Staff & Board


  • Ashley Lasher
  • Erin Sebelius
  • Niki Paganelli
  • Irina Kasanova
  • LuAnn Arena
  • Amber Beale
  • Ashley Lasher

    Ashley Lasher

    Executive Director

    An Asheville native, Ashley Vandewart Lasher has a deep love for Western North Carolina. She wants Buncombe County residents to have the same fulfilling community experience that she grew up with, so she chose a career in non-profit leadership.

    Ashley is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication and a minor in Women’s Studies. She has worked in nonprofit fundraising and leadership in Buncombe County since 2005. Her first introduction to the Literacy Council was as a guest at the original Authors for Literacy Dinner & Silent Auction. As a lifelong reader and writer, she was immediately drawn to the Literacy Council’s mission and program impact. After nearly three years as the Literacy Council’s Development Director, she became the Executive Director in Nov. 2012.

    Outside of the Literacy Council, Ashley serves on the board of the Asheville Jewish Community Center. She enjoys reading to her daughter, crafting, and spending time outdoors with her husband, daughter, and two dogs.

  • Erin Sebelius

    Erin Sebelius

    ESOL Director

    Erin, a lover of languages and cultural exchange, believes she has the perfect job.

    “Helping immigrants communicate in the language of their new home is especially rewarding because of the empowerment that comes for them,” Erin says. “I just glow every time I hear that one of our ESOL students has gotten a promotion, found a better job, or been able to help a child with homework.”

    Erin lists some pretty impressive credentials for managing the Literacy Council’s English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program. She earned a B.A. in German from San Diego State University, a master’s degree in cross-cultural education from National University in San Diego, and a California teaching certificate. She has five years experience teaching English, German, and Spanish to middle and high school students and ESOL to adults, as well as teaching English and math while living in Tijuana, Mexico for two years. Erin is a ProLiteracy certified trainer, past president of the Asheville Area Director of Volunteers in Agencies (DOVIA), and member of the executive board of Carolina Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

    Working at the Literacy Council since 2005, Erin conducts all ESOL tutor trainings and oversees all ESOL tutor volunteer activities. She remarks, “Our volunteer tutors are folks who care enough to give freely of their time, talents, and love. I am continually humbled and inspired by both our students and our volunteers!”

    Erin ’s home life revolves around husband, Sam, two children, Elan and Marlise, and their dog, T-Bone. She likes to read and travel whenever possible.

  • Niki Paganelli

    Niki Paganelli

    Adult Education and Augustine Project® Director

    Niki began her time with the Literacy Council as an AmeriCorps Member. In her service year, she proved to be passionate about literacy issues and acted as a source of support for new volunteer tutors as they went through orientation and trainings. She also tutored three Augustine Project students and four ESOL students. She was hired as the Adult Education and Augustine Project Director in March 2017.

    Niki has a background in social justice education, formerly working in Intercultural Affairs at Western Carolina University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She holds a Master’s in Higher Education Administration at UNCG and a Political Science degree from North Carolina State University. Niki is deeply committed to community organizing. In her free time she enjoys hiking in the Pisgah National Forest, tubing down the river, long-distance running, and reading a good book outside.

  • Irina Kasanova

    Irina Kasanova

    Office Manager and ESOL Specialist

    Born and raised in Kazan, Russia – a large city 600 miles from Moscow, Irina came to the U.S. in 1994 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. She adopted Asheville as her new home when her husband secured a research position in the area. Irina began studying English with the Literacy Council and soon became an ESOL tutor herself, working with students from the Ukraine. In 2000, she joined the Literacy Council staff.

    “Our students and their stories make my job especially meaningful. I know first hand how difficult it is for adults to learn a new language,” Irina remembers. “It is very hard work. At the Literacy Council, we see small but significant victories every day. It’s really rewarding to give people something now that helps them long term.”

    Irina earned a masters degree in Physics from Kazan State University and taught math courses at the Kazan State Power Engineering University. She and her husband, Airat, have two grown sons and enjoy reading, hiking, and traveling.

  • LuAnn Arena

    LuAnn Arena

    Development Director

    LuAnn Arena has a strong background in literacy tutoring. LuAnn first became a literacy tutor in her hometown of Rochester, NY. After spending several years traveling the U.S. as a musician she returned to school at SUNY New Paltz earning a BFA in Graphic Design. She has run a successful freelance design business since 2006. LuAnn relocated to Asheville in the fall of 2013 and returned to tutoring at the Literacy Council of Buncombe County. LuAnn was ready for a change and the opportunity to become a team member of the Literacy Council’s staff was the perfect fit. LuAnn is looking forward to using her skills in support of the Literacy Council and its mission. In her off time LuAnn enjoys making music and art as well as practicing yoga, biking, blading and reading. She also enjoys spoiling her friends and her two cats.

  • Amber Beale

    Amber Beale

    Recruitment and Awareness Coordinator



Board of Directors