Our Board of Directors

Samuel Bennett

Board Treasurer

Finance Committee & Policy Work Group Member

Sam Bennett is an urban pioneer who has lived in midtown Kansas City since 1981.  He earned a bachelors degree in History and English from Simpson College in Iowa, and went on to add a masters degrees in Library Science and Public Administration from the University of Missouri.  A career in public libraries was followed by a second career as a program officer for local charitable foundations.

Sam's environmental work has included planting redwood trees in northern California, organizing for the Black Hills Alliance and Mobilization for Survival, and volunteer work with Bridging the Gap.


Olusola Olugbenga Festus, or Sola as people call him, is a doctoral candidate and Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of Missouri- Kansas City, majoring in Geosciences and minoring in social sciences. He teaches and manages laboratory activities for Geographic Information System (GIS) and Remote Sensing (RS), and his research areas are in wetland landscape dynamics. Sola has a flair for Health Geography and has had his work published and presented at conferences. 


Sola has a lot of experience in spatial epidemiology and currently volunteers as a member of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) COVID-19 Rapid Response team. Sola is working on research geared towards wetland landscape dynamics and its socio-ecological implications in Kansas City. He is open and eager to learn new things so we can make the world a better place.

Olusola Festus

Board Member

Kyle Johnson

Board Member

Kyle is a Nebraska native, transplanting to Kansas City, Missouri, from the Omaha area in 2019 with his two children. He has a degree in horticulture and over two decades of diverse experience in the landscape and horticulture industry, specializing in areas such as arboriculture, stormwater management, urban habitat, organic lawn care and property management, and hardscape design and construction.


He is passionate about utilizing straight-species, native plants to mimic nature, to create sustainable, low-maintenance "plant communities," departing from typical mulch-based landscapes that have become the standard in the US. He firmly believes that the green industry needs a major paradigm shift, moving away from high-maintenance, high-input, over-irrigated, and over-engineered lawns and landscapes, and toward creating and maintaining urban greenspaces that are functional, sustainable, environmentally-beneficial, and beautiful.


Kyle loves sharing his passion with others through teaching, speaking, and being involved in his local community.

Bill Blessing

Board Member

 Bill Blessing is the retired Senior Vice President of Corporate Strategy and Development of Sprint and Embarq, where he developed and implemented multibillion dollar network investments, new businesses and products, and corporate acquisitions and alliances.  Since then he has served on corporate and nonprofit boards including The Nature Conservancy in Kansas, and qualified as a Leadership Fellow of the National Association of Corporate Directors. 


Bill is an active traveler. He has hiked in 57 of our national parks, and visited 63 countries.

Kristen Bontrager

Board Secretary

Partnership & Policy Work Group Member

After graduating from Washburn University in 2016 with a degree in biology, Kristen focused her career and advocacy on ecology and botany. While at Washburn she researched the species of plants that colonized the under story of invasive bush Honeysuckle. She also spent time in the forests of Costa Rica studying biodiversity of Arthropods.

Kristen supported the Heartland Conservation Alliance 2016 National Fish and Wildlife “A Monarch’s View of the City” project. She also worked as a Maintenance Manager and Landscape Ecologist for a local native plant landscaping company, Down to Earth Services.


Kristen volunteers for many organizations, including Heartland Conservation Alliance’s Policy Work Group and Partnership Work Group. Kristen has assisted in teaching the Green Guard Stewards program for the past four years. She is passionate about conservation for both environmental preservation and protecting the communities around Kansas City that she loves. While not listing off the correct scientific names of plants to anyone who will listen, Kristen enjoys reading books with her two cats Grub and Dwight. 

Matt Hart

Board President

Finance Committee Member

Matthew Hart is a Kansas City import from Idaho via Colorado, living in Waldo since 2002. An outdoor enthusiast his entire life, he discovered the Blue River via his mountain biking hobby in 2009 and has spent hundreds of hours biking, hiking, and exploring ever since. He has helped build and maintain single track trail through the KC Urban Core since 2012.


Matt is currently the Chief Information Officer for Arise Virtual Solutions. Prior to Arise, he worked at Avaya Communications and Oracle Corporation. He received his BA in History from The Colorado College. Matt is the author of six technology books and two works of fiction, and the co-author of two children.

