Meet the Staff of ASSIST

Mellani Calvin: Executive Director of ASSIST

Photo: Mellani Calvin, Executive DirectorMuch of Mellani’s career has been assisting people with disabilities. Mellani has assisted people through the Social Security Disability benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSD/SSI) application process since 2001. She worked as a Social Security disability paralegal for 3 1/2 years preparing cases for hearings. She began working at Central City Concern in Portland, Oregon in 2004 as a non-attorney representative with a focus on chronically homeless and the indigent and moved on in 2008 to develop and manage Central City’s highly successful Benefits and Entitlements Specialists Team (B.E.S.T.) of Portland. In 2005, she became one of Oregon’s original four trainers for the national SSI-SSD Outreach, Access and Recovery (SOAR) curriculum sponsored by SAMHSA, which also helps social workers and case managers learn to navigate the Social Security Disability process.

As of April, 2010 Mellani founded two new disability related companies: Disability Benefits Training & Consulting, and ASSIST (Assertive SSI Service Team). Her work as the principal trainer and program director has now taken her to many cities throughout the northwest to promote programs for the disabled homeless. She has presented on the national stage at such conferences as National Coalition for Homeless Veterans in Washington, DC and the  National Community Action Partnership conference in San Francisco and is a member of NADR, the National Association of Disability Representatives.

Bianca Pick: Case Management Supervisor

biancaNewBianca PIck first joined the ASSIST team as a volunteer when she first moved to Portland. Most of her prior work has been in her home country of South Africa where she worked as a counselor, fundraiser and volunteer for several non-profits and community clinics. She has also worked at schools geared towards helping children with cognitive disorders (Autism Spectrum and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum) learn both academic and vocational skills.

In 2012, Bianca completed a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the Midrand Graduate Institute in Cape Town, South Africa, and has since focused her attention on working with programs that aim to serve and empower people suffering from disabilities, disenfranchisement and impoverished members of society.

Haven Riffel: Benefits Specialist

 

haven

After obtaining his BA in Law at the University of Arizona, Haven worked at a firm that specialized in business, however, he felt compelled to pursue a career with more direct service to people in need in the community. Upon returning home to Portland, he found that the combination of social and legal work involved at ASSIST aligned with this career path. Haven has engaged in various volunteering opportunities across the world, and greatly values the experience of meeting and helping others who live different lives from his. He is currently studying Russian in his free time. Haven combines empathy with determination in his work.

 

Chase Stowell: Benefits Specialist

Photo: Chase StowellAfter studying Political Science with a focus on equality in America at Linfield University, Chase has engaged his career thus far in advocating for social justice issues for the underserved and for persons experiencing significant functional impairments. Prior to joining the ASSIST Program, Chase worked as a direct support professional and a job coach for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, striving to open doors to opportunity in communities that have long relegated such persons to the fringe. He brings the same determined, person-centered, trauma-informed approach to his work at ASSIST.

Maya Elise: Program Assistant

Photo: Maya Elise Like many program and administrative staff Maya is the backbone of ASSIST’s operations. She started working for ASSIST part-time in the summer of 2016 while attending Portland State University. Her initial function was to prepare cases for hearing level appeals much as a legal assistant does at law firms. She has since moved into a full-time position, providing all administrative support to the Director and to our Benefits Specialists. She corresponds regularly with medical provider offices, clinics and hospitals to collect and submit important documentation for our client’s cases. She creates and maintains our paper and electronic files as well as tracks all our statistical program data for our grants and contracts. She does all this while still continuing to act as our legal assistant for our appeal caseload.

Tessa Wright: Administrative Assistant

Photo: Tessa Wright

Tessa joined ASSIST in the Summer of 2023 after earning her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Portland State University. Her prior experience in community mental health involved offering direct support to individuals coping with severe and persistent mental illness, which drew her to the mission of ASSIST. Tessa is experienced in file and database maintenance, gathering medical documentation, client correspondence, and providing administrative support to the director. Outside of work, Tessa enjoys spending time in nature, cooking, seeing live music, and spending time with friends and family.

 

ASSIST is a 501(c)3 non-profit.