Community Heart & Soul Champions
Champions inspire and assist communities by sharing firsthand experiences with Community Heart & Soul.
Our volunteer Champions live in Community Heart & Soul towns and are available to provide honest, first-hand feedback and advice to those considering Heart & Soul.
*Community Heart & Soul Champion and Coach
John Alden is Vice Chair of the Essex Junction Planning Commission and a principal at Scott + Partners, Inc., an Architecture Firm in Essex, VT. Since graduating with a Masters in Architecture from SUNY Buffalo in 1989, John has specialized in public schools, health care and municipal building projects with over 20 years of design and planning experience in these fields. He was a founding member of Heart & Soul of Essex, Inc. (2011-2014) and continues to serve on the executive committee. He is currently involved with several community planning projects and remains dedicated to improving the public input process in Essex. John lives in Essex Junction with his wife Deb and three dogs. Their three grown children are scattered along the east coast. John and Deb love to travel. Other interests include beaches, boating, photography, fly-fishing and many sports.
Mike Bestor retired in 2015 after 21 years as City Manager of Golden, Colorado. During his tenure as City Manager, Mike kept the city in solid financial condition and helped transform an almost empty downtown into a vibrant destination. Mike led the city in completing and implementing many long-range plans, including a two-year (2009-10) Heart and Soul project that formed the city’s Vision 2030 Plan and new Comprehensive Plan.
Mike is from Rochester, New York and holds a B.S. degree in Management from the University of Detroit and an M.S. in Management from the University of Utah. Prior to moving to Colorado, Mike's career was in Missouri where he held a variety of positions in county and state government.
In 2012 Mike lost his wife of 38 years to cancer but amazingly found a second great love. Mike and Joan are traveling to wonderful places and staying very active with cross-country skiing, bicycling, and ballroom dancing. In the past two years, his travels have taken him to South America, Europe, and Africa. Life is good!
Saoirse was very involved with the City of Golden’s two-year (2009-10) Heart & Soul project that formed the city’s Vision 2030 Plan. She loves to "walk and talk" with neighbors and friends in her beautiful and historic community. While she also loves Ireland and visits often, Golden is "home" and has been for the past 20 years. The call to service and community is strong with Saoirse. She worked as a school psychologist for 27 years, then retired to other volunteer efforts in grassroots and community organizing.
Currently, Saoirse is serving her second term on Golden's City Council, drawn to public office in part because of the city's commitment to Orton's Heart & Soul process. She figured any town that was willing to dedicate two years (and lots of resources) to listen to its citizens and identifying their vision for the place they live was the "right" place for her to step up and represent.
Saoirse has a propensity for the places and people that are somewhat mysterious and "hidden" - an ancient pilgrimage path on a mountain in Ireland, the stories made up by a quiet 4-year-old on an early morning walk in Golden, the poetry of David Whyte... and her own love affair with the landscape and the people of Ireland.
Greg Duggan is the Deputy Town Manager for the Town of Essex, Vermont. He previously served in Essex as the Town Planner and the Assistant Manager. Prior to beginning his career in municipal government, Greg worked as a reporter and editor for community newspapers in Massachusetts and Vermont. When he's not immersed in civic life, Greg spends his time hiking, biking, and skiing in Vermont's mountains and forests.
While not a native Illinoisan, Brittany Grimes was born with the heartland in her blood. Brittany was taught to serve her community through her maternal grandparents W.C. and Thelma Jackson. Mr. Jackson was the first African-American alderman in the city of Galesburg. He would frequently bring her to City Hall and on his errands about the city. She grew up in Galesburg, Illinois cultivating her love of community with Mrs. Jackson at the local community center. Upon graduating from high school, Brittany, attended Virginia State University a Historically Black University in Petersburg, VA majoring in marketing. Attending an HBCU continued to reinforce her service to her communities through the Honors Program. After graduating magna cum laude, Brittany started to work for a Fortune 100 company in the greater Washington D.C. area. She served various volunteer roles to organizations throughout her M.B.A. program at the University of Maryland and through her employment.
As any Midwesterner, Brittany felt a beaconing back to the Midwest. Not allowing the economic crisis to define her town or her region, Brittany began to contribute to the community that raised her. In 2016, she was introduced to Heart & Soul soon to be known locally as Galesburg on Track. Since that time, Brittany has been involved with the core Heart & Soul leadership team and the stewardship team.
