Knoxville: (865) 540-1311
| Chattanooga: (423) 954-1911
Knoxville: (865) 540-1311 Chattanooga: (423) 954-1911

Board of Directors

Our Board of Directors are Bridge’s strength, life line to the community, and our greatest and committed advocates–they are composed of community members from both Chattanooga and Knoxville who are passionate about refugee resettlement. Members are volunteers and are not paid for their work for the agency. They meet at regular intervals, usually every three months, and function to provide fiscal oversight to the organization and well as monitoring and aiding in steering the organization towards fulfilling its mission.


Susan Speraw, PhD, RN (Chair), Retired Research Professor, University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and founding Director, Global Disaster Nursing Graduate Programs.  Dr. Speraw’s career bridged two disciplines: nursing and clinical psychology.  For over 45 years, she provided direct healthcare services to vulnerable families.  This included decades serving migrant populations: Vietnamese, Thai and Laotian refugees; women and children fleeing guerilla warfare in Central America; and undocumented migrant farm workers from Mexico. Additionally, she has led numerous medical trips to remote villages in Haiti. Other populations that have been the focus of her long career include families who have children with complex disabilities, chronic and terminal conditions, mental health problems, overwhelming stress, and/or low literacy.  She has been involved with Bridge Refugee Services since 2009, on the board since 2012, and assumed the role of Chair in spring 2015.  She resides in Signal Mountain, just outside Chattanooga.

Daphne Kirksey (Vice-Chair), a life-long Chattanooga resident with special expertise in community relations and communications, has served on theBridge Refugee Services board for over a decade.  During that time, she has worked extensively in government and government relations as a staff member in the office of a member of the United States Congress, and as External Affairs Officer of Tennessee American Water, her current position.  She lives in Signal Mountain, Tennessee.

Leah Berry (Secretary), has served on the Bridge Refugee Services board of directors for five years. She is Division Manager for Business Services at Strata-G, LLC, providing logistics analysis and contract support to government and commercial clients.  Her technical expertise includes process improvement, quality control and audits, Best Practices management, security management, customer service, and logistics oversight. In addition to participation in Strata-G’s community outreach in support of Knox Area Rescue Ministries, Ms. Berry is Past President of the Farragut Rotary Club, Rotary District 6780 International Grants Coordinator, and a supporter and former guardian for World War II veterans on Knoxville’s Honor Air Flights to Washington, D.C.  She holds a degree in Marketing from the University of Tennessee.  She resides in Knoxville.

Sonal Modi, CPA (Treasurer), is Business Operations Manager and Financial Analyst at Tennessee American Water.  With over twenty years of experience in auditing, finance, and taxation, in both Mumbai, India and the United States, she brings a wealth of expertise in financial management to the Bridge Refugee Services board.  She is licensed as a Certified Public Accountant in Tennessee. Her education includes an undergraduate degree and advanced graduate studies in Commerce, all from the University of Mumbai, India.  She resides in Chattanooga.


Abdulwahhab Alabid came from Iraq to Chattanooga as a refugee through Bridge Refugee Services
in April 2012. As an engineer in Basra, Iraq he assisted in United States’ effort to rebuild infrastructure
destroyed by the war, among the projects he was working on were schools, hospitals and water
treatment facilities. When the threats to him and his family became too severe to ignore Mr. Alabid had
to leave seeking peace and safety for his wife and three children. In the US, Mr. Alabid started his professional career at the recently opened Amazon Distribution Center but dreamed about opening his own catering business. In 2016 his dream came true and he launched family owned and operated Jinan’s Kitchen. His business specializes in Iraqi and Middle Eastern cuisine and his goal is “to spread love and peace through fresh authentic meals”. Mr. Alabid is one of the leaders of Adventist Moslem Friendship Association (AMFA), which provides him with the opportunity to foster better understanding and social cohesion between diverse members of the Chattanooga community.

Carrie DiMemmo, is a professional grant-writer, and has worked in Europe and the United States, guiding fundraising and development for major foundations and philanthropic groups.  She was one of the original volunteers at Bridge Refugee Services, and has been a faithful supporter for decades.  She lives with her family in Chattanooga.

Martin Lester, J.D., holds a law degree from Yale University School of Law, and specializes in immigration law and criminal defense.  During his career, he has served as public defender and has maintained private practice in Virginia, Florida and Tennessee.  He has been admitted to the following Bar Associations:  United States Supreme Court; United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit; United States Court of Federal Claims; United States District Court, Eastern District of Tennessee; United States District Court, Northern District of Florida; United States District Court, Eastern District of Virginia; United States District Court, Western District of Virginia; State of Tennessee; State of Florida. Mr. Lester resides in Chattanooga.

Lauren Oppizzi, MSN, RN, holds a master’s degree in Global Disaster Nursing from the University of Tennessee College of Nursing in Knoxville, and is currently pursuing nursing doctoral studies there, specializing in delivery of healthcare to refugees and vulnerable, displaced groups who have survived forced migration.  She is a certified cardiovascular nurse, stroke specialist, and currently also serves as a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the university.  She has been the recipient of numerous awards for clinical excellence, academic scholarship and professional promise. She has spent time traveling and working in Africa.  Community service has been directed to major public health efforts in remote areas of rural Appalachia, where she volunteered thousands of hours to a project which succeeded in bringing a permanent fresh water source to a population of isolated families who were previously forced to use heavily polluted water.  She lives in Knoxville.

Margaret Scobey, M.A. former United States Ambassador to Syria (2003-2005) and the Arab Republic of Egypt (2008-2011), recently retired from the U.S. Foreign Service after a 32-year career. During her diplomatic career, Ambassador Scobey served as Political Counselor in Baghdad, 2006-2007; Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia from September 2001 through November 2003; Deputy Chief of Mission in Sanaa, Yemen; as well as earlier assignments in Jerusalem, Kuwait, Pakistan, and Peru.  In addition, Ambassador Scobey held a variety of positions in the United States Department of State: staff assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Near East and South Asian Affairs, Watch Officer in the Operations Center, Political-Military Officer in the Office of Israel and Arab-Israeli Affairs, Deputy Director of the Secretariat Staff, and Director of the Office of Arabian Peninsula Affairs. Ambassador Scobey graduated with a degree in History from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where she also received her Master’s Degree.  She pursued doctoral studies in History at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor before joining the Foreign Service.  Ambassador Scobey is recipient of the U.S. Department of State award for Distinguished Service and a Presidential Service Award. She lives in Knoxville.

Erik J. Zilen, is an entrepreneur, involved in business start-ups since 2006, and the Owner and Operator of Niedlov’s Breadworks in Chattanooga since 2012.  In addition to overseeing all elements of Niedlov’s daily operations and product development, he also is responsible for branding; sales and community outreach; marketing; media relations; strategic planning; bookkeeping, inventory and cost management; and facilities maintenance.  Prior to the start of his entrepreneurial career, he was Accounting Manager for Unum, and Director of Economic Development for Create Here, both business entities based in Chattanooga.  His connection to Bridge Refugee Services began in 2008, when he was employed for three years as a Case Manager in refugee resettlement, working directly with Bridge Refugee Services clients.  Though he eventually left Bridge’s employ, he has maintained his connection to the agency, serving as a powerful advocate for refugees, seeking ways to increase refugee employment opportunities within the business community.  He is a graduate of Eastern University in PA.