Interfaith Center Staff
Abby Stamelman Hocky has served as Executive Director of the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia since its inception in January 2004. She has a special interest in collaborative models of social change, and in the role of faith and culture in strengthening society.
Abby came to the Center after working in intergroup relations and public policy for over two decades at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia. Her work as Associate Executive Director and Director of Interreligious Relations entailed striving to enhance interfaith understanding, resolve issues among religious groups, and develop numerous models for dialogue – especially among Muslims, Christians and Jews.
Abby was appointed by Mayor Michael Nutter to serve on the Police Oversight Board (2015-16). She served as a Technical Advisor to non-profits in the West Philadelphia Economic Recovery Coalition program. She serves as a member of NewCORE, (the New Conversation on Race and Ethnicity), of the Field Cabinet of University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice, and on the Board of ArtWell. She participated in the FBI Citizens Academy training and is a recipient of PCHR’s Professional in Human Relations Award.
Abby received her BA from Lafayette College and her MSW from Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work.
Marjorie Scharf joined the staff of the Interfaith Center in the spring of 2005 to create an Interfaith Youth Service Learning Initiative, later named the Walking the Walk™ Youth Initiative. What began as a single Walking the Walk group made up of 15 high school youth, grew to 6 groups with 450 participants over the past 7 years. While developing the Walking the Walk curriculum and leadership training program, getting more congregations and community partners on board, supervising the Group Leaders and fundraising , her favorite part of her work is getting to know the Walking the Walk students. Marjorie is very excited to be Group Leader of the new Central Philadelphia Walking the Walk Network, in addition to her other responsibilities.
Marjorie’s professional background is in public health education and nutrition. She has 25 years
of experience in designing and implementing culturally relevant health education programs
targeted to a variety of audiences: young mothers, youth, women diagnosed with breast cancer,
public school teachers, public health workers in lead poisoning prevention programs, and African
Americans and Latinos living with HIV/AIDS. She earned her Master’s degree in Public Health
from the University of California at Berkeley and her undergraduate degree from Penn State
She is a long time member of Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley, lives in Merion with her partner,
two dogs and three children (2 of whom are not at home but visit frequently), and spends lots of
time with friends and extended family. You can also find her gardening or biking.
Nicole Diroff is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and serves as the Associate Executive Director at the Interfaith Center. She is the lead staff person for the Religious Leaders Council of Greater Philadelphia and the Center’s many Dare to Understand initiatives. Nicole also is involved in building new community partnerships, supervising interns and responding to requests for new initiatives.
Rev. Diroff has expertise in youth development, mentoring, ecumenical and interfaith relations. She serves on the United Church of Christ Council on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations and represents her denomination on the National Council of Churches Interfaith Relations Convening Table. She has presented and/or led workshops at the Interfaith Youth Core Conference, the National Council of Churches / National Council of Synagogues Consultation on Pastoral Issues, and the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Rev. Diroff received her BA from Ohio Wesleyan University in 2002 and her M.Div. from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia in 2007. She is an active member at Tabernacle United Church in West Philadelphia, and lives in Queen Village. When she’s not leading an interfaith program, she can be found hiking in the woods with her dogs, reading a new book, or playing at a local playground with her son.
Nancy Martino, who joined our staff in July 2015, has 30 years of experience raising funds and visibility for a range of nonprofit organizations at various stages of organizational development. Cross-cultural and multi-religious by birth, she spent my first three years in Tokyo, Japan with her Japanese mother, one of whose parents was a Buddhist and the other a Shinto, and American father whose father was one of the last Methodist circuit riding ministers in Virginia. When her family moved to the U.S. to a primarily Jewish neighborhood, her only language was Japanese. She still vividly remembers how the other children treated her and her sister for being different from them. Her family next moved to Tehran, Iran, where they lived during Nancy’s formative grade school years prior to moving back to New Jersey. These experiences set Nancy on her journey to foster cross-cultural understanding and harmony, earn both a BA and MA in Near East Languages and Literature from the University of Pennsylvania, and spend four years as Vice President of Institutional Advancement at International House Philadelphia.
Nancy lives just a few blocks away from the Interfaith Center. She is a passionate animal lover, who enjoys her free time reading, gardening, movie going, and dining out with friends.
Andrew, grew up in Norwalk, Connecticut with his father, Jim, his mother, Marion, and his older sister, Caitlin. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame Law School this past May and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009. While at Penn, Andrew was the captain of the Sprint Football team in 2007 and 2008 and was a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. At Notre Dame, he was the president of Legal Voices for Children and Youth and the biggest Fighting Irish football fan since Rudy. Andrew lives in Graduate Hospital with his girlfriend, Nicole, and his dog, Bagheera.
