Board of Directors

Jill Nico

Board of Directors Chair

Jill Nico serves as Senior Disability Services Specialist at Estrella Mountain Community College. She has served in higher education in various roles, including adjunct faculty. She has two sons, including a son born with Down syndrome. She has many years’ experience supporting families of children with disabilities through organizations such as Raising Special Kids and speaks frequently on the parent perspective. She earned a Master of Science degree from Arizona State University. She is a graduate of the AZ Pilot Parents’ Partners in Leadership and Advocacy Training.

Cassie Laughrey, DPT

Board of Directors Vice Chair

Cassie Laughrey earned her Bachelors of Health Science in Physiology and Spanish and her Doctorate of Physical Therapy. She is a physical therapist for Nelson Pediatrics, working with individuals with intellectual disabilities, which has always been a passion of hers for years. Cassie has served on many nonprofit boards and has managed multiple social media sites.

Chandra Williamson

Board of Directors Treasurer

Emerging from a background in commercial banking, Chandra Williamson thought the banking was her chosen career for life while living in San Francisco. She relocated to Arizona in 1986 to be closer to her parents. Thus, her second career began as a hotel accountant followed by 23 years serving as CFO of a large nonprofit. Chandra has volunteered as a Career Coach for Fresh Start Women’s Foundation and Women’s Business Enterprise Council. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix. She is an avid golfer, loves traveling and enjoys spending time with her six grandchildren, one of whom has Down syndrome.

Andrea O'Brien

Board of Directors Secretary

Andrea O’Brien is a special education advocate and educational consultant with Susan Marks and Advocates. Andrea holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona in Rehabilitation and Special Education and a master’s degree from Arizona State University in Special Education. She completed her coursework for a doctorate in Special Education with an emphasis on inclusive practices. She has held a variety of roles including Special Education Teacher, Program Specialist, Educational Consultant, Teacher Supervisor, University Instructor and Advocate. Andrea is currently an adjunct instructor at Chandler-Gilbert Community College. She serves as Arizona TASH President and is a member of Arizona Department of Education Inclusion Coalition. Andrea has three children (young adults really) and love to explore Arizona’s trails and waterways!

Jessica Avena

Board Member at Large

Jessica Avena is a self-advocate with Down syndrome. She participates in many activities in the community, such as Special Olympics, Ballet Folklorico and adaptive theater. She was Arizona Miss Amazing two years in a row. Jessica has gone to college and volunteers at her church. Her work includes leading an exercise class. She enjoys make a difference in the lives of people with Down syndrome and wants them know they can do anything if they work hard at it.

Gonzalo Castaneda

Board Member at Large

Gonzalo Castaneda was born in Sun Valley California. He moved to Arizona in 1992 to attend college and graduated with a degree in Applied Science. Gonzalo is married to Veronica and together they have three children, 2 young adult sons and their youngest daughter Erica who has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and ASD.

John Escobar

Board Member at Large

John Escobar has been a human resources most of his career. He is a Society Human Resources Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) and has a Business and Finance degree from Sacred Heart University. He has volunteered with Arizona PBS antiques roadshows and pledge drives. John and his wife have a teenage daughter with Down syndrome who likes to write, swim, play basketball and tennis. John enjoys helping people and is proud to serve on DSNetwork’s board of directors.

Dannah G. Raz, MD

Board Member at Large

Dannah G. Raz, MD is Director of the Pediatric Down Syndrome Clinic and a physician in the Neonatal Early Childhood Screening (NEST) clinic at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. She graduated from the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Tucson and completed her pediatric residency at PCH. During Dannah’s fellowship in Development and Behavioral Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of Colorado, she earned her Masters in Public Health. She is passionate about caring for children in Developmental Pediatrics.  Her husband, two daughters and dog keeps her very active.