Sarah Hemme

Board Member

Sarah grew up on the family farm an hour west of Kansas City and has lived in the metro since 2009. After stints in the historic Westside neighborhood downtown and Brookside, she settled with her partner in a small community along Blue River Road in South KC. An avid mountain biker, Sarah spends thousands of hours (and miles) each year exploring the dirt trails along the Blue River corridor and beyond. She volunteers with Urban Trail Co to build and maintain trails as well as with various HCA partners to remove invasive honeysuckle and clean up trash. She's passionate about conservation, outdoor recreation, access to public wild lands, and community cooperation and engagement.

Chandler Little Eagle

Board Member

Partnership Work Group Member

Chandler Little Eagle was born and raised in the northland of Kansas City, Missouri. In May 2018 she earned her Bachelor's in Environmental Studies with additional minors in sustainability, History and Geography.

Chandler's passion for the outdoors stays beyond extracurricular activities as she participated in environmental activism to protect tribal land belonging to her enrolled tribe, the Standing Rock Sioux, opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline in September of 2016. She served one year of federal volunteer service through AmeriCorps as a VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America.)


Moving forward with her career, she is working to continue her studies to law school with a special interest in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law.

Spencer Martin

Board Member

Spencer Martin is a proud Texan but, don’t hold that against him. He currently lives in Kansas City, KS with his wife, son, two dogs and two cats.

Spencer has been an educator for almost his entire career in Africa, Texas and now Kansas. He serves as the Lead Secondary Science Curriculum Instructional Coach for KCKPS, supporting science teachers in the district. 

Spencer owns VanLifeKC, where people can rent camper vans and trailers to choose their own adventure in Kansas City and beyond. He also does freelance graphic and web design for his business Spence Creative Design.

In his free time, Spencer loves to camp and hike with family and friends. He enjoys sunflower seeds and a good book to read while taking a break from the trails or in one of his campers.  

Scott Schulte

Board Secretary

Conservation & Policy Work Group Member

Scott Schulte has 26 years of experience working to protect natural resources. He served HCA as Board President for six years, from its founding in January 2012 until March of 2018.

Scott is the Senior Environmental Planner for Vireo (formerly Patti Banks Associates) since 2005 where he supports natural resource planning, design, and policy development projects. He has been a Lecturer at the University of Kansas since 2009, first in the Urban Planning Program and at the Edwards Campus since 2015, instructing undergraduates and graduate students in environmental planning and environmental impact assessment. Previously, he served as the Board Vice President and Treasurer of Blue River Watershed Association for two years. Scott has extensive experience in watershed management, natural resources planning and restoration, public policy, community engagement and training.

Roberta Vogel-Leutung

Board Member

Outreach and Education Work Group Member

Roberta has been active in Kansas City are conservation for two decades.  As career staff at the Environmental Protection Agency, she helped to start KC WildLands as part of EPAs Regional Ecosystems Priority, and chaired the WildLands executive committee for five years.  After witnessing the birth of HCA as an outgrowth of conservation planning convened by Wildlands, Roberta was once again able to use her Community Partnership role to support the beginning of HCA programming and assumption of a leadership role in the Urban Waters Federal Partnership efforts on the Blue River. Since her retirement from EPA in 2017, Roberta has remained an active volunteer with the Outreach and Education committee and looks forward to her new role as board member.  


Currently, Roberta is a Program Manager of outdoor education for Green Works in KC. 

Gerald Shechter

Board Member

Gerald (Jerry) Shechter is the sustainability coordinator for KCMO Office of Environmental Quality where he helped develop and implement the Climate Protection Plan. He works on the greenhouse gas inventory updates and facilitates the Policies and Regulations Green Team. He is also a member of the Resource Management Green Team. Jerry is also a long-standing board member of Kansas City Riverfront Heritage Trails. Before the Office of Environmental Quality, he co-founded the Metropolitan Energy Center and later, as a staff member, developed Project Living Proof.

Regan Tokos

Board Member

Regan Tokos grew up in Nebraska but tells people she's from Kansas City because it's where she spent the first two years of her life. She returned to the city in 2018, and in August 2019 she earned her Master's in Regional and Community Planning with a minor in Geography from Kansas State University (Go Cats). 


