Our Team in DRC

Nancy (left) presenting a grant to sewing school graduate.

Nancy (left) presenting a grant to sewing school graduate.

Nancy and Bea

Nancy and Bea are our program team in the Congo. Their last names are withheld for safety reasons. They work directly with our clients, receiving grant proposals, making funding recommendations to our Board and supporting and monitoring projects in progress.


Board of Directors

Ellen Wolaner
Board Chair

Ellen is Director of Finance and Operations for Wallin Education Partners. Ellen has extensive international experience in Europe and North Africa and speaks French fluently. Ellen holds an MBA in Finance from the Wharton School and a BS in Agricultural Economics from Cornell University.

Pat Gaarder
Board Member

Pat recently retired after a long, public service career at the Minnesota Historical Society. Much of her experience was in human resources, providing her with deep experience in strategic planning, program administration and problem resolution. Her life-long commitment to social equity brought her to First Step Initiative and its work with the women of Lubumbashi. Pat holds a MA in women’s history from Sarah Lawrence College and a BA from Macalester College.

Becky Jasper
Board Member

Becky, a former Peace Corps volunteer, served in the DRC (then known as Zaire) during 1989-1991 developing sustainable funding projects at a hospital in Mushenge. Today she is Director of International Purchasing at Entrust Datacard. In her spare time she volunteers with nonprofits including Pro Player Foundation who has raised over a million dollars to find cure for MS and is still active, and spent 10 years on the board of Peace Corps Friends of the DR Congo.

Risha Rathore
Board Member

Risha is a Financial Analyst in the Finance Leadership Development Program at General Mills. She graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, with majors in Finance and Healthcare Management and earned her MBA from Olin School of Business. 

Lois Dirksen
Board Member

Lois is President and Partner of LEVEL Brand, a brand development and advertising agency based in Minneapolis.  She is a graduate of Arizona State University.  Lois has made many trips to East Africa on behalf Wellshare International and has spent time in Goma, DRC.


Caitlin Gokey
Board Member

Caitlin is a Senior Planning Analyst and Community Liaison for Hennepin County.  She holds an MPA form New York University and has many years of international experience in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  Her commitment to advancing human rights and ensuring access to justice for vulnerable populations is evidenced by her work with Vera Institute of Justice.