OUR BOARD OF DIRECTORS
FOUNDER and BOARD PRESIDENT
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.
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.
Kayla MacLachlan is an AMI alumnus from upstate New York. Since completing the Fellowship program in 2013, Kayla's passions for food, connection, and community have been the driving forces guiding her professional journey. Falling in love with Highland County and the work of AMI, she worked as AMI's Program and Fellowship Director, mentoring several cohorts before pursuing work as an Adolescent Lead Teacher at the Staunton Montessori School and Market Farmer at Geezer Farm. Feeling the need to connect deeper with the Staunton community and serve as an advocate for the hard-working food producers and regenerative farmers in the area, Kayla left the education and farming world to fuel her entrepreneurial spirit. Currently, Kayla works as the General Manager of Newtown Baking and Kitchen, a wholesale bakery, cafe and drive-thru local foods market with a simple mission to provide the community with fresh, local, organic, wholesome foods.
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.
Enrique Bunn grew up in the desert of the southwest. For him, fruits and vegetables were something that came frozen in a bag. Water was scarce s0 growing food was not encouraged. Moving to the lush Shenandoah Valley opened his eyes to the world of local, fresh produce. Wanting to support the local economy, he visited multiple farmers' markets and was blown away by how much was available and easily grown. One day he visited the AMI Farm at Augusta Health and immediately knew it was something he wanted to support. Leaning on his professional training, Enrique offered to support by doing what he does best - move product. He helped patients and staff step outside of their comfort zones and try new vegetables by staffing the farm stand. Enrique is committed to building community and is an advocate for health.
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.”
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.
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.
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