Our Team 2019
Michiana VegFest is a non-profit, 501c3 organization, led by passionate and energetic volunteers who care about health, wellness, animals, and the environment. Meet the Board and the team who are helping make this event happen. If you would like to join our team, fill out our volunteer application form and tell us about you and what you are interested in.
Board of Directors
Karen Sommers, Chair of the Executive Committee
Karen Sommers has a Bachelor's degree in Social Work and a Master's degree in Counseling. She serves as Coordinator of the Dr. Dean Ornish Program to Reverse Heart Disease for Goshen Health. Previously, she was the Coordinator for the Ornish Program at Beacon Health System. Before this position, Karen worked at United Way of St. Joseph County where she was the Vice President of Community Investment.
Karen has spent over twenty years in healthcare. Her healthcare history includes: Vice President of Marketing and Development; Executive Director of Oncology Services; Director of the Healing Arts Center; and Director of Memorial's Center for Integrative Healing. Her passion and belief is a holistic approach to one's health and well-being.
Catherine Perry, Co-Chair of the Executive Committee
Before moving to the U.S. over 30 years ago, Catherine lived as an expat in Switzerland and Morocco. She taught French and Francophone literature and film at Notre Dame until she retired in 2016. An ethical vegan who is also health-conscious and concerned about our natural environment, Catherine helped found the first veg student group at Notre Dame, VegND. For the local group VegMichiana she enjoys organizing restaurant outings and film evenings at home where participants share vegan snacks and good conversation. Nationally, she volunteers for the Humane Party as Editing Coordinator and The Pollination Project as Grant Advisor. Much of the free time she has left revolves around her husband and the care of their cat family.
Jeanne Blad, Chair of the Newsletter Committee
Originally from Maryland, Jeanne has lived in our community for many years. Her involvement with a variety of nonprofits in our community as both a volunteer and a professional has been a continuing source of inspiration and satisfaction for her. Her background includes working with volunteers with the South Bend Symphony Orchestra League, the volunteers at Beacon Memorial Hospital and as a founding organizer for Bike the Bend – a family-friendly community biking event. Jeanne recently retired as development director of The Scholarship Foundation of St. Joseph County.
Michele Dahms, Chair of the Volunteers Committee
Michele Dahms has a degree in Business Admin and Marketing from IUSB and has worked in the conventional and natural food industry for over 30 years. Michele was the manager for a Natural Food Store for 5 years. Then, she went on to work for a major natural food distributor, creating educational material for the sales department, along with working with brokers and manufacturers in the Chicago area to educate conventional stores on natural food products.
Michele is a graduate of the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute, where she received her certification as a Raw Food Culinary Chef. In addition, she is a Holistic Health/Live Food and Lifestyle coach through the Gabriel Cousens School of Holistic Health.
Because she understands the necessity of plant-based nutrition for good health, Michele has been a sales coordinator for the Juice Plus Company+ for the past 17 years and recently added Beauty Counter to her toolkit. She is passionate about the wellness revolution and getting safer products into the hands of everyone.)
Kay Evans Ball, Chair of the Sponsors Committee
Kay has dedicated her professional career to the pursuit of health and education throughout the Michiana not-for-profit organizations. With an MSW degree in policy, planning, and administration, she has served in fund development as president or executive director for Elkhart General Hospital Foundation, United Way of Saint Joseph County, Saint Mary’s College development department, Family & Children’s Center Foundation, and Oaklawn Foundation for Mental Health.
Recently retired from her development and marketing career, Kay is an IARP Master Reiki Teacher, establishing Reiki practices in both Porter Beach and South Bend, Indiana.
A vegan since 1990, Kay is dedicated to extending compassionate healing and harmony to others. Kay is an avid walker, traveler, organic gardener, reader and interior designer. Recently married, she and her husband, Gary, enjoy visiting their children and grandchildren throughout the United States.
Joshua "Awesome" Meckel, Chair of the Website and Social Media Committee
Based in Spokane, Washington, Josh is a plant-powered philanthropist and health advocate, who provides IT/Web support to compassionate organizations around the world.
Josh founded the organization INVEG (Inland Northwest Vegans) in 2014, to help people transition into a plant-based life by creating support in the region. And in 2015, Josh organized the first annual Spokane VegFest, Washington State's largest all plant-based living festival. Josh also runs the non-profit organization Loving Co-Op and the business support organization Kindly Thrive.
Jamie O'Brien, Chair of the Accounting and Legal Matters Committee
James O'Brien (Jamie) is a CPA, as well as an Attorney, and is actively involved in professional development and service within the accounting and legal communities, having previously served as a member of the Indiana Board of Accountancy. He is also very involved in the St. Joseph County Community and previously served as a County Councilman assisting St. Joseph County as a local legislator.
At the University of Notre Dame, Jamie teaches Business Law, Tax and other law and tax-related courses to Undergraduate, Master of Accountancy, Master of Business Administration, Executive MBA, and Master of Nonprofit Administration students.
Jerry Roberts, Chair of the Chicago Outreach Committee
Born and raised on Chicago’s south side, Jerry Roberts currently resides in the south suburbs of Chicago and owns a remanufacturing company that serves the transportation industry. Stress and a poor diet were just the norm in his life until a heart attack in June 2016 launched his journey toward health. He was introduced to a plant-based diet through the Dr. Dean Ornish Reversal Program. After participating in the program, he went from full carnivore to a plant-based diet. By making this change he has lost over 80 lbs., lowered his cholesterol over 70 points without meds and he’s now more active than ever.
Jerry is married to an amazing, supportive wife who encouraged him to give this lifestyle a try. He also has 4 kids who support and encourage him. An avid mountain biker and runner, Jerry practices yoga and transcendental meditation as well. He regularly shares his story and offers support and encouragement to other heart attack survivors, participants of Dr. Ornish’ Reversal Program and people who struggle with heart disease.
