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Our Team

Lorell Marin, MST., DT.

Founder, Executive Director, Developmental Therapist

Lorell Marin founded L.E.E.P. Forward when she saw a gap in the services for children with special needs aged 3-5 once they aged out of early intervention. Lorell deeply believes in the potential of every child and focuses on the relationship model to support the children, families and therapists of L.E.E.P. Forward. Her eclectic approach holds DIR ®  (Developmental Individual-Difference Relationship-Based Therapy) at the center of the program and prioritizes a team approach. She received her Masters of Science in Teaching from Pace University, Manhattan, N.Y and her Bachelor of Science degree in Social Work from Richard Stockton State College, N.J. and Special Education certification through Felician College, NJ.  In addition she has been credentialed as a Developmental Therapist in Illinois. Before founding L.E.E.P. Forward and becoming the mom of 2 girls, she enjoyed challenging extreme sports like skydiving, bungee jumping, plane gliding and running a marathon.

In addition to formal education Lorell continues to educate herself on best- practices in order to provide a dynamic and therapeutic program to both her clients and staff.

Credentials include the following:

  • Developmental Individual-Difference Relationship-Based Therapy
    (DIR® /Floortime)/Level 3 Certificate Candidate
  • Certification through Profectum as a Developmental Therapist
  • Child Developmental Specialist/ Early Intervention
  • Relationship Developmental Intervention (RDI®) Consultant
  • Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
  • Sensory Integration Praxis Training (SIPT)
  • Affect Based Language Curriculum (ABLC)
  • Certified Music Together Teacher
  • Certified PLAY Project Consultant In Training

Lorell is a member of the Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders (ICDL)

“Working with children and creating a safe, nurturing environment for them to grow to their full potential has been a lifelong dream. I love what I do and feel it reflects back on the children. To watch the children who walk through my door make progress has proven that dreams come true.” – Lorell Marin

Maia Brake, MSW

Maia recently moved to Chicago from Michigan to work with children and their families. Maia has a BS in Human Development and Families Studies, and a Masters of Clinical Social Work (MSW), both from Michigan State University. Maia's therapeutic theologies align with ideas from TF-CBT, EMDR, interpersonal neurobiology, and mindfulness. 

Maia has experience providing therapeutic and case management services to children, adolescents and their support people in outpatient, home-based and residential settings. In her spare time, Maia enjoys yoga, eating tacos and reading.

    Megan Ross

    Assistant Clinician

    Megan Ross joined the LEEP Forward Therapeutic team in April 2016. Megan completed a a degree in Communicative Sciences and Disorders in May 2015 from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. Originally from New Jersey, Megan moved to Chicago after graduation.  In her work Megan strives to engage each child in various forms of play with tons of fun and laughter.

    Shana Rosenbloom

    Assistant Clinician

    Shana is originally from Kansas City, and moved to Chicago after graduating in 2015. Shana graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in special education/ rehabilitation with an emphasis in American Sign Language. Shana hopes to attend a graduate program in the near future and get her masters degree in special education.

    Shana's previous experiences include working with kids and adults with a variety of cognitive and physical disabilities beginning in high school when she worked as a para-professional. Throughout college Shana volunteered for a program called Project FOCUS where she supported students at the University with intellectual disabilities. This past year she had the opportunity to work in a transition program at Keshet for 18-22 year olds with disabilities.
    Shana is extremely excited to work at LEEP™ and get to know all of these amazing kiddos!

    Lauren Fulton

    Lauren is from the south-side of Chicago. She is a recent graduate of Ball State University, graduating in May 2016 with a Bachelors of Science in the field of Child Development, and with a minor in Psychology of Human Development. Lauren's previous work experience involved respite work; caring for children of all ages with exceptionalities. While attending Ball State Lauren was an active member of Dance marathon, which helps raise money for for Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis! In the near future Lauren plans on furthering her schooling by obtaining a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology. Lauren enjoys spending time with friends and family, and exploring all the fun things that Chicago has to offer.

