Meet MFA

Nathan Runkle

Nathan Runkle is the founder and president of Mercy For Animals. Raised on a farm in rural Ohio, Nathan has long had a deep connection with farmed animals. After a local farmed animal abuse case involving a piglet slammed headfirst into a concrete floor during an agricultural project at a nearby high school, Nathan founded MFA to give "food" animals a much-needed advocate in his local community.

Since founding MFA over a decade ago, Nathan has overseen the organization's growth into a leading national force in the prevention of cruelty to farmed animals and promotion of compassionate food choices and policies.

A nationally recognized speaker on animal advocacy, factory farming, and veganism, Nathan has presented at colleges, conferences, and many other forums from coast to coast.

Through his work with MFA, Nathan has been an outspoken advocate for animal rights, featured in hundreds of television, radio, and newspaper interviews, including on ABC’s World News Tonight, Nightline, and 20/20, CNN, and National Public Radio, and in USA Today, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune.

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Jake Morton
Director of Operations

Jake Morton serves as director of operations for Mercy For Animals and oversees day-to-day operations, administration, human resources, finances and governmental compliance. Additionally, Jake works with MFA’s education and communications departments to create concepts for campaigns, videos, media outreach, merchandise and advertising.

An Ohio native, Jake studied mechanical engineering at The Ohio State University and design at Harrington College of Design in Chicago. For nine years, Jake flourished in a corporate retailing career, focusing on management and operations for a major home decor and furnishings chain. His pioneering spirit took him all across the country, overseeing major development and human resource aspects of new store openings. At the same time, Jake gained extensive experience in community improvement and neighborhood business revitalization, working with local groups in numerous cities.

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Derek Coons
Director of Information Technology

Derek Coons serves as director of information technology for Mercy For Animals and is a longtime board member, overseeing the direction, focus, effectiveness, and efficiency of the organization.

A graduate of Miami University with a degree in computer science and systems analysis, Derek actively combines his passions for animals and technology.

Derek’s journey into animal activism began as a teenager while working in the kitchen of a local Red Lobster restaurant. After witnessing lobsters steamed alive and stabbed with knives, Derek pledged never to eat lobster again. Derek quickly began to question the manner in which pigs, chickens, and cows were treated during meat production. Such reflection soon led Derek toward vegetarianism, having acknowledged that he could not ethically justify causing animals to suffer and die simply for a palate preference.

In 2007, Derek was the first individual honored by MFA with the Hope Award for his passionate dedication to defending farmed animals and promoting cruelty-free food choices.

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Vandhana Bala
General Counsel

Vandhana Bala serves as general counsel for Mercy For Animals and oversees the organization’s legal initiatives, which include working with investigations department staff and local law enforcement for criminal prosecutions of farmed animal abusers, developing lawsuits and initiating complaints to governmental agencies relating to illegal agribusiness operations, assisting with the organization’s corporate governance and administrative issues, ensuring regulatory compliance for MFA’s community outreach activities, lecturing on legal issues relating to farmed animals, and supervising the legal intern program in Los Angeles.

An honors graduate of the Indiana University School of Law in Bloomington, Indiana, Vandhana received her undergraduate degree from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. She became licensed to practice law in 2000, and is currently admitted to practice in Illinois, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

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Matt Rice
Director of Investigations

Matt Rice serves as director of investigations for Mercy For Animals, working closely with undercover investigators to obtain video footage and other evidence of animal abuse at factory farms, hatcheries, and slaughterhouses. Matt also works with attorneys, veterinarians, and animal welfare experts to review covert footage and draft criminal complaints, and with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to secure animal cruelty convictions against individuals and facilities that abuse animals.

Investigations by MFA have led to raids of factory farms, rescues of abused and neglected farmed animals, passage of landmark anticruelty legislation, corporate animal welfare policy reforms, and millions of people's hearts and minds opened to the power of food choices to create a kinder world.

Matt is a former U.S. marine and holds a bachelor's degree in biology and anthropology from the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. For as long as he can remember, Matt has had an affinity for animals and has been opposed to more visible forms of cruelty, but he had never really considered the plight of farmed animals until he watched the documentary Meet Your Meat. After witnessing the needless suffering endured by cows, pigs, chickens, and other farmed animals, he decided to adopt a vegan lifestyle and become a committed animal advocate.

>>Read more about Matt

Nikki Bollaert
Director of Development

Nikki Bollaert serves as director of development for Mercy For Animals, overseeing the organization’s fundraising strategy and programs. She brings more than 20 years of experience as a fundraising professional to her position.

Passionate about social justice issues, Nikki designed her own major at the University of Colorado, studying development and social change in Central America through the Conflict and Peace Studies program. She went on to complete a master’s in nonprofit management at Regis University in Denver.

