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Rev. J. George Reed, Executive Director

George grew up in Orlando, Florida, B.D. (“Before Disney,” which gives an idea of how old he is). He is a graduate of Florida State University, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, and the University of Virginia Law School. Prior to coming to the Council, he was the pastor of Mountain Plain Baptist Church, Mechums River, Virginia, and the Director of Citizenship Education and World Hunger for the Baptist State Convention of NC. He became Legislative Program Associate for the Council in 1996 and Executive Director in 2000.

George is a member of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh where he has been on the Deacon Council and Coordinating Council and co-teaches adult Sunday School.  You can reach George at:

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Marnie Cooper Priest, Project Director, PHW Breastfeeding Collaborative

MarnieMarnie Cooper Priest is originally from Maine. She graduated from Goddard College with a BA in Health and Life Sciences and from Duke University with a Master of Science in Global Health. Marnie is a Certified Professional Midwife and in addition to her work as a midwife, she has used her skills to serve as a rape crisis counselor, a team member for the development of an ecumenical home for homeless pregnant teenagers, and an educator for Traditional Midwives in Haiti. As Project Director for the Breastfeeding Collaborative, Marnie works to educate low-resource congregations in Wake County about the benefits of breastfeeding and to provide those congregations with resources to create breastfeeding-friendly spaces for new mothers.

In her spare time, Marnie enjoys her family, photography, dance and the great outdoors! She can be reached at: marnie (at)

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Steve Ford, Volunteer Program Associate

Steve FordSteve Ford has lived in North Carolina since 1981, when he moved here to join The News & Observer of Raleigh. He retired in late 2012 as the paper’s editorial page editor. In that job, he supervised the opinion pages, wrote editorials and wrote a weekly column.

Steve grew up in Northern Virginia. He graduated from Yale University and served in the U.S. Army as a photographer, including a year in Vietnam. He and his wife, Jeanne, who is an attorney, live in Cary and have three grown sons. He began volunteer work with the N.C. Council of Churches in the spring of 2013, helping to keep an eye on state government and writing about public policy issues.

In his spare time, Steve enjoys outdoor activities, taking road trips (back roads, especially) and playing the piano. He and Jeanne are members of Christ the King Lutheran Church, Cary.

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Rose Gurkin, Program Associate for Administration

Rose Gurkin joined the staff in 2001. She manages the database and website for the Council and is the general office manager. She is a graduate of Western Carolina University with a BS in Music Education and of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary with a M.Div. She also serves as the Music Director for the First Presbyterian Church of Garner. She and her husband Michael are the household help for a very spoiled cat, Spirit. Spirit was adopted by the Gurkins from Sr. Evelyn Mattern.  You can reach Rose at:

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Sandy Irving, Volunteer for Health Care Reform

Sandy Irving has been involved with the Council’s work for many years. She currently serves as the Volunteer for Health Care, other federal issues, and workers rights. Sandy is an activist grandmother of six, a Presbyterian, and a retired research associate from the Biostatistics Department of the UNC- Chapel Hill School of Public Health. She currently serves on the board of NC Peace Action. You can reach Sandy at:

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David LaMotte, Consultant for Peace

David LaMotte is a graduate of James Madison University, where he became passionate about mediation and alternative conflict resolution in the late eighties and the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, where he completed a Masters in International Relations, Peace and Conflict Resolution. David is a member of the Swannanoa Valley Friends Meeting, but also has one foot in the Presbyterian Church (USA). You can reach David at:

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Trinh Le, Partners in Health and Wholeness, Strive to Revive Assistant

Trinh Le is originally from California but fell in love with North Carolina and its southern charm the first time she visited a friend at UNC-CH. Trinh received her Bachelors in Nutritional Science and Public Health from U.C. Berkeley. Previously, she worked as a junior researcher at the Center for Weight and Health evaluating nutrition interventions aimed at elementary school kids.

Trinh is currently attending UNC-CH for her Masters in Public Health in nutrition and is honored to be on board with the North Carolina Council of the Churches, helping to realize health and wholeness in places of worship. Day by day, Trinh is learning that places of worship are an important link in preventing chronic diseases that affect NC and the U.S. This makes her appreciate the magnitude of the hard work that the NCCC does everyday! Trinh can be reached at:

Shannon Axtell Martin, Regional Consultant, Partners in Health and Wholeness

Shannon has moved and traveled most of her life.  After growing up back and forth between California, Connecticut and Saudi Arabia she finally settled in North Carolina.  She came to the Council in 2012 after completing a yearlong Residency as a Chaplain at Wake Forest Baptist Health.  Shannon graduated with her Master of Divinity from Wake Forest University School of Divinity and her BA in Religion and Philosophy (with a Concentration in Outdoor Ministries) from Catawba College. Shannon’s love for interesting, diverse, and healthy foods was instilled in her from an early age, and she has become increasingly interested in the intersections of justice, food, health, and faith.  She is excited to join with congregations to work to increase the faithful health of the communities in and around the Triad.  Shannon loves working with people, laughing, cooking, being outside, painting, and her husband Robert. You can reach Shannon at:

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Aleta Payne, Deputy Executive Director

Aleta Payne first joined the Council staff in the spring of 2001 as the Communications Associate. She now oversees development, as well. Aleta is a graduate of the University of Virginia with a degree in government and foreign affairs and has spent much of her career as a journalist.

