Board and Staff of The Pollination Project
Meet the people who make The Pollination Project possible.
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.
Aph Ko, Grantmaking
Aph Ko is the founder of Black Vegans Rock, a website that celebrates black vegans and the incredible work that they’re doing. She is also the co-author of the book Aphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters, which was published through Lantern Books. She has a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Humanities and an M.A. in Communication and Cultural Studies.
She served as the Associate Producer for the documentary film Always in Season, which centers on the legacy of lynching in the United States, and she served as a Consultant for the documentary film The Invisible Vegan.
She has a passion for decolonial theory, activism, music, and art.
Bela Shah, Events
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.
Chris McGilvery, Grantmaking
Chris McGilvery is an educator and social entrepreneur. He has worked in both public and private sector of education, in the United States and abroad. Through volunteering and teaching, he has seen first hand the many needs of our students. Every child deserves to have the resources and positive support so they can experience a quality education. Living abroad launched the idea of the nonprofit Give More HUGS-Helping Unite Giving Souls. His team trains and mentors middle school, high school, and college students to unite their communities to help impact lives through education and literacy initiatives. In 2015, Give More HUGS received a grant from The Pollination Project, which provided an opportunity for his work to flourish and impact many students’ lives. His passion and dedication to his project led him to be selected for the 2016 TPP Youth Leadership Fellowship, and now is a part of the grant making team.
Prior to his role at The Pollination Project, Chris taught refugee and ESL students in a Newcomer Academy program, ESOL adult courses, and secondary teaching method courses. He served as an administrator at Ross University School of Medicine and Manhattanville College. He holds a M.Ed. in Student Development and Leadership, M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction, and B.A. in Communications Studies from Angelo State University. He currently lives in Texas, but loves to travel and make memories with his family and friends.
Gerardo Omar Marín (Nican-Tlaca/Coahuilteco/Chicano), Program
Rising from the Chihuahua deserts’ El Paso, TX border; Gera is generator of connection, love, and motivation whose being is rooted in traditional Mexican healing art, agriculture, and music. For ten years based in Oakland, CA; he has dedicated his service to boost the power and inter-cultural unity in youth, social justice, and Mother Earth rights networks across Abya Yala (Guna name for “the Americas”). Through a popular education approach, he facilitates interactive learning, play, and exploration that inspires people’s inherent creative wisdom. Gera mentors youth, community organizers, and educators in indigenous mindfulness practices, ritual, and inner-resilience practices to recharge their souls and bodies. He has served and organized in a variety of spaces from schools, in the outdoors, churches, youth detention centers, prison, homes, and in the streets. Gera is in his element when he gets to facilitate Power Up Circles that include physical training, dance, stress-relief breathing techniques, and relaxing meditation. He carries a music altar, often with extra percussion and indigenous wind instruments for community to cultivate rhythm and joy with. Gera is also a trainer and (Ollín-Teotl) movement building mentor for Rooted in Community National Youth Food Sovereignty and Justice Network that for 18 years has offered programs that activate transformative youth leadership for building a just, sustainable, and nourishing food system for all.
James West, Grantmaking
James comes to The Pollination Project from a background in social anthropology. Through his work with 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.
Jamila Banks, Grantmaking
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. Jamila is a Grantee of The Pollination Project, Leads the Youth Leadership Hub, has been a Grant Advisor, and works on many special projects. Jamila is also married to Grantee La-Ty Banks, and the mother of 3 young children, Grantee Kirsten, Ar’Destiny and Nyaire.
Joshua Baer, Operations
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.
Julie Santos, Marketing
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 lives in between her hometown in Costa Rica and her husband’s home on the Pala Indian Reservation. She 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, Finance
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.
Milena Fraccari, Marketing
Milena is a communication consultant and activist from Italy. She majored in Communication and Advertising at the Turin University. She’s been working for over 15 years in Sustainable Communication and in the non-profit sector, helping green companies and associations to promote their eco-friendly products and practices. In 2000, she met the American activist Julia Butterfly Hill, and since then has worked as her Italian spokesperson and event organizer. She has also served as the International Coordinator of What’s Your Tree, a programme created by The Circle of Life Foundation inspired by the story of Julia Butterfly, and has collaborated with the Nobel Peace Laureate Betty Williams and her Center for Peace and Compassion in the south of Italy.
Her deep passion for Environment, People and Communication always leads her to put her skills and her heart in service of projects and initiatives to make a positive difference in the world, and TPP is one of them.
Nicole Huguenin, Grantee Services
A former high school teacher turned generosity entrepreneur. After a chance encounter with a 72-year-old women a few years back, I founded Dream Together, a community of every day people supporting and investing in each other’s wildest dreams. We do this with a pay-it-forward mentality, as all people dream and we’d like that to stay priceless. Additionally, I am a Member-Owner of Walk2Connect Coop after personally experiencing the power of connection while walking with a new person every day in 2015. I support our organic growth and the systems that allow for people to experience [email protected]
So simply put, I dream and walk a lot and with many people, all with an eye for experimenting in ways that will allow us to amplify good instead of divide it. My personal motto is “Sing you song, dance your dance, tell your story”.
Selene Gonzalez-Carrillo, Program
Selene Gonzalez Carrillo has worked in the NGO world of social & environmental justice, before her current position as The Pollination Project as the 2017 Hub Coordinator.
She currently lives in Guadalajara, Mexico where she is part of a collective called Ecotapatio, that works on creating spaces for community sustainability in the city and is pursuing a Master Degree in Environmental Education from the University of Guadalajara CUCBA campus.
Shabnaz Yousefia, Program
Shabnaz has worked in international development and education for 13 years in countries around the globe – including India, Nepal, Nicaragua, Haiti, Malawi and Senegal. Her passion for social justice has led her to document the oral narratives of women in Nepal as a means for documenting sexual exploitation and violence against women; secure emergency visas for those needing life-saving emergency care in the United States; and lead underserved students from the Bay Area on international service trips to build schools in developing countries. She is actively involved with fundraising and advocacy for Raksha Nepal, an organization in Nepal that supports survivors of human trafficking with shelter, psychosocial counseling and skill-building to help them sustain a dignified livelihood.
Shabnaz received her Bachelor’s degree in Global Studies and International Relations from University of California, Santa Barbara in 2004, and her Master’s in Peace and Justice Studies from University of San Diego in 2011. She is deeply passionate about creating a world where everyone lives with dignity and equal access to educational opportunities and is so excited to help young people in California actualize their dreams of transforming their communities.
The Board of Directors
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 his worldly goals & dreams, yet left feeling empty inside. This led him to ground his life into practices such as mindfulness, compassionate eating, philanthropy, servant leadership, and transformational entrepreneurship.
Ari hosts and leads meditation workshops/retreats, volunteers his time to spread small acts of kindness, and seeks to create the causes and conditions for a major reduction in global industrialized meat production. On the side Ari invests in start-ups that seek to disrupt factory farming and founded a business that redevelops apartments to be as carbon-neutral, water-efficient, and community oriented as possible. Ari 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, service, health and spirit. He 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. Ari 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.
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.
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 with her partner Josh, and their son Odin, and spends her time both enjoying the city she loves, as well as traveling the country to be with her family and dear friends.