SowHope Board of Directors
Mita Fitzjohn (Chairperson) is a leadership consultant and coach. She collaborates with female leaders to support them in their professional development and growth, across a variety of corporate industries. She conducts leadership development workshops and training. She is also a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant, focused on advancing the role of underrepresented individuals in corporate America through training, workshops, and consulting engagements. She has over 25 years of experience in sales, consulting, business ownership, project management, talent development, instructional design, training, and organizational effectiveness. Mita has a Bachelor of Science in Management from Georgia Tech in Atlanta, GA and a Master of Business Administration from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management in Lake Forest, IL. In her free time, Mita enjoys reading, cooking, traveling, and spending time with her husband, two teenagers, and her dog.
Lizbeth Leeson, M.P.A (Vice Chairperson) has spent her personal and professional life working for social justice. For years, she promoted sustainable community change efforts in underinvested neighborhoods throughout the United States, working with organizations and foundations including the Washington D.C.-based Center for the Study of Social Policy and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. She served as Deputy Director of Michigan’s Department of Mental Health, Executive Director of Child Abuse Prevention Services in Ingham County, Michigan, and was a partner and practicing Certified Financial Planner in the firm of Practical Money Management, Inc. Beth has taught college-level economics and political science classes, and, throughout the past 35 years, served on and led numerous local, state, and national boards, commissions, and task forces. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work from Michigan State University and a Master’s of Public Administration from Western Michigan University.
Doreen Mangrum, M.A., M.Ed. (Board Secretary) is not new to SowHope. She was a founding Board Member and, for the first 6 years, a member of the Program Team. She serves in that same capacity today. Doreen believes and supports the mission and vision of SowHope with all of her heart. She has traveled to Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana as a volunteer staff member on evaluation visits, experiences that confirmed all that she believes about the awesome work of SowHope.
For the past 38 years, Doreen has served schools in the field of Special Education. She became the first Principal at a new charter school in inner city Grand Rapids, Covenant House Academy, a school for students 16-22 years of age that had barriers to success in their traditional school. Presently, she teaches Mindfulness to students and adults, provides advocacy for special needs students and their families, and continues to consult with Covenant House Academy.
Doreen has a Master’s degree of Arts in Learning Disabilities and a Master’s degree in Education in Special Education Administration. She has always served in a capacity to work for those that have been under-served and have different abilities and challenges, no matter their background or experiences. She believes we should do whatever it takes to break down barriers and provide opportunities for all to be empowered.
Benjamin Borisch (Board Treasurer) is the Founder of Growth Distilled, a business and financial consulting company that helps companies solve problems around people, processes, and finances. Ben also serves as the Board Treasurer for Affinity Mentoring. Ben graduated from Davenport University with a Bachelors Degree in Accounting Information Systems Management. Outside of work or the boardroom, Ben enjoys learning, cooking, and traveling with his family.
Dan L. Balfour, Ph.D. is a recently retired professor of Public Administration at Grand Valley State University where he taught Master’s level courses in Public Management, Ethics, Organization Theory, Strategic Management, and an undergraduate course in the History of the Holocaust. He was the founding Managing Editor of the Journal of Public Affairs Education, Book Review Editor for Public Administration Review (2015-2017), and serves on the editorial board of several public affairs journals, including The American Review of Public Administration and Public Integrity. He is co-author of the award-winning book, Unmasking Administrative Evil (5th edition, Routledge, 2019) and has more than 50 scholarly publications, including book chapters and articles in top national and international public affairs journals. He has served on a number of boards of directors of community organizations in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area.
Leecie Brown is a therapist in private practice in the national capital region. She graduated from Wheaton College (IL) with an undergraduate degree in Spanish, and earned a Master’s of Social Work from the University of Michigan. Prior to providing outpatient therapy, she investigated child abuse and neglect, with the aim to support vulnerable and stressed families. For the past 15 years she has worked in emergency mental health, diffusing crisis situations and interfacing with people in acute psychiatric distress. Leecie believes that women who are empowered and skilled are critical to a healthy and thriving community, as they will naturally return their strength and resources to their homes and neighborhoods. This is something she readily observes in her work, and so the mission and work of SowHope is an easy link to make.
Leecie lives in northern Virginia with her talented and handsome husband and their five beautiful children, all of them above average. Someday she would love to accompany Mary Dailey Brown on a field visit, but for now there is a lot to attend to at home, so she is privileged to serve on the Board. “The days are long and the years are short” as they say.
Dr. Robert Cunningham brings more than 30 years of international experience to the SowHope Board. Robert has visited, lived, worked, or studied in 50 countries, including Switzerland, where he met and wedded his wife, Berti, and Japan, where he served for 20 years with OMF International and founded and directed the Samaritan Centre in Sapporo, Japan, an in-resident treatment facility by which numerous people were able to leave the confines of mental hospitals through substance abuse prevention education. Robert also has experience in Counseling and Therapy with Skid Row in Chicago, Illinois. Most recently, Robert served as the President of Hokiriku Gakuin University/Junior college on the west coast of the Honshu Island, Japan. He developed real estate for 12 years and opened an interpreting and translating business, which has been running since 1991. Robert taught German, Japanese, and Interpersonal Communication at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has also taught Substance Abuse seminars in Switzerland, Japan, and the USA in German, Japanese, and English. He currently continues to be active in real estate and flipping properties.
