Believe

Headwaters grew from the belief that together we make a difference, together we are better. We believe the opportunity to serve others is an honor and a gift.

Believe that you can be the hope for someone else
Believe that every individual has something to contribute
Believe in taking a stand
Believe the best of others
Believe that passion is persuasive
Believe in embracing diversity
Believe in doing the right thing because it is right
Believe you have the ability to inspire
We thank you for your support and belief in us.

-Dr. Rebecca S. Hage Thomley

Leadership

Lauren Lombard

Development Director

I started volunteering with Headwaters Relief Organization 9 years ago, after the earthquake in Haiti. I was drawn to their focus on people—dignity, empowerment, inspiring change. The pure and simple focus on serving people because we care about people, was so refreshing and continues to be at the heart of Headwaters’ mission. I am now the Development Director for Headwaters and it has been a full year for us—responding to local disasters, building a house in Puerto Rico, opening a girls home in Liberia, our continued work in Haiti with public health initiatives and sponsored children, mental health training in Greece, Flint, and Puerto Rico, two new books for children, a peacebuilding partnership, and so much more.

The stories of the people we serve motivate me every day. To help refugee children get an education, to provide kids in developing countries with enough food to eat, to come alongside homeowners who have experienced great loss and let them know they are not alone, to give volunteers the opportunity to be part of something that is enriching their lives as much or more as the communities and individuals we serve this is why we exist. I feel so fortunate to be at the center of so much generosity. I am moved by those who give so sacrificially to support a child in Haiti or who are the first to volunteer when disaster strikes. These people continue to be an inspiration to us, and I am honored to know them…to know you.

Thank you for your ongoing support of Headwaters, thank you for helping us continue to serve those who need us.

Dr. Roshan Khatri

Medical Director

I have found that volunteering for me is not only about what I had to offer to others, but more about the changes it brought within myself. Volunteering is offering your time and talents and expecting nothing in return. It is to help those less fortunate, advocate for worthwhile causes and invigorate the global community. It provides a sense of purpose, adds meanings to our lives, makes us more satisfied individuals; in short, it helps us see the better side of ourselves.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all the medical and non-medical volunteers and donors who have continued their support for Headwaters. Because of you, we conducted medical and surgical camps in rural Haiti, and distributed free medical and surgical supplies. We not only provided mental health support to Syrian and Afghan refugee families in Greece, but also to the staff working to support them. We continued the development of our series of children’s story books. Our book “The Savage Wind” , aimed at providing psychosocial support to communities in Puerto Rico was well received and has been distributed widely.

Among our initiatives, we were able to create new partnerships with stakeholders in West Africa. We are developing training programs for nursing and medical staff in Liberia and are supporting the establishment of a much needed blood bank in the country. We have aligned our programs to contribute towards achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. We have also started monitoring growth and development of the children in the schools and orphanages that we assist in Haiti. This will allow us to be more vigilant in our efforts and intervene acutely if needed. Nationally, we have designed new programs for our clinic in New Orleans. We are also setting up mental health support facilities for people who experienced Hurricane Maria on St. John US Virgin Islands.

As we all know there is much more to be done. New emergencies will always unfold somewhere in the world. As is the case in any disaster, the poor, needy and the rural populations will be the hardest hit. Our job is to remain prepared. There will always be a call for local, national and international disaster work.

Thank you again to all of the volunteers, donors, friends and families. We have been both humbled and inspired by your support.

Ashley Emry

I started volunteering with Headwaters Relief Organization in 2012. Volunteering with Headwaters has given my life meaning and purpose and helped me learn new skills. Through working with other cultures, I have developed connections with the countries and communities we serve.

Once I went on my first relief trip, I became more involved on an administrative level. I have been involved with public health education development, the children’s books and guides, volunteer trip organization and research.

Cheryl Vennerstrom

Chief Operating Officer

Cheryl Vennerstrom is the chief operating officer of Orion Associates. She is one of the founders of Headwaters Relief Organization and provides leadership to Headwaters Relief Organizations’ activities and has led large teams of people to provide disaster relief for various regional, national and international disasters since Headwaters’ inception.

