By Sheridan Ash
Gathering Ground, the Washington Island based nonprofit dedicated to the education and promotion of sustainable agriculture, has welcomed four new members to the board of directors. Jeannie Kokes, Steve Lynch, Jessica Dennis and Joanne Jack.
Jeannie Kokes combines her two great loves through her work at Gathering Ground: the environment and volunteer service. This is not Jeannie Kokes’ first encounter working with a nonprofit. Earlier in her career, Jeannie directed a nonprofit of over 300 volunteers that supported parents in crisis. She later went on to practice as a clinical psychologist in the western suburbs. Jeannie purchased Hotel Washington 5 years ago, and has strived to create a space to reconnect people with nature, themselves, and those around them. She feels especially hopeful that Gathering Ground’s programs and connection with the students and teachers at the island school will develop and strengthen a land ethic and practices that will last for generations to come.
Steve Lynch spent his early years on the east coast, on the coast of Connecticut. He joined the U.S. Navy working with photographic intelligence. Steve went on to obtain his BFA in drawing and painting at UCONN, and worked with the youth of Vermont for forty years in the fine arts. Steve eventually retired to Washington Island; he sees Gathering Ground as a way to “reconnect shared interest in gardening and relearning how to have a sustaining and healthy community life.”
Jessica Dennis is a Wisconsin native who grew up in a family of farmers and gardeners. This created an interest in sustainability and fresh produce. Jessica and her husband moved to Washington Island so that she could achieve her dream of being a science teacher. She currently teaches middle and high school science and third and fourth grade math at the island school. Jessica is looking forward to fostering a stronger connection between Gathering Grounds and the school, and encouraging a love for gardening and the outdoors with her own three children.
Born in Ohio, Joanne Jack was raised by parents who, despite urban locations, always had a burgeoning vegetable garden which fed us year round. That passion for growing fresh, organic produce continued on Washington Island when her parents purchased an old abandoned farmhouse on Michigan and Range Line in 1960. She grew up helping to renovate that old house and weed the same half acre garden every summer since then! She and her husband retired to the farmhouse full time in 2010. During her professional years, she loved teaching both special education and regular elementary school-aged children, as well as curriculum development and equally enjoyed a career in the renovation of abandoned housing, working for nonprofits securing and improving low-income housing, and another decade in construction project management. Gathering Ground encompasses many of her passions for literally getting her hands in the soil, being an active part in furthering a sustainable Washington Island community, collaborating with all ages as we learn, and creating a sustainable economy with local food.
The new board members are truly assets not only to Gathering Ground, but to the Washington Island community. With specialties spanning from service, to education, to the arts, these members will help to strengthen and expand Gathering Ground to help better the environment and community.