Joani Essenburg, Co-founder and Executive Director

Since 1990 Joani has been a neighbor, friend and grassroots leader in the Phillips community that she and her family reside in. She has served as Executive Director of Banyan Community since 1998 when the organization formally became a non-profit.

Joani is a tireless advocate for community building around urban youth and families. Under her direction the Banyan has grown from a nonprofit start up to an effective and responsive Christian Community Development Organization that implements asset development by using neighborhood roots to transform lives. Joani has received numerous awards and recognition for her work but the best reward is seeing the people in her neighborhood thrive. Joani has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education from Covenant College in Tennessee and a Certificate of Non Profit Management from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

Awards include:
Abby Award, Abbott Northwestern Hospital
Movement of Hope Award, Lutheran Social Services
Ninth Ward Leader of the Year- 2012, City of Minneapolis
Phillips Neighborhood Champion Award, City of Minneapolis
Virginia McKnight Award in Human Service, McKnight Foundation
Who ’s Who in Community Ministry Award, Bethel University

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Tim Essenburg, Co-Founder

TimTim is neither a paid staff, nor board member, but as a co-founder and visionary, he is a key member of Banyan Community.  Thanks to Tim, Banyan has our own in house researcher, who helps to inform and support community development through ideas, best practices, and information that provides basic principles of the Banyan Community Development model.

Tim is an Economic Professor at Bethel University, with primary research interests in the revitalization of central city neighborhoods and several publications.  He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and Finance from Covenant College, and a PhD in Economics from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Sue Riesgraf, Development Director

Sue's photo croppedSue is a development professional with experience in building strategic development teams, establishing collaborative partnerships, planning events, and managing business-to-business relationships. She has spent more than half her career working with local non-profits to advance their missions.

Strong and successful communities are fundamental to the fabric of our society. The inside out approach to the work is what attracted Sue to Banyan; developing youth, strengthening families, and creating community.  The opportunity to shape a development team and help build a permanent home for Banyan is a highlight of Sue’s work. 

She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the Minnesota State University, Mankato; a Fundraising Certificate from the University of St. Thomas and is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

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Susan McKenzie, Operations Director

Susan croppedSusan is a business professional with experience both in business administration and operations management from corporate, church, and nonprofit. She has developed systems at Banyan to bring about better efficiency and effectiveness. Her work on the annual audit, financial management, vendor support, and project and building management are just a few ways that Banyan benefits. Supporting youth, families and community brings energy to Susan in her daily work. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Minnesota.

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Andrew Lamkin, Program Director

Andrew works closely with community members, administrative team, and management team to bring about the very best youth, family, and community programs that support Banyan’s mission.   Andrew brings experience to Banyan in developing teams that successfully collaborate with at risk youth and families by creating meaningful programs that align with a community mission.  Recently, Andrew worked as a mental health case manager, case coordinator, and program designer for Headway Emotional Health Services, where he worked collaboratively with Bloomington School District and Hennepin County on program development and Wilder Foundation on data collection.  Previous Andrew worked at St. Joseph’s Home for Children, Catholic Charities-Twin Cities as a Youth Counselor, then Supervisor.  Andrew holds a Master’s Degree in Public and Nonprofit Administration from Metropolitan State University with an emphasis on Nonprofit Management, and Bachelor of Arts degree in Theology and minor in Education from Concordia University, Wisconsin.

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Katie Kirk, Secondary Program Manager

Katie croppedKatie oversees the secondary program including the middle and high school programs and the college support programs at Banyan. Katie leads a staff to balance youth accountability, social emotional stabilization, and relationship building to fruition in high school graduation and getting youth on the path to and through college.   In the time she has worked at Banyan, Katie has ensured the consistency of high quality outcomes while tripling the size of these programs and more than doubling their hours of operation.  She is directly responsible for maintaining the success of these programs, and takes pride in the 100% graduation rate of seniors she has supported since 2008. Katie holds a Bachelor of Individualized Studies (B.I.S.) in Asian American Studies, Race Relations and Psychology from the University of Minnesota.

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Anna Wirth, College and Career Counselor

Anna is a student centered licensed school counselor that brings experience to Banyan in working with youth that have multiple educational risk factors.  She works closely with high school and college youth and their families to create specific interventions to help youth meet their academic goals and overcome educational barriers to get our youth to and through college.  Anna brings experience as a school counselor, TRIO advisor, mental health practitioner, and residential counselor.  Anna holds a Masters of Science in Counseling Psychology degree from St. Cloud State University in Minnesota and a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from St. Cloud State University in Minnesota.

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Kayla Sloane, Secondary Educator

Kayla encourages middle school youth each day at Banyan as they walk the road of adolescent development and academic success. Empowerment is Kayla’s passion for youth, families and community by developing skills and providing the support that is needed to succeed in education and life. Kayla brings a passion for social justice and cross-cultural leadership with experience from Minnesota and Nicaragua. Kayla holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Minnesota in Political Science and a minor in Global Studies.

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Josselyne Bunay, AmeriCorps Promise Fellow | Secondary Educator

Josselyne returns to Banyan as a full time volunteer through AmeriCorps. The Promise Fellow is a one-year position that works closely with our middle school youth and our ninth and tenth graders. Josselyne ensures that youth are attending school and engaging in academics, as well as watching over their social emotional growth. She is a Banyan youth who grew up in our programs and brings an inside perspective who is also bilingual Spanish/English. Josselyne is passionate about youth success and is planning to continue her post-secondary education this school year at Normandale Community College.

