Suzanne first became aware of our organization 6 years ago, as our banker at WestAmerica Bank. She helped OFI purchase the building we currently occupy. She later got involved in organizing her staff at the bank to provide Money Management classes for our STEP participants. After gradually becoming familiar with our organization and providing banking services to many of our participants, Suzanne was asked to come on the Board. After two years, she stepped into her current role as Board Chair. Suzanne brings a wealth of experience in the health care industry and customer service and has been actively working with OFI on a range of projects. Suzanne currently lives in Novato with her husband and has two children in college.
MS Special Education, BCBA, Regular Education and Special Education Teaching Credentials
Laura has worked and played with children and adults with autism and other special needs since 1972. Her professional experience is broad and includes Director of Adult Work and Residential Services, and Non-Public School and Behavioral Services. Laura is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, and has a Regular Education and Special Education Credential. She received a Master of Science degree in Special Education from Dominican University in 1987 and has served on many governmental and local committees focusing on autism and special needs as well as on the boards of seven non-profits across the Bay Area. From 1987 to 2006, Laura was the Director of Therapon Association, serving children and adults in a variety of residential and work setting. From 1997-2007 Laura was the Director of ABC Day Program and founded and served as the Principal of ABC School at the California Autism Foundation.
Beginning in 2007, Laura founded Cypress School and Behavioral Services under UC PNB, developed a new 10,000 square foot school site, and increased enrollment to 55 students, 25 after-school participants with autism spectrum disorders, developmental disabilities, and emotional disabilities. In 2013 UCPNB started an additional service under Laura-new non-public agency Cypress Vocational and Therapeutic Services. These programs in Solano, Napa and Sonoma counties provide young adults with special needs ages 18-22, a unique alternative vocational education program on the sites of our adult social enterprise work programs, Gone for Good, Fairfield, WineBev Services, Napa and OADS, Petaluma.
As a leader in the field of special education and behavioral services, Laura was invited to Ljubljana, Slovenia in July 2006 and 2007 where she provided a four-day autism services training seminar for medical and educational professionals. Laura has taught and presented on autism, sensory regulation, positive behavior supports and transition services at SF and Sonoma State, Dominican University, Marin County Office of Education and Alliant University.
Joseph Strella has been practicing law since 1995. He specializes in employment law, representing employers and individuals in discrimination, harassment, and wrongful termination actions. This includes matters involving Title VII and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. Clients include individuals, private enterprises and non-profit entities.
In addition to employment matters, Joe also defends clients in personal injury, general civil liability, construction defect, product liability, unfair competition, consumer warranty and landlord/tenant cases. He occasionally represents a plaintiff when the appropriate case is presented.
Prior to joining Clapp, Moroney, Joe spent three years representing clients in personal injury, medical malpractice, legal malpractice and product liability cases. He also spent one year at a small start up company providing guidance on First Amendment, compensation, and employment issues.
He was previously on the Board of Directors for Gates and Bridges pre-school in San Francisco, California.
Joe attended Duke University, graduating in 1988, with a BA in public policy studies. He obtained his JD, in 1995, from the University of Colorado School of Law. Joe is admitted to practice in California and before the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Joe is a member of the American Bar Association and the San Francisco Bar Association.
Lisa brings over 20 years' experience in benefits and human resources to the OFI board. She is currently a Vice President, Account Executive for Woodruff Sawyer in Novato providing employee benefits consulting to a variety of employers Marin, Sonoma, and Napa counties. Lisa received her bachelor's degree from Boston College.
In addition to the OFI board, Lisa is also involved with Halleck Creek Ranch, a therapeutic riding program for persons with disabilities, and the Boys and Girls Club in Petaluma and Marin where she volunteers her time with a variety of fundraising events.
Sarah Cohen, LCSW, ORSCC is a Consultant and a Coach. She is a licensed clinical social worker who has worked in mental health and animal welfare for over 30 years in a variety of positions, including as an Executive Director. Sarah has her own consulting company, Sarah Cohen & Associates, and specializes in coaching and consulting with non-profit, school district and county agencies meeting the needs of vulnerable youth and adults. Sarah worked in direct service and in management and consulting roles to develop services that are user friendly and meet the needs of their constituents. She has served on several boards and was the founding Board Chair of Hopalong and Second Chance Animal Rescue, now in its 26th year. Sarah has a passion for working with non-profits and has extensive experience working with all levels of management to develop programs for individuals who are stepping down from higher levels of care or who are moving toward independence.
Growing up mostly in Napa, CA, Nathaniel Cartwright graduated from Vintage High School and later attended Napa Community College, majoring in Business Administration. After finding his way into the banking in his early 20's, Nathaniel has found success in Banking over the past ten plus years. Nathaniel is currently employed at Westamerica Bank, where he has spent eight of his ten year banking career and has been recognized for his many achievements while serving his community with banking services. Westamerica is also where Nathaniel was introduced to Opportunity For Independence and was able to learn about the services they provide for the community. Nathaniel is a huge advocate for Health and Human Services and is excited to have the opportunity to serve on the Board of Directors for Opportunity For Independence. Outside of work, Nathaniel enjoys spending time with his family, hiking, working out at the gym and attending Oakland Raiders games during football season.