Our Team

We are so privileged to serve the children and families that we love. Please take a moment to meet our Board of Directors:

Chief Executive Director & Treasurer

Michele Knowlton-Thorne

After both of her children were diagnosed with autism and she saw the need to provide parents with emotional, physical and educational support, Michele Knowlton-Thorne founded D.A.M.E.S LLC.

As President of D.A.M.E.S Charities Inc. Michele plans to continue creating programs, apps, events

Michele Knowlton-Thorne

After both of her children were diagnosed with autism and she saw the need to provide parents with emotional, physical and educational support, Michele Knowlton-Thorne founded D.A.M.E.S LLC.

As President of D.A.M.E.S Charities Inc. Michele plans to continue creating programs, apps, events, and support groups to help parents who are raising children with different health care needs.

Before founding D.A.M.E.S Michele worked as a geneticist at TGen and has an undergraduate degree in Molecular Biosciences and Biotechnology and a Master of Science Degree from Arizona State University. She also worked as an adjunct professor, re-wrote biological manuals for ASU, published in peer-reviewed journal articles and is the author of a STEM picture book series.

After the diagnosis of her children she founded D.A.M.E.S, became a Certified Autism Specialist and founded the Care for the Giver Conference. She graduated from the Pilot Parents of Southern Arizona Partners in the Leadership program. She has been trained as a Flourishing Families Practitioner, a Protective Factors Trainer, and as a Triple P Stepping Stones Practitioner. Michele also sits on the ALTCS Advisory Council as a parent representative and the ICC Financial Committee.

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Chief Operations Officer

Dr. Gabrielle Ficchi

Dr. Gabrielle Ficchi identified as a disabled woman. She is a
licensed therapist as well as a certified rehabilitation counselor.
Gabrielle has 10 years of both teaching and counseling
experience. She currently works as the CEO & Therapist at her
therapy practice, New Perspectives LLC.

Dr. Gabrielle Ficchi

Dr. Gabrielle Ficchi identified as a disabled woman. She is a
licensed therapist as well as a certified rehabilitation counselor.
Gabrielle has 10 years of both teaching and counseling
experience. She currently works as the CEO & Therapist at her
therapy practice, New Perspectives LLC. Working to bring mental
health services to the disability community & their families. She
also works as an adjunct professor in both counseling & disability
studies. She has taught at both the undergraduate and graduate
levels. Teaching courses in both rehabilitation and counselor
education. Her specialty and research areas focus on disability
adjustment both for individuals and families, independent living,
resilience, and disability identity. She also works as a consultant
and advocate for families on disability issues to help raise
awareness around bettering the lives of disabled individuals in
our community. Her passion is to advocate for equality and
justice for the disability community.

Links
Practice Website- https://newperspectivesllc.org/
Care 4 the Caregivers https://care4thecaregivers.org/
Dr. Ficchi’s resources for families –
https://linktr.ee/Drgabrielleficchi

Follow Dr. Ficchi on instagram for advice on parenting and
disability @drgabrielleficchi

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Chairman

Brenda Walsh

Brenda Walsh graduated with her M.S. in Developmental Studies from Purdue University.  She started her career working in child advocacy for children who were in the court system due to abuse and neglect.  She created a non-profit in Indiana that raises money to purchase items for kids in the abuse and neglect system that the State was not allowed to buy.  She was the first President of the Board for that non-profit. Brenda also has experience working with elementary and middle school children teaching life skills.

Brenda Walsh

Brenda Walsh graduated with her M.S. in Developmental Studies from Purdue University.  She started her career working in child advocacy for children who were in the court system due to abuse and neglect.  She created a non-profit in Indiana that raises money to purchase items for kids in the abuse and neglect system that the State was not allowed to buy.  She was the first President of the Board for that non-profit. Brenda also has experience working with elementary and middle school children teaching life skills.

Brenda’s son was diagnosed with autism at the late age of 14.  Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information she didn’t know, she decided to educate herself and become a child advocate in a different way. Brenda has become a special education consultant and advocate.  She is a Master IEP Coach®, completed the Wrightslaw Special Education Advocacy training, and completed the Arizona Partners in Leadership Program. She has a passion for helping others and as a parent of a child with a disability, she understands the importance of self-care and community.  Brenda is excited to be part of Care 4 the Caregivers.

