is that they have good influences in their lives. Our mission to give skills to avoid risky behaviors is certainly important for all adolescents to have, but it is especially crucial for this population.

When I started working here, it was also great and, somewhat surprising, to hear how much they really love the program. This is quite a feat and a testament to the staff, seeing how they voluntarily give up a Saturday to be in school all day. I believe that a program delivering such a good message and that the students also enjoy will inevitably have a profound and lasting impact. A second reason that I continue to work here is my coworkers. Without reservation, I can say that this is most conscientious, value- driven, cooperative, and hardworking team that I’ve ever been a part of, either professionally or outside of work. I can not say enough about the team - they are also extremely mature, credentialed, and competent. I think most people who know me well would give me fairly high marks on these things, but my coworkers have inspired and motivated me to be even better. The relationships formed in this atmosphere are much stronger and will last far beyond those of most coworkers. More than just a workplace, Program Reach feels like a community of people who have similar values, working toward a shared vision, of which I am blessed to be a part.


Eric Witmer, M.P.H., Project Coordinator


My career started in a non-profit in Kenya in 1996 and since then I have hardly looked back. My experience working with adolescents and women living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya and now working with at-risk youth here is the most rewarding experience of all. There is nothing in this life that is more fulfilling than knowing by sharing a message of hope and affirmation through the work that we do, we have the potential to impact hundreds and thousands of lives. My greatest motivation is to see Healthy Respect reach the youth of the world. Healthy Respect is one of the best written curricula and not having it out there; reaching young people all over the world is akin to hiding a light under a bushel – to quote the greatest teacher of all.

My hope is that during my tenure with Program Reach and beyond, I will live to see Healthy Respect being taught in all the continents of the world. As if the reward of doing meaningful work was not enough, we have the added bonus of experiencing a great collegial atmosphere here at Program Reach. Our CEO Dr. Coppola inspires each one of us to be the very best that we can be. She holds us to high professional standards, provides constructive feedback as we work on different projects and generally makes this the best working environment that I have had in all my years of employment. Her drive, passion and commitment to this organization are highly infectious! All my colleagues at Program Reach have been a tremendous joy to work with and I feel that I am a part of the Program Reach family.

Mercy Mwaira, Ph.D., Research Analyst

I have worked at Program Reach for the past several years in a variety of capacities. I first worked as an instructor for the Healthy Respect program in and I now work as senior facilitator, supervising the General Health facilitators for the Promoting Health Among Teens program. I love being able to bring a positive empowering message to young people, giving them the tools to live healthy and productive lives. I appreciate the focus on presenting medically accurate information regarding sexual health drug/alcohol use and nutrition to youth in need and teaching them the skills necessary to avoid unhealthy and risky behavior. The message is also effective and empowering because it helps students become better communicators and encourages them to focus on setting and achieving short-term and long-term goals. I have seen firsthand how this future oriented message coupled with the acquired negotiation skills and current medically accurate, scientifically grounded information, makes for a powerful message that stays with students for a lifetime. It is pleasure to work with a group of hardworking, creative, professionals, who are dedicated to helping youth live healthy and productive lives.

Jonathan Clark, Senior Facilitator