Meet Our Staff

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Rev. Veronica M. Johnson

Outreach Director | she/her

Rev. Veronica M. Johnson was born in Chicago, IL and raised in Maywood, IL. She attended the University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign where she earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering, with honors. She worked in the fields of engineering and project management for several Fortune 500 companies for 20 years prior to answering her call to ministry in 2006.

Rev. Johnson earned a Master of Divinity Degree from McCormick Theological Seminary in 2012, graduating with academic commendation. Rev. Johnson currently serves as CoPastor of Hyde Park Union Church. She has served previously in the Baptist, AME, and UCC churches, and is the former president of the council for the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago.

Rev. Johnson has been instrumental in mentoring and guiding persons of many nationalities, ages, religious backgrounds, etc., to pursue theological education, as she served for seven years as the Sr. Director of Admissions and Enrollment of McCormick Theological Seminary.

She has also served as a motivational speaker, mentor, workshop facilitator and consultant for corporations, K-12 and higher educational institutions, churches and faith-based organizations.

Rev. Johnson is the mother of two children: Curtis Johnson II,  a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Vanessa Johnson, a student at Howard University in Washington D.C.

 
 
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Rev. Cindy Shepherd

Central Illinois Outreach Director | she/her

Rev. Shepherd directs all of Faith in Place’s Central Illinois outreach programs.

 

Her enjoyment of working with the many people and communities of the region inspire her every day in her desire to live out faith with compassion for Earth and her inhabitants. Cindy grew up in Kansas and has lived in Illinois for 24 years. She received her B.A. in English and Philosophy from the University of Kansas and M.Div from Princeton Theological Seminary.

She served in parish ministry for with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and joined Faith in Place in 2012 as a discussion leader for the Just Eating Sustainable Food Curriculum. Cindy became the Director of Outreach for the Central Illinois office in June 2014. 

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Rev. Wade Halva

Southern Illinois Outreach Coordinator | he/him

Wade grew up in Raleigh, NC at the end of a half-mile long dead end dirt road. The back property line was a creek, and Wade’s early playground was the woods. His roots in the forest continue to ground his care for creation. 

Wade received his BA in history and religious studies from the College of Wooster, a Master’s in Divinity from Columbia Theological Seminary, and a Master’s of Arts in Christian Education from Union Presbyterian Seminary. He has served in parish ministry in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Illinois and Utah. 

For rest and relaxation, Wade enjoys the mountains and the beach, the forests and the bluffs, and Malawi, Tanzania, and  Zambia hold a special place in his heart. 

 
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Candace May

Lake County Outreach Coordinator | she/her

Candace grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago. She has always had a deep reverence for nature sparked by decades of participation in Chicagoland park districts. Raised by two pastors, her formative years were steeped in service to community.

 

Candace has organized both politically and in the nonprofit sector to mobilize and empower the community in which she lives and has served three AmeriCorps terms in Illinois, Arkansas, and Michigan. Most recently, she yielded her talents to re-elect Lauren Underwood to the 14th congressional district of Illinois aiding in an historic victory for the youngest African American woman to serve in Congress. Passion for community and justice led her to Faith in Place to advocate for underserved communities and their right to Clean Air and Fresh Water.

 

Carla Aldana

Lake County Outreach Support | she/her

Carla is from Waukegan, IL where she later went to college as a first-generation student.  She received her BA in Environmental Studies with a minor in Communication Arts from Allegheny College in Meadville, PA in May 2020. Carla has always loved camping, hiking, and going out into nature when she was a child.

 

In college, Carla served as the multicultural intern for the admissions office where she assisted and created programming for student visits. Diversity and inclusion, which includes religious, ethnic, socioeconomic, gender & sexuality, etc.) is a key factor when having various conversations, especially when talking about environmental justice. She has ethnographic research experience that helped her understand telling people’s stories is a powerful tool when advocating and learning about various communities.

 

Carla is the Lake County Outreach Support at Faith in Place. She is excited to be back in her community to help bring various groups of people together to protect the environment.

