Ilham Askia
President & CEO

Ilham Askia serves as the President & CEO of the East Lake Foundation. In her role, she’s responsible for leading the Foundation’s strategic vision, fundraising, and ongoing work with East Lake Initiative partners to ensure progress towards the Foundation’s mission.

Askia is a seasoned nonprofit leader with a deep commitment to advancing social justice and equity.  Most recently, she served as Executive Director of Gideon’s Promise, a nonprofit public defender organization whose mission is to transform the criminal justice legal system by building a movement of public defenders who provide equal justice for marginalized communities. Prior to becoming Executive Director, she served as Program Director at Gideon’s Promise, where she worked with and helped to recruit new public defenders, as well as develop relationships with public defender offices throughout the Southeast.

Prior to her work with Gideon’s Promise, she served as an educator from 1999 to 2007.  Askia began her career in early childhood education as a Teach for America Fellow in the District of Columbia Public Schools and then later taught and facilitated teacher training in the charter school system before moving to Georgia. She served as a first-grade teacher, chaired the First Grade Team, and wrote Math curriculum for Fulton County Schools.

She has been honored with the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) Inspiring Woman Award, the Atlanta Hawks Most Notable Atlantan, and Atlanta Magazine’s Women Making a Mark Award.

Askia holds a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in City/Urban, Community, and Regional Planning, and a master’s degree in Elementary Education and Teaching from Trinity Washington University. She currently serves as a committee member of Leadership Atlanta, a post she’s held since 2017, and is a member of the Board of Directors for the Society of International Business Fellows (SIBF), which she joined in January 2021. She will begin her tenure on the National Head Start HSN Board this fall.

Catherine Woodling
Chief Operating Officer

Catherine Woodling serves as the Chief Operating Officer for the East Lake Foundation. Catherine is responsible for operations, finance, strategic planning and ongoing work with partners to ensure progress towards the Foundation’s mission. She also oversees marketing, communications, and media relations for the East Lake Initiative, working primarily with the East Lake Foundation, Drew Charter School and East Lake Golf Club. Most recently, Catherine served as Corporate Communications Manager for The Home Depot where she was responsible for crisis/issues and human resources communications. Previously, she served as the Public Relations and Communications Manager for The Home Depot Foundation. Prior to joining The Home Depot, Catherine served as the Media Relations Officer for Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.

As a native Atlantan, Catherine enjoys being involved in the community. She serves as a board member for Charles R. Drew Charter School, a board member and Secretary of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, and as a board member of First Tee — Metro Atlanta.  She serves as Secretary of the East Lake Foundation and East Lake Housing Corporation’s Board. She is the Chair of the City of Atlanta’s NPU-N, the former President of the Reynoldstown Civic Improvement League and is a member of the LEAD Atlanta Class of 2010. She has been recognized as one of Atlanta’s Power 30 Under 30(2007), Georgia Trend Magazine’s 40 Under 40 (2016) and Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 40 Under 40 (2017).

She graduated from the University of Arizona Honors College with a degree in Political Science. She is also a graduate of the Arizona Blue Chip Leadership Program, a formal four-year leadership program that emphasizes community involvement.

She and her husband live in the historic Reynoldstown neighborhood in southeast Atlanta with their two children.

Meisha White
Director of Finance and Operations

Meisha White serves as the East Lake Foundation’s Director of Finance and Operations.  In her role, she is responsible for the day-to-day accounting functions for the Foundation and Purpose Built Communities, including the maintenance of fiscal records, the preparation of financial reports and analyses, the oversight of financial transactions and the Audit and Tax Return. She also manages the Foundation’s Human Resources and Information Technology vendor relationships.

Meisha comes with over 20 years of accounting and management experience, with many of those years in the nonprofit sector. She is originally from Massachusetts by way of North Carolina, attending high school in Raleigh NC and Guilford College in Greensboro NC. She and her husband have two teenage daughters.

She has been recognized as a school Star Volunteer and is a two-time recipient of the  Leadership Award. She has fulfilled the role as Treasurer for both the PTA board and her local Toastmasters club. She serves as a reading mentor for Everybody Wins Atlanta, a youth reading program developed for improving literacy for children.

Upon moving to Atlanta 11 years ago, she developed a love for tennis and currently holds a city championship title for a singles and doubles league.  When not playing tennis, she is either watching tennis, running, or watching football.