Nikki has also earned the Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) designation from CFRE International and the Charted Advisor in Philanthropy from The American College.

>>Read more about Nikki

Ari Solomon
Director of Communications

Ari serves as director of communications for Mercy For Animals, overseeing the organization’s impact across all social media platforms. He also serves as the liaison to celebrities and other public figures involved in MFA’s campaigns.

A native of New Jersey, Ari holds a bachelor of fine arts with honors from NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts. After graduating, Ari worked for several years as a stage and screen actor, and was the Hollywood correspondent for Miami’s Y-100FM. For seven years, Ari ran the popular vegan candle company A Scent of Scandal, using his business as a platform to raise funds for various nonprofits and to increase awareness of green business practices.

A prolific writer on animal rights, veganism, and human rights, Ari's work appears regularly on The Huffington Post. Many of Ari’s letters have been published in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Advocate. Ari has appeared widely on national television and radio to discuss a range of subjects from veganism to civil rights, including appearances on CNN, Reuters TV, NPR, and HuffPost Live. Ari’s YouTube videos on animal rights and veganism have also become viral sensations, including Sh*t Vegans Say, with over 1 million views.

>>Read more about Ari

Nick Cooney
Director of Education

Nick Cooney serves as director of education for Mercy For Animals, spearheading the organization's vegan advocacy efforts, including its online, television, and other national and international advertising campaigns. He also oversees MFA's highly influential and websites, literature distribution, festival and youth outreach, and the efforts of MFA's thousands of volunteers around the country.

A graduate of Hofstra University, Nick is the author of “Change Of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change” (Lantern, 2011) and “Veganomics: The Surprising Science on What Motivates Vegetarians, from the Breakfast Table to the Bedroom” (Lantern, 2014). He has lectured across the U.S. and Europe on effective animal advocacy, and his work for farmed animals has been featured by hundreds of media outlets, including “Time” magazine, “The Wall Street Journal,” and National Public Radio.

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Jaya Bhumitra
Director of Corporate Outreach

Jaya Bhumitra serves as director of corporate outreach for Mercy For Animals, encouraging major food retailers, grocery stores, and fast-food giants to adopt and strengthen animal welfare policies. She also collaborates with restaurant franchises to expand consumers’ easy access to compassionate, plant-based foods.

Jaya spent four years spearheading corporate outreach as campaigns director for another nonprofit animal protection organization, but she honed her professional skills in the private sector. Previously, she had served multinational clients and trade associations, including Pfizer, Merck, Novartis, and PhRMA, at global public affairs firm APCO Worldwide for five years, one of which she spent in New Delhi establishing the company’s Indian operation.

Jaya holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University with a double major in international business and marketing, and a master’s degree in psychology from Pepperdine University, where she worked in public relations while earning her degree. In a distinct honor, Jaya was selected as a 2011 fellow of the New Leaders Council, a prestigious national association that develops emerging progressive leaders. She co-directed the Los Angeles chapter for the next two years, and has served as a governing board member since.

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Krista Osborne
Managing Director, Canada

Krista Osborne serves as the managing director, Canada, for Mercy For Animals, overseeing corporate outreach, media relations, and MFA’s efforts to help effect governmental policy changes in Canada. Krista has spent over two decades working for large international organizations as a senior human resource strategist, and has more than 10 years under her belt as both a business partner in a Toronto law firm and a founding partner of the firm’s specialized employment and human resources practice.

Krista holds several degrees, including a master’s in leadership for which she wrote a thesis on the deplorable working conditions of slaughterhouses in the southern United States and the deep interconnection between human rights and animal rights.

Upon reading Diet for a New America by John Robbins in 1986, Krista’s life changed. It was then that a very passionate animal rights activist was born. Krista regularly writes and speaks on behalf of animals who cannot speak for themselves, including chairing various conferences on animal rights.

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Johnathan Skinner
Software Engineer

Johnathan Skinner works as a software engineer for Mercy For Animals, building and maintaining the websites that serve as windows into veganism and the plight of farmed animals for thousands of people every day.

Raised in Calgary, Alberta, right in the middle of cattle country, Johnathan's upbringing was far from veg-friendly. It wasn't until his twenties that he met his first vegetarian. This chance encounter became a life-changing event and he quickly transformed from a cowboy-hat-wielding Calgary Stampede attendee into an animal rights advocate protesting outside the gates.

At the turn of the millennium, Johnathan moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, to start afresh with his new vegan lifestyle. He has spent most of the years since as a volunteer advocate for animal rights, organizing outreach and vegan social events, and interning with various organizations around the world, including Mercy For Animals in Chicago. He is currently the sole coordinator of Veg Fest Vancouver—an all-vegan summer street festival hosted right in the heart of downtown Vancouver.