 
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Dan Huntsha

North & West Suburbs Outreach Director | he/him

Dan first joined Faith in Place in 2014 as a volunteer working to gather grassroots support for the EPA Carbon Rules, and later the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill. In 2015 he joined our outreach staff to help with our smart energy programs in the western and northwestern Chicago suburbs.

 

He grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, currently resides in Rolling Meadows, and is a member of Countryside Church Unitarian Universalist. His B.A. in Communications is from DePauw University, and he previously volunteered with environmental education and advocacy organizations including The John G. Shedd Aquarium, Sierra Club, and The Climate Reality Project.

 

By living his philosophy, “Try to learn something from everyone,” while spending time with many climate organizations, he’s been able to develop a creative climate communication style that produces action. He strives to be a catalyst for positive healthy change by connecting people’s existing passions with Faith in Place’s action-focused programs.

 

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Veronica Kyle

Modern Elder Emeritus | she/her

Veronica Kyle joined Faith in Place in 2008 and retired in 2021. Upon retirement, the Faith in Place staff bestowed an honorary title to Veronica as “Modern Elder Emeritus.” This title recognizes the significant contribution Veronica has made to shaping and growing not only Faith in Place’s impactful environmental justice programs, but also Veronica’s deep influence on the inclusive culture of Faith in Place for staff to learn and grow. Veronica’s wisdom is celebrated at Faith in Place and her influence carries us forward in advancing our mission.

 
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Ramont "Ray" Bell

Director of Programs | he/him

Ramont is the Director of Programs at Faith in Place. In his current role, he carries the overall responsibility for achieving measurable impacts for environmental justice across all 5 program areas by supervising program staff, budgets, tracking of KPIs, creation of programs, and implementation. Ray also coaches 3-5 Green Teams.

Previously, he served as Outreach Coordinator for the Water Preservation program at Faith in Place.  He was responsible for overseeing and facilitating the improvement of storm water management systems at houses of worship in the Calumet region.  The Water Preservation program includes storm water audits, green infrastructure planning, water audits and retrofits, and utilizing Faith in Place’s Interfaith Water Curriculum.

Ramont joined the Faith in Place staff in February 2016. He has a passion for economic/social justice and environmental issues, especially water preservation.

Previously, he worked for AT&T in various engineering positions. His last position was the Area Manager of Engineering and Planning for Illinois and Wisconsin.  He received his B.S. in Industrial Technology and Education from Chicago State University, his Master of Science degree in Information Systems and Telecommunications from DePaul University, and his Professional Certificate in Watershed Management from Purdue University.

 

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Isioma Odum

Energy & Climate Change Coordinator | she/her

Isioma grew up in Vancouver, Washington surrounded by evergreen trees. Her father is the Director of the Department of Ecology for Washington state, which is where her passion for all things environmental stems from.

She received her BA in Social Science concentrating in Sociology and Psychology from Washington State University, and an MA in Social Justice from Loyola University Chicago’s Institute of Pastoral Studies. During her graduate program, she was an Intern Facilitator at the Brother David Darst Center. Prior to that, she worked for the Health Justice Project and was involved in the Initiative to Amend Lead-Based Paint Poisoning in Federal Homes.

Isioma joined Faith in Place as the Bronzeville Outreach Coordinator May 2018. Now she serves the organization as the Energy & Climate Change Coordinator. 

 

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Samantha Miller

Energy & Climate Change Support | she/her

Samantha educates and engages people of faith with Faith in Place’s Smart Energy programs that help individuals and faith communities save money and reduce their environmental impact.

Before joining the Faith in Place team in July 2014, Samantha worked for a nonprofit social service agency for over 20 years in Administrative Management. She is a member of the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church located in the West Garfield Park neighborhood and is a longtime resident of the North Lawndale community. Samantha holds a B.A. in Business Management with a concentration in Accounting.

"I work at FIP because I want to do my part in helping people to care for our planet.  I know a little about global warming and why we are getting these severe weather patterns.  But working at FIP has inspired me to learn more about how I can make a significant difference by becoming a good steward of our beautiful Earth.  People need to know that we only have this one planet and one chance to get it right!"

