Teachers || Coaches || Development Team
Marie Downey is the Executive Director of BEST. Her passion and commitment to hotel workers is born out of personal experience. In 1984, Marie got a job as a food server at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. This job with a Collective Bargaining Agreement changed the course of her life. A high school dropout who grew up in poverty in South Boston, she had been working as a waitress at low wages with no benefits. With a well-paid job in a beautiful downtown hotel, her view of life expanded and, over the years, she found her voice and took advantage of the comprehensive benefits package available to her. While working at the hotel, Marie went back to school and eventually received a Master’s in Social Work from Boston College. She worked for over twenty years at Modern Assistance Programs (MAP), an employee assistance program where she witnessed the challenges facing the largest segment of employees in the hospitality industry: immigrants. In 2004 she founded BEST Corp.
At BEST, Marie comes face-to-face with hotel workers who are where she was 30 years ago. She knows that the $55 for a pair of nonskid shoes for your first day of work can be the difference between success or failure. She knows that a dental plan that can transform one’s smile can also transform one’s life. She used the first time homebuyer’s grant to purchase her first home. She has since repaid the loan and that money was used by another hotel worker to become a homeowner. She knows, from personal and professional experience, how access to mental and physical health care allows people to retain good jobs and become healthy and successful in life. She understands and promotes the importance of UNITE HERE Local 26 as the foundation that supports hotel workers. Marie’s life journey is the template for the approach BEST believes in: good training, good jobs, and good benefits create pathways out of poverty.
Marie has been a board member of Julie’s Family Learning Program, Maria Droste Services, Edwina Martin House and other community agencies. In 2008, Governor Deval Patrick appointed Marie to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Workforce Investment Board and in 2010, she was appointed to the Massachusetts Workforce Training Fund Advisory Board. She received the distinction of “Marano Fellow” from the Sector Skills Academy in 2010, as well as a certificate of achievement from the Institute for Non Profit Management and Leadership at Boston University. Marie completed LeadBoston’s experiential executive program in 2013.
mdowney@BESThtc.org, x 207
Joan Abbot, Assistant Director, works closely with the Executive Director and oversees data management as well as the education program. Joan has over 20 years of experience as an ESOL teacher, teacher trainer and supervisor both in the U.S. and abroad (Sudan and Thailand). She has taught workforce development for hospitality in pre-employment and incumbent worker programs, and holds an M.Ed from Harvard University. Joan earned a certificate in Non-Profit Management and Leadership from Boston University and completed LeadBoston’s experiential executive program.
jabbot@BESThtc.org, x 203
Joe Coughlin is the Financial Controller at BEST Hospitality Training. He has over 21 years of financial management experience at other non-profits such as Father Bill’s and MainSpring, Inc., the Bromley Health Tenant Management Corporation and Volunteers of America in Jamaica Plain. Joe has a B.S. in Management from Boston State College. At BEST Hospitality Training, Joe handles all the financial operations.
jcoughlin@BESThtc.org, x 204
Mary Cronin brings over 30 years of experience in professional kitchens to BEST’s Hospitality Training Center. Mary joined the team in 2008 to design and teach the culinary skills program. Her role has expanded greatly since, and she is currently the Director of Skills Training and Operations. Mary oversees all skills training programs, including Culinary, On-Call Banquet Server, and the Introduction to Hospitality Training Program. A seasoned manager, she also supervises the skills training team and all facilities management. Mary is fluent in Brazilian Portuguese and a certified trainer in TiPS, TEAM, Red Cross Chokesaver and Food Safety.
mcronin@BESThtc.org, x 213
Edwin Gonzalez began working at BEST as an AmeriCorps member in 2011. Since completing his service year, Edwin now works in the front office as Intake Coordinator. He greets visitors, handles intake for new clients, and helps students register for classes and trainings. Edwin speaks fluent Spanish and studies Business and Administration at Bunker Hill Community College.
egonzalez@BESThtc.org, x 216
Brenda Richardson is BEST’s Front Office Assistant. She performs a range of administrative duties including filing, data entry and intake. Brenda has extensive experience as a billing clerk, secretary and office manager. Before joining BEST’s staff in 2013, Brenda worked as an administrative assistant at STRIVE in Dorchester.
brichardson@BESThtc.org, x 201
Lifen Yang has 20 years of work experience in an office administration setting abroad and in the United States. In addition, she has teaching experience with both, children and adults. Lifen holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English as a Foreign Language from Granite State College and an Interpretation Certificate from Cambridge College. Lifen has been at BEST since 2015 as an Office Assistant and Tutor, where she performs a range of administrative duties and tutors individuals in the Education Program to help students improve their language skills. lyang@BESThtc.org
Patrick Yu is BEST’s evening Office Assistant. Patrick has many years of experience working in the restaurant industry and also is trained as a literacy and ESOL tutor. At BEST, Patrick does a myriad of other administrative office tasks.