    Liz Hadhazy

    Liz Hadhazy is a recent graduate from the University of Tampa with a BS in Allied Health and a concentration in Occupational Therapy sciences. While pursuing her degree, Liz was busy swimming for the university and figuring out her true passion in this amazing world.  

    A great deal of Liz’s previous experiences has involved working with children with all abilities and through those many adventures she was able to find her designated career path. Liz is involved with many volunteering opportunities, such as, the Special Olympics organization and Caring for Kids camp at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

    Liz started at Leep as an intern during the summer of 2016. While looking for her next opportunity for challenges and creativity, Liz thought Leep was a perfect match.  She is eager for the challenges that Leep will set forth every day and deeply believes in the DIR model and its benefits. Liz is excited to learn from such an amazing group of therapists and build relationships with these incredible kids and their families every day.

    Liz hopes to attend a graduate program in Occupational Therapy within the next year and further her education to help children with sensory processing, behavior, and social/emotional disorders.  In her free time, Liz enjoys spending time with family and friends, trying new foods and swimming.

    Tonya Pass

    Tonya Pass is am originally from Lexington, Kentucky. She is a proud parent of three teenagers ages 13, 14, and 18. She has 12+ years of experience in Early Childhood working with children ages Birth to Six. She also has an Infant Toddler Level 4 Credential, Family Support Credential and an Early Childhood Education Level 5 Credential which she received through Gateways to Opportunity. In 2011, She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Behavioral Science and in 2013, and earned her Master’s Degree in Psychology where she also obtained certification in Psychological Assessment. In previous years, she had the pleasure of working with teenaged boys ages 13-21 in a Residential setting and teen moms ages 13-23 in their homes. Working with children and families is her passion! She is so grateful and thankful to being a part of LEEP™. She looking forward to using her previous experiences that she has to help the LEEP™ children and families.

      Olivia Palutsis

      Assistant Clinician

      Olivia Palutsis is originally from Lemont, Illinois. She is a recent graduate of Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she earned her undergraduate degree in Speech-Language Pathology & Audiology. Olivia hopes to continue her education in the coming years.

      During her undergraduate studies, she volunteered in Marquette's Speech clinic as a Clinicians Assistant, gaining experience with a variety of ages and individual profiles.

      In her free time, Olivia loves to spend time with her family & friends, cuddle with her dog, and explore everything the city has to offer. She is thrilled to join the LEEP Forward team and is excited for the coming year!

      Alyssa Giacalone, M.S., CF-SLP

      Speech & Language Pathologist

      Alyssa was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago and is the newest member of the speech-language pathology team at LEEP. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, and a Masters degree from Midwestern University in Downer’s Grove. Alyssa completed her 12-week internship under the supervision and mentorship of SLP Program Director, Tyler Choate. She began working full time as a Clinical Fellow at LEEP after she received her Master’s degree. Alyssa has always had a passion for working with children and has experience working with, and treating children with a variety of disorders including articulation and phonological disorders, apraxia of speech, expressive and receptive language delays, as well as the use of augmentative and alternative communication. She has learned so much in her time here and has come to love DIR. In the future she wishes to receive training in the DIR®/Floortime model. She is very excited to become a part of the LEEP team and help children to reach their fullest potential. In her spare time Alyssa enjoys spending time with her family and friends and relaxing by the lake in the summertime!

      Brittany Kowalik, MS

      Lead Therapist

      Before coming to Chicago in 2012, Brittany was raised near Cleveland, Ohio and later moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Brittany earned her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Miami University of Ohio and her Master’s degree in Applied Developmental Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh. Throughout her schooling and professional career, Brittany has held positions working for wraparound service agencies, the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.  Brittany has experience working with children ages 3 to 17 years old with a wide variety of special needs and abilities. Brittany has provided 1:1 care for children, led group activities to enhance social and emotional growth through play, and loves working with parents to problem solve the best solutions and strategies for home programs. In her free time, Brittany enjoys spending time with her family and friends, playing volleyball, biking, and planning her next travel adventure with her husband.

