The Catalyst Kitchens Team
Catalyst Kitchens is led by two groups – our national staff, and our member board of leaders.
Each member of our staff oversees an area of our programming and work. The member board works with the staff through our committees to improve the resources, practices, knowledge sharing, advocacy, and fundraising capabilities of our network.
Justin works for Catalyst Kitchens because the restaurant industry afforded him every opportunity to grow and develop as a professional. Good food is for everyone, and preparing it is a noble pursuit that deserves stable careers and wages. Justin has worked in direct service, program management and program growth in food and education nonprofits for over 15 years, and has been with Catalyst Kitchens since 2017. He has worked in and consulted on all facets of the Catalyst Kitchens model – workforce development, culinary education, hunger relief, and social enterprise. His passion is in helping small programs grow and flourish. Prior to joining Catalyst Kitchens, he worked for two of its members as a Chef Trainer, first at Inspiration Corporation in Chicago, IL, then in Seattle at Farestart. Justin holds a Master of Nonprofit Administration from North Park University, and a B.A. in Sociocultural Anthropology and Gender Studies from the University of Notre Dame.
Benita works for Catalyst Kitchens because she is a living beneficiary of the work of her grandparents, who raised their own food and fed a community for decades, creating opportunities for generations to eat, work, and flourish. As the Director of Development, Benita implements a fundraising plan that advances the mission and strategic goals of Catalyst Kitchens through effective development operations and systems. Previously, Benita held fundraising and nonprofit management positions with Newcomers’ Network and Our Family Table Foundation in metro Atlanta. Her development experience includes launching signature events, grant writing, leveraging corporate sponsors, and designing peer-to-peer campaigns to support social enterprises, culinary training, and literacy. Benita’s professional goals and personal pursuits have always aligned with the motto of her alma mater, Princeton University– “In the nation’s service and the service of humanity.”
Dina works for Catalyst Kitchens because she is passionate about collaborating with community-based organizations to ensure staff, educators, and students are positioned for success. Dina is a chef and educator with over 35 years in the hospitality industry. She has enjoyed many experiences — cooking in restaurants and catering operations, teaching and designing post-secondary and workforce development-based education programs, leading diverse teams, and operating social enterprises. Before joining the national staff at Catalyst Kitchens, Dina worked for one of its Model Members as Director of Culinary Enterprises – UMOM New Day Centers in Phoenix, Arizona. She also served on the Catalyst Kitchens Member Advisory Council. Dina holds an Associate in Occupational Studies degree from the Culinary Institute of America, a Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Arts from Johnson State College, and a Master of Science degree in Higher Education from Walden University. She is certified by the American Culinary Federation as an Executive Chef and Culinary Educator and a Hospitality Educator with the American Hotel and Lodging Association. In 2023, Dina was inducted into the American Academy of Chefs.
Ms. Hughes has been with Project Renewal since 1992, serving first as an instructor for the award-winning Culinary Arts Training Program. She later helped launch City Beet Kitchens in 1997 (originally branded Comfort Foods), a social enterprise catering company employing formerly homeless individuals and preparing foods for both shelters and other organizations across the city. Ms. Hughes has more than 30 years of experience in the New York City restaurant industry and has spent much of her life as an activist for the HIV/AIDS community. She is currently the President of the Board of the Treatment Action Group, an independent AIDS research and policy think tank. Ms. Hughes earned a BA in Music from Westchester University of Pennsylvania.
Graduating top of his class with an associate’s degree focused in culinary arts/chef training from the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts, McCune worked his way up from humble beginnings in the kitchen as a dish machine operator, prep cook, line cook and kitchen manager. His love of food stems from growing up in a military household that moved all over the East Coast. Often on their own, McCune and his siblings had to cook for themselves. That turned into a love affair with food preparation, which the chef now works to pass along to his students through the WSCC program. Over the last year, the program has placed graduates in the West Side Catholic Center’s Ohio City Pizzeria, as well as with the Compass Group, Hyde Park Restaurant Group, Green Rooster Farms and Fahrenheit. His proudest and most cherished moniker is Husband and Father. Dad of four amazing daughters and husband to his beloved Suzie, a.k.a. Suge.
“The path that God has placed me on has taken me to many places and now that I am part of the amazing West Side Catholic Centers team I couldn’t be happier. “
Kailey Baer has almost a decade of experience working in direct service, program management, and administration in the nonprofit and educational fields. In her current role as Divisional Programs Manager at network member organization, Columbia Industries, Kailey oversees three programs which serve to aid in workforce development, developmental disabilities services, and community resource and support services. Kailey holds a BS in Public Health and Program Management and is currently working toward her master’s degree. She believes in the importance of collaboration, equity and inclusion, and hopes to use her skills and knowledge to continue to drive change and improvement in the industry by empowering organizations and programs through the resources provided by the network.
Heather Martin has been with Providence for 7 years, serving in many roles related to fundraising, marketing, operations, and expansion. She is currently the Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships, with duties across their hunger relief and training programs. Heather graduated from Wake Forest University with a B.A. in Spanish and Latin American Studies and went on to earn her MBA from Regent University. She also has a certificate in Non-Profit Management from Duke University.