Cheryl has a degree in English, Masters level education in Organizational Management and over 35 years’ experience working with families and with individuals with access and functional needs as well as mental health concerns. Cheryl provides on-call crisis management for residential services and supervises a team of 9 senior managers. Cheryl is trained in Psychological First Aid and Critical Incident Stress Debriefing and is certified as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).

Rebecca Thomley

Chief Executive Officer

Dr. Rebecca Thomley is an entrepreneur, psychologist, and dedicated disaster relief specialist. She is the CEO of Orion Associates and its related companies. Orion Associates provides management services for both related and unrelated companies including for profit and non-profit organizations. Orion Associates has been recognized for the last three years as one of the top ten fastest growing woman-owned businesses nationally. Orion Associates and its affiliated organizations operate in seven states as well as Haiti.

Rebecca is one of the founding members of Headwaters Relief Organization. Headwaters’ volunteers have been around the world, responding to floods, fires and tornados in multiple states, a tsunami in the Philippines, hurricanes in New Orleans and New York, and earthquakes in Haiti and Nepal, and the refugee crisis, among other disasters. Head waters operates an ongoing mental health resource center in New Orleans, and has ongoing services to children in Haiti.

Rebecca’s education includes graduate degrees in Psychology and Rehabilitation, Business, Psychopharmacology, Public Health, and a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. She has served in advisory roles with the American Red Cross and the American Psychological Association’s Disaster Resource Network. She has published, written and edited a book on breast cancer and six children’s books related to trauma and disaster.

Board of Directors

Dan Leitner

Board President

Personal Statement

“Work hard and good things will happen” and “The harder you work, the luckier you will become.”

Personal or Professional Background

Dan attended the University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Business and graduated with a major in Accounting and a minor in Management Information Systems. He then obtained Certified Public Accountant credentials and proceeded to work in public accounting for seven years before he founded a Certified Public Accounting firm which currently operates as Hermanson & Leitner, CPA’s.

Volunteer Experience

Dan was a volunteer worker on site and recruiter for various other trades and specialty contractors who became volunteer son the rebuilding missions to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. This provided an opportunity for Dan to work with a team of caring people by assisting the victims of a tragedy to reestablish their homes, community, and to maintain their faith and dignity along the way. Dan says, “I found that a positive side effect of any natural disaster and tragedy is that it allows people from all races, political beliefs and diverse cultures to put aside artificial barriers that separate us, allowing us to learn from one another.”

Amy Kelly

Secretary

Personal Statement

Kelly says that she has taught her children that kindness matters, that if you can consistently show kindness and compassion through your words and actions it will make your life and those around you better.

Personal or Professional Background

Kelly loves to travel with her husband, children, and with friends. She enjoys running, skiing and boating. Kelly is the founder and owner of Jett Beauty; an upscale boutique salon located on 50th & France in Edina, Minnesota specializing in lash enhancements, permanent makeup, airbrush makeup and facial treatments. The business has been in operation for twelve years.

Volunteer Experience

Kelly says that she “was fortunate to grow up in a family that valued volunteerism and taught me the importance of giving back to others. One of my Grandmother’s proudest moments was receiving recognition for her fifty years of volunteering at a local hospital. I saw firsthand how her work meant so much to so many people at the event held in her honor. My parents have volunteered throughout their lives, my husband and I show our children that we hold the same values and priorities to give back to others by participating in local non-profit organizations in addition to Headwaters. I love to share my own personal experiences with Headwaters and the mission of the organization to others and am excited when they get involved! I have met some wonderful friends and feel grateful to have the opportunity to learn more about our world and the tremendous need out there.”

Susan O’Keefe

Account Director

Personal Statement

“If we can surround our lives with kindness and humility, so many great things can flourish from that — including a greater sense of hope and possibility for our greater human family.”

