Meet Our Board & Advisory Council

Paula Banahan, President 

Banahan Communications, Inc.

Education: Paula is a Bachelor of Science graduate of Boston College School of Nursing. She studied at the Arizona Heart Institute and became a Cardiovascular Nurse Specialist.

Experience: Paula has been in the healthcare industry for over 25 years, beginning her career at Cedar Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles California. She moved with her husband, Jim, to Arizona and while at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, she developed the state’s first Heart and Heart–Lung Transplant Program. Eventually, she became the Executive Director of the Arizona Heart Institute. Paula has held a number of nursing leadership and administrative positions in various settings throughout her career. Her last position was as President and CEO of the New Hampshire Heart Institute in Manchester, NH where she was responsible for a $43 million increase in cardiovascular revenue. She now serves as President for Banahan Communications.

Passion: Since the age of 5, Paula knew she wanted to be a nurse. Paula is passionate about providing the highest quality nursing care. Included with that is the education of the patient, family and support providers for her patients. Paula understands that to be a good nurse you must be honest, trustworthy, compassionate and empathetic in order to be responsible for your patients. Paula in also known to be an advocate for many of her family members and friends when they find themselves in need of medical attention.

"I became involved with Raising Special Kids when it was originally Pilot Parents.  I was a volunteer then for Parent to Parent connect. My twins Bobby and Julia are now 21 years old, and I still love my Parent to Parent connections. I also serve as a volunteer for the Residency Training program."

Karin M. Smith, Vice President

Karin is a partner with Heinfeld, Meech & Co., P.C., a CPA and Business Consultant firm. With over 15 years of school finance, Karin has had the opportunity to work with school districts across the State. Karin received her Master in Business Administration from the University of Arizona. Her other college degrees include a Master of Educational Leadership from Northern Arizona University and a Master of Public Administration from Arizona State University. Karin and her family have been involved with Raising Special Kids for 30 years. As an adolescent, teenager, and young adult, Raising Special Kids had an important place in Karin’s life both in connecting her with other siblings of children different abilities and assisting her when she was diagnosed with a learning disability in college.

Tom Batson, Treasurer

Senior Vice President – Investments, Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC

Tom has lived in Phoenix, Arizona since graduating from the University of Southern California in 1978 with a degree in psychology. Tom's volunteer activities in the community have included: A Stepping Stone Foundation, Arizona Special Olympics, Junior Achievement, Multiple Sclerosis Society, United Blood Services, Shadow Rock Church & John C. Lincoln (JCL) Healthcare Network. He currently serves as Past Chair of the JCL Healthcare Foundation Board, Member of the Scottsdale Lincoln Healthcare Network Finance & Investment Committee and Board Member of the Shadow Rock Foundation. In his spare time, Tom enjoys hiking, biking, and golf.

Tom Batson is married to Gina, his wife of over 24 years. They have two children; one recently graduated from Northern Arizona University and now working for Meredith Corp - CBS News Channel 5. The other is attending Paradise Valley Community College and has participated in various work exploration programs through Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC).

Blanca Esparza-Pap, Secretary

Community and Public Relations Manager for KTVK 3TV, Arizona’s Family and KASW CW6 in Phoenix, Arizona. 

Esparza-Pap manages all community and public relations activities on behalf of the stations including advocating for community organizations in the 3TV newsroom. A graduate of Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication with a degree in Journalism, Esparza-Pap has primarily worked in the field of community and media relations focusing in the areas of high-tech, healthcare, local government, politics and education. Her career has taken her from Arizona to Washington, DC working for organizations such as the Intel Corporation, Phoenix Baptist Hospital, City of Phoenix, Bush-Cheney ’04 and the U.S.  Department of Education. In her spare time, Esparza-Pap enjoys spending time with her husband Jesse and their 2-year-old daughter Isabella.

Barbara Brent

Barbara is the Director of State Policy for the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services (NASDDDS), a nonprofit organization that assists state agencies and others in the development of effective service delivery systems for people with developmental disabilities.

Prior to joining NASDDDS, Barbara served as the state director for the Arizona Division of Developmental Disabilities, supporting over 30,000 children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families.

Barbara has a master's degree in special education with emphasis on employment and community living for people with severe disabilities.

She has worked in both the public and private sectors in a variety of roles, including case management, early intervention, director of supported employment in the state of Oregon, executive director of a vocational provider agency, UCEDD education coordinator, and as the state developmental disabilities director in Tennessee. Her interests include systems change, community development, and bringing people together from communities and government to create positive change. 

Gabriela Sanchez Orozco

Gabriela has over 12 years experience teaching children PK-8th grade with developmental disabilities, severe emotional distress, and Down syndrome. Before moving to Arizona, she served as an advocate with South Central Los Angeles Regional Center for Persons with Developmental Disabilities, Inc. teaching families to navigate state systems. She was also a Coordinator for Special Events and a Sunday school teacher for her church, and the Vice President for a women's group.

