Board of Directors

Blackwood Educational Land Institute is supported by an enthusiastic and committed Board of Directors.


Cath Conlon, Founder & CEO |  As CEO and founder of Blackwood Educational Land Institute, Cath has created a 33-acre environmental oasis that attracts thousands of students each year who come to learn where food comes from and to enjoy a peaceful respite from city living. A certified permaculture designer and master gardener, she has created a land-based learning environment supporting schools, teachers, corporations, and other organizations.


Star Massing, Board President | Star Massing is a realtor at Boulevard Realty, Chair of the Board for Blackwood, and was named “Realtor to the Arts & Design Community” by PaperCity Magazine in 2014.  As a multi-year top producer in 2014, 2015, and 2016, she has worked with buyers and sellers in neighborhoods all over Houston. With over 18 years of experience in advertising and marketing, she has promoted clients in PaperCity, CultureMap, Swamplot, Channel 39 and the Houston Chronicle. When she’s not working with clients, Star invests in her community through volunteerism and leadership and is committed to the principles of sustainability and personal responsibility. She actively works to elevate the arts in Houston alongside her husband, Jack Massing.


LaVerne Williams, Vice President | LaVerne Williams, AIA, LEED AP, is an architect who, as a green building pioneer, has helped transform the way homes and buildings are conceived, designed, and constructed. Founder and CEO of Environment Associates Architects and Consultants, his eaDesign for Life holistic approach for primarily residential architecture has exhibited leadership in cultivating and implementing sustainable living concepts and practices since 1975. His projects have achieved the healthiest and highest green building performance and certifications nationally and locally and he aspires to achieve even loftier heights by residing and experiencing the wonders of nature especially in the mountains.


Sheila Blake, Secretary | Sheila is a retired Building Code Administrator from Houston’s Department of Public Works & Engineering where she was responsible for the city building code and founded the Green Building Resource Center. Growing up in a northern city she loved spending time outdoors and family vacations were opportunities to experience nature through visits to mountains and National Parks. She has worked in many facets of building construction as well as in the hospitality and social service industries. She has been a contributor and activist for environmental and social justice organizations and has served on numerous boards and national committees related to green codes and green construction. Sheila spends her spare time enjoying her 15 grandchildren, participating in church and community activities, cycling, reading, traveling, and gardening.


Katherine Sargent Cairoli | Kate has a decade of experience in public health and ecological design. Her focus has been on disparities and inequalities at the intersection of human and environmental health. She has worked with non-profits and foundations that focus on health, sustainable agriculture, education, regenerative design, and environmental issues. Kate holds a Bachelor’s degree from Yale University and a Master’s degree in Ecological Design from the Conway School. She grew up on a farm in Southeastern Pennsylvania and currently resides in Houston, where she serves on the boards of several non-profits, writes, and tends her urban garden.



Chris Cusack | Chris Cusack is a native Houstonian. A graduate from The University of Texas at Austin, he is the owner of Down House restaurant, Johnny’s Gold Brick cocktail bar, and D&T Drive Inn craft beer bar. He’s passionate about communities, yoga, and living hospitality every single day.



Paula Fendley | Paula Fendley has spent a lifetime in the pursuit of equity and justice. During her 34 years in public education, she has been a teacher counselor and principal of a high school. Paula currently works an educational consultant in the Houston area. Blackwood holds a special place in her heart and has been the site of numerous transformational experiences with high school students and staff. Her love of nature and appreciation for environmental sustainability make her a huge supporter of Blackwood’s mission. Paula has a daughter who teaches at Pershing Middle School and a son who attends University of Texas at Austin. Her two labradoodles, Simon and Garfunkel regularly “disturb the sounds of silence”, but bring her great joy as do her grand dogs, Tux and Cashmere. Paula sings and dances her way through life!


Jeff Kaplan | Co-founder of New Living, a green furnishings and organic mattress store, Jeff is a Houston-based eco-entrepreneur focused on creating businesses that maximize community impact. His passion for healthy furnishings started at a young age and after graduating from Southwestern University, he went on to found the Urban Land Institute’s national Young Leaders Program. He donates his time to a variety of green organizations like Blackwood and co-founded Axelrad Beer Garden, HTX Made, and Houston Needs A Swimming Hole. In 2015, the Houston Chronicle named Jeff among Houston’s most fascinating people.



Megan Parks | Megan grew up camping in the piney woods of east Texas and is passionate about helping people heal by reconnecting to the living earth.  She is a Principal with AMB Parks Consulting, where her practice focuses on soil health, innovative compliance efforts, biomimicry and ecological valuation strategies.  She previously worked for over 15 years with BP Corporation, including work on the Deepwater Horizon spill.  Megan holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Rice University and an M.S. in Environmental Engineering from Southern Methodist University.



Jill Satterwhite |