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Meet the Team

Board of Directors

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Diona Boone (she/her)
Board Member

Diona Boone is a dedicated and aspiring Occupational Therapist student at Duke University with a passion for helping individuals achieve their highest level of independence and well-being. She is passionate about promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion and strives to create inclusive environments where everyone feels valued and empowered.

Diona graduated from UNC Greensboro with a Bachelor of Science in Recreation and Parks Management from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she specialized in Therapeutic Recreation and minored in American Sign Language.

She finds joy in spending time with her family and friends; Whether it's exploring new cuisines, indulging in candle making, listening to audiobooks and podcasts, or binge-watching Grey's Anatomy, she cherishes every meaningful moment,

Diona is always eager to lend a helping hand wherever it's needed; She has volunteered for various organizations in the community, serving many different causes. With a strong dedication to making a positive impact in her community and a wide range of interests and talents, Diona is poised to continue making meaningful contributions to the local community and beyond.

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Sam Brandsen, PhD (he/him)
Board President

Sam is an autistic parent of an autistic child. He completed his Ph.D. in physics at Duke University, and afterwards switched his focus to autism research. He currently works for the Duke Autism Center and absolutely loves anything related to neurodiversity and autism advocacy. He is especially interested in developing more accessible healthcare systems and educational practices, as well as learning about how research and the neurodiversity movement can better address the needs and perspectives of individuals with intellectual disabilities.

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Shreyas Hallur (he/him)
Board Member

Born and raised in Phoenix, Shreyas is a proud Arizonan majoring in public policy and statistics. He seeks to develop innovative policies to help neurodiverse people lead an independent life. At the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center, Shreyas initiated a program to create inclusive science learning opportunities for autistic children that has won a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation. He also advocates for greater accessibility on campus through Duke Disability Alliance, Duke Student Government, and Neurodiversity Connections. In the future, Shreyas will continue this work by reforming healthcare delivery for populations with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He has pursued this career with internships at state and federal governments. During the pandemic, Shreyas interned with Arizona Medicaid where he informed the rollout of telehealth and helped protect members with developmental disabilities from exposure to COVID-19. After graduation, he plans to enroll in a joint MD/MPH degree so he can work at the intersection of long-term care, patient advocacy, and data-informed policymaking.  Shreyas was recently named a Rhodes Scholar and will continue learning ways to support increased accessibility for autistic individuals while attending Oxford University in the United Kingdom. In his spare time, Shreyas enjoys hiking, listening to podcasts, and skateboarding.

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Kathryn Hansen, PhD, OTR/L (she/her)
Board Member

Dr. Kathryn Hansen (née Williams) is a licensed pediatric occupational therapist with experience in outpatient and early intervention (home and daycare) settings. She specializes in supporting autistic children and their families. In addition, she has also served children with various other medical and developmental conditions such as ADHD, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, developmental delay, motor coordination disorder, sensory processing disorder, various genetic disorders, and more. In addition to her Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy, Dr. Hansen also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology, a Master’s Degree in Cognitive Neuropsychology, and a PhD in Occupational Science. Her dissertation work focused on the impact of the environment on sensory needs and preferences of autistic children. Dr. Hansen continues to actively contribute to cutting edge research related to neurodiversity-affirming care of autistic children and the advancement of the discipline to best support this population through ongoing publications, presentations, and guest lectureships. She also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Thomas Jefferson University and Towson University where she frequently teaches and mentors students at the doctoral level. Dr. Hansen lives in North Carolina with her husband and daughter. As part of an active-duty military family, she understands the difficult realities of military life and its impact on families, which she always strives to consider when providing clinical care. When she is not working, she enjoys being with her family out in nature, swimming, sewing, and weaving on her loom.

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Erin Haseley (she/her)
Board Member

Erin Haseley grew up in Charlotte and now lives in Cary, North Carolina. Her first job after graduating from Furman University was providing therapy to children with autism; there she witnessed the structural and systematic barriers that keep families from accessing the care they need for their children. She transitioned from a career in direct client support and now focuses on supporting systems level change. Currently, she is an Evaluation/Research Analyst at Duke University’s Social Science Research Institute where she helps community non-profit partners learn and enhance their work. She also has experience in group facilitation, strategic planning, grant-writing, and fundraising. She lives with her husband and two cats and enjoys gardening, bird watching, and musical theater.

