Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff


Michele Vavonese, Director

Michele considers it an honor to work with, support and introduce to the broader arts industry the highly underexposed and underrated works of HOPE artists. Made up of many truly gifted individuals, Michele comes into work each day invigorated with the possibilities of giving HOPE artists every opportunity their hard work deserves. Through the utilization of fantastic funders, a dynamic HOPE team of professional artists and creative therapists, years of knowledge in programmatic systems, admin. and community outreach, Michele helps bring the artists work out to the eyes (and ears) of the public.

Teaching art and working in the arts industry for over 20 years herself, she has shown her work internationally in various shows and competitions. A published artist and designer she has work in both private and public collections. Michele received her M.F.A. from Rochester Institute of Technology.

In 2006 Michele started her own business ~ the Michele Vavonese Studio (MVStudio) where she creates original art. Professional honors include the 2006 Citizen Community Leadership Award from Long Beach’s 8th District Councilmember Rae Gabelich and Alumni Board of Directors; California Division for R. I. T. (1995 ~ present), in 2011, the MVStudio was chosen to be one of the top “Compassionate Businesses in California” by Animal Acres.

Kita Wright, Executive Assistant

In 2004, I began my career in Special Education serving as a Program Aide with the Garden Grove Unified School District. In this role, I provided hands-on program development to students whom had a wide-range of intellectual disabilities.

After receiving my Credentials in Counseling from the California Biblical Seminary in 2014, my passion for this population was reinforced.

Proudly, I joined Hope Center for the Arts as the Development Assistant to provide programmatic support, working alongside the Director to coordinate strategy development and implementation.

I am just thrilled to be a part of Hope and it’s mission.

Student Services

Erica Melendez, Student Services Coordinator

Erica went to California State University, Dominguez Hills where she obtained her B.A. in Sociology in May 2016. She plans on continuing her education towards a Masters of Social Work. After volunteering in many non-profit organizations, Erica has gained a passion for work in the helping profession. Her compassion towards adults with intellectual disabilities has given her the skills and commitment to improve and strengthen the abilities of the students of Hope Center for the Arts. Erica is familiar with Hope Center for

Erica is familiar with Hope Center for the Art’s mission, as her family member has grown up with Autism. Growing up with a family member who has intellectual disabilities allows Erica to understand the importance of her role of assisting students with their social development.

Jorge Chavira, Artist Services Specialist & Performing Arts Instructor

Jorge Chavira brings an energetic and enthusiastic passion to helping others at Hope Center for the Arts. This devotion also secured him a B.S. in Human Services from California State University of Fullerton.

Jorge’s background as Music Instructor eventually gave him the opportunity to start work at Hope Center for the Arts as a substitute music instructor. Like many of the facilitators at HOPE Jorge is an experienced and professional artist/performer. He is a drummer who has recorded and played drums in various shows around the Orange County and Los Angeles area(s) as well as touring on two west coast shows traveling up to Seattle and back down to San Diego. Aside from his musical talents, Jorge has given back, working within his community since 2004. His transition to Hope Center for the Arts has allowed him to exhibit his skills as a music instructor and his case management skills as a Human Services Graduate, has led to his other current position as Assistant Student Specialist in Student Services.

PIC coming soon

Performing Arts

Steve Enzweiler, Director of Hi Hopes

Steve’s musical passion was inspired by his dad, a jazzstride pianist who introduced him to the American song book, gave him lessons, and showed him some rudiments on an inherited Spanish-American War drum. A professional musician from the age of 13, Steve’s played almost every gig imaginable, from middle school sock-hops to Big-10 Homecoming dances; smokey NYC or Chicago jazz clubs to major concert venues across the country; dates for home grown demos to studio work with grammy recipients. In between gigs, he built a successful Soho loft (NYC) based recording studio from the ground up, which he ran for several years during the 80’s. With an inclination towards making a bigger contribution, he returned to school, pursuing a BA in Psychology, and graduate studies in education, which lead to a teaching position at Long Beach USD.  Steve became co-directer of the Hi Hopes when a good friend and former director of the band introduced him to the school. He was immediately struck by the immense talent – and heart – that the school and its students
embodied. He knew then he wanted the school’s mission to become his. Steve feels honored to hold the position as Hi Hopes Director at Hope Center for the Arts, and is committed to building the reputation and visibility of the Hi Hopes and Hope Center.

