Sangha

The Vermont Zen Center is run by Sangha members who generously volunteer their time and expertise. Here are some of the people you may meet taking care of the gardens, mowing the lawn, cleaning the temple, answering phones, greeting visitors, working on our newsletter, conducting courses, arranging flowers and, in general, maintaining the Center from top to bottom, inside and out.


Ramiro Barrantes

Ramiro was born in San José, Costa Rica, where he lived until moving to Vermont in 2001. He studied mathematics and computer science at the University of Costa Rica, and received his doctorate in Computational Biology at UVM. In addition to his Zen training, which began in 1996, Ramiro enjoys salsa dancing. Ramiro has been living at the Zen Center since he moved to Vermont. He is responsible for work days and oversees the maintenance of the Zen Center. He is also in charge of guests and arranging personal retreats.

Polly Whitcomb

Polly was born in Springfield, Vermont and raised on a dairy farm there. She studied fine art and then pottery. She practiced Zen with Roshi Kapleau at the Rochester Zen Center and later moved to New Mexico, where she worked as a potter for about 25 years. For the last several years there she also made assemblages from ceramic elements and found objects. In 2011 she moved back to southern Vermont and eventually ended up at the Vermont Zen Center. She became a resident at the Center in 2015. She also maintains a studio where she continues to make the assemblages.

Nowa Crosby

Nōwa was born in Elizabeth City, NC. His father was in the USMC and he grew up in North and South Carolina, Florida, West Virginia, California and Virginia. Nōwa began playing music at five and at 20 studied the building and repairing of string instruments. Nōwa’s interest in Zen began in 1980 and he began sitting regularly around 1988. In 1994 Nowa joined the Zen Center and became ordained as a Zen priest in 2009. Nōwa builds, repairs and designs string instruments, performs occasionally, and sculpts Buddhist figures. He is the father of four and grandfather of three. He is also a hospital chaplain.

Jhana Piché

Jhana was born in Winooski, VT. She attended and taught at the University of Vermont, where she received a Bachelor of Science degree and worked with the National Office for Voluntary Action. Jhana is also a Five Time National Judo Champion and taught judo in a number of settings while at the university. Jhana was the founder of The Heartworks and Renaissance Schools. In 2004 she began Zen practice. Jhana can often be found working in the Center’s gardens, and every year she conducts the Center’s yard and bake sale. Jhana was ordained as a Zen priest in 2019.

Mitra Coulter

Mitra was born and raised in New Jersey. She graduated from Springfield College, MA and taught physical education in Princeton, NJ. She earned her masters in PE at the University of Wisconsin and taught at Wellesley College. Mitra worked for Outward Bound for three years. She and her husband spent two years as Peace Corp volunteers in Ghana. Mitra became a member of the Zen Center in 1989. After retiring from a 20-year career teaching kindergarden, she took charge of the Center’s kitchen, a position she has held for many years. Mitra was ordained as a Zen priest in September 2011.

Marcela Pino

Marcela was born in San José, Costa Rica. She studied dance and Spanish literature at the University of Costa Rica. She met Roshi Graef in Costa Rica and became her student in 1990. Marcela moved to Vermont in 1991 in order to study Zen and to be close to the Vermont Zen Center. Since then, she has taught Spanish and modern dance in the community, and worked for a women’s health international non-profit. She and her husband, Kevin Clayton live in Shelburne. Marcela often will be found working on flower arrangements at the Center, setting up for ceremonies, and monitoring sittings.

Joan White

Joan was born in Brockton, Massachusetts. She attended the University of Massachusetts where she received a B.S. and an M.S. in Natural Resource Economics. Joan began studying Zen in 1992. For many years she has been the editor of Walking Mountains, the Zen Center’s newsletter. Joan is also passionate about plants of any kind. You’ll often find her working in the gardens at the Zen Center, arranging flowers for ceremonies, and caring for the Center’s house plants.

