OUR TEAM

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

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Sarah Wixson, President

Sarah L. Wixson is a partner at Varnum LLP. 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. 

Caroline Sanders, Vice President

Caroline Sanders is the Interim, Assistant Director of Community Relations and Engagement for EMU. Her primary role is to represent EMU in Southeast Michigan with emphasis in the Ypsilanti-Ann Arbor-Detroit communities. Her collaborative skills, university and community relationships allow her to serve as a two-way portal that benefits the community and university.

Caroline is currently running for Washtenaw County Commissioner for the 4th District.

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

Mr. Daniels was appointed by the Washtenaw County Bar Association. Mr. Daniels is a principal/owner of Pear Sperling Eggan & Daniels, P.C. Mr. Daniels serves on the Friends of Legal Aid steering committee. In 2012, he was awarded the first Washtenaw County Bar Association Pro Bono/Public Service Award. Mr. Daniels also is the Board Chair at Interfaith Hospitality Network and is very active in volunteering at the Delonis Center and Habitat for Humanity.

Stephanie Doll, Director

Stephanie retired in 2020 from a finance career capped by 30+ years as Vice President/Controller of a large privately-held company headquartered in Ann Arbor. Since the early 2000’s she’s engaged with the local “real food” movement; as a farmers market manager, co-owner of a meat/poultry business and participant in food policy initiatives. She believes supporting small-scale farmers and food producers along with assuring the community benefits from those nutritional goods is a worthy mission. Her personal food adventure includes a huge garden, hoop house and orchard she keeps with husband Larry along with raising poultry, keeping bees, foraging and unsurprisingly, food preservation.

Demond Johnson, Director

Demond joins the Growing Hope Board of Directors with a passion for health and fitness. Being a part of the Ann Arbor and Michigan community for just twelve years, Demond’s impact as the CEO of A2 Fitness Professionals has been nothing short of phenomenal. He has become actively involved with many groups in efforts to better the community’s overall health and wellness. Some of these groups include the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Community Outreach Program, the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan, the American Heart Association, Rainbow Rehabilitation Center, Special Tree Rehabilitation System, and Eisenhower Center. Demond enthusiastically participates in working on strength and conditioning with athletes of many of the high schools in the surrounding area’s Varsity Sports programs. He also heads up the corporate health and wellness programs for many of the local companies here.

Rosie Jowitt, Director

Rosie moved to Ann Arbor from New York City in 2017. Originally from Devon in England, she has also lived in New Orleans, Houston, and Melbourne (Australia).  She received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Geology from Royal Holloway College at London University.

Rosie has worked as a geologist for 24 years in the energy sector, and currently works as a consultant for an independent oil and gas exploration company based in London. She has most recently worked as a geologist for Chevron and Karoon Oil and Gas companies, specifically in the North Sea, Kurdistan, the NW Shelf of Australia, and on exploration projects on the East Coast of Canada. These complex projects required participation in multidisciplinary teams and joint ventures with other major oil and gas companies, as well as interaction with government regulatory bodies.

Rosie volunteered as a language, mathematics, and arts tutor at under-resourced schools during her years in Houston and New Orleans, and has served as an advisory board member at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft.

Kerry Kafafian, Director and Past 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.

Virginia Murphy, Director

Virginia Murphy is a faculty member at the University of Michigan, jointly appointed in the Residential College (Social Theory and Practice) and the Program in the Environment. Virginia teaches and writes about environmental literature, environmental justice, and sustainable food systems. Her research interests focus on how we express our relationship with the environment in literature, narrative, and activism, as well as the myriad ways that our environmental problems present intergenerational challenges that are visited most acutely on poor and minority communities. Virginia has a long-standing interest in how we promote sustainable food systems through the local food movement, community gardens, and more holistic approaches to agriculture. Her interests include running, hiking the mountains of Maine, reading, writing poetry, gardening, and cooking amazing food with her family.

