Staff & Board


  • Cindy Threlkeld
  • Erin Sebelius
  • Rebecca Massey
  • Tonya Johnson
  • Irina Khasanova
  • LuAnn Arena
  • Laura Bernhein
  • Patricia Furnish
  • Cindy Threlkeld

    Cindy Threlkeld

    Executive Director

    Cindy’s career has allowed her to live and work in a number of fascinating places in the world, including Guatemala, Zambia, Ecuador and Botswana. Her time with the Peace Corps and other international development organizations exposed her to challenges not faced by most Americans. As she has noted, the move to Asheville in 2011 to become the executive director of MANNA FoodBank “opened my eyes to the level of hunger and poverty hidden within our own communities.” Cindy is excited about the opportunity to become the executive director of the Literacy Together. “A basic level of literacy is key to so many aspects of our lives, from success in school to employment options that can break the cycle of poverty and create a more promising future for families.”

    Cindy currently volunteers as a Guardian ad Litem court-appointed child advocate. She has also volunteered with the Buncombe County Migrant Education Program and, along with her dog Gracie, as a pet therapy team to visit hospice patients and nursing home residents.

    In her free time, Cindy enjoys kayaking the beautiful wilderness lakes and rivers of Western North Carolina, playing pickleball, and hiking.

  • Erin Sebelius

    Erin Sebelius

    ESOL Program Director

    Erin, a lover of languages and cultural exchange, believes she has the perfect job.

    “Helping immigrants communicate in the language of their new home is especially rewarding because of the empowerment that comes for them,” Erin says. “I just glow every time I hear that one of our ESOL students has gotten a promotion, found a better job, or been able to help a child with homework.”

    Erin lists some pretty impressive credentials for managing the Literacy Together’s English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program. She earned a B.A. in German from San Diego State University, a master’s degree in cross-cultural education from National University in San Diego, and a California teaching certificate. She has five years experience teaching English, German, and Spanish to middle and high school students and ESOL to adults, as well as teaching English and math while living in Tijuana, Mexico for two years. Erin is a ProLiteracy certified trainer, past president of the Asheville Area Director of Volunteers in Agencies (DOVIA), and member of the executive board of Carolina Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

    Working at Literacy Together since 2005, Erin conducts all ESOL tutor trainings and oversees all ESOL tutor volunteer activities. She remarks, “Our volunteer tutors are folks who care enough to give freely of their time, talents, and love. I am continually humbled and inspired by both our students and our volunteers!”

    Erin ’s home life revolves around husband, Sam, two children, Elan and Marlise, and their dog, T-Bone. She likes to read and travel whenever possible.

  • Rebecca Massey

    Rebecca Massey

    Adult Literacy Program Director

    Rebecca Massey has been an educator in North Carolina for 17 years, including time spent tutoring students with learning differences and teaching community college courses. Rebecca knows Literacy Together’s Adult Literacy program and curriculum very well — she has been a volunteer tutor for four years!

    Rebecca has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Auburn University and a Master of Arts in English from NC State University. In addition to her work with books, reading, and education, Rebecca has volunteered for Animal Haven of Asheville, caring for abused, abandoned, and injured animals.

    “I hope to make the best use of my mind and energy by being of service to people in need, and education is the way I know to do that most effectively.”

  • Tonya Johnson

    Tonya Johnson

    Youth Literacy Program Director

    “There is a brilliant child locked inside every student.” – Marva Collins

    Tonya grew up in south Alabama, in a large family that placed great value on education. Upon graduating from Auburn University with a Bachelor of Science, Tonya reflected, “America is a wonderful place, but the people, places and ideas beyond our borders also have value.”

    Over the past thirty years, Tonya has developed a passion for making an impact in literacy. Starting with a challenged reader in her own home, she led reluctant readers into the world of words and ideas. She added to her skills by becoming an Orton-Gillingham certified practitioner and tutored struggling students in the community. Tonya has spent the last fifteen years investing in the hearts and minds of the students at New City Christian School.

    Echoing Marva Collins, Tonya says, “I believe that every child can learn to read – and I was always working for that brilliant child to be unlocked in every student.”

