Winona Bynum, youth and nutrition programs manager at Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan, likens her work in the nonprofit sector to her past work in IT project management. Similar to technology projects, human service programs – like the children’s feeding programs she oversees – need stakeholder input and strong collaborations to be successful.
Raised in South Central Los Angeles, a low-income community where youth face many challenges to success, Kayla Mason found her voice at the young age of 15 advocating for improvements in schools and in the community. While the path to get here has been laced with many organizing victories, she is mighty fired up about her role as director of YOUTH VOICE, an organization of Detroit youth who tackle political and social issues to create change. Mason has even developed her own trademarked model to help youth become agents of change in their own life and in their community.
Community organizer, farmer, teacher and change maker are among the hats worn by Kwamena Mensah, agriculture specialist and consultant with Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. As a pioneer in the urban agriculture movement, he has played a huge role in the reform of Detroit’s food system.
CultureWorks Institute for Creative Arts is a Holland-based center with art at its heart and Tori Pelz at its helm. She oversees hundreds of underserved 6th to 12th grade students from the Ottawa and Holland public school districts who come hungry to learn creative arts that they would otherwise not have the chance to experience.
Few things are as fundamental to a child’s success as a quality education, and Dan Varner, CEO of Excellent Schools Detroit, is committed to making sure all Detroit children attend a school that helps them achieve their dreams and reach their potential.
As a teacher in New York City Public Schools in the early 2000s, Sarah Winchell Lenhoff saw how inadequacies in the public school system created barriers to learning for children. Today, as director of policy and research at Education Trust-Midwest, Lenhoff works to impact education policy, helping to shape policies to improve instruction in the classroom and, in turn, produce better outcomes for Michigan students.
Former teacher Amrutha Nagarajan is the executive director of the new Michigan Network of The Achievement Network, which is charged with guiding and improving instruction in 15 Detroit schools. Having been an ANet coach in Washington, D.C., Nagarajan, a Michigan native, is excited to bring change and opportunity to students in Detroit.
Colleen Matts, farm to institution specialist at the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, has seen kids become great farm to school ambassadors, taking their parents by the hand, sharing their knowhow about the value of locally grown food, and even telling parents where to purchase it. Matts sees kids leading the farm to school cause -- just as much as she is.
With collaboration and positive social change in the driver’s seat, Leah Kelley of Allen Neighborhood Center in Lansing is motivating youth to think more about their role in creating positive shifts in community health. She leads the center’s Youth Service Corps, which engages community youth in food access projects through hands-on work and learning activities.
When Jennifer Rusciano was in fourth grade, she explored the origins of her favorite chocolate bar, connecting it to cocoa farms in Ghana. Years later, a college fellowship led her to live and work in small-scale cocoa farming communities around the world, exploring the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. After that, she joined FoodCorps in Michigan for two years, and eventually helped develop Detroit Food Academy, where she currently serves as executive director of operations.
Since 1983, Susan Ledy, with a background in teaching, has been at the helm of the Literacy Center of West Michigan working to improve literacy in a way that positively impacts adults, families, companies, schools and the entire community.
Marjorie Kuipers is concerned for kids who do not have enough food, who lack coats, boots and mittens to warm them, and who lack the opportunity to spike their grades with no-cost tutors or share what they learn with their families. Kuiper is the executive director of Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities, an organization that provides academic and social enrichment. She cares deeply about making a difference in the lives of struggling families.
When Ann Kalass, chief executive officer of Starfish Family Services in Inkster, was growing up, she realized early on that not all children had the same opportunities as she did. Today, she’s driven to make sure vulnerable kids get the education they need to start off life with a strong footing.
Concerned about the safety, security, and futures of homeless and vulnerable young women and girls, Amanda Good, CEO of Alternatives For Girls, has been leading efforts in Detroit to provide support, shelter, help, and hope to at-risk youth for a quarter of a century.
Michele Legleitner is program director for Runaway and Homeless Youth Regional Alliance, a fledgling organization that formed last year to better meet the needs of runaway, homeless, and disconnected youth in metro Detroit. She is charged with keeping the four alliance members working together, sharing data and infrastructure costs, and meeting their defined objectives.