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Board of Directors

Gwendolyn Hamilton

Member of the Board of Directors

Gwen is a board-certified pediatrician who has practiced in the Bay Area since 1979. She brings decades of medical experience to Following Francis and a wealth of insights as to how the programs can boost the psychological well-being of people living in disadvantaged communities.

In addition to her clinical practice, Gwen has served as medical director for California Children’s Services, a state program for children with special healthcare needs, and medical director for a regional program for children with autism and ADHD. She has also served on the board of the Foundation for Autism Support and Training and a number of community organizations.

Gwen serves as host of Francis in the Schools theatrical productions.

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Trulie MacLeod 

Member of the Board of Directors

Trulie MacLeod has had an eclectic professional life. She began her career as a bilingual PR officer and press attaché in the Canadian federal government. After attending theater school in London, she had a 25-year career as a professional actor in New York City and Toronto, working in theater, television, film, commercials, and voice-overs. She also has a graduate degree in teaching English as a second language and taught at George Brown College in Toronto.


She has been the outreach and development coordinator for Francis on the Hill since its inception. Currently she is co-coordinator of Francis on the Hill’s Grocery Program.

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Brian Sakarata

Member of the Board of Directors

Brian Sakarata is a California Licensed Professional Fiduciary and an enrolled agent with the IRS, with a professional background in financial planning and analytics, taxation, 501(c)(3) compliance, and trust administration. In four years, Brian acquired both a BA in economics and an MS in applied economics and finance from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he focused on computational finance, utilizing artificial intelligence algorithms to develop zero-delta portfolios. Brian is currently responsible for maintaining the livelihoods and assets of over one hundred individuals, with a focus on the elderly and those with special needs. needs.


In 2022 he received a professional certificate in applied data science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With experience in developing and implementing machine-learning pipelines, Brian enjoys streamlining operational processes to attain coherent financial organization.

Tom Smith

Member of the Board of Directors

Tom is a retired business executive and entrepreneur. A graduate of Stanford University, he taught high school in West Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer. He then served as a recreation director for a Bay Area program for children and adults with brain damage and disabilities. Tom spent thirty years in management positions with a large San Francisco corporation, then worked for thirteen years as a landscape contractor.

Tom is a full-time volunteer for Following Francis, White Pony Express, and his church.

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Leslie Cunningham

Member of the Board of Directors

Leslie is a versatile professional who is skilled in copywriting, website design, and marketing consulting. Her journey reflects a blend of creativity, business acumen, and a deep understanding of marketing and communication. Her ability to craft compelling narratives, develop innovative concepts, and offer strategic guidance demonstrates her multifaceted skills.


Leslie boasts a career characterized by entrepreneurship and diverse expertise. Her journey began in the entertainment industry where she excelled in publicity. She then transitioned into advertising, where she thrived within a global agency. Later, as CEO/CFO of her own agency, The Cunningham Group, she served a wide range of clientele. Her artistic inclinations led her to professional photography, highlighted by a published coffee table book on San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

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Jimmy Venza

President, Board of Directors

Jimmy Venza, Ph.D., is executive director of Adventist HealthCare’s The Lourie Center for Children’s Social & Emotional Wellness in Rockville, Maryland, providing strategic direction for the center’s infant and early childhood mental health and education programs. He has served in clinical, research, advocacy, and administrative leadership roles at the center since 2004 and is involved in publishing and training.


He also served as a consultant in post-earthquake Haiti and in the Kingdom of Lesotho to improve early childhood and mental health services for vulnerable children and families.


Jimmy has volunteered at Following Francis events since 2011 and serves as our health and safety coordinator.

Terry Hogan Johnson

Executive Director

Terry has served as executive director of Following Francis since its inception in 2011. She has been a senior staff teacher at The Meher Schools in Lafayette, California, for more than thirty-five years. She has been music director of the Consortium of the Arts choruses and the Meher Schools’ White Horse Youth Chorale since 1994.

Terry is an active participant in the Gubbio Project, which serves the homeless in San Francisco. She is also a volunteer with and consultant to national service and interfaith organizations and the White Pony Express.

Jay Steptoe

East Coast Director

Jay was appointed the East Coast director of Following Francis in 2018. He had just retired as NASA's Deputy General Counsel following a twenty-eight-year legal career at the space agency.

Jay helps organize Following Francis programs on the East Coast, including those in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Washington, DC.

Judith Rutkin


Judith held senior management positions in a number of nonprofit organizations, including violence-prevention programs in San Francisco. She worked for an agency providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities and conducted social-science research in the broad area of wellness. In Washington, DC, Judith served as a senior manager in the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, where she led a team in workforce strategic planning for the federal government.

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Benjamin (Pete) Wells


Pete is emeritus professor of mathematics and computer science at the University of San Francisco, where he taught mathematics and computer science for twenty-eight years. While there he taught many seminars combining science, art, and religion. He was director of the university’s Math and Fusion Project, teaching math to middle-school students through studying works of art at the city’s De Young Museum.

Since retiring in 2011 Pete has focused on supporting nonprofits. He has been staging co-director of numerous Francis in the Schools and White Pony Express events.

Nikki d'Assis

Member of the Board of Directors

Nikki d’Assis was the sole fundraiser for a small nonprofit for two years and has conducted campaigns and done donor cultivation, social media, and extensive grant writing. She also served on the executive team for an international nonprofit and helped guide strategic decisions when developing their five-year plan, with emphasis on operations and workforce planning. In her role as director of HR, she often collaborates with the legal and finance departments on organizational record keeping, insurance, etc., and has been a part of teams working with auditors on organizational financials.


Nikki is bilingual in English and Spanish and has worked in direct services at Monument Crisis Center in Concord, California, for six months, which has given her an understanding of the requirements of direct-service programs.

Denis J. Madden

Member of the Board of Directors

Bishop Madden is auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He works to improve the safety and self-respect of those living in dangerous communities and supervises numerous schools in Baltimore.

From 1996 to 2005, he served as associate secretary general of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a Vatican relief agency. He was co-founder of the Accord Foundation, a humanitarian organization that has worked in the West Bank and Gaza since 1988 to bring peace to the region.

More recently, Bishop Madden has served as chair of the Committee on Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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