Executive Director: Debbie Weidinger

Debbie, a native Arizonan, has been married 33 years and has two adult children. A passionate lifetime learner, reader, and traveler, she also strives to master new computer technology for use in daily life. Debbie uses these multiple skills to teach others, mentor young adults, and to aid individuals on the autism spectrum.

Debbie enjoys music, having received her Bachelor of Music Education degree from Northern Arizona University. Her lifelong dream to teach music was fulfilled over the last ten years as she taught both elementary and secondary grades. Before formally teaching, Debbie owned and operated several successful businesses, including a multi-million dollar direct sales organization she established. Her consulting led to service on the Tempe Chamber of Commerce Small Business Council.

Business, education, consulting, and retail experience melded together in 2008 when Debbie co-founded AZ ASSIST, a support group for parents of teens and young adults with autism spectrum disorders. A forward-thinking problem-solver, Debbie now directs the rapidly-growing agency. Her expertise is in demand as she mentors families associated with AZ ASSIST and participates in two work groups with the Arizona Department of Health. Debbie is an increasingly popular and informative lecturer at various local and national conferences, such as ACSI, ASA, AS-GP, AZA United, as well as conducting teacher in-services for schools.

 

Board Members:

Laura England, a founding AZ ASSIST board member, became active in the autism community after the birth of her son 24 years ago. Her early career as a registered clinical dietitian, educating in-hospital patients, prepared her to become an advocate for her son in the school system as well as the community. She led her church’s educational program, and eventually earned a Master’s degree in Special Education.

Far beyond advocating for her own son, Laura felt compelled to help other families navigate the complex journey that those affected with ASD travel with their amazing children. She currently tutors students with autism and works with the emotional and behavioral challenges.  Laura knows the acquisition of life skills never ends; one of her teaching philosophies is “Go as far as you can see and, when you get there, you’ll be able to see further.”

Laura received her Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Miami University in Ohio and her Masters in Special Education from Grand Canyon University.  In her spare time, Laura loves researching history, traveling, hiking and exploring other cultures.

 

Teri Beardsley, married with two children, is now retired after 31 years in Special Education. She holds multiple certifications and endorsements. Over her career, she specialized in Cross Categorical Resource, Developmental Preschool, and Kindergarten. Her passion for autistic children was enriched, as for most involved with AZ ASSIST, by a wonderful son who is currently very involved in SEEDS for Autism.

Volunteerism is a way of life for Teri, and retirement has not slowed her down. She serves as coordinator for West Valley AZ ASSIST in addition to teaching online courses and supervising student teachers for Grand Canyon University.

Before Teri moved to Arizona in 1985, she earned a Bachelor of Science in Speech and Language Pathology from Illinois State University, and a Master’s in Special and Elementary Education from Northern Illinois University. Her many interests include her two well-loved dogs, reading, cooking, and knitting. Teri loves travel enough to enjoy setting up itineraries for other’s vacations, although she is a strong supporter of all things local, including shops and restaurants of downtown Phoenix.

 

Regina Flint has been married for 32 years and has two adult sons. She recently retired from teaching after 32 years. She has worked and taught all grade levels from preschool through seniors in high school and finds that her favorite grade level of students is the one she is currently teaching! Every grade is exciting to her. Sometimes her students would say, “Mrs. Flint, I think you are having way too much fun!”

Regina has a love for learning and researching new methods, materials and books to assist her with her work with children, teens and adults. As a result, Regina has taken and attended hundreds of hours of workshops and classes plus has participated on numerous curriculum writing committees, worked on transition issues and writing assessments for the school district along with being a special education department lead for the last 14 years working directly to train and assist other teachers at the schools. In addition to the school setting, Regina was a caretaker for 30 years for a woman with both intellectual and mental issues which gave her exposure to the world of support services for those with disabilities and numerous medical field treatment plans available to those in need.

Regina holds many certifications and endorsements in both elementary education and special education with an emphasis on learning disabled and emotionally handicapped students. Regina was a board member for the Arizona Professional Education Association/Peoria Classroom Teachers Association for 15 years, taught Sunday School at her church for 15 years, conducted Marriage Preparation classes with her husband for 20 years and was the founding president for a high school football booster club for 6 years.

 

Sam Bartlow is an Autistic self-advocate.  He was initially diagnosed with Asperger’s in 2003 at the age of 22.  Since then, he has taken it upon himself to learn everything he can about Autism.  In 2006 he started receiving emails from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network where he first learned about Neurodiversity, the concept that each person’s neurology is unique to that individual and adds to the beauty of human diversity.

He started working for AZ ASSIST in February of 2009 as a volunteer mentor to the young adults, something he still does every month to this day.  In 2010 he started an Autism related bible study that met twice a month for two years.  He is a former member of the Autism Coalition who was inspired by the AZ ASSIST youth to go back to college in 2011 to complete his college degree.  He graduated with honors in 2013 with a GPA of 3.51.  He has spoken in a number of panels, including two affiliated with the Autism Society of America.  In April of 2014 he helped put together the AZ ASSIST fashion show together with his other employer, Dillard’s, at Superstition Springs Mall.  In June of that same year, he put together his first social for the AZ ASSIST youth when he invited them to join him for his birthday.  He continues to have a passion for learning about autism and especially for guiding the AZ ASSIST youth that continues to inspire him and influence his career choices to this day.

 

Claudia Weemes, a native of Mainz, Germany has been married 26 years to now retired Army SFC Jimmy Weemes. They have two adult children, three cats and a doglet.