Thom Harnett served three terms as the Mayor of the City of Gardiner, Maine, until he left this role to take on a new challenge – State Representative for Maine District #83, Farmingdale and Gardiner. He worked for many years for the Maine Office of the Attorney General, where he had served as an Assistant Attorney General beginning in 1989. Thom directed the Civil Rights Team Project that had established Civil Rights Teams in more than 220 schools located throughout Maine. He also directed the Office’s enforcement of the Maine Civil Rights Act. Thom has addressed over 100,000 students in elementary, middle, and high schools throughout Maine and conducted training programs for students, teachers, administrators, and the Judicial Branch of the State of Maine. In 2008 he was recognized by Maine Initiatives as a Social Landscape Artist for his efforts in building Civil Rights Teams in schools throughout Maine. He also worked in the Natural Resources Division. Thom is a past president of the Maine Bar Foundation which funds entities that provide legal services to low income and other vulnerable populations throughout Maine and promotes the provision of pro bono legal services to persons not otherwise able to afford those services. He was born in the Bronx and is a graduate of Fordham University and New York University School of Law. Prior to practicing law in Maine, he worked as a legal services attorney for migrant farm workers in New York State from 1980 to 1989.
Patricia Hart has owned and operated an economic analysis and research consulting firm for two decades in Gardiner, Maine, where she lives with her family. Her experience in planning and community work is extensive. She is currently in her fourth term on the Gardiner City Council and held a seat on the town’s Planning Board for a decade, serving as its chairwoman. She has been a member of the local Rotary Club for 25 years, a Gardiner Main Street founding business and volunteer, and a volunteer at the local theater. Patricia chaired the Planning Board when Gardiner first considered Community Heart & Soul® to support its comprehensive planning process. She also chaired the Comprehensive Planning Committee, and serves on the Duct Tape Council, which works to ensure that projects identified as priorities through Heart & Soul® come to fruition. She has recently announced her candidacy for mayor in the fall 2018 election! She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and classical studies and a master’s degree in resource economics.
Dr. Lindsay Houpt-Varner is a historian specializing in community culture and social history in the Early Modern period. She completed her undergraduate degrees in History and Government and Political Affairs at Millersville University in Pennsylvania and her Master's and PhD at Durham University in the United Kingdom. She has worked extensively in the public history and heritage field as a community educator and administrator. From 2016-2018, she was the project director for the Greater Carlisle Heart & Soul Initiative and afterwards used knowledge from Heart & Soul to develop the Community Outreach Department at Cumberland County Historical Society in Pennsylvania. Currently, Lindsay is the Director of Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh, Vermont.
Catherine is proud to be a multi-generational Mainer who has worked hard to remain in the state that she loves. After a leave of absence for education and work, Catherine moved back to Maine in 2009. Catherine served as the project coordinator for the Mahoousc Heart & Soul project from 2016-2019. This Community Heart & Soul was named after the Mahoosuc Mountain range which borders the landscape of this four town region in Western Maine. In addition to beginning a new role as a Community Heart & Soul Coach, for the state of Maine, she continues in a stewardship role for the Mahoosucs by volunteering in community groups and serving on the board of the Age Friendly Community Initiative. She founded a consulting company in 2021, CEI Consultants to focus on rural community building in Maine and Northern New Hampshire. She has a bachelor of arts in planning and policy from the University of Maine Farmington, a certification in Nonprofit Management, and a member of the 3rd Cohort of the Community Practitioner's Network with the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation in Northern New Hampshire. She lives in Bethel with her adventure dog Moxie.
Chris King is a Galesburg High School Graduate. She was raised in Galesburg by her family and is a very active member in her community. Chris is currently an active volunteer with the following organizations:
Chris has work tirelessly for the past 6 years on hair and makeup design and refining her pubic speaking skills with Players Community Theater.
Chris has sang with Galesburg Community Chorus for 7 years and has served as a board member for 3 years and the treasurer for the past 2 years.
Chris just recently joined Choral Dynamics as a singer.
Over the past 4 years Chris has worked on both hair design and mentoring school age children at The Performing Arts Academy (children's theatre).
For the past year Chris has serve on the leadership team for Galesburg on Track (city revitalization program).
Over the past 2 1/2 years Chris has used her medical skills as a Veterinary Technician at SAM’S (Stray Animal Midway Shelter). She is currently a foster home for a rescue dog.
Chris uses her vocal talents in the First Lutheran Church choir, as well as serving on their council and serving as in a financial oversight position. She also helps run a social outreach group for young adults called Safe Space. She also serves on the Inclusive Faith Committee whose job is to welcome those who have been traditionally ostracized by Religion.
Chris was appointed by the city to serve on the Galesburg Community Relations Commission in 2016, King is the chairperson of said commission which is tasked to deal with discrimination issues in the city.
