About Our Team

Grant Identification | Writing | Submission | Management | SAM Registry | Federal Procurement | Business Plan Development

National Grants Management AssociationThe National Grants Management Association (NGMA) is recognized throughout the grants management industry as the membership association leader providing tools and resources for grants professionals to support and maintain high levels of grants management competency and to establish standards of excellence for grants managers.

Aspire Grant Writing Consultants are members of the NGMA, receiving the latest in education on grant compliance, submission and financial reporting. So, before you hire a firm to write your state or federal grants, ask yourself:

  1. Does the firm specialize in grant writing or something different?
  2. Are they members of the NGMA with graduate level education?
  3. Can the firm cite numerous awards that have been made to a mix of clients, and paid out, with no audit flags?
  4. Does your firm have economic impact software comparable to that used by the state/federal governments? We use IMPLAN Professional, and our studies have been cited by national media.
  5. Can you say that your contractual agreement supports an all-female team who loves to create energy and impact in the communities in which they work?

If not, Aspire to contract with a different type of firm (one that’s making headlines)!

Michele Miller Beener, MS

President, [email protected]

Michele R. Beener is the President of Aspire Grant & Development, LLC (Aspire), a full service Federal, State and private grant research/management company. Aspire is a nationally certified diverse vendor, accredited by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. Additionally, the firm is a certified Women Owned Small Business, consistent with guidelines from the United States Business Administration. Aspire is proud to be a Corporate Alliance Partner of the National Grants Management Association, the leading professional association in the public grants space, based in Washington D.C., dedicated to the profession of grants management.

As the firm’s President, Michele provides strategic leadership for the organization, while continuing to author large grant proposals, specifically projects that drive regional economic development. She is especially proud of the following notable awards/projects:

  • Development of a funded $18.69 million BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) grant to construct a fourth cargo bay at Pittsburgh International Airport.
  • Development of a Benefit Cost Analysis for the City of Pittsburgh and partners in the Hill District, to quantify safety, economic and equity indicators for a transportation project. The $11.3 million federal grant to the city was awarded to improve infrastructure in the Lower Hill, a coming off the heels of a grant Beener authored which created a $750,000 investment in small business kiosks for Minority- and Women-owned Business Enterprises (MWBE) in the same historically disadvantaged community.
  • As part of an Allegheny Health Network partnership with the Pittsburgh Pirates to promote mental health wellness in schools, she secured $400,000 in public grants – matched by Pirates Charities – to purchase the Chill Mobile. The 33-foot retrofitted recreational vehicle is a traveling calming space for Pittsburgh-area students to learn coping skills and is a mental health resource for educators.
  • Michele is accomplished in the healthcare space, writing over $30 million in grants to support capital and service line expansion at hospitals across Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia, including grant writing to support the expansion of a pregnancy and postpartum program for those with substance-use disorder called Perinatal Hope, for the Allegheny Health Network, along with a capital expansion of the women’s health service line at West Penn Hospital ($3 million), and public funding proposals that paved the way for Forbes Hospital to make necessary improvements to the transportation route to the hospital.
  • Michele has worked with Cities and Planning Organizations to identify and secure funding for economic initiatives, including the closing of food deserts in distressed communities (the City of Albany, Georgia), development of historic and tourism hubs (Seven Springs, Pennsylvania and the East Broad Top Railroad), and the renovation of downtown assets (U.S. EDA/U.S. ARC investment in the City of Johnstown, Pennsylvania and Fayette County, Pennsylvania).


