Our Team

Meet the BFI Team
Julie Marner
Julie Marner – Executive Director

As BFI’s Executive Director, Julie oversees programming, funding, and implementation of projects in Burundi. Her love for Burundi began with her first visit to the country in 2010, then a subsequent trip in 2011 to teach English Communication at Light University. Since that time, Julie’s trips to Burundi have expanded beyond efforts in education to larger projects in economic empowerment. Throughout her life, Julie has assisted many volunteer organizations focusing on the homeless, the imprisoned, and the mentally ill. Julie is a Rotarian with the San Diego Rotary Club #33. 

Julie studied Music Education at St. Ambrose University in Iowa, has a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Colorado and a M.A. in Practical Theology from the University of San Diego. Having grown up on a small Iowa farm, Julie believes Iowans, and others with experience in agriculture, can uniquely empower Burundi's youth, women and families to shift from subsistence farming to sustainability and eliminate extreme hunger in the country.

Meet the BFI Board
Thierry Yungenge
Thierry Yungenge – Chair of Board

Thierry has had a passion for community service since his years in college. Thierry has supported various organizations and causes. He has donated and volunteered with local and international organizations such as the Clinton Global Initiative, ING Foundation, Habitat for Humanity and Junior Achievement. Mostly recently, Thierry spent three years as a volunteer for an Investment Challenge program sponsored by ING Foundation and Girls Inc., where he taught financial literacy and mentored inner city high school students in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Barbara Kelly - Board Member
Barbara Kelly– Secretary/Treasurer

Barbara is a founding member of BFI and an educator with an undergraduate degree in English from Santa Clara University and a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from California State University, Hayward. She has taught at the West Contra Costa School District and the Rancho Santa Fe School District. After retiring from a career she loved teaching elementary school, Barbara feels fortunate to have found the friendships, challenges, and rewards of involvement with Burundi Friends International.

Liz Clarke
Liz Clarke – Board Member

Liz has a BA in Sociology from Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, CT.  

She gained several years' experience in the field of accounting & bookkeeping. For the last 32 years she has served various entrepreneurial roles in her family operated technology reseller business, ranging from Customer Operations to Controller. Liz served for 10 years as a patient care volunteer for San Diego Hospice, and currently is living her dream, running a Bed & Breakfast in her home.

Joining the BFI Board in 2011, Liz endeavors to utilize her critical thinking in business, coupled with her heart for humanity, to take the BFI mission to enormous heights.

"Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love."
-Mother Theresa

Melissa Headshot
Melissa Flores- Board Member

Melissa has a BA in Anthropology from the University of California San Diego, and a MA at the University of San Diego in Nonprofit Leadership & Management. As a member of the  Nonprofit Academic Centers Council (NACC), Melissa’s passion lies in helping and educating others and believes that by helping people reach their goal, one will in turn reach his/her own goal. In her free time, Melissa enjoys traveling, reading, and volunteering at other local nonprofits.

Rene Headshot
Rene Keres – Board Member

Dr. René Keres completed her doctorate in psychology at Loma Linda University and has served the public in both the non-profit and government settings. Her expertise is in leadership development, systems, and in program evaluation, development and expansion. 

Dr. Keres travelled to Burundi in 2018 where she witnessed the impact being made by Burundi Friends International.  Meeting the people of Burundi and the passion of the BFI leaders inspired her to join the board in 2019.  Dr. Keres hopes her experience and entrepreneurial spirit will empower those that serve. 

Patricia Kidwingira
Patricia Kidwingira- Board Member

An African woman, citizen of Burundi, Patricia has studied and worked extensively in different countries and cultures, where she sought to contribute to the communities in which she worked and lived. Patricia has held various leadership roles in ToastMasters District 46 in New York and has a special interest in capacity building projects in Africa. She has contributed her time and expertise to launch the Institute of Internal Auditing in Burundi, and lectured Econometrics and Local Planning at the University of Burundi and Rwanda, helped in establishing a scholarship mechanism for AIDS orphans pursuing university education in Burundi and helped launch the first toastmasters club in Burundi.

Mary Pietanza headshot
Mary Pietanza– Board Member

As a senior talent and organizational effectiveness leader, Ms. Pietanza has over 25 years
experience working in the learning and organizational development function in small to large
organizations and as a consultant. Her experiences include the analysis, recommendation,
development, implementation and measurement of organizational effectiveness and change
initiatives, and implementing corporate learning, certification, degree and other education
programs with universities and related industry organizations at the enterprise level. She is an
experienced, qualified/certified facilitator and coach for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
(MBTI) and 360 multi-raters and DiSC, and has earned the certifications of Senior Professional
in Human Resources Management (SPHR) and the Society of Human Resources SHRM-SCP.
Ms. Pietanza has also facilitated organizational assessments, interventions and teambuilding
sessions for organizations.

Ms. Pietanza received a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration (BSBA) from the
University of the Pacific in Stockton, California and a Masters in Business Administration
(MBA) in Global Management from the Thunderbird School of Global Management (ASU) in
Arizona and Geneva, Switzerland. She is currently resides in Encinitas, California and is serving
as the immediate past president of the Pacific Alumni Association (University of the Pacific) and
volunteers in music ministry at her church.

Ashleigh Subramanian-Montgomery
Ashleigh Subramanian-Montgomery – Board Member

Ashleigh joined PartnersGlobal in 2019 as the Senior Program Associate for the Anglophone Sub-Saharan Africa portfolio, where she works on U.S. Department of State-funded projects focused on peacebuilding, access to justice, and rule of law in Nigeria, and on women, peace, and security more broadly. 

Prior to Partners, Ashleigh worked on: sustainable development and resource advocacy with the indigenous San community in Botswana; program design for gender equality, education, and youth empowerment in both Burundi and Timor-Leste; assessing the effectiveness and efficiency of UN peacekeeping missions in Israel, Palestine, and Syria; and advocacy and policy recommendations to the UN Security Council for Iraq’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. In the U.S., Ashleigh has worked in social service roles supporting homeless women and abused children.

She holds a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University, specializing in women, peace, and security, and human rights and humanitarian policy. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, with a Minor in Theater, from the University of California, San Diego.

She dreams of glass ceilings the world over finally breaking.

Sylvia Teaching

We are happy to say there is not enough room to list and picture all of the volunteers involved on the BFI Team.  In Burundi, there are now over 2,293 Volunteer BFI English Club Instructors.  In the U.S. our volunteer team is comprised of over 35 individuals helping all aspects of our organization.  Interested in becoming involved in the BFI Team? Email Val Quick at Val.Q@bufri.org for more information. Thank you!

Burundi Friends International

Burundi Friends International (BFI) is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization. We invite you to contact us to volunteer and join in our work to end poverty and create self-sustaining opportunities for Burundi, or donate to support BFI’s mission.