Ben has been working with employment based social enterprises within the hospitality industry since 2016. He is has worked both as a professional chef and restauranteur, as well as within the non-profit social service and faith-based sectors. In addition to his non-profit and restaurant work, Ben is an ordained pastor. He has a Master of Divinity degree from the University of Theology & Spirituality, as well as a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from the University of Connecticut. Ben currently serves on the Board of Directors for the City of Hartford Chamber of Commerce and is a commissioner for the city on the Hartford Food Policy Commission. Ben is passionate about leadership development, equity within the hospitality industry, and LGBTQ+ issues. He lives, works, and (usually) eats in Hartford, CT.
Committed to being in service, Erin has been working in the nonprofit sector for more than 15 years and for FareStart since 2016 – a founding member of Catalyst Kitchens. She has managed programs nationally and abroad – from developing KPIs to track hunger relief impact in Seattle to preventing acid violence in Cambodia. Erin brings specific expertise in evaluation, data management, grant administration, strategic planning and program design. Erin is a second-generation Brazilian-American who believes in the power of communities of practice (and can usually be found with a cup of coffee in hand).
*Erin left FareStart in late 2023. Her seat is being filled currently by Carlin Llorente, FareStart’s Chief Program Officer.
Keri joined Common Grounds in October 2020 after a long career in the culinary and nonprofit worlds. Her culinary career includes stints cooking at restaurants in Boston and Miami, and teaching culinary classes to children and adults. She has written for publications such as Cook’s Illustrated, Fine Cooking, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Saveur, and co-authored or contributed to numerous cookbooks. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in History from Brandeis University, an Associate’s degree in Culinary Arts from Johnson & Wales and is in the process of becoming a certified Trauma-Competent Professional.
Christie has a unique combination of experiences that have afforded her a broad perspective in leading her organization. Her original background (BS in Journalism/PR, Arkansas State University) is in public relations, serving at agencies and nonprofits, and she holds the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) designation from the Public Relations Society of America. She later transitioned to the culinary industry and completed an AA in Culinary Arts at UA-Pulaski Technical College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute. Christie believes that Catalyst is the perfect vehicle for transforming lives through practical education and positive personal relationships.
Paul Jensen joined TASK’s staff in 2011 and is currently the Associate Executive Director, Operations. Paul has more than 25 years’ experience working in the food industry. He graduated from the New York Restaurant School with honors and is a Certified ServSafe Instructor, and a Registered ServSafe Examination Proctor. He also holds a ServSafe Certification and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) Certification. In my spare time I serve on the board of directors for Stomp the Monster and is also a member of the Freehold Borough Volunteer Fire Department.
Paul has served as Homeward Bound’s deputy director since 2010, moving to become co-leader of the organization in 2022. He also served six previous years as Development Director, helping to launch new fundraising strategies and build the agency’s social enterprise businesses. Fueled by a belief in the power and possibility of change, Paul helped Homeward Bound launch nationally replicated programs such as the first Nonprofit IPO. In 2020, he received a Nonprofit Leadership Award from the North Bay Business Journal for his work with Homeward Bound. Before Catalyst Kitchens formed our member board, Paul was a member of the Catalyst Kitchens Advisory Council from 2019-2021.
With more than 15 years of non-profit experience, Monique Lopez specializes in program evaluation, database implementation, big picture organizational strategy, Theory of Change (TOC) articulation, and performance management. With both an evaluation and programmatic background, she brings a unique blend of experience to large-scale evaluation initiatives that include strategic planning, outcome development, TOC implementation, continuous quality improvement, and organizational learning. She is responsible for Evaluation & Learning, Information Technology, Social Enterprise, Coordinated Entry, and Government Grant Writing. Monique holds a B.A. in Sociology from U.C. Berkeley and an M.S. in Justice Studies from San Jose State University. Monique is a Certified Administrator of Efforts to Outcomes (ETO).
A South Florida native, Hector is a graduate of Johnson & Wales University’s College of Culinary Arts in North Miami. An experienced chef, instructor, and educational administrator, he completed his internship at The Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando and helped open Coya Restaurant & Members Club in Miami. Hector found his passion in education and mental health, teaching culinary arts and working with non-profit programs benefitting children and families, as well as individuals with disabilities and other life challenges. Currently, he oversees the post-secondary programs at Arc Broward in Sunrise, FL, including Culinary Arts. In 2020, Hector founded the Association for Culinary Art Therapy and truly believes there is a deep-rooted connection between food, education, and mindfulness.
*Hector left Arc Culinary in mid-2023. His seat is being filled currently by Amanda Arana, Arc Broward’s Curriculum Specialist.
Anna has worked for the Food Bank of Delaware for 16 years in diverse roles within the organization. For the past 9 years, her primary focus has been programs intended to help food insecure Delawareans increase their financial security and economic mobility. She was instrumental in expanding the organization’s workforce development programs to the warehousing industry and expanding the culinary training programs to better serve individuals with disabilities. She also shifted the focus of the nutrition education programs from direct education to policy, system and environmental changes to provide stronger outcomes for participants and to address federal funding priorities. She holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from University of Delaware.
Marisa has 15 years of experience as a professional chef and for several years has been part of Bread Line, Inc., an inclusive anti-hunger non-profit organization in Fairbanks, Alaska. She holds a BAS in Culinary Management from the Art Institutes in Chicago and a BA in Communications from Loyola University. Aside from her passion for food and cooking, Marisa is a creative and enthusiastic teacher who believes in giving everyone an opportunity to live their best life despite any barriers they experience. “Where you come from is not as important as where you are going.