Personal or Professional Background

Susan shepherds major marketing initiatives for consumer brands by aligning solid creative with smart objectives. Her work is beautifully integrated in print, digital and in-store experiences. She is supported by a cachet list of clients that include La Marca, J Vineyards, Whitehaven and Sephora.

Volunteer Experience

Susan says putting ideas into action defines her role. She values, “moving things forward, fulfilling big dreams, activating on our promises for underprivileged populations.”

Mary Anderson

Community Board Member

Personal Statement

Mary’s personal belief is stated in Mark 12:30, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and all your strength. The second is this; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Personal or Professional Background

Mary is retired from a professional career in supporting people with disabilities for over forty years. She held several positions in Minnesota organizations, developed exemplary program services, advocated for system change, and served on local and state wide organizational boards and committees.

Volunteer Experience

Mary volunteered at her church and has participated in several volunteer opportunities through Headwaters Relief Organization and Operation Christmas Child through Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse. Mary says that she is “honored to be on the board of directors for Headwaters and am amazed by all the good works the people do for those who have faced such crisis in their lives!”

Dave Combs

Community Board Member

Personal or Professional Background

Dave is retired after twenty years with the Golden Valley Fire Department.

Volunteer Experience

Dave says, “A fellow firefighter shared that his company was looking for volunteers to help with flood damage in Southern Minnesota. I gladly offered to participate. That first trip was just the beginning of a decade plus relationship with Headwaters Relief Organization, helping with their efforts in New Orleans, Colorado, Haiti, Florida, Nepal, Houston and Liberia to name a few. It has been so rewarding to work with such an incredible group of volunteers and to meet the people at each destination who are so appreciative of the much-needed help. As a volunteer and Headwaters Board member, I can appreciate the enormous efforts it takes to run and support this organization. I look forward to doing what I can to aid in the continuing success of Headwaters.

Kathy Holtz

Community Board Member

Personal or Professional Background

Kathleen was born and raised in Duluth Minnesota. She is an artist, grandmother, wife and is a cancer survivor. Kathleen Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College. She works at a cultural tribal residential treatment center.

Volunteer Experience

Kathleen was a founding member of Headwaters Relief Organization. Working with people and art has been her passion and continue to strive to expand knowledge in art and invest time in helping people.

Brad Benesh

Community Board Member

Personal Statement

I would love to be able to use my experience to help someone else, be it an organization or individual.

Personal or Professional Background

Four-decade career as a banker providing business loans to a wide range of industries.

Volunteer Experience

I have been involved in various local organizations such as: The chamber of commerce, rotary, meals on wheels, SCORE, Woodbury foundation.

Tony Vannelli

Community Board Member

Personal or Professional Background

Tony is married with two wonderful daughters, one in high school and the other in middle school. Tony and his wife Deb are spending as much time with family and friends as possible, with life’s busy schedules time is passing quickly. Tony is the owner and operator of a general contracting business along with his partner Bill. After attending college Tony got involved in the construction industry through his now partner and worked for six years learning the industry. In 2003 there was an opportunity to start a partnership with Bill and sixteens years later TDB Builders continues to grow.

Volunteer Experience

Tony volunteered in the past at church and school but after meeting Dr. Rebecca Thomley things changed. In 2007 TDB formed its first group of skilled trades people to help with some re-building efforts in New Orleans through then River of Hope now Headwaters Relief. Since the first trip TDB has continued to support Headwaters with volunteers to places like Haiti and most recent Liberia. It seems to me that no matter how big or small the project is the result is life changing to someone. This has taught me and many others that we should be grateful for our families, friends and all we have.

Dale Ballman

Community Board Member

Personal Statement

“I once cried because I had no shoes to play football with my friends, but one day I met a man with no feet and I realized how rich I am.” – Zinedine Zidane

Personal or Professional Background

Dale is married, with two children and two grandchildren. He is a Product Specialist for Performance Medical, which provides specialty medical products to Hospitals for Orthopedic Surgery and Birth Centers.

Volunteer Experience

Dale has volunteered with Headwaters and has traveled internationally to Haiti and Liberia.

Bitnami