At the Village Square, we like to ensure that both team and board members represent a diverse socio-political brew – aiming for something close to 50% conservative-leaning and 50% liberal-leaning (throwing in some wonderful libertarian and leftist minds to make it interesting!)  Contact if you’re interested in joining the fun!

Village Square Utah ~ Leadership Team


Jacob Hess, Co-Founder & Co-Director, Village Square Utah, Salt Lake City.  During his Ph.D. program at the University of Illinois, Jacob helped develop and co-facilitate a liberal-conservative dialogue course for undergraduates, the first of its kind in the nation. Jacob also conducted research comparing narratives of liberal and conservative citizens and examined the larger community hesitancy towards holding batterer’s accountable for domestic violence – and went on to publish 13 peer reviewed articles.  With Dr. Phil Neisser (State University of New York, Potsdam), Jacob co-authored a book on liberal-conservative dialogue entitled, “You’re Not as Crazy as I Thought (But You’re Still Wrong)” – featured on NPR’s This American Life. Jacob is a long-time member of the National Coalition of Dialogue and Deliberation and a current partner with Living Room Conversations. He is married to Monique Moore, with three little boys who make sure their daddy smiles at least 13 times a day. You can contact Jacob at

Shelly Jenson, Co-Director, Village Square Utah, Salt Lake City.  Shelly Jenson stems from a lineage of highly analytical and intelligent people who thought they could think their way out of the chaos-of-daily-living. Shelly gave it her best shot but failed, only to find that she valued her mind less than the sharing of her heart. And so, Shelly now spends her free-time cultivating a lifestyle in which connection, sincerity and empathy are the foundation. Shelly’s passions include silence, mediation, contemplating the infinite capacity of the human heart and discovering deep connections with the Spirit of Life in its many forms. Above all else, Shelly adores the gift she has been given to raise two tremendously rare beings, Hannah and Nicholas, who are her greatest joy and most powerful teachers.   Shelly is a student of the Buddhist meditation called Vipassanavolunteers with the local non-profit Wild Utah Project , is a practitioner of Jin Shin Jyutsu, and studies at the non-traditional school called Flowering Mountain, in New Mexico.  Shelly also wonders why she writes her bio from the perspective of the third person: a wink and a nod to the oddities of life!  

Jay Griffith, Outreach and Marketing Co-Director. Jay is a long time communitarian, seeking community, environmental, and social preservation and improvement primarily through volunteer service in existing organizations or venues or ones he helped create. He served for 15 years on his township community council, as well as helped found and/or sustain a number of groups tasked with such missions as: neighbor-friendly zoning, urban chicken farming, safe sidewalks, township formation and city incorporation, and promoting better environmental stewardship. An an art director and writer by profession, Jay has volunteered his professional skills to contribute to a number of charitable organizations over the years. Most recently he has been serving as marketing leader for The Liahona Children’s Foundation, who’s mission is to alleviate malnutrition in young children in third world countries. And throughout his life he has served in, and been served by, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Currently Jay facilitates and manages two dialogue groups a month—Faith Again and Think Again. In addition, he is a part of the leadership team for Utah’s chapter of The Village Square, helping to facilitate and host “Living Room Conversations,” most of which have been centered on creating greater understanding around LGBT issues between those who see gay marriage and religious freedom differently. Jay is fortunate to be married to Jane Latham Griffith and to have three delightful and diverse children and two wonderful daughter-in-laws. Curiosity, a love of the earth, it’s creator, and the life that inhabits it are his core drivers. He hopes to “be the prayer he prays.”

Emily Brand, Outreach and Marketing Co-Director.  Emily Christopulos brings 15 years of experience in business administration to The Village Square Utah team. In addition to being an active member of several not-for-profit efforts in the area, she currently owns and operates a private marketing business, as well. In 2010, she was awarded two red-ribbon patents for data center cooling methods and another patent for a similar technology in 2015. She has been instrumental in the establishment of several startup companies throughout the State of Utah. She will earn her MBA from Weber State University next year and loves skiing, hiking and biking in the Wasatch mountains.

Ross Collier, Development Director.  Ross was raised in Michigan, did some wandering after high school, and lived in California before landing in Utah. Here he met his wife, raised a son, and attended the University of Utah, earning a degree in pharmacy.  Although he has long been curious about opinion formation and disagreement and how these phenomena affect our society, this is the first time he has involved himself with an organization like The Village Square. He’s drawn to this work because he believes that what he sees isn’t necessarily all there is, what he sees may not be what is, and engagement done right with those who see things differently may help him to see more clearly.

