Nathan Runkle is the founder and executive director of Mercy For Animals. Raised on a farm in rural Ohio, Nathan has long had a deep connection with farmed animals. After a local farmed animal abuse case involving a piglet slammed headfirst into a concrete floor during an agricultural project at a nearby high school, Nathan founded MFA to give "food" animals a much-needed advocate in his local community.
Since founding MFA over a decade ago, Nathan has overseen the organization's growth into a leading national force in the prevention of cruelty to farmed animals and promotion of compassionate food choices and policies.
A nationally recognized speaker on animal advocacy, factory farming, and veganism, Nathan has presented at colleges, conferences, and many other forums from coast to coast.
Through his work with MFA, Nathan has been an outspoken advocate for animal rights, featured in hundreds of television, radio, and newspaper interviews, including on ABC’s World News Tonight, Nightline, and 20/20, CNN, and National Public Radio, and in USA Today, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune.
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Director of Operations
Jake Morton serves as director of operations for Mercy For Animals and oversees day-to-day operations, administration, human resources, finances and governmental compliance. Additionally, Jake works with MFA’s education and communications departments to create concepts for campaigns, videos, media outreach, merchandise and advertising.
An Ohio native, Jake studied mechanical engineering at The Ohio State University and design at Harrington College of Design in Chicago. For nine years, Jake flourished in a corporate retailing career, focusing on management and operations for a major home decor and furnishings chain. His pioneering spirit took him all across the country, overseeing major development and human resource aspects of new store openings. At the same time, Jake gained extensive experience in community improvement and neighborhood business revitalization, working with local groups in numerous cities.
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Vandhana Bala serves as general counsel for Mercy For Animals and oversees the organization’s legal initiatives, which include working with investigations department staff and local law enforcement for criminal prosecutions of farmed animal abusers, developing lawsuits and initiating complaints to governmental agencies relating to illegal agribusiness operations, assisting with the organization’s corporate governance and administrative issues, ensuring regulatory compliance for MFA’s community outreach activities, lecturing on legal issues relating to farmed animals, and supervising the legal intern program in Los Angeles.
An honors graduate of the Indiana University School of Law in Bloomington, Indiana, Vandhana received her undergraduate degree from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. She became licensed to practice law in 2000, and is currently admitted to practice in Illinois, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.>>Read more about Vandhana
Director of Investigations
Matt Rice serves as director of investigations for Mercy For Animals, working closely with undercover investigators to obtain video footage and other evidence of animal abuse at factory farms, hatcheries, and slaughterhouses. Matt also works with attorneys, veterinarians, and animal welfare experts to review covert footage and draft criminal complaints, and with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to secure animal cruelty convictions against individuals and facilities that abuse animals.
Investigations by MFA have led to raids of factory farms, rescues of abused and neglected farmed animals, passage of landmark anticruelty legislation, corporate animal welfare policy reforms, and millions of people's hearts and minds opened to the power of food choices to create a kinder world.
Matt is a former US marine and holds a bachelor's degree in biology and anthropology from the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. For as long as he can remember, Matt has had an affinity for animals and has been opposed to more visible forms of cruelty, but he had never really considered the plight of farmed animals until he watched the documentary Meet Your Meat. After witnessing the needless suffering endured by cows, pigs, chickens, and other farmed animals, he decided to adopt a vegan lifestyle and become a committed animal advocate.>>Read more about Matt
Director of Development
Nikki Bollaert serves as director of development for Mercy For Animals, overseeing the organization’s fundraising strategy and programs. She brings more than 20 years of experience as a fundraising professional to her position.
Passionate about social justice issues, Nikki designed her own major at the University of Colorado, studying development and social change in Central America through the Conflict and Peace Studies program. She went on to complete a master’s in nonprofit management at Regis University in Denver.
Nikki has also earned the Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) designation from CFRE International and the Charted Advisor in Philanthropy from The American College.
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Director of Corporate Outreach
Jaime Surenkamp serves as director of corporate outreach for Mercy For Animals, working with major food retailers, fast-food chains, grocery stores and other corporations to implement and improve farmed animal welfare policies and expand cruelty-free food options.
Jaime graduated with honors from Longwood University in Virginia with a concentration in sociology. Shortly thereafter she moved to California and began a career in corporate sales.
