Our Board

Debbie Schmieding

Debbie Schmieding is retired from a 40-year career with Havar, a local non-profit supporting citizens with developmental disabilities. Through that experience—and a long association with the League of Women Voters—she has significant experience with public policy at state and national levels. Her commitment to immigrant support stems from several things: a desire to model kindness and hospitality for the three grandkids; a (well-founded) belief that the Athens community will step up in a big way to support newcomers; and the amazing fellow board members with whom she gets to work! Debbie and John recently hosted a delightful young woman from Uganda named Shahadah. Shahadah has moved on to work in Seattle, after easily securing a friendship-for-life from the Schmiedings!

Anne Sparks

Anne Sparks became involved in 2019 to protest against the policy at that time of separating the children of newly arrived immigrant families from their parents. The peaceful and compelling “Lights for Liberty” vigil held in Columbus that year brought her into contact with many grassroots groups working on behalf of people seeking asylum in the U.S.

Anne writes, “Being on the Board of AUISP has made it possible for me to join this amazing network. We quickly learned that community support is vital to fulfilling our mission, and I am thankful for the many groups and individuals partnering with us to provide a stable, welcoming environment for asylum seekers.

As AUISP gains more first-hand experience with the challenges asylum seekers face, she expects the organization to become an effective advocate for needed changes.

Erin Perko

Erin Perko works as a clinical social worker in her own private practice. Erin has worked with the refugee and asylum seeking population since 2013, as an employment specialist for Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services of Atlanta (now called New American Pathways), and as a researcher while obtaining her Masters of Arts in African Studies, in which she studied and evaluated American programs providing support to refugee families experiencing gender and domestic violence. Her co-authored research featuring Somali refugee youth in Columbus is published in the academic journal Ethnicity and Health.

Joanna Mitchell

In Joanna Mitchell’s more than two decades as a Spanish professor, immigration and human rights have always been essential themes, and she is committed to promoting cross- border, multilingual, intercultural understanding. The complex stories of immigration and migration in the U.S. show our long history of inadequate and inhumane policies and help us better understand immigrant experiences today. The recent crisis on the border has given her more chances to help directly as immigrants move from the U.S. southern border across the country and settle into our communities.

Linda Sistrunk

Linda recently relocated to Athens with her wife, daughter and two dogs. Linda is the Director of Behavioral Health at Marietta Memorial Health System. Her desire is to become an active, engaged member of the Athens community.

Linda brings with her a wealth of knowledge and resources connected with our local medical system and stakeholders and is a great asset for our organization and the people that we serve.

Cynthia Tindongan