Directors & Advisors

Meet the Founders

Allen & Sheryl Hill, are parents of Tyler Hill.  Tyler, age sixteen, died in Japan on a People to People Student Ambassador trip to in 2007.  His death was 100% preventable.  More on Tyler’s story at
Allen is a real estate developer in Minneapolis with BTO Development.  Allen served with Lake Minnetonka Athletic Association’s Area Board of Directors for two years, prior he coached youth football for eight years.
Sheryl is a world speaker, author of Walking on Sunshine, NRG a Divine Transformation - a spiritual memoir and USA Book News Award winning finalist.  Sheryl is featured in People You Need to Know 2012.
Allen, Sheryl, and Tyler’s little brother, Alec, are host family to eight internationals:  Sari of Finland, Sylvie of France, Caroline of Sweden, Gilly of South Africa, Nikita of Germany, Yusuke of Japan, Roberto of Chile and Joao of Brazil.


Meet the Directors

Annamarie Saarinen, Vice President, Director & Lobbyist

Annamarie has worked in public affairs and government relations for 18 years and serves on the boards of ClearCause, the Newborn Coalition, Artspace, is a member of the Congenital Heart Public Health Consortium and on the Governing Council of the Preserving the Future of Newborn Screening Coalition. Annamarie founded following her daughter’s diagnosis of congenital heart disease at 2 days old and continues to be a recognized leader in widespread outreach and advocacy surrounding pediatric heart disease and newborn health issues. Annamarie is founder and principal of Newborn Coalition and 1in100.  Annamarie brings years of experience and success advancing public policy.  She is currently employed with Ainsley Shea.



Tim Malecha, Chief Financial Officer; Director

Tim is a principal in Financial Institutions Group, specializing in taxation. Tim is responsible for the review of the tax provision and tax returns and for providing the necessary support and consulting related to various company and shareholder tax matters.Tim has worked extensively with several financial institution organizations (Minnesota Banker’sAssociation, Bank Holding Company Association, and Independent Community Bankers of America) on bank taxation topics such as the S corporation alternative for financial institutions. Tim graduated magna cum laude from St. Mary’s College of Winona, Minnesota in 1986 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in accounting and mathematics. Tim is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the Minnesota Society of Certified Public Accountants (MNCPA) where he is the former chairman of the Financial Institutions Committee. He was the recipient of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants Elijah Watt Sells Award.



Sangeeta Jain, Director

Sangeeta Jain is a Child Support Magistrate in the Fourth Judicial District (Minneapolis, Minnesota) hearing family law cases, and an Administrative Law Judge for the Office of Administrative Hearings. Ms. Jain serves as an appointed member on two of the Minnesota Supreme Court’s Task Force Committees on Gender Fairness and on Racial Fairness in the Courts and on the Minnesota Board of Continuing Legal Education as well as Alternative Dispute Resolution Board.Sangeeta Jain received her J.D. from Hamline University School of Law and LL.M. from the University of San Diego School of Law. She worked in the area of family law and criminal litigation as a prosecutor for nine years in San Diego, California and Saint Paul, Minnesota.  In addition, she worked in the public service arena as a Legal Aid Staff Attorney and as a Minnesota Justice Foundation Staff Attorney.    Ms. Jain is a board and/or committee member on organizations that serve immigrant and at risk women, address human rights, as well as serve the legal community.   Ms. Jain was awarded the 2005 national annual award, Indus Women Leader Spirit of Women Award, recognizing her leadership in the South Asian Community and in her efforts to promote the advancement of South Asian Women.  More on Sangeeta Jain


Noelle Damon B&WNoëlle Ghnassia Damon, LCSW-R, DNCCM, is a psychotherapist in private practice, who provides consultation, presentations, and trainings on the topics of trauma, anxiety, stress reduction, and restorative meditation practices. She is a Diplomat of the National Center for Crisis Management in collaboration with the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, a certified EMDR practitioner (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and a teacher of iRest (Integrative Restoration). She is presently the Clinical Supervisor for the New York City Trauma Recovery Network for EMDR HAP (Humanitarian Assistance Program) assisting communities impacted by Hurricane SanZoe_Damon  Noelle's Daughterdy. Since 1978, when her began in the field of crisis intervention and advocacy, she has accrued many years of working with individuals, families, community supported organizations, and disaster relief agencies. In 2011, Noelle and her family suffered the loss of her daughter, Zoe Damon, age 20, who died while in Costa Rica on a study abroad program. In honor of her daughter, and all the children and families who have suffered similar tragedies, Noelle offers her years of experience in the field of traumatology to provide guidance and assistance to the mission of ClearCause Foundation.


ClearCause Foundation Welcomes Dr. Gary Rhodes

Gary Rhodes, PhD, Director, Center for Global Education, UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, Ph.D. and Masters in Education and Masters in International Relations at the University of Southern California, Bachelor’s in English at University of California at Santa Barbara. The Center hosts the Safety Abroad First -Educational Travel Information (SAFETI) Clearinghouse, Student Study Abroad Handbook, and and Online Courses for Study Abroad. Gary publishes and presents regularly across the U.S. and around the world on issues of study abroad and student travel safety.



Stephen Ferst, Director of institutional relations and development at The Education Abroad Network, is the 2004 winner of the Lily von Klemperer Award and was NAFSA’s Advocate of the Year award winner in 2008. He earned his BA, MEd, and EdD from Rutgers University. With more than twenty years as educator, he’s served as director, overseas resident director, manager, and administrator in the United States and United Kingdom. Ferst co-wrote and produced a video and training manual on preventing overseas sexual assaults and is working on a new publication on collaborative relationships with international partners.



 Neil Huotari, Safety & Security Specialist

Neil spent three years as a Security Intelligence Manager at Ameriprise Financial’s multi-national corporate security department by managing a 24/7 security group that supported over 30,000 employess; domestic and abroad.  Neil has 10 years of experience with the Department of Justice Bureau of Prisons in corrections where he spent six years on a Special Operations Response Team (SORT) and is trained as a hostage negotiator.  Neil served fifteen years in the US Army as a Military Police (MP) officer where he was a MP Company Commander and a Urban Combat/AntiTerrorism Instructor in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.  From 1998-2000, Neil also was a NATO Delegate for the US Army Reserve in Brussels, Belgium. Neil is author of Securing Smiles, A Family Guide to Security.



Ed Lee, Ed is CEO of Sleeping Bear Risk Solutions and author of Staying Safe Abroad: Traveling, Working and Living in a Post-9/11 World.  Ed has over 35 years’ experience in overseas security operations acquired as a US Department of State special agent and senior Regional Security Officer (RSO) at multiple embassies in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Additionally, he has lived in eight foreign countries and worked in 65 others. Mr. Lee has handled virtually every type of security emergency that can occur in a foreign country. During his Department of State career, Ed also held such positions as director of agent training; associate director of security for Latin America; chief investigator of the US Cyprus Missing Persons Program, based in Cyprus; and as chief of curriculum development in the Office of Anti-Terrorism Assistance, where he designed, developed and delivered over 50 anti-terrorism courses to some 70 foreign governments.



Karen Gries, CPA,  principal with Clifton Larson Allen, has been named to the IRS Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities (ACT) for the 2010-2012 term. The committee consists of external stakeholders who represent the tax-exempt community.  Karen Gries provides nonprofit financial counsel and reporting for ClearCause Foundation.