Who We Are
Milinda Ysasi, Chief Executive Officer
Milinda Ysasi was born in Grand Rapids and grew up on the Southeast side of the city. She attended Catholic Central and Grand Valley State University. She has been married to her husband, Rafael Castanon for over ten years. They live in Creston.
Milinda Ysasi comes to GROW from The SOURCE, an organization focused on reducing employment barriers and creating opportunities for mobility for employees that work for their partner organizations.
Prior to The SOURCE, Milinda worked in human resources at Cascade Engineering, Herman Miller and Spectrum Health. She received her executive MBA from Michigan State University in 2019. In November 2019, Milinda was elected to serve as a City Commissioner for the 2nd Ward of the Grand Rapids.
Milinda is a co-founder of the Latina Network of West Michigan, an organic collective focused on changing the Latina narrative in the region. She was a 2018 Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Job Quality Fellow. Milinda serves on the Chemical Bank West Michigan community board and the West Michigan Works! legislative committee. Milinda has been recognized for her commitment and leadership with the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce ATHENA Young Professional award, the GVSU Alumni Service award, GR Business Journal 40 under forty, Young Nonprofit Professionals Network-GR DoGooder and Exemplary Executive awards, GR Business Journal 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan and as one of 200 Most Powerful Business Leaders in West Michigan.
Kelli Smith,Chief Operating Officer
Kelli comes to us from the Ludington area where she owned and operated her own business successfully for more than a decade. She has over 20 years of experience in business operations and client services as well as cost control strategies and finance. Kelli has been a long-time advisor for youth services, coordinating internships and mentoring both high school and college students. Her commitment to community development has led her to serve on the board of directors at Safe Harbor Credit Union, West Shore Community College and Memorial Medical Center Benefit Committee.
As an experienced entrepreneur, Kelli’s focus at GROW is to provide business services for loan clients. She works closely with each client to cultivate relationships and ensure their current and future business success as well as assisting them through the microloan process.
Karen Benson, Business Development Officer, West Michigan Lakeshore
Karen is originally from the Detroit area and has been in West Michigan since 1985. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Michigan State University and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from Cornerstone University.
Karen has extensive experience in business and economic development with businesses and organizations in West Michigan including ONU Graduate Studies/Campus in Grand Rapids, The Right Place, Muskegon Area First, Grand Haven Bank, The Chamber: Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Ferrysburg and NEIDEC.
Past certifications include Certified Economic Development Professional and Certified Small Business Development Counselor. Her experience includes grant writing, small business counseling for the SBDC network and SBA 504 Loan Portfolio management for 16+ years. She thrives on developing strategic partnerships, collaborating and facilitating conversations and projects among regional partners, and connecting people and organizations to key resources, which will be extremely beneficial to GROW clients on the lakeshore and beyond.
Amy Deel, Director of Operations and Administration
Amy is originally from the Flint area and fell in love with Grand Rapids, which she has called home for the past 19 years.
She has just over 16 years of experience in the non-profit sector and 8 years of experience working closely with West Michigan businesses through her work with Local First West Michigan. It was there that she worked in many facets of the non-profit as Membership Coordinator, Fund Development Director and finally as Operations Manager. She is passionate about economic development and knows how deeply businesses can impact a community.
With her experience in operations and non-profit work, Amy will focus on helping things run smoothly for staff and clients alike.
Rosie Orchanian, Program and Volunteer Coordinator
Rosie grew up in the Kalamazoo area and always knew she would call West Michigan home. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Marketing and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from Western Michigan University.
She has experience working in the non-profit sector as well as in higher education management. Rosie is dedicated to furthering the mission of GROW with exceptional programming as well as the cultivation of stellar volunteers. She is passionate about connecting people with the right resources when they need them the most.
When she is not at work or studying, you can find Rosie spending time with her family and friends, working on a house project, arranging flower bouquets or traveling.
Nikita Miner, Office Administrator
Our Office Administrator, Nikita, hails from Ypsilanti, MI home of the EMU Eagles. In 2011, she moved to Grand Rapids to continue her education at Calvin University (formerly Calvin College).
Upon graduating from Calvin University in December 2019 with a Major in Social Work and a minor in English Literature, Nikita accepted an offer to work for GROW, one of her favorite nonprofits as a student.
When she’s off the clock, Nikita loves watching South Korean variety shows, studies Spanish, and cares for her young cat Wallace. Although she has many, many, many interests, Nikita hopes to study public interest law at the University of Michigan in the future.
Elyse Wild, Marketing and Communications Manager
Elyse is an award-winning journalist and former magazine editor. She brings ten years of experience as a writer and content creator to her role as marketing and communications manager at GROW. After four years of leading the editorial department of Women's LifeStyle Magazine, she was thrilled for the opportunity to join GROW in the mission to support small businesses in our community. She is excited to tell the many stories of GROW throughout West Michigan and inspire others to leap into business ownership and economic independence.
When she isn't writing or dreaming up marketing strategies, she can be found planning her next trip abroad, snowboarding, hiking with her husband and dog, or DJing.