Our Board and Staff

Our Board
NEAR, Inc. Board of Directors & Staff

John Basinger, President Emeritus

John Bell, President

Rashaan L. Baskerville, Treasurer

Sheila McKinley Bell, Secretary

Barry Chernoff

Cathy Granucci

Ken Burtis

Anne-Marie C. McEwen, Executive Director


John Basinger

John has been with The Buttonwood Tree since its inception in 1989. He is a Retired Professor, Actor, and Board Member for The National Theatre of the Deaf.
Institutions John has associated with over the years:  Bluffton University, University of Chicago, United States Army, Kakamega Secondary School, Kakamega Kenya, Wesleyan University, Yale University, The National Theater of the Deaf. National Storytelling Association, The Omega Institute, Paramount Pictures, Long Wharf Theater, The Hartford Stage Company, The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, Three Rivers Community College, NEAR, Inc., Degrees, BSc, MAT, MA (Theater).

Awards:  Distinguished Alumnus Award,  Distinguished Faculty Award.  Middletown Arts Council Award;  Connecticut Humanities Council Award

Activities:  Write Plays, Write Poetry, Memorized and Perform John Milton’s Paradise Lost.  Conceived of and Perform THE KING, a one-character adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Barry Chernoff

Professor Barry Chernoff joined the Wesleyan Faculty in 2003 where he holds the Robert K. Schumann Chair of Environmental Studies. He is currently chairs the Environmental Studies Program and is Director of the College of the Environment. He teaches courses in Environmental Studies, Tropical Ecology, Aquatic Ecosystem Conservation, Quantitative Analysis and Evolutionary Biology for the departments of Biology and Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Chernoff’s research centers on the freshwater fishes of the Neotropical region, primarily those in South America in the Amazon. His research includes, ecology, evolutionary biology and conservation. Chernoff has published 91 peer-reviewed scientific works, including 6 books and edited volumes. He has led international teams on expeditions designed to conserve large watersheds of the world, having made more than 33 expeditions in 13 countries. Recently, Professor Chernoff and his students have been working on aquatic ecology and conservation genetics of fishes in Connecticut watersheds. In the past he has held professorial and curatorial positions at the Field Museum, University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Pennsylvania and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. He holds visiting positions at Universidad Central de Venezuela and the Museu Zoologia de Universidade de Sao Paulo, Brasil. Chernoff has received a number of awards including the Caleb T. Winchester Outstanding Scholar and Teacher Award, 1 May 2006, awarded by Xi of Psi Upsilon, Wesleyan University and a Commendation for Excellence in Teaching, University of Chicago, 2000. Chernoff was elected to the Connecticut Academy of Sciences and Engineering in 2005, where he chaired the Environmental Science and Technology Board until 2010.

From 1993-1999, he served on the U.S. National Committee for the International Union of Biological Sciences elected by the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council, and served as Vice-Chairman from 1995-1997 and Chairman from 1997-1999. He serves on the Inland Fish Commission’s Endangered and Threatened Fishes Panel for the CT Department of Environmental Protection. Chernoff co-wrote the script for a short documentary film entitled “Understanding Biodiversity” that was awarded finalist status at a number of film festivals, including Cannes, Toronto and Sundance, and received the Silver Apple Award from the American Educational Network.

He has served on the boards of a number of community-oriented foundations, including the Confluence Greenway Project of St. Louis, Mo., and as President of the Sustainable Aquatic Research Center. A co-founder, Chernoff served as President of The Jonah Center for Earth and Art, from 2004-2014 in Middletown, CT. Chernoff performs with two musical groups: the electric rock band, The Smokin’ Lillies, and the acoustic string band, Mattabesset String Collective.


Staff: Anne-Marie Cannata McEwen, Executive Director


Anne-Marie first became acquainted with TBT in 2003 when she recruited members of her favorite band, Gandalf Murphy and The Slambovian Circus of Dreams, to perform at Middletown High School for 300 music students. When her daughter learned they were coming to The Buttonwood Tree, she made the request of her mother who was in the Parent Leadership Training Institute program at the time, and Anne-Marie obliged. Little did she know it was only the beginning of her “Booking” career.

She retired from a career in Dental Hygiene and her 21 year marriage in 2003 and laughs (gratefully) at how a new job teaching a Dental Assisting course at Middlesex Community College literally knocked on her door. She also then focused on her food business, running a booth at the Durham Fair and other fairs around the State, which she did for over a decade. She opened a “Good Food” cart in downtown Middletown in 2004 and late night at Wesleyan, until retiring in 2006.

In February 2007, Anne-Marie responded to The Buttonwood Tree’s newspaper ad looking for help with grant writing. A few months later Kunle Mwanga invited her to join the board. A year later, she followed her instinct and volunteered to serve as ED. She’s been thoroughly enjoying the music, the people, the community and all the good that comes from it ever since. For three years she also worked the overnight shift at the Warming Center when it first opened, during the cold months.

She enjoys the outdoors (especially at sunrise and sunset), hiking, swimming, running … tennis and ping-pong, discussing spirituality, reading and helping people to become their best Selves. She has three children, two grandchildren and through her marriage in 2015, three children, two grandchildren and a great-granddaughter born in May 2018! She met her husband, Mike “Lucky”Lee McEwen at Laughter Yoga at The Buttonwood Tree and is a firm believer in the power of positive thinking. She is in the Celebration Singers choir and a member of First Church, Middletown, on Court Street. She is blessed to be one of more than a dozen marriages that have come out of The Buttonwood Tree, and often says, “Love is in the air at The Buttonwood Tree”.  Pictured here with John Basinger, 2018.