Michele earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Waynesburg University and a Master of Science in Leadership and Business Ethics from Duquesne University.  Over the past ten years, Michele has served various nonprofit boards, Children’s Aid Home of Somerset County, and her community Rotary Club where she is a Paul Harris Fellow. She enjoys raising funds for the benefit of local community organizations and serves on both the Board of Directors and the Somerset County Distribution Committee for the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies. Michele is a passionate advocate for diversity and women in nontraditional roles, as she operates (with her family) a 300-acre beef farm in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. She is also the Vice President of Miller Antique and Restoration, LLC, a national leader in the preservation of steam railroad and vintage agricultural heritage (where her father is the boss). She is a proud member of the "Ladies of Steam” community and enjoys operating her 1913 25 horsepower Gaar Scott. Michele enjoys the arts and is also a member of the Board of Directors for the Mountain Playhouse, a historic summer equity theatre program located in Jennerstown, Pennsylvania. Her work in equity, preservation and community has resulted in numerous awards and honors, including:

  • YWCA of Greater Johnstown’s Tribute to Women Award Program (2007)
  • Scouts of America, Penn’s Woods Council, with their annual “Salute to Women” Award (2014)
  • Women of Influence Award from the Pittsburgh Business Times (2023)

Amber Chaudhry, M.P.H, J.D.

Professional Grant Writer


Amber received her bachelor’s degree from Allegheny College in 2014. The following year, Amber started work on her MPH at University of Pittsburgh School of Graduate Health. During her MPH, Amber worked as an intern for the Allegheny County Health Department and as a researcher for the U.N Gender Equity Committee. During her time in law school, Amber worked as a Derrick Bell Research Scholar and as an extern in the school’s pro-bono Health Law Clinic. Additionally, she served as a summer associate at Highmark and The Department of Veterans Affairs largely focusing on breach of contract, contract development and negotiation work. Since graduating, Amber has worked as a Grant Writer for nonprofit and for-profit entities. She has experience in both state-level and private grant writing, working with the state and several foundations to fund projects such as; the development of fresh-food retailers in food deserts, redevelopment of community playgrounds, infrastructure rehabilitation for community business development centers and refugee resettlement programs. Amber has a particular interest in procuring funds for organizations who support the upward mobility and health of marginalized populations.

In her free time, Amber serves as a Pennsylvania Board Member for Emgage, a nonprofit which aims to increase Muslim American engagement in the electoral process--she is a seasoned host of voter registration drives! On any given day, you can find her door-knocking for progressive races or making the walk from her home to Square Cafe for lemon ricotta pancakes with her husband, Wasi Mohamed. Otherwise, she is probably watching her favorite shows on Bravo! Reach out to her and say hello, via email, [email protected].

Annika Curren, M.Ed.

Professional Grant Writer


Annika received her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary education from the University of Minnesota at Duluth and her master’s degree in Curriculum and Supervision from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She has a diverse background in the educational field, serving as a classroom teacher, a teacher coach and trainer, central office administration, and working at the university level. Annika’s grant writing experience comes from working with schools to write various State and Federal grants, including the McKiney Vento and Title I applications, and providing post-award technical assistance and compliance oversight. Annika also worked with two State Departments of Education to review and award Federal grants and provided compliance oversight.

In her free time Annika, along with her husband Shawn, enjoys attending the many sports her two children play in the Pittsburgh South Hills area. Additionally, she is a board member for the Mt. Lebanon Foundation for Education, which fundraises and awards grants to innovative teachers in the district. She is also a member of St. Lucy’s Auxiliary to the Blind. Annika’s specialty is writing to support educational projects, as an example, she enjoys helping Carlow University develop compelling narratives. [email protected]

Erin Howsare

Professional Grant Writer


Erin has been with Aspire Grant & Development, LLC as a grant writing consultant since 2019. Erin is a Somerset, Pennsylvania native where she continues to reside with her husband and son. She graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Criminology, minor in Political Science, and a concentration in Pre-Law.
For over 20 years, she has worked in the human service field where she has developed a passion for the non-profit sector.

Since joining our team, Erin has secured millions of dollars for our clients. Her awards have included both national and local foundation and corporation grants as well as federal, state, and local grants. Consistent with Aspire’s standards of practice, Erin strives to serve clients with high scoring, detail oriented, customer focused writing! To talk to Erin about
your next project, you can email her at [email protected].

