We believe that successful, vibrant communities thrive when they put people first. These communities are made up of a combination of locally owned businesses, companies who believe that good business matters, and mission-driven nonprofit organizations. We bring together values-aligned businesses, nonprofit organizations and people who share a common goal to create a thriving, equitable, sustainable, and economically vibrant region.
Hanna (she/her) has been with the organization since 2013. Her commitment to supporting local businesses and those that demonstrate responsible practices is apparent in every decision she makes, from the local bank where her mortgage is held to the fitness studio she attends several days a week. Hanna is passionate about advocating for her neighborhood and sits on both the Garfield Park Neighborhood Association board and the South Division/Grandville Ave. corridor improvement authority. She loves to travel to new places and experience the dishes they’re known for – the spicier the better! In the summer, she prefers long hikes and backpacking trips to sitting in the office, but she is always happy to serve her Local First and Good For Michigan businesses.
When not at the office, you might find Hanna at: Life Addict Studio, Rising Grinds Café, or walking her dogs, Popsicle and Walnut, around the Garfield Park neighborhood.
Director of Engagement
Kathleen (she/her) values the close-knit community of businesses that comprise our region and give West Michigan a unique and vibrant culture. Her small-town upbringing instilled the value of a place-based economy grounded in relationships. Kathleen joined the PFE team in 2017 to champion member businesses and a people-first economy. Kathleen brings a background in business administration and communication, as well as a wide range of nonprofit experience to the Local First team. She enjoys a good book (coffee in hand), food shared around the table, walks around her neighborhood, and baking on Sundays. Connect with Kathleen for Local First Membership details (or if you have a fun new recipe/podcast to recommend)!
When not at the office, you might find Kathleen at: Ken’s Fruit Market, Madcap Coffee, Baker Book House, or Field & Fire.
Alice Jasper (she/her) is a Multiracial-Black sustainability professional and outdoor enthusiast. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Alice relocated to Michigan where she attended college in the Upper Peninsula before putting down roots in Grand Rapids. Today, Alice serves as Program Director for Good For Michigan; a state-wide economic development initiative that centers social and environmental sustainability and convenes Michigan’s B Corp Certified business community.
When not at the office, Alice:
- is the creator and host of “Color Out Here” a media project created in collaboration with WGVU and PBS intended to explore the opportunities and barriers to inclusion faced by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in outdoor recreation and environmental stewardship.
- is a Board member of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks
- is a Goal 4 Alliance Council Member for Downtown Grand Rapids Inc
- is a Pinball witch in training
- Hikes with her dog, Penny Apple
Mieke (Mee-ka, she/her) is a storyteller, community builder, and daughter to self-employed parents. She has a background in nonprofit marketing and visual communications. In 2014, she started volunteering with the Local First program and fell in love with the mission, the people, and the work culture. Two years later, when the opportunity to tell the People First story full-time arose, she had to take it. Mieke is inspired by the ways Michigan businesses collaborate and loves to brag about the rad things they’re up to. She also loves hiking, backpacking, cooking, mountain biking, moto riding, laughing, dancing, and almost anything if it’s outdoors. If you’re unsure of how to say her name, she also answers to Meeks, Red Dawn, Biker Babe, and Dutch Strong Arm. Give her a trail recommendation or a new recipe next time you see her!
When not at the office, you might find Mieke at: The Cheese Lady, Fulton Street Farmers Market, Rebel, Rock Paper Scissors, in the woods, or on the road.
Community Engagement Manager
Originally hailing from Eastern Michigan, Victoria (she/her) fell in love with the sense of community and local business scene offered in West Michigan. After she made the move to Grand Rapids in 2018, she found a home away from home at a small business, which instilled place-based values and began her path towards advocacy for equitable, people-first economies. After interning for the Local First program, Victoria officially joined the People First Economy team in 2021. She graduated from Grand Valley State University in April 2022 with a double major in Marketing and Management and a minor in Spanish. Victoria is eager to continue learning and growing in this space, all the while celebrating this vibrant community and its organizations.
While not in the office you can catch Victoria at Field & Fire Cafe (where she is determined to sample the whole menu), curled up on her porch with a good book, exploring trails, cities, and countries, and shopping throughout the Uptown neighborhood.
Having completed an internship with Local First and his education at Aquinas College in December of 2019, Emmanuel (he/him) returned to Local First in March of 2020 to help coordinate the Good For Michigan Program. While at Aquinas, he earned a Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Business, where he studied current economic and social systems in addition to the economic models that value the health and well-being of people and the natural world over profits. Emmanuel is excited to develop the Good For Michigan Program as it continues to expand its activity and message across the state. He is also really looking forward to the next Fork Fest, where he can sample the best of what the West Michigan food system has to offer!
When not at the office, you might find Emmanuel: climbing outdoors or at Terra Firma, in his kitchen cooking up some grub, geeking out over a brew of coffee/espresso, at the Fulton Street Farmers Market, or treasure hunting (thrifting).
Business Development Manager
Katherine (she/her) comes to West Michigan from the East Coast and brings over a decade of experience in local food systems and sustainability. Prior to joining Local First, Katherine was the co-founder, program director of Food Connects in Vermont, a nonprofit that works to increase access to healthy, local foods within Vermont’s schools. Jandernoa earned her master’s of arts in sustainable development from the SIT Graduate Institute and her bachelor of arts in international affairs from The George Washington University. Having lived in large urban centers, (Boston, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.), and small rural communities in Massachusetts and Vermont, Katherine loves all that West Michigan has to offer and is thrilled to call Grand Rapids home.
When not at the office, you might find Katherine at the Fulton Street Farmers Market, one of our many local restaurants, or exploring Blandford Nature Center and Wilcox Park with her sons.
Board of Directors
Doris Drain, Co-Chair | United Bank of Michigan
Christine Lindeman, Co-Chair | Sytsma Wealth Strategies
CJ Schneider, Secretary | Miller Johnson
Jason Wheeler, Treasurer | Wheeler Development Group / PURE Real Estate Management
Trevor Corlett | Madcap Coffee
Tarra Davis | Daddy Pete’s BBQ
Seth Getz | Business Mastery
Gary Glass | Silver Lining Computer Services
Tammy Karas | United Bank of Michigan
Kyama Kitavi | Fair Food Network
Milinda Ysasi | GROW