staff & board
Sam Nickels, PhD
Passions: Friends; biking through the countryside west of Harrisonburg; hiking High Knob with my wife Cindy (who teaches social work at JMU) and kids Heather, Alex and Ana; advocacy to improve the situation of immigrants and persons with mental illnesses; cultural diversity activities like the Court Square Theater Latino Film Fest; reading SciFi; making new things, whether it’s a table in my kitchen or a Friendly City Food Coop (where I served on the founding team till 2011).
Story: I grew up in Tallahassee Florida and studied music composition, horn, and piano at Florida State University. Later I spent 10 years in Washington DC working in hunger advocacy, shelters, and low-income service organizations. Before coming to Harrisonburg in 2001, my family spent 5 years in El Salvador with the Mennonite Central Committee. In Harrisonburg, I’ve worked in the school system, mental health services, and at NewBridges Immigrant Resource Center. My brother’s journey with schizophrenia greatly impacted my life. I brought together that interest with my international experience to help create family education and support programs in El Salvador since 2002. That volunteer work merged with my growing interest in research to push me to obtain my PhD in Nonprofit and Community Leadership from JMU’s School for Strategic Leadership Studies in 2016.
Our Community Place is an exciting opportunity for me to lead an organization dedicated to helping those in great need in our community, to work with a fantastic team of staff and board and volunteers, and to help move the organization to the next step in its important development: affordable housing, access to housing for homeless persons, and quality case management to achieve long-term goals and needs for those experiencing homelessness. I want to thank all those who have come before and built OCP into what it is today.
Community Care & Engagement Specialist
My Passions: Playing group games, watching documentaries, taking off-trail hikes with friends, loving on those in my small community, journaling and writing poetry.
My story: I was born and raised in Caroline County, Virginia — hometown to Richard and Mildred Loving, the small couple who’s undying commitment to each other changed America’s laws on marriage forever. Coming to Harrisonburg, via emergency shelters, I had wandered through OCP’s open doors and was invited into community life. By the empowering, humanizing efforts of New Community Project, Our Community Place, and Blue Ridge Community College, I completed my associate degree with a health science focus. Accepted into Mary Baldwin University, I studied health science with a focus in public health. A service project led me back to OCP’s doors, where I began to learn the underlying causes of housing insecurity. During this time, I assisted an Amplifying Voices project which brought to surface the voices of affected persons. As the community care staff, I pray I will cultivate empathy and compassion in deeply meaningful ways. I am pleased to serve my Brothers and Sisters in this capacity.
Pedro Hernandez Portalé
Custodian & Building Maintenance
Things I Love: Everything. My job here at OCP—I’ve worked here for a long time. I like the people, too.
My story: Pedro was born in Cuba and has been in the U.S. for 40+ years. He worked chicken plants across Virginia for twenty years before coming to Our Community Place. Working in the organization since its beginnings, Pedro continues to remind our community that we are a family.
MARCO MURILLO, MSW
Lead Case Manager
Marco grew up in Costa Rica, but has been living for many years in the USA–Chicago, Washington DC, and after a stint with the Peace Corps in Mozambique, in Harrisonburg since the pandemic began in 2020. He has a masters in social work and many years working in case management and running a large soup kitchen in the Washington DC area.
Ed is a professional Cuban chef from Miami, now settled in the Shenandoah Valley. Ed is retired but works part time to assist OCP with his wonderful talents.
Things I love: Family is the first and most important thing to me. I enjoy weight-lifting, hiking, playing Spanish/flamenco guitar, the beach, and anything outdoorsy. I also love traveling and enjoy learning languages and about others’ cultures and trying new ethnic foods.
My Story: I was born in the Kurdish region of Iraq and moved to the U.S. in 2012. I studied Sociology and minored in Computer Science for my undergrad. Later, I received my MSW at Boston College.
I have lived and travelled in different countries and states in the U.S. I have also worked with different local and international humanitarian organizations; the United Nations, International Relief & Development, ACTED, Church World Service, the Salvation Army, and multiple local agencies.
I have been working with OCP since June 2022. I enjoy and deeply connect with OCP and the clients’ needs. I am a big supporter of a collective/community-oriented culture; however, I also encourage our clients with ideas of self-care, self-growth and developing independent living skills instead of just depending on others and the system. I started as a Case Manager helping our community members with applying for housing applications as well as other benefits and needs. I am currently working with financial and accounting duties at OCP.
My goals are to perfect my Spanish and to travel throughout the South American countries. My longer term goals are to write my book that I have started writing some pieces of it, and also opening my own business sometime in the future.
My story: I am married and have three children, a dog, four cats, two geckos, fish and a turtle. I am an advocate for individuals living with mental and or developmental disabilities, as well as for individuals living with brain injuries.
Having children with special needs was my motivation to obtain my degree in the field of human services later in life. I have navigated through many obstacles that stand in the way of individuals accessing needed supports and services; including my own family’s experiences of being homeless. I most recently worked with Delegate Tony Wilt to change Virginia’s educational definition of Traumatic Brain Injury. We created a bill which passed through the house and senate with zero objections and was signed into law last July (2021). I’m hoping to bring my experiences to OCP and be a fierce advocate for members of Our Community Place!
Fun Facts: I’m an aquarius, my favorite color is pink, and I collect stress balls. I have 2 cats and a pet snake, and in my spare time I like to watch cartoons with my partner and catch up on National Geographic articles. I have two sisters, and they are my inspirations–they make me want to do better every day. My friends are also all incredible motivators, I am truly lucky to be surrounded by a wonderful support system who all strive to make this world a little kinder.
My Story: I moved to Harrisonburg from Charlottesville about 5 years ago. I moved here to complete my degree in social work, and I’m starting to think about going back for my MSW. I have experience working with the homeless population here through employment at Open Doors from 2020-2022, and have worked as a case manager for DV victims at First Step. I’ve also done work at the day shelter of Charlottesville, The Haven. I love my work and I’m so glad I can continue to serve my community through OCP. One day I’d like to move to Richmond to complete my MSW and expand my services and skill set to a larger demographic of people.
Tim Cummings is a native of Richmond who moved to Harrisonburg in 1979 to attend JMU. Tim began his own import business in 1988, specializing in handcrafts from Latin America. He has been a self-employed sole proprietor ever since, but came to work at OCP in the spring of 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic forced his business into dormancy. Tim began as a volunteer, but was hired to focus on assisting our homeless community members in finding permanent housing. His 20 years’ experience as a landlord has been useful in helping negotiate with landlords in the local housing market. Tim is married to Tricia, a registered nurse who now teaches nursing and medical topics at Harrisonburg High School. They have 3 adult daughters and 2 precious grandchildren. Tim enjoys skiing, biking, and carving amazing pumpkins for Halloween.
Kevin "Spyder" Waters
Things I love: Creating desserts and food stuffs, music, exploring new areas of interest, and I like people
My Story: I was born and raised in Southern California. I was adopted at birth. The adoptions weren’t open. I would like to find out who my real family is. My adoptive parents are deceased. My friends are my extended family.
I’ve worked in industry and construction a lot. Although I’ve done a few stints in food service, this is the first time I’ve worked in food service where we’re actually creating food! I like providing food for the community.
OCP has helped me a lot. I appreciate the opportunities they’ve offered me to better myself. I know where I came from – I put myself there – but I feel that I’m back to where I need to be.
Special Projects in Fundraising and Grants