Cassandra Kokoski

Professional Grant Writer

Ms. Cassandra Kokoski has recently joined the Aspire Grant & Development, LLC team. Cassandra has over 15 years of experience in the non-profit sector, starting as an AmeriCorps member in Washington, DC. She has worked for local, national, and international non-profits and is passionate about the impact that non-profits and dedicated citizens can make in the community. Cassandra utilizes her background in direct service, program advancement, community engagement, and development to assist organizations. Cassandra most recently served as Vice President of Development at Lifesteps, a regional human-services agency.

Cassandra is original from Indianapolis, Indiana, and attended Indiana University, Bloomington studying Journalism, focusing on public relations. Cassandra uses her writing skills to assist clients in successful grant submissions and has experience with private and community foundations and local, state, and federal grants. She resides in the Deutschtown neighborhood of Pittsburgh with her husband.


Brooke Latuch Kroon, M.Ed.

Professional Grant Writer


Brooke joined the Aspire team in May 2019 as a consulting grant writer. She received her bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education from Saint Francis University in 2011. The following year, Brooke received her master’s in education as a Reading Specialist from California University of Pennsylvania. For the last twelve years she has been an educator in both the Somerset Area School District and the Rockwood Area School District, where she currently teaches. Brooke has a passion for education, and youth advocacy, which is reflected in her writing style. In her spare time, Brooke enjoys spending time with her husband and son camping and spending time outdoors.

Since joining our team, she's worked with Mom's House, Inc., Pittsburgh Technical College, Mary S. Biesecker Library, Family Guidance, Children’s Aid Home Programs, and Twisted Tines. Her recent projects include awards for $10,000 from Lee Initiatives and $12,500 from the Jack Buncher Foundation to fund the Residential Program at Children’s Aid Home.
Additionally, Brooke completed an application for the Children’s Aid Home in which Edith L. Trees awarded them $175,000 for their Partial Hospitalization Program. To talk to Brooke about your next project, you can email her at [email protected].


Shannon Malone

Professional Grant Writer


Shannon received her undergraduate degree in Political Science from Syracuse University in 2018, where she also competed at the NCAA Division I level in Cross Country and Track and Field. After college, Shannon pursued a career in professional running with the Reebok Boston Track Club while continuing her learning by taking graduate-level courses in Social Foundations of Education at the University of Virginia. In 2022, Shannon joined the Law Offices of Kristy L. Johnston, PLLC in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she served as an Administrative Assistant and assisted with paralegal tasks for the firm.

She has professional experience in drafting legal documentation and has a particular interest in nonprofit grant writing to drive positive community change. Shannon’s professional writing experience combined with her unique background in athletics and passion for increasing opportunity for youth in sports fuel her desire to award grants to Aspire clients. Shannon’s expertise will also assist Aspire clients with the PMP process, under the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. Drop her a note - [email protected]



Jaclyn A. McCusker

Professional Grant Writer

Jaclyn earned a B.A. in Political Science, with a minor in Sociology, from the University of Pittsburgh. Via the study abroad program at Pit, she also obtained a concentration in Latin American Culture & Film Studies, at the University of Havana, Cuba. Jaclyn's post-graduate fields of work include management and director positions for Fortune 500 companies and privately owned businesses. Jaclyn is extremely community-focused, with significant years of experience working as the director of a nonprofit arts organization.

In her spare time, Jaclyn enjoys spending time with her husband, and two sons. She is a lover of art, music, culture, history, and socio-economics. In turn, she has a significant volume of funded grant work in these areas. She is a member of the Rotary Club of Somerset, is actively involved in various community and initiative projects, and has played the drums since she was in fourth grade. Her recent projects include work includes the Sweetwater Center for the Arts receiving a $52,000 investment from the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD), and $23,281 from the COVID-19 ARPA PA Arts and Culture Recovery Program. Additionally, Jaci was honored to author an application for The Latin American Studies Association to receive a $72,400 grant from the Eden Hall Foundation for facade improvements at the Latin American Cultural Center. [email protected]

Lauren Palmar Gerami, M.S.