Christy Betit is the Assistant Director of Skills Training and Lead Instructor for the Introduction to Hospitality and On-Call Banquet Server training programs at BEST. She has over 20 years of experience working in the hospitality industry as a server, bartender, and front of the house manager at numerous restaurants in New England, including 10 years at Legal Sea Foods. During her time at LSF, she trained hundreds of employees and was the lead author of company-wide training materials incorporating role-play. She has a Master’s in Theatre Education from Emerson College with a focus on the design and implementation of training for the hospitality industry utilizing theatre techniques such as role-play and improvisational games. She holds a Massachusetts Teaching License in Theatre and History and has taught theatre at various schools and non-profits for the past 20 years including her current role as Lead Teaching Artist at Wheelock Family Theatre.
cbetit@BESThtc.org, x 208
Huiling Chen manages BEST’s English for Hospitality classes and supervises all EFH teachers. She brings over ten years of ESL teaching experience, two years of professional guest service experience, and a firsthand understanding of the hospitality industry. Huiling first joined BEST as a student in our Room Attendant Training Program in 2011 and began working at BEST in the fall of 2011. She is fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese, and English.
hchen@BESThtc.org, x 205
Mei Ngo began as a volunteer Tech Assistant at BEST and is now the Technology Manager and Computer Instructor. She graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a B.A. In Communication. She has previously taught international young adults as well as tutored adult learners one-on-one.
Nelly Chan is a Career Coach and has taught literacy at BEST. Clients work with her to get jobs and/or promotions and reach other personal goals. Nelly is also a caseworker at Modern Assistance Program, the employee assistance program for Local 26 hotel workers and has worked there since 1997. In that role, she has helped hundreds of hotel workers and their families with their mental health, substance abuse and alternative care issues. Nelly speaks and writes English, Cantonese and Mandarin.
nchan@BESThtc.org, x 211
Shery Murphy, Director, Employment Services, has over 18 years of human resources leadership experience in Fortune 100 corporations, designing and driving HR strategies to meet business objectives. She has also served extensively in numerous communities across the U.S. supporting worker rights, equal employment opportunity, and the creation of talent supply chains that are driven by local demand and that advance workers into family-supporting careers. She has a B.B.A. and M.B.A. in Human Resources Management from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is a certified trainer in behavioral-based interviewing and maintaining a civil, inclusive workplace, and has SPHR and SHRM-SCP certifications. At BEST Hospitality Training, Shery puts her strengths in strategic workforce development, organizational behavior, talent acquisition, and talent management to use by inspiring students to believe in themselves and by providing the training and impetus they need to reach their professional goals and excel.
smurphy@BESThtc.org, x 209
Richard Nzekwu hails from Nigeria and is a fourth-year student at Northeastern University currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in International Affairs and French. He is delighted to be serving at BEST as a Career Coach for his second co-op venture. As a Career Coach, he works with students from immigrant and disadvantaged communities to secure employment and long-term financial stability within the hospitality industry. In the future, he hopes to serve as a diplomat in the United Nations with a specialization in conflict resolution. rnzekwu@BESThtc.org
Lori Sylvia is the Apprenticeship Director and has been both a Career Coach and a Lead Instructor for the Room Attendant Training Program, the Mel King Empowerment Program – Introduction to Hospitality Class, and the Professional Guest Services Class at BEST. She has over 15 years of experience in human resources, most recently with The Boston Park Plaza Hotel & Towers and The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. Lori brings a wealth of knowledge to BEST with her hotel experience as well as her expertise in teaching topics such as customer service and professionalism. She has managed hotel recruitment, conducted associate and manager training and provided career counseling to countless hotel workers. She is certified in the behavioral interview techniques used by Starwood Hotels and The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. She has a B.A. in Psychology from Bates College and a Human Resource Management Certificate from Bentley University. lsylvia@BESThtc.org, x 212
Sam Spencer joined BEST Hospitality as an AmeriCorps member in 2017. As a Career Coach, Sam coaches students from a wide range of backgrounds to secure employment and financial stability within the hospitality industry. Sam appreciates being able to develop a personal relationship with each student, providing vital resources and guidance in their pursuit of a better life for themselves and their families. sspencer@BESThtc.org
Aisha Necoechea, Workforce Development Strategist, joined BEST in September 2016. She is responsible for brand implementation, grants development and management, funding procurement, and strategic planning. Aisha began her career at the International Institute of New England as an Employment Specialist and over the next 14 years moved on to become Training Programs Manager, Director of Workforce Development, and Site Director. In addition, she served as President of the Job Training Alliance from 2014 to 2016. Aisha holds a Bachelors Degree in Political Science and Religious Studies from Emmanuel College and is fluent in Spanish. As an immigrant herself, she understands the needs and barriers that immigrants face when they arrive in this country. anecoechea@BESThtc.org, x 210
Jerry Wheelock has been managing the implementation of SalesForce since February 2013. He is responsible for data integrity, reporting, and processes. Jerry worked for 14 years in Information Technology in the private sector and is now returning to the non-profit world. He has a Master’s in Vocational Rehabilitation and in Computer Science. jwheelock@BESThtc.org