IA Committee

Each year the conference is planned and organized by a leadership team consisting of the Conference Committee, the Youth Director, and the Registrar-Treasurer.

The Conference Committee is the governing board of the International Affairs Conference at Star Island, a nonprofit corporation (bylaws). Committee members serve for five years: three as members, one as Chair, and one as Chair Emeritus. At the end of each conference, a new member rotates on and the Chair Emeritus rotates off.

The Chair selects the theme and recruits speakers and the minister of the week. Each Committee member has a portfolio of responsibilities, including finding and recruiting program leaders and other volunteers, coordinating with Island staff to ensure a smooth week, and generally being available to attend to the needs of the conference.

Gretchen Donehower, Chair IA 2024

Gretchen Donehower

Gretchen has been attending IA since age 6. She loves Star’s natural beauty and New England quirkiness, and IA’s spot on the calendar as THE not-to-be-missed summer gathering for her parents and siblings (including her sister, the fabulous registrar Kristin Laverty!).  Her favorite Star activities are theme talks, watching softball, and solving the problems of the world with other conferees from a rocker on the porch.

Off-island, Gretchen is a demographer at UC Berkeley helping NGOs, governments, and researchers around the world understand how population affects our economies.  She works from her home in southern Oregon, which she shares with her husband, John, and sons Jack and Bill.  The boys love the kid-freedom of Star, running around with friends for swimming, softball, exploring, and games.  John can’t always get away from his vital work as a craft brewer (hey, it is Oregon after all), but on-island can be found making breathtaking catches in the cemetery during the Pel-IA softball game.

Greg Dixon, Chair Emeritus

Greg Dixon

Greg began attending Star Island conferences with his parents when he was nine years old. He spent a number of summers working on the island as a Pelican, and it was during one of those summers that he met his wife, Kyla. The two began attending IA with their young family in 2013. They fell in love with the conference’s slow pace, it’s good people, the intellectual stimulation and the wonderful children’s program.

On the mainland, Greg is a producer for National Public Radio (NPR). Currently, he works for the International Desk, supporting NPR reporters in 19 bureaus around the world. Prior to this role, he worked for the network’s flagship afternoon show, All Things Considered, for over a decade. Greg has reported for NPR around the world from war-zones, conflicts, natural disasters and, occasionally, places not in turmoil.

Greg, Kyla and their two small children live in Washington, DC.


Deb Nelson, Committee Member

Deb Nelson

Deb began going to IA week with her mom, brother, and sister when she was six years old. It was her favorite week of the year. She took a break from Star after moving to California, started coming back with her sons seven years ago, and feels very grateful to be part of the IA community. On the mainland, Deb is executive director of the Just Economy Institute, a community of practice and leadership development program for financial activists. She’s been supporting, educating and connecting social entrepreneurs, impact investors and nonprofit leaders for two decades. Deb and her sons Sam and Will live in Berkeley, CA.

Anthony Silva, Committee Member

Anthony Silva

Anthony first came to Star Island during IA week for an overnight in 2014 with his wife JoAnn to honor the memory of their close friend George Brandenburg. They’ve returned annually since that first visit.  Anthony retired from CBS in 2015 after a 37 year career at WBZ Radio and TV in Boston where he was the afternoon radio news anchor and New England Business Editor. He created a quarterly breakfast meeting series that attracted a wide range of business and technology experts including Richard Branson and Jack Welch. He also founded the Me&Thee Music series at the UU Church in Marblehead that is now in its 53rd season. Anthony has been a dedicated UU for 55 years and has held a variety of leadership positions in two congregations. Anthony and JoAnn live in Marblehead, MA.

Rev. Carol Thomas Cissel, Committee Member

Rev. Carol Thomas Cissel

Rev. CTC (a UU parish minister currently serving in Arlington, VA) simply loves STAR. She’s been coming to the island for several years. Her first on-the-rock experience was in 2015 as a newly ordained UU Minister. “The week was magical. I felt the layers of stress and the weariness of spirit that often comes at the end of a church year just peel away the closer I got to STAR.”  Her journey from the Washington DC area to IAC includes several modes of transportation: Uber, Plane, Bus, and Uber to the Dock, all before finally boarding the Thomas Laighton. CTC enjoyed a few different SI conferences and then settled into our community in 2022. “IA is my place. Y’all are my people.” 

Off island, her ministry work focuses on Social Justice and Community engagement. She loves contemporary poetry, PBS mysteries, and Craft Beer. Her collection of NW Coastal Peoples Art continues to grow. What else? ” I couldn’t live without travel” (Paris, Prague, Normandy and NOLA in 2023). CTC has two adult children, a doodle pup named Prescher, and steals kisses from her two grandsons as often as possible.

Kristin Laverty, Registrar and Treasurer

Kristin Laverty

As Registrar/Treasurer, Kristin Laverty handles many things that make IA run smoothly, including room assignments and travel arrangements for conferees and overnight guests. A third-generation Shoaler, she began attending IA in the 1970s and is a current member of the Star Island Corporation and active on the Nominating Committee.

A highlight of her lifelong devotion to Star were the five seasons she lived and worked on the Island as the Island Registrar, from 2006-2010.

The proud Mom of a fourth-generation Shoaler, Kristin lives with her family in Plymouth, Massachusetts where she is a middle school substitute teacher and active in school and youth sports organizations.

For questions regarding registration, Kristin may be reached at kristin@internationalaffairsconference.org.

Katie Bender, Youth Program Coordinator

Katie Bender

Our Youth Program in 2022 is directed by Katie Bender, who has been an early childhood educator for nearly two decades. She is a life-long IA conferee and former Pel. Katie lives in Medfield, Massachusetts, with her husband Marc, their three children (Abby, Brooke, and Lilla), three cats, and their dog Bailey. In her spare time Katie loves to take walks in the woods with Bailey and relishes the rare opportunity to curl up with a cup of tea and a new book.