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Secretary

Courtney Deeren

I am a licensed associate counselor with a background in child and family therapy and childhood trauma. My Masters Degree is in Rehabilitation Counseling in the field of Disability Studies, with a specialty in Psychiatric Rehabilitation. My first encounter with disabilities was when my father had a stroke when I…

Courtney Deeren

I am a licensed associate counselor with a background in child and family therapy and childhood trauma. My Masters Degree is in Rehabilitation Counseling in the field of Disability Studies, with a specialty in Psychiatric Rehabilitation. My first encounter with disabilities was when my father had a stroke when I was 12 years old, which forever changed the dynamics of my family. This set me on a path of learning how family trauma affects mental health and how disabilities can impact families. 

In 2014, my son was born with a rare genetic disorder called Phelan-McDermid Syndrome and I became his full time caregiver. Despite my professional and educational background, I found myself lost navigating complicated systems while also trying to manage my own health. It was hard to find anyone who truly understood what my family was going through and what we needed. Through this experience, I really began to appreciate the necessity of mental healthcare and community resources specifically for families of individuals with disabilities. I am thrilled to be involved in DAMES to help bridge this gap in caregiver support. This road is long but, with the right support, I believe we can make it through.

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Board Member

Matt Wells

After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with a Bachelor of Science in finance, Matt worked with both the Department of Treasury and the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Through his work with the agencies, Matt reviewed and evaluated banks and their loans to individuals and businesses. This exposure…

Matt Wells

After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with a Bachelor of Science in finance, Matt worked with both the Department of Treasury and the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Through his work with the agencies, Matt reviewed and evaluated banks and their loans to individuals and businesses. This exposure gave him extensive knowledge of personal finance, tax planning*, and the complexities of business ownership. Matt uses this experience and the teamwork approach at Renaissance Financial to empower business owners and their key employees and to creatively prepare for high net worth professionals. Matt also specializes in strategizing with families, particularly those with special needs children or relatives, as well as charitable giving from both the donor’s and organizations’ perspectives. 

Renaissance Financial named Matt as Rookie of the Year**, an award given to the advisor with the most production during their first calendar year. He was also named Diamond New & Developing Advisor** the following year by Securian Financial Services. Along with qualifying for multiple clubs within Securian, Matt was named a Million Dollar Round Table*** member and awarded the Excellence in Performance**. Matt holds his FINRA Series 7 and 66 registrations as well as his Life, Accident, and Health Agent license. 

It is easy to see Matt’s intensity and passion while spending time with him. He attributes this to his family’s values of making this world better and enjoying each moment while he is here. Matt and his wife, Amanda, realize these values through community involvement, hiking and camping with their two German Shepherd dogs, biking, and enjoying music. Matt is currently the president of the Phoenix Symphony Young Professionals and a Legacy League member of the Phoenix Symphony. He is also a member of the Biltmore Area Partnership of Phoenix. Matt is involved with the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central and Northern Arizona as a volunteer and member of the Red Shoe Society. He also volunteers with Ducks Unlimited, the Boy Scouts of America Grand Canyon Council, and Saving Paws Rescue Arizona.

Registered Representative and Investment Advisor Representative, Securian Financial Services, Inc.

*Financial Advisors do not provide specific tax/legal advice and this information should not be considered as such.  You should always consult your tax/legal advisor regarding your own specific tax/legal situation.

**Awards and club membership are based primarily on commissions, premiums, or fees generated from investment and insurance products and other criteria relative to leadership, achievement, and recruiting. Working with this individual or firm is not a guarantee of future financial results. Investors should conduct their own evaluation.

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Board Member

Staci Neustadt

Staci Neustadt is a Speech-Language Pathologist with a rich diversity of experience and is an impassioned professional with a proven capacity for creativity and innovation in the entrepreneurial sphere.

