FOUNDER & CEO
A native-born Liberian, Henrietta “Henrie” Tonia White Holder, is a humanitarian, social entrepreneur, community builder, Breast Cancer and COVID survivor, and an award-winning advocate for disadvantaged and underserved Liberian, West African, and other marginalized populations in Rhode Island. After spending over 18 years in nonprofit management, helping to transition individuals with disabilities from institutionalized settings to community integration, Henrie moved on in 2008 and founded Higher Ground International. Henrie has dedicated her career to furthering the mission of Higher Ground International, which is to restore dignity, empower, and provide life-changing services for immigrants and refugees in Rhode Island. To date, the organization has served over 50,000 individuals. Additionally, Henrie and HGI have worked to improve living conditions in rural Liberia, including bringing clean water and sanitation services to over 10,000 community members in the country. Henrie is a graduate of Rhode Island College and Johnson & Wales University. A lifelong learner, she is also a graduate of Leadership Rhode Island (2011), Social Enterprise Greenhouse (SEG) accelerator program (2011), and the United Way of RI Executive Director Leadership Circle program (2017). Henrie has received numerous awards and has had many local, national, and international articles published about her work. During her downtime, Henrie likes to spend time with her loved ones, read, create and be around art, and be in nature.
Christine McDermott is Director of Sales & Marketing at Tri-Bro Manufacturing, a family-owned jewelry factory in Cranston. She is passionate about keeping Rhode Island’s jewelry-making tradition alive and serves as President of the Providence chapter of the Women’s Jewelry Association and Secretary of the Providence Jewelers Club. Prior to joining the family business, Christine was Director of Publications at AAA Northeast for nine years and spent her early career as a reporter for The Patriot Ledger and editor of India New England. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and participated in a fellowship on Race and Ethnicity at the Knight School for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland. A 2011 graduate of Leadership Rhode Island, Christine believes wholeheartedly in social justice and community service. Most recently, she served four years as President of the Board of Directors for Sojourner House, and she received a YWCA Women of Achievement Award in 2019. Christine lives in Warwick with her husband, Mike, and sons, Logan and Jonah. She enjoys travel, food, music and watching her boys play a variety of sports.
EXECUTIVE BOARD MEMBER
Mitch Edwards is a partner at Hinckley, Allen & Snyder in Providence. Mitch represents a wide variety of clients in complex business litigation. Mitch also leads the pro bono program at Hinckley Allen. Mitch grew up outside of New York City and later went to college and law school in upstate New York. He later moved to Philadelphia before ultimately finding his home in Rhode Island. Mitch cares deeply about the community and has served on several non-profit boards including Junior Achievement of Rhode Island, Leadership Rhode Island, and Rocky Hill Country Day School. Mitch looks forward to working with Higher Ground International and advancing its important mission in our local and global community.
Julia is the Director of Community Engagement and Scholarship at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. Her role involves connecting medical students with both clinical and social service opportunities to help them develop their professional identities as competent, caring, and compassionate physicians. She loves volunteering in the community and helping students to channel their energy and enthusiasm to improve the health of under-resourced communities in Rhode Island. Outside of work, Julia is married and has three sons with social schedules that are far more impressive than her own. She loves home remodeling projects, running outdoors, writing, and playing Boggle online with her sister. Julia is with Higher Ground because of their mission to uphold the basic human rights and dignity of all people and to improve the health, welfare, and education of immigrant/refugee women and girls in our community.
Michelle is a professor of marketing communications at Johnson & Wales University. She believes in the power of communication to advocate for social good and the importance of engaging students with diverse cultural experiences throughout their education. The best part of her job is working with students inside and outside of the classroom to prepare them for a meaningful and successful career. It was Michelle’s passion for project-based learning and community service that led her and her students to Higher Ground, working on a promotional campaign in the early years of the organization. She is proud to be one of the original board members of HGI and marvels at what a small group of determined people can accomplish. Michelle will be the first to tell you, as much as she loves teaching, she loves her “summers off”. In fact, that’s the name of her boat, and that’s where you’ll find her right after classes end with her husband John and son Nathan enjoying the sunshine in Bristol harbor.
Francine Connolly is a retired Social Worker who had a rich and varied career. She has been a community worker and an administer for DHS, the Director of Field Education at Rhode Island College School of Social Work, a Clinical Social Worker in the Providence Schools, and had a private clinical practice. When Francine and her husband retired, they joined the Peace Corps where they were stationed in Botswana for 2 years and 3 months. When they returned from Africa Francine became an America Corps volunteer here in RI, where she worked in the Veterans Treatment Court.
