Our Board

Michael Maher-King

Michael Maher-King – Founder

Mike founded Smile Kids Japan and is responsible for the organisation’s development. He set up a volunteer group for his local child welfare institution with some friends and then saw the potential for the work to be scaled up. This led him to start Smile Kids Japan and bring together a group of people to make the idea reality. After four years volunteering and six months working with institutions in Tohoku following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, Mike returned to school and is now reading for a doctorate at the University of Oxford, researching the system for children in care in Japan, focusing on regional variation in policy implementation on foster care.

A Message from Mike
I am amazed at how much we have grown and achieved in the short time since an elementary school girl first told us about her life in institutional care. The simplicity of the concept, and the kindness and enthusiasm of volunteers nationwide is at the core of what we have achieved, and what we will achieve! I’d like to thank everyone on the founding board, current board, and advisory board, as well as all the amazing volunteers, as Smile Kids Japan would not be what it is today without them. To those interested in volunteering, do it! Besides being meaningful it is so much fun! It is and will be a privilege to see what you achieve. Every mail I get from current and new volunteers nationwide reminds me of how many people are doing amazing life-changing things all over Japan. Volunteer your friendship. It is the best thing you will do here in Japan.

Anna Ho

Anna Ho – Director of Operations

Anna works on the JET Programme in Fukui Prefecture. She has been involved with Smile Kids Japan since its inception. She is the current director, managing the organization’s daily operations and outreach.As the Volunteer Coordinator for Fukui, Anna directly applies Smile Kids Japan’s mission to the local community. She oversees orphanage visits for three homes in the prefecture for Japanese and foreign volunteers. She has extensive experience on fundraising, establishing and organizing visits, which helps her connect with volunteers and children’s homes across Japan. Her work with Smile Kids Japan and children’s homes changed her course in life, giving her fulfillment and a purpose she hopes to spread to others.Anna graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2008 with a B.A. in Psychology and minor in Applied Developmental Psychology, has experience in early childhood education.
Kevin Mitchell

Kevin Mitchell – Website Developer

Kevin works for the Chitose Board of Education as a junior high school assistant language teacher for the JET Programme. In his free time he has devoted his time to making websites for the JET community. When Mike approached Kevin about making a website for this cause, he gladly volunteered his time to make one. Kevin is also created the 5tosurvive website. Aside from hosting and making this website, Kevin is also the Website Developer for AJET and HAJET.
Meredith Smith

Meredith Lescoe – Media & Public Relations Director

Meredith works in Fukui Prefecture as a junior high school assistant language teacher for the JET Programme. She is dedicated to her school, and is always creating ways to motivate students to learn English. Coming from the very active local scene of Ypsilanti, Michigan in the USA (next door to the more famous Ann Arbor), Meredith has been involved with NPOs and grassroots organisations since high school. She has volunteered at her local humane society and has worked for 89.1FM WEMU, Ypsilanti’s NPR affiliated public radio station, as well as her local food co-op.Meredith graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a B.B.A in Marketing and Business Management. She has since gained experience in that field while working with 89.1FM WEMU and the Ypsilanti Food Co-op by helping both organisations with public outreach and fundraising.Meredith continues to work in the same field by being very active in the Fukui community. In addition to her position with Smile Kids Japan, she acted as Community Liaison for the Fukui branch of AJET for 2 years, creating and spreading word of events and charity fundraisers. She also works for Family Net, a Fukui-based volunteer organisation that connects JETs with local families to promote cultural exchange.

Meredith says about working with Smile Kids Japan, “I truly enjoy the challenge of helping build this organisation from the ground up. I fully support the cause and am blessed to have the chance to meet and work with such talented people.”

Avalyn Beare

Avalyn Beare – International Partner Development Director

Avalyn Beare is from the UK and worked as a JET Programme Assistant Language Teacher for Fukui Prefecture from 2008-2011. During her time on JET she also acted as the Cultural and Activities Liaison for the National AJET Council from 2010-2011. While in that position she was responsible for informing JETs of ideas of activities and events they could attend/recreate for their students and community via National AJET’s monthly JET Effect newsletter. Before coming to Japan, Avalyn worked in HR in London and publishing at Help the Aged. Since the March 11th earthquake and tsunami, Avalyn has: worked with members of the AJET Council on keeping JETs informed about the disaster situation, worked with the organiser of 5toSurvive to make the charity running event international, written and distributed press releases, organised disaster volunteer groups and has continued to liase with Smile Kids Japan on their Smiles and Dreams: Tohoku Kids’ Project. Avalyn says, “I am very excited to have been invited to be an executive of Smile Kids Japan, and truly believe in the amazing projects that they and Living Dreams have planned and instigated. I have known SKJ members Mike, Meredith and Anna for 3 years and am amazed at their commitment and indness towards the children of Japan. I believe that together with Living Dreams, the helpof the orphanages and that of the people of Japan, we can truly support children in need.”