Watch an inspiring video that Jerry made especially for VegFest!
Megan Wright, Chair of the Speakers Committee
Megan's interest in plant-based eating began with a focus on health but also includes concerns for animals and the environment. In 2012 she received a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition through the T. Colin Campbell Foundation and eCornell. She is passionate about sharing the benefits of a plant-based diet.
Dawn Anderson began a vegan lifestyle overnight in Nov 2017 after watching the documentary What the Health. She was concerned about her health, having just started high blood pressure medicine and possibly statins. Since going plant-based, she has been able to reduce her total cholesterol from 237 to below 150 with no drugs, only diet changes. She also suffered from severe heartburn, for which she took medicine almost every day. She no longer has any heartburn since she adopted a plant-based lifestyle.
She received her certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition, a program created by T. Colin Campbell and through eCornell University in March 2018. In 2019 she received a certificate of the completion of the program Plant Pure Health and Weight Loss Online Seminar. She is currently taking a Professional Vegan Culinary course through Rouxbe online Culinary School and wants to provide a local vegan meal delivery service.
Monica Brazier is a professional photographer and marketing consultant who resides in South Bend with her husband and two children. Her journey with plant-based eating started in 2016 after watching the popular documentary film What The Health. After learning about the pollutants that are in animal products, and to take better control of their health, Monica and her husband Cory adopted a Vegan eating lifestyle. Monica is passionate about educating people within her own community about the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet and to prove how eating this way doesn't have to be expensive and tastes delicious. Monica currently manages the Facebook group Vegan 4 Dinner where she shares plant-based recipes that are affordable, quick, and easy, and which are convenient for busy moms like herself. Monica's favorite health quote is "You should eat to live, not live to eat."
As Associate Director for Public Affairs at the University of Notre Dame, Jessica focuses on building partnerships with local nonprofits and community groups while working with faculty, staff and students to promote engagement within our community.
Jessica has done extensive work with the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the United Way of St. Joseph County (UWSJC) and was honored in 2012 with the Dedication Award from ACS and the Volunteer of the Year Award in 2016 from UWSJC. Click here for more information.
Marcy’s plant-based journey began in summer of 2017 after her watching the documentary What the Health. Choosing not to take her doctor’s advice to begin a statin drug to lower cholesterol, she opted instead to adopt a healthy, whole foods, plant-based lifestyle. A mere six weeks later, she’d achieved a 50 point reduction in her total cholesterol number! In addition, her recurring migraine headaches are now a thing of the past. Today she’s quick to share her new-found knowledge with others who may be struggling with health issues.
As a 21 year member of the La Porte County Master Gardener program, Marcy is also a steward for the earth and its environment; the plant-based lifestyle falls into perfect alignment with these values.
“I truly believe in the plant-based lifestyle, not only for human health (and animal life), but also for the health of the planet. Working through Michiana Veg Fest affords the opportunity to share this critical information with others.”
Because of her love for animals, Andrea first planned to be a veterinarian. Instead, she chose a career in music and just recently retired after 36 years performing with the South Bend Symphony and teaching. For the past 17 years, she has been working in the health/wellness/nutrition realm and is loving that she has fully completed her transition from the performing arts to the healing arts. She now serves as National Marketing Director for the Juice Plus+ Company.
Becoming vegan in 2010 was a result of “finally living in alignment with [her] core values.” Andrea reminisces how, “I always felt like a hypocrite eating meat, but like Mikey in the advertisements, I was known for ‘give it to Andi, she’ll eat anything!’” Watching the documentary Eating (check out www.ravediet.com) flipped the switch for her and she went from a complete omnivore to vegan overnight. The film covers issues like land use, unnecessary starvation in the world, health issues and Andrea’s real “hot button”—animal husbandry. She could no longer support an industry of such cruelty.
This is an easy time to be vegan as it is becoming more and more mainstream. Andrea likes to think that even 30 years ago, she would have had the discipline she has now to continue with this lifestyle. Sometimes being vegan is like swimming upstream, but vegans are a hearty clan and she’s honored to swim amongst them!
Andrea lives in South Bend with her husband and is the mother to 4 cats and a dog. She crafted a personal mission statement about 15 years ago and is now living it to the best of her ability: "To serve. To generate and inspire kindness and healing to Mother Earth and all living things."
Steffany Miller has been following a whole-food plant-based diet and vegan lifestyle since 2017. Her son, Gabriel Miller, “Plant Based Gabriel,” first started eating a vegan diet after a back injury ended his football career. Steffany was also influenced by her daughter, Gracie, the “Midwest Vegan Queen,” who follows a vegan lifestyle and is passionate about health and fitness. Now Steffany’s whole family follows a plant-based diet and are helping others who want to better their health, have a positive impact on the planet, and promote the well-being of animals. In addition to continuing her own journey to improving her health and being a whole-food plant-based advocate, Steffany works as a Senior Property Manager with Bradley Company and an AirBnB host.
After researching veganism, Brandi knew right away that an animal-free diet aligned more with her true self. Growing up on a small livestock farm, she had always struggled deciphering between friend and food. Since becoming vegan, she has experienced a multitude of benefits! She has become passionate about helping others understand the positive advantages that a plant-based lifestyle will have on their health, the exploited animals and the planet.
Mary recently embraced the vegan lifestyle. Social media brought the atrocities of lack of animal welfare to her attention. "There are just some things you can't un-see." While individually it's difficult to make an impact, collectively "we can all make an impact together - on health, the environment, and animals."
Mary lives in Granger, IN with her husband and Aussie-doodle, Benson. She is happy to connect with like-minded people to help spread the word about becoming vegan.