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

Leave Blank
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 Washtenaw County Commissioner for District 4.

Stephanie Doll, Treasurer

Stephanie retired 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 food movement as a farmers market manager, co-owner of a meat/poultry business, and supporter of policy programs designed to empower farmers and food producers to produce nutritious foods for their communities. Her personal food adventure includes a garden, hoop house and orchard she keeps with husband Larry along with raising poultry, keeping bees, foraging and food preservation.

Tom Gritter, Director

Tom Gritter is the founder and owner of Gritter Real Estate Services, an Ann Arbor based commercial real estate services firm. He is passionate about enriching the quality of life in his community through his work and other endeavors. Mr. Gritter specializes in real estate transactions, project management, and incentive procurement across all real estate asset classes. Tom’s clients have ranged from mom-and-pop store owners to Fortune 100 companies, and he has executed on projects throughout the United States and the Caribbean.

Wayne Millette, Director

Wayne Millette is a native of Grenada and earned his doctorate in Educational Administration and Leadership from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Master’s
degree in Sociology from Clark Atlanta University, Atlanta and bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania. Wayne most recently served as Director, Office of Faculty and Resident Life in the Department of Surgery at the University of Michigan. Prior to this position, he served as partner and CFO of Sensei Change Associates, LLC a strategic management consulting firm. Wayne has served in multiple leadership roles in educational and non-profit organizations as well as providing coaching to organizational leaders. Prior to becoming a partner at Sensei Change, he was the Principal of Ann Arbor Learning Community, and served as Principal at New Beginnings Academy, a K-5 charter school in Ypsilanti, MI. Wayne was one of two members who founded New Beginnings Academy in 1998.

When Wayne is not busy at work, he loves spending quality time with his family. He is married to Diana Wong, an Associate Professor in Strategy at Eastern Michigan
University. He is most proud of his two children, Quentin and Maya. He is the family cook and prefers to use the best and freshest ingredients for all his dishes. In addition to growing and building things, Wayne enjoys traveling, soccer, downhill skiing, cricket, and tennis.

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.

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. Erinn is District Director for Senator Jeff Irwin.


Leave Blank
Esha Biswas, Youth Programs Manager

Esha comes to Growing Hope with a passion for infusing traditional ecological knowledge and the arts into environmental education. She has an academic background in Conservation Ecology, having completed a B.S. and an M.S. in progress from the University of Michigan, but her interests span various disciplines, from Indian classical dance to photography. Her professional experience has included wild songbird rehabilitation and higher education student affairs, and she is currently working on her Master’s thesis– a combination of prairie restoration, education, and the arts– in collaboration with the Freeman Environmental Education Center in Ann Arbor. In her spare time, Esha enjoys art journaling, foraging, leading birding field trips with Detroit Audubon, writing poems, making soup / music / pies, imagining a more just world, tending to her indoor jungle, and nurturing her inner child.

Julius Buzzard, Program Director

From a young age, Julius was taught to tend, care for, and respect land. These were the building blocks that helped Julius develop his drive and passion for food justice, caring for the environment, and the pursuit of equality. Julius has lived in Ypsilanti for several years and is delighted to have the opportunity to support and care for the community he loves. He has spent the entirety of his career within the nonprofit sector; always looking for ways in which he can intentionally partner with the good happening within the community. Julius hopes the Ypsilanti community is able to abolish systems of oppression and perpetuate a culture of equality and belonging for its future.

Julius has a deep spirit of curiosity, hopes to listen and learn daily, and believes in the art of storytelling in every aspect of life. When he has a spare moment, Julius enjoys running, CrossFit, bicycling, spending time with his wife and playing with their daughter.

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 and programs! She graduated from Western Michigan University with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Environmental Studies. She considers herself a lifelong learner, and is always ready to take on a new project or skill. She loves to ride her bike, spend time in her garden, draw, paint, and travel.

Bee Mayhew, Incubator Kitchen Manager

Bethany, better known around these parts as “Bee”, has been an Ypsilanti resident and advocate for over 12 years. Having an itinerant upbringing, born in Quebec, Canada and moving to the States at the age of 2, she lived up and down both coasts and a smattering of midwest places before finding her forever home here in Ypsilanti. She joined the team as the Kitchen Incubator Manager in September 2021, bringing 25 years of restaurant and community oriented small business experience with her. She looks forward to further invigorating the Marketplace and Incubator Kitchen with an eye toward building cohesion along the Washington street corridor that aligns with Growing Hope’s vision and the needs of the community through her gregarious energy and tenacity. Bee has a passion for deconstructing the mythology of “foodie culture” to make food fun, practical, and accessible utilizing straightforward ingredients and processes. She loves word games, puzzles and playing Pokemon Go with her family.

Vivi Nguyen, Farmers Market Assistant

Vivi is a native Michigander with a deep perspective on the culture at large. As a daughter of refugees and a first generation Vietnamese-American, she is always processing the meaning of goodness, connection, and metamorphosis. Her study of these concepts led her to the food sovereignty movement and ecological-cultural systems-thinking. At Growing Hope, she is working as a second brain and body to the Farmers Market Manager! Vivi is studying to become certified in Permaculture Design, and has plans to undertake horticultural training. In her free time, she is reading, thinking, writing, cooking, playing instruments, and loving people. Her favorite experiences are wild and numinous ones.

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.
Cristi Rodriguez-Alfaro, Garden Manager

Cristi has lived in Ypsilanti for the majority of her life. They speak Spanish and are a first generation Salvadoran-American. Her parents fled El Salvador during a civil war and preserving the culture, history, and ways of life of her Salvadoran family make up a large part of her identity. Their passion for nature, subsistence, and community-based farming was established through storytelling and demonstration at a young age. She studied sociology at Eastern Michigan University, and enjoys discussing the interconnectedness of human relationships with plants and wildlife and how they depend on one another for survival. Cristi looks forward to approaching work at Growing Hope in their own community through a global and systemic lens. Outside of work, she loves to hike, go camping, paint, take care of houseplants, and play rugby.

Charlotte Thurston, Farm Manager

As the Farm Manager, 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!
Nikka Wolfenbarger, Teen & School Manager

Nikka is a fiber artist, graphic designer and youth mentor, raised in Toledo, OH. After graduating with their BFA in 2016, they began working with community based non-profits, acting as a mentor for young creatives in the Toledo, Ann Arbor, and Ypsilanti areas. They collaborate with teens to amplify and highlight youth voices, including mutual pursuits for equity, inclusion and compassion for each other and our surrounding environment.

Nikka also has a lifelong passion for gardening. They’ve had their hands in the dirt from age 10, growing tomatoes, zucchini, green beans and numerous other vegetables with their mother in a small backyard plot.

When they’re not in the studio, Nikka spends their time taking nature hikes with friends, knitting giant scarves, doing yoga, reading Sci-fi novels, watching anime and teaching tricks to her cat, Merry.