Meet the Team
Jeff Hush, Founder
Jeff Hush is a Wesleyan alum who lives in the North End. In Middletown, he works on the Clean Energy Task Force, the CHEER program to improve low-income housing, and the Middlesex County NAACP Health Committee at Middlesex Hospital. His historical interest in healthcare grew out of his Ph.D. studies at UC Berkeley (1985-1991) and his work as a literary professor at the University of Chicago (1991-94). He became a specialist in Medical History during the 1980s—as an outgrowth of his cultural studies of Shakespearean England. The failings of our medical industrial system pushed Hush to found Food & Movement Therapy (famtusa.org) to give all Americans the facts they need to control their own health.
By lecturing and teaching on the science and culture of food and movement (including movement workshops in yoga, tai chi, and meditation), as well as on social justice and community building, at libraries, health centers, schools and universities around Connecticut, Hush encourages communities to center their activities on real health. All his work is based on taking action to improve health outcomes, including for those who struggle with mental health challenges and homelessness. He founded the Middletown Green Community Center, with all his partners, to serve these same community interests, but in a broader way—to reinvent not just health, but also how economic growth can emerge from a fusion of the arts and sustainable technology.
Christopher Chenier is a historian, artist, and technologist dedicated to supporting innovation across the liberal arts. Chenier is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at the University of Delaware and a Graduate Fellow in the Hagley Program in the History of Capitalism, Technology, and Culture. His doctoral research examines the role of photography and visual culture in postwar American business. Chenier has held a position as Art and Design Technologist and Visiting Assistant Professor of Art and Integrative Sciences at Wesleyan University since 2015. Since arriving at Wesleyan, Chenier has worked to advance interdisciplinary collaboration across campus. Supporting instruction and research in areas related to computation, media, and design, Chenier directs the University's Digital Design Studio, a hub of creativity and innovation where students of all backgrounds are encouraged to pursue hands-on, project-based learning and digital literacy.
Photo Credit, Robert Ebstein
Banning Eyre writes and broadcasts about international music, especially contemporary African music. He has traveled to Africa many times, doing research in over fifteen countries, and has written three books on his research there, including the acclaimed In Griot Time: An American Guitarist in Mali (Temple University Press/Serpent’s Tail), and Guitar Atlas Africa (Workshop Arts), an instructional book on African guitar styles, and Lion Songs: Thomas Mapfumo and the Music that Made Zimbabwe (Duke University Press, 2015). Eyre reports on world music for NPR’s All Things Considered and has produced many one-hour programs for the Peabody Award-winning public radio series Afropop Worldwide. Eyre has contributed to a number of American, British, and Canadian publications, including The Boston Phoenix, Billboard, Guitar Player, Global Rhythm, The Village Voice, The Walrus, and Folk Roots. He is currently the Senior Editor and producer at www.afropop.org. Eyre also performs, records and teaches African music on guitar, including with the Afrodelic New York-based band Timbila.
Cookie Quinones has been a resident of Middletown’s North End for more than 35 years. Her journey as a community organizer began with a danger on Bridge Street, where she lived for 18 years. She and her husband raised 4 children there. Near her home, the school bus stopped to drop off children on the far side of the railroad tracks, requiring a daily and dangerous crossing for them. Quinones became “a mouthpiece for a neighborhood that felt invisible,” gaining the locals’ trust by advocating for the safety of their children at Common Council meetings. She was in a group that successfully got the school bus stop moved to the other side of the tracks. During this time, Cookie was tapped by Lydia Brewster and other community organizers to be on the Board of NEAT (North End Action Team).
Because of where she lived, Quinones saw all the risks threatening the youth, and she saw a real need for a community center for them. She made sure she knew where her children were at all times, because the children of parents who lost track of them ended up in trouble. Her neighborhood was beset by drugs, gangs, violence and poverty, and she wouldn’t stand by, seeing all this, and remain silent. She and others at NEAT decided to create a safe and creative place for the youth. So this group started up an Afterschool Program in the basement of the Church of the Holy Trinity on Main Street. About a year later (2004), this program and Cookie were transferred to 51 Green Street, where they became part of the Green Street Arts Center, run by Wesleyan University and staffed by many of its students. For the next 14 years, until the center’s closing in June 2018, Quinones worked there as the Afterschool Supervisor, and her children and, later, grandchildren attended. Currently, she is the President of NEAT.
Rachel Hedrick with Banning Eyre
Rachel Hedrick is a clinical yoga instructor teaching around Connecticut. She’s been working in the healing arts since 1996. At that time in Austin, Texas, Hedrick began a career as an injury rehab therapist, working with physical therapists, exercise physiologists and chiropractors. In 2003, she broke her arm and was forced to change her career direction.
Fortunately, she had a lifelong love of food and, in the early 1990s, had trained as a chef at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). From 2004 to 2009, she became a chef at a macrobiotic restaurant in Austin called Casa de Luz. There she prepared traditional favorites like pizza, pasta and pancakes, but eliminating processed, toxic ingredients and favoring organic whole grains and vegetables. Hedrick teaches that good health lies in the successful integration of an active lifestyle, healthy eating, and taking charge of your own healing.
Joan Hedrick has lived in Middletown since 1972. She is the Charles A. Dana Professor of History at Trinity College in Hartford, where she has taught history, American Studies, and Women’s Studies for 38 years. Previous to that she taught for eight years at Wesleyan. She earned her B.A. at Vassar College and her Ph.D. in American Studies from Brown University. She is the author of Solitary Comrade: Jack London and His Work (University of North Carolina Press, 1982) and Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life (Oxford, 1994). Her biography of Stowe won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995. She is currently co-editor of the Oxford Collected Works of Harriet Beecher Stowe.