Claudia obtained an AAS from Central Arizona College where she was also employed as a certified tutor in Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics. Prior to this, though primarily a ‘stay-at-home’ mom, she spent over 10 years both as an employee and a volunteer with Mesa Public Schools working with K – 6 neurotypical and special needs children. Now a Certified Pharmacy Technician, she has been working with Cigna Medical Group for the past seven years, most recently as a Medication Refill Authorization Specialist serving patients of over 100 physicians. Outside work she is an active member and leader in her church, likes reading, needlework (such as tatting, knitting, crochet) and spending as much time as possible on the beach.

Her entire adult life has been marked by volunteerism wherever the need arose. It was within one of the volunteer settings that she noticed how her young son did not quite develop at the same rate as his peers, starting her on a path of advocacy for him at a time when autism was a more foreign than familiar term to most professionals in the medical and scholastic communities. A momma’s tenacity and a love for learning propelled her to educate herself as much as possible about autism and the autism community, a path that led her to AZ ASSIST about three years ago.

 

Karen L. Starbowski practices Financial Planning with MassMutual Financial Services. Providing financial advice has become Karen’s passion because she enjoys helping people and their families.

Karen has completed her SpecialCare Planning designation, ChSNC which allows her to use her financial planning passion to assist families who have loved ones with special needs.  She now leads the Team for MassMutual Arizona.  The MassMutual Arizona SpecialCare Planning Team’s mission is to help make a positive difference in the lives of individuals with special needs, their caregivers and other family members.  The SpecialCare Planning Team has developed a unique network of professionals within the Special Needs community.  This devoted network assists families, not only with their financial planning, but also provides a wide range of expertise to fit the diverse concerns of Special Needs families.

Karen Starbowski was born and raised in Michigan and has been living in Arizona since 1999. She received her BS in Mathematics from Eastern Michigan University. In addition to being involved with many of the Special Needs organizations, she is also involved with the Ahwatukee Chamber of Commerce. When Karen has free time, she enjoys watching her beloved Red Wings or hiking in the Superstition Mountains.

 

Maria V. Dixon is a Clinical Associate Professor at Arizona State University.  She has been a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) since 1997.  She graduated with a B.A. in Economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign which lead to a career as a Survey Statistician with the U.S. Census Bureau.  During that time, she volunteered with an SLP at a residential facility for adults with severe and profound cognitive impairments, this was a catalyst to her enrolling in a graduate SLP program.  She graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park in 1997.  She then worked as an SLP providing direct service in schools for children with language and reading disorders.  Following work as a Clinical Faculty member at Purdue University and then the University of Maryland at College Park, she joined the faculty in the Speech and Hearing Sciences department at Arizona State University.  In each of these positions Maria has worked with children and young adults with autism spectrum disorders and their families.  She is the faculty for the Autistics on Campus student organization at ASU. She served on the Board of Directors at the One World Center for Autism which provides a clearinghouse of information and support for individuals with ASD and their families in Prince George’s County, Maryland.  More recently she has served as a mentor in Free Arts of Arizona which provides visual arts activities for abused and homeless children in the Phoenix area.

Maria has lived and traveled extensively in Central and South America because of her father’s diplomatic career.  She speaks Spanish fluently and some Portuguese.  Maria is a fiber enthusiast; she knits, crochets, weaves and even spins her own yarn from natural fibers.  She lives with her family, a dog named Twix and a cat named Topaz.

 

Randall Hoggard is a proud advocate for education reform.  He has a Doctorate Degree in Educational Administration and seeks innovative educational practices to educate all children.  He is certified in Arizona as a superintendent, secondary educator, and career and technical educator. As a principal, counselor, and teacher at the high school and college levels, Rande has been leading students and educators for more than 20 years. He received an outstanding teacher award for engaging students in the classroom and promoting an effective student-centered learning environment. Under his leadership, students from diverse backgrounds have built character and strengthened academic skills for their pathways to success. He has two college aged children and raises two teenage children with his partner Alyssa Allen.

Prior to working in education, he was a successful business manager in the Midwest.  This experience led him to education and the need to better prepare students for the workplace. His research focuses on the education of boys.  He is a speaker for the Guerin Institute which focuses on the differences in education of each gender.

 

Tracey Regan has been married to her best friend Brian for 19 years and has two teenage children. Tracey and Brian were blessed to become parents through special needs foster adoption. Tracey devoted her time the needs of her growing children while working with the families of all abilities she is called to serve. She began her career as a preschool teacher in her home state of New Jersey. She successfully operated a state certified home daycare for seven years after making the decision to become foster parent. This allowed her to manage the time needed for the in and out of home therapies and interventions her children needed to thrive. She moved to Arizona in the summer of 2006 after the adoption of her children was finalized, and immediately began working as an educational assistant in a public school adaptive preschool program. She continued to develop her passion for children diagnosed with autism working with mentor teachers, habilitation agencies, and Autism Society events.

She is currently employed by Glendale elementary school district where she spent the last five years as part of the district’s autism program. She is a 2016 graduate of Grand Canyon University with a dual degree in elementary and special education. She is using her degree to serve as the K-5 elementary special education resource teacher at Horizon elementary school in Glendale.

She strives to give back to her community in service to others. She has served on the board for National Association for the education of young children, Family Daycare Providers Association, and Girl Scouts of America. She has served in children’s ministry for most of her adult life teaching Sunday school, adapting curriculum, and providing respite events. She currently serves alongside her husband as part of the equip team for Joni and Friends Arizona disability ministry. Together they have taught autism workshops to churches and volunteers throughout Arizona. Tracey will tell you that she credits her accomplishments to her deep faith. In her spare time, she enjoys crafting, writing, serving with friends, and spending time with her family.