John Paul grew up in Michigan, one of 11 children. He is married to Milissa, with 4 children and 2 grandchildren. John Paul has a BS Accounting University of Detroit, MS Forestry Michigan State University, MBA University of Maine. His 35 year career in Forestry and Accounting in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine were all with same company that eventually became Verso Paper Company. He retired with the closure of the Bucksport Mill in 2014. Now the semi- retired owner of lawn care business, a job he loves because of relationships with customers, beautiful area and development of young employees. Involved with the Maine Community Foundation, Main Street Bucksport and Garner Commons - a HUD senior housing home in Bucksport. Also active in our wonderful Episcopal church. Heart & Soul involvement: One of 2 Bucksport residents who introduced Heart & Soul to Bucksport and continued to be involved throughout the 3 years. Worked with Maine Community Foundation to help with funding support. John Paul’s biggest satisfaction was witnessing the support and involvement of the community and experiencing how Heart & Soul has helped in the revitalization of Bucksport after the mill closing. It has only begun - the future is exciting and the Stewardship committee will play a big role in the future. Hobbies: When not working or volunteering, he enjoys everything outdoors (hiking, mountain biking, snow shoeing, kayaking) and traveling to see family. His real passion is making maple syrup in Michigan with family (yes they make maple syrup in Michigan!)
Deb was employed as a caseworker and case work supervisor for 35 years with Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and for 5 years with Crawford County Mental Health Awareness Program. This experience gave me the opportunity to hear the stories of many folks who are missing voices in our community.
Susan Lessard was born and raised in Maine and has spent all of her 36+ years of municipal government work in Maine. She has served as the Town Manager of Bucksport since 2015, and previously held a similar position in Hampden for fifteen years, Vinalhaven for seven years, and prior to that in Fayette, and Livermore Falls. In addition to her municipal work, she served on the Board of Environmental Protection from 2007 to 2015, as Chair of the Board from 2008 to 2011, and was reappointed in 2017 for an additional term. She serves at the national level on the Local Government Advisory Committee and the Small Community Advisory Committee to the EPA. She is a past president of the Maine Municipal Association, and also serves as the public member of the State Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers. Ms. Lessard lives in Bucksport with her husband Dan and crazy west highland terrier Jack Frost.
Robin is currently Principal at Mayer & Associates, a strategic communications consulting firm, where she provides services in traffic safety, communications, and social media training for state and local governments. Mayer was elected to a three-year term of the Damariscotta, Maine, Board of Selectmen in 2012. In addition to her regular duties in Town management, she represents the Town on several regional committees. Prior to her election to the Board of Selectmen, Mayer served as the Chairman of the Damariscotta Planning Advisory Committee (DPAC), a committee appointed by the Town to lead a community driven process to advance policies and practices that foster sustainable land use and prosperity, in concert with the Orton Family Foundation Heart & Soul grant.
Kyle is a native of Mercer County in northwestern Illinois (pop. 15,618) and has been instrumental in building community capacity in his home county. Kyle serves as Executive Director of Mercer County Better Together (MCBT), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization which leverages the Heart & Soul process to implement community and economic development. The first to implement Heart & Soul on a countywide basis, MCBT has made an impact of more than $1.5 million on the local economy over the past 18 months. Kyle brings a variety of perspectives and experiences to his professional role, having worked in local media and as a golf professional. Kyle resides in his hometown of Aledo, Illinois (pop. 3,700) with his wife Laura and daughters Audrey (4) and Sylvia (2). Kyle and his family are passionate about their Catholic faith and believe in doing what it takes to reach “missing voices” in the community. Outside of his MCBT role, Kyle can be heard on-air at WRMJ Radio in Aledo, broadcasting sporting events or hosting the Alternative County show “The Edge of Country”. Kyle is a 2013 graduate of Monmouth College (IL). He is a lifelong race fan and enjoys singing and playing guitar with his brother.
A recently retired public school teacher, Nancy began volunteering with Bucksport, Maine Heart & Soul in April 2016. She was hired as the project’s part-time coordinator in November 2016 and served in that capacity until the completion of the project in March 2018. She is currently a member of the H&S Stewardship Team. Nancy relishes all things that grow; the vegetables and flowers in her gardens, her young grandchildren, relationships with friends, new ideas, and the community spirit and collaboration in our Heart & Soul town! She lives in Bucksport, ME with her partner Hans.
As director of Heart of Biddeford for seven years, Delilah serves as a facilitator for community reinvestment in Biddeford’s Main Street area. She serves as a Champion for the Heart & Soul process because she's seen first-hand how valuable deep community engagement has been in Biddeford. Before moving to Maine in 2006, Delilah built community on college campuses through her work in higher education administration. Delilah was a philosophy major at Middlebury College and she completed her Master of Education degree at the University of Vermont with a focus on higher education administration. She is also a singer/songwriter and mother.