Rev. Dr. John Hougen is an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and serves the Interfaith Center in two capacities. He is Coordinator of Zones of Peace, an initiative of the Religious Leaders Council of Greater Philadelphia. Zones of Peace honors and supports exemplary congregations, schools, and organizations that address the root causes of violence and build communities of mutual respect and compassion. In addition, John is the Interfaith Center’s program leader for The Art of Interfaith Understanding, utilizing the resources of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to enhance spirituality and further interfaith understanding through encounters with art from the world’s religions.
John began his association with the Interfaith Center in 2007 as a co-convener of the Administrative Group of the Religious Leaders Council of Greater Philadelphia. As the Religious Leaders Council’s response to the region’s violence grew, he assumed chairmanship of the Zones of Peace Steering Committee, and since 2013 has coordinated the initiative.
John holds a BA in Sociology from Luther College (Iowa), a Master of Divinity Degree from Harvard Divinity School, and a PhD in Religion and Literature from the University of Virginia. His career has included parish ministry, university chaplaincy, adjunct teaching in university and seminary settings, and regional ELCA campus ministry administration. In these capacities he has consistently emphasized addressing social issues, mining the arts for spiritual experiences and insights, worship, and pastoral care. His publications include four books, hymn texts, and many articles.
John is an enthusiastic volunteer docent at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and at home enjoys writing, painting, photography, cheering for UVA and Philadelphia sports teams, and time with family and friends. He lives in Elkins Park with his spouse, E. Marcia Hougen. They are the parents of two adult children, Melissa and Marcus (Ronicka), and the grandparents of Aubrey and Rylie.
Josh grew up in Indiana and Iowa before completing a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. He has served in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC) in Philadelphia, Hawai’i, Mexico, and Michigan. Currently, he serves as pastor of the United Church of Christ in Warminster. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre/Speech from Northwestern College (IA). Josh has worked with youth and young adult programs for 19 years in a variety of denominations, regionally, nationally, and in Latin America. He is also a trained actor and performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, LLC. He has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in worship, youth groups, Confirmation classes, and a variety of settings. He is honored to work with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia, encouraging youth, young adults, and religious leadership in their faith development, service, and partnerships to mentor and encourage younger generations to make a positive impact in the world. Josh also enjoys playing basketball, strumming on the guitar, traveling, learning language, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in the NW suburbs of Philadelphia with his wife, Maria.
Maria Hornung brings a rich background of experience and education to the Center’s interfaith mission of fostering understanding and collaboration.
Having served in her Medical Mission Sisters community’s World Wide Mission in Africa for 25 years and in its international leadership circle for 12, Maria is well acquainted with the many opportunities to build bridges across cultural, national and religious boundaries offered by today’s world. Never before has our closeness made such challenges so apparent.
Maria obtained her MEd from Temple University in 1970 and her MA in Interreligious Relations from Temple University in 2005. Her thesis work included the development of a grassroots model for introducing adults to the art of interreligious engagement. This work has been published as Encountering Other Faiths (Paulist Press, 2007) with an accompanying workbook, Workbook for Encountering Other Faiths (Interfaith Center, 2006).
She has developed a creative and enjoyable curriculum for adults with her colleagues of the Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Baha’i, Christian and other faiths. All of these programs are available to congregations and to the public. Programs are eminently adaptable to the varying backgrounds and resources of adult learner communities.
Maria has wide experience in facilitating groups of different cultural backgrounds and religious traditions. Her programs are exceptionally user friendly and adaptable to specific communities/institutions/corporations. Maria’s facilitator training for these programs is offered throughout the year at an Interfaith Center facility. Specific groups at other sites and times can be provided upon request.
Rebecca is the Office Manager of the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia and the Arts & Spirituality Center. She has a degree in computer science and extensive working experience with prominent hispanics in the Philadelphia Latino community, as well as with the Jewish community through her years of employment at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia. Rebecca has two grown children and three grandchildren.