 

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Princess Harris

Sustainable Food & Land Use Coordinator | she/her

Princess joined Faith in Place in March 2018. She is the Sustainable Food & Land Use Coordinator, managing the Winter Farmers Markets, Migration & Me, and other related programs. Previously, she served as Outreach Coordinator for the Migration & Me program.

Princess’ interest in the environment started as a child when she would go into the Van Vlissingen Prairie & Wetland (now known as the Marian R. Byrnes Natural Area) with nothing but two dogs and the curiosity of a “cat” looking for some plant or creature to bring home. Having access to that area fueled her passion for all things green (watch her hike there!) and it is that experience that she wants to bring to all through the Migration & Me program.

Princess has worked on and managed an inner city farm, farmers market and understands the importance of having access to fresh fruit and vegetables. Princess hopes to use that knowledge to support Faith in Place’s mission to care for the Earth. Princess has a B.A. in environmental studies from NEIU and is working on her Master’s in Public Policy at NU. She is honored to be part of the Faith in Place and lives by the quote “There is no planet B.”

 

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Cesar Almeida

Youth Coordinator | he/him

“The preservation of ancestral form is meaningless without a genuine development program.” As an artist, educator, and global meaning maker, Cesar designs artistic and educational programs for youth and young adults to conserve and uphold ancestral forms, which include environments, cultures, and languages. This work challenges Western Colonial approaches to education by centering the learner’s identity, embodying youth led approaches, and validating new media as literacy.

 

Ultimately, Cesar recognizes that the environment is not only about the birds, bees, and trees but is about the places we live, learn, eat, and sleep.

 
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Rev. Scott Onqué

Policy Director | he/him

Pastor Onque’ currently serves as Pastor of St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church, a 100-year-old historic church on the south side of Chicago. He has served in this capacity for 14 years.  Under his leadership the church has grown tremendously both spiritual and numerically. Pastor Onque’ has a passion for teaching and preaching the Word of God. Pastor Onque’ is very civically and socially conscious.

 

He serves on several community boards and commissions and realizes that volunteering his time in community efforts is an integral part of his ministry. He is currently the President of the Congress of Christian Education Department of the Salem Baptist District Association of Chicago and Vicinity. He currently serves as the Treasurer of Baptist General State Convention of Illinois. Pastor Onque’ also serves as a commissioner for African American Families Commission for the State of Illinois.

 

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Christina Krost

Policy Coordinator | she/her

Christina Krost (long o, rhymes with "most") grew up in suburban Detroit and holds a BA from Albion College and an MAT from Marygrove College.

 

She taught in both public and private schools in Illinois and Michigan for 10 years before starting her ministry in creation justice. She joined Faith in Place (IL Affiliate of Interfaith Power and Light) in March 2015 to organize houses of worship around smart energy programs in central and southern Illinois.  In addition to her work at Faith in Place, she is Vice President of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference United Methodist Women and chair of her conference Church & Society board.

 

She is married to Todd, an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, and has 3 daughters. The family lives in Mattoon, IL. 

 

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Katie Maxwell

Communications Coordinator | she/her

Katie joined Faith in Place in August 2017. In her current role as Communications Coordinator, she manages Faith in Place's social media and website, supports database management with a focus on communicating to supporters and optimizing their user experience, and is an active member of planning the organization's largest annual events, such as the Green Team Summit, Annual Advocacy Day, and Annual Celebration & Fundraisers. 

Prior to taking on her current role in January 2019, she served as the Communications Support person. Katie initially came to Faith in Place through the Lutheran Volunteer Corps—a service year program that emphasizes simple, sustainable living, intentional community, and spirituality—to manage the Winter Farmers Market program during its 2017-2018 season. 

Katie lives out those values passionately and eagerly incorporates them into her work. She believes we cannot achieve a healthy environment without racial justice, and is thrilled to work toward environmental justice with Faith in Place. She is proud to be on a team that readily names how racism intersects with health disparities and food insecurities and also seeks to address these inequities across Illinois.