Andrew Schmidtke

Board Member at Large

Andrew Schmidtke, Vice President of Risk Management of Freedom Financial, mobilized Freedom’s employees to volunteer for Buddy Walk AZ fundraisers. Andrew has been involved in the intellectual disability community his entire life. His grandparents adopted a child with Down syndrome and his parents owned several group homes serving individuals with special needs. He has a son with special needs and continues to be an advocate for the advancement and awareness of all people with a need less served.

Edd Schommer

Board Member at Large

As a Statewide Community Relations Liaison for the Early Intervention Program (AzEIP) under Arizona Department of Economic Security, Edd Schommer enjoys taking a more active role in the Down syndrome community and being an advocate individuals with Down syndrome. Acceptance and awareness of Down syndrome started at an early age for Edd with his cousin, neighbor and best friend with Down syndrome. He enjoys assisting his families with resources and comforting the stress level to those living or moving to Arizona.

Advisory Council

Mary Brumand

Advisory Council

Mary Brumand is the mother of two fantastic kids. Her son graduated from Mountain Pointe High School and is a happy-go-lucky young adult with Down syndrome living life to the fullest. Now a college professor, Mary’s daughter graduated with a Fulbright scholar from Lancaster University in England. Mary has a degree in Pharmacy and works for Walmart as a pharmacist. Mary has been involved with DSNetwork since it was a small group of parents meeting in a family kitchen and has watched with ‘awe’ as the agency has grown and blossomed.

Laura Chapnek

Advisory Council

Laura Chapnek was president of DSNetwork from 2007-2010 and also served as the organization’s vice president for three years. She is married and has a son with Down syndrome.

Michele Fiorenza

Advisory Council

Michele Fiorenza earned a bachelor’s in photography and minor in psychology from Columbia College. As a photographer, she has the ornate ability to capture people in their natural expression. She and her husband have two extraordinary children. Her son, who has Autism spectrum disorder, is the “child of her soul” with a spirit that lights up a room. Her daughter, who has Down syndrome, ASD and Apraxia, is the “child of her heart” and exemplifies the true meaning of life. In addition, Michele works with Absolute HCBS.

Frances Gauthreaux

Advisory Council

Frances Gauthreaux has a 50-year-old son with Down syndrome. She believes support, education, advocacy and accurate information about successful aging for a loved one with Down syndrome is important. In 2010, Frances and her family moved here from Illinois where she volunteered at Special Olympics and NADS and currently volunteers with Detour Theatre Company. Frances earned her bachelor’s degree in behavior science from National Lewis University. She is now retired from the health insurance industry and full-time caregiver for her son.

Nattasha Huffaker

Advisory Council

Originally from California, Nattasha Huffaker and her family relocated to the Phoenix area in 2005. She served in the US Air Force for eight years and graduated from ASU with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology. Huffaker then went on to graduate in 2011 with a Masters of Science as a Physician Assistant. DSNetwork is dear to her heart as her youngest of three, Owen, has Down Syndrome.

Gina Johns

Advisory Council

Gina Johns brings her years of experience from healthcare, management, education, and job development to DSNetwork. She has served on the board of Special Olympics, Arizona Multi-housing Association, Southwest Human Development and Mosaic. Gina has a passion for advocacy and serving people with intellectual disabilities. She owns “Gracious Heart,” a developmental home for adults with intellectual and physical disabilities. Gina’s adult son with Down syndrome studied at Grand Canyon University and frequently does public speaking.

Andy Kesti

Advisory Council

Andy Kesti focus over the course of his professional career has been in bringing people together in ways that drive attainment of strategic goals. He and his wife have a son with Down syndrome and adopted a young girl with Down syndrome. They, along with their other children are enjoying the journey of raising two children with Down syndrome. He is interested in ways to further improve the quality of life for both the family/caregivers and the individuals with Down syndrome.

Maureen Mills

Advisory Council

Maureen Mills is a founding member of DSNetwork and currently is the Communications Coordinator of Raising Special Kids. Maureen has been active in several Phoenix area organizations supporting individuals with disabilities and their families including serving as a parent leader for Raising Special Kids. She has three children. Their youngest has DS, AUT, ADHD, ODD and, as she likes to point out, L-O-V-E.

