Contact Info

See our new website at

Sara Stewart

Executive Director

Mitch Yaciw
Garden Coordinator

Unity Gardens Inc. Board of Directors
Sara L. Stewart RN MSN, President, Executive Director (officer)
Sara serves as the executive director actively working in administrative, labor, and development activities. Her duties thus far include communications, publications, media coordination, public relations, securing donations, public speaking, volunteer coordination, development, grant writing, accounts payable and receivable, compliance, business administration, garden coordination, and direct management of the LaSalle Square Unity Garden. She serves as the hub of communication between the various Unity Garden leaders and collaborators. She also assures the framework of the Unity Gardens is maintained throughout all the gardens and cultivates the collaborative sharing network. She actively secures partners in growing the networks. Her qualifications include 16 plus years in business administration in the community health setting, specializing in third party health care reimbursement and Medicaid. Her recent role as a Professor of Community Health Nursing in conjunction with her research focus on the culture of poverty facilitates her entry into a variety of cultures. Congruent with her role as a public health nurse, Ms Stewart assesses the systems that will promote the health of the community and intervenes through the gardens to assure public access to fresh produce.

Mike Keen Ph.D., LEED - AP, Vice President (officer)
Mike is a professor of sociology and founding director of the IU South Bend Center for a Sustainable Future (CSF). The mission of the CSF is “Campus and community working together to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” He is dedicated to teaching and learning, facilitating research and creative activity dedicated to sustainability and participating in service and civic engagement. Current Unity Gardens activities include administrative consulting, board meeting attendance, organizational development and future planning.

Kristine Bailey, Secretary (officer)
In addition to serving as the Greenhouse garden leader, Krista is an accomplished grant writer and community organizer. Founder of the Michiana Community Gardens, Krista harnessed community volunteerism to initiate the Greenhouse garden with land donated by the Parks Department. She initially was involved in a city wide initiative to create community gardens in Elkhart in the 1990s. More recently, Krista has organized volunteers and donors to make the Greenhouse garden prolific and beautiful. She has appeared in the media as an advocate for healthy, locally grown food. She has contributed to the Urban Farmer's Market, and The Purple Porch Coop. Krista is an established writer, having been published in multiple area news magazines.

Marcia A. McCoy, Director (officer)
Marcia has a history rich in vegetable gardening and has recently completed her Master Gardening Class. Marcia has also volunteered the last few years as the AARP regional tax coordinator. Marcia has been instrumental in starting the Franklin Street Community Garden and has been hands on labor for the Unity Garden at LaSalle Square. Her extensive knowledge base on gardening and finance makes her uniquely qualified to maintain the proper records necessary to “grow” the corporation.

Don Inks, Treasurer
Don completed his bachelor degree from IUSB with a concentration in accounting and worked for over 2 years in public accounting with Coopers & Lybrand. He moved to South Bend in 1981 and served as the Fiscal Officer for the Department of Redevelopment. He then proceeded to work with the Department of Community and Economical Development for over 28 years and currently serves as the Director of Economic Development. Don has been instrumental in guiding the Unity Gardens success through his work in aligning the Unity vision with the city plan. Don is joining the board in August of 2010 as an expert in fiscal matters and economic planning.

Karon Schwartz PhD, Director
Karon currently serves as the Director of Graduate Nursing program at Bethel College. In recent years she has served as the interim Dean of the School of Nursing. With educational preparation in nursing and sociology and a PhD from Wayne State University, Dr Schwartz brings her expertise in health care, cultural competence, participatory qualitative research design and nursing science to the Unity Board as of August of 2010. Karon has been instrumental in facilitating the empowerment models, change theory, servant leadership, and cultural immersion elements contributing to the Unity Gardens success as well as contributing to the initial publicity that paved the way for wide spread community support.

Lisa Plencner

Lisa joins our current Board, adding depth to our expertise and community connections. Lisa currently works at Saint Joseph Circuit Court as a court administrator. She also has served as the president and co-president of the League of Women Voters since 2007. Lisa's social justice roots grow deep, having also volunteered as a cook and tutor at Dismas House . Her gardening roots are also strong.As she best describes: “ It was a blessing to have a grandfather show me the miracle of from where our food comes, how it grows, and what it looks like. Even as an adult, I continue to be amazed at the cycle of life in a garden and the fact that from the earth comes food, sometimes with far less work than anyone would imagine. I feel strongly that future generations should continue to learn how food grows lest we lose our increasingly tenuous connection to Mother Earth. The Unity Gardens' mission speaks volumes to me. People have traditionally gathered around food, and the idea that a program can help grow both food and community at the same time seems almost ridiculously simple to me. At a time when increasingly larger numbers of families are having difficulty feeding their families, the mantra, "Let's get the food in the ground," has never meant more. At a time when obesity levels are at the highest our country has ever seen, we owe it to our children to show them not only what a fresh vegetable looks like, but exactly how delightfully delicious they can taste. At a time when we seem to be more connected to the internet and less to our communities and our planet, we owe it to our neighbors to try to reconnect in a meaningful and productive way. These are the things I believe the Unity Gardens can help promote and why I am so happy to have been invited to join the board.”

Jill LaFountain

Jill LaFountain has served as a volunteer community leader with many organizations, assisting with fund raising and development. Most recently she participated in a fund raising project for The Center for a Sustainable Future, painting a beautiful rain barrel that took top dollars at the auction. Jill donated her share of the proceeds to Unity Gardens! Jill serves on a number of non-profit boards throughout our community and is skilled in development. Her passion and understanding of the Unity mission is described as follows, “The Unity Gardens was about more than the food produced by the Unity Gardens. It is about something much bigger, it is about community, pride, planting seeds of hope, and harvesting good things from each individual. We find value in ourselves, our neighborhood and our community. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I knew this is something that is a vital need in our community. One seed has all the potential in the world to grow and feed a community