Regan is a Community Planner with Hoxie Collective where she works to empower communities through data access, resources, mapping, and improved engagement. Her passion for photography and the outdoors led her to the Blue River. Then her passion for map making, education, and making the world a better place led her to Heartland Conservation Alliance, where she hopes to help with the preservation of the Blue River and the surrounding land any way she can. In her spare time you can find Regan hiking, hanging out with her cat Aurelius, or making soup.

Our Steering Council

Heartland Conservation Alliance is honored to have the leadership and expertise of our Steering Council. The Council represents our Alliance partners and provides guidance for implementing our work.


Each Council member serves a two-year term and represents a key Partner community including: Business, Education, Government, Higher education, Land trust, Nonprofit, Neighborhood/landowner, Public land manager and Water utility.


Council members support our work by:

  • Supporting staff and Board to fulfill our mission

  • Bringing ideas to the table

  • Connecting the larger group to resources

  • Broadening our networking opportunities

  • Using collective assets to implement plans and projects

  • Provide a sounding board, especially when issues may conflict

  • Provide direction and leadership

2018 HCA Steering Council Strategic Evaluation Meeting: Pictured: Back row, left to right, Stephen VanRhein, Missouri Department of Conservation; Lauren Garrott, HCA Board Secretary; Brian Nowotny, Jackson County Parks + Rec; Christina Hoxie, Hoxie Collective; Ayana Curran-Howes, HCA AmeriCorps VISTA; Andrea Clark. Middle row, left to right, Laura Don Wilkison, Artist; Lynn Youngblood, Blue River Watershed Association; Ginny Moore, The Conservation Fund, Bill Fessler, KC Parks. Front row, left to right, Amanda Graor, Mid-America Regional Council; Laura Adams, Black & Veatch; Patti Banks, Vireo; Roberta Vogel-Leutung; Jill Erickson, HCA; and  Connie Chapman.

Joshua Anderson

Joshua Anderson, 5th generation Missouri farmer. Grew up farming conventionally in Northern Missouri, Iowa and Arkansas. After High school Joshua served in both the Army as a medic and with the Peace Corps in Agro-Forestry.  He also earned degrees in Geography & mapping systems from UCM, studied international development in Holland and is a alumni of UC Santa Cruz's "Center for Agro-Ecology & Sustainable Food systems. His work in non-profits began after returning home and helped start the Farmer Veteran Coalition. Currently he is the farmboss at Boys Grow where they manage 30 acres and empower urban youth by teaching entrepreneurship through Agriculture.

Victoria L Dunkin

Victoria comes from Grandview, MO and is currently attending Oregon State University online for a dual BS and MS in Natural Resources, specializing in Ecological Restoration and Sustainable Agriculture. She is also in the Kansas Master Naturalist Program this spring. She hopes to combine this with her degree to localize her education and work in prairie and wetland ecology and in education for landowners to encourage sustainable, biologically diverse land management.           


She is passionate about creating a sustainable agricultural and water system access in a foundation for equality for all people.

She works full time for Service Experts heating and cooling, and is currently looking for opportunities to enter the field of research and environmental protection.

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Ian Fannin-Hughes

Ian was born and raised in Kansas, spending most of his youth lost in the woods, often on someone else's property. He graduated from K-State in 2014 with degrees in environmental science and geography. Ian has worked in the environmental field for ten years with several organizations including KDWPT, USDA, K-State Agronomy, USGS-Alaska Science Center, SynTech Research, KDHE and the City of Overland Park.


Ian currently works as the Water Quality Specialist for the City of Overland Park, managing environmental programs, education and sustainability for the City. Since taking on the new job in 2016, Ian has actively worked to become more engaged with partnering organizations like the Heartland Conservation Alliance to work collaboratively on conservation projects across the Metro.

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Christina Hoxie

With over 20 years of diverse professional experience in interiors, architecture, and planning Christina coalesces interdisciplinary teams and works closely with the people of each unique community to build upon their assets, strategize transformational solutions, and fulfill their shared vision. She believes that planning provides a pathway to greater environmental quality, economic opportunity, and social equity. Christina practices this discipline with an open heart and mind, combining technical expertise with an adaptive community-centered engagement approach.

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Lara Isch

Lara Isch is the Sustainability Manager for the City of Kansas City, Missouri.  She has spent the majority of her 20 years in the environmental field promoting the importance of public education and involvement to create meaningful change.  An unapologetic environmental generalist, her career includes experience with consulting firms, government entities, and non-profits in subjects ranging from natural resource management to regulatory compliance.  Her passions include public service, backpacking, rivers, and all things Kansas City.    