Francine then volunteered at Higher Ground International, where she established the Case Management program with students from RIC School of Social Work. She also filled in for the director of HGI when the director was in treatment for breast cancer, keeping the agency open at that difficult time. She believes strongly in the mission of HGI and the amazing work they do.
Danlette Norris is a native of Liberia with an MSW degree in Social Work and is an Accredited Representative of the Department of Justice, with an emphasis on Immigration Law. She is very passionate about the welfare of elders which led to the creation of an elderly Health promotion, prevention, and intervention program in the community.
She immigrated to the United States in 1990 as the result of the Civil War in Liberia and actively served LCARI for 12 years, in which she served as president for eight years. Danlette also served other communities and organizations in various capacities from being a member to serving on the board member
Danlette is an advocate, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother of many children. She also describes herself as a lifelong learner and a child of God. She is a friend to many, enemy to none, and would do everything possible to assist anyone in need for which she has the capacity. Her philosophy of life is, “That the Will of God will not take her where the grace of God cannot keep her.
Joana Yeboah is a Ghanaian native, who is Community-centric, passionate, and zealous about Health inequities with a strong background in health promotion. Currently she is a Community Care Coordinator for Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island with eight years of experience in Public Health. Joana is also a Steering Committee member with the Pawtucket/Central Fall Health Equity Zones: Participatory Budgeting Project. After acquiring her MPH from Walden University, she interned with the Rhode Island Department of Health as the Interim Refugee Health Coordinator and assisting with Maternal Health Projects including the Rhode Island Baby Café project, the Parents as Teachers program. Joana has a wealth of experience in Pediatric Asthma Research with the Hasbro Children’s Hospital and working with culturally diverse populations. She has served as a Women’s and Children’s Ministry leader in her home church for over 5 years. Joana is humbled to serve as a Board Member with a phenomenal organization like Higher Ground International. She is a wife and a proud mother of 3 wonderful children. Throughout her life, her faith has kept her grounded, to utilize every opportunity to pay it forward. Joana is an avid reader, loves to travel, eat good food, sing, and dance.
Dr. Larome Myrick is the Executive Director of Juvenile Justice for the State of Rhode Island since May 2018. He has earned an undergraduate degree in Healthcare Administration from the University of Toledo in 2003. Larome also received his master’s degree in Organizational Leadership from Lourdes University in 2009 and has completed his PhD in Criminal Justice. Larome began his career in Corrections in 2000 and has worked in several roles within the adult and juvenile correctional systems. He has served in roles in Ohio and Rhode Island. Larome is a very active member of the Toledo community, serving as board member for the African American Legacy Project. Larome is a lifetime member of National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, serves on the board of Building Bridges Initiative, and an active member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. In 2015, he received a Leadership Award from the African American Legacy Project. Larome is also very active in Rhode Island where he serves as a member of the Governor’s COVID-19 Equity Council, Nowell Academy School Board, Rhode Island for Community and Justice Board, and a commissioner on the Providence Human Relations Commission. In 2022, Larome was received a fellowship from the Hassenfeld Foundation and attended the Harvard Kennedy School.
Favour is a fashion designer who works for Higher Ground as a Bookkeeper. Her role involves connecting with partners, invoicing, reconciling QuickBooks and banking, and administering grant funding. She also supports the organization’s work by assisting in various capacities as needed.
She believes that all people must be treated with kindness and dignity; and that no contribution is too small to enhance their spiritual, social, or even physical well-being. This is why she is happy to be a part of Higher Ground International because of their burning passion for people as well as their steadfast contributions which help people live better lives.
She enjoys painting, decorating, jewelry making, experimenting with recipes, and a host of other hands-on projects. During the weekends, you will probably find her spending time with friends, exploring local attractions or home with family, and watching baking shows or comedy.