Her professional experience runs the gamut from corporate event planning to strategic account sales, having spent the majority of her career as the director of national accounts for OpenTable Inc., the world’s leading provider of online restaurant reservations. Jaime excelled in the acquisition and management of OpenTable’s national accounts, and as one of the company’s original salespeople, she contributed to the company’s growth from privately held to public.
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Director of Communications
Ari serves as director of communications for Mercy For Animals, overseeing the organization’s impact across all social media platforms. He also serves as the liaison to celebrities and other public figures involved in MFA’s campaigns.
A native of New Jersey, Ari holds a bachelor of fine arts with honors from NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts. After graduating, Ari worked for several years as a stage and screen actor, and was the Hollywood correspondent for Miami’s Y-100FM. For seven years, Ari ran the popular vegan candle company A Scent of Scandal, using his business as a platform to raise funds for various nonprofits and to increase awareness of green business practices.
A prolific writer on animal rights, veganism, and human rights, Ari's work appears regularly on The Huffington Post. Many of Ari’s letters have been published in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Advocate. Ari has appeared widely on national television and radio to discuss a range of subjects from veganism to civil rights, including appearances on CNN, Reuters TV, NPR, and HuffPost Live. Ari’s YouTube videos on animal rights and veganism have also become viral sensations, including Sh*t Vegans Say, with over 1 million views.>>Read more about Ari
Director of Education
Nick Cooney serves as director of education for Mercy For Animals, spearheading the organization's vegan advocacy efforts, including its online, television, and other national and international advertising campaigns. He also oversees MFA's highly influential ChooseVeg.com and MeatVideo.com websites, literature distribution, festival and youth outreach, and the efforts of MFA's thousands of volunteers around the country.
A graduate of Hofstra University, Nick is the author of “Change Of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change” (Lantern, 2011) and “Veganomics: The Surprising Science on What Motivates Vegetarians, from the Breakfast Table to the Bedroom” (Lantern, 2014). He has lectured across the U.S. and Europe on effective animal advocacy, and his work for farmed animals has been featured by hundreds of media outlets, including “Time” magazine, “The Wall Street Journal,” and National Public Radio.
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Brooke Mays serves as editor-in-chief for Mercy For Animals, overseeing all of the organization’s written material, including content for “Compassionate Living” magazine, grant requests, letters to the editor, and communications with media, corporations and the general public.
An artful master of the English language, Brooke holds a bachelor of arts in linguistics from the University of Michigan and a certificate to teach English as a foreign language from the University of Cambridge.
She has been highly successful in her time with MFA. Following the release of MFA's undercover investigation revealing extreme animal abuse at a mega egg factory farm, Brooke's letter on behalf of MFA to grocery giant Trader Joe’s led the company to immediately drop its supplier relationship with the cruel egg producer. She has proven time and again that the pen is mightier than the sword.
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Investigations & Research Associate
Kate Ziegler serves as investigations and research associate for Mercy For Animals. Kate works closely with the director of investigations, reviewing and analyzing evidence documented by MFA’s undercover investigators. She assists MFA’s legal team to determine potential violations of law, and conducts extensive research into agribusiness practices and animal welfare standards.
Kate monitors meat, dairy, and egg industry publications, as well as advancements in the farmed animal advocacy movement. She helps MFA track the impact of factory farming on animal health and behavior, the environment, and food safety, and how these issues relate to MFA’s mission to promote compassionate food choices and policies.
With Kate’s help, MFA’s investigations have led to landmark cruelty prosecutions, historic corporate policy changes, and increased consumer awareness of the plight of farmed animals. For instance, after MFA uncovered horrific abuse and neglect at Ontario Livestock Sales, law enforcement officials charged the owner and seven employees with a total of twenty-one counts of cruelty to animals. Following MFA’s investigation at Christensen Farms, several of the nation’s leading grocery retailers, including Safeway, Kmart, and Costco, announced plans to phase out gestation crates from their pork supply chains. And after MFA’s investigation at Bettencourt Dairies—a dairy supplier to Kraft Foods, Burger King, and other major fast-food chains—CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC, The Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Miami Herald, and hundreds of other television, print, and online media outlets covered the case, reaching millions of people with the message of compassion.>>Read more about Kate
Investigations & Research Associate
Leslie Hemstreet serves as investigations and research associate for Mercy For Animals. Leslie works closely with the director of investigations, reviewing and analyzing evidence documented by MFA’s undercover investigators.
