This year’s Annual Meeting and Elections will take place on Thursday, May 28, 6:30 p.m. at the East Aurora Middle School Cafeteria. There is much to celebrate and much to do this year! In addition to learning about the past year’s accomplishments and looking to what’s next, member-owners will be voting on two important things in two ways:

  • Board elections will take place via ballot up to and at the Annual Meeting. Ballots will be arriving soon in member-owners’ mailboxes.
  • Member-owners present at the Annual Meeting will also be voting on proposed amendments to our bylaws. The proposed revisions are published on our website so that you may review them prior to the vote at the Annual Meeting. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at [email protected] and we’ll be happy to answer!

Please read on and learn about this year’s candidates. We are pleased to announce that this year, we have seven candidates running for four seats: three seats for terms expiring in 2018 and one seat to fulfill the remainder of the 2017 term left vacant by departing board member Jane Brewer. We are grateful that so many have stepped up to indicate their interest in running for the East Aurora Cooperative Market’s Board of Directors.


benzin_mike_2015Michael Benzin

Michael Benzin has served as Treasurer on the EACM Board of Directors since 2012, and is managing partner of Mike Benzin Developments, a professional practice that works to provide fundraising and marketing counsel, leadership, services and staffing for community-focused mission-driven organizations.

Summarize your professional experience and relevant skills.  What unique skill, personal quality or perspective will you bring to the board?
I have extensive experience working with, and sitting on, boards of directors.  But whether my service is as a staff member, consultant or volunteer, I believe my role has always been the same – to foster honest communication between and among board members, to facilitate discussions toward realizing mutual goals, and to use my experiences in support of the organization’s objectives.  My professional background has provided me with a working knowledge of business operations, financial best practices, program development, marketing & promotion, and constituent relations – all skills that I have been able to employ in my current service on the Co-op board

On a personal level, I tend to listen more than I talk, think more before I act, and give more than I receive.  I am more comfortable shining the spotlight on others than standing in it, but can do so when necessary.  I am also far from perfect and try to use every mistake as a means to becoming stronger.

What is your vision for the future of our cooperative?  What makes you passionate about the co-op and/or our mission?
I see our Co-op playing a major and vibrant role in our community.  It will not only provide a needed full-service grocery alternative, it will establish a new hub for community dialogue, promote healthy food choice & practice, and support local farmers & producers.  I believe in our community and see the Co-op as a solution that will complement and enhance our quality of life.  I am seeking a second term so I can help complete our start-up and cement the Co-op’s future as a thriving, sustainable contributor to our region.

Why are you interested in serving on the co-op’s board of directors?
I watched with great interest as our founding board members laid the foundation for our market.  Every step they took was deliberate, measured and purposeful.  It was clear to me that they knew what they wanted to do, were developing a path to get there, and that they had enlisted sage counsel to help them along the way.  My first term on the board proved that this was a wonderful group to work with and I was honored and pleased they invited me to become a part of the team.  I see myself as a builder too, and the opportunity to help develop a market that our community will forever be proud of was, and continues to be, a driving force in my desire to sit for another term.


kimmel-hurt_gary_2015_ballotGary Kimmel-Hurt

Gary Kimmel-Hurt works for Crisis Services of Buffalo in Fund Development

Why are you interested in serving on the co-op’s board of directors?
I’ve been involved in our community through coaching youth baseball and football and by serving on various boards since I moved here 25 years ago. In 2012 when I returned from living in Japan for 6 years, I was busy reestablishing myself both professionally and socially into WNY. One of the first things I did was join the East Aurora Cooperative Market. I want to give back to a community where I love to live. I have volunteered both in the temporary EA Co-op store and helped out with informational stands and truly believe in the mission of the Co-op. I like the feeling of being connected and I feel being a Co-op Board member is a very good fit for me. I want to work with and share my sense of commitment with others of like mind. I want to do everything I can to help bring the East Aurora Cooperative Market to fruition.

Summarize your professional experience and relevant skills. What unique skill, personal quality or perspective will you bring to the board?
Currently, I work for Crisis Services of Buffalo in fund development where I use social media to increase awareness of the organization’s mission and to raise funds. Over the last eight years, both in Japan and Buffalo, I have worked extensively with nonprofit organizations involved with crisis counseling, suicide prevention, and sexual and domestic violence. As a phone line counselor, trainer, supervisor and colleague, I have extensive experience working in small diverse groups and have developed strong interpersonal skills.

I’ve owned two successful businesses: East Aurora Locksmith and Kimmel-Hurt Construction (San Francisco).  Of course, one of the most important skills for a phone line counselor is the ability to actively listen; however, this is a skill that is greatly overlooked in other professions. As a general contractor in San Francisco I worked with subcontractors, suppliers, architects and inspectors. The ability to actively listen served me and my customers well.

Throughout my career I’ve learned that truly listening and thinking before responding has resulted in smoother interactions and positive results. The key to working in groups is patience, cooperation and an open mind. My counseling skills, negotiating skills, and experience with building construction would all be valuable assets for the Co-op Board.

