Board of Directors
Sam Lasris, President
Membership Committee Chair
Originally from Jacksonville Florida, Sam recently retired from 39 years of dental practice in Danville Virginia where he is a past president of the local dental society.
Sam appreciates that International Focus welcomes, celebrates and embraces people from all different nationalities, ethnicities, religions and backgrounds. He particularly enjoys meeting people to learn about their culture, politics, passions and efforts to make a better environment for us all.
In addition to volunteering for International Focus for 8 years, Sam has served on the Orange County Planning Board, was original chairman of the Orange County Unified Transportation Board, and is currently on the Orange County Board of Health. His interests include politics, human rights, urban/suburban growth and development, access to health care, theater, arts and culture, and travel.
Dikran Kabendjian, Vice President
International Festival Green Team Chair
Board Development Committee Chair
Born to Armenian parents in Nazareth, Dikran had the unique experience of growing up among Palestinians within a Jewish state and attending a Catholic elementary school and a Southern Baptist middle school, speaking three languages before learning English in school. Dikran came to Raleigh in 1976, and made his career as a corporate real-estate operations manager. He is active in the local Armenian community and is a member of the Lost Nomads, a middle-eastern and world music band. Dikran, along with wife, Hermine, has participated or volunteered with the International Festival since 1990 in various capacities and, since 2010, has chaired its Green Program which ensures all food waste and serving vessels are sorted and composted, making the International Festival the most sustainable large event in Raleigh.
Sheri Golden Perry, Secretary
Governance Committee Chair
Sheri, a native North Carolinian, has been an educator for over twenty years. Currently, she serves as the Senior Administrator of Global Programming in the Wake County Public School System. Sheri graduated from NC State University with a BA in English Education and a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction. She has a Master of School Administration degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Sheri’s initial interest and participation in International Focus spawned from the opportunity to help develop an International Field Trip for schools at the International Festival’s Naturalization Ceremony. This event now allows kindergarten through twelfth grade students to participate in the festival during school hours, and creates an intentional connection between the NC Standard Course of Study and all of the educational value that the International Festival offers.
Sheri’s interests include social justice rights, travel and event planning. She resides in the Triangle area with her husband and twin sons.
Bardia Asefnia, At Large
Bardia was born in Raleigh, N.C. of Iranian parents who emigrated to the U.S. just before the Islamic Revolution unfolded. Having visited Iran twice as a young boy, he acknowledges the vast differences between two cultures – where he was raised and where his family originated from, thus sparking his passion for education and politics. He grew up as an avid soccer player and continued his academic studies onto the University of Massachusetts, where he excelled as a student-athlete graduating with a B.A. in Political Science. Currently, Bardia assists political candidates seeking re-election or higher office to educate their constituents through fundraising efforts. He previously worked with the N.C. Attorney General and currently works to elect the next representative of N.C. to U.S. Congress.
Bardia’s interest in International Focus stems from his desire to expose people from all backgrounds to cultures different than their own, free of political bias. He envisions a world in which individuals can learn from one another and celebrate the positives of each others cultures.
Debbie Hamrick, At Large
Debbie Hamrick is a member of the Public Policy Team at North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation. She and her husband Ed Gaines believe that people-to-people diplomacy is vital to creating international understanding. Through opportunities as members of IF, they’ve hosted dozens of visitors from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Central/South America and the Caribbean in their home for more than 10 years. Prior to joining Farm Bureau, Debbie founded FloraCulture International magazine. While there, she managed multi-cultural staff across four continents. She and Ed reside in the Hayes Barton neighborhood of Raleigh.
Sejal Mehta, At Large
Sejal Mehta is Indian-born and grew up on New York City. Sejal is currently a board member for both statewide and local organizations, including the North Carolina Arts Council, Raleigh Little Theater, Wiley Elementary School PTA and Sir Walter Cabinet. Previously, Sejal worked as a contract attorney for Duke Energy, an attorney at the New York Medical Examiner’s Office, and a prosecutor in the Queen’s District Attorney’s Office. Sejal has a B.A. from New York University and a J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law. She lives in Cameron Village with her husband Jay and their two children.
Jessica Porta, At Large
Jess Porta is the Director of HQ Raleigh, an entrepreneurial community in the heart of Raleigh, NC. Jess works to help start-up companies connect with the resources they need to grow their businesses. Jess’s passion for helping others is rooted in her background in human rights. Prior to her role as Director, Jess ran her own consulting company for educational and human rights organizations and was the Training and Education Manager for the Salvation Army’s Anti-Human Trafficking Program, Project FIGHT. She received her Masters of International Studies from NC State University. Jess is also a children’s book author and served as a consultant with the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture.
Martin Noble, At Large
Development Committee Chair
Born in the U.S. to an American father and Argentine mother, Martin spent his childhood in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He completed high school in the U.S. and an Economics degree at NCSU along with a study abroad in Spain. Curious about the world, his early career took him to Santiago, Chile and later managed Latin American operations for a global Dutch company. For the past several years, Martin has been serving as a Financial Advisor for individual and businesses in North Carolina and has been involved in local organizations empowering Latino and diverse business owners. Martin looks to help drive International Focus’ goals through his global outlook and belief in the constructive and enriching power of intercultural exchange and dialogue.
John Twomey, At Large
Strategic Planning Committee Chair
John was born in New York, the crossroads of the world, and had lived in the Triangle for the last 35 years. He retired from a career in high tech sales, consulting and entrepreneurship and currently uses his professional skills to contribute to non-profits such as Habitat for Humanity and International Focus. John and his wife Jean have hosted over 30 International Visitor Leadership Program dinners with participants from over 40 countries and 6 continents. These dinners coupled with global travel have shown how critical diplomacy is to reach out and share our commonality, to resolve problems without resorting to conflict, to make the world a safer and better place.