WEOC 2019 Presenter Bios
Emily Blistein is the Business Strategy Director at Let’s Grow Kids. She holds a J.D. from Vermont Law School and a BA in Gender Studies from Brown University. She was a small business owner for seven years and her prior work includes advocating on behalf of survivors of domestic violence, low-income families and women’s reproductive rights. She lives in Middlebury with her family.
Laurel Butler has more than 30 years of professional business and teaching/facilitating experience. She spent many years working in the hospitality industry in operational and management positions. She now works in a full-time dual capacity with the Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC) as a business advisor and student entrepreneur specialist, and with Vermont Technical College as its STEM Outreach/Experiential Education Manager. She is passionate about spreading the entrepreneurial mindset and spirit.
Mari Cordes has been a registered nurse for 31 years in Vermont, and has practiced in General Surgery/Trauma, Vascular Access nurse educator, management in long term care, disaster relief, and is currently working in an inpatient cardiology unit at a Level I trauma facility in Burlington Vermont, University of Vermont Medical Center. For decades, she has also been an activist and advocate for health care for all, climate and environmental issues, social justice, and is a Vermont State Representative for Addison County - 4, Vermont.
Lisa Danforth helps businesses to grow and scale with more control, less overwhelm and no apologies to create the impact and income they desire. Over the course of the past 27 years, Lisa has founded and operated two catering companies: The Wooden Spoon & Hot Betty BBQ; a professional cleaning company, and an international wholesale children's wear company (which she sold for over 35 times her initial opening investment). She has spent the last four years as a Business & Lifestyle Strategist.
Susan Edwards is the Senior Program Coordinator for Women’s Programs at Vermont Works for Women. Susan has spent over twenty years working as an educator, community builder and social justice leader in order to contribute to the growth and vitality of diverse communities. As the Senior Program Coordinator for Women’s Programs, she leads the program expansion of the Step In To Work initiative to serve women in remote communities of Vermont. Susan is also dedicated to building sustainable partnerships with local businesses, social service agencies and government entities to create equitable economic opportunities for women.
Cristine Hammer has had several careers—in mental health services, a home-based wearable arts business, and helped to launch and grow a graphic design company. In 2009 she started a freelance marketing consulting and copywriting business, Hammer Consulting and Copywriting. In addition to her involvement with the Center for Women and Enterprise, she serves as Vice Chair of the Essex Conservation & Trails Committee, is a certified Vermont Master Gardener, a member of the League of Vermont Writers, and with her dog, Nikki, works as a certified therapy dog team.
Chris Herriman is an Economic Development Specialist and the Government Contracting Contact for the Vermont District office of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). SBA is the federal agency dedicated to the advancement of small businesses in the United States. Prior to working with the SBA Chris held positions as a Level III PTAC government contracting advisor, a Small Business Counselor for the Vermont Small Business Development Center and has held executive positions at commercial banks in both Vermont and California.
Joanne Jastatt is an Executive Leadership Coach, Career Strategist, and Public Speaker with a passion for supporting people towards feeling better about what they are doing every day, personally and professionally. After 18 years in leadership, an MBA from Georgia State University, and a number of certifications, Joanne created a process to help clients identify their strengths and interests in order to set reasonable goals and empower clients to move forward and upward. She believes in being a partner to her clients throughout their career and is excited to help you find your beat.
Alyssa Johnson-Kurts is the Communications Director for Change The Story, and is a facilitator, organizer, and communications specialist. She has worked as the State Divestment Organizer for 350Vermont, a Training Fellow with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Press Secretary for Zephyr Teachout’s 2014 New York gubernatorial run, Communications Manager for Rights & Democracy VT/NH, and Field Director for Zephyr Teachout’s 2018 campaign for Attorney General. In Aly’s home community, Aly managed Anne Watson’s winning campaign for Mayor of Montpelier. Aly currently volunteers as a member of Central Vermont Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) and serves on the steering committee for the VT Freedom Bail Fund / El Fondo Para La Libertad VT. Aly holds a Bachelor’s in Economics from Smith College.
Rachel Kauppila is the Job Developer at Vermont Works for Women. She has seen first-hand how work can empower individuals, inspire change, and transform lives. She graduated from Kenyon College with a Bachelor’s degree in Women’s and Gender Studies and is currently pursuing a Master’s of Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling from George Washington University.
Sarah Kearns works as a Business Advisor for Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC). She has two decades of experience working in both large companies and start-ups. Prior to moving to Vermont in 2006, Sarah worked in the Boston area for Converse, Inc., focusing on business development in Latin America. After her time at Converse, she worked for a series of start-up companies primarily on the strategy and business development of consumer products. During that time, she also completed her M.B.A. at Babson College. Sarah lives in Middlebury with her husband David, and her two teenagers, Devon and Amanda. You can generally find Sarah at all different types of arts events…or at the hockey rink (watching, not playing)! Sarah speaks Spanish and has advanced proficiency in French.
Etienne Morris began her recruiting career in 2007 and opened her own firm Morris Recruiting & Consulting (MRC), in 2012. She provides a menu of recruiting services to businesses who want to hire great talent but may not have the time, or people in place, to fully manage a recruiting process. She also works with individuals, providing coaching services that challenge people to recognize and appreciate their unique stories through lightly structured, guided introspection, and lively, authentic conversation.