She and her husband have three sons whose many interests and activities keep the family hopping. Their shepherd-mix, Sawyer, loves her best. The family attends St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cary.  You can reach Aleta at:

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Susannah Tuttle, Director – NC IPL

Susannah Tuttle received a Masters of Divinity degree from Starr King School for the Ministry at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. Her work at the GTU focused on three different interrelated levels of human existence: Educational/Philosophical, Institutional/Physical-Structural, and Communal/Bioregional. Upon graduation she was hired as UNC Chapel Hill’s first Sustainability Research Associate. She continues as co-founder and partner in Trace Collaborative, LLC a consulting firm specializing in the implementation of sustainability within the design and construction industry. Susannah is a founding member of HistoricGreen, a national nonprofit transforming and revitalizing communities through education and charitable activities that integrate sustainable design and heritage conservation practices. She recently served on the Board of Directors of the NC Triangle Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. You can reach Susannah at:

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Willona Stallings, Program Coordinator – Partners in Health & Wholeness

Willona Stallings was born and raised in Goldsboro, NC and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill both as an undergraduate (B.A., Psychology) and graduate student (MPH, Maternal and Child Health).  After receiving her bachelor’s degree and before returning to school full-time to obtain her master’s, Willona served as Data Manager for the NC Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System and Program Consultant for the NC Sickle Cell Syndrome Program.  In her role as PHW Coordinator, she works to build partnerships between the NC Council of Churches’ member bodies and stakeholders in faith-based health initiatives.

Willona enjoys spending time with close friends and family, taking weekend road trips, walking for exercise and bargain shopping.  You can reach Willona at:

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Jennie Wilburn, Program Associate

Jennie was born and raised in Savannah, GA. She moved to Texas for her undergraduate education at Rice University, during which time she studied in Mexico, Peru and Argentina and participated in service projects in Central America. After graduation she moved to Spain for a year to teach English. Jennie then came to North Carolina for a dual degree MDiv/MSW graduate program at Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill where her work focused on advocating for farmworkers and organizing churches for social justice. Recently graduated, Jennie is excited to use these skills in her role at the Council of Churches as she works to help improve conditions for immigrants and farmworkers in the state.

Jennie lives in Durham and attends that city’s First Presbyterian Church. In her free time she enjoys dancing, distance running, traveling, walking her dog, and planning her upcoming wedding. Jennie can be reached at:


Joy T. Williams, Regional Consultant – Partners in Health & Wholeness

Joy is excited to work with the North Carolina Council of Churches, following a Master’s of Public Health degree at UNC-CH. She is proud to call NC her home.

Despite the experiences that taught her to appreciate new places, e.g. attending Wheaton College in Norton, Ma, where she received a B.A. in Hispanic Studies or in Mali (featured in picture), nothing was like home, NC. In May 2011, through Partners in Health and Wholeness, she found a Jehovah-given opportunity of sharing health with congregations! She is now serving as one of the Partners in Health and Wholeness (PHW) Regional Consultants, a North Carolina Council of Churches initiative. You can reach Joy at:

Ashley Yohman, Development Assistant

Ashley Yohman is a Raleigh native and a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a degree in business management and a minor in religion. Prior to joining the Council, she worked with the Episcopal Service Corps in Louisiana.

Ashley likes to play kickball, try new restaurants, and listen to a cappella music. She is a member at First Presbyterian Church of Raleigh. You can reach Ashley at:


Collins Kilburn, Executive Director Emeritus

Collins Kilburn served as Executive Director of the Council for 20 years prior to his retirement in 2000. He was named Executive Director Emeritus by the Council’s Executive Board in December, 2005.

A native of Memphis, Collins graduated from Memphis State College and received his M.Div. from Duke.  He is an ordained United Church of Christ minister, a member of Community United Church of Christ in Raleigh, and a watch care member of Olin Binkley Memorial Baptist Church in Chapel Hill.

Kilburn’s career with the Council spanned a total of 30 years, 10 of that as Director of Social Ministries, which included representing the Council on legislative issues.  He wrote and performed folk songs linked to social justice issues of the time, such as “Take It All Off,” aimed at the repeal of the food tax and “Do You Have Room for a Little Boom Boom?” related to the MX missile.

Since retiring, he has found more time for tennis and for leading adult education programs focused on spiritual giants of our time.  He and his wife, Martha Hamilton, share four children and seven grandchildren.

Duke Divinity School Intern


UNC-Pembroke Intern for PHW

Johnny Rogers

johnny_rogersJohnny Rogers is an eager new intern with Partners in Health and Wholeness. Johnny is from Red Springs, NC and is a senior at UNC-Pembroke, majoring in social work. Upon completion of his Bachelor’s degree, he is planning to pursue his Master’s in social work. After 16 challenging years with AT&T, Johnny took an early retirement from telecommunications and decided to start a new career where he could be a resource to help other people. Johnny has a passion to help others in need, especially children and the elderly, and feels that he has been divinely placed in this internship with Partners in Health and Wholeness to grow in experience and accomplish that goal.


PHW Faith & Health Summit -- October 10 Learn more