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.
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 Spoto is Hawai‘i Appleseed’s Director of Anti-Hunger Initiatives. In this role, she advocates for access to healthy food through programs like SNAP, child nutrition and senior nutrition programs. For the past 10 years, Daniela has been working on health issues and food system change in Hawai‘i. Before joining Appleseed in 2018, she led various large-scale federal and state programs, including the Hawai‘i Department of Health’s SNAP-Ed program, and a City and County initiative to curb underage drinking. She holds a Master’s in Public Health from the University of Hawai‘i and a Bachelor’s in Nutrition, Kinesiology, and Biology from San Diego State University.
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 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.
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.
Stephanie is our newest community legal advocate VISTA who will work specifically with LEJ over the next year. She will focus on our COVID-19 inmate release report and COVID-19 education and distance-learning disparities.
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.
Kenna has a strong interest in how Hawaiʻi can best pay for public goods in an equitable and efficient way. She completed a Masterʻs in Public Affairs from UC Berkeley and wrote her thesis on how to support affordable housing in Hawaii through public infrastructure financing. Since graduating she has worked for the Public Policy Center at UH Mānoa on Transit Oriented Development and as a bills researcher for the Hawaii Senate Committee on Ways and Means. As a researcher she enjoys making complicated financial topics accessible and relatable so that decision makers and the public can push for a more equitable society.
Devin Thomas is particularly interested in researching how the dire housing crisis in Hawaiʻi can be alleviated, and this focus informs his work with the Hawaiʻi Budget and Policy Center. Devin obtained his master’s degree in International Relations at the University of Edinburgh, where he wrote his dissertation on the motivations of the United States in regard to its interactions with Venezuela. Having grown up in Hawaiʻi, Devin is ardently committed to giving back to the local community by researching and promoting policies that combat economic and racial injustices.
Steven is Appleseed’s newest housing and budget VISTA, where he will work with HBPC on the ALOHA Homes research study. He will lead the research of affordable housing models and gather feedback for proposed housing solutions.
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.
Cheryl will focus on researching the historical data and trends of Hawai‘i’s state and county revenues, expenditures, and economy. She will look at whether or not the amount of money coming into the state and counties is enough for providing the necessary services for which our governments are responsible. She will also focus on property taxes and how they align with expenditures and the economy. Cheryl was born and raised in New York but moved to Hawai‘i in 2009 and received her master’s degree in human rights in London.
Jessica will be conducting research for the ALOHA homes study as well as aiding in addressing issues with Hawaiʻi’s unemployment application process. She will explore legal and practical avenues to providing a preference for Native Hawaiians in Hawaiʻi’s low-income housing options. Jessica is currently attending UH Manoa’s Richardson School of Law.
Isaiah is returning to Appleseed after interning with us between 2018-2019. This summer, he will focus on several projects with LEJ, including a report on COVID-19 prisoner releases, eviction moratorium enforcement and post-moratorium housing crisis planning, and litigation related to tenants’ rights, Medicaid benefits, and child custody proceedings. Isaiah is currently a law student at Harvard University.
Jacob will undertake research for our ALOHA Homes study (fun fact: he was an intern for Senator Chang when the original bill was introduced). He will also assist LEJ with collecting prisoner release data. Jacob is currently a student at Harvard University.
Jayne will be working with our Hawai‘i Budget and Policy Center (HBPC), where she will focus on the Hawai‘i Budget Primer to reflect the state’s economic changes since July 2018. She will also explore the various impacts of imposing a “green fee” for the tourism sector. Jayne is currently a student at the University of Southern California.
Lilinoe will focus on studying the practices of our state’s collection of disaggregated data about Native Hawaiians and other populations in order to design and evaluate more successful outcomes. In order to effectively invest in what’s best for Native Hawaiians, it is critical for the state to collect pertinent information about them and use it to design, budget, and evaluate public services. Lilinoe is a graduate student at UH Manoa’s School of Social Work.
Emma will focus on augmenting Hawai‘i Appleseed’s 2016 poverty report by analyzing the impacts of COVID-19 on economically disadvantaged residents. The rest of her time will focus on inmate release studies as part of our Lawyers for Equal Justice (LEJ) project. Emma is a student at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Policy.
Lucas will assist with our COVID-19 rapid response grant from Voices for Healthy Kids, a program of the American Heart Association. The grant will fund our proposed “Farm to Family” campaign that focuses on helping those most under-resourced gain better access to healthy food by creating supply-chain partnerships. Lucas received his master’s degree in public health from New York University and moved to O‘ahu last August as an AmeriCorps member with Kupu.
Keith will focus on improving and implementing Hawai‘i Appleseed’s gender and equity policies while assisting with the tracking of the CARES Act fund. Keith is currently a student at the University of St. Andrew in Scotland.
Isabelle will focus on tracking the impact of the federal CARES Act funding to the state and counties, updating Appleseed’s data on poverty in Hawai‘i’ and the economic impacts of COVID-19, and developing Appleseed’s internal policies surrounding race equity. Isabelle is a student at Yale University.
Abbey will focus on conducting legal and policy research for our ALOHA Homes study, for which Appleseed and HBPC were selected by the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism’s Housing Finance and Development Corporation. She will also create literature for our partners at the University of Hawai‘i on community housing. Abbey is originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota and is currently pursuing a degree in Human Rights Law.