Erin Guinup, Executive & Artistic Director

Erin Guinup is the founding Executive and Artistic Director of the Tacoma Refugee Choir. A passionate advocate of community singing and the power of music to heal and unite communities, she has led community singing events and spoken at national conferences for Chorus America, National Association of Teachers of Singing, American Choral Director’s Association, and the International Congress of Voice Teachers in Stockholm, Sweden, and TEDxSeattle. As a solo artist, Erin frequently performs as a guest soloist with ensembles including Symphony Tacoma, Ensign Symphony, Northwest Repertory Singers and Tacoma Concert Band. Her internationally performed one-woman show, The Ladies of Lyric and Song: Female Composers and Lyricists of the American Musical Theatre has been praised as “an amazing tour-de-force”. Specializing in both classical and contemporary technique, she is a sought-after clinician and voice teacher with students on Broadway, regional theatre and operatic stages, and television’s American Idol, The Voice, and America’s Got Talent. Other career highlights include playing Mary Poppins; conducting Rob Gardner’s Lamb of God, Handel’s Messiah, and the world premiere of Orson Scott Card and Mark Mitchell’s He is There; singing with Israeli-Palestinian choir Common Ground Voices in Jerusalem and Europe; and vocal workshops with Fortune 100 companies including Amazon. She is a composer and author, contributing to the books So You Want to Sing Music by Women and My Body Was Left on the Street: Music Education and Displacement. Most recently, Erin was named one of five Women to Watch by South Sound Magazine.

Thierry Ruboneka, Community Engagement Coordinator

Thierry Ruboneka is a peace advocate, entrepreneur and has a great passion for music. He moved to United States in 2016 with his family as refugees after spending so many years away from their home country DRC which was torn apart with war. He studied Multimedia while in his refugee in Uganda and went ahead to manage one of the most successful digital music startups in Africa. He has over Seven years’ experience in administration, business development and management.

​After arriving in United States he has worked with organizations for Refugee Services and resettlement, he is an exceptional event organizer with hands on experience very detail-oriented, with a reputation for thorough process documentation creation, review, and training. His ability to speak Fluently 5 different languages gained two years’ experience working with immigrants and refugees from different countries and nationalities. in the same year of his arrival he worked with Uganda North America Association to bring the first beauty pageant of Miss Uganda North America to Washington and has started his own start up to promote African Culture and life style. 

Diane Tilstra, Operations Manager

Diane Tilstra brings 25 years of fundraising experience to the non-profits she serves. As both a board member and mentor to non-profits, she is dedicated to bringing prosperity to the non-profit community. DT has a BS in Business Admin and Marketing from City University. She writes, sings and does voiceover acting in her spare time! 


Diane's maternal great grandparents immigrated from Sicily in the early 1900's. Great Grandmother Rosalie and her husband Gaetano Russo sailed into the Port of Louisiana on the SS Elizabeth Towne with two young sons and her favorite cooking pots tied around her waist! They boarded a train for Monterey, California. Her paternal great grandparents sailed to America in the late 1800's from the Netherlands and settled in the farmland of Michigan. She is a community activist and dedicated grandmother that deeply respects the hearty, resilient foremothers and fathers that came before her to America. “It is a pleasure to sing in the choir and serve to organize events!"

Victoria Helmer, Fundraising Manager

Victoria Helmer is currently a student at the University of Puget Sound, in the Business Leadership Program. Ever since she started volunteering at auctions as a young girl, Victoria has loved working in nonprofits. From the very moment she entered her first Tacoma Refugee Choir practice she felt so welcomed and loved. When she’s not working, Victoria enjoys skiing, working with stained glass, and reading a good mystery novel.


Victoria’s grandparents met during the Japanese occupation following World War II. Her grandfather was an american soldier who won over the heart of a local Japanese women he met through his japanese translator and close friend. With special permission granted by General Douglas MacArthur, the two were allowed to marry. Together they built a home in Tacoma and started a family.

Maurice Lekea, Fundraising Associate 

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 worked for Rosetta Stone coaching French. He also provided translation services for hospitals, social services, courts, and immigration. Maurice has enjoyed his volunteer work with the Shoreline YMCA after school program “Hangtime”. In August 2019, Maurice joined the choir: “it was an outstanding experience to meet people from different backgrounds, ethnics, cultures etc...developing friendship.” He is enjoying learning new things and helping the choir grow. During his time working with the choir he hopes to help both refugees and non-refugees find important resources for integration, build friendships within the choir and find their voices through singing. 

Mariia Pozhar, Executive Assistant

Mariia joined the Tacoma Refugee Choir staff in May 2021.  Bio coming soon.


Victor Rhett (Chair)

Eula Ramroop (Treasurer)

Lucas Smiraldo (Secretary)

Nathalie Bajinya*

Bhagirath Bhatt* 

Mike Collier*

Amy Leonard

Jefferson Mok*

Melyssa Stone

Matthew Wurdeman

*Identifies as Refugee or Immigrant