Born in California to South African immigrants, Nolizwe (they/them) brings over a decade of experience working at the intersection of racial justice, community engagement and financial accountability. They are passionate about transformative movement building practices that is rooted in reclaiming their connection to land, guided by moving at the speed of trust and centered in resilient community-based solutions. Prior to joining CommunityGrows in 2020, Nolizwe served as the Associate Director of Programs and Partnerships for the University of San Francisco’s Engage San Francisco initiative. Nolizwe currently sits on the advisory board of the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project (BLMP) and holds a BA in Economics from Clark University as well as a MA in Urban Affairs from the University of San Francisco.
Gardens Program Manager
Anna has worked at the intersection of youth development and sustainable agriculture for over 10 years throughout New England and the Bay Area, at organizations including The Food Project, Urban Adamah, and Hampshire College’s Farm Education Collaborative. She believes that co-powering youth to grow their own food is key to creating a more just and sustainable food system. She holds a B.A. in Anthropology and Spanish from Smith College, and her favorite vegetable is delicata squash.
B is a gardener, teacher, and activist who has lived in the Bay Area for the past two years, while working as a bilingual garden teacher with Education Outside. They are passionate about destroying the dichotomy between city and nature, and helping people form an emotional connection with plants and the environment as a whole. They hold a Bachelor of Science from the University of Vermont, and enjoy rock climbing, organizing for climate justice, and making art in their free time.
Cristina Vila Ruiz
Garden & Nutrition Educator
Cristina has always been passionate about the environment, cities, sustainability, and food systems. She did her BS in Environmental Science in the University of Puerto Rico, where she is originally from. Then she moved to Raleigh, NC to pursue a M.S. in Natural Resources at NC State University. While she studied she was part of a research project related with the socio-ecological studies of San Juan, PR. Then she decided to give back to education in what she most likes – gardening and food. Cristina believes in facilitating classes so students can learn, enjoy themselves, and be more passionate for the natural world.
Operations & Development Manager
Karen is a recent graduate of the Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities, in Minnesota, with a degree in Environmental Studies and a minor in English. Since graduating, she has worked performing hands-on conservation efforts in Colorado, teaching at an outdoor science school in southern California, and is now happy to join the team at CommunityGrows. She enjoys theater, spontaneous storytelling, and exploring new places in her free time.
Garden & Nutrition Educator
Vanessa is an educator, advocate, and lover of the outdoors. For the past two years she has served as a garden educator with Education Outside connecting minority youth with nature and the natural world. Having worked with the Student Conservation Association since 2015 she is bringing four years of experience in environmental education, trail work, and restoration experience to the Community Grows team. She is excited to continue working with and advocating for Youth of Color in San Francisco, so they may have access to the nature world which is often closed off to them. Hailing from Washington state, where she received her Bachelors of Science in Biology from Pacific Lutheran University, Vanessa is glad to be in a state where it rains a little bit less.
Garden & Nutrition Educator
Ya’ara brought her passion for environmental justice and self expression to the Bay six years ago, telling herself she would return to the East Coast when she was no longer inspired. She realizes now this may never happen. Through Urban Adamah, the Berkeley Farmers Market, the Oakland Jewish Community Center after school program and Berkeley REI her work has centered around education and play; city and nature: exploring how growing food in cities shapes our community. She is delighted to be part of the CommunityGrows Team and can’t wait to share her love of learning and food as the Seed to Mouth Garden Educator. She holds a B.A. in Geography with a concentration in City and Nature and M.A. in Community Development and Planning from Clark University.
Marketing & Communications Coordinator
Abigail has always been a creatively driven person, expressing herself through art, food, and exploring ways of living an environmentally sustainable life. She grew up in the Bay Area and earned a BA in Art from San Francisco State University. Growing up in the city, she realized that environmental and nutritional education was important but not always readily available in communities like hers. Although she has loved living in a big city, she sees the value that being connected to nature brings. As a member of CommunityGrows, she hopes to bring her passion for serving the community and her skills as a creative as a way of bridging the gap between the city and the outdoors. In her free time, she enjoys sketching architecture and people around the city.
Community Engagement Coordinator
Mayer’s biggest passions are research, agriculture, sustainability, human rights, and building community. She believes there are many intersections between these areas- and dedicates her time to uncovering them. She has much respect for the land food grows on and the people who grow it, and wants to reconnect her community with the origins of their food. In the past, she has done plant science research, taught children about the environment, and coordinated a community farm and is now thrilled at the opportunity to expand on the skills she gained from those experiences in the Bay Area with CommuntiyGrows.
Abigail Blodgett, Deputy Attorney General, California Department of Justice, Environmental Justice Bureau
Liz Holm, Store Manager, Starbucks
Jessica Jauw, Project Coordinator, JS Sullivan Development, LLC
Casey Johnson, Sr. Associate, RSF Social Finance
Christina Mathis, Vice President, CCS
William Newsom, Associate, Cooley LLP
Sarah Penney, Manager, Bain & Co
Jaromy Schmidt, District Manager, Starbucks
CommunityGrows requires all new and current employees, volunteers and contractors who work with children and youth to have a complete criminal background check on file with Tides Human Resources. Read more about our Criminal Background Check Policy here.
We want to thank the countless volunteers that help make CommunityGrows a thriving asset to the youth in our community.
Help us raise funds to get 1,300 youth from low-income communities away from violence and into programs that make them healthy, smart, environmentally educated and create pathways to jobs.