Boise Nice—yeah, it’s a thing! More importantly, it’s who we are. In Boise, being nice is a way of life.

The phrase “Boise Nice” encompasses everything about our city, from the generosity and friendliness you can expect from any Boisean you meet to the beauty of the city’s architecture, history and natural landscape. The Boise Nice Project is a 501(c)(3), created to identify, preserve, and enhance those things that make living and working in Boise so special.

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We’ve assembled a dedicated and passionate team and board:

Rourke O'Brien, Director, Co-founder

Rourke O’Brien

President, Cofounder

Rourke is the President and Cofounder of The Boise Nice Project (BNP). Prior to cofounding BNP, he spent 10 years with the Children’s Music Foundation (CMF), an organization he founded in 2009; before that, he spent five years as President of America’s Foundation for Chess. Rourke has spent much of his career in financial services beginning in 1978 with ten years in the securities industry as Vice President – Investments with both Smith Barney, Harris Upham & Co., and Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc. before opening his own securities brokerage operation in 1986. After joining Washington Mutual Savings Bank, he founded State Street Mortgage in 1993, which became Qpoint Home Mortgage Loans in 1994, where he held the position of Director, President and CEO through 1998. He joined the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club (WA State) in 1993 and is now a member of the Downtown Boise Rotary Club, a member of Idaho Business for Education, The Boise Chamber of Commerce, and the Downtown Boise Business Association.

Rourke holds a B.A. in Finance from the University of Notre Dame.

Julia Kertz Grant

Vice-President, Cofounder

Julia is a self-starter with high ethical standards that complement her work experience at the intersection of public policy, sustainability, forestry, land conservation and natural resource management. She believes no challenge is too difficult to undertake and has led efforts to bring a range of partners together to brainstorm a solution, outline implementation steps, delegate responsibilities and achieve long-term goals. Julia’s passion, optimism, networking, communication and organizational skills enable her to make a difference at the local, national or global level.

Strategic thinking is on Julia’s daily to-do list as she builds on past experiences, learns what is happening today and envisions future conditions. She is a quick learner and a proven motivator with the ability to work under pressure while maintaining strong relationships with clients, the public, colleagues and management.

Julia moved to Boise with her husband 20 years ago from Colorado, not knowing a soul. They feel blessed to be raising their four “free-range” children in a community where “Boise Nice” is the standard, not the exception.

Julia holds a BA from the University of Missouri, Columbia, and a Masters Degree from the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment.

Julia Kertz Grant, Director, Co-founder
Nancy Buffington, Advisor

Nancy Buffington, PhD

Advisor

Communication has always been Nancy’s thing. She taught college writing and literature for more than twenty years and worked in publishing before that.

When Nancy taught public speaking at Stanford, she discovered the incomparable power of the spoken word, and her life took a major turn. She left academia, moved back to Boise, Idaho and opened a communications coaching practice in 2011.

Nancy tends to get involved in other cool and worthwhile projects. She’s worked closely with TEDxBoise since its first show in 2015, coaching speakers as they shape their ideas and get ready to grace the red famous dot. She co-founded Next Level Women Leaders in 2017, helping professional women elevate their platform and communication skills. And she bares heart and soul, so to speak, as lead singer in The Soulmates. She’s on the board of a national nonprofit, Music to Life, that helps musicians engaged in social change make an even bigger difference.

Nancy holds a BA from Idaho State University, and a Masters Degree and Doctorate from the University of Arizona.

Jack Marr, Ph.D.

Research Advisor

Dr. Jack Marr is a clinical associate professor in international business and as director of Global Programs works on COBE’s global outreach. His research and teaching areas are around East Asia, global business, economic clusters, networks and emerging markets.

Previously, Jack was on the faculties of City University of Hong Kong, New York University’s Stern School of Business and the Kellogg School of Management. He was a consultant with McKinsey and Company in Greater China, served the U.S. Foreign Agriculture Service in Shanghai and the State of Missouri in Tokyo, and has held numerous other advisory positions globally. Jack holds a Ph.D. from Boise State in Public Policy and Administration, an MA from the University of Chicago and a BA the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Brenda Smith

Media Advisor

Brenda’s journalism career began as a teenager chasing fire trucks for the story.  She no longer recommends chasing fire crews! However, she still believes that when people are well informed, it improves their lives and they can, in turn, improve the lives of others.

This belief led to a dozen years of writing and producing nightly news for CNN Headline News, CNN International, plus NBC and CBS network affiliates in Atlanta, Phoenix, Tucson and Albuquerque.

Following her passion for wellness, health and fitness, Brenda studied massage therapy and began a new path in clinical orthopedic massage, working to ease discomfort, improve mobility and enhance relaxation for clients in clinical and spa settings.

Brenda has also been involved with numerous fundraising and public relations campaigns for health and wellness, including Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Livestrong, Making a Difference Racing Team, and Race Across America.

When not writing or massaging, Brenda enjoys walking and jogging in the Boise foothills, traveling with her husband, visiting family and friends, and playing like a kid again with her adorable grandkids.