SmileAdvisory Board

 

Michael S.H. Connolly

Michael S.H. Connolly

I’m a Canadian whose research background is focused on the civil rights struggles of the ethnic Korean communities in Japan, and completed my MA from Teikyo University in Hachioji on the topic.Much
of my work is focused on civil rights and refugee issues, and I have experience working with refugee/civil-rights groups in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Egypt North Korea, Canada, the US and Japan. Currently I am working with a dedicated group of volunteers to help establish the Foreign Volunteers Japan network to assist the Tohoku disaster relief
efforts.
Matthew Cook

Matthew Cook

Mr. Cook brings a variety of skills and experience to Smile Kids Japan. Mr. Cook has owned and operated his own martial arts school; an experience that taught him lessons in business, networking, marketing, community-building and teaching. Currently teaching within the Japanese public school system as a member of the JET Programme, Mr. Cook has become a leader to those around him. He is a mentor to Japanese teachers and advisor to his peers. He spends a lot of his free time leading a variety of seminars on teaching fundamentals, curriculum and lesson planning. As Chair of the National AJET Council for the 2011-2012 term year, Mr. Cook hopes to further promote positive cultural exchange between Japan’s natives and foreigners by bringing more attention to the great work JETs do in their communities both in and out of their workplaces. Mr. Cook says about Smile Kids Japan, “I hope to help Smile Kids Japan continue to grow and thrive in any way I can. It’s a great project with lofty goals and the potential impact it has on children’s lives makes it an endeavor we should all take note of!”
Luke Happle

Luke Happle

Luke Happle works in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture and is a second- year Coordinator for International Relations and Prefectural Advisor (CIR/PA) on the JET Programme. He is also currently one of the national representatives for the CIR Network — a network organised to promote exchange between CIRs all over Japan. Since the earthquake on March 11th, he has been engaged in many different tasks such as confirming the safety of JET participants, providing up to date information regarding the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, working with embassy teams to confirm the safety of other foreign nationals and travelling to some of the affected areas to search for missing JETs and to debrief those who had been found. In regards to working with Smile Kids Japan, Luke says, “I am fluent (allegedly) in Japanese and am comfortable translating and interpreting in high-stress situations. I also see myself as good listener and competent communicator. Michael and his colleagues are doing a lot of good work and I am looking forward to helping in any way I can.”
Brianna Harris

Brianna Harris

Brianna is from the US and works as a JET Programme Assistant Language Teacher in Yamagata Prefecture. In addition to her teaching job, Brianna is also an active member of the National AJET Council and represents JETs in Yamagata, Miyagi,
Fukushima and Niigata Prefectures along with filling the role of AJET Corporate Liaison. She loves many things in life: nature, music, storytelling, movies, friends, but most of all she loves helping people and especially kids. About working with Smile Kids Japan, Brianna says, “I can’t tell you how happy I am to be working with Smile Kids Japan, doing what I love most. Take a look around, support kids where
you can, and don’t be afraid to ask questions! We love what we do at SKJ and I’m sure you will too!”
Steven Horowitz

Steven Horowitz

Steven Horowitz brings to Smile Kids Japan his great ability to reach out to and communicate with JET alumni worldwide. Steven worked in Aichi Prefecture from 1992-94 and is now a very active JET Programme alumnus. He founded JETwit.com and has set up various web accounts for JET alumni professionals such as translators, writers and other professional interest groups. He is now board member to the JET Alumni Association of New York (JETAANY) an organisation he has been active in for a long time. His original background is in bankruptcy law (which he hopes will not be relevant here). He currently lives in Brooklyn, NY and has a 16-month old daughter who is the unofficial JETAANY mascot.
Kathryn Kovacs

Kathryn Kovacs

Kathryn worked at Takatori International High School from 2007-2011. While on JET, she also served on her Prefectural AJET Chapter and as a representative to National AJET. On National AJET, Kathryn worked in Publications and Public Relations. Kathryn says, “I was so happy that after more than a year of coordinating with a local home that Nara AJET had its first Smile Kids Japan visit in the Spring of 2011; its such a wonderful chance for JETs – or anyone – to get involved in their community! Working with Smile Kids as part of National AJET, I was really amazed by the work that SKJ is doing in Tohoku, and I’m excited to stay involved even after I’ve left Japan.”
Erica Nakanishi-Stanis

Erica Nakanishi-Stanis

Erica is currently a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) in Chiba City as part of the JET Programme. She says about working with Smile Kids Japan, “I’m thrilled to be working with such an incredible organization and with so many dedicated individuals.” Forging strong community ties is a fundamental part of Erica’s job, and she sees Smile Kids Japan as one of the best and most effective ways to get involved on a local level. Erica says, “This is challenging time for Japan, but with the support and generosity of people from all over the world, I know we can make a very personal difference in children’s lives.”
Photo Coming Soon

Damian Penston

Damian Penston is a Tokyo-based entrepreneur and founding partner of Propel Consulting. His previous start-ups include a software development firm, an online marketing company, and he was heavily involved in a project to start a microfinance-related NPO. Damian has previously worked with children as a scout leader and for several years as a volunteer at a summer camp for children from mixed backgrounds. In his spare time, he provides mentoring to young business people around Asia and is an advocate on leadership and child protection issues related to human trafficking.
Wanda Yee

Wanda Yee

Currently working as the Social Media Coordinator for the JET Alumni Association of British Columbia,Wanda is a former JET Programme assistant language teacher who spent six amazing years working in Fukui, Japan. Although she’s back in her hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada), she’s staying as involved with and connected to Japan as she can while exploring ways to give back to a country that has given her so much. She says about working with Smile Kids Japan, “I am thrilled to be a part of such a worthwhile cause.”