Staff & Board of Directors
Who We Are

Staff & Board of Directors


Mary Nell McPherson, Executive Director

Mary Nell McPhersonSince January 2000, Mary Nell McPherson has served as the executive director of Freedom School Partners working toward their mission to engage, educate, and empower children to succeed in school and in life through quality, year-round educational enrichment programs.

McPherson has been a leader in Freedom School Partners’ growth from one site serving 100 children to nineteen sites serving 1,200 children.

McPherson has worked in the nonprofit sector for over 20 years. Her substantial history in nonprofit management includes serving as the director of operations for Habitat for Humanity in Charlotte and support specialist for Crisis Assistance Ministry.

McPherson also served on the Friendship Trays Board of Directors and has remained a Meals on Wheels driver for the past 20 years. McPherson also served on the Johnson YMCA Advisory Board for a short time in the early 1990’s. In October 2009, McPherson received Mecklenburg Ministries’ honorable Community Leader Award for ten years of service in the Charlotte community.

Due to the success of Freedom Schools in Charlotte, McPherson was appointed to the national Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools Advisory Board in 2011. An ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA), she believes that education and the knowledge of God’s love are the keys for children growing into their potential.

She graduated from Mary Baldwin College 1979 and moved to Charlotte, NC to work for then, Duke Power and made a move to the nonprofit sector in 1985 to work for Crisis Assistance Ministry. After 10 years she worked for Habitat for Humanity and was hired as the executive director of then, Seigle Avenue Partners in 1999.

Mary Nell is married to Kevin Strawn with whom she has two college-aged daughters, Mollie and Rosemarie. In her free time she enjoys practicing centering prayer and yoga. Her favorite childhood book is Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder.


Nikki Keith, Director of Development

img_0887With more than 15 years’ experience in non-profit communications and fund development, Nikki Keith currently serves as the Director of Development for Freedom School Partners.  Mrs. Keith provides strategic leadership in developing philanthropic relationships in support of FSP programs. She is also responsible for annual support from individuals, corporations, and foundations, as well as special events.  Nikki began her non-profit career with the Boy Scouts of America holding professional roles at Blue Ridge Council (Greenville, SC) and Mecklenburg County Council (Charlotte, NC).  In addition, Mrs. Keith has served as Director of Resource Development and the Women’s Leadership Initiative for United Way of Central Carolinas.  Prior to joining Freedom School Partners, Mrs. Keith served as Director of Development for the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture.

Mrs. Keith holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Public Relations from Western Kentucky University as well as a Master of Business Administration from Wake Forest University.  She is a member of Leadership Charlotte Class 38, the Rotary Club of Charlotte and the Association for Fundraising Professionals.   She lives in Matthews with her husband Shawn, 8 year-old son Collin and 5 year-old daughter Corrin.


Paul Barnhardt, Chief Operations Officer

Paul BarnhardtPaul Barnhardt joined Freedom School Partners in September 2015 as director of program development. In this role, he works to provide leadership to the program team and takes on projects identified as part of the post-summer debrief process. Paul also engages in work around several key issues moving forward, including maximizing collaboration across existing stakeholder communities and strategic expansion.

Paul has dedicated his professional career to serve as an advocate and supporter of underserved youth in the communities he calls home. He saw first-hand the impact Freedom Schools have on the lives of children while in his role as principal of Montclaire Elementary School. Paul brings fifteen years of teaching, non-profit leadership, and school leadership experience to his work at Freedom School Partners.

Paul graduated with his undergraduate degree in Political Science and Elementary Education from UNC – Chapel Hill and got his master’s degree from Delta State University. He is married to Kelly Barnhardt and they are the proud parents of three children, Gilbert, Molly, and Ronan.


Allen Davis, Director of Program Operations

Allen DavisAllen has been apart of the Freedom School movement for more than 6 years. He has previously served as an intern, site coordinator, and lead regional site coordinator. He believes in working to make Freedom School a great place for thousands of children across the city of Charlotte. Allen has also served as an Ella Baker Trainer for The Children’s Defense Fund. He is an active member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Allen attended the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he majored in Africana Studies. Allen believes that the work of Freedom School Partners is crucial to the betterment of Charlotte and our nation as we produce the leaders of tomorrow.


Sally Sacco, Bookkeeper

Sally SaccoSally joined Freedom School Partners in February 2013. As bookkeeper, Sally is committed to being a faithful steward of the resources available to Freedom School Partners. Sally volunteers at Myers Park Presbyterian Church as head of Vacation Church Camp and the Weekday School Board. Previously, Sally worked at Carolinas Healthcare Systems as an accountant. Sally went to Presbyterian College and is a native of Charlotte. She is married to Brian and has two beautiful children, Carson and Connor.

Alexis Mann, Administrative Coordinator

IMG_9982Alexis Mann joined FSP in February 2016 as the administrative coordinator. She works closely with all departments to ensure that FSP is running at the most efficient level possible and provides support to all of the FSP segments.

Alexis comes to Freedom School Partners from Schaeffler Group USA where she held the an intern in the Human Resources department. In addition, she worked as a communications catalyst with Charlotte Bilingual Preschool to ease the technological transition as they moved sites and to help bridge the digital divide with their children by researching and purchasing the latest and greatest technology for the kids to have at their fingertips.

She graduated from Davidson College in spring 2015 with a Hispanic studies degree and has a deep sense of service to all. She was exposed to Freedom School by means of her best friend while in college. She would go visit almost every day and built relationships with the kids. With those built relationships between herself and the kids she was then moved to tutor at the local community center,  Ada Jenkins, where she was able to keep the relationship going between the kids she meet over the summer during the school year as well. She is fluent and Spanish and English. Her favorite book is Jane Eyre and she loves to eat anything that is salty.

