Board and Staff of
The Pollination Project
Meet the people who make The Pollination Project possible.
Photo credit: Ciree Linsenman
Ariel Nessel, Founder & Board Member
After an epiphany in 1997 changed the way Ari related to food, his heart opened up to the impact every person’s life has on countless beings and the world at large. Soon after this insight, Ari had a vision of himself attaining all of his worldly goals and dreams (aka the American Dream), yet still feeling empty inside. Thus began his journey, which has culminated in the development of The Pollination Project.
In Ari’s day job he oversees a real estate re-development company that focuses on the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. He shares with his wife, Becky, a doctor who cares for underserved populations, the desire to serve others and act as a role model for their two young boys. Ari also leads meditation and yoga workshops and actively experiences the challenges of being a modern-day yogi, and the delusion that life can be compartmentalized into separate boxes such as family, work, hobbies/exercise and spirit. As a committed peace activist, Ari remains constantly challenged to live his life in alignment with his values, and to utilize the numerous privileges he has been given to turn seeds into blossom and blossom into fruit.
Stephanie Klempner, Founder & Board Member
Stephanie has always had a great love for animals, participating as a foster parent for stray dogs and volunteering with various programs aimed to help the welfare of pets. After connecting her love for animals with her food choices, she began to open her heart to both suffering and compassion in the world and connecting the choices we make in life to a more blessed and blissed life. She realized the power that one person truly has to impact the world, and thus teamed up with Ari (her brother-in-law) to create The Pollination Project. Stephanie is also extremely committed and dedicated to her career as Vice President of a literacy curriculum company and children’s book distributor and feels a deep connection with empowering youth to be readers and writers in the world, while also empowering them to change the world. Stephanie lives in NYC with her dog Miles and spends her time both enjoying the city she loves, as well as traveling the country to be with her family and dear friends.
Bela Shah, Board Member
Bela has worked at the intersection of education, justice, and development since she was 16 years old. She began her journey at the age of 16, when she volunteered in rural Mexico through Amigos de las Americas. As a first generation immigrant from Gujarat, India, Bela was also inspired to study human rights and humanitarian immigration law. She had the privilege of representing women in human trafficking and political asylum cases, which also inspired her to facilitate women’s empowerment workshops in Washington, DC. Currently she works with an amazing team of changemakers at Dalai Lama Fellows.
What has held the most meaning throughout all of her experiences in diverse parts of the world is the power of human kindness and compassion. The grantees of the Pollination Project are one of her daily inspirations. In her free time, Bela reconnects with the beauty of life through writing, yoga, art, and meditation. She is also an enthusiastic volunteer for ServiceSpace.org.
Bela graduated with Honors in Political Science from the University of Chicago and also earned her Juris Doctorate in Law from the University of Houston Law Center and the American University Washington College of Law.
Peggy Hilden, Board Member
Peggy has been passionate about animal protection and environmental issues since participating in the first Earth DayEvent in 1970. This passion was fueled by growing up in a family that believed in giving back to their community and opening their door to others (of all species) in need.
She has been involved with numerous nonprofit organizations for more than 30 years – as staff, consultant, board member and volunteer. She currently works for a large healthcare organization providing grants out to the community that support efforts to increase educational opportunities and career pathways to economically challenged youth and adults.
Peggy is blessed with a terrific son and partner both of whom share her belief that each of us can make a huge difference in the world. She currently (when you do rescues the number always changes) has two sweet feline family members, Harley and Beatrice. The most recent addition to the family is a little rescued horse named Chester, who represents the beginning of a dream to have a Sanctuary where humans and animals come together for healing through connections of the heart and in nature. Daily meditation, hiking, kayaking, camping, spiritual exploration and amazing connections with family, friends, animals and nature make her heart sing.
Alissa Hauser, Executive Director
Alissa is the founding Executive Director of the Pollination Project, a foundation that gives daily $1000 grants to up-and-coming changemakers around the world. Prior to her role with the Pollination Project, she co-founded and served as co-Director of The Engage Network, a social venture nonprofit that provides best practices in citizen-driven organizing. She led or advised on complex civic engagement projects for groups like Habitat for Humanity International, Slow Food USA, The Pachamama Alliance, Roots of Change, Green for All, Off the Mat Into the World and the Flawless Foundation.
From 2001-2007, Alissa served as Executive Director of Julia Butterfly Hill’s Circle of Life, leading efforts to create and produce We the Planet, the most eco-friendly large-scale rock concerts in the U.S., which at the time became the primary model for “green events”. Alissa is also the former Executive Director of the women’s philanthropic organization, Resourceful Women. She proudly serves on several nonprofit advisory boards and boards of directors, including Youth Empowered Action Camp, Bread for the Journey, Go Inspire Go, Veg Youth, Philanthrogeek, and Food Empowerment Project, and regularly provides strategic and business consulting to a wide variety of philanthropic and social change efforts. She holds an MBA in Nonprofit Management from the University of San Francisco and a BA from Oberlin College. Alissa is also a mom and a passionate advocate for her local foster care system.