>>Read more about Johnathan

Brooke Mays
Editor in Chief

Brooke Mays serves as editor in chief for Mercy For Animals, overseeing all of the organization’s written material, including content for Compassionate Living magazine, grant requests, letters to the editor, and communications with media, corporations and the general public.

An artful master of the English language, Brooke holds a bachelor of arts in linguistics from the University of Michigan and a certificate to teach English as a foreign language from the University of Cambridge.

She has been highly successful in her time with MFA. Following the release of MFA's undercover investigation revealing extreme animal abuse at a mega egg factory farm, Brooke's letter on behalf of MFA to grocery giant Trader Joe’s led the company to immediately drop its supplier relationship with the cruel egg producer. She has proven time and again that the pen is mightier than the sword.

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Cindy Harris
Major Gifts Officer

Cindy Harris serves as major gifts officer for Mercy For Animals, identifying, cultivating, and soliciting major gifts while creating and sustaining long-term relationships with major donors. Philanthropy began early in Cindy’s life. Raised by her maternal grandparents, values such as patience, justice, hard work, and kindness for all beings were always first and foremost in her life. Cindy’s grandmother was an elder in the local church and her grandfather was one of the first union leaders for a large auto parts manufacturer, fighting for humane working conditions and fair pay for all workers. Such an upbringing helped instill in Cindy an affinity for work in the nonprofit community.

Cindy grew up on a small farm in southern Ohio. She remembers farm life fondly, but it never felt right eating animals she considered her companions. Cindy’s journey toward veganism began when she saw documentary footage of cruelty to animals on modern-day factory farms. She was shocked to learn about the horribly inhumane conditions animals are subjected to in the production of meat, dairy, and eggs. She quickly made the connection between abusive factory farming practices and the food on her plate and adopted a compassionate vegan diet. Cindy now grows most of her own food and finds that she is much happier knowing where it comes from. She has truly returned to her roots.

>>Read more about Cindy

Susan Weingartner
Development Projects Manager

Susan Weingartner serves as development projects manager for Mercy For Animals, overseeing event production and other donor relations and fundraising projects.

Susan began rescuing animals at an early age, from a pigeon with a broken wing she nursed back to health and set free, to a pair of large dogs she found on her way home from school.

Trained in the theater arts, dance, and film in southern California, Susan’s artistic career turned into an activist career as she learned about the horrific treatment of animals on factory farms and became a founding member and eventually the director of a vegan activist organization in 1990. A seasoned public speaker, Susan has spoken extensively about factory farming and the benefits of a vegan diet, and worked with dozens of nonprofit organizations, educating the public, planning events, and cultivating celebrity and donor relationships.

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Kristen Diederich
Development and Administrative Coordinator

Kristen Diederich serves as the development and administrative coordinator for Mercy For Animals, supporting the development department in fundraising and membership programs, as well as managing day-to-day administrative tasks for the organization.

Kristen attended Penn State University where she earned bachelor’s degrees in biology and psychology, along with a minor in law and liberal arts and honors in the Crime, Law, and Justice program. She also recently completed a master’s degree in primate conservation at Oxford Brookes University in England.

Kristen’s affinity for animals and nature dates back as far as she can remember, compelling her to become vegetarian while still in high school. In the course of researching animal welfare issues later in life, Kristen discovered the stark realities of modern farming practices and transitioned to a fully vegan lifestyle. This discovery also sparked an interest in pursuing farmed animal welfare advocacy full time.

>>Read more about Kristen

Kate Ziegler
Senior Investigations and Research Associate

Kate Ziegler serves as senior investigations and research associate for Mercy For Animals. Kate works closely with the director of investigations, reviewing and analyzing evidence documented by MFA’s undercover investigators. She assists MFA’s legal team to determine potential violations of law, and conducts extensive research into agribusiness practices and animal welfare standards.

Kate monitors meat, dairy, and egg industry publications, as well as advancements in the farmed animal advocacy movement. She helps MFA track the impact of factory farming on animal health and behavior, the environment, and food safety, and how these issues relate to MFA’s mission to promote compassionate food choices and policies.

With Kate’s help, MFA’s investigations have led to landmark cruelty prosecutions, historic corporate policy changes, and increased consumer awareness of the plight of farmed animals. For instance, after MFA uncovered horrific abuse and neglect at Ontario Livestock Sales, law enforcement officials charged the owner and seven employees with a total of 21 counts of cruelty to animals. Following MFA’s investigation at Christensen Farms, several of the nation’s leading grocery retailers, including Safeway, Kmart, and Costco, announced plans to phase out gestation crates from their pork supply chains. And after MFA’s investigation at Bettencourt Dairies — a dairy supplier to Kraft Foods, Burger King, and other major fast-food chains — CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC, The Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, The Miami Herald, and hundreds of other television, print, and online media outlets covered the case, reaching millions of people with the message of compassion.