      Amy Bahr

      Assistant Clinician

      A Milwaukee native, Amy Bahr is brand new to Chicago and is so happy to have landed at LEEP! She received her BA in Acting from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2014. While there she developed a special interest in teaching through drama, and went on to complete a Teaching Artist Fellowship at the Rose Theater in Omaha, Nebraska, where she taught acting to performers of all ages, including acting classes designed specifically for students with autism. Amy has also worked as an instructor with First Stage Children’s Theater in Milwaukee, and as a visiting artist in Milwaukee Public Schools. Amy absolutely loves the sense of creativity and play that is cultivated at LEEP Forward, and feels inspired every day working with these amazing kids!

      Megan Ponte, MSW

      Social Worker

      Megan earned her Bachelor's Degree in Social Work from Northeastern Illinois University in 2012 and went to provide community support for adults with mental illness. She ultimately returned to school to earn her Master's Degree in Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, concentrating in children, youth, and families with a focus in mental health. Megan has experience providing group and individual somatic based interventions in early childhood, and prior to joining LEEP, provided assessment, intervention, and referral for children and youth experiencing psychiatric crisis. She is currently working toward obtaining her License in Clinical Social Work (LCSW). In her free time, Megan enjoys watching new and old movies, attending concerts, and caring for her bearded dragon, Hector.

      Evan Clayton

      Assistant Clinician

      Born in the city of Chicago, raised in the country of Wisconsin, Evan has certainly seen it all!  Growing up in the Wisconsin Dells area, Evan spent much of his childhood surfing wave pools, flying down water slides and coasting the lazy rivers in the Waterpark Capitol of the World.  When he wasn’t having fun in the sun, Evan spent much of his time competing in soccer, baseball and basketball.  Though Evan is a fan of all sport and competition, basketball is what allowed Evan to travel the country, see many beautiful cities across the nation and ultimately lead him to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.  During undergrad, Evan managed the Wisconsin Dells Center which played host to a multitude of athletic competitions, conferences and conventions while also serving as an assistant boys’ varsity basketball coach at Fort Atkinson Senior High on his way to completing his Bachelors of Science in Education degree.  Majoring in Health and Human Performance with a minor in Recreation, Evan recently worked for the Whitewater Parks and Recreation Department.  Serving as an athletic coordinator for the City of Whitewater, Evan was also heavily involved with programming and teaching for the Whitewater summer/after school program as well.  Whether it is in a classroom or on a basketball court, Evan has developed an extreme passion for being around and working with kids of all ages.  Looking ahead, Evan plans on continuing his education in hopes of earning a Master’s in Education, serving his family and community the best he can and helping young boys and girls transition into successful men and women.  Evan is extremely honored, grateful and excited to be a member of the LEEP Forward Family!  

      Olivia Wallace

      Assistant Clinician

      Olivia Wallace graduated in 2014 from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor with a degree in Psychology. In college, Olivia realized that she had a passion for learning about development over the course of the lifespan. She is also interested in mental health and psychotherapy, and she is inspired by the works of William James and Carl Rogers. In 2012, Olivia spent a year living in a Zen temple, where she studied meditation and mindfulness.

      Olivia also plays music. She is the singer, songwriter, and electric guitarist for the band Moon Rabbit. Olivia started working at LEEP Forward in February 2017, and she couldn’t be more excited to work and play with LEEP’s children!

      Sarah Holderbaum

      Assistant Clinician

      After completing an AmeriCorps internship where I tutored adults living with disabilities, I decided to follow my passion for education. I graduated from Roosevelt University with a Masters Degree in Special Education.  I started at LEEP June of 2015 as a classroom aide, and have been working at the LEEP clinic since April 2016.  When I am not working I enjoy swimming, watching movies, and going to see live music.

