gavinGavin Thornton

Executive Director

Gavin Thornton joined Hawai‘i Appleseed in 2012, and became Co-Executive Director in 2016, and Executive Director in 2019. Gavin began his career in the AmeriCorps program in Kona, Hawai‘i in 2002. Since that time, Gavin’s work has focused on trying to ensure that low-income people have the basic resources they need to build a safe, stable foundation for a successful life.

Gavin serves on the boards of the HMSA Foundation, PHOCUSED, and Partners in Care, where he chairs the advocacy committee. He has previously served on the Board of Directors of the Young Lawyers Division of the Hawai‘i State Bar Association, the Hawai‘i District Court Rules Committee, and the Board of TeamChild, an organization that assists youth at risk of involvement in the juvenile justice system. For his work in subsidized housing, Gavin was awarded the National Housing Law Project’s annual Housing Justice Award. He is a 2002 graduate of the University Of Virginia School Of Law.

nicoleNicole Woo

Senior Policy Analyst

Nicole Woo started her policy research and advocacy career in Washington, DC, focusing on workers’ rights at the Preamble Center for Public Policy and the Citizens’ Committee Against Sweatshops. She then served as the Associate Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, where she directed research projects, provided technical assistance to emergency food programs, and advocated for policies to improve the lives of food-insecure New Yorkers.

Nicole moved back to Washington, DC, to work on national anti-hunger policies as a senior policy analyst at the Food Research and Action Center, specializing in childhood hunger and the national school meal programs. She then applied her expertise in an international context, serving as a Congressional Hunger Fellow in India, working with the largest school meal program in the world, the Akshaya Patra Foundation.

As the Director of Domestic Policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, back in Washington, DC, she covered a broad range of U.S. economic policy areas, including labor markets, financial reform, federal budgets, and social insurance. Nicole received her B.A. from Harvard University, where she concentrated in Government.

Daniela Kittinger

Director of Anti-Hunger Initiatives

Daniela Kittinger is the director of a new project at Hawai‘i Appleseed aimed at strengthening community connections and building a broad coalition to address hunger in Hawai‘i. For the past 10 years, Daniela has been working on health issues and food system change in Hawai‘i. Most recently, she led the Department of Health’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) initiative. In this role, she identified levers for policy and systems change, directing the use of federal funds to build leadership and capacity in the areas of school wellness, early care and education, community food access, and the build environment.

Will Caron

Communications Director

Will was born and raised on Oʻahu and graduated from the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa in 2012 with a BA in traditional art media and creative writing. He has eleven years of professional media experience, beginning with editorial positions at Ka Leo O Hawaiʻi, including two years as Editor-in-Chief. After graduating, he worked at the Honolulu Weekly editing the news section (“Honolulu Diaries”), as well as the Arts & Culture section. From 2013-2018 he worked as a journalist and editor for The Hawaii Independent, as well as for print quarterly Summit. He has also worked as a freelance media and communications consultant for various advocacy campaigns, and does freelance graphic design and illustration work for various clients. He holds a Hawaiʻi Publishers Association “Paʻi” award and an Associated Collegiate Press award.


Connie Choy

Development Director

Connie was born and raised on Oʻahu and holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa and a master’s degree in communication management from the University of Southern California (USC). She started her social justice work at USC, where she served as a staff writer for their engineering school and helped establish the first-ever virtual-reality exchange program between USC students and displaced refugees living across Europe. Most recently, Connie was at Planned Parenthood’s national office in New York City, where she worked as a writer for their Philanthropic Communications team to help cultivate lasting relationships with major donors. She also served on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee for Planned Parenthood’s capital fundraising campaign, with the goal to help transform the traditional philanthropy space into one that’s inclusive and reflective of our communities.

Lawyers for Equal Justice

Tom Helper

Director of Litigation

Tom Helper became Director of Litigation at Lawyers for Equal Justice in January 2019. He graduated from Case Western Reserve University in 1988, Order of the Coif, and served as an editor on the law review. Prior to law school he worked for three years as a canvasser and canvass director for the Ohio Public Interest Campaign and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

Tom came to Hawaiʻi in 1990 to work as Chief of Staff for State Representative Cynthia Thielen. He then began a 27-year career in the Civil Division of the Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Hawaiʻi, defending federal agencies in a broad variety of cases, particularly tort and employment discrimination cases. He was lead counsel in two dozen federal court trials. He became Chief of the Civil Division in 2013, supervising 10 attorneys and staff. He took early retirement in late 2018 because he felt he could no longer effectively represent the United States under the current administration.

Hawaiʻi Budget & Policy Center

Beth Giesting


Beth Giesting is the Director of Hawai‘i Appleseed’s new Hawai‘i Budget & Policy Center. She has a noteworthy background in health care delivery and policy, especially for underserved and low-income communities in Hawai‘i. She was most recently employed in the Governor’s Office to head up health care transformation efforts, focusing on behavioral health innovations. She was previously the CEO of the Hawai‘i Primary Care Association and Executive Director at Kalihi-Palama Health Center. Awareness of the fundamental connections between socio-economic conditions and health status led to her passionate interest in economic equity and opportunity and, hence, to her new role at HBPC.


Christy MacPherson


Christy MacPherson is the first director of health and human services advocacy organization PHOCUSED (Protecting Hawaiʻi’s ʻOhana, Children, Under-Served, Elderly, and Disabled) since it became a project of Hawaiʻi Appleseed in 2019.  She is a community organizer, licensed clinical social worker and field instructor for the University of Hawaiʻi Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work. 

Christy is the former executive director of Faith Action for Community Equity, a grassroots, interfaith social justice organization, and was program manager for Family Promise of Hawaiʻi, which serves homeless families with children. Her other social work experiences deal primarily with the areas of substance abuse and mental health. She received her education from McKinley High School, Pacific University in Oregon and the University of Hawaiʻi.



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