Lisa Thomson, President & CEO
The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) appointed Lisa Thomson as President & CEO in January 2015. A lifelong conservationist, Lisa’s previous experience includes 28 years at The Nature Conservancy, serving in leadership capacities in conservation land management and fundraising. In 2010 she was recruited as Associate Vice President for Development at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, she helped lead their recently launched capital campaign and built major gifts and planned giving teams. Lisa earned her B.A. at Stetson University, with a degree in biology and art, and an M.S. from Florida State University in design. Lisa relocated to Asheville, NC after living in Central Florida for 45 years.
Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1109
Betsy Gamber, Vice President of Operations
Before joining TACF National Office in September 2009, Betsy worked for the Punta Gorda-Port Charlotte-North Port Realtor’s Association as Director of Professional Development where she designed and established a professional educational program for the organization’s 1200+ members in addition to implementing all fundraising and public relations activities. Prior to her position there, Betsy served as Executive Director for the Bon Secours-St. Joseph Hospital Foundation in Port Charlotte, FL where she developed and implemented a comprehensive development program, including fundraising campaigns, special events, planned giving seminars, a grantsmanship program, and a volunteer program for over 400 hospital volunteers. Betsy received her B.A. in Business Management from Eckerd College in Florida.
Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1110
Judy Antaramian, Membership Coordinator
Before joining TACF in 2010, Judy worked for the Collier County Tax Collectors in Marco Island, FL. Judy’s expertise includes nonprofit administration, database management, and membership services. Originally from Massachusetts, Judy and her family spent 20 years in Florida before moving to Asheville, NC.
Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1103
Samantha Bowers, Grants Manager
Before joining TACF in February 2016, Samantha held an eleven year career with the Asheville Housing Authority as a project manager. She has an extensive background in local governmental administration including the management of multimillion dollar federal grants and energy efficiency improvement projects. She brings a skillset for leading database software and equipment conversions, website management, and nonprofit strategic planning. Samantha first discovered TACF while serving as chair with the environmental nonprofit Asheville GreenWorks. She holds a bachelor’s in Biology from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and graduated Leadership Asheville in 2016.
Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1104
Kendra Collins, New England Regional Science Coordinator
Kendra joined TACF in 2008 as Regional Science Coordinator for the New England region, which includes the ME, VT/NH, RI/MA, and CT state chapters of TACF. She received a BS in Environmental Conservation Science from the University of New Hampshire and an MS in Natural Resources: Forestry from the University of Vermont. Her master’s research focused on American chestnut restoration, which led her to become involved with TACF and the formation of the VT/NH chapter. Kendra worked previously with citizen scientists through New Hampshire’s Volunteer Lake Assessment Program.
Phone: (802) 999-8706
Sara Fitzsimmons, Director of Restoration, North Central Regional Science Coordinator, and Regional Science Coordinator Supervisor
Sara began working with TACF as a Duke University Stanback Intern in the summer of 2000. She was hired full-time in 2003 to work as the organization’s first Regional Science Coordinator. Sara supervises all of TACF’s Regional Science Coordinators and also serves as a Regional Science Coordinator covering PA, NY, IN, OH, DE, and NJ. Born and raised in southern West Virginia, Sara obtained a BS in Biology from Drew University in Madison, NJ and an MS in Forest Ecology and Resource Management from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. Sara is based out of Penn State University.
Phone: (814) 404-6013
Michael French, Forester
Michael joined TACF in 2011 as Forester under a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG), prior to which he was a reclamation specialist for Williams Forestry and Associates, supervising plantings on mined lands across Appalachia. While studying as an undergraduate at the University of Kentucky, Michael was hired by the Kentucky Chapter of TACF as an intern to help accelerate its breeding program and expand its public outreach. He held that position from 2004 to 2006 after which he was elected to serve as Vice President of the Kentucky Chapter from 2006 through 2010.
In 2005, Michael helped spearhead the “father tree” breeding program by harvesting pollen from American chestnuts across the state and applying them to backcross chestnuts at TACF’s Meadowview Research Farms, a practice that was quickly adopted by many of the southern chapters. He continues to sit on the Board of Directors for the Kentucky Chapter. Michael holds a BS in Biology from the University of Kentucky and is currently pursuing an MS in Forestry there.
Phone: (812) 447-3285
David Kaufman-Moore, Donor Relations Manager
Prior to joining TACF, David worked at the University of North Carolina at Asheville (UNC-Asheville) in various roles in the office of University Advancement. During that time, David oversaw and managed the foundations endowments, and worked with various elected officials, community members, and donors to enhance their relationship with the University. He brings a vast array of skills from database reporting and optimization, to project evaluation, donor stewardship, and event planning.
Originally from Greensboro, NC, David fell in love with the Western North Carolina mountains and the outdoors after participating in a Junior year backpacking trip through the Pisgah National Forest in high school. This love of the outdoors lead him to attend and graduate from UNC-Asheville with a degree in Business Administration. David recently received a master’s in Public Administration and a certificate in non-profit management from Villanova University.
Cherin Marmon-Saxe, Executive Coordinator
Cherin joined TACF in May 2017 after relocating back to the United States from England, where she lived for 13 years. Her professional career spans more than 30+ years, specializing in project management, process improvement and systems integration across a multitude of countries and markets. Prior to joining TACF, she owned a hotel in the beautiful Northern Lake District of The United Kingdom, one of her bucket list items.
Cherin holds a B.S. degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management with a secondary Degree in Human Resources. She joins the TACF family with great enthusiasm to expand her involvement and experience within the non-profit sector.