Manju Selinger

Manju was born in Northern India. In India she received a B.S in Biology and Chemistry and an LL.M. and recently received M.Ed. in Early Childhood Special Education from UVM. Manju moved to the U.S. in 1993 and to Vermont in 2000. She joined the Zen Center shortly thereafter. Manju teaches the Indian Vegetarian Cooking courses at the Center. She lives in Hinesburg with her husband, and has two daughters and two dogs.

Dave Tisdell

Dave was born and raised in Massachusetts. He studied Music and Education at Saint Michael’s College and received his Masters from Castleton State College. In 1985 Dave began practicing Zen at the Rochester Zen Center, then in 1988 became one of Roshi Graef’s first students at the newly established Vermont Zen Center. Dave teaches music to middle schoolers, grades 5–8. He and his wife Betsy have two children. In 2006, he and Kelly Story become the first two members of the Sangha who were ordained as lay priests.

Cheryl Betz

Cheryl was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and grew up in various small towns in Wisconsin and Illinois. She received a liberal arts education with an emphasis in the visual arts from Northern Illinois University. After several years of editorial work in the Chicago publishing industry, she and her husband moved to Vermont where she returned to the study of painting and art history, including post-graduate work at Johnson State College and the Vermont Studio Center. She began practicing at the Vermont Zen Center in 1996, and currently divides her time between the Center, studio work, and her husband and son. For many years, Cheryl has worked as head cook at the Center, sharing responsibilities with Mitra Coulter.

Kelly Story

Kelly grew up in northern California. She earned a BA from Saint Michael’s college in Political Science and Russian in 1991. In 1990, Kelly took a course in Buddhism and began sitting immediately, becoming a member of the Vermont Zen Center in 1992. Kelly has worked in education her entire career. Kelly loves nature, the outdoors, and growing and learning through the interests of the children she spends her days with. In 2006, she and Dave Tisdell become the first two members of the Sangha who were ordained as lay priests.

Heather Kelman

Heather was born in the Icelandic community of Gimli, Manitoba, Canada along the shores of Lake Winnipeg. She studied English Literature at York University in Toronto and took a course called Wisdom Literature where the class was introduced to the practice of meditation. In 1998, she met a student of Roshi Graef's who referred her to the Toronto Zen Centre and she immediately began practicing. She and her husband were married at the Vermont Zen Center and moved to Vermont in 2006 to live near the Center. Heather is part of the flower arranging team at the Center. Heather became a lay ordained priest at the Center in 2014.

Josh Kelman

Josh was born in New York City. He studied engineering and currently works for an energy efficiency consulting company. Josh practiced Zen for several years in his early twenties and returned to practice as a student of Roshi Graef in 2000 in Toronto. He and his wife Heather were married at the Vermont Zen Center and moved to Vermont in 2006 to live near the Center. Josh raises vegetables with mixed results and chops a lot of wood. He is a regular contributor to the Zen Center's newsletter and can often be found at the Center performing small repairs and helping set up for events and ceremonies. Josh became a lay ordained priest at the Center in 2014.

Jim Kahle

Jim was born in San Jose, California and grew up in the Bay Area. He went to school at Miami of Ohio where he studied Psychology. While at school, he attended a lecture by Roshi Philip Kapleau in a religion class. Jim started practicing Zen at the Rochester Zen Center in the 70's and began Zen training at the Vermont Zen Center in 1988, becoming one of Roshi Graef’s first students. In the summer, you'll often find Jim on the riding mower, keeping the Center's lawn neat and trim. Jim is a lay priest.

Emily Cross

Emily was born in Toronto, Canada, where she grew up. She went to high school at Emma Willard School in Troy, NY followed by university at the University of Toronto. There she studied physics and mathematics, with a minor in French. Her Master’s work was in Aerospace Materials at the Institute for Aerospace Studies. She was registered as a professional engineer in 2006. Emily has been a Zen practitioner since 2000. She works as an engineer in building commissioning and energy analysis. She studied violin and has practiced aikido for 18 years.