Currently, as President of Grupo de Apoyo para Nios Especiales since 2007, she directs activities for the monthly Spanish-speaking parent support group in its mission to improve the lives of children with different abilities and illnesses by providing families with information, training, advocacy, parent support, and leadership development. Her duties include managing monthly meetings, workshops, conferences, family visits, and advocating at schools or the Division of Developmental Disabilities for the families they serve. She also works to establish partnerships with other organizations, groups, schools and state agencies. She has been volunteering at Raising Special Kids since 2007, and she is involved in Arizona Autism Coalition, Division of Developmental Disabilities parent panels. Gabriela is a graduate of Partners in Policy Making and is a Consultant for One Life Unlimited.

"My passion is helping, supporting and advocating for the Spanish speaking community to address challenges and barriers due to language and cultural factors," said Gabriela. "I am married and the mother of three wonderful children, including our oldest son with autism."

Jacob Robertson

Jacob has practiced commercial litigation at the Phoenix office of Perkins Coie LLP since 2006. He is a graduate of the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah, where he was an editor of the Utah Law Review. He received his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University, majoring in political science and minoring in business management and Spanish. He has volunteered with Utah Special Olympics, the University of Utah Pro Bono Initiative and Arizona Town Hall. 

Upon being introduced to Raising Special Kids Jacob was impressed by family members of children with disabilities who shared their stories of how Raising Special Kids' network of parent support, training and information not only helped their families get through trying and uncertain circumstances, but also gave them the opportunity to give back to the community. 

Jennifer Kupiszewski, Esq.

Jennifer graduated from ASU law school in 1999. For six years, she represented the Arizona Department of Economic Security/Child Protective Services Division in juvenile court cases involving dependency, severance and guardianship matters. At the Arizona Center for Disability Law, she was co-counsel on the class action lawsuit Jason K. v. Eden representing families obtaining mental health services.

In private practice since 2007, Jennifer is a Managing Partner with Kile & Kupiszewski Law Firm. She focuses on cases involving adults and children with special health care needs and non-traditional families. In addition to her seat on the Board of Raising Special Kids, she also serves on the Board of Directors of the Maricopa County Bar Family Law Section.
Jennifer and her husband Steve have a blended family of five children and one tiny Yorkie. All kids are in college, including Michael who suffered a near fatal traumatic brain injury.

Joyce Millard Hoie

Executive Director, Raising Special Kids
As Executive Director since 2000, Joyce directs the activities of a comprehensive parent center in its mission to improve the lives of children with disabilities by providing families with information, training, advocacy, parent support, and leadership development.  Joyce is committed to promoting effective partnerships with state and community agencies, professionals, volunteers, donors, corporate sponsors, and many others who help Raising Special Kids support families.  Joyce came up through the ranks as a parent volunteer when the organization was first known as Pilot Parents, and served one term on its Board of Directors. After living in Virginia for four years, she moved back to Arizona to become Executive Director.

Joyce currently serves on several boards and state commissions including First Things First, Arizona’s statewide initiative for early childhood health and education. Before joining Raising Special Kids, she earned a graduate degree in public administration and started her career in higher education administration. Joyce is married and the mother of four children, including one son with autism.

Karen Hinds

Karen Hinds received her Bachelors degree in Special Education from Arizona State University and holds a Masters degree in Educational Counseling from the University of Phoenix. Karen began her experience working with individuals with disabilities at the Tempe ARC. Karen has worked at McClintock High School in Tempe as a teacher for individuals with emotional disabilities, and at Desert Vista High School teaching students diagnosed with Intellectual Disabilities and Learning Disabilities. She is currently an educational guidance counselor in charge of implementing all 504 plans within the school setting.

During her work as a Special Education Teacher at Desert Vista, Karen developed an innovative process for students with disabilities to empower themselves through the use of  student driven presentations at IEP meetings to express their strengths, weaknesses, transition goals and celebrations. Karen also participates in Arizona Special Olympics as Head of Delegation and Coach for TUHSD and City of Tempe; and she is a Best Buddies Sponsor at Desert Vista High School.
Awards she has received include: 
2001 - Tempe, Arizona Council of Exceptional Students Teacher of the Year
2001- Award of Excellence for the Tempe Union High School District
2002- ARC of Arizona Teacher of the Year

Leslie Cohen

Leslie Cohen, JD is the Director of the UA Sonoran University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities and Assistant Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine, UA College of Medicine. In her current position, Ms. Cohen is responsible for this UA interdisciplinary center engaged in disability related education and training, research, model program development and information dissemination. Ms. Cohen has substantial expertise in disability law and policy. Prior to joining the University of Arizona, she was the executive director for over ten years of the Arizona Center for Disability Law, Arizona's protection and advocacy system for persons with disabilities. For many years, she has served as a consultant to organizations in Arizona and nationally on a wide variety of strategic planning, management and substantive disability issues. She currently serves as President of the Board of Directors of the National Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD); Past-President, Primavera Foundation; and Board Member, Linkages Arizona.