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Jalessa Johnson (she/her)
Board Member

Jaleesa Johnson is a research regulatory associate in clinical trials with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and is a single mom to a young daughter with cerebral palsy and developmental delay. Her daughter, Karlyn currently receives PT, OT and Speech Therapies. Jaleesa has traveled to Ghana, West Africa, to perform mission work and research at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra in the labor and delivery unit, where she also mentored young children. She has volunteered for various different organizations with a focus on women's and children’s health. She attended the University of North Carolina in Greensboro majoring in public health and minoring in American Sign Language and received her Master of Science degree in public health from Meharry Medical College. In her spare time she's still an active member in her sorority, she has a hobby of creating nail art and she enjoys spending quality time with her daughter and family.

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 Cristina Mena, LMHC (she/her)
Board Member

I recently moved to the Research Triangle area and I am glad to have found an organization whose mission is so near and dear to my heart. After a family member received an Autism diagnosis in 2019, several new conversations about Neurodivergence opened up for us. After much research and reflection, we learned more about how Neurodivergence has always been a core piece of our family identity. Previously, we never had an official "label" to describe the quirkiness and differences that we had all come to accept in ourselves. Now we have a much more solid understanding and appreciation of who we are as a family. As a parent who is always striving for advocacy and as a therapist who is well aware of the difficulties in receiving accommodations and proper healthcare, I hope to contribute to a much bigger movement for change. 

 

When I am not directly advocating for parental wellness and Neurodiversity-affirming care, I am working as a Florida licensed therapist. I am passionate about providing bilingual treatment for clients who are experiencing pregnancy and postpartum issues as well as trauma and related disorders. In order to take care of my own mental health, I try to "not sweat the small stuff", while focusing on dancing, learning new things, and having fun outdoors with my kids.

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Paulo Micchi (he/him)
Board Member

Paulo is born in Sao Paulo, Brazil. After a few years in Germany, he moved to North Carolina in 2018. With 25 years of experience in Finance Management positions, this is his first experience in a non-profit organization. Paulo believes that the universal access to education and healthcare can change lifes, providing equal opportunities to all. Married and father of two boys, Paulo is also a soccer fan and miniature games player.

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Kirsten Moore (she/her)
Board Member

I am a CPA with over 20 years of experience working on audits of nonprofit organizations, including preparation of financial statements and audits of federal grants. I live in Cary with my son, husband and dog. 

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 Ron Nelson (he/him)
Board Member

I grew up in Boston suburbs and went to school at UMass-Lowell where I studied business management and marketing and graduated with a degree in those two areas. While at UMass-Lowell I played, and captained, the baseball team. After school, I went to work as a marketing specialist in the Bricklayers Union of the Northeast. After that my wife, Krystle, and I moved down to Cary, NC where I got into tech/software sales and sales leadership with stints at iContact, Adzerk/Kevel, ServerBid, Localize and EcoMap Technologies. Having used that experience to help startups scale, I opened a sales consulting business, RN Business Consulting, LLC, that helps companies push past their founder-led sales efforts to scale to their desired goals. While not working with companies, you can find me volunteering on the baseball field, soccer field or hockey rink with one of my three boys or volunteering as an assistant baseball coach at Apex Friendship High School.

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Saren Richardson (she/her)
Board Member

Saren Richardson is a writer/editor committed to raising awareness of human rights issues and driving programmatic impact through strategic communication. While she currently works in global nonprofit communications, her background includes over a decade of direct support experience in community programs for individuals with disabilities, mental illness, and housing instability. She has a passion for championing inclusion and supporting anyone facing barriers to equitable health resources — because healthcare is a human right. Saren has had personal and professional experience with neurodiversity and knows firsthand what a positive outcome autonomy-led therapeutic support can have, which makes her thrilled to support the mission of Therafriends. She lives in Durham with her husband, daughter, and two finicky cats.

Board Alumni

We are very grateful to our Board Alumni for their support of Therafriends. Our alumni include:

  • Katie Sorensen

  • Mimi Chan

  • Valerie Goldstein

  • Corey Briskey

  • Kerri Pastor

  • Haley Bayne

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