Kenya Smith, Communications Coordinator

Kenya SmithKenya joined Freedom School Partners in February 2015 as a part of the Program Team. She transitioned into her role as communications coordinator as part of the Development Team in October 2015.

In her role she works on social media management and forecasting, media relations, branding, messaging, and all things that relate to the internal and external marketing and communication health of Freedom School.

Kenya graduated from UNC-Charlotte with a degree in Communication Studies and Public Relations. She also received the Epley Certification in International Public Relations and is a member of the Public Relations Society of America. She was awarded the UNC-Charlotte Distinguished Leaders Medal and International Women’s Award in 2014. She is fluent in Spanish and English

Kenya enjoys gardening, traveling, photography, writing and her pet chihuahua Kobe. Her favorite childhood book is A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon.


Tiffany Williams, Scholar and Family Coordinator

Tiffany WilliamsTiffany Williams began her work at Freedom School Partners in the summer of 2007 as a servant leader intern. Since then she has served as an intern at both the Highland Renaissance and Avondale Freedom School sites, as well as worked in the Freedom School Afterschool program at Sedgefield Elementary. Tiffany was able to continue her work with Freedom School Partners in 2011 when she joined the Program Team as program assistant. She is now the scholar & family coordinator, responsible for the registration of all scholars in Freedom School as well as Parent Engagement. Her sincere passion for community building and working with families drives her work to help Freedom School Partners in its vision for a “Freedom School for every child who needs one.”

Tiffany graduated from UNC-Greensboro with a degree in Spanish with a concentration in Education. She also has extensive training in Human Development and Family Studies. She is fluent in Spanish and plays three musical instruments. Her favorite childhood book is Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.


Carolyn Lugo-Allred, Volunteer Coordinator

Carolyn Lugo-AllredCarolyn Lugo-Allred joined Freedom School Partners staff in March 2015 in a different role and became the volunteer coordinator in September. Carolyn has worked as a human resources professional for over 20 years in both the private and not-for-profit sector.

Prior to joining Freedom School Partners, Carolyn spent a year as the Section Manager for Texas Tech University Human Resources Department, managing all employee relations for the University, which employs over 6,000. Previously, Carolyn served as the human resources manager for Children’s Theatre of Charlotte for six years. In this role, she consolidated and managed the full scope of human resources and benefits management. She also served on the CTC Management Team, working closely with senior managers on strategic planning and implementation. In addition, Carolyn worked with the Monaghan Group as a human resources consultant.

Carolyn has a B.A. from Texas Tech University and a Masters in Public Administration from Baruch College, City University of New York. Carolyn has served in numerous leadership roles at her children’s schools and at her church. She served on the Board of Directors of QC Family Tree, which hosts one of our Freedom Schools. The Allred family has supported the work of Freedom School Partners since the beginning and her daughter, Addy, served as one of our Servant Leader Interns for two summers. She is married to Stephen Allred and has two grown children, Elijah and Addy. One of her many favorite childhood books is Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary.


Colleen Davis, Activities and Logistics Coordinator

Colleen BurickColleen joined Freedom School Partners in September of 2015 as activities and logistics coordinator. In her role she plans, executes, and monitors scholar extracurricular activities and events. During the summer of 2015, Colleen experienced the life altering work of Freedom Schools when she worked as a site coordinator for the Montclaire Elementary Freedom School site. Prior to working for Freedom School Partners Colleen taught science at Piedmont IB Middle School.

Colleen graduated from Pennsylvania State University with an undergraduate degree in Biology. She has a solid passion for children and is an advocate for ensuring that all children have access to positive influences and resources that enrich human lives. Colleen enjoys everything sports with a strong love for playing and coaching soccer. Her favorite childhood book is Stone Soup.


Necole Watts, School Year Engagement Coordinator

Necole WattsFor over 23 years, Necole Watts has been shaping the lives of children. Whether through her work as a group home counselor, an advocate for children, or working in the Special Education Department of Garinger High School, there is no doubt that there are children who will become better adults as a result of their time spent with Ms. Watts.

As the third child of four, she is often described as a team player who loves being a part of family whether at home or at work.

Her love for team sports has been demonstrated on the softball field where she plays both outfield and catcher positions, a coach of the elementary level team with park and recreation basketball, the coach of women’s basketball at Garinger High School, and assistant coach at South Mecklenburg High School.

As school-year engagement coordinator, Necole continues to use her gifts to provide mentorship for children of all ages. She collaborates with community partners, supporting their involvement with scholars and their communities into the school year after Freedom School ends each summer. Her favorite childhood book is Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss.




Barbara Wright, Chair, Wells Fargo

Frank Barnes, CMS

Kim Beal, Community Volunteer

Rev. Y. Trevor Beauford, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church

Hank Durkin, Microsoft

Lisa Emory, Allen Tate Company

Patty Funderburg, Community Volunteer

Kim Graham, CommunityOne Bank

Jennifer Green, PNC Bank

Lise Hain, Community Volunteer

Greg Harper, Bank of America

Reid Leggett, Community Volunteer

Bill Lorenz, Bank of America

Burch Mixon, Burch Mixon Garden Designs

Geoffrey Mize, Ernst & Young

James Rainer, Prime Source Educational Services

Laura Solitario, Ettain Group

Dr. Gary Starr, Starr & Dickens Orthodontics

Derrick Thompson, NTT Data Consulting, Inc.

Campbell Tucker, Novant Health

Mary Vickers-Koch, Central Piedmont Community College

Juanita Wade, Community Volunteer