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Laurie moved to Virginia in 1975 as a homesteader to live within nature and become food self-sufficient.   Her commitment to protecting natural systems and improving her community led her to take a leading role in local environmental protection and community development as a Founding Board member of Highland County Arts Council, The Highland Center, Highlanders for Responsible Development, Allegheny Mountain School/Institute, and later as Board member of Valley Conservation Council and Virginia Food Systems Council.   Laurie's passion for seasonal eating for optimum health and well-being has recently shifted her focus to inspiring others to enjoy 'Farm to Table' as the proprietor of Newtown Baking & Kitchen.  She is an avid naturalist, music maker, wild-crafter, and mother of three grown daughters who all share her love of gardening, earth stewardship, fresh cuisine, and the vision that if we nurture our land and our watershed appropriately, we can provide well for ourselves and our communities. 


Vice President


Thea is honored to be part of the Board of Directors and vision of Allegheny Mountain Institute. She believes in the power of nutrient based food to help heal and prevent illness. Thea is committed to being an instrument to uplift all people from the barriers that can present itself. Her interest in service, ministry, and the welfare of others is best described by her work positions and volunteerism as follows: Liaison for Waynesboro Public Schools (identifying and alleviating crisis),  CEO of Thy Will Outreach Ministries(Inspiration for the body and soul), Co-founding Board member of the Waynesboro Area Refuge Ministry Homeless Shelter, Past President of Waynesboro Rotary (community service), Social Justice Council (upholding the dignity and rights of all), New-Gen Peacebuilders (Mentoring College Students to resolving worldwide conflict),  and a Spiritual Director (providing help for internal peace and growth).


mandy henkler​


Mandy Henkler moved to Virginia from Pennsylvania in 2013 to be an AMI Fellow and fell in love with the area. Currently based in Charlottesville, VA, she spends her days working in the non-profit Hospice and Palliative Care field and her afternoons and weekends roaming the farmer’s market, playing in her garden, and enjoying gatherings with friends. The lessons and friendships she gained from her time at AMI have been instrumental in her journey. She found when she stepped into a career in healthcare that the skills she learned at AMI were easily transferrable, helping her to focus on communities, intentionality, a healthy and balanced lifestyle, and adaptability to change. She is excited to continue to learn and grow with AMI.



Barbara has lived in the Staunton area since 1988. She was in the first class of women to graduate from Davidson College, with a B.S. in Mathematics. In Staunton, she taught math at Stuart Hall School. Always interested in gardening, she became a landscape designer and has practiced in that field for the last 20 years. While having a strong interest in and love of native plants and woodland gardens, vegetable gardening has also been a priority, believing that healthy food is an essential ingredient for a healthy lifestyle. Barbara has served as the president of boards in Staunton for the former Mid-Atlantic Chamber Orchestra and Valley Symphonic Concerts, and the Beverley Street Studio School. In 2019, she initiated a “food waste for compost” collection program through Shenandoah Green, at Staunton’s Farmers’ Market. Barbara has always been an advocate of non-profit community organizations, believing that these are the lifeblood of every healthy and thriving community.

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Sarah Collins SIMMONS


Sarah grew up in Nelson County, Virginia, and felt right at home when she moved to Highland County in 2011 to participate as a Fellow at Allegheny Mountain Institute. Sarah loved being a part of the community, so after finishing her Phase II placement at The Highland Center, she has continued to live here. Today, she uses the additional skills she acquired through the Fellowship as Programs Manager for the Appalachian Programs at Future Generations University. 
Growing up, Sarah learned to care for plants from her parents in their garden. After going to the University of Virginia to study architecture and environmental science, she discovered landscape architecture and went on to get a master’s degree in that field from the University of Georgia.
Sarah is married to Joshua Simmons, a Highland native. Together with their young son, they enjoy spending time outside farming, restoring old houses, and hiking their two dogs. 




Susan Artis-Venable has more than 26 years in early childhood education, serving as a teacher, assistant, caregiver, and operated her own home-based daycare. During this time she noticed many children living in poverty and promised to address hunger in her community. This commitment ignited the creation of Artis Transitions, Inc., a 501(c)3 organization Susan founded in 2016 to provide individual and essential care management and social supports for economically vulnerable families. She currently serves as CEO and President of the Board of Directors. 

Susan has supported a variety of organizations in professional and volunteer capacities, including Wilson Workforce Rehabilitation Center, Shenandoah Valley Office on Youth, Valley Community Services Board. West End Alliance Organization, and the Staunton Food Council. Susan studied in Mass Communications and Psychology at Norfolk State University in 1982, a B.S. in Applied Behavioral Science at Ashford University in 2016, and a diploma in Medical Billing and Coding at Penn Foster University in 2011. Susan enjoys loving on her grandchildren, jewelry designing, singing, acting in plays, gardening, watching comedies, and describes herself as “a huge mystery buff.” 

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Maya Epelbaum


Maya Epelbaum first moved to Virginia in 2013 to study Psychology at Washington and Lee University. Inspired by the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley, Maya began focusing her Psychology research on the importance of developing a strong connection to nature. As an Allegheny Mountain Institute Fellow, she experienced first-hand how physically being outside and connected to your food, helps you build a healthy body and mind. She especially felt this during her time at the AMI Farm at Augusta Health, where Food Farmacy allowed diabetic patients to eat fresh vegetables, sometimes for the first time in years. Maya now serves government customers as a Business Analyst at Leidos, and holds an MBA from James Madison University. Maya is excited to return to the AMI community in a Director role to help fundraiser, strategic plan, and continue to grow the organization’s mission. 


Allegheny Mountain Institute is currently seeking applications for new Board Members to guide the future of our organization. We welcome you to take advantage of this opportunity to provide strategic direction in pursuit of our shared mission of cultivating healthy communities through food and education.

Follow these steps:

  1. Learn more about the role of the Board of Directors by reading the Board Candidate Package

  2.  Complete this self-assessment

  3. Email Laurie Berman with questions:

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