Professional Grant Writer, Director of Strategy


Lauren Palmar Gerami joined the Aspire Team in October of 2020 as a Grant Specialist and has since risen to become Aspire’s Director of Strategy. She holds a Bachelor's degree from Ohio State University (2017) and a Master's in Organizational Management from the University of Colorado (2019). Lauren's specialization extends to Foundation, State, and Appalachian Regional Commission applications, where her strategic insights have consistently yielded significant results. Her approach is deeply collaborative, emphasizing cross-collaboration amongst clients and prioritizing partnerships across diverse locations and industries. Since her time with Aspire, she has successfully secured over $6 million in funding.

Beyond her professional achievements, Lauren is passionate about making her community a brighter place. She enjoys spending her personal time with her family hosting dinner parties and her beloved rescue pup, Ziggy Stardust. Her commitment to both her work and her community exemplifies the core values that drive her strategic initiatives at Aspire.
Reach out to Lauren at [email protected].

Carol Pyle

Professional Grant Writer

Mrs. Carol Pyle has over 20 years of experience in the non-profit sector, with a portfolio of accomplishments at the Penn State University Agricultural Extension. Carol recently retired from the role of Farmers' Market Coordinator in her rural town of Somerset. This has given her a strong background and passion for working with the community-based nonprofit sector.

Carol is originally from Fayette County, Pennsylvania, but has been a resident of Somerset County for over 40 years. During this time, Carol and her husband David have raised four strong, confident, and successful young women. They have also been blessed with four grandchildren.
Her experience-based education has given her extensive knowledge of youth education, the agricultural community, and managing and marketing of various non-profit organizations. Carol’s passion has always been in assisting small businesses and new entrepreneurs achieve success through various grant opportunities. She feels strongly that when one individual succeeds, the entire community can benefit! Recently, she was very busy working with many volunteer and career fire departments, to access Federal funding under the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program! Contact Carol, if you have a project need or idea that could benefit the community through your success! [email protected]

Sarah E. Russell

Director of Billing

Sarah joined our staff in November 2018. She has been a huge asset to our team. She helps to keep our office running smoothly on a daily basis.

Sarah moved to Somerset County in the fall of 2018. However, she is not a stranger to the area. She visited the area frequently from 2004 through 2011. She even did an internship with the Greater Johnstown Career and Technology Center. As well as working as a typist for Sargent’s Court Reporting in Johnstown. She is originally from the Gettysburg area.

She holds an associates degree in Graphic Design and Printing Technologies from Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology inLancaster, PA. She also has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Central Pennsylvania College in Harrisburg, PA.

Since graduating from college she has worked as a Review Technical Associate for SRA International, Inc. in Frederick, MD, an IT company. SRA is a subcontractor who does grant work for the government and educational systems. As well as a Travel and Entertainment Administrator with Voith Holding Inc. in York, PA a German engineering company.

Her knowledge of Microsoft Office, Graphic Design, grant compliance, and office dynamics has been helpful. In her spare, time Sarah enjoys the outdoors, spending time with her rescue dog Bandit, and traveling to new areas with her husband Austin. She also volunteers with the Shade Creek Watershed Association and Graef’s Lutheran Church in Cairnbrook, PA. Sarah can be contracted by phone at 814-701-2787 or emailed at [email protected] for all scheduling purposes.  


Brooke L. Sheeler, M.S.

Director of Grant Writing & Development

Brooke joined the Aspire team in 2015 as an intern while pursuing her undergraduate degree at Slippery Rock University. After graduating with a B.S. in Communications – Public Relations, Brooke came back to Aspire full-time and received her M.S. in Integrated Marketing & Communications from West Virginia University in 2018. She is now in the role of Director of Grant Writing and Development, working to oversee a writing team and a growing list of large-scale development projects. Some of her main accounts include the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation, Fayette County, Armstrong County, the City of Clairton, Boswell Borough, Vance River Terminal in Morgantown, WV, and more. To date, her application awards have totaled over $20 million in state, federal, and private funding.

In her spare time, Brooke enjoys hanging out with her rescue animals, spending time visiting her parents in Savannah, GA, and traveling to new places. She can be reached at [email protected].

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If you are interested in working together, send us an inquiry and we will get back to you as soon as we can!