What is your vision for the future of our cooperative? What makes you passionate about the co-op and/or our mission?
My vision for 2015 is to have a viable market up and running that provides a choice for people looking for healthier options. But more than that, the Co-op symbolizes a state of mind: member-owners creating an organization that sells healthy food from local growers and offers classes on healthy eating and general well-being.  EA Co-op exemplifies a collaborative, community-driven endeavor that I would be proud to see handed down to future generations.


layer_andrew_2015_ballotAndrew Layer

Andrew Layer is an engineer at Moog and an EAHS graduate. He and his wife Holly have been members of the co-op since returning to Western New York four years ago.

Why are you interested in serving on the co-op’s board of directors?
I am passionate about the farm-to-table movement and am encouraged to see the excitement our community shares in choosing to eat locally produced food. As the co-op transitions from an idea to a place, I want to be part of sustaining that excitement.  As a member of the board, I believe my talents, dedication, and enthusiasm can be part of breathing life into the EACM.

Summarize your professional experience and relevant skills. What unique skill, personal quality or perspective will you bring to the board?
I have held various engineering roles at General Electric and Moog over the past ten years. In addition to my technical background, I have an MBA from Indiana University with a concentration in strategic planning. Since joining the EACM in 2011, I have served as chair of the finance committee, working with the board and our consultants to develop the co-op’s business plan and financial projections. I believe my professional and financial experience would be a valuable addition to the co-op board, particularly through the early start-up years.

What is your vision for the future of our cooperative? What makes you passionate about the co-op and/or our mission?
I want to see the EACM as a cornerstone of our community, serving locally sourced foods, providing nutritional education, and serving as a place where producers and consumers can come together in partnership. I would like to be part of establishing the co-op on a firm, sustainable footing – one which provides a path to debt-free independence and the flexibility to grow beyond the current projections. I am passionate about further developing the localvore food movement here with a new business we can all be proud to have in East Aurora.


mcclaren_michael_2015_ballotMichael McClaren

Michael McClaren graduated from law school in 1991 and is a trial attorney and litigator with the law firm Webster Szanyi, LLP in Buffalo, NY.

In May of 1999, I along with four other attorneys, left the law firm of Harris Beach to start our own law firm. Webster Szanyi LLP began operating out of the Liberty Building with five partners and two associates in May of 1999. While the firm remains in the Liberty Building to this day, there are now eleven partners, three associates, and three paralegals. The five founding partners of the firm still remain and have worked collaboratively to make the firm a success. Our clients include Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Western New York, Inc., Chrysler, Honda, American National Red Cross, Freightliner, Yamaha, Town of Aurora, Orleans County, and countless others. Since the inception of the firm, I have worked closely with the partners, staff and attorneys, and have been largely responsibility for employment matters at the firm. Much of what I do on a day-to-day basis is engage with clients and peers to problem-solve. Given the sophistication of many of our clients, much of the problem solving takes place in a group setting at corporate offices.

When my children participated in the East Aurora Swim Team (“EAST”) I was a member of the Board of Directors. I served as Treasurer of EAST for two years. For the past four years, I have been on the organizing committee for the Boys and Girls Club of East Aurora Memorial Day Tennis Tournament. Along with the other committee members, including Gary Schutrum of the Boys and Girls Club of East Aurora, the group successfully re-started the long tradition of the East Aurora Memorial Day Tennis Tournament.

With respect to my vision for the co-op, first and foremost, the East Aurora Co-op should serve the East Aurora and surrounding communities. I recently visited the Lexington Cooperative Market and was amazed by what I saw. I would hope to see the East Aurora Co-op develop relationships with vendors such as First Light Farm & Creamery, like Lexington has done. I would like to see the East Aurora Co-op become a thriving fixture in the East Aurora Community that provides both high quality healthy affordable food, and be a vehicle for educating the public as to the benefits of eating locally grown, organic and healthy food. For years our family has purchased organic fruits, vegetables and meat from Wegmans. In recent years Wegmans has made more and more organic food available, but it is often very expensive and availability is sporadic, at best. Making such food more readily available in our hometown and its surrounding communities provides an enormous benefit to the residents of our community.


pomerhn_kathy_2015_ballotKathy Pomerhn

Kathy Pomerhn is the Director of Operations of the Boys & Girls Club of East Aurora.
I have held my position at the Boys & Girls Club for 23 years and this position has allowed me to work cooperatively with many people and develop many relevant skills that I could apply to working as a member of the Co-op Board.