Michael Horne

Chief Operating Officer and Managing Partner, Off Madison Ave
Michael has more than three decades of marketing experience that spans broadcasting,
traditional, direct response and digital marketing. He has launched, rebuilt and managed
several highly successful business operations, including SpinSix and Results Media Group, which grew from a startup to more than $45 million in media billings before its sale in 2005.

Michael is recognized throughout the marketing industry for his ability to analyze and
effectively address even the most difficult marketing and business-related assignments. He is a leader within the local community, having served on the boards of Valley Big Brothers, Big Sisters; Metro Phoenix Broadcasters Association; Silent Witness; and Phoenix Suns Charities.

Michael’s specialties are in sports marketing, direct response television, promotions and
sales management. He has extensive experience in secondary education, the restaurant
industry, gaming and fitness equipment

Tonya Gray

Special Events Coordinator, Arizona State University Alumni Association
Tonya J. Gray is an experienced marketer, event coordinator and business professional. As a special events coordinator for Arizona State University Alumni Association, she manages the away game football tailgates, reunions and legislative advocacy efforts. Born and raised in Colorado, Tonya moved to Arizona to attend Arizona State University where she earned her bachelor of arts in Communication at the Hugh Downs School of Communication. After graduation, Tonya was hired at Southwest Airlines in the Phoenix Field Marketing Office. Tonya supported the sales and marketing efforts of one of the most celebrated airlines and business stories in the world for eight years, earning several promotions and even being named a Marketing Employee of the quarter. During her time at Southwest Airlines, is when she learned about the mission of Raising Special Kids and has since, been an advocate of the organization and its work in Arizona. Tonya Gray earned her masters of business administration from Devry University Keller Graduate School of Management in Scottsdale, Arizona and her career has taken her from Arizona to Dallas and back. Her diverse experience includes brand and product management, community development and relations, event coordination and management, public relations, and sales. Tonya is very active in her local community, but in her rare spare time, she loves to travel, go to the movies, and support her Sun Devils!

Dr. Wade Shrader

Dr. Wade Shrader received his undergraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering at Mississippi State University, after which he went on to serve as a Flight Engineer for NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. He graduated from the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago, and then went on to complete his Orthopedic Surgery residency at the Mayo Clinic. He then completed his Fellowship in Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery and Scoliosis at the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas, Texas. He currently is the Herbert J. Louis Endowed Chair of Pediatric Orthopedics at Phoenix Children's Hospital and the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix. He also serves as the Medical Director of the PCH Center for Cerebral Palsy and the PING/Bubba Watson Motion Analysis Laboratory. His research focuses include improvements in the quality of life, surgical outcomes, and pain assessment and control for children with Cerebral Palsy and other childhood onset neurodevelopmental disabilities. Wade and his wife Carol are the proud parents of four children, Benjamin and Mason (both of whom have cerebral palsy), and Claire and Cate.

Advisory Council

Lisa Aaroe, Grand Canyon University
Mary Allare, MD Neonatologist 
Jack Alspaugh, Gary Insurance Company 
Kevin Bonner, Fennemore Craig
Heather Buchta, Quarles Brady Streich & Lang
Linda Cannon, Cannon & Associates
Jim Cole, AZ Family Channel 3
Bob Cox, Nothing But Net
Elaine Ellis, MD
Jodi Feuerhelm, Perkins Coie Brown & Bain
Elizabeth Freeburg
Conrad Greene, Assest Based Capital
Brad Harper, Trigon Executive Assessment Center
Miriam Hayanga, Realtor
Vickie Herd, Extended Family Disability Services, LLC
Mary Holman, Comerica Bank  
Shirley Kaufman, Retired Attorney
Dan Kessler MD, Southwest Human Development
Ellen & Bill Leibow
Gina Maravilla,
Susan Morris, Southwest Performance Group 
Michael Remus, Director of Special Education for Deer Valley Unified School District
Susan Riedel, Modern Woodmen Of America 
Carolyn Sechler, Sechler CPA , PC
Mary Slaughter, Consultant 
Chuck Smith
Bill Spain, Provident Partners Companies 
Don Storrs, Wolz's Florist
Janelle Tassart, Development & Communications Manager, Gompers
Susan Voirol, Tempe Union High School District
Debbie Voll, Paradise Valley Unified School District 
Tim Watters, Colliers International

Upcoming Events

Oct 7

Positive Behavior Support - Tucson

10:00am - Van Buskirk Elementary School

Oct 8

Camino a la Adultez

11:00am - Yuma Main Library

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Raising Special Kids Helped Me Develop My Toolbox

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Raising Special Kids

5025 E. Washington St., Ste. 204 Phoenix, AZ 85034

  • Phoenix: 602-242-4366
  • Flagstaff: 928-444-8834
  • Tucson: 520-441-4416
  • Yuma: 928-444-8803
  • Toll Free: 800-237-3007