Casherie Bright, Program Director.  Casherie Bright is a Mental Heath Counselor practicing crisis interventions at Davis Hospital and treating trauma in foster care teens. She has been involved in child welfare and mental health for the past 11 years. She has held various positions within her church and career that leave her passionate about helping change occur at the grassroots level. She is involved with Village Square Leadership to help bring light to political differences and seeks to deepen her understanding of others through dialogue. 


Village Square Utah ~ Local Advisors


Jodi Graham, Utah Humanities Council, Salt Lake City. In 2004, Jodi left UHC and moved with her family to Vienna, Austria, where she worked for the International Atomic Energy Agency. After being immersed in the rich culture of a big city, her family landed in Riverton, Wyoming, where they found an abundance of pioneer history, Native American culture, and wide open spaces. During her time in Wyoming, Jodi worked as the secretary for a Title I elementary school and assisted in the administration of the Title VII Indian Education and Johnson O’Malley grant programs for Fremont County School District #25. Jodi returned to UHC in 2012, and is so happy to be “home”. She received her BS in Musical Theatre Performance from Weber State University, and still sings with her husband whenever she has the chance.

Scott Follett, Co-Founder, Village Square Utah, Salt Lake City.  Scott is a one of the primary organizers of the popular TedX Salt Lake City, with Anna Decker.  His insight and ‘engineering mind’ have been a crucial and energizing contributor to the development of the Village Square in Utah.  More generally, Scott describes himself as a Cognitive Dissident in the School of Life. Scott doesn’t like boxes, or walls, or anything that he could fit inside of comfortably. By day, he works as an automation engineer designing machinery and integrating robotics into a variety of manufacturing processes. When he’s not paying the bills, he is an economist, connoisseur of books, political philosopher, and avid nature lover. A devoted student of the human experience, he nurtures many passions, but on the top of this list are outdoor music festivals, playing in Utah’s great outdoors, and collecting paradigms.

David Derezotes, University of Utah Department of Social Work

Carolynn Clark, University of Utah, Conflict Resolution Professor

Steve Morris, Bridging the Religious Divide

Sherry Zemlick, Bridging the Religious Divide

John Kesler, Salt Lake Civil Network

Jim Struve, LGBTQ Therapy Guild


Village Square Utah ~ National Advisors


Liz Joyner, Executive Director, Village Square National. has a Masters Degree in Social Work, with professional experience as an inpatient psychiatric social worker which prepared her well to take on the current din of partisanship (or at least emboldened her to be silly enough to try). Liz came out of semi-retirement as a stay-at-home mom because her experience working for numerous political campaigns convinced her that the way we work out our disagreements in today’s public square is fundamentally flawed (you’ve really got to wonder about anyone who’d set their sights on fixing the public square).  The Village Square came together when Liz ran City Commissioner Allan Katz’s re-election campaign and saw an example of the civic discussions we should  be having between Allan and his politically diverse friends.  Liz fondly remembers the days when her parents would laugh good-naturedly every election day when they dutifully went to cast their votes that inevitably cancelled each other out.  They continued to speak, even about politics. Liz has a one very patient husband and two very wonderful girls, in addition to a dog and a cat who are best friends.  Of course they are.

Joan Blades and her husband Wes Boyd co-founded the political group in 1998 as an attempt to urge the nation “Move-on” after Bill Clinton’s impeachment. In 2006, Blades and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner co-authored The Motherhood Manifesto and co-founded the organization MomsRising, dedicated to “bringing millions of people, who all share a common concern about the need to build a more family-friendly America, together as a non-partisan force.” In 2010, Blades and Nanette Fondas co-authored The Custom-Fit Workplace. A practical guide for making the workplace more profitable and a better fit for employees, the book describes work practices like flexible work, virtual work, high-commitment work, non-linear career paths and babies at work. MomsRising launched a companion to the book on Labor Day 2010 to encourage supporters of custom-fit work environments to join the conversation about transforming work culture. In 2011, Blades co-founded Living Room Conversations in an effort to bring both sides of the political spectrum together to discuss individual issues in a comfortable environment. Based on five basic rules of discourse, Living Room Conversations have been held on a variety of subjects and begun to receive national exposure.