Robert has enrolled in 9 colleges or universities, gaining education in Urban Sociology at the University of Illinois (Chicago), studying Japanese for two years in Sapporo, studying alcoholism at Rutgers University, and achieving a Master of Divinity and Doctorate of Ministry at Trinity International University in Illinois. Robert also obtained master electrician and electrical contractor licenses.
Robert previously served on the SowHope Board of Directors from 2010-2013. Robert and his wife, Berti, have two wonderful adopted Japanese children (Ken and Naomi).
Fridah Kanini is the owner of Flora’s Elegance Events Décor, a décor and events planning company, and she serves as a full-time Administrative Assistant at the Cultural Intelligence Center in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. She formerly worked for Farmers Insurance for 12 years. Fridah was born and raised in Kenya by a single mother, the late Ms. Flora, and her late Grandmother, Elizabeth. Fridah has three younger brothers, two nieces, and one nephew who still reside in Kenya. Her mother, Ms. Flora, was a social worker who catered to the needs of girls, women, and people with disabilities in her village, empowering them to be independent. This sowed a seed in Fridah and inspired her great love for the community and a caring and loving attitude towards others. Fridah arrived in the USA in 2001 and worked as an International Cultural Representative at the Disney World in Orlando, Florida. She has traveled to France, South Africa, and several states in the United States. Prior to moving to Michigan, she lived in the Jersey Channel Island and Buckinghamshire in the United Kingdom. Fridah is an accomplished community leader and entrepreneur. She is the Founder and CEO of the A Glimpse of Africa Festival, the Founder and former President of the West Michigan Kenyan’s community, and a volunteer with Gilda’s and Gilda’s LaughFest, Kids’ Food Basket, St. John’s Children’s Home, March of Dimes, and the African Community Church, among others. Fridah currently attends the Business School at Grand Rapids Community College.
Alfred Longtin – Al is the founder and CEO of Longtin Family Companies. He provides strategic leadership and manages a significant number of client relationships throughout the country. Having come from a family business and being an entrepreneur and principal investor himself. Al possesses a deep understanding of advanced family, financial and managerial concepts. For more than 30 plus years AL has experience in working with complex business, tax and multi-generational issues involving large family controlled private and public companies. Al has served on several privately held boards of family offices and leading companies in their respective industries. He has served on the Bishop McNamara High School board and still serves on the Eastern Illinois University Endowment board. Mr. Longtin currently serves on the Greenville University Briner Board which is transforming how small rural colleges in rural towns develop experiential learning, corporate and community development. Al grew up on a family farm and attended very small rural elementary school and went onto be an accomplished athlete. His interest in sports included motocross, baseball, basketball, football, track and rugby. Mr. Longtin is also a veteran of the US Navy and was awarded a letter of commendation for the work he performed managing a $20million repair parts budget for his destroyer. As an adult Al was a competitive sports car racer on a National level for over 10 years and still enjoys performance driving at his racing country club. Al currently enjoys cycling, skiing, golf and Crossfit competitions to this day. Al considers himself lucky to have raised two wonderful children with his wife Caren for 30 plus years.
Kathleen Muedder retired from Travelers in Hartford, Connecticut. She served on the California, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin WC Rating boards. She also was on the Executive Committee and board for California Workers Compensation Institute (CWCI) and served on the American Insurance Association (AIA) Workers Compensation Committee. Prior to joining Travelers, Ms. Muedder served as Senior Vice President, Underwriting for Selective Insurance Company of America. In that position, she oversaw the commercial line of business underwriting, safety management, and premium audit functions. Ms. Muedder joined Selective in May 2005. Prior to that, she served as Senior Vice President of Emerging Issues for ACE USA. Her experience is international in scope and included assignments in New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada. She began her career with Allstate Insurance as an agent and underwriter in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she grew up.
Ms. Muedder is the author of “Singapore and Lessons From a Global Perspective” in Asia Insurance Review and “The Case for Total Absence Management” in Human Resources Planning. She also has served as the Chair of the New York Compensation Insurance Rating Board, and a board member for CWCI, NJCRIB, PACRB, National Council on Compensation Insurance, and National Workers Compensation Reinsurance Pool.
Ms. Muedder earned her Bachelor of Science degree in insurance from Roosevelt University in Chicago and has completed advance studies at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business. She also holds the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) designation. Kathy was married to her late husband Brent for 42 years, blessed with 2 children and 5 grandchildren.
Lauren Spangler, M.P.A is the Project Manager for Grants at Kennari Consulting, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She earned both her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Spanish and her Master’s of Public Administration from Grand Valley State University, and has been working in nonprofit administration since that time. Lauren is passionate about fostering equitable, sustainable, and vibrant communities in West Michigan and beyond. Outside of work or serving as a Board Member at SowHope, she spends time volunteering at the local Humane Society and supporting other local organizations, reading, and cooking for her friends and family.