Lajuanna Robinson, Director

The mission of “Whole Body Fitness with Lajuanna” is to transform lives through fitness. She believes that our bodies are Temples; gifts from God that we honor by taking care of them in order to live our best lives free from chronic illness. Lajuanna Maria Robinson completed her Master of Science Degree in Exercise Physiology at Eastern Michigan University in 2017, and received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Economics from the University of Michigan in 1995. She worked in the financial industry for over 20 years before making a career and lifestyle change by pursuing her passion for fitness in which she is committed to saving lives through fitness.

Lajuanna loves serving her community in various ways. She has been an active participant in the Black Women’s Health Study through Boston University for more than 25 years and provides fitness education and healthy food options at local churches and senior living facilities. Additionally, Lajuanna works part time as a licensed hairstylist, allowing her to add beauty and confidence to the lives of many men and women. Lajuanna loves exercising every day and enjoys walking or jogging through the Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor. She also cherishes spending quality time with her loved ones, especially her four daughters and three grandchildren.

Stefanie Stauffer PhD, Director

Stefanie brings experience as a farmer, educator, sociologist, activist, and beginning farmer mentor to the Growing Hope Board of Directors. As a 10 year veteran of the Ypsilanti Farmers Markets and former resident of Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, and Pittsfield Township, she is very connected to the Ypsilanti community. As a farmer who has been feeding this community for a decade, she is uniquely situated to help move forward Growing Hope’s food access goals. Currently a board member for the Ypsilanti Food Co-op, Stefanie also understands many of the nuances of the Ypsilanti food landscape. Stefanie is thrilled to have the opportunity to get involved more directly with Growing Hope’s mission.

Charles Waterhouse, Director

Charlie is a Partner and Senior Financial Advisor at Arbor Trust Wealth Advisors in Ann Arbor. He chairs the Firm’s Investment Committee and works with clients to help them achieve their retirement goals. He and his wife, Diane, have lived in Ann Arbor for more than twenty years. Prior to joining Growing Hope, Charlie served six years as a Director of the Neutral Zone, the last three as Board President.
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.

Erinn Williamson, Director

Erinn Williamson is a Ypsilanti Native, currently employed as a school social worker at a local academy. She is a mother of fraternal twins and an avid reader and researcher. She has a passion for finding innovative ways that children and their families can become self-sustaining and flourish within their community. 

Taryn Willis, Director

Taryn Willis is the Communication and Marketing Coordinator for Ypsilanti Community Schools. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and English American Literature from Eastern Michigan University, and a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Concordia University Ann Arbor. She is currently working towards her Master’s degree in Business Administration from Concordia University
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.

Staff

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Nuola Akinde, Garden Programs Coordinator

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..

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
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.
Jazmin Bolan-Williamson, Farmers Market Assistant

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.

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!

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.

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.

Nia Thomas-George, Youth Programs Assistant / Farmers Market Food Navigator

Coming from Atlanta, GA by way of the US Virgin Islands, Nia has quickly grown to love the Ypsilanti area and its inspiring close knit community. She came to us with her passion for youth empowerment and is excited to help educate and uplift the community through her role as Youth Programs Assistant. Growing up, Nia had several examples of what fighting for justice and equality looked like through her family’s work with many Atlanta area nonprofits. From those models and her own experiences, she is determined to continue strengthening, inspiring and educating the voices of the future.

Charlotte Thurston, Urban Farm Coordinator

As the Urban Farm Coordinator, 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. 

Cassandra Van Dam, Youth & Schools Manager

Cassandra grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in a family of educators and gardeners, where she learned from a young age the importance of youth empowerment, food justice, and growing your own food. After graduating from the University of Michigan, Cassandra spent two years as a FoodCorps AmeriCorps Service Member in Detroit Public Schools. There, she worked on Farm to School efforts and educated students Pre-K through 12, teachers, and community members with garden-based nutrition education and developed a summer teen program. Cassandra has been involved in many aspects of the food system, from managing farmers markets to earning her Master Gardener certificate, but she is most passionate about involving youth in this work. In her free time, Cassandra enjoys hiking, performing on aerial silks, and finding new creative recipes for all the produce from her garden.

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.

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!