      Anabel Hirano

      Assistant Clinician

      Anabel, a San Francisco native, graduated from Oberlin College in 2013, where she studied music and history. After graduating, Anabel spent two years living in Japan, where she taught at a university and lived life. Upon moving back to the states, Anabel met a woman who inspired her to look into pediatric therapy. Ever since then Anabel has been searching for opportunities to learn more about the pediatric therapy world, and so far she loves what she has found. Anabel is very excited to be a member of the LEEP Forward team, and is eager to continue to build her professional experience and knowledge in pediatric therapy.

      Bridget Foley

      Assistant Clinician

      Bridget was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota and grew up with her 2 brothers. She graduated in 2015 with a BA from the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota. She moved to Chicago in July 2015 to be a part of a full time volunteer program at a residential home for at risk boys in Chicago. Bridget has a passion for working with kids and wants to pursue her Masters in Social work in the future. In her spare time she loves to read and do anything outside!

      Ashley Ganski

      Director of External Affairs and Marketing

      Ashley is a Chicagoland native with a passion for executing visions and supporting professionals making an impact in their field.

      Prior to joining L.E.E.P. , Ashley worked at NBC Universal and 20th Century Fox gaining experience in communications, marketing strategy, project management and sales execution across various types of industries including healthcare, finance, media and entertainment, from start-ups to multi-billion dollar corporations.

      In her spare time, you can find her trying to solve a rubix cube, checking off one of the many items on her google spreadsheet bucket list, or around town attempting stand-up comedy.

      Leigh Makely, OTR/L

      Occupational Therapist

      Leigh grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago, however moved to San Diego with her family in high school. She received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Therapeutic Studies and Occupational Therapy in a 5-year accelerated program at Boston University. While in college, Leigh was a member of the Boston University Synchronized Skating team and taught ice skating lessons in Cambridge, MA for children with physical disabilities. She spent a summer working abroad at a school in Australia and gained experience working with children at the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston.
      After earning her Master’s degree, Leigh moved back to Chicago for her clinical fieldwork rotations at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and at NorthShore University’s pediatric outpatient clinic in Skokie. Though pediatrics was her original passion, Leigh wanted to gain experience working with a variety of populations and has been working as an occupational therapist at Presence Saint Joseph Hospital and at The Clare skilled nursing facility in the Gold Coast for the past few years.
      Leigh has decided the time is right to return to her original passion for working with children and families and is excited to implement the DIR/Floortime approach and bring her extensive knowledge of sensory processing challenges to the LEEP Forward team!

      Rachel West, M.S., CCC-SLP

      Speech-Language Pathologist

      Rachel was born in Orange, California, but mostly grew up in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago.  She received her B.A. in Speech and Hearing Sciences and English minor from University of Iowa in 2013.  She then went on to Rush University in Chicago to obtain her M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology.  While in graduate school, Rachel participated in a full-time internship under the supervision of LEEP’s lead Speech-Language Pathologist, Tyler Choate, where she deepened her knowledge of the DIR/Floortime model.  After receiving her Master’s in 2015, Rachel worked full-time as an SLP for Chicago Public Schools and part-time at a private clinic.  She has experience working with children with needs related to apraxia, ASD, expressive/receptive language delays, feeding, and literacy, as well as augmentative/alternative communication devices.  Rachel is thrilled to be part of the LEEP team, and looks forward to helping children learn and grow from the world around them.  In her spare time, Rachel enjoys riding her bike, creative writing, and attending trivia nights in her Chicago neighborhood!

      Mikey Anderson


      Mikey Anderson received his BFA in Fine Art from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After finishing school he lived in portland where he ran art workshops with adults with developmental disabilities. He has also created his own line of silly plush toys, zines, and key-chains he calls “Yarnies.”
      He excited to have the "Yarnies" join the  Leep Forward family and be able to make art with all the talented kiddos Leep Forward has!
      In the Fall he plans on going back to school to receive his MFA in Art Therapy at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

      Clare Avedon


      Clare is a recent graduate of University of Delaware. She graduated in May 2015 with a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology and minors in Business Administration and Human Services. Much of Clare’s previous work experience involves working with children and it has become a passion for her. Additionally, while earning her undergrad degree, she volunteered in a research lab studying attachment between caregiver and child with a focus on children in foster care and internationally adopted children. Clare deeply believes in the DIR model and is excited to continue learning more about it. She plans to attend a graduate program with a focus on counseling in the next year. During her free time, she loves to run, spend time with friends, and cuddle with her dog while reading a good book.

