Open Your Heart, Open Your Mind, Open the World

Follow International Festival on Twitter Like International Festival on Facebook

Meet the Team


Heena PatelHeena Patel
Executive Director

Heena comes to us with over 25 years of global expertise on international development issues, with a focus on community sustainability, NGO accountability, wildlife conservation, intergovernmental relations and international program management.

Heena’s career includes establishing and managing The Island Foundation in Singapore and Indonesia, managing multi-million dollar projects in Central Asia and Central America at the Harvard Institute for International Development (HIID), advising the Executive Director at the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and at the United States Fish & Wildlife Service. She has also worked extensively on protecting the environment and endangered species and with tribes such as the Maasai and Native Americans.

Heena is of Indian descent, originally hails from Tanzania and lives in Raleigh with her husband and two children.

Email: [email protected]


Leila BekriLeila Bekri
Director of International Visitor Leadership Programs

Leila was born in New York City and was raised in Tunis. Her father's service with the UNDP ​took her family to the U.S., Europe, and West Africa before moving back to Tunis. Being exposed to a multitude of cultures, languages and places at an early age, she developed and cultivated a sense of diversity and pluralism which she later reinforced through her education, work and her passion for people and world affairs.

Fluent in French and Arabic, she returned to the United States in the Nineties. Leila graduated from the Faculté des Sciences Juridiques, Politiques et Sociales de Tunis, Tunis II; and North Carolina State University, where she earned a master's degree in international studies (including a few PhD level courses) with an extensive focus on comparative legal systems.

She took part in the planning committee for the Cary Citizen Diplomacy Summit from 2012 to 2016. She has sat on several panels locally and nationally on a variety of topics focusing on public diplomacy, peace building, and intercultural dialogue. In addition to these activities, she advocates for women’s issues, education, freedom of speech, and opinion, and information in the media. Today, besides her work at International Focus, Leila is involved with humanitarian organizations. She enjoys the outdoors, literature, music, and films. She is a fan of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina.

Email: [email protected]


Maria AdoskinaMaria Adoskina
Director of Special Projects (Community Connections, Open World, and Youth Leadership Program)

Maria Adoskina is from Moscow, Russia where she was a professor of English at the prestigious Academy of Sciences and where she got her Ph.D. After immigrating to the USA, she worked at New Life Ministries (NLM), Apex, NC, directing its Slavic department, interpreting and teaching Russian and Russian history to NLM team members.

Maria started working for IF (then known as International Affairs Council) in 2000.

Being native Russian speaker, she is able to bridge cultures and provide guests with cultural exchanges that are sensitive to their needs while introducing them to all levels of American life. She has directed numerous successful programs via Community Connections, Open World, Youth Leadership Programs, and YLAI (Young Leaders of Americas Initiative).

Email: [email protected]


Wanda CappsWanda Capps
Administrative Support and Bookkeeper

Wanda Capps, a native North Carolinian, has over 30 years of experience in bookkeeping, financial and office management in both the nonprofit and private sectors. Before coming to International Focus, she worked to support the International Visitors’ Leadership and Open World Programs at the International Affairs Council of NC from 2006-2013. Wanda is a life-long learner and has continued to build upon her mastery of her chosen profession. Outside of work, she volunteers her time in the community and at her church in support of various causes both local and abroad. Most importantly, however, Wanda dedicates her time to her family, her children, and her grandchildren.

Email: [email protected]


Board of Directors

nazi picture2016 05 19 13.42.44Nazi Ahmadi Kite

Nazi Kite has been involved with the International Festival since 1987. In the beginning, she participated at the early festivals with the Iranian Cultural Society of NC and helped showcase Persian culture in this event. In Early 1990, she joined the International Focus Board of Directors. Since then she has served in different capacities including 10 years as the President of the Board and member of the Festival committee for numerous years. Nazi is an experienced Project Manager in the IT area and has worked in RTP over 30 years. Nazi is also very active with the Persian community in the triangle area. Nazi and her husband Gary live in Cary. Nazi is a world traveler and her interests other than traveling are volunteer activities, theater, reading and spending time with family and friends.


Mike GuassMike Gauss
Vice President

During his career, Mike has run his own small business, managed new invention institutional sales, served as director of client relations with a commercial construction materials supplier and directed hospitality and organizational logistics for Fortune 500 companies. Early in his career, Mike served as campaign manager for a state Senate candidate in Wisconsin.

Mike currently serves on RTI’s community advisory board, is the co-coordinator of national and international disability accessibility programs for Metropolitan Community Churches and serves as Director of Public Relations for his local church, St. John’s MCC. In addition to this role, he has also served as chair of the Board of Trustees and as a member of the Board of Directors, and as part of the City of Raleigh’s Human Relations Commission Mayor’s Unity Breakfast.