Kara Rasmussen

Financial Services

Kara is a money manager and coach for a variety of clients and service-based entrepreneurs. She is the founder of Changekeepers, where she helps people create a workable path and plan for their money and financial security, going beyond simply allocating and funding retirement accounts.

Kara has a BS in Accounting from BSU, and stepped out of corporate America to work for a consulting firm coaching business owners, and soon after, started her money management company Changekeepers. For fun, she plays tennis regularly at the Boise Racquet and Swim Club, and enjoys the precious 5 minutes a week her 2 teenaged kiddos will grant her.

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Cory Berish, Ph.D.

Project Photographer

Cory Berish grew up on the shores of Lake St. Clair in Michigan, fishing, hunting, and enjoying the fun and adventure of nature right out his back door.

Cory taught ecology and Environmental Science at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia and continued to do research on landscape ecological processes. He then transitioned to a long career at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where his focus areas were protecting human health, helping to conserve natural resources, and fostering sustainability, while at the same time making businesses more profitable.

Since leaving EPA, Cory has pursued nature photography across the USA, with an emphasis on National Parks and protected lands of the Western USA. His images are intended to inspire the appreciation and conservation of plants, animals and landscapes everywhere on the planet.

Cory received a B.S. in Biology from Western Michigan University, and a Masters of Forest Science from Yale. He then went on to earn his Ph.D. in ecology from the University of Florida.

Sayoko Kuwahara

Director

Sayoko Kuwahara was born in Osaka, Japan and pursued a higher education at Boston University where she received a BA in psychology. For over 20 years, she has been working in the medical device regulatory and compliance field, serving clients around the world. Her strengths lie in intercultural communication, trust building, and project management in addition to the Japanese regulatory knowledge.

Sayoko was a member of the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club for over 12 years and served as chair of the Social Activities Committee, as well as Club Administrator instrumental in implementing new procedures. She served on the board of the Eastside District YMCA for five years, involved in board member recruitment and capital fundraising effort for a new YMCA facility. In 2009, she co-founded the Children’s Music Foundation to ensure fundamental music education is delivered to young children of all different backgrounds. She is currently a board member with the American Red Cross of Greater Idaho, and is serving as Chair the Diversity & Inclusion Committee as well as one of the national D&I Ambassadors. She actively participates in local volunteer opportunities.

Sayoko has two black belts in Japanese jujitsu and holds the first-class international vessel operator’s license.

Phillip Thompson

Director

Phil’s family came to Idaho in 1905 and established Idaho’s first Black Church that currently houses the Idaho Black History Museum. He has worked for more than 20 years in Information Technology and currently serves as the President and Director of the Idaho Black History Museum.

Phil currently serves on the boards of Boise Black Professionals, the Boise Police Chief’s Community Advisory Panel, the City Club of Boise and the Future Public School. He formerly served as president of Islamic Center of Boise.

For the last four years Phil has been working with Parkinson’s patients to delay the progression of disease through a regimented approach to sleep, diet, and intense physical exercise. He previously spent two years as a researcher at Idaho Neurological Institute focusing on TBI and movement disorders.

Phil is father to (in his humble opinion) the world’s greatest nine-year-old, Zaida Mae Thompson, a.k.a. Junior.

Phillip Thompson

Shawn Shepherd Davis

Director

Shawn Shepherd Davis currently serves as the National Director of Development for ReFED, the nonprofit organization working to end food waste by advancing data-driven solutions at all stages of the food system — from the farm to the fork. With just under 40% of all food in America being wasted, it’s a problem she works to address every day and works hard to bring others to the table of change.

Shawn has a more than 30-year career leading nonprofit and educational organizations, and advancement offices in institutional settings. Before she joined ReFED she was the national Director of Strategic Engagement for the American Farmland Trust, which is working to preserve threatened farm and ranch land nationwide; this too was work driven by passion as she is deeply concerned about urban sprawl on some of the nation’s most important farmland — including that right here in the Treasure Valley.

Shawn, a farm girl from Indiana, is equally passionate about her adopted home of Idaho and Boise, particularly! She married in to the large Davis family here and shares in the proud history of the founding of Boise with the lineage of her husband’s great grandmother, Julia Davis.

Amy Ridenour Little

Amy Ridenour Little is an award-winning nonprofit executive leader with over 20 years in the nonprofit sector, with experience in operations, financial management, and human resources and talent management.  She is also a seasoned development professional with more than 12 years of fundraising, fund development, and grant writing experience.

Amy has twice been honored by the Idaho Business Review as an honoree for their annual Woman of the Year program and received the 2016 Alpha Gamma Delta Talent of Leadership award. Amy currently serves as the executive director/CEO of Jannus, Inc.

Prior to Jannus, Amy served in a variety of leadership roles including as CEO of the Idaho Nonprofit Center, Director of Education Impact for RISE: Treasure Valley’s Education Partnership and the CEO of the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce.

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