Our Team

Christina Heffner

Christina Heffner
Executive Director

Christina Soares Heffner has always had a love for strategy and games. While she wishes she had a league like BKCL that would have taught her this beautiful game at a young age, she is grateful for the opportunity to have provided this connection for others. She joined the Baltimore Kids Chess League in 2008 as a coach at Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School. Starting with a team full of novices, she developed the program and brought the team to Supernationals in 2013, winning a top 20 team trophy in their section. She continued coaching in 2 other programs around the city before joining the league as assistant director. She became executive director in 2020. She is passionate about hearing the students’ stories and learning about their journey into chess.

John Brenner

A lifelong resident of Baltimore City, John Brenner is the Director of Early College Initiatives (ECI) at The University of Baltimore and B-Power lead for the University System of Maryland, as well as Chair of the BmoreSTEM ecosystem and President of the board of Baltimore Kids Chess League. ECI and B-Power are drivers for the expansion and implementation of college and workforce opportunities for City Schools students from middle through high school through Dual Enrollment and College Readiness programming. As a high school dropout at 16, Brenner knows the transformative power of education firsthand, having since earned a GED, an A.A. (Baltimore City Community College), B.A. (University of Baltimore), M.A.L.A. (St John’s College, Annapolis), and M.B.A. (University of Baltimore). Brenner is dedicated in his work to provide higher education opportunities to students of color and underserved populations in Baltimore, and to bring together and work with stakeholders in this mission throughout the city.

Anya Cappolla

Anya is the League’s expert in strategic planning, development, marketing and partnerships. Anya’s expertise was built at multinational corporations through her roles as Strategy and Planning Executive with Euro RSCG global advertising agency, President’s Advisor on brand strategy growth at Smithfield Foods, and as Director of International Product Development for Toys “R” Us. Anya holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business from Arizona State University and an MBA in Finance and Marketing from Fordham University Gabelli School of Business. She lives in Baltimore with her husband and their two children.

Bill Smith
Vice President

William (“Bill”) Smith started playing tournament chess at the age of 15 (a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away). He was a spectator for three games of the Fischer-Spassky match in Iceland (1972). Currently he serves as the coach at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. He is a retired professor (business) from Towson University. In addition to chess, Bill’s interests include travel and films.

Kijaffa Hall

Kijaffa Hall is a passionate advocate for learning and education. During her 15 years in higher education, she dedicated herself to guiding students and staff in their growth and self discovery through coaching, workshops and hand on experiential development.

Most recently Kijaffa held positions as the Director and Associate Director of
Admissions, overseeing the recruitment, orientation and integration of undergraduates into their first year of study. She specialized in programming for high school students, overseeing the dual enrollment program and
playing an integral role in the development of a last dollar scholarship- both providing opportunities for low to no cost access to college coursework and support systems for student success.

With an educational background in business operations management, Kijaffa now provides project management, program development and technical assistance to small businesses and educational institutions within Maryland.
Kijaffa holds a MBA in Strategic Management from Pace University, BBA in
Accounting from CUNY Baruch College and a Graduate Certification in Learning Design and Technology from the University of Maryland Global Campus. She also serves as Board Secretary for the Baltimore Kids Chess League. Finally, she is a proud wife and mother to two furry pet babies, Callie and Sparta.

Jennifer Artis
Board Member, Event & Fundraising Chair

Jennifer Artis has over 20 years of creative leadership experience, designing and planning events, mentoring, and cultivating donors to impact non-profits.

Jennifer is an assistant dean of administration, policy, and compliance at UMBC and oversees graduate assistantships, budgets, and the graduate student association. In her role, she collaborates with faculty staff, and students to create strategic, impactful, and engaging experiences for graduate students.

Jennifer believes that when purpose and passion are combined, the impact is powerful not only for individuals but also for the public they serve. People are her passion, and she’s learned that the key insights and ideation to develop meaningful, differentiated value comes from embracing diversity while acting with empathy.

Michael Longinaker
Public Relations

Michael D. Longinaker is a teacher at Morrell Park EMS in Baltimore City. In the past he has coached chess at Govans Elementary and Hampstead Hill Academy.