Mary Helldorfer-Cooney has spent nearly a decade in the non-profit education sector in various roles. As an ESOL instructor, she made her way from NYC’s Chinatown, the Bronx, Denver, CO, and finally to Providence, RI. As Assistant Director for Good Shepherd Volunteers in NY, she traveled the US and Latin America placing and supporting volunteers to serve women, adolescents, and children affected by poverty, violence, and neglect. In Rhode Island, Mary served as the Admissions Coordinator and later Education Director at Dorcas Place. In 2010, she was honored to be chosen by the Rhode Island Foundation as a Non-Profit Emerging Leader. Ms. Cooney worked as the Adult Services Director at the Genesis Center where she developed her skills as an educational administrator. At Roger Williams University, Mary was the Coordinator of Student Support and Services at The School of Continuing Studies and served as a link between adult basic education (ABE) and higher education in RI. Mary is fluent in Spanish and holds a master’s degree in TESOL and Spanish Education from New York University. She recently was awarded the RI Teachers of English Language Learners (RITELL) Nancy Carnevale Award for her work with elementary aged English Language Learners. Mary currently serves as an ELL Specialist and Curriculum Coordinator in North Kingstown, where she provides English support for students grades K-5.
Milou Rodrigues works as Parent/Community Specialist for the Providence School Department. She is there to bridge the gap by connecting the schools within the Providence School System and the families of the students together. Milou enjoys loves helping and giving back to her community and takes great pride in that. She is also instilling those values in her grandchildren by taking them along with her to certain community events to help give back as well.
She is family oriented and is the mother of two adult children and grandmother to three athletic grandsons that she adores and a wonderful husband. I love my siblings, and spending time with family, I usually initiate the gatherings. She enjoys socializing and traveling.
Milou chose to become a board member of Higher Ground because she loves to help and serve her community, giving her time whenever she can. She found that Higher Ground International was the perfect fit and a group of wonderful people to be a part of.
I am a human service professional and a mother to two beautiful daughters. At a young age I was taught to be empathetic and always serve my community. I currently serve my community as Chairwoman of the Ward 11 in Providence and a board member at Roger Williams Daycare, an active PTO member at Times2 Academy, a committed volunteer at the church of Ascension
including the weekly food pantry services, an active member of Providence Promise and an active Black PAC member. It gives me great pleasure to have an opportunity to serve my community in various roles. It also teaches my children empathy and the importance of being proud of the community in which they live.
I’m pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the mission of Higher Ground International by serving as an agent of change.
Toby Riseborough is an Associate at Bank of America, Private Bank. His role at the bank includes supporting client needs, discussions, as well as monitoring client investments and customized wealth structuring. With a background in public service, Toby has a shared commitment in empowering individuals and the Rhode Island community through deep and inclusive relationships. He enjoys volunteering and assisting a variety of organizations reach their goals. Outside of work, Toby lives with his longtime partner, and they enjoy visiting his home on Martha’s Vineyard as well as gardening, tennis, cycling and visiting family abroad. Toby is with Higher Ground because of their mission to educate and empower the workforce through meaningful development, advocacy, and vital job training.
Olola Joseph- Akinrimisi is a wife, mother, and long-time resident of Rhode Island for over 30 years. She emigrated to the United States of America to seek a better life for herself.
Her journey to finding her path in a new country, found her working as a Home Health Assistant with several agencies and then to Rhode Island Hospital as a Nursing Assistant while attending the Community College of Rhode Island. During her tenure at Rhode Island Hospital, Olola worked with patients admitted at the Psych Unit on Observation which triggered her curiosity about what caused people to become addicted to drugs. This led her to go back to CCRI and enroll in the Pharmacy program in 2013.
While raising a young family, Olola devoted herself to her Church and community activities. She is a past executive member of the Nigerian Community of RI and the Yoruba Elders International of RI.
She seeks to be engaged and serve on the Board of Higher Ground International because she wants to give back by joining others in the community who cares for and desires to educate our friends, neighbors, and family members.
It is her great privilege to have the opportunity to serve African, Caribbean, and Latino communities, promoting the health, equity, and stability of everyone that we serve.
SOCIAL MEDIA SUPPORT
You’ll find Luann Edwards at the intersection of communication, people, and technology. It’s where the most interesting and fascinating opportunities exist: To help organizations amplify their work and engage with those who are most important to them and their mission.
Luann is a strategic marketing communications consultant and the founder of Socially Professional, a social media consultancy based in Providence, Rhode Island. Some of the things that bring her joy: Learning and teaching, new technology, traveling, meeting people, and spending time with family and friends.
Luann is energized by Higher Ground International’s work and how that work centers the cultures and unique individuality of those the organization serves. She is proud to support the HGI team by providing social media support and participating in other volunteer opportunities whenever possible.