Jessica Nordhaus directs Strategy & Partnerships for Change The Story VT, a partnership of the Vermont Commission on Women, the Vermont Women’s Fund and Vermont Works for Women designed to fast-track women’s economic security by doing research on the status of women in Vermont, raising awareness of gender inequities, working with employers and engaging men in the conversation. In that role, Jessica travels the state to present on gender equity and co-facilitates the Business Peer Exchange. She is also principal at Burlington-based Gear Shift Consulting, LLC and – way back in the last century – founded Toad & Co. (formerly Horny Toad Activewear). Jessica serves on the Fletcher Free Library Commission and co-founded the Greater Burlington Women’s Forum.
Melissa O’Brien is a licensed UCC Pastor, serving the Pawlet Community Church and has served as an interfaith hospice chaplain and as a chaplain at the University of Vermont Medical Center. She is the news editor of the Charlotte News, is a contributing writer for State14, a volunteer photographer, and logistics team member for the international crisis response organization, Heart to Heart. She has an M.Ed from UVM and is currently completing an M.A. in Pastoral Care at the Fordham School of Religion.
Kate Paine helps executives and entrepreneurs stand out online so they become a recognized authority in their marketplace or industry, and a respected asset to their company and clients. She uses her journalism, PR and marketing experience to tease out her clients’ compelling story to position them as an industry visionary or influencer both online and off. She’s an expert on using LinkedIn as a powerful personal branding tool, speaks at national marketing conferences, and also teaches LinkedIn for corporate sales training.
Catherine Palmer spent 25 years as a marketer, brand strategist, and content creator for leading technology companies. She's helped executives, thought-leaders, and organizations create human-centered stories that inspire and spur action. She is currently taking a midlife sabbatical to focus on writing her own story and help rising women tell theirs.
Amanda Perkins is a registered nurse. She has worked for Vermont Tech for the past 9-years. In addition to working for Vermont Tech, she has also worked per-diem for Gifford Medical Center and has sat on the editorial board for the journal Nursing Made Incredibly Easy. In her role for Nursing Made Incredibly Easy she writes articles and peer-reviews articles written by other nurses. She has worked in the intensive care unit, medical-surgical unit, psychiatry, birthing center, long-term care, and residential care.
Brenda Plastridge is a certified procurement professional for State of Vermont Procurement Technical Assistance Center. She is the counselor responsible for working with businesses in the Northeast Kingdom which consists of Essex, Orleans and Caledonia counties. Brenda assists small businesses in the area with Federal, State and municipal contracting opportunities, as well as subcontracting opportunities and applications for certification programs. Brenda comes to the position with over 36 years with the Federal Government working in the area of grants management, contracting, and certification programs.
Gwen Pokalo is the Director of the Center for Women & Enterprise Vermont, a non-profit that helps women entrepreneurs and women in business find greater personal growth, professional success, and financial independence. She has been working with entrepreneurs for years to help them understand the technical parts of their businesses so they can define success their own way for more than 10 years. She had a Vermont products store, owned an art business & representation firm, worked in rural development research, and has teaching appointments at various Vermont colleges.
Sonja Raymond worked for 14 years in the public school system as a special educator until June of 2000, when she bought Apple Tree Learning Centers in Stowe. In 2011, she began mentoring for the VTAEYC Quality Improvement Project, and became VTAEYC’s Executive Director in 2015. Sonja has her Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and Special Education and a Master’s degree in Special Education.
Hannah Rose is the sole proprietor of Impact Coaching & Consulting, which offers comprehensive curricula development and research, training, facilitating, coaching and consulting in all areas of professional development and leadership. Hannah Rose has been working with individuals with addiction, trauma, and mental health conditions for 31 years. Her passion for social justice and equal voice has been a source of motivation and inspiration throughout her career. She currently serves as a technical assistance manager for the behavioral health department. She works with a team dedicated to helping national recovery community organizations, programs and networks with a variety of technical assistance methods. Previously, she was vice president for education and training at Vermont Association for Mental Health and Addiction Recovery. She is a graduate of the Snelling Center for Government Vermont Leadership Institute.
Liz Scharf is an AFCPE® Accredited Financial Counselor and works as the Savings and Credit Program Coordinator at Capstone Community Action in Barre, VT. She works one on one with Vermonters who are committed to improving their personal finances by coaching them on ways to save money, reduce debt, build credit, and become more financially secure.
Becca Schrader is a Community Programs Specialist with USDA Rural Development, covering central and northern Vermont. Becca has over ten years of experience working with individuals, families, businesses, and non-profits, coaching them on how to maximize income, manage debt and credit, build assets, and save for the future. She has specialized experience in working with military service members and families, veterans, people with disabilities, the aging, and entrepreneurs.
Since 1997, Lori Valburn has managed the Office of Civil Rights and Labor Compliance at the Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT), which works to ensure equal opportunity and access for all AOT employees, job applicants, contractors, and the public. Her mission is to promote an agency wide culture of respect and to build positive, inclusive, and enduring relationships with all internal and external stakeholders through outstanding customer service, innovative programs, and strategic partnerships. Lori’s team at AOT administer several business certification and development programs, including AOT’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program and Small Business Program, which promote equal opportunity on federal and state contracts.
Lisa Wood is the director of the Women’s Small Business Program at Mercy Connections. She is also a business coach and mentor to female small business owners, and the founder of Sprout New Media, a web design/development firm specializing in custom WordPress websites for small businesses. She focuses on teaching women how to build sustainable businesses, market them effectively and authentically, and reduce the often overwhelming aspects of being a solo business owner.