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 proudly 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.
In 2010-11, she served as a Technical Advisor to non-profits in the West Philadelphia Economic Recovery Coalition program. Abby received her BA from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania and her MSW from Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work in New York.
She envisions Philadelphia as a community that will lead the world in breaking down barriers and appreciating the beauty in all religions to create a vibrant and hopeful community.
Marjorie Scharf joined the staff of the Interfaith Center in the spring of 2005 to create an Interfaith Youth Service Learning Initiative, later named Walking the Walk (WTW). 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 WTWers. Marjorie is very excited to be Group Leader of the new Central Philadelphia WTW 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 Director of Outreach and Innovations at the Interfaith Center. She is the lead staff person for the Religious Leaders Council of Greater Philadelphia and its Zones of Peace grassroots initiative. She coordinates the Center’s expanding Interfaith Encounters Alternative Break program for college students, Walking the Walk alumni leadership initiative, and Know Thy Neighbor, Know Thy Self religious identity project. Nicole also oversees the Center’s adult learning and leadership programs, 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 Commission. She has presented and/or led workshops at the Interfaith Youth Core Conference, the Pennsylvania Southeast Conference (UCC) Clergy Convocation, 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 with her partner Jeremy and two dogs. When she’s not leading an interfaith program, she can be found hiking in the woods, reading a new book or strolling through the local farmer’s market.
Carilyn Armstrong (Cari) joined the staff of the Interfaith Center in August of 2014 after getting her Master of Arts in Public Leadership degree from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. Before attending seminary, Cari attended the University of Pennsylvania, where she majored in Hispanic Studies/Spanish and minored in Sociology. Cari is passionate about social justice, community-building, and religious expression in the world. She has been active in the Lutheran church her whole life, frequently participating in youth and family events growing up and later leading them as an adult.
Cari and her husband, Josiah, met in seminary and now live in Mt. Airy with their two cats, Rev and Rabbi. In her free time she enjoys running, cooking, doing all kinds of outdoor activities, and seeing live music with family and friends.
Our newest member, 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.
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 two 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.
Interns and Student Group Leaders
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 in conjunction with a Communications Team composed of Walking the Walk alumni. Antonia is currently a junior 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 public health research pertaining to the community explanatory models of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.
I am a student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. My major is the Master’s in the Arts of Public Leadership, focusing on social policy. I am currently doing my field placement with the Zones of Peace initiative of the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia. I hope to one day work with youth who are placed at a disadvantage because of their criminal history, past victimization, or ethnic, racial, gender or religious discrimination. I attended St. John’s University in Jamaica, Queens graduating Cum Laude with a degree in Criminal Justice focusing in Forensic Psychology.
My personal favorite religious or cultural traditions are held during Hanukkah. I love making and eating potato latkes as well as playing dreidel with my friends and family. I also find the lights on the menorah beautiful and enjoy lighting them all eight nights. My favorite part of Walking the Walk was when we talked about pluralism and discussed how to achieve pluralism in today’s society. A fun fact about me is that I can make really good pizza and really good challah french toast.
A religious or cultural tradition that is important to me is Christmas. For me, Christmas is the one time of year my entire family comes together and we all take time to give back to others. My favorite part of Walking the Walk was our service learning project at Inglis House. A ‘Fun Fact’ about me is that I play tennis for school.
A religious or cultural tradition that is important to me is attending Islamic fall and summer camps in Maryland and Michigan. Camp is a way for me to experience my religious identity combined with a classic America tradition; I’m able to play sports without hijab, discuss relevant topics, be independent, and grow spiritually. It’s a time of true reflection and unity, the feeling of literally living with people you don’t know and letting them become your best friends. At camp I’ve met people who live in England, New Zealand, France, Scotland, Pakistan, Canada, and all across the USA. My favorite part of Walking the Walk was visiting different religious temples and observing their architecture. Stained glass, domes, scripture depiction, etc. A ‘Fun Fact’ about me is that I love tea, yoga, grapefruit, and Rumi poems early in the morning.
Being Jewish, I think Shabbat is an extremely important part of my religious tradition as well as my family life. My family celebrates by lighting the candles every Friday, having a nice dinner, and making it a priority to spend the night with all of us together. My favorite part of Walking the Walk was packing Thanksgiving and holiday meals into boxes, which would be delivered to families later that week. I feel very passionately about helping others, and I also I loved the teamwork and team-building component. Since it was towards the beginning of the year, it allowed our group to bond by discovering who the natural leaders and followers were. A ‘Fun Fact’ about me is that over the course of my seventeen years, I have lived in four states, two countries, and eleven houses.
A religious tradition that is important to me is becoming a bar or bat mitzvah, which a big step in any Jewish person’s life. My favorite part of Walking the Walk was volunteering at Inglis House. It was great being able to meet and get to know the people there, and learn more about them. A fun fact about me is I really like writing, especially short stories. I once wrote a horror short story for an online course I took.
One religious tradition I have in my family is to pray really long at dinner so we can enjoy the feast even more when the time comes. My favorite part of walking the walk last year was getting to know all of the wonderful kids in my group. Something that is kind of interesting about me is I like to sing and dance.