Steven Noguera, Director of Hand Bells

A professional musician since the age of 12, Steven Noguera has performed all across the United States; and composed and recorded over 60 pieces of music.   For a significant portion of his life he was a successful entrepreneur and business owner.  However, after being struck by personal tragedy when his only son lost his life to spinal meningitis, Steven was inspired to redirect the focus of his life and his career when in 1999 he joined the Hope family.  Along with his colleagues, Steven Noguera has dedicated himself to helping individuals with intellectual disabilities by sharing his musical talents to inspire and expand his students’ vision of the world.

Therapy Services

Diana Maddox, Director of Therapy Services

Diana is a Board-Certified Music Therapist, HOPE Choir Director at Hope Center for the Arts and the Director of Therapy Services. She received her B.A. in Music Therapy from California State University Northridge and is currently obtaining her Masters in Counseling at California State University Fullerton. She completed her music therapy internship at Whidbey General Hospital in Coupeville, Washington where she worked with patients in Medical Surgery, Medical Ambulatory Care, Rehabilitation, and Home Health and Hospice. Diana was a part of the hospital’s Integrative Therapies team where she collaborated and co-treated with other professionals including Speech Therapists and Physical Therapists. She has worked extensively with individuals with special needs throughout her career and is devoted to Hope’s mission to cultivate and nurture their abilities.

Visual Arts

Sandra Carter, Horticultural & Fiber Arts Instructor

Sandra D. Carter is certified in both Horticultural Therapy and Social-Emotional arts therapies from UCLA and engaged as a therapeutic fiber arts facilitator. She has over 20 years of experience in the field of special education focusing on adults with intellectual disabilities. Sandra has a trained  therapeutic approach to instruction which is evident in her appetency of task breakdown and tailored alternative instruction. Sandra is a fully regarded fiber artist, with her work being used on television and movie sets, in gallery shows, community projects and public art installations across the United States. Her hand knit and crochet designs are used in the field as design models while she concurrently works professionally as a fiber arts instructor, a knitwear designer and pattern writer in Long Beach, California.

Maja Ruznic, Visual Arts Instructor

Maja Ruznic was born in Bosnia & Herzegovina and came to the United States in 1992 as a refugee.  Once in the United States, she studied Psychology and Art at University of California Berkeley and received her M.F.A. from the California College of the Arts in 2009.

Maja is a working artist whose paintings, drawings and performances explore memory and how it shapes our understanding of reality.  She has exhibited nationally as well as internationally and has shown her work at ArtTranspoder (Berlin), Southern Exposure (San Francisco), Trailer Park Proyects (Puerto Rico), Michael Rosenthal Gallery (San Francisco), Hang Art Gallery (San Francisco) and AlterSpace (San Francisco). Her painting “The Mother of All Evil” was featured on the cover of New American Paintings in 2011 (Pacific Coast Section, Number 97).

“I enjoy working with the students at Hope due to their fearless and exuberant spirit.  I feel that working with them is a mutually enriching experience–they teach me as much as I teach them, if not more.  There is something pure and sincere in the art of my students–qualities I do not often see in contemporary art.  I want to surround myself by this kind of beauty.  They remind me why making art is an essential part of being alive.”

PIC coming soon

Heather Wright, Visual Arts Instructor

Heather Wright is a sculptural ceramic artist. Her B.F.A. in Ceramics was received from California State University Fullerton California in 2016.. She is the recipient of numerous awards while at CSUF including the Elizabeth Touhey scholarship for art in 2010, and notable award for the Student Research Day at CSUF for her sculpture, “My Daddy’s Chair” as well as first place in the student show for her piece entitled “Open Form” . Her recent group exhibitions include Epitaphs at Biola University, AMOCA annual Ceramics call : Biomorphic with her sculpture “Nest” and the Inland Empire Museum show Epitaphs for her piece entitle “Fables From Childhood” as well as the Brea Made in California Call to Art in 2017. Her work will be traveling nationwide in the CIVA group show “First Fruits” opening Fall of 2017. Her solo exhibits include “Winter Arising” in The Curbside Gallery, Santa Ana CA in 2010, as well as the Exit Gallery at CSUF, “Beauty from Ashes” that was featured in the Daily Titan and online.