Leslie has a tremendous depth of experience in undercover investigative research. Most notably, she provided the primary support for an independent, two-year undercover investigation of a federally run U.S. primate research and breeding facility. This investigation resulted in multiple policy changes after the facility’s head vet and operations manager were fired. Leslie’s previous work led to the rescue of 22 capuchin monkeys, some of whom had been captured in the wild as babies 30 years before. During her over two decades as an animal advocate, Leslie has also assisted undercover investigations of the circus industry, fur farming, exotic pet breeding, and roadside animal attractions.
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Development and Administrative Assistant
Kristen Diederich serves as the development and administrative assistant for Mercy For Animals, supporting the development department in fundraising and membership programs, as well as managing day-to-day administrative tasks for the organization.
Kristen attended Penn State University where she earned bachelor’s degrees in biology and psychology, along with a minor in law and liberal arts and honors in the Crime, Law, and Justice program. She also recently completed a master’s degree in primate conservation at Oxford Brookes University in England.
Kristen’s affinity for animals and nature dates back as far as she can remember, compelling her to become vegetarian while still in high school. In the course of researching animal welfare issues later in life, Kristen discovered the stark realities of modern farming practices and transitioned to a fully vegan lifestyle. This discovery also sparked an interest in pursuing farmed animal welfare advocacy full time.
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Video Production Manager
Lee Iovino serves as video production manager for Mercy For Animals, overseeing the creative development of the organization’s documentaries, event reviews, advertisements, and other media-related projects.
A driving force behind MFA’s powerful use of visual media to advocate on behalf of animals, Lee orchestrates film shots, voice-over recordings, music production, and audio and visual setup at special events.
Lee oversaw the creation of Farm to Fridge, MFA’s powerful mini-documentary exposing the horrific conditions of America’s factory farms. The hard-hitting film, narrated by Oscar-nominated actor James Cromwell, has been viewed over twenty million times since its release. Lee was also the editor of the documentary Behind the Orange Curtain, which examines the prescription pill epidemic in Orange County and won the Orange County Filmmaking Award at the Newport Beach Film Festival. Lee has worked with the makers of documentaries Forks Over Knives and Unity (a follow-up to the acclaimed Earthlings), and assisted in the production of MFA advertisements, which have aired on MTV, Animal Planet, Bravo, and other networks.
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National Volunteer Coordinator
Mikael Nielsen serves as national volunteer coordinator for Mercy For Animals, recruiting and training activists throughout the United States, assisting with the development of MFA’s effective advocacy resources, and serving as MFA’s spokesperson in the greater Chicago area.
Mikael holds a bachelor's degree in economics and mathematics and worked for thirteen years in the international for-profit sector, focusing the last two on wind farm development all over the United States and Canada.
Born in Denmark, Mikael moved to the United States when he was ten years old. While always a lover of animals, it was watching a friendly turkey on TV that was to be killed for Thanksgiving in 1996 that brought animal protection ideals to the forefront for Mikael and motivated him to go vegetarian and then vegan a few years later.
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Sarah Von Alt
Digital Campaigns Coordinator
Sarah Von Alt serves as digital campaigns coordinator for Mercy For Animals, overseeing the organization’s digital vegan advocacy efforts, including managing and increasing the impact of MFA's educational websites, veg eating apps, and vegan eating email resources.
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Sarah first became interested in animal rights and veganism in high school, and quickly became inspired to end the needless suffering of animals raised for food. With MFA founded in her hometown, Sarah began participating in local MFA events and activities. Sarah was also an integral part of the ballot initiative to ban some of the most abusive factory farming practices in Ohio. Before long, she joined the MFA team as Ohio campaign coordinator.
As Ohio campaign coordinator, Sarah worked with activists across the state to achieve meaningful change for farmed animals, and coordinated and oversaw hundreds of events. A believer in the power of humane education, Sarah has worked with teachers throughout Ohio, and in just the last year, has spoken before over 2,000 students on factory farming and compassion for animals.
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