Staci has been working in the field of Speech-Language Pathology for 20 years after attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison (BA, Communication Disorders)

Staci Neustadt

Staci Neustadt is a Speech-Language Pathologist with a rich diversity of experience and is an impassioned professional with a proven capacity for creativity and innovation in the entrepreneurial sphere.

Staci has been working in the field of Speech-Language Pathology for 20 years after attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison (BA, Communication Disorders), and Arizona State University (M.S., Speech-Language Pathology). While her passion is to empower all of those with diverse abilities, she focuses her passion on supporting the Autistic Community. As a Certified Autism Specialist, she has led social groups, provided individual speech and language therapy for kids with a variety of disabilities and worked closely with families of children that use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices.

In 2007, Staci used her experience and research to assist in developing Alexicom Tech’s Augmentative and Alternative Communication apps to assist those with complex communication needs. Through her company, Alexicom Tech, Staci has spoken at conferences and continues to educate other professionals on AAC. Staci continues to work with families as well as guides fellow Speech-Language Pathologist as the therapy director at Baio Enterprises. Her passion to help the disability community to achieve their goals in life continues through educating the staff and families at the clinic.

Staci joined D.A.M.E.S. because of her strong belief that when we support the whole family or unit, we can help the individual we work with in therapy so much more. Families are the key to progress in therapy and play an essential role in their child’s development.

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Board Member

Hannah Woelke

Hannah has worked in disability services in Tucson for over a decade and supported marginalized people her entire life. She has managed multiple pre-employment contracts as a VR and DDD provider. The bulk of her time was spent supporting job seekers of transition-age with cognitive and developmental disabilities.

Her empowerment work continued in multiple ways: presenting at the AZ Annual Transition Conference, …

Hannah Woelke

Hannah has worked in disability services in Tucson for over a decade and supported marginalized people her entire life. She has managed multiple pre-employment contracts as a VR and DDD provider. The bulk of her time was spent supporting job seekers of transition-age with cognitive and developmental disabilities.

Her empowerment work continued in multiple ways: presenting at the AZ Annual Transition Conference, providing information and resources at an Independent Living Center, serving four years on Tucson’s Commission on Disability Issues, and becoming an APSE Certified Employment Support Professional.

At the moment she is studying to be a certified sexuality educator. Hannah has begun putting her BA in Psychology to use by showing caregivers and self-advocates how everyone can become a sexually healthy person. She has provided workshops through Care 4 the Caregivers, Pilot Parents of S. AZ, and Direct Advocacy & Resource Center, in addition to individualized consultations.

Currently, Hannah works as an advocate at the designated Protection and Advocacy law firm in Arizona. As part of that position, she sits on the AZ APSE board and focuses on the Legislation and Policy Committee. Hannah believes that disability rights are human rights and everyone deserves freedom of choice.

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Board Member

Amy Ward

Amy Ward graduated from Fresno State University with a Bachelor’s in Animal Science. Soon after she and her husband became parents to their first daughter and moved to rural Arizona.  They had two more girls and then she and her husband packed up and moved to Montana.   After her second child was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder

Amy Ward

Amy Ward graduated from Fresno State University with a Bachelor’s in Animal Science. Soon after she and her husband became parents to their first daughter and moved to rural Arizona.  They had two more girls and then she and her husband packed up and moved to Montana.   After her second child was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder it became clear that being a mom was her most important role and as it unfolded, now having 5 children, 4 of them with disabilities ranging from Autism Spectrum Disorder, a very rare Chromosomal Disorder (Tetrasomy 9p)  and a mystery seizure disorder: Mom, Teacher, Caregiver, Therapist, Advocate, Leader all became part of that “Mom” title.  She and her husband moved the family back to Arizona in July of 2020 seeking better services and schools for their disabled children.
Amy has been and still is in the trenches of being a mom to children with disabilities and is passionate about helping others navigate a world that is difficult and extremely isolating   “This journey is not easy but we have to help families from the moment they get the diagnosis.  So they don’t feel alone and become isolated” “WE have an obligation to help them find a village and create a supportive atmosphere for the whole family”
Overall she hopes to bring a unique perspective to Care 4 The Caregivers and help advocate for families that are in this difficult yet amazing journey and in so doing also continue healing her own heart.

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