John Kevern

Dr. Kevern is a Professor of Civil Engineering and Chair of the Department of Civil & Mechanical Engineering at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He is an internationally recognized expert on pervious concrete, concrete durability, and non-traditional concrete applications. He received his Ph.D. from Iowa State University. Dr. Kevern has been named one of the top five most influential people in the concrete industry by Concrete Construction Magazine for his work with pervious concrete and is a Fellow of ACI. He chairs AKM50 Advanced Concrete Materials and Characterization Committee at the National Transportation Research Board and is secretary of ACI committee 522 on pervious concrete, and founding member of ASTM committee 09.49 on pervious concrete.


His current research topics include improving water quality using cement-based filters, improving concrete lifespan using hydrophobic coatings, internal curing concrete, techniques to reduce cost and improve performance of soil structures in sub-Saharan Africa, and eliminating joints in concrete pavements. He has authored over 125 journal articles, papers, and reports and has been an invited presenter over 180 times at US and international conferences.

Imani Malaika-Mehta

Imani Malaika Mehta is a USGBC LEED Green Classroom Professional. With certification by NAAEE/MEEA as an Environmental Educator, Imani is also a member of ISTE, iNACOL (the Aspen Institute), and is a Sphero Lead Educator.


As CEO of SOTV, she leads the KC affiliates of Black Girls Code, Blacks in Cybersecurity, Sisters of the Skies, and Women in 3D Printing, an international additive manufacturing (3D printing) organization. SOTV sponsors an annual Earth Day celebration in Kansas City.


Imani is a supporter of GRID Alternatives for solar PV workforce development and is a member of the Green Home Institute.

Brian Nowotny

Brian is the Deputy Director for Park Operations for Jackson County Parks + Rec. Jackson County’s award winning parks system is the third largest county parks system in the nation covering over 20,000 acres.  With a background in landscape architecture, Brian oversees operations, planning and park development for our county’s 690,000 residents.  Originally from Dallas, Texas, Brian has lived in the Kansas City area since 2001.  

Drew Pearson

Drew has a devotion to enabling positive change in communities through planning sustainable transportation networks. He has over five years of experience in community and transportation planning, safety analysis, traffic operations, environmental documentation, and GIS modeling. His passion for sustainability, technology, wellness, and design have pushed him to develop data-driven planning tools and visualizations which help to uncover and communicate various needs and opportunities to decision makers. Drew develops plans, studies, evaluations, tools, inventories, and diagrams which can plainly communicate complex relationships between social, environmental, and economic assets in the built environment.


Drew is an active member of the American Planning Association and is president-elect of the local KC-APA board.

Stephen Van Rhein

Since 2003, Stephen has been a Community Conservationist at the MO Department of Conservation working with cities and counties in the Kansas City metropolitan area to incorporate conservation friendly practices as the area grows. He has served the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks addressing rural water quality issues and spent 2+ years in Cameroon as a Peace Corps aquaculture extensionist. He has a MS in Ecology from Illinois State Univ. and a BS in Microbiology from the University of Missouri.

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Suzanne Welde

Suzanne has been a school counselor working with youth in the Kansas City metro area since 2012.  She is excited to promote environmental awareness and conservation through the Heartland Conservation Alliance.

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Joe Wheelock

Joe graduated from Iowa State University with a Master of Science degree in Sustainable Agriculture and Entomology. At ISU he developed a healthy obsession with native plants, native pollinators, and building a more resilient agroecosystem. An AmeriCorps VISTA position with BoysGrow brought him to KC while a position researching honey bees kept him here after his year of service. Joe is excited to get back to his roots and become more involved with the KC community and to help grow a sustainable KC. 


Currently Joe is the Program Coordinator for the Heartland Tree Alliance with Bridging the Gap. In his free time, he can be found playing ultimate frisbee, camping, hiking, or floating a river. 

Dr. Terri Woodburn

Terri Woodburn has taught at the University of Kansas Edwards Campus since 2015, with previous adjunct or graduate teaching positions at Park University, University of Kansas and Northwest Missouri State University. Courses taught range from physical geography, meteorology, geomorphology and remote sensing to current courses in soil science, wetland delineation, fluvial geomorphology and water resource sustainability, among others. Her professional experience includes positions with the Kansas Geological Survey (KGS) and Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Her publications with KGS include co-authored surficial geologic maps in several counties across Kansas. Previous professional experience and field research experience in fluvial and soil geomorphology has provided a foundation for her current course offerings that include experiential learning. Her current research focus is in soil health and soil carbon sequestration.