Phone: (828) 281-0047
Eric Jenkins, Meadowview Technical Coordinator
Eric joined Meadowview Research Farms in April 2014. He has a master of forest resources from the University of Georgia and a bachelor of science in biology from East Tennessee State University. As a Tennessee native, his interest in the American chestnut tree developed early in life. His father lived in a house made of wormy chestnut. It was built around the time the blight killed most of the chestnut trees in east TN. Eric has experience with land conservation programs as well as GIS-based planning and analysis. His primary responsibility at Meadowview is managing the production of containerized chestnut trees for research purposes as well as establishing and assessing progeny tests.
Phone: (276) 944-4631
Dan Mckinnon, Meadowview Seed Orchard Supervisor
Dan joined TACF in 2014 as Seed Orchard Supervisor at Meadowview Research Farms. He has a long history of agriculture and Appalachian forest work, ranging from trail conservation to forest management. As a local native from Marion, VA., much of his experience was acquired working in the mountains in the surrounding areas. His expertise covers farm and facilities maintenance, field crew training and supervision, with an emphasis on workplace safety, and coordinating volunteer groups. Mckinnon has a degree from the Virginia Highlands Community College in Horticulture Technology and Landscape Management. He has held positions with the US Forest Service, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the US Marine Corps.
Phone: (276) 944-4631
Heather Nelson, Controller
Heather was hired in July 2015 and brings a wealth of experience in both non-profit and for-profit needs, including accounting, management and legal consultation, software and accounting system implementation, property and document management. Prior to her work as an independent consultant, Heather served as managing director for Pack Place Education, Arts & Science Center. She holds a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina, Asheville as well as a certificate of Non-Profit Management from Duke University.
Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1112
Tom Saielli, Mid-Atlantic Regional Science Coordinator
Tom joined TACF in 2012 and is based in the Virginia Department of Forestry’s Central Office in Charlottesville, Virginia. Tom oversees the organization’s Mid-Atlantic region which includes the TACF state chapters of KY, MD, VA, and WV. He received his MS in Forest Sciences from the University of Vermont in Burlington after earning his BS in Biology and Environmental Science at the University of Colorado in 2007.
Tom comes to TACF with significant hands-on experience with the Foundation’s breeding program, having worked as a research technician with New England Regional Science Coordinator Kendra Gurney. In this role, he investigated chestnut cold-tolerance at the University of Vermont. Upon leaving New England, Tom accepted the role of TACF’s Southern Regional Science Coordinator in Asheville until 2016. Prior to joining TACF, Tom served as a Crew Leader with Wildlands Restoration Volunteers in Colorado, where he managed dozens of large-scale restoration projects and spent nine years as a medic and firefighter with the Nederland Fire Protection District.
Phone: (828) 450-9100
Ben Jarrett, Southeast Regional Science Coordinator
Ben Jarrett re-joined TACF as the Foundation’s Southern Regional Science Coordinator in 2017 after working as project manager in Madison, Wisconsin for two years. In this role, Ben oversees the following state chapters: TN, NC/SC (Carolinas), AL and GA.
Ben is a TACF alumnus, having worked in the past as an intern in the Mid-Atlantic Region from 2014 to 2015. Ben holds a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Virginia where he completed his undergraduate thesis project on American Chestnut sprouts and their response to fire. He couldn’t be happier to hit the ground running in the Southeastern Region and to be back with TACF.
Phone: (434) 906-9312
Jules Smith, Editor & Social Media Specialist
Though originally from East Tennessee, Jules moved to Asheville in 2010 from Cambridge, MA where she was the Communications Associate at Episcopal Divinity School. Prior to accepting the job at TACF, she was the Webmaster and Communications Specialist at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville. Before switching career paths, Jules worked as a videographer and editor in the television news industry. She loves living in Asheville because of its mountains, progressive values, farm-to-table eateries, and support of local businesses & non-profits! Jules has a B.A. in Communication Arts with an emphasis in Television Production.
Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1102
Shana Zimnoch, Gifts and Records Specialist
Shana comes to TACF with expertise in donor databases and a deep understanding of the challenges and inner workings of nonprofits. Before joining TACF in October 2017, she worked at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center and the Noyes Museum of Art in southern New Jersey. Shana has a sincere interest in conservation, human emotion and working towards a common goal. As someone who loves to hike and all things nature, she looks forward to being an integral part of TACF’s work. Shana holds a B.S. degree in Literature with a secondary degree in art and anthropology from Stockton University in New Jersey.
Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1101
Dr. Jared Westbrook, Director of Science
Jared joined TACF in January 2015 as the organization’s new quantitative geneticist. Originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Jared earned a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Michigan, an M.S. in Botany and a Ph.D. in Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Florida. His dissertation research studied the genetic enhancement of resin production in loblolly pine stems for use in liquid biofuels. Jared works extensively with the Meadowview Research Laboratory and commutes from Asheville to take TACF’s breeding program to the next level.
Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1106
Brandon Yanez, Meadowview Research Technician
Brandon joined TACF as a seasonal employee in the fall of 2015, only to return in 2016 for another season. In 2017, Brandon rejoined the TACF staff as a full time employee at the Glen C. Price Research Farm in Meadowview VA. Brandon graduated in 2015 from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University with a BSA in Landscape Architecture. His thesis defense focused on the redevelopment of a rail to trail project, with a focus on educating the public of the historical, natural, and infrastructural importance of the site; and its relationship to the larger landscape. Working in Meadowview, Brandon assists the Seed Orchard Supervisor with any and all tasks needed to fulfill the day to day and long term operations of the research orchards.
Phone: (276) 944-4631