Board of Directors
(in alphabetical order)
Jennifer Hines (Board Chair)
Amy Leonard (Board Secretary)
Victor Rhett (Board Treasurer)
The Tacoma Refugee Choir is a non-auditioned choir of refugees, immigrants, and friends who seek belonging and are committed to creating a more equitable and welcoming community. In its first six years, the Tacoma Refugee Choir led by Erin Guinup has welcomed over 700 members from over 65 countries and performed for over 30,000 people at community, educational and government events, including WE Day, the National Race & Pedagogy Conference, and U.S. Citizenship ceremonies. The choir received standing ovations at TEDxSeattle and has been featured on PBS and network television with stories and music videos of original songs created with members.
We may not change conditions for the 100 million people displaced by wars, famine, and natural disasters, but we can welcome and love those who find themselves in our community.
Executive & Artistic Director
Erin Guinup’s pursuit of creative, uplifting, and service-oriented work is the driving force behind her varied career. She is the founding Executive and Artistic Director of the Tacoma Refugee Choir which has included singers from 66 countries and performed for over 40,000 people. With the choir, she has spoken at TEDxSeattle, been featured on PBS, and presented on hope in diverse communities for Starbucks and the Global Migrant Festival in Singapore. She has led national community singing events, spoken at national conferences for NATS, ACDA, and Chorus America, and presented workshops on the voice of leadership for Amazon and small business groups. Erin is a classically-trained soprano and has been featured with groups including Symphony Tacoma, Ensign Symphony and Tacoma Concert Band singing Puccini’s La Bohème, Handel’s Messiah, Carmina Burana, Disney’s Frozen, and her own original songs. Her internationally performed one-woman show about female composers was praised as “an amazing tour-de-force” and another show was described as “life-changing”. A sought-after teacher in classical and contemporary vocal technique and contributing author for three books, Erin’s voice students have found success on Broadway, operatic stages, radio and television. Other career highlights include directing the world premiere of Orson Scott Card and Mark Mitchell’s He is There; performing as Mary Poppins; conducting Rob Gardner’s Lamb of God; hearing her choral works performed by other choirs; and singing with Israeli-Palestinian choir Common Ground Voices in Jerusalem and Germany. Erin was recently recognized as an American Leadership Forum fellow, OL Reign Legend, one of Tacoma’s Most Inspiring Women and one of five Women to Watch by South Sound Magazine. She became a Senior Fellow of the Tacoma/Pierce County chapter of the American Leadership Forum in 2022.
Director of Development & Communications
Jefferson brings over 15 years of professional experience in nonprofit and human rights-based organizations, but he is most proud of his life experiences that inspire and inform this work. Born in Hong Kong, educated in Iowa and New York, and shaped by living on four continents, Jefferson is dedicated to advocating for people to gain greater sovereignty over all aspects of their lives. That is the common theme that ties Jefferson’s background as an immigrant, aid worker, human rights advocate, journalist, radio host, photographer - and now, TRC’s new Director of Development and Communications. Combining his instincts for strategic and organizational thinking with a lifelong passion for crafting stories to share our common narratives, Jefferson is eager to spur TRC in this next phase of its growth. He sees TRC’s potential as a vehicle that can carry themes of hope and unity while bringing greater understanding and sensitivity to working with people of all backgrounds. Underneath these ideas is a fundamental commitment to seeing people as they wish to be seen, which can only be accomplished with a focus on justice and equity. Jefferson previously served on TRC’s Board, chaired Tacoma’s Commission on Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, and is an American Leadership Forum Senior Fellow.
Gadine Niyotwizeye is originally from Rwanda and has lived in many places including South Africa. Born during a difficult time in Rwandan history and as a survivor of war, her experiences have taught her to not take life for granted and to appreciate peace and freedom. She is passionate about people and helping others and has a great appreciation for travel and experiencing culture from different parts of the world. Gadine is an avid hiker, a talented dancer, and enjoys bringing people together. She recently graduated from Tacoma Community College with her Associate’s degree and is planning to continue to a 4 year college. Her dream is to make a difference and impact the lives of others. “We are here to love and be loved and that is what we all want in life."
Director of Operations
Mariia Pozhar was born in the Soviet Union and grew up during the difficult transition of Ukraine becoming an independent country. She followed her passion to become a musician, graduated from the Odessa Musical College, and sang professionally for over 10 years. Mariia and her husband founded and ran the Babushka Grand chain of hostels to provide a safe and fun way for backpackers to learn about Odessa’s vibrant culture. Unfortunately, because of the Russian invasion of Crimea and the Donbas region, there was a general economic collapse, and the tourism industry was hit especially hard. In 2015, Mariia and her husband moved to the United States. In the US, Mariia ran operations for a Lacrosse club in the SF Bay Area, worked as a banker, but only found her home singing with the Tacoma Refugee Choir. In 2019, Mariia joined TRC’s Board of Directors as a Choir Member at Large and served on the Board for two years, until she joined TRC’s staff in April 2021. Mariia is also often performing locally with her jazz band "Two Eyes."
Maurice Lekea, Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), arrived in the US in 2000. After 19 years of living in Washington, his Asylum case finally got approved in July 2019. While raising 5 children (3 sons and 2 daughters) as a single dad, Maurice went to school in North Seattle College and worked a full time job. He then continued his education at Edmond Community College. Despite speaking no English when he first arrived in America, Maurice eventually became a certified French - English Interpreter/Translator in 2008. He has worked for Rosetta Stone coaching French and provided translation services for hospitals, social services, courts, and immigration. In August 2019, Maurice joined the choir: “the choir has opened me up and helped me see new possibilities for me and my community." Maurice was recently appointed as a commissioner for the City of Tacoma's Commission for Refugee and Immigrant Affairs.
Our Partners and Sponsors
We are so grateful for our many community partners and sponsors