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Bethany Theobald, Elementary Program Manager

Bethany croppedBethany oversees and implements the elementary programs at Banyan, bringing a balance of insightful instruction, bilingual communication with parents (Spanish/English) and shared supervision for over a dozen part-time staff. Bethany is a neighbor and passionate advocate for Banyan elementary youth and parents as they work together to ensure that all kids are meeting developmental and educational milestones. Her work ensures that educational success begins early in life. Bethany is a licensed and experienced elementary teacher, who earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education from Northwestern College in Minnesota, and minored in Cross-Cultural Ministries.

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Jenny Neidich, Elementary Educator

Jenny updated croppedJenny is passionate about making a difference in the lives of children, nurturing their interpersonal skills and instilling in them a love of learning and academics. Here at Banyan, her enthusiasm pulls elementary youth right into academic enrichment and social emotional development that helps Banyan kids thrive. Jenny brings experience from the kindergarten classroom and is a licensed elementary teacher with a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from Augsburg College, Minneapolis, MN.

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Gale Cannon, Community Educator and Program Manager

Gale is by nature and by training a Family Educator.  Born in Trinidad, she brings to her work the lens of an immigrant seeking education and equality for under-served communities. Gale has experience as a family educator, community programmer, consultant, facilitator, curriculum writer, engaged parent and most important an advocate and visionary that strives for a holistic community where adults, parents and families thrive together. Her work at Banyan will be just that, to nurture and develop our community through education, connection, and leadership. Gale is currently a council appointed member of the Non Public School Council, complimenting her ten years of direct service work in school districts as a Family Engagement Specialist. Gale holds a Masters of Education degree in Family Life Education from Concordia University in St Paul, and a Bachelors of Arts Degree in Psychology from City University of New York in Jamaica, New York.

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Maricruz Arocho, Family Advocate

Maricruz croppedMaricruz brings a lot of love and care to Banyan as a parent and family advocate.  She is a long-time resident of the Phillips neighborhood, a founding family of Banyan, and a key indigenous leader with extensive experience navigating issues relating to immigration, education, housing, health care, conflict mediation and parenting second generation Latino youth.

Maricruz earned her high school degree from Escuela Secundaria Federal Cuahutemoc in Axochiapan, Morelos Mexico, followed by her Executive Secretary Degree from the Instituto Fenix in Cuautla, Morelos Mexico.

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High School Staff-Program Assistants

Year round 7-9 high school youth with long-term relationships with the Banyan are hired part-time to assist with program activities in the Elementary After School and Summer Cool Off Days programs. Our workers participate in ongoing professional mentoring and leadership development opportunities and meet regularly with supervising staff for direction and feedback regarding their performance, and participate in regular staff trainings to help develop skills in the best practices of youth development.  Workers quickly earn the trust and respect of elementary youth at Banyan because they have grown up in Banyan and serve as positive role models to the next generation of Banyan youth.

College Staff-Program Assistants

During the school year, 6-8 college students serve as Banyan staff working part-time, providing support for elementary and youth programs. Half of the staff members have grown up in the neighborhood and in Banyan, and the other half are part of the LEAD fellows program from Augsburg College in Minneapolis. Our workers provide a valuable leadership role in programs. College Staff are involved in planning and implementing Banyan’s physical education curriculum, working with our middle school youth on social-emotional competencies, and providing homework help to diverse learners. They are given the opportunity to take on significant leadership roles in programs, and serve as a tangible reminder to younger youth that college can be in their future.

Program Associates

Greg Johnson croppedGreg Johnson, a longtime community member and a “cool” Banyan dad, joins us to support youth at Banyan. For the past several years he has been coaching youth basketball teams and fostering a love for the game. Greg provides behavior support in elementary and leads the middle school boys group.   He has completed the Youth Intervention Certification with Youth Intervention Program Association (YIPA).


Aidee Arocho, Banyan alum- joins us to support our after school program with supervision of high school and college staff.  Aidee remembers when she attended Banyan as a young child and now sees herself in the Banyan kids as they see themselves in her as a role model.



Abby Mohammed, Banyan alum- and a St. Kate’s alum with a degree in Exercise Science joins us as our Physical Education Specialist, bringing the fun and the strategy to the gym every day.  Her favorite game was kick the can when she was in Banyan as a young girl.



Zak Larkin, an alum from Luther College who studied International Relations joins us with years of experience working internationally. Zak is bilingual Spanish/English with a lot of energy and passion for working with Elementary and Middle School youth.



Support Staff

Steve Royce, Building and Grounds Associate, brings to Banyan experience in carpentry, maintenance, and remodeling.  He is an avid supporter of community and is great asset to our support staff.



Sara Johnson, Development Associate





Receptionists:  We have an awesome team of bilingual receptionists that are community residents, trained in hospitality and ready to welcome all who enter at Banyan.

Melisa Belfrey





Imelda Riera





Joelle Cannon






Families Trust Me!

Staff-Families-Trust-CircleI’m the first Banyan parent to be on staff. Not too long ago, I would have been one of the families getting a home visit, and now I’m knocking on door.  Families trust me because they know I’m from the neighborhood and a parent like them.

Roughly 60% of Banyan families are Spanish-speaking, so translation is a big part of my job, including helping kids translate homework. To gain a family’s trust, it helps if kids talk you up first. That way, when you meet parents, they’ll say, “Oh, you’re Maricruz.”

In a diverse neighborhood like Phillips, it’s important for people to see people of different ethnicities and languages—working together. Banyan also wanted Spanish-speaking families to see someone in leadership who looks and sounds like them. It shows Banyan believes in neighborhood roots so much they hire a parent and community member.

Maricruz Arocho, Family Advocate for Banyan