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Meet Our Board of Directors

President

Laura Swanson

Laura is the parent of two children with IEPs.  She founded IEP-Hope and serves on our Board of Directors because she has seen first-hand how children have been negatively affected due to laws, procedures and IEPs/504s not being followed- simply because parents didn't fully understand the process. 

 

After witnessing the struggles of these parents and their special needs children in all stages of the IEP process, her goal is to help educate families in their rights... in the IEP process... and in their role as an advocate for their child, so that change may be brought about- together.  

Her experience as a former LaPorte County Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) , Visit Supervisor at Harmony House, and Regional Program Specialist for 10+ years has also provided her with an insight into the injustices that children suffer.  She believes that many of the difficulties special needs children face are due to "misunderstandings", possible misdiagnoses, or even a lack of training.  She feels that this can only improve through education and awareness- by learning what a child is trying to communicate... even when they're not communicating at all.   

Laura is also a strong believer in the School to Prison Pipeline and feels that many children in the juvenile system are there, in part, because they lacked the understanding, support and accommodations to be successful in a regular school setting.

 

As Executive Director of IEP-Hope, Laura hopes to increase the awareness of these hidden issues by educating the community and advocating with special needs families to create the change that is so  desperately needed.

Her passion and experience in the outreach and advocacy sectors is only one of the strengths she possesses that will make IEP-Hope an invaluable resource for those navigating the IEP/504 process. 

Thank you for creating #TeamIEP-Hope Laura!

Secretary

Stephanie Wade

Stephanie is the parent of two children with special needs.  She is passionate about special education and advocating for the rights of those students.  

Stephanie became interested in serving on our Board of Directors because she believes in the Mission of IEP-Hope.  She hopes to use the experience of serving on our board to make a positive impact on the special needs community. 

As a licensed Special Education teacher, Stephanie is well-versed in the IEP process from both sides of the table.  She has years of community service and experience with non-profit organizations.   In addition to her knowledge of IEPs, she is also skilled in marketing, administration, advocacy, policy development, and program evaluation. 

Stephanie earned her M.Ed, with high distinction, Teaching and Learning- Technology and Online Education, from Liberty University, a B.A. in Elementary Education from Olivet Nazarene University, and a Special Education Certificate (mild interventions) from Indiana Weslyan University.  In addition, she has also held teaching licenses from both Indiana and Illinois.   

Her knowledge and experience with special education, passion for advocacy, affiliations with non-profits, and extensive technology skills will be an asset to the special needs community and our Team.  We look forward to having Stephanie working with our Board. 

 

Welcome to #TeamIEP-Hope Stephanie!

Board Member

Lisa Milne

Lisa is the parent of a child with an IEP.  She shared that she encountered many difficulties in the public school setting and, as a result, her family made the difficult decision to homeschool in order for their child to receive a quality education and avoid unnecessary issues.  

 

Lisa became interested in serving on our Board of Directors because she wants to be a strong advocate for families of special needs children.  She is very interested in attending our Volunteer Advocate training program to assist in educating parents and supporting them in IEP case conferences.  

In addition to her personal experience with IEPs, Lisa has also earned a BS in Special Education, so she is very familiar with the process, resources, parental rights, and the laws and policies that guide them.

 

Lisa is no stranger to serving on a Board of Directors.  She dedicated her time to serving on the board for the nonprofit organization Chasing Dreams.  Chasing Dreams is a nonprofit learning center which provides the tools and skills for independent living for the special needs community and their families through education and programs.  

Lisa's background in special education, first-hand experience with the IEP process, and past service with a nonprofit organization will make Lisa an invaluable asset to the special needs community and our Team.

Welcome to #TeamIEP-Hope Lisa!

Board Member

Scott Pelath

Scott previously served as the Minority Leader of the Indiana House of Representatives.  He represented Indiana’s 9th District, which includes portions of LaPorte and Porter Counties in Indiana. 

He is interested in serving on our Board of Directors because he recently created a new agency and believes that his experience and knowledge would be helpful to further the success of IEP-Hope’s mission. 

 

Scott's assets to our team include his extensive board member experience on non-profit boards, finance and accounting, administration and management, grant writing, policy development, program evaluation, and more. 

 

This skill set is vital to ensuring the development of quality programs, acquiring funding to support those programs, and assisting in the development of State and Federal mandated policies.

 

He has nearly 3 decades of experience in government and non-profit administration, serving in the Indiana legislature for nearly 20 years, and as the Human Resources Director at a local community mental health center for 19 years.

 

He has volunteered his time to serve on the board of organizations such as Michigan City Black Expo, Lubeznik Center for the Arts, and Child Care Consortium, Inc.

 

Scott earned his B.S. in Public Affairs from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.