CULTURALLY APPROPRIATE FOODS AND RESOURCE COORDINATOR
Ashley Wray is the Resource Coordinator at Higher Ground International. Her role involves developing and maintaining culturally appropriate food distribution applications, a list of participants, and database for community members, in addition to connecting with partners and volunteers. Ashley is also responsible to assist with the procurement of food and resources as well as all of the systems of distribution, from the ONE CALL Telephone System, deliveries, on-site pickups, and keeping track of inventories.
When she’s not working, Ashley enjoys spending time with her four children and cake decorating. She loves to listen to music, create various DIY projects, and finds great joy in decorating her home. Collecting candles is a long-time hobby that Ashley has enjoyed for over 10 years. Some of her favorite scents are clean linen, lemon zest, and any cozy & warm fall scents.
Ashley takes great pride in being of service to everyone who is part of the Higher Ground family. Prior to working at Higher Ground, Ashley was a caretaker for one of the elders in the Sweetie Care African Elders Enrichment Program, so she became all too familiar with the other elders and grew a fond love for each one of them. “Everyone deserves to be loved and cared for.” This is something that Ashley is a firm believer in and has no problem going the extra mile to ensure that the people in the community feel loved and cared for.
I am a Registered Nurse and currently work with the Rhode Island Department of Health as a Senior Nursing Care Evaluator. My role involves conducting federal and state surveys at various healthcare facilities in the state to ensure that facilities are in compliance with state and federal regulations. Prior to my current employment, I worked for over 10 years with a non-profit Long-term Care facility providing services to the elderly population. Helping one of the most vulnerable populations is one of my passions that I truly find very fulfilling. I love giving back to my community and humanity as best as I can and is a part of several humanitarian community-based organizations, including my church. I am married and have two daughters, ages 16 and 11. As an immigrant myself, I feel obligated to be of service to my community in any way possible and sees this as a privilege and honor to serve. I am also deeply honored to serve with Higher Ground, especially because of their mission and their service to our community. I believe we are truly a community when we treat and view others as we treat and view ourselves.
EMERITUS BOARD MEMBER
Retired and living in Australia, MacKenzie “Mack” L’Maree is a long-time benefactor of HGI since 2010 at the early inception of the organization when she connected with HGI’S Founder & CEO Henrietta on Facebook to express her interest in the organization’s work. Since then, Mack has faithfully provided financial support, traveled to Liberia with Henrie to observe the organization’s clean water and sanitation projects, as well as traveled to Rhode Island on several occasions for HGI’S business. She has a genuine passion of being a part of something that is bigger than herself, as well as helping to improve the lives of those who are most in need. Mack enjoys traveling, meeting new people and spending time with her family.
Michelle Togba-Davis is a Native of Liberia, a proud mother of four loving children, and very passionate about the health and wellbeing of people. She holds a bachelor’s degree in medical Lab Science (Biotechnology Manufacturing) from the University of Rhode Island. Presently, Michelle works with Dialysis patients at Fresenius Medical Care. Her role as a Post Market Surveillance Specialist involves investigating routine complaints, evaluating event to determine if it qualifies as a complaint, interfacing with customer, clinics, and hospitals to gather additional information required for complaint investigation while managing customer relationship and expectations during course of complaint investigation and resolution process, and evaluating complaints for Medical Device Reporting (MDR) etc.
Michelle is an entrepreneur at heart. She is the owner of Mikato Stitch Ink (embroidery and Sublimation company) and Co-owner of A.D.D Ankara (African clothing Brand).
When she is not working with patients or running her Business, Michelle enjoys spending quality time with her children and family, sewing, creating unique embroidery design, crafting, and travelling.
Higher Ground International mission to advocate, empower and provide life-changing service aligns with Michelle’s Christian believes and values. As such, Michelle is honor to be a board member supporting the mission of this GREAT organization.
Higher Ground International is a forward-thinking and culturally grounded social impact nonprofit organization. We are dedicated to advocating for, empowering, and providing life-changing services to Liberians and West African immigrants, refugees, and other marginalized communities. We seek to restore dignity, empower lives, and keep peace through work that centers and celebrates the cultural heritage and unique individuality of those we serve.
Higher Ground International was founded in 2008 by Henrietta White-Holder, a native of Liberia, to help support the vast needs of refugee arrivals who had experienced the traumas of civil war. Click Here to learn more about our History.