Walking the Walk™ Group Leaders
Born and raised in Philadelphia, with family roots in Kennett Square and Lancaster, Max has lived in Egypt, Oman, California, and Ohio over course of the past four years. During his time away from Philadelphia Max earned highest honors in Religious Studies at Kenyon College with a minor in Arabic, and a concentration in Arabic, while also captaining an Ultimate Frisbee team, doing improvisational comedy, and learning how to make a delicious tomato sauce. Now that he has returned to his hometown, Max works as program coordinator for Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, helping oversee various projects related to education, and intercultural exchange. When not working or studying–for fun!–Max plays basketball, and watches movies with his dogs; if you want to make him very, very happy, just talk with him about film, the 76ers, or religious studies theory.
2014-2015 will be Marilyn’s second year with Walk the Walk. Last fall, she took on the role of mentor for WTW participants from her home congregation of Reformation Lutheran Church in Media. Her initial connection with the Interfaith Center, however, began about eight years ago when she became a “charter member” of Quest, the center’s interfaith book group. She found both of these experiences to be enriching and rewarding.
Marilyn’s professional life has been in the field of education where she has been a classroom teacher in special education and regular education, an elementary school counselor, and a supervisor of student teachers for Neumann University. Outside of school she has worked with youth of various ages as a volunteer at Peter’s Place (a center for grieving children and families), a Sibshop facilitator (peer support for kids who have siblings with special needs), and a mentor in the United Way program for middle school girls entitled Girls Today Leaders Tomorrow.
In her leisure time she enjoys cooking classes and culinary tours, antiquing, and traveling, especially to cities and national parks.
2015 Summer Interns
Tom is currently majoring in Political Science and minoring in Philosophy and International Studies at the University of Wisconsin- River Falls (UWRF). On campus Tom has given a TED-style lecture on interfaith dialogue, organized UWRF’s first ever Interreligious Peace Dialogue, and researched the growing demographic of religiously unaffiliated persons. Tom is not currently affiliated with any religious tradition, but finds value in all the ones he has studied. Outside of interfaith work, he enjoys playing and listening to all sorts of music, being outdoors, and cooking.
Antonia Diener is an undergraduate intern from the University of Pennsylvania who has been working at the Interfaith Center since September 2014 through the Civic House Nonprofit Internship Program. At the Interfaith Center, Antonia is working primarily on the Walking the Walk program, focusing especially on communications work and alumni work. Antonia is currently a rising senior in the College of Arts and Sciences studying Medical Anthropology and Religious Studies. At the University of Pennsylvania, she is involved with leadership in the Reach-A-Peer Helpline, the Counseling and Psychological Services Student Advisory Board, the Underground Shakespeare Company, and Zeta Tau Alpha Sorority. In addition, Antonia is currently in the process of carrying out thesis research for two projects, one pertaining to mental health on campus and one pertaining to liberation theology.
Jessica is a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Work and Social Policy. She received her Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) from Temple University. Jessica is a Philadelphia native and enjoys giving back to her community; she has volunteered at varies non-profit agencies throughout the city. At the Interfaith Center, Jessica will be working primarily on the development of the Dare to Understand Campaign focusing on community engagement. She is interested in working in Child Welfare, but is also committed to advocating for social justice. Her overall goal is to create a non- profit agency for children aging out of the foster care system.
At the Interfaith Center, Phil is working on overhauling the website and maintaining Interfaith’s social networks. Phil is currently a senior at Franklin & Marshall College and studies English. Jewish culture and tradition have always been important in Phil’s life; he completed Confirmation after his Bar Mitzvah, spent eight weeks in Israel, attended a reform Jewish overnight camp for seven summers, and his father works in the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia as the Director of the JCRC. Phil is excited to broaden his horizons this summer and work with a diverse range of people that he can both learn from and share his experiences with. For fun, Phil likes to run his Tumblr blog www.TS4News.com, which is followed by nearly 19,000 people. Phil also loves skiing, sailing, business, photography, film production, video game design, cars, real estate, and anything that involves technology and/or creativity.
My name is Emily Simons and I am a rising senior at Temple University studying Social Work. I come from a Reform Jewish background in Pittsburgh where I have always been very passionate about Judaism, Israel, and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). This summer I am participating as an ASH Intern with JEVS while my placement is here at the Interfaith Center. I am currently working on the Zones Of Peace Initiative which helps to recognize local congregations determined to stop violence, in all forms, throughout the Philadelphia community. At Temple University, I serve as the Vice President for Hillel (the center for Jewish life on campus), the Campus Engagement Chair for TIPAC (an American-Israel activist group), and the Greek Sing Chair for Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority. My goals after graduation are to go to graduate school for my Masters in Social Work and Non-Profit Organizational Leadership. I hope to eventually work for a non-profit specializing in helping children from low-income families succeed.