She has raised two daughters here, largely in the public school system. In the past two years she has worked with the Middletown Refugee Resettlement Coalition to settle two families in the North End.
Katie Hush, Director of Events at JKS Events Inc., is a fundraising professional in New York City. Her career has spanned over 25 years, and she has worked at the American Craft Museum, the American Folk Art Museum (for over 10 years), and Pratt Institute—raising over $15 million for these organizations. Currently at JKS Events, Hush works with a wide range of nonprofit organizations, from social justice, immigration, and community services to education and the arts, helping to create tailored fundraising strategies for their benefit events. At JKS Events since 2013, Hush has worked with nonprofit organizations and, to date, has assisted them in raising over $10 million through events.
Hush received her BA from American University where she studied anthropology and history. She has traveled the world broadly, including extensive travel in Asia and participation in archaeological digs in Wales, Scotland, and Israel. Hush is a longtime member of the Associate Board at Urban Pathways homeless services; each year she organizes a holiday drive to bring much-needed assistance to homeless New Yorkers. Hush lives in Gowanus, Brooklyn with her wife Carol and is an active member of 6/15 Green Community Garden and a 20-year veteran infielder in the Prospect Park Women’s Softball League.
Michael Kalinowski, MD
Dr. Michael Kalinowski is a Family Physician who has lived and worked in Connecticut for most of his life. He graduated from UCONN Medical School and attended residency at Middlesex Hospital Family Medicine Residency Program. He has practiced primary care medicine in Portland, Middletown, and, most recently, in Higganum, CT. He has a strong interest in preventative medicine and community strategies to improve long term health and wellness. He has recently been working to bring the “Blue Zones Project” to the greater Middletown community. He is also involved in efforts to address the opioid epidemic. Dr. Kalinowski lives in Middlefield with his wife and two sons. He is passionate about finding ways to improve the long term health of our community, and he has been an early and strong supporter of the Middletown Green Community Center.
Sandy Gordon is a lifelong resident of Middletown. Born in Middlesex Hospital, she attended Middletown Public schools and Wesleyan University. In the 1970’s she volunteered at It’s Only Natural, which was a co-op at the time, and at Planned Parenthood. She spent her career in IT, (Information Technology), working in several of the Hartford based insurance companies, including Aetna, Cigna, United Healthcare and XL Insurance, as a Developer, Business Analyst and Project Manager. In 2014, she retired early and fulfilled a longtime dream of cruising in her 42 foot sailboat, Summer Wind. With her husband, she sailed several times down the east coast to Florida and the Bahamas, and later north to Maine. In 2018, she lost her husband and sailing partner, Chuck Gregory, to cancer. She decided to stay in Middletown, a place that she loves for the vibrancy of its community, for the Russell Library, for Wesleyan, and for the many health-minded and arts-oriented activities. She looks forward to contributing to success of the Middletown Green Community Center, MGCC.
George Perez presenting as a finalist for Wesleyan's PCSE grant
George Perez is a junior at Wesleyan University who has a passion for youth outreach. When he came to Wesleyan, he joined the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center as a teaching assistant and tutor. He worked in that capacity for a year until becoming the program's coordinator at the start of his sophomore year. In the wake of Green Street's closure, George founded and received a grant to begin a new youth program that aims to fill the void of Green Street's loss: Cardinal Kids. Cardinal Kids is an after-school youth program that will take place on Wesleyan's campus. George is optimistic that it will launch as early as the spring of 2019.
Gail Thompson-Allen is the Director of Programming and Community Engagement at the Russell Library in Middletown. She has worked at Russell Library for 37 years, first as Head of the Film Department and an Information Services Librarian. For the last 9 years she has overseen the Middletown International Film Festival. In her current position she is responsible for engaging and partnering with other community groups and organizations as well as developing programs that meet the needs of all Middletown residents.
Gail received her BA from the University of Rhode Island and her MLS from Southern Connecticut State University. She enjoys hiking and quilting and working with her therapy dogs.
Kwame Ocansey, Spiritual Advisor
I have lived in Portland, Connecticut for nearly 30 years. I have a Masters in Liberal Studies from Wesleyan University in Middletown. I was in the IT field as an applications programmer in Insurance for a long time. Before programming, I was an instructor with the Ghana Highway Dept, responsible for Training for Highway Maintenance. Prior to becoming a Trainer, I was a full-time school teacher. I taught Math up to High School in Ghana. Several years ago, I switched directions and began to concentrate on a personal quest to bridge the awareness gap between Americans and Africans in our collective cultural experiences. I have been invited to speak in schools and organizations including: the CT Dept of Social Services, and numerous churches. I have done presentations and lectures at the U Conn Medical Center in Farmington, at Real Art Ways in Hartford, in Ships to Save the Waters in 2000 with Pete Seeger in New York. I have taught African Culture in Adult Education classes. I started Leead International, a non-profit organization that promotes and encourages education to the underprivileged children of Ghana, West Africa. I was a founding member of the board of Trustees of East River Apprenticeshop, a non-profit organization founded by folk-icon Pete Seeger to provide ship-building and leadership skills to the inner-city youth of New York City. I was a member of the board of Directors of Positive Solutions, a private non-profit organization in Middletown that advocated for and catered to the interests of people living with HIV and AIDS. I initiated and directed a mentoring program called Rite of Passage at Cross Street AME Zion Church, for a group of adolescent youth matched with adult mentors, following in the steps of the African concept of maturation and personal development.