Trees, Water & People was cofounded in 1998 by Richard Fox and Stuart Conway, two foresters and friends who saw a huge need to address the pervasive deforestation in Latin America. As their plan evolved, they quickly realized that without addressing the underlying causes of deforestation, they would never be able to stop it.

We had to ask ourselves, if people are cutting down trees to cook their meals, then how can we help them reduce the amount of wood needed every time they cook.

For over nineteen years, Trees, Water & People has been a leader in not only reforestation, but also in the design and distribution of clean cookstoves and other clean energy products which greatly reduce the use of natural resources for energy creation.

At Trees, Water & People, our work is guided by two core beliefs: that natural resources are best protected when local people play an active role in their care and management and that preserving local ecosystems is essential for the ongoing social, economic, and environmental health of communities everywhere.

We are staffed by a group of dedicated conservationists who feel strongly about helping communities better manage the natural resources upon which their livelihoods depend. All of our programs help people and the planet by providing communities with a hand-up and not a hand-out. This approach creates economic opportunity while improving the environment and human health.

But we can't do it by ourselves.

With your help, we can make a world of difference!


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Children look out their window on Pine Ridge Reservation

Our mission is to improve people's lives by helping communities protect, conserve, and manage the natural resources upon which their long-term well-being depends.

Community-Based Development


Trees, Water & People's unique community-based development model is based on the philosophy that the best way to help those most in need is to involve them directly in the design and implementation of local environmental and economic development initiatives.

This creates ownership, involvement, and financial sustainability well into the future. Our proven development model of training and execution, coupled with an enterprise approach, engages and inspires local residents to preserve their precious natural resources.

Identify Community Needs

Success in community-based development means understanding local needs. Working with the community members, we help the group address their concerns and common interests.

Partner with Local NGOs

Strong partnerships with local organizations and consultants are crucial for each of our projects.

Design and Implement Projects

The solution needs to fit into the existing social system, have clear objectives, and ways to measure success.

Evaluate and Monitor Projects

Monitoring and evaluating are essential tools when determining the effectiveness of the project. Lessons learned from the initial implementation can be applied to current and future projects.

Meet Our Team


Sebastian Africano

Sebastian Africano

Executive Director

After 12 years of service with Trees, Water & People, Sebastian Africano is proud to have been selected to lead the organization as Executive Director. He has worked first-hand in almost every aspect of TWP's programs, and brings deep perspective and dedication to advancing the struggles and aspirations of the communities TWP serves. While Sebastian travels less these days than he did during his first ten years with the organization, he is excited to raise his two young kids among the extended TWP family, and to continue building bridges to connect our unique global community. Sebastian holds an MBA from Colorado State University, where he is also Affiliate Faculty with the Warner College of Natural Resources, and teaches Global Sustainability in the Key Communities program.   

Eriq Acosta

Eriq Acosta

National Director

Eriq Acosta joins Trees, Water & People after spending the majority of his career in nonprofit rural and urban tribal communities throughout the American Southwest and Los Angeles. His work revolved around helping people discover multi-generational greatness and their connection to our planet. He believes that one cannot heal themselves without first healing the land. He believes that in order to heal the land its vital we begin to heal ourselves; in order to heal ourselves we must heal the land, They are one in the same! Eriq will be taking on the role of National Director working not only with Tribal communities but also expanding our efforts and ideas nationally! His goal is to incorporate the generational greatness of Tribal and non-tribal communities to make this place we call home last for generations to come!   

Gemara Gifford

Gemara Gifford

International Director

Gemara is TWP’s incoming International Director, stepping in after the tragic loss of our dear friend and colleague, Lucas Wolf, whom Gem was incredibly close with. Gem joined TWP in 2015 as an intern for the International Program, and then served as our Development Director in 2016 and 2017. She has dedicated the last six years of her career to show how natural resource conservation and community development can work hand-in-hand across the Americas, especially in the most remote and fragmented places where resources are scarce, and people are forgotten. In her new role, Gem’s vision is to work closely with our local partners and community leaders to design holistic programs that emphasize reforestation, improved cookstoves, sustainable agriculture, water security, and biodiversity monitoring in rural Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. Gem is a Denver-native, and received her M.S. in Natural Resources from Cornell University in 2015 as a Gates Millennium Scholar, and her B.S. in Zoology at Colorado State University in 2012 as a First Generation Student Scholar. When Gem isn’t traveling, she enjoys the Colorado sunshine, her two kitties, and spending time with her favorite people.   