Liz Perez

Advisory Council

Liz Perez earned her bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Arizona State University and has worked in the profession of Social Work with the Division of Developmental Disabilities. She has a passion to volunteer and give back to her community. She is a member of several local Philanthropic Organizations: East Valley Women’s League, Junior League of Phoenix, Phoenix Zoo Auxiliary and the Kyrene Schools Foundation.

Daryl Quezada

Advisory Council

Daryl Quezada is the mother of four children including her oldest Josia who has Down syndrome. Born and raised in the Phoenix area, Daryl and her family are active in their community and are the owner/operators of the plumbing company No Worries Rooter, LLC. The decision to run their own business was partly born out of Josia’s diagnosis. Daryl and her husband’s dream is to give Josia and other individuals with Down syndrome an opportunity to learn and work in the plumbing industry. Daryl’s professional background includes culinary and human resources. She holds a BA in Human Resources and is passionate about navigating medical insurance. In addition, she and her husband volunteer as new parent mentors for DSNetwork.

Sandy Quintanilla

Advisory Council

Sandy Quintanilla, born in Wyoming, moved to Arizona as a child and calls Phoenix home. She has two daughters and enjoys spending time with them and watching them develop into young women. In 2003 Sandy began working as a caregiver for adults with intellectual disabilities. She loves working with patients with Down syndrome and became program coordinator at Arizona Foundation of the Handicapped. She has been serving in this role for more than 14 years and she is deeply passionate about working the Down syndrome community. She has volunteered with the Special Olympics, Little People America, and St. Vincent de Paul. Sandy also works at Barrow Neurological Institute as a Clinical Research Coordinator. She specializes in overseeing clinical research focused on treating Alzheimer’s and Down syndrome patients.

Amanda Rivas

Advisory Council

Amanda “Mandy” Rivas is a Tucson Native and a graduate of the University of Arizona with a degree in Political Science and Spanish. She is a successful real estate agent with San Souci Realty. Mandy, her husband Brian, their two daughters – Annalise-age 10 and Vivienne, age 7 – and their dog Barley currently live in Chandler, Arizona. They enjoy the beach, going to sporting events, visiting Disneyland and attending events within their Down syndrome community.

Janet Romo

Advisory Council

Janet Romo, a mother of three whose youngest daughter has Down syndrome, served as an instructor at Ashford University Education and special education teacher in the Phoenix Union High School District.  She holds a M.A. in Education and is endorsed in the areas of social studies, reading, middle school, adult development and cross-categorical special education. She is the founder of Austin & Lily Special Ed Curriculum where she designs curriculum for students with intellectual disabilities.

Megan Selvey, Esq.

Advisory Council

Megan Selvey is an attorney at Bivens and Associates P.L.L.C. Her legal practice includes estate planning, special needs planning, long term care planning, and guardianships and conservatorships. She advises on matters related to protecting wealth and providing for loved ones with special needs. Megan enjoys volunteering in the community and regularly presents to parents groups and families to provide information related to estate planning, guardianship, and public benefits.

Karen Szilagyi

Advisory Council

Karen Szilagyi earned her bachelor’s degree from San Diego State University and worked in sales and marketing for 15 years prior to having two children and deciding to work as a full-time mom for a few years.  After her son was born with Down syndrome, Karen became involved with DSNetwork and other organizations in Arizona who support individuals with disabilities and their families. She also organizes clothing and toy drives for families in the Valley who have children with special needs.

Heather Wood

Advisory Council

Originally from Las Vegas, Heather Wood moved to Phoenix in 2014 when she became a certified caregiver for children with developmental delays. She has two children, one of whom has Down syndrome. After learning her second child has Down Syndrome, Heather became a stay at home mom dedicating her days and nights to supporting her daughter as well as preparing her son for school, sports and to be a big brother.