>>Read more about Kate

Kyle Fujisawa
Investigations and Research Associate

Kyle Fujisawa serves as the investigations and research associate for Mercy For Animals. Kyle works closely with the investigations and legal team, conducting extensive research into agribusiness practices and animal welfare standards, and analyzing evidence documented by MFA’s undercover investigators for potential violations of law.

Native to Los Angeles, Kyle earned his bachelor’s degree in molecular, cell, and developmental biology, along with a minor in bioinformatics, from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He excelled in his coursework and earned membership into Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honor society. He conducted research in one of the leading surgical robotics labs in the nation, the lab in which the Raven II robotic surgery system was built under Dr. Jacob Rosen.

Additionally, Kyle is a certified massage practitioner and holds an Ayurvedic health counseling certification.

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Sarah Von Alt
Communications Specialist

Sarah Von Alt serves as communications specialist for Mercy For Animals, overseeing the organization’s digital vegan advocacy efforts, including creating and managing the impact of MFA's blogs, social media sites.

Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Sarah first became interested in animal rights and veganism in high school, and quickly became inspired to end the needless suffering of animals raised for food. With MFA founded in her hometown, Sarah began participating in local MFA events and activities. Sarah was also an integral part of the ballot initiative to ban some of the most abusive factory farming practices in Ohio. Before long, she joined the MFA team as Ohio campaign coordinator.

As Ohio campaign coordinator, Sarah worked with activists across the state to achieve meaningful change for farmed animals, and coordinated and oversaw hundreds of events. A believer in the power of humane education, Sarah has worked with teachers throughout Ohio, and in just the last year, has spoken before over 2,000 students on factory farming and compassion for animals.

>>Read more about Sarah

Mikael Nielsen
National Volunteer Coordinator

Mikael Nielsen serves as national volunteer coordinator for Mercy For Animals, recruiting and training activists throughout the United States, assisting with the development of MFA’s effective advocacy resources, and serving as MFA’s spokesperson in the greater Chicago area.

Mikael holds a bachelor's degree in economics and mathematics and worked for thirteen years in the international for-profit sector, focusing the last two on wind farm development all over the United States and Canada.

Born in Denmark, Mikael moved to the United States when he was ten years old. While always a lover of animals, it was watching a friendly turkey on TV that was to be killed for Thanksgiving in 1996 that brought animal protection ideals to the forefront for Mikael and motivated him to go vegetarian and then vegan a few years later.

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Alan Darer
Education Project Coordinator

Alan Darer serves as education project coordinator for Mercy For Animals, overseeing and executing the organization’s pro-veg online advertising campaigns, managing the MFA Fellowship program at elite universities, and coordinating MFA’s advocacy in international markets. A graduate of Vassar College, Alan studied biochemistry and math.

Raised as a vegetarian in upstate New York, Alan has always recognized that there is no meaningful difference between farmed animals and the companion animals we welcome into our homes and consider part of our families.

>>Read more about Alan

Jamie Berger
Media Campaigns Coordinator

Jamie Berger serves as media campaigns coordinator for Mercy For Animals, executing mass media vegan advocacy efforts, including pitching stories to online, print, radio, and TV media outlets; placing op-eds and letters to the editor in major publications; and creating viral video and graphics content for distribution on YouTube and other platforms.

Jamie’s impressive professional experience includes both federal lobbying and public relations; she uses her strengths as a communicator to push for social change. Jamie’s writing has been featured in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and other major national news outlets.

A North Carolina native and lifelong animal lover, Jamie has been interested in the social justice and environmental consequences of factory farming since high school. She holds a degree in food studies, French, and environmental studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she earned highest honors for her senior thesis on her home state’s pork industry.

>>Read more about Jamie

Blanka Alfaro Pola
Latin American Communications Coordinator

Blanka Alfaro Pola serves as Latin American communications coordinator for Mercy For Animals, creating, managing, and translating social media and other verbal communications for the organization’s Latin American audience.

A resident of Monterrey, Nuevo Leόn, Blanka worked in graphic design and marketing before leaving the world of commercial advertising to apply her skills to helping animals.

Blanka went vegan in 2005 after viewing video of the cruelties inflicted on farmed animals, and soon after became an animal advocate, striving daily to create a better world for animals. She served as director of the communications department of LUCA A.C. Foundation, an animal rescue organization, for over four years, leading numerous campaigns and projects.

>>Read more about Blanka

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