Our Staff

Jill Erickson

Executive Director


(816) 813-0944

Sarah Benal

Outreach Coordinator


(816) 349-9201

Jill Erickson, a Kansas City native, earned a degree in Journalism and Graphic Design from Northwest Missouri State University and has spent the last 25 years managing nonprofit organizations at various levels whose missions have supported the arts, education, urban agriculture and most recently conservation. As the co-founder and current Executive Director, Jill has co-led the Middle Blue River Urban Waters Federal Partnership since 2013 and has served as the Ambassador for the since 2016. She is passionate about the importance of nature in cities and thrives on bringing together diverse ideas and voices.

Meghan Freeman

Program Manager


(816) 654-6961

Sarah Benal grew up in Nebraska where she received her degree in English and Global Studies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2015. She lived in South Carolina for four years where she earned her MFA in Fiction Writing in 2019 from the University of South Carolina. Sarah has a strong background in education, particularly in after-school programs and camps, and has worked with Louder Than a Bomb: Great Plains, The Loft Literary Center, NSAA Speech and Debate, and Split P Writers in the Schools. Sarah loves short story collections, dark-roast coffee and yoga.  


Sarah believes in the importance of a sense of place, and how that sense of place helps people become more empathetic and nurturing toward their communities. She believes that we are all lifetime learners and strives to create spaces where everyone feels comfortable to ask questions, embrace their space, and build connections through shared experiences. She encourages everyone to be enthusiastic, and not be scared to share what you're passionate about.

Meghan grew up in Baltimore, Maryland and has lived in Kansas City since 1990. Her professional career focused on helping individuals improve their professional and personal performance and has done so through Learning and Development leadership in multiple small and large companies in Kansas City. Meghan ran her own Leadership Development consulting practice. In addition, she sold residential real estate before the 2008 housing crisis.


Meghan’s passion is nonprofit work aimed at improving the community. Most recently she served as Workforce Development Coach through Rockhurst University. She is excited to be part of the HCA team and assist in the restoration and preservation of the Blue River for the benefit of the Missouri and Kansas communities.


Meghan and her husband Wade have three daughters who live in active communities throughout the country. Meghan and Wade enjoy bike riding and recreational activities on the water.

Magali Rojas 


Nature Action Crew Leader


(816) 382-7829

Magali was born in Guanajuato, Mexico and raised in Kansas City. She does not say whether KCMO or KCK because she believes that both states need to work on being more united.


She graduated from East High School in 2011and considers it an honor to see the connection between East and Heartland Conservation Alliance. She joined HCA’s Youth Council in December 2018 and has been a part of the HCA community ever since. Last year, Magali attended the SHIFTJH Summit as an emerging leader where she learned the power of storytelling and vulnerability.


Magali is currently earning her Environmental Justice certification at The University of Kansas. She hopes to apply her knowledge to her role at HCA and help bridge the intersection between health and nature. She shares:


"Growing up undocumented meant constantly being reminded to keep my head low. That was not simple since I was drawn to diverse communities that were underserved. Nature has been my physical, mental and spiritual escape from various real life worries. As I began to uncover the multitude of problems affecting our environment I made the decision to be a voice that speaks up and involving people who aren't always invited to the table. When people have meaningful experiences outdoors, their quality of life improves and in turn their communities become stronger and more resilient."

Madeline Putman

AmeriCorps VISTA


(816) 806-8084

Madeline grew up in Saratoga Springs, New York which sparked her love for the outdoors through trips around and within the Adirondack Mountain range with her family. In 2019, she held an internship with a land conservancy in Saratoga Springs called Saratoga PLAN (Preserving land and nature). She graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a bachelor's degree in Environmental Conservation and Sustainability in spring 2021.


Madeline has a strong passion for non-profit work and community service and is thrilled to work with Heartland Conservation Alliance through AmeriCorps VISTA, using both her passion and interest in environmental studies. In her free time, Madeline loves to hike, kayak, camp and other activities that are centered around being outdoors.