Kirsten Sackett is a professional City Planner with 13 years of experience working in municipal government, and is currently serving as Community Development Director for Ellensburg, WA. Prior to that she worked for the City of Cortez, Colorado for nine years. She has overseen the creation of new Comprehensive Plans for each community, and has worked extensively on drafting code amendments to bring land use regulations into sync with identified community values. She is a successful grant writer, a trained facilitator, and enjoys both current and long range planning. While in Colorado she served four years as a member of a local food task force, and seven years as a board member of a non-profit housing organization. She has a B.A. in English, with graduate work in the field of political science and public policy. In her spare time, she loves reading novels from the likes of Austen and Bronte, or going on camping excursions with her husband Joe and three children, Christian, McKenzie and Madeline.
After seven years as the Economic Development Director for the City of Biddeford, Daniel took on the same role for his new hometown, the City of Westbrook, just outside of Portland, Maine. His primary responsibilities include the development and implementation of strategic economic development initiatives that generate new and retain existing tax revenues, add new jobs and raise the quality of life for all residents. He is highly effective at real estate development, contract negotiations and is well versed in Tax Increment Financing programs. Daniel brings twenty years of experience in economic and community development, municipal planning, and legislation and policy development to his position. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Southern Maine and a Master of Public Policy and Management from the Muskie School.
Retired from two careers, Pam presently is a landlord and works on renovating older homes. She is the co-Chair of the Mount Holly Spring Planning Commission, an active volunteer with Carlisle Garden Club, Carlisle Theater, Allenberry, Cumberland County Historical Society, Mt. Tabor Preservation Project and Mt. Holly Springs History Initiative. Pam was an active member of the Core Team of the Carlisle Heart & Soul project from 2016-2018. Her past involvement with speaking to the community of Mt. Holly Springs about what matters most to them led to being elected to Borough Council by write-in votes. She served from 2014 to 2017.
Jean Sullivan was the Heart & Soul Coordinator for Monticello, Iowa. She shares a full-time pastoral position with her husband at the United Church of Monticello (UCC/UMC). Growing up in New York state, she received her BA in Anthropology at the University of Buffalo before moving to New York City, Boston, and eventually to Chicago for seminary, where she met her husband. After living in Seattle for her internship, they settled in eastern Iowa 18 years ago. She has a son and daughter. Her passion is teaching people about the long-term negative health effects of adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress. She also studies ways we can create trauma-informed communities and congregations.
Sheila has been employed for over 15 Years with UnityPoint Health – Jones Regional Medical Center – Anamosa, Iowa, currently serving as the Director of Community Development. She earned a BA – Public Relations / Communications / Business – University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls and completed graduate courses at the University of Dubuque. She was fortunate enough to be involved in the Monticello Heart & Soul project as a volunteer community member. She lives in Monticello with her husband and is very proud of their three sons, who are all serving in the U.S. Military. She stays active by volunteering and enjoys the great outdoors and spending time with positive, fun people.
Alice is a Penn State University graduate and a registered landscape architect. She has worked in land development, recreation and rivers conservation planning, and now provides technical assistance to river towns for re-visioning their relationship with the river through the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership (SGP). She is the project director for Heart of Williamsport– a Heart and Soul project collaboration with SGP, the City of Williamsport, the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Orton Family Foundation and the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. She resides in Loyalsock Township (Pennsylvania) with her husband Rich, son Curtis, Gracie (dog) and Manny (cat). Alice enjoys assisting with Odyssey of the Mind, cooking, gardening, camping and hiking.
Autumn witnessed the transformational power of Community Heart & Soul in sparking community engagement in the public life of Meadville, PA. She saw residents become leaders who work hard (and with great creativity) to make Meadville the best place it can be for all of its residents.
Gary Wilson retired from being an Agricultural Extension Agent in 2011. Along with his wife Mary, they own and manage a small farm of sheep, cattle, hay, pasture, corn, soybeans and wheat with their children being the 8th generation on this farm. He is presently Chair of the Board of the Findlay-Hancock Community Foundation, President of American Forage and Grassland Council, President of Ohio Sheep and Wool Board and President of Hancock County Farm Bureau Board plus staying active on 15 other Boards and Committees. He also sells corn and soybean seed for Pioneer Seeds and forage seeds for Fowler Seed Marketing. He has a passion for farming and agriculture and has had several opportunities for service and travel throughout the United States and the world.