James West, Grants Manager
James comes to TPP from a background in social anthropology. Through his work supporting TPP grantees, James has seen the power of empowering people to effect change in their own communities, and believes that these grassroots efforts are vital when working towards a more just world.
He is a transplant from England, and currently lives in California, where he is making the most of all the hiking, rock climbing, and sunshine!
Julie Santos, Special Projects Coordinator
Julie Santos has been actively volunteering with grassroots movements and international relief agencies for over 8 years. Her efforts have brought her to work in disasters like Katrina and the 2010 Earthquake in Haiti. She has volunteered in multiple countries, helped spear-head several grassroots projects mainly focusing on community and individual action as the pivotal component to inspire change and progress.
She is a graduate student at the Academy of Art University and is working on her thesis, a platform that encourages resource sharing among nonprofit organizations and individuals on an international level. Julie is constantly striving to find ways to remind people that now is the perfect time to practice a random act of kindness with the tools you have in the place you are at.
Maureen Miller, Accountant
Maureen Miller is a California certified public accountant (C.P.A.) and earned her Master’s degree in Business Administration (M.B.A.) from Golden Gate University in 1999. Since then, she has been working in partnership with non-profit organizations, small businesses and individuals to help them establish and maintain cost-effective and user-friendly accounting systems.
Maureen is the mother of an 11 year-old son and lives in Oakland, California.
Jamila Banks, Program Associate
Jamila Banks is a Motivator, Mentor, and Entrepreneur with a diverse background in arenas such as social services, mental health, environmental advocacy, and education. She is Founder and Executive Director of Foster & Banks Walk in Faith Foundation, an environmentally friendly, social services 501(c)(3) organization located in Los Angeles, CA.
Jamila stepped into the workforce at the age of 12 as a Care Worker for the State of California and has held numerous positions in Education as a Tutor and Substitute Teacher, and as a Counselor/Case Manager/Advocate for children and adults with special needs. Additionally, Jamila completed an internship with Bay Area Addiction, Research and Treatment (BAART) as a trainee counseling adults diagnosed with substance abuse/dependency as well as with co-occurring mental illnesses. She currently interns in several group homes as a M.F.T. Therapist, working to empower and encourage “at risk” males. Jamila has also been a personal mentor and motivator to youth and young adults around the community encouraging them to be their best, authentic, selves.
She hold a B.A.degree in in Political Science from the University of Southern California(2004), and graduated from the Marriage and Family Therapy Graduate Program with her M.S., M.F.T. from the University of LaVerne(2011). Concurrently, Jamila has attended numerous workshops and seminars to promote her knowledge and advancement namely trainings on Mental Illness and Autism Spectrum Disorders in School Aged Children, and Workshops on the Stages of Change, and Conflict Resolution. She is also a student member of the American Psychotherapy Association, and an Alumni of the U.S.C. Passing the Mantle Program (2010). After deciding to pursue her dreams of making a tangible impact in her community, in 2012, Jamila founded, and began operating Foster & Banks Walk in Faith Foundation with her Co-Founder and mother Ar’Lisa Foster, Husband La-Ty Banks, Daughter Kirsten Chavis, and Brother Jobari Coleman-Wilson. She is a Grantee of The Pollination Project, Grant Advisor, and works on many special projects. Jamila is also the mother of 3 young children.
Shannon Cunningham, Operations Manager
Shannon is a Bay Area native with a background in non-profit management. She is passionate about administrative systems and supporting the work from behind the scenes so that organizations can be successful and their programs thrive.
Shannon is all about helping others, in particular under-served communities and children and animals. She also cares deeply about environmental issues. Shannon is currently in training to be a certified mindfulness instructor for children.
Working for The Pollination Project has been a dream come true because it allows her to help others as well as be a larger part of a movement of spreading compassion around the world!
Joshua Baer, Systems Administrator
Joshua is our in house tech guy. He uses his background in Business Analysis and Technical Support to improve our daily processes here at The Pollination Project, and to maintain our website and business software. He has a strong passion for technology as a way to help those trying to better the world, and he believes The Pollination Project is the perfect foundation for him to reach this goal.
Joshua has set up his command center in Eugene Oregon where in his off time loves to take advantage of all that nature provides there. You can find him on weekends high in the mountains hiking and riding his bicycle while photographing all that captures his eye.