Growing Hope’s strength is in our team.
Whether it’s our volunteers, seasonal employees, interns, board members, or our full-time staff, we depend on people to grow our food, maintain our facilities, share our work with the larger community and run our programs. Learn more about the people making Growing Hope happen.
Board of Directors
Kerry Kafafian, Board President
Kerry is a third generation realtor in the Ypsilanti Area. She has almost 30 experience with real estate and now works with Keller Williams Realty. She is an experienced organic gardener who likes to share her bounty with friends and neighborhoods. She is working to create a residential community for adults with special needs where gardening and farm work is available, Bunny Hill Community.
Sarah Wixson, Vice President
Sarah L. Wixson earned her Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, from Hope College, double-majoring in English and Spanish. She is a member of the Health Care Practice Team, with a focus on transactional and real estate law and complex commercial litigation and her unique practice in health care law includes working with physicians, physician groups, hospitals and health care entities. Ms. Wixson serves as counsel for business clients and represents businesses and individuals in residential and commercial real estate matters. Her litigation work is primarily focused on business matters and commercial contract disputes.
Rebecca Stephens, Treasurer
Bio coming soon!
Sarah Work, Secretary
Sarah is the Grants Coordinator at the Corner Health Center in Ypsilanti. She has a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and is currently in the MBA program at Eastern Michigan University with a specialization in Nonprofit Management. Coming to Growing Hope through a board fellowship program with the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance at EMU, Sarah continues to serve on the board because of her passion for supporting youth health and education in Ypsilanti and her desire to improve the strength of the nonprofit sector. In May 2018, Sarah was elected Secretary.
Lucy Binns, Director
Lucy is an HR Consultant with Amy Cell Talent, assisting businesses, organizations and individuals throughout SE Michigan with employment services. A former student of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University and proud Ypsilanti resident, she is eager to help with Growing Hope’s mission in the creation of sustainable, local food systems.
Tom Daniels, Director
Bob Field, Director
Bio coming soon!
Aimee Jones, Director
Caroline Sanders, Director
Charles Waterhouse, Director
The couple have a small summer garden at home, which augments their annual CSA share from a local farm. While Charlie can till the soil, make no mistake that Diane is the gardener in this family. Their two grown children both live in Ypsilanti.
Taryn Willis, Director
Chicago. She has worked in public education since 2010 and has a passion for creating enrichment programs that benefit students. Taryn has been a resident of Ypsilanti for over 30 years and has a 16 year old son and Maltese dog named Sugar. She enjoys reading classics by Richard Wright and other African American literary greats, traveling and watching classic movies.
Cynthia VanRenterghem, Executive Director
As Executive Director of Growing Hope, Cynthia has the opportunity to combine her love of gardening and growing things with her professional management, operations, and leadership abilities. She comes to Growing Hope after having launched and profitably scaled her own garden products company, through which she gained a tremendous amount of experience successfully managing financials, people, and operations. It’s a dream come true to be able to use her skills and experience leading a team of smart and passionate individuals that are working to empower people of all socio-economic backgrounds in the local food system. Cynthia has had a passion for gardening since working as a child on her family’s acre-large vegetable garden in Flint, MI. While she still enjoys vegetable gardening, she is happiest tending her large perennial flower garden when not keeping up with four kids and husband of 25 years.
Erica Bloom, Assistant Director
As Assistant Director, Erica oversees Growing Hope’s fundraising through grants as well as the strategic direction of all of the organization’s programs, partnerships and staff development. Prior to Growing Hope, Erica was the Policy Manager for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters where she managed the organization’s environmental legislative priority setting process and advocated for protection of Michigan’s air, land and water. While her roots are firmly in Michigan, Erica has ties to the American West where she received her M.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana. There she studied environmental health and environmental non-fiction writing and has been published in Camas: The Nature of the West and Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment. Erica is also a Senior Fellow with the Environmental Leadership Network. She loves discovering new places to go hiking and camping in Michigan, but returns to the Sleeping Bear sand dunes as much as possible.
