Shared Capital Board Biographies

Thomas Beckett, Secretary

Executive Director, Carolina Common Enterprise, Durham, North Carolina
Thomas Beckett has, for most of his career, worked as an attorney serving the needs of small and startup businesses. He has been professionally focused on cooperatives for the past seven years. He has completed and is certified by the CooperationWorks! Cooperative Business Development Training Program. Beckett speaks regularly on small business legal issues at regional and national conferences. He also provides business & legal education and guidance to cooperatives throughout North Carolina and the South. He has taught Business Law at Warren Wilson College and is certified to present the FastTrac TechVenture program, the Kauffman Foundation’s entrepreneurial training curriculum. Beckett has significant experience working with agriculture enterprises in the region, including cooperatives, quasi-cooperatives, and nonprofits as well as working farmers. He is currently on the Board of CooperationWorks, and previously served on the Boards of the Center for Participatory Change and the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP). Beckett received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Duke University and earned his law degree and an MBA at the University of North Carolina. Beckett was elected to the Shared Capital Board of Directors in 2015. He was nominated by Hendersonville Community Co-op. Beckett was elected Secretary in July 2017, and he serves on the Finance and Executive Committees.

Alex Betzenheimer, President

Finance Manager, Seward Community Co-op, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Alex Betzenheimer has been Finance Manager for Seward Community Co-op, a large consumer cooperative in Minneapolis since 2011. Betzenheimer has more than twelve years of experience in financial and operations management with consumer and worker-owned cooperatives. He worked at North Country Co-op, a worker-owned retail grocery cooperative, from 2001-2007, where he led the transition from collective management and served as the first General Manager from 2005-2007. From 2007 to 2011, Betzenheimer was Finance Coordinator for the Hub Bike Co-op, a worker-owned bike retail and repair business in Minneapolis. He served on the Shared Capital Loan Committee as a non-board member starting in 2011 and was elected to the Shared Capital Board of Directors in April 2013, where he represents Seward Community Co-op. Betzenheimer is President of the Board and serves on the Executive and Finance Committees.

Me’Lea Connelly

Director, Association for Black Economic Power
2018 Bush Fellow, Me’Lea Connelly is an activist, artist, founder of economic resistance organization, Blexit and Director of Association for Black Economic Power. An inaugural fellow of Nexus Community Partners’ Northstar Black Cooperative Fellowship and Cooperative Development TA Cohort, Me’Lea is leading the effort to establish the only Black-led credit union in the state of Minnesota set to be based on the Northside of Minneapolis, MN.

Dana Curtis, Treasurer

Worker/Owner, Key Figures, Austin, Texas
Dana Curtis is a native Texan and attended the University of Texas at Dallas where she studied Literature and Philosophy before attending graduate school at Texas Woman’s University. She left academia to join the labor movement as a union organizer before getting involved in cooperatives. As one of the founding members of the Workers’ Assembly at Black Star Co-op Pub and Brewery, Curtis oversaw the membership and investment campaign which brought the co-op from a dream to reality. She currently serves as the Board President of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and is a worker-owner at Key Figures, an accounting and business services firm in Austin. She has committed her life to social justice and strongly believes in the transformative power of the cooperative model. Curtis was elected to the Shared Capital Board of Directors in 2016 after being nominated by Black Star Co-op Pub and Brewery. She has served as Treasurer and Chair of the Finance Committee since 2016, and also serves on the Executive Committee.

Jacqueline Hannah

Assistant Director, Food Co-op Initiative, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
Jacqueline Hannah moved to Champaign-Urbana (C-U) from the Chicago area in 1996 to help a friend move her business the Chicago area. A year later the business had moved, but she was still in C-U, which she had quickly fallen in love with and made her home. Hannah has worked exclusively for independent local businesses for over 18 years, and has been in retail management for over 18 years. It was only in the fall of 2006 when she was hired as the General Manager of Common Ground Food Co-op (CGFC) that she finally found a job that combined her passion for business, management, and sustainable food as well as her belief that businesses should exist to enrich the communities they operate in. During her time with CGFC, Hannah led the co-op through two expansions, the founding of their Food For All economic access program, a rebrand, and was named the fastest growing retail food co-op in the nation from 2008-2013. Hannah joined Food Co-op Initiative, a nonprofit organization that supports people working to start retail food co-ops in their communities in 2015 and currently serves as Assistant Director. Hannah was nominated by Common Ground Food Co-op and was elected to the Shared Capital Cooperative Board in April 2015. She serves as the Chair of the Marketing and Outreach Committee.

Pamela Madzima

Director of Rural Co-op Development, Federation of Southern Cooperatives/ LAF, Epes, Alabama
Pamela Madzima currently serves as the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/LAF’s Director of Rural Co-op Development, based at the Rural Training and Research Center in Epes, Alabama. Her primary responsibilities include directing and coordinating outreach and technical assistance programs to member cooperatives, and to small, limited resource landowners that are interested in forming agricultural and marketing. Since working for the Federation/LAF, Pamela has come to understand the economic challenges that underserved, limited resource communities face as they work towards economic empowerment. For these communities, adopting the cooperative business model is a vital step in moving forward, both individually and as a community. Her work is therefore focused on incorporating self-help development models to empower low-income communities. Pamela was elected to the Shared Capital Board in April 2014. She represents the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and serves on the Loan Committee as well as the Marketing and Outreach Committee.