Jennifer W. McCrary
Director of Outreach and Engagement

Jennifer W. McCrary serves as the Director of Outreach and Engagement. Jennifer is an experienced workforce and community engagement professional who is passionate about people who want to improve themselves through personal and professional transformation. Her leadership and commitment has been nurtured through her work experience in higher education and non-profit leadership. She has always been a guiding force in her personal and professional relationships. Her optimistic and encouraging spirit has made her a positive agent of change.

Jennifer has over 20 years of experience in higher education, workforce development, and community redevelopment where she seeks to help transform and impact the lives of others. Jennifer has been with the East Lake Foundation for the last 10 years moving the mission forward. She serves as a community board member for the East Lake Family YMCA, The Marcell Anderson Foundation, United Way VIP – Class of 2012, Legacy of Pearls Foundation, and recipient of proclamations from DeKalb County Commissioners (2017) and the State of Georgia (2022) for her commitment to community development.

Jennifer is a native Atlantan, and a proud product of the Atlanta Public School System and University System of Georgia. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of Georgia, a Master of Arts in Education from Clark Atlanta University, and is currently pursuing her Doctorate in Educational Leadership.

Sharon Hall-Thomas
Operations and Special Initiatives Manager

Sharon Hall-Thomas is Operations and Special Initiatives Manager for the Foundation. Before joining the Foundation in 2000 as Executive Assistant, she served as an administrative assistant for the law firm of Rubin, Winter, Rapoport and Hall. She also worked as an administrative assistant for the Child Support Enforcement Agency, acting as liaison between the agency and the court system. She attended Georgia State University and volunteers regularly at Charles R. Drew Charter School in East Lake.

Jessie Bond
Grants Manager

Jessie Bond is the Foundation’s Grants Manager, responsible for research and development of grant proposals, along with grants reporting for the Foundation. Jessie has served as a consultant to a number of nonprofits and foundations and was formerly Senior Program Officer for the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta as well as a Grants Officer for the Appalachian Community Fund. She began her career as a reporter and editor. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, Jessie also holds a masters from Georgetown University.

Dwayne Watkins
Impact and Engagement Manager

Dwayne Watkins serves as the Impact and Engagement Manager for the Foundation. He is primarily responsible for managing, storing, organizing and monitoring program data across the East Lake Initiative to show collaborative impact. Dwayne continues to research and stay informed on all data trends and initiatives that help strengthen and sustain the work being done across the East Lake initiative.   He also continues cultivate ELF data by formalizing data practices, implementing data sharing agreements which hopes that the data model be replicated in other organizations across the country under the Purpose Built Communities umbrella.

Dwayne Watkins, a recipient of the 2016 Top 25 Game Changers in workforce, moved to “big City” of Atlanta from a small town called Lumber Bridge, North Carolina with hopes of changing the lives of at risk youth and underserved populations.  He studied Sociology and Africana Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and immediately began what he calls “soul work” as he worked for a local nonprofit immediately after graduating college.  Leveraging his education in data and evaluation, work experience in workforce development, coupled with his natural passion around social justice and interest in community redevelopment, The East Lake Foundation has been home and a natural fit for him.

Tywonia Orum
Resident and Community Support Program Manager

Tywonia Orum serves as the Resident and Community Support Program Manager.

After 11 years of working with State Farm, Tywonia decided to transition into a career that would allow her to work with families and communities in a different way. Although not a stranger to humanitarian work, she decided to leave the corporate sector and follow her passion. She worked for several years with the Atlanta Housing Authority where she worked with special programs such as the family reunification and the disabled. Her service continued with The Housing Authority of DeKalb supporting families with housing stabilization. She served as executive assistant for the International Institute of Deaf Services, Inc. for more than 15 years and also worked with National Alliance of Black Interpreters, Inc. (NAOBI). She commutes to Birmingham weekly; where she has been a staff/contract interpreter for the deaf since 1997. Most recently, Tywonia was a Pathway Coach with The Center for Working Families where she worked with families to connect them with employment, job readiness supports, career coaching and other social supports.

Tywonia holds a Bachelor of Arts in Counseling from Samford University and brings a variety of career development training and housing experience to the families in The Villages of East Lake.