Elizabeth Bee Ayer, Program Director/ Farm & Garden Manager
Bee Ayer is an organic farmer, educator and spreadsheet enthusiast. Bee started her career in the food system at Growing Hope in 2006, and is delighted to be back! She specializes in small farm and garden-based education program planning and design. She has a certificate in Ecological Horticulture from the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems at UC Santa Cruz and a B.A. from the University of Michigan. Bee has started and managed various school/community gardens, urban and rural farms in New York and Michigan. In 2009 She founded The Youth Farm, a one-acre production and education farm in Crown Heights Brooklyn, as well as providing urban chicken keeping training through Fort Hen, as well as the city’s first egg CSA. As an educator she has developed curriculum and taught pre-school students through adults on topics ranging from worm composting dances to planning long-term farm budgets. In addition to her horticulture work, she owns Get Down Farm in Dexter MI. When not farming or teaching she rides her bike, shares meals with her friends and family, and travels the world visiting organic farms and intentional communities
Penny Beamer, Office Manager
Penny loves playing in the dirt and working outdoors! She grew up on a fruit and vegetable farm and spent her childhood learning about what it takes to grow food. She moved to Ypsilanti to study at Eastern Michigan University where she earned a B.S. in biology with a minor in chemistry. She is passionate about many things including healthy and sustainable living, growing food, community engagement, plant identification, wetland ecology, dancing, yoga/meditation, and connecting to the natural world. She maintains a personal garden, spent a season volunteering with the WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), and occasionally helps with her friend’s local gardening business. Before coming to Growing Hope, she worked at Wayne State University, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge and Natural Area Preservation conducting biological assessments and ecological habitat restoration. She also worked at ASTI Environmental doing environmental consulting in Southeast Michigan.
Carolyn Gehrke, Finance Manager
Carolyn loves figuring out how things work and thinking about how they might work better. She is currently using her skills to help manage Growing Hope’s finances. She has previous experience with retail bookkeeping, inventory management, photography, layout design, and spent a few years teaching physics, design, and photography. She has a degree in Physics from Lawrence University and an MFA from University of Arizona. Carolyn has lived in Ypsilanti since 2001 with her husband and now has two children.
Dayna Popkey, Farmers Market &Nutrition Manager
Dayna grew up in Ypsilanti just a few blocks from the current location of the Ypsilanti Farmers MarketPlace. She spent many Saturdays of her childhood running around the farmers market at the Freighthouse. Through working at the Ypsilanti Food Cooperative, she became a market vendor and was involved in facilitating food assistance programs at the markets. Food access and nutrition became a passion, leading to a degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Eastern Michigan University. Dayna is a Registered Dietitian and is completing a graduate degree in Human Nutrition at EMU.
Elisa Marroquin, MarketPlace Manager
Elisa grew up in southern California surrounded by diverse communities and cultures. She quickly grew to have a passion for most things food and found herself moving to Michigan to work for a local a food business and entrepreneur. She attended from Cal Poly Pomona University where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management and a minor in Business Law. She has experience in many different aspects of hospitality from catering to events, and retail working for Whole Foods and Sur la Table. She is excited to contribute more to her surrounding community and working with Growing Hope. She is enthusiastic about being the MarketPlace and Growing Hope Incubator Kitchen Manager where she can combine her experience and passions. In her free time, Elisa enjoys trying new foods, yoga, traveling and spending time with her family and dog.
Sarah Campbell Jones, Marketing Manager
As Marketing Manager, Sarah gets the word out to the community about Growing Hope’s events, programs, and projects! She comes to us with a unique background as an Environmental Studies and English major from Western Michigan University and as a local dance teacher and performer who is regularly involved in creative projects in the Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor area. When she’s not working, she’s usually traveling for dance events and competitions around the country or spending time with her husband, Matt. She loves to ride her bike, hopes to find more time to garden, and enjoys learning more about the community she lives in!
Elizabeth Warren, Engagement Manager
Elizabeth has been an Ypsilanti resident since 2005 and is constantly looking for more ways to get involved in the community. Elizabeth’s dad owned and operated a restaurant while she was growing up, sparking her love of food. Her passion for food and helping people lead healthier lives through nutritious food is what led her to Growing Hope. As a mother of three, Elizabeth is no stranger to organizing and coordinating. She has over 19 years of experience in the events industry and is so excited to be using her talents to benefit the community she has grown to love!
Nuola Akinde, Garden Programs Assistant
Nuola Akinde is an environmental justice activist with a deep passion for decolonizing her understanding of nature and supporting children and families in creating conscious and connected relationships with Earth and each other. With a background in early childhood education and years of experiential learning, Nuola brings joy and curiosity to her gardening and hopes to inspire the same in others..
Jazmin Bolan-Williamson, Farmers Market Assistant
Charlotte Thurston, Urban Farm Assistant
As the Urban Farm Assistant, Charlotte works to keep the veggies, herbs, and trees at Growing Hope’s Urban Farm alive and thriving. She has arrived at Growing Hope following a winding path of pursuits in environmental education with AmeriCorps to organic vegetable farming and research science. Originally from Maine, Charlotte has enjoyed living and working in upstate New York, central Oregon, and the Twin Cities of Minnesota. She has a B.S. from Cornell University and just this year earned an M.S. in Applied Plant Science from the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. She has a passion for farming and food justice, but also loves to play outdoors, hike, bike, garden, read good books, and eat delicious produce.