Zoë Adams - EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
As Co-Founder and Executive Director, Zoë leads The Strongheart Group in their strategic use of storytelling aligned with advocacy to drive widespread change on complex social issues. After spending years working in resource poor communities, she chose to focus her energy on amplifying the voices of individuals who have lived through these issues and could have the power to impact systems level change. Prior to founding Strongheart, Zoë was a senior executive in the media, technology, public policy and economic development sectors with Fox Family Worldwide, Fox Kids Europe and TechAmerica. Her work in both the corporate and non-profit sectors has given her a unique perspective on creating impact. Zoë is skilled at building partnerships, recognition, and momentum to create visibility, advance public policy, and transform global issues.
Zoë’s passion for unlocking human potential began when she was a teenager. At 18, she founded her first non-profit organization to inspire agency in youth and support youth-led environmental activism. Years later, she co-founded Strongheart’s former Fellows Program, an innovative educational program to help adolescents from war-torn backgrounds build resilience, excel in their endeavors and achieve their dreams. Four years ago, after seeing the difference that an individual’s voice can make when heard by the right audiences of policymakers, high-level influencers, media and changemakers, Zoë pivoted Strongheart into the work it is doing today.
Benafsha Tasmim - Change Agent Program Director
Benafsha Tasmim has played a vital role in shaping Strongheart’s Change Agent Program through its design, development, and day-to-day activity. She brings to her leadership role a deep understanding of the pathway from adversity to empowerment, having lived in Pakistan as an Afghan refugee for eight years during the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and persevering despite adverse circumstances to complete her education. With over 7 years of experience in the social justice and international development fields, she has developed the ability to impact the lives of at-risk populations to help them reach their goals and full potential. Benafsha’s experiences, both personal and professional, give her an authentic and personal understanding of youth engagement, educational programs, and advocacy.
Prior to joining Strongheart, first as a Youth Advocacy Coordinator and Child Marriage Program Manager, Benafsha began her career as a Psychosocial Trainer at American Friends Service Committee where she taught teachers how to help students cope with the daily stress and trauma caused by insecurity and violence. In an effort to further address the complex needs of youth during conflict, Benafsha began working as the Education Coordinator for Skateistan. There, she wrote curriculum, conducted workshops, and oversaw a creative virtual exchange program between children from Afghanistan and around the world, all focused on improving the mental health and well-being of youth in Afghanistan. She has also worked for RTI International in Washington, D.C., where she launched a digital platform which puts young people at the center of the conversation about the youth livelihood crisis to share with one another and inform policy and programs. Mental health and child marriage have been consistent threads in her work with youth, and Benafsha brings a nuanced and personal understanding of these issues to her work with Strongheart. Born in Afghanistan, Benafsha studied Psychology and Educational Sciences at Kabul University in order to understand more about how war impacts the way people think and behave and how to break cycles of violence. Benafsha holds a master’s degree in International Development from SIT Graduate Institute and serves as an advisory board member of Skateistan.
Cori Shepherd Stern - Advisor
Cori Shepherd Stern is an Academy Award nominated producer, as well as a social change strategist who co-founded The Strongheart Group. Her most recent film, which she wrote and produced, is Bending the Arc - a feature documentary about the epic arc of the global health rights movement through the intimate story of an extraordinary team who led the fight. The film, which premiered at Sundance 2017, was called by The Hollywood Reporter “a stunning documentary...a glorious and uplifting film.”
Cori’s past projects include Warm Bodies, a box office smash for Summit/Lionsgate and Open Heart, a 2013 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Short Subject. She has a first-look producing deal with Rocklin|Faust, producers of Oscar-winning Best Picture Spotlight. Current projects include The Arizona Project with Miramax and Adaptive Entertainment, a narrative feature. Cori has also executive produced two virtual reality films: Collisions, which premiered at Davos and Sundance 2016 and won an Emmy, and Francis, which premiered at the World Bank Group and the World Health Organization’s first ever joint high-level event on mental health in support of world body policy change.
Alexandria Yaxley - Mental Health Advocate
Andria Yaxley is a passionate advocate for the support of adolescents’ mental wellbeing. Having spent many years on her own mental health journey and observing the journey’s of those closest to her, Andria has felt the heartbreaking impact of what a lack of adequate mental health resources can mean for those who are struggling. She understands the lack of hope and feelings of loneliness that come from not having a strong support network. A graduate herself of a therapeutic boarding school program, Andria has a unique understanding and appreciation for the importance of adolescents having a supportive community and developing and recognizing shared values among peers.
Andria has a wealth of international and intercultural experience, growing up as a dual-citizen of England and the US and spending time in thirteen countries. Through volunteer work in Liberia during her early teen years, Andria witnessed the devastation and adversity faced by those recovering from war and the impact of conflict on mental health. Andria is a graduate of the Notre Dame International High School in France where she lived with a Tunisian host family. She was there during the Paris attacks, and follow-on repercussions of, and intimately experienced the impact on her Muslim host family’s life and mindset living as immigrants in a country impacted by terrorism.
Andria brings a fresh, experienced and deeply honest perspective and desires to open up authentic conversations to normalize mental health on a global scale and increase access to resources for youth.
Erica Fink - Communications and Design Associate
Erica Fink is a systems thinker who uses her strategy and design skills to make a positive impact in the world. Over the past 5 years, Erica has explored how to best integrate environmental and social impact work into a variety of organizations, from startups and small business to non-profits and global networks. Before joining Strongheart, she completed the Social Impact Royster Lawton Fellowship at COMMON, an accelerator for social entrepreneurs that involves strategy, product development, creative, and branding services. Erica is motivated by the challenge of closing the gap between the knowledge of global issues and the presiding attitudes and behaviors toward them. She believes that empathetic experiences are at the core of creating meaningful change. At Strongheart, she is responsible for supporting the team in articulating the stories and efforts that will help foster this very change.
As an Echols Scholar at the University of Virginia, Erica earned her B.A. in Global Studies with a concentration in Environments and Sustainability and a minor in Social Entrepreneurship. She completed her senior research project on “Greening the Reel: Film Production, Content, & Behavioral Change”. With a particular interest in behavioral change, she produced a series of commercial concepts for the local community that incorporated best practices for effective climate change communication, meeting the film industry’s greenest production standards.
Kathleen Rodgers - Communications Strategist
Kathleen designs and executes social impact campaigns fighting for human rights and social justice. She is a big-picture strategic thinker with a knack for turning complex problems into crisp language and effective campaigns. As a campaign strategist and designer, she runs social media, executes digital graphic design for social media and websites, manages partnership coalitions, develops education materials, and designs activation points for public engagement around social issues.
Kathleen has worked in the non-profit and for-profit sectors, as well as for leading design and social impact agencies Phenomenon and Swell Creative Group. Kathleen has a Master’s Degree in Communication Management from the University of Southern California and Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and World Politics from Vanderbilt University.
Paula Hawn - FINANCE DIRECTOR
Paula Hawn has worked in finance and operations for over 20 years and with the Strongheart Group for six years. Before entering the nonprofit sector, she worked in technology but spent the majority of her career in the medical field. Paula believes in the power of individuals to rise up beyond their challenging, and often tragic, circumstances and positively change not only their lives but the lives of others.
She dedicates her time and energy to supporting these remarkable individuals, the Strongheart team, and their partners in transforming the world through story-driven social change campaigns.