    Tonya loves traveling with her husband, spending time with their three adult children (and super precious grandson and two grand-dogs). When she is not at work or on the road, Tonya can be found reading, working a Sudoku puzzle, sketching, working out, or taking a hike to a waterfall or another vista of God’s beautiful creation.

    I look forward to serving this organization, our community, and individual lives through literacy.

  • Irina Khasanova

    Irina Khasanova

    Office Manager and ESOL Specialist

    Born and raised in Kazan, Russia – a large city 600 miles from Moscow, Irina came to the U.S. in 1994 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. She adopted Asheville as her new home when her husband secured a research position in the area. Irina began studying English with Literacy Together and soon became an ESOL tutor herself, working with students from the Ukraine. In 2000, she joined the Literacy Council staff.

    “Our students and their stories make my job especially meaningful. I know first hand how difficult it is for adults to learn a new language,” Irina remembers. “It is very hard work. At Literacy Together, we see small but significant victories every day. It’s really rewarding to give people something now that helps them long term.”

    Irina earned a masters degree in Physics from Kazan State University and taught math courses at the Kazan State Power Engineering University. She and her husband, Airat, have two grown sons and enjoy reading, hiking, and traveling.

  • LuAnn Arena

    LuAnn Arena

    Development Director

    LuAnn Arena has a strong background in literacy tutoring. LuAnn first became a literacy tutor in her hometown of Rochester, NY. After spending several years traveling the U.S. as a musician she returned to school at SUNY New Paltz earning a BFA in Graphic Design. She has run a successful freelance design business since 2006. LuAnn relocated to Asheville in the fall of 2013 and returned to tutoring at Literacy Together. She was ready for a change and the opportunity to become a team member of Literacy Together’s staff was the perfect fit. LuAnn is looking forward to using her skills in support of Literacy Together and its mission. In her off time LuAnn enjoys making music and art as well as practicing yoga, biking, and reading. She also enjoys spoiling her friends and teaching her cat cool tricks.

  • Laura Bernhein

    Laura Bernhein

    Outreach and Communications Director

    Laura Bernhein is a journalist and life coach born in Argentina, whose passions are communication, traveling, self-improvement, learning new things and raising her two beautiful kids. She moved to the United States 17 years ago from Buenos Aires, her hometown and, even when she’s now building a life in Asheville, she considers the world to be her home.

    As an immigrant, Laura knows how important it is to be able to speak the language of one’s new country. When she first came to the US she was able to quickly improve her English with the help of generous volunteers from a school in Boulder, Colorado. For that, she’ll be forever grateful!

    As a life coach, she knows how vital it is to find one’s voice to live an authentic, fulfilling life. Being proficient in literacy is the first step to get there.

    Laura thrives in interactions, and part of her personal mission is to bring positive change to people’s lives through genuine communication.

    She fell in love with Literacy Together’s mission a year and a half ago, when she started volunteering for the ESOL program. The work she now does at the organization is the perfect fit for her, because it integrates all of her passions and her life experiences. She’s thrilled about it!

  • Patricia Furnish

    Patricia Furnish

    ESOL Program Associate

    Patricia Furnish is a North Carolina native who moved to Asheville over twenty years ago to teach. She loves taking on new challenges, so you can probably find her in a workshop or studying a new skill in her free time. She holds a master’s degree in U.S. history, a Ph.D. in Native American history from the University of Oklahoma, an M.A. in Spanish from UNC Charlotte, and an MFA in documentary film from Wake Forest University.

    She has been a volunteer with Literacy Together for the last four years. “Volunteering to help adults learn English is gratifying because I get to see the naturalization process a bit more through the eyes of the student. I admire our students so much because of their dedication to achieving their own goals, which is often part of a larger commitment to family, friends, and community.”

    Patricia enjoys writing, reading, and watching movies. When she can travel with her partner, Mark, she likes to spend time in France, Spain, and England. She and Mark also get a kick out of their four cats: Pearl, Cash, Babka, and Lil Squeezy.


Board of Directors

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