 

He is currently the Executive Director of the Kankakee River Basin and Yellow River Basin Development Commission, which was created in 2019 by the Indiana General Assembly.  According to its website, “The Basin Development Commission directly serves the water resource planning and development of Jasper, Lake, LaPorte, Marshall, Newton, Porter, St. Joseph, and Starke Counties in Indiana.”

Scott's background in public service, first-hand experience with non-profits, prior board member service, and experience in the mental health sector makes Scott an invaluable asset to the special needs community and our Team.

Welcome to #TeamIEP-Hope Scott!

Board Member

Karissa Ameling

As a successful entrepreneur and co-owner of a local business, Karissa is also a former student with an IEP.  She has first-hand knowledge of the importance of an effective IEP, and the inequalities that special needs students are often forced to endure.    

She became interested in serving on our Board of Directors because she is committed to using her skills in fundraising, marketing, and special event planning to assist in the sustainability of IEP-Hope.   

 

Karissa is passionate about using her business management and graphic design skills to fundraise for select non-profits during her special events.  She has been a staunch supporter of IEP-Hope since 2022 and has already raised hundreds of dollars to help support our Mission.  

 

In addition to being a business owner, she is also the Event Coordinator for Northern Indiana Events.  Her marketing and public relations skills are responsible for its popularity among regional vendors and is the reason for its growing success. 

   

Karissa’s unique skills, along with her passion and experience with fundraising, will be a very important asset to the special needs community and our Team.  We are excited for the opportunity to continue working with Karissa and having her join our Board.   

Welcome to #TeamIEP-Hope Karissa!

Board Member

Ginee Ames

Ginee is the parent of children with IEPs.  She shared that she has had both good and bad experiences with IEP meetings.  She has a passion for volunteering with non-profit organizations and is a natural advocate for things she believes in.   

 

She became interested in serving on our Board of Directors because she wants to see more accountability in the IEP process.  She wants to help parents not feel so alone in the struggle for their child to receive a Fair and Appropriate Public Education.

 

Ginee has an extensive history of working with local non-profits, in both volunteer and board member capacities.  Those experiences have provided her the opporunity to utillize her skills in fundraising, bookkeeping, public relations & marketing, special event coordination, administration, community outreach and advocacy.

 

She earned a Bachelor of Science degree at Saint Joseph's College, with a major in Marketing and minors in Management and Human Services.  She is a 2008 recipient of the Service Above Self award from the Rotary Club of Glenview- Sunrise.  

 

Her first-handexperiences with the IEP process, past and present work with non-profit organizations, knowledge of marketing and fundraising, and passion for volunteering will make Ginee an invaluable asset to the special needs community and our Team.

Welcome to #TeamIEP-Hope Ginee!

Vice-President

Ronald Schoff, Ph.D., MBA

Ron is the grandparent of children with IEPs.

 

He is interested in serving on our Board of Directors because he believes in the cause, recognizes the benefit, and sees the need for this organization.

 

Ron's assets to our team include his member experience on non-profit boards, fundraising, accounting, public relations, advocacy, grant writing, policy development and strategic planning- among many others.  His skills set certainly meets the needs of our board!

 

He has executive consultative and management experience in entrepreneurial development, corporate management, organizational development, human resource development, corporate training, product and market strategies, succession planning, and business growth management- and has instructed on Entrepreneurial Studies at the university level.

Ron earned a B.S. in Business Administration, an MBA from PNC, and a Ph.D. in Technology Management from ISU.

He is currently the President of RSA Consulting, Inc. where his extensive consultation services, technical business skills, and authored journal articles benefit companies of all sizes in both the public and private sectors.

Ron's educational background in business, first-hand experience with non-profits, prior board member service, numerous technical skills, and successful business consultation service will make Ron an invaluable asset to the special needs community and our Team.

Welcome to #TeamIEP-Hope Ron!

Treasurer

Lauri Dodd

Lauri is the grandparent/parent of children with IEPs.  She relates that raising a second generation of children was challenging on its own, but being thrust into the "IEP world" was an overwhelming task for her.  Having no prior experience with, or knowledge of, IEPs, she was certain that the case management team professionals would make all of the necessary recommendations which were in the best interest of her children. But, as her children continued to struggle, it soon became evident that nobody would ever be a better advocate for them than she would.  So she began learning the process...

She became interested in serving on our Board of Directors because she wants parents to know that they have to be their child's voice, their advocate, and their protector- because nobody will ever do it louder, better, or more fiercely than the parent who knows them best.  Additionally, she would like to bring awareness to the Medicaid Waiver- a valuable program that many parents don't even know exists.    Lauri believes that children can also play a role in spreading awareness by understanding their own IEP/504, learning to self-advocate, and being educated in their rights.  She feels that by educating children how to be more confident self-advocates, it may also prompt a beginning to ending the vicious bullying that many of these children are subjected to on a daily basis in the school setting- hoping that awareness will breed acceptance.  