Repa Mekha

President & CEO, Nexus Community Partners, St. Paul, Minnesota
Repa Mekha serves as President and CEO of Nexus Community Partners, a Community Building Intermediary that works at the intersection of community building and community development, engaging communities of color to achieve equitable, sustainable neighborhood revitalization in the Twin Cities region. Mekha has more than 30 years of experience in community-based leadership, community capacity building, asset and wealth building strategies, organizational leadership and development, and systems change work. He is recognized locally and nationally as an innovative and visionary leader and heads up Nexus’ work with national partners. Mekha is also a founding member of the Northside Funders Group and is currently on the Advisory Committee, and the working committee leading the funder group’s racial equity work. He is co-founder of the Twin Cities African American Leadership Forum, and he sits on the Board of the Minnesota Council of Foundations, where he is also a member of its Government Relations & Public Policy Committee. Mekha is a 2005 Bush Leadership Fellow, a 2004 James P. Shannon Leadership Institute Alumni, and holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government with a focus on community development; a pending Master’s in Counseling and Psychological Services from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota and; a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and Urban Studies from the University of Wisconsin. Mekha was nominated by the Wirth Co-op Grocery and was elected to the Shared Capital Board in 2017. He serves on the Loan Committee.

Anne Reynolds

Assistant Director (Retired), UW Center for Cooperatives, Madison, Wisconsin
Anne Reynolds recently retired as Faculty Associate and Assistant Director of the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives where she worked for nearly 25 years. She developed courses, conferences and educational programs at the Center, and has led numerous workshops on board leadership, board roles and responsibilities and strategic planning. Reynolds has taught a course on cooperatives at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and has researched cooperative governance, behavior and performance, as part of the Center’s Cooperative Business Study. Her areas of interest include governance, member loyalty, business structure and innovative uses of the cooperative model. She has worked with cooperatives in all sectors, including agriculture, food, energy, purchasing and worker-owned. Reynolds serves on several boards, including The Cooperative Foundation. Before joining the Center for Cooperatives, she worked at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). She has been on the Board of Shared Capital since 2014. She serves as the Individual Member Representative. Reynolds is the Chair of the Loan Committee.

Julie Ristau

Chief Operats Officer, Main Street Project, Northfield, Minnesota
Julie Ristau has a broad practical expertise in organizational, community, and business development. A focus of her work is animating new possibilities for a wide range of organizations and people. Her work includes collaborative planning, detailed problem solving, strategic visioning practical implementation and an orientation for collaborative process and cooperative structures. Plus she is a whiz at numbers, cashflow—she got her training as a farmer. At Main Street Project she helped to acquire—with a new paradigm shifting ownership model—the first Regenerative Farm that has been sanctioned by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Holly Jo Sparks

Executive Director, MSU Student Housing Cooperative, East Lansing, Michigan and Director, Oryana Community Co-op, Traverse City, Michigan
Holly Jo Sparks is currently Executive Director of the MSU Student Housing Cooperative, in addition to being a cooperative, community, and housing development consultant. Through Collective Seeds Consulting Co-op, she has assisted clients nationally with shared-equity homeownership and financing, strategic research and nonprofit financial management. Since 2001, Sparks has held the position of Executive Director for three cooperative housing organizations, including the North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO), where she served from 2003–2009. She has volunteered for the boards of the National Cooperative Business Association(NCBA), North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO), and National Association of Housing Cooperatives (NAHC) and Oryana Community Co-op. Prior to this, Sparks studied housing, community, and economic development at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and at MIT, from which she holds a Master in City Planning. Holly Jo was nominated by Oryana Community Co-op. Sparks was elected to the Shared Capital Board in 2017 and serves on the Finance Committee.

Jaime Villalaz, Vice President

Greater Minnesota Business and Cooperative Specialist, Latino Economic Development Center, Sauk Rapids, Minnesota
Jaime Villalaz provides technical assistance, loan packaging, business financial analysis and guidance for businesses and cooperatives throughout Minnesota as part of Latino Economic Development Center’s (LEDC) rural team as business specialist. He delivers Spanish-language training on cooperative development across southern and central Minnesota, as well as nationally. Before joining LEDC, Villalaz served as Program Coordinator for United Migrant Opportunities Services in the areas of Welfare to Work, High School Equivalency and other social programs from 2002 to 2010. He also has worked as a tax preparer for the Latino population in the St. Cloud, Willmar and surrounding areas for more than ten years. Villalaz was nominated by Agua Gorda Cooperative and was elected to the Shared Capital Board in 2015. He is Vice President of the Board and serves on the Loan and Executive Committees.