Meet The Team

The New Growth team is comprised of staff and West Central Missouri Community Action Agency associates, as well as leaders from partner organizations across the region.

Staff and Associates

Kelly Ast

New Growth Community Initiatives Coordinator

JOURNEY: Kelly comes to New Growth after leading the drive for innovation in rural living and health care at the Vernon County-based Healthy Nevada initiative. Achievements include a Prescription Drugs Monitoring Program in Vernon County, the Seeds of Faith gleaning project, a new multi-use farmers’ market facility, and local beef in local schools with the MO Beef MO Kids initiative.

WHY NEW GROWTH: Through the collaborative efforts of regional partners — their shared ideas and resources — counties will begin to see an example of effective community development.


Patty Cantrell

New Growth Community Wealth Building Director

JOURNEY: Patty brings a career in community economic development to New Growth, including 12 years developing regional food economy programs in Michigan. Achievements include the now-statewide Taste the Local Difference marketing initiative and Northwest Michigan’s ongoing, 10-county Food and Farming Network.

WHY NEW GROWTH: New Growth is an opportunity to connect and channel the positive energy and assets of this region so that together we can build a just and joyous future for everyone here.

Gina Ensor

WCMCAA Strategic Development and Communications Director

JOURNEY: Gina brings an extensive background in public relations, sales, marketing, business, fundraising and promotions to her job building West Central’s connection to community members and leaders.

WHY NEW GROWTH: I love being a part of something that will help our rural communities grow and succeed!

Aaron Franklin

WCMCAA Finance Director

JOURNEY: Aaron puts years of experience as a nonprofit executive director and in private banking and other industries into his job managing West Central’s finances and helping to navigate business opportunities.

WHY NEW GROWTH: New Growth is an opportunity to be innovative with our thinking, and more collaborative than we have ever been, in order to meet the needs of rural communities in West Central’s region.

Katie Nixon

WCMCAA Food Systems Specialist

JOURNEY: Katie leads West Central’s Food Systems Program building healthy farms and food in the region. Her background includes six years as a Small Farm Specialist at Lincoln University and developing the cooperative KC Food Hub, which markets to the metro area and includes produce from her own Green Gate Family Farm.

WHY NEW GROWTH: It’s a chance to make our rural economies stronger through food and agriculture.

Danielle Park

New Growth Assistant

JOURNEY: Dani is a St. Clair County native who made her way to New Growth after learning and working in the title side of real estate, with county parcel mapping and other jobs.

WHY NEW GROWTH: It’s exciting to be part of an organization that thinks and works outside the box.

Chris Thompson

President and Chief Executive Officer

JOURNEY: Chris brings a background in both community economic development and law to his executive director and CEO role at West Central and New Growth. Highlights include the innovative business accelerator StartME he helped Atlanta’s Emory University develop and launch and community development support to American Indian communities.

WHY NEW GROWTH: New Growth is a vehicle for real, impactful, innovative transformation in rural communities. And, a great team!

Debbie Vickers

WCMCAA Grant Research and Development Manager

JOURNEY: Debbie was a classroom teacher and Parents as Teachers (PAT) educator for more than 30 years, including four years as a state PAT trainer. She began her grant-writing, community organizing and communications work at the Missouri Pork Producers Association.

WHY NEW GROWTH: I love watching local connections strengthen and grow as new ideas spark hope and enthusiasm in our communities!


Kelly Asbury

Director, Small Business Development Center at State Fair Community College 

JOURNEY: Kelly provides business training and no-cost confidential one-on-one counseling to entrepreneurs in the region. She is an experienced small business owner and Missouri SBDC’s 2018 Rookie of the Year.

WHY NEW GROWTH: I love the commitment from the people at New Growth, and their desire to help others in their communities from every angle.

Sheridan Garman-Neeman

Executive Director, Kaysinger Basin Regional Planning Commission 

JOURNEY: Sheridan leads this local government member organization serving seven rural counties and 55 cities in west central Missouri. Accomplishments include developing the region’s 2017-2022 Stronger Economies Together (SET) plan and launching a regional economic development program.

WHY NEW GROWTH: We learn from each other, we support each other and, through partnership, we are achieving more for our rural communities than was possible with our organizations working alone.

Teresa Heckenlively

St. Clair County Economic Developer 

JOURNEY: Teresa works with St. Clair County businesses and governments as part of Kaysinger Basin Regional Planning Commission’s regional economic development program. Her background includes more than 20 years in the Health and Beauty Industry, during which she managed a chain of salons.

WHY NEW GROWTH: New Growth reminds communities of great assets they already have in place and helps us build on those assets.

Wayne Prewitt

West Central Region Director, University of Missouri Extension

JOURNEY: Wayne is a Vernon County native who started his career as a regional agricultural business specialist in Carthage and then Nevada, Missouri. He has 34 years of Extension experience, including seven as regional director.

WHY NEW GROWTH: Working together we can grow Missouri’s economy!


Help grow the local food and agriculture opportunity.
Help grow the local food and agriculture opportunity.
Rural living is a community economic development opportunity.