In 2017, she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Studies and German with a concentration in Management Studies from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. During college, she interned at The Field Museum's Keller Science Action Center, researching policy related to monarch butterfly rehabilitation in Chicagoland’s 284 municipalities. Katie enjoys using the knowledge she gained from that research to support Faith in Place’s Migration & Me program as well as its other programs.

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Lauren Paris

Communications Coordinator | she/her

Lauren serves as the Communications Coordinator at Faith in Place. She recently graduated from DePaul University, earning a B.A. in both Journalism and Environmental studies with a focus in sustainability. Her passion for environmental justice and environmental communications grew from her experience working as a freelance environmental journalist and writer—covering climate change and environmental justice issues in Chicago.

Lauren also served as the President and Director of Communications for DePaul’s chapter of the Climate Reality Project—a student-led organization focused on increasing the Catholic University’s sustainability initiatives. More recently, Lauren worked to conduct research and co-author a chapter for the Routledge Handbook of International Trends in Environmental Communications on youth-led environmental movements and climate change communication in the digital era of activism.

Growing up in a working-class, single-parent household on the southwest side of Chicago and surrounding suburbs, Lauren became passionate about writing and communicating issues of injustice that she witnessed in her own community and across the world. She is passionate about utilizing her strong writing, storytelling, and communications skills to advocate for just climate solutions and healthy communities, while working to empower and educate diverse communities of faith through her work at Faith in Place.  

 
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Rev. Brian Sauder

Executive Director and President | he/him

Rev. Sauder serves Faith in Place out of the Chicago office as the President & Executive Director. The entrepreneurial vision and confident leadership of Rev. Sauder is exponentially growing the impact of Faith in Place’s mission to empower people of all faiths across Illinois to be leaders for cleaner environments and healthier communities.​

Rev. Sauder’s passion is empowering faith communities across Illinois to take measurable steps to connect the dots between faith, environmental justice, poverty, mass incarceration, race, violence, class, and health.

His leadership is recognized as an award recipient of the University of Illinois's Business School's Community Scholar and a Central IL Business 40 Under 40 winner as well as a 2019 Midwest Energy News' 40 Under 40

He grew up in Illinois in rural Tazewell County and received his B.S. from the University of Illinois in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, M.A. in Religion from Urbana Theological Seminary, and M.B.A. from the University of Illinois. Rev. Sauder is ordained by the Mennonite Church U.S.A. and worships with Chicago Community Mennonite Church in East Garfield Park. 

Rev. Sauder also serves as an Adjunct Professor at both McCormick Theological Seminary and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, teaching public ministry courses for future clergy and faith-based leaders on organizing for environmental justice.

 

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Elena Canler

Deputy Director | they/them

Elena serves as the Deputy Director for Faith in Place. Their passion for environmental justice grew from time working in community health in the US, Latin American, and the Middle East, and from their own experience as a queer Latine. They are passionate about honoring the intersectional nature of environmental health and supporting Faith in Place as they address the social, racial, and economic roots of the climate crisis.

They also grew up in a multifaith home with a Buddhist father and Christian mother and today, they follow Buddhist practices. Elena uses this background to communicate across faith traditions and are passionate about utilizing their skills in messaging, digital media strategy, and graphic design to advocate for community health and just climate solutions.  

After growing up in Tennessee, Elena got their B.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Tennessee, a Master of Arts from North Park Theological Seminary, and a Master of Public Health (MPH) in Environmental and Occupational Health from the George Washington University. Their MPH thesis research focused on how to build climate resilience among Latinx youth through climate communications. They also serve on American Public Health Association's Center for Climate, Health and Equity Advisory Board as well as the Environmental Health and the Health and Climate Change Committees.

 

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Greg Tisher

Director of Grants | he/him

Greg is the Director of Grants at Faith in Place. He works as part of the Development Team to ensure the organization has the resources needed to sustain and expand its efforts toward healthier futures for all communities. He joined Faith in Place in June 2019.