Her assets to our team include experience with non-profit committees, fundraising, accounting, public relations, advocacy, policy development, education, human resources and office management.  

 

Lauri earned degrees in both Paralegal Studies and Computer Information Systems, was a part-time adjunct professor at a local state college, a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), and worked full time in a law office.  

Her background in law, office administration, computer proficiency, service with non-profits, child advocacy, fundraising, public relations, and organizational skills will make Lauri an invaluable asset to the special needs community and our Team.

Welcome to #TeamIEP-Hope Lauri!

Board Member

Victoria Schwarten,

MSN, APRN, FNP-C

Victoria is the parent of a child with an IEP.  She believes that families in the special needs community would benefit from an advocacy program.

She feels that serving on our Board of Directors is an excellent way to spread awareness about a cause that she is passionate about. 

 

Victoria is looking forward to sharing her knowledge, experiences and resources with other parents to help them become stronger advocates for their child.

 

Her dedication to helping others is evident by the many years she has served in the healthcare sector as a nurse.  She gained her experience in settings such as hospice, hospitals, pediatric home care, developmental disability care, inpatient detox and rehabilitation, as well as skilled nursing. Victoria later went on to earn her Masters in Science of Nursing at Indiana Wesleyan University in 2017 and is now a Family Nurse Practitioner.  

Victoria's skills in administration, management, program evaluation and special events planning- along with her passion, dedication, and first-hand knowledge and experience with the IEP process, will make her an invaluable asset to the Special Needs Community and our Team.

Welcome to #TeamIEP-Hope Victoria!

Board Member

Ashley Vrancks

Ashley is the parent of children with IEPs.  She has a passion and drive for helping children with disabilities and is excited to be part of a team that educates and supports parents in the IEP process.

Ashley became interested in serving on our Board of Directors because she wants to be a part of the solution.  She believes in the Mission and Vision of IEP-Hope and plans to utilize her role as a Board Member as a way to gain more knowledge, educate more parents, and help IEP-Hope continue to grow.

In addition to her experience with IEPs, Ashley has business management, fundraising, and public relations skills, and is eager to share her fresh ideas with us.

Ashley earned a Certificate in Medical Billing and Coding from Purdue University Global in 2022.  She was also promoted to Operations Manager within one year of employment for a local small business prior to attending Purdue. 

Ashley’s experience with the IEP process, proven ability in management, successful fundraising campaigns, technology skills, and knowledge of medical billing is an asset to the special needs community and our Team.  In addition, her thirst for knowledge, compassion, and effective communication skills are essential for our advocacy organization- and we’re excited to have her on our Team.

Welcome to #TeamIEP-Hope Ashley!

Board Member

Erica Cotter

Erica is the parent of two children with IEPs.  She is also an individual whose disabilities were undiagnosed as a student, which led to being misunderstood and unaccommodated.  The consequences of the school failing to meet her needs prevented her from graduating.  The experience of her journey brings a firsthand understanding of the importance of accessibility, effective teaching strategies, and appropriate supports for students with disabilities.  Her own self-advocacy skills paved the way for her to make a successful return to education to receive her GED, and eventually earn a B.S in Physics from Indiana University.    

Erica became interested in serving on our Board of Directors because she wants to learn from and work with other advocates to identify and remove barriers limiting those with disabilities, change ableism, dismantle deficit-based frameworks, promote awareness and acceptance of ability diversity, and organize for system change.  She would also like to share her knowledge to expand educational opportunity and improve learning outcomes by helping others to recognize unique abilities and strengths and develop positive identities. 

  

As a parent, advocate, educator and scientist, her skills in administration, advocacy, grant writing, policy development, and education have been beneficial to her community service activities as founder and president of the IU South Bend Earth & Space Science Club, organizer for South Bend Science Café, and moderator for PDA Advocate & Educate USA.  She enjoys utilizing her creative problem solving, critical thinking, research, data analysis and design skills in those activities as well.    

 

With the assistance of accommodations, Erica earned her B.S. in Science of Physics with minors in Foundations of Education, Mathematics, and Earth & Space Science from IU.  Her qualifications also include International Tutor Training Program Certification, training for Developing an IEP for the Demand Avoidant Child at School, Project Management, and ISO9001 Internal Auditor.   

 

Her first-hand experiences and successes are examples of Erica’s strengths, drive and determination.  They also serve as a testament to the necessity for correct diagnoses, effective IEPs, relevant accommodations and services, and advocacy to achieve successes within our special needs community. We’re very excited that Erica has chosen to share her skills and experiences with our Board.   

Welcome to #TeamIEP-Hope Erica!

Joe Batten

"The first task of a

leader is to keep

hope

alive."

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