Diane Vella

Annalise Mecham

Development Director

Annalise joined the Trees, Water & People team in the fall of 2017 as the Development Director. Before arriving at TWP, Annalise worked in the field of nonprofit development throughout New England, spending most of her time in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. She holds a M.S. from Boston University in Nonprofit Management and a B.A. in Environmental Education from Hampshire College. She is excited to be working at an organization that combines her passions: environmental education, community empowerment and nonprofit management. When not at the TWP offices, you will find Annalise running, taking hikes with her family or exploring new restaurants in Fort Collins.   

Diane Vella

Diane Vella

Finance Director

Director of Finance and Administration since 2007, Diane brings her years of accounting experience to maintain TWP's financial health, as well as managing our human resources. When she isn't crunching numbers, you can find her working with local animal welfare organizations, playing the piano, or cruising around town on her bike.   

Molly Geppert

Molly Geppert

Marketing Manager

Molly was born and raised in Fort Collins. She got her start at TWP as an intern and has since moved up to marketing manager. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and German at the University of Colorado, and her two Master’s degrees in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development and Internal Affairs through a dual degree program with American University in Washington, DC and the United Nations Mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica. Outside of the TWP office, Molly is either wrangling kids at her other job, playing board games with friends, or hanging out in the mountains with her family and dog.   

Katherine Murphy

Katherine Murphy

Strategic Partnerships Manager

Katie joined the TWP team at the end of 2016 as the Strategic Partnerships Manager. She holds a B.A. in Sociology and Political Science from Colorado State University and has worked to reestablish our Corporate Partnership program, Partners for a Sustainable Planet. Katie cultivates TWP’s business relationships and aims to reach mutually beneficial goals with the environment in mind. Her passion for community resilience, youth, and nature shines through in the partnerships she builds within our Fort Collins community, and even nationwide. When Katie isn’t in the office, you can find her on her yoga mat, drinking coffee, or camping and fishing with her family.   

Amanda Haggerty

Amanda Haggerty

Data and IT Manager

Amanda joined the TWP team in 2009 as the Data and IT Manager. She has a B.S. in Natural Resource Management with a minor in Spatial Information Systems, a graduate certificate in Geographic Information Systems and is currently working on getting her B.S. in Computer Science. She has a passion for science and technology and enjoys having an opportunity to use her skills for good and not evil. When Amanda isn't querying the database, tinkering with our network, or staring at this website, she likes to work with her hands: sewing, knitting, or building things from her single-board computer.   

Kirsten Brown

Donor Relations and Outreach Manager

Kirsten is the Donor Relations and Outreach Manager at Trees, Water & People. Her lifelong passion for social justice and environmental issues are what drew her to the TWP team. Kirsten believes in the power of community and she works to foster this sense of empowerment among our incredible family of individual donors. She has a B.A. in Anthropology and Asian Studies from Beloit College, an M.A. in Asian Studies from the University of Hawaii, and she did her PhD work in Anthropology at the University of Toronto where she was a ChATSEA Fellow. She has spent over 15 years researching the social and environmental impacts of development projects in the upland agrarian communities of Indonesia. She is excited to be “home” again working for an organization that makes positive and sustainable contributions to people’s livelihoods and our environment.   

Board of Directors


Jamie Klein, President
Judge (retired), Colorado District Court

Jenny Bramhall, Vice President
Owner of Clothes Pony

Jake Tornatzky, Treasurer
Co-Owner at 3 Seeds

Jeff Hargis, Secretary
R & D Engineering Section Manager (retired), Hewlett Packard

Jon Becker
Former Co-Owner, SolarGlass Window & Door

Tim Carney
Natural Resource Specialist, USDA-NRCS

Stuart Conway
Cofounder of Trees, Water & People

Kathryn Higgins
Owner of Motherlove Herbal Company

Scott Johnson
Family Doctor (Retired), Brush Family Medicine

Tyrone Smith
Director, Native American Cultural Center Colorado State University

Marilyn Thayer
Director, TRIO Academic Advancement Center Colorado State University

Paul Thayer
Special Advisor to the Provost \ Emeritus Vice President for Student Success Colorado State University

Zia Zybko

A tree nursery outside a Honduran home.