Greg traces his passion for environmental sustainability to time spent at his grandparents’ farm and woods near Orrville, Ohio. His interest in nonprofit fundraising began during a two-year term as an AmeriCorps*VISTA in Alaska’s rural Copper River Basin.

Prior to joining Faith in Place, Greg was Grants Manager for Vermont Law School’s U.S.-Asia Partnerships for Environmental Law. He holds a B.Phil. from the University of Pittsburgh and a M.S. from the University of Vermont. 

 
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Valerie Skarbek

Development Officer | she/her

Valerie is a Development Officer at Faith in Place. She has international development, marketing, and communications experience with over 40 non-profit organizations, 100 small businesses, and Fortune 500 companies including Apple and Time Warner. She’s originally from Chicago but has lived in Florida, California, and New York, and feels blessed to have worked on projects in Uganda, Nigeria, and French Polynesia. Valerie earned her B.S. in Mass Media from the University of Florida and has an M.B.A. from the University of California-Berkeley.

Her deep spirituality and love of nature led her to Faith in Place. She is especially passionate about Faith in Place’s work toward ensuring children are treated equally and live in a safe and clean environment. She recognizes that children are the least responsible for climate change, and yet they will bear the greatest burden of its impact - but they can also be empowered to become its greatest solution!  

 

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Michelle Luu

Development Coordinator​ | she/her

Michelle serves as a Development Coordinator at Faith in Place. Originally from Waukegan, Illinois, she recently graduated from Haverford College, earning a B.A. in Environmental Studies with a focus in environmental chemistry and economic policy. Driven by the environmental injustices her hometown faces, Michelle is passionate about advocating for and finding just solutions for communities disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. 

Prior to joining Faith in Place, Michelle worked as a Program Assistant at the Climate + Energy Project (CEP) to turn out environmental voters in Kansas for the 2020 election. Hoping to engage more Kansan youth in the CEP’s work, she developed the KEY (Kansas Environmental Youth) Network to connect the youth movements happening across the state for collaboration. Drawing from her work at Haverford as a Student Advancement Officer, she began grant-writing for the Highwood Public Library and their capital campaign. She is excited to combine her skills in development and programming to support and expand FIP’s efforts in empowering communities of faith. 

 
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Liz Ferguson

Development Coordinator | she/her

Liz joined the Faith in Place team as a Development Coordinator in August 2021 after finishing her MA in Religious Studies from Chicago Theological Seminary. Faith in Place brings together many of the intersections that she is passionate about: environmental and racial justice, interreligious engagement, and a mind-body-spirit connection. 

Prior to her time in Chicago, Liz served as an Environment, Agriculture, and Food Security volunteer for the Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa. There she lived for two years in a predominately Muslim Community of 1500 people, working alongside community members and eating an endless number of mangos. 

 

In her undergraduate studies, Liz majored in English Literature with an Environmental humanities minor, which is where her childhood love of nature began to take hold in a tangible way. Liz has a deep connection to the healing power of water, as she grew up outside Philadelphia and spent much of her childhood visiting the Jersey shore. The mountains became an important place of refuge for her as well during her time in undergraduate studies and beyond. Liz grew up Catholic but has explored multiple faith traditions and now identifies as inter-faith/spiritual. Her connection to nature fuels her spirituality and her art.

Currently she resides in Chicago, IL with her cat and six lively, creative roommates, including her partner. In her free time, she identifies as a yogi, a poet, a runner, and a baker. 

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Ginnie Judd

Operations & Finance Director | she/her

Ginnie grew up in the Chicago suburbs and received her Bachelor of Science in Food Science from Iowa State University in Ames. She spent the majority of her career in food industry management before taking a nine year career break for family reasons.

Faced with starting a new chapter of her life, she decided to move in the direction of environmental issues, something that has been close to her heart for many years. She joined the Faith in Place team in January 2013 as the bookkeeper and now serves as our operations director, overseeing financial matters and grant reporting so that we are able to support programs that inspire faith communities to better Earth care.

She also coordinates our office recycling, composting, and product ordering to make our office practices more sustainable. She divides her work time between Faith in Place and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, where she assists with administrative responsibilities.