  • Board of Director Experience – In my position I work closely with our Board of Directors and, as such, have attended many Board trainings.  I have a solid understanding of the role a Board member has in an organization and have played a role in shaping and developing our Board through the years.
  • Financial Experience – I am responsible for all the finances, not only of the East Aurora Club, but for the Holland and Springville Boys & Girls Clubs as well.  In this role I assist with budget preparation, prepare all financial reports, participate in the annual auditing process, and manage our $1 million budget and multiple bank accounts.
  • Role in the Community – Because I live and work in the East Aurora community, I have developed many local relationships and contacts.
  • Duty of Attention/Diligence – I take great pride in my organizational skills, my attention to detail, and ability to problem-solve.
  • Marketing/Fundraising – I play a key role in the marketing of the Boys & Girls Club – web site development; social media; creating bi-annual donor and quarterly program newsletters.  I have worked on many fundraising committees and chair the bi-annual “Bids for Kids” Auction.

My vision of the cooperative is that it becomes a thriving part of the community.  I feel like East Aurora is the perfect community to have a Co-op that will be a boost to our local economy, supporting our local farmers and businesses and offering shoppers quality food and products for our families.

I am interested in serving on the Co-op’s Board of Directors because I truly believe in the Co-op’s mission and vision and, as stated above, think it would be a fantastic addition to our community.  I am most impressed with everyone involved in this project.  The wheels for this project started turning so long ago and the same dedicated individuals have committed years of their time and countless hours to get the Co-op to the point it is today.  I would like the opportunity to work with these dedicated people to positively impact our community and get the Co-p to the next level.


spencer_kara_2015_ballotKara Spencer-Ching

Kara Spencer-Ching is trained as an attorney and practiced law in New York City before moving to East Aurora with her family.

Summarize your professional experience and relevant skills.  What unique skill, personal quality or perspective will you bring to the board.
After finishing law school, I completed a federal district court clerkship before joining two large international law firms where I worked on a variety of matters involving mostly complex commercial litigation, as well as some transactional work.  I worked both independently and as a part of a team to conduct in-depth legal and fact research; analyze data, technical reports, financial documents, and legal instruments; and draft detailed memoranda, legal briefs, and other court fillings, as well as some contracts and intellectual property documents.

After having my first child, I transitioned into an administrative human resources role at my law firm with more regular hours.  I continued to work collaboratively with others on a variety of projects involving the design and implementation of employee policies, as well as managing employment issues, including compensation, leaves, and performance reviews.  After moving to East Aurora in 2006, I continued to work on employee performance and partnership evaluation on a freelance basis until 2010.  In addition, I have enjoyed volunteering, including being a Girl Scout leader and working with others on church committees.

Skills that I have developed include strong attention to detail and organizational skills, a creative approach to problem solving, and an ability to spot issues.  On an interpersonal level, I value careful listening, a positive attitude, diversity, thoughtful consideration, respectful dialog, and reaching consensus whenever possible.

What is your vision for the future of our cooperative?  What makes you passionate about the co-op and/or our mission?
I am passionate about the co-op because I believe that it has the potential to provide significant and sustained benefits for our community.  I have become increasingly alarmed at the inability to verify the quality and source of our food, as well as by the increased use of artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, and other chemicals, not to mention hormones, antibiotics, genetic engineering, the use of animal by-products, animal treatment, and the environmental impact of industrial food production.  I envision the cooperative becoming a vibrant anchor of our community that provides access not only to high-quality wholesome food, but also to programs and information that improve and enrich the lives of its members and the larger community.  I also see the cooperative playing an important role in helping the local economy thrive both by providing a marketplace for local farms and small businesses and by attracting shoppers to the village.

Why are you interested in serving on the co-op’s board of directors?
I would appreciate the opportunity to take an active role in making the cooperative a successful reality.  I enjoy working collaboratively, particularly on such a worthwhile endeavor.


szalinski_sandy_2015_ballotSandra Szalinski

Sandra Szalinski is a scientist and writer who works for Chenega Global Services providing environmental compliance and communications support services to the U. S. Department of Energy at the West Valley Demonstration Project.

Summarize your professional experience and relevant skills. What unique skill, personal quality or perspective will you bring to the board?
I have many years of experience in business and industry. I have worked as a technical professional, manager, and freelance consultant in the commercial energy industry and as a contractor to a federal agency. I have held management positions in engineering, strategic planning, and public and employee communications. I have worked collaboratively to solve problems and chart new courses for the future. My unique skill is taking complex information and making it understandable for diverse audiences.

What is your vision for the future of our cooperative? What makes you passionate about the co-op and/or our mission?
I envision a thriving cooperative market serving thousands of members in the Buffalo area. It will be a market that sells locally sourced, natural food, pays its employees living wages, and provides educational resources for healthy living. Corporate agriculture and massive food processing harm the environment and sicken the consumers. I envision the cooperative market as a place that provides the resources that enable healthy living for both suppliers and consumers.

Why are you interested in serving on the co-op’s board of directors?
I believe we need to change the food supply paradigm and I think I can contribute by serving on the board. I know that a small group of people has worked tirelessly to get the cooperative off the ground. In order for the cooperative to thrive it will need thousands more members and shoppers. I have the business and communication skills that I believe can help chart the future course. Since my children are grown, I also have time and energy to devote to the work of the board.