Jackie PrillamanJackie Prillaman, CPA

Jackie is a tax partner based in McGladrey's Raleigh, N.C. office. She has more than 18 years of experience providing multi-state and multi-national tax compliance and consulting services. Jackie focuses on advising middle market clients on maximizing tax planning opportunities and aids clients in restructuring, ASC740 calculations, credit maximization and modeling of tax benefits.

Jackie currently works with clients throughout the U.S. and in various foreign countries in the engineering, architectural, construction, software, manufacturing, power, employment staffing, insurance and personal service industries. Her experience includes planning, organizing and supervising all phases of client engagements.

Prior to joining McGladrey, Jackie worked at two Big Four accounting firms and also served as a tax director for a $500 million multinational construction company.


Bernadette PelissierBernadette Pelissier

Bernadette Pelissier was born in Dakar, Senegal of French parents and came to the US as an infant. She lived in Damascus, Syria during her early adolescence. She has in Ph.D. in Sociology from UNC Chapel Hill. Her career has focused on evaluating mental health programs first for a local mental health center and subsequently for 20 years with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Recently she stepped down from serving two terms as a county commissioner. At present, she is farming with her children.


Elizabeth BenderElizabeth Bender
Board Member

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Elizabeth’s career took her all over the world before she landed in the Triangle in 2015. As a career Foreign Service Officer with the State Department, she served in Azerbaijan, Indonesia and Italy, as well as two domestic assignments in Washington D.C. Elizabeth also has significant experience working with international students at The Boston Conservatory and North Carolina State University. She holds a Master of Education degree from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Smith College. Elizabeth is a passionate believer in the value of person-to-person diplomacy. She lives in Raleigh with her husband and infant son.


Dikarn KabbendjianDikran Kabbendjian
Board Member

Born to Armenian parents in Nazareth, Dikran had the unique experience of growing up among Palestinians within a Jewish state, and attending a Catholic elementary school as well as a Southern Baptist middle school. While working in his father's photography shop, he was exposed to pilgrims from all over the world. He came to Raleigh in 1976, and while attending Wake Technical College, he worked in Raleigh's first gourmet food store. He accepted a position with IT&T, the predecessor of his current employer, Alcatel-Lucent. After a career in environmental health and safety, as well as in human resources, he is now a corporate real-estate operations manager. He also graduated, Summa Cum Laude, with BS in business administration from North Carolina Wesleyan College. During his many years in Raleigh he remained engaged in the cultural, musical, and multi-cultural scene of this growing city. He is active in the local Armenian community and has participated in the Raleigh International Festival since 1990.


Sam LazarusSam Lasris
Board Member

Originally from Jacksonville Florida, Sam recently retired from 39 years of dental practice in Danville Virginia where he is a past president of the local dental society. Sam has been a volunteer for International Affairs Council in early 2012 and for International Focus since January 2014. Sam has served on the Orange County Planning Board, was original chairman of the Orange County Unified Transportation Board, and is currently on the Orange County Board of Health. His interests include politics, human rights, urban/suburban growth and development,access to health care, theater, arts and culture, and travel.


Kaley MansourKaley Mansour
Board Member

Kaley spent her youth in Texas before moving to NC. She earned a BS in accounting from NC Wesleyan College. She has dedicated the majority of her professional career to Non-Profits and worked as the Director of Business Operations at independent schools for the past 17 years. She is a faculty of diversity, social justice and inclusion and has taught effective cross-cultural communication at the annual Student Diversity Leadership Conference--an NAIS sponsored event which attracts 1500 youths and 3000 educators who recognize the need to explore core cultural identifiers. Kaley is a global citizen and neighbor who believes that building bridges across cultures strengthens communities and creates new possibilities.


Sean MaroneySean Maroney
Board Member

Sean anchors North Carolina News at 5, 5:30, 6 and 11 p.m. Raised in North Carolina, he returned home in 2013 after nearly a decade reporting around the world. Each night, he brings his love of this community and powerful journalism into our homes. Before starting at CBS North Carolina, Sean worked as a Pentagon correspondent for the Voice of America. He covered a wide-range of topics and travelled around the world. Sean graduated with distinction from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he double majored in journalism and Spanish. In his senior year, the prestigious William Randolph Hearst Foundation recognized Sean as one of the country’s top collegiate television reporters. NPR also chose him for its “Next Generation Radio Project.” Sean enjoys traveling, playing guitar, being active outdoors and cooking.


Support Us

Your support makes it possible for us to offer engaging and high quality arts and educational programs and to serve our international communities.

Donate Now!

Join Us

We invite you to become a member of International Focus today! Your membership will support our many efforts as well as taking part in our cultural activities.

Become a Member

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our newsletters by email.