      Erin Tackett, M.A.


      Erin holds a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Roosevelt University and is expecting her state licensure as a Professional Counselor (LPC) in the fall of 2015. Erin is also working toward certification as a counselor through the National Board for Certified Counselors, and as a Basic DIR/Floortime Provider through the Interdisciplinary Council on Development and Learning (ICDL).  During graduate school Erin completed her clinical practicum at a therapeutic day school in the Chicago suburbs, which provided excellent training in conducting individual and group therapy, as well as working within the school system.

      Originally from the Northeast, Erin completed her BA in Psychology at Dartmouth College in 2008. She has experience working with children, adolescents, and families in multiple settings including home-based counseling, schools, outpatient, and foster care.  Erin is thrilled to join the LEEP Forward staff and be a part of this loving, creative, and fun team! When she’s not working Erin enjoys traveling with her husband and playing with their dog and the amazing rescue dogs she fosters through ALIVE Rescue.

      Hannah Newman, LCSW

      Director of Mental Health & Licensed Clinical Social Worker

      Hannah Newman holds a Masters degree in Social Work as well as an undergraduate degree in Sociology from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. During graduate school, her concentration was in school social work and she completed her internship in the Oak Park school district. This experience provided her with a deep understanding of the school system, as well as services offered through special education, individualized education plans, and Response to Intervention.

      Following her experience in the school system, Hannah spent the following two years working closely with the DIR/Floortime model in a pediatric developmental therapy clinic in Chicago. She worked with children 1:1, in small groups, and as part of therapeutic school programming. She is a Intermediate DIR/Floortime Provider through The Interdisciplinary Council on Development and Learning (ICDL), and is a Certified PLAY Project Consultant In Training.

      Hannah also has training in social/emotional assessment, is a certified Music Together teacher, and a certified Rainbows facilitator (grief support). She very much enjoys integrating art and music in to her sessions, which are both activities she enjoys in her spare time.

      Hannah believes in supporting clients to reach their full potential. She heavily relies on the positive relationships she builds with clients, both in individual sessions and groups, and makes every session fun and relatable.

      Jill Krema, M.S., CCC-SLP

      Speech & Language Pathologist, EI Provider

      Jill Krema is the newest speech-language pathologist to provide services at LEEP. Upon graduating from Rush University in 2009, Jill began working at a therapeutic day school for children and adults (age 3-21) with autism or other cognitive impairments in Tinley Park, and eventually transferred to the school located in the Chicago Medical District. In 2012 Jill pursued her Early Intervention (EI) Credential as an independent provider and began providing home-based services privately and through the Illinois EI program. Jill found joy working closely with families and achieved tremendous progress in a short time with these kiddos. This inspired her to seek new career opportunities. In March, 2014, Jill accepted a part time position working at the Advocate Children’s Hospital and was thrilled to also join the team at LEEP! She has grown and developed as a clinician by working on an interdisciplinary team and learning from occupational therapists, social workers, behavior analysts, physical therapists, music therapists, and art therapists. Jill feels she excels at establishing and implementing treatment plans that maximize each individual’s most functional and successful means of communication, by recognizing and focusing on individual needs and profiles of each child she works with. Jill has experience utilizing augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) and determining whether it is appropriate and functional. She has experience and has attended professional development trainings related to a variety of disorders affecting feeding, fluency, cognition, speech/articulation, and language. Jill has always had a passion for treating language disorders and cognitive-linguistic deficits, and has recently expanded her passion to evaluating and treating feeding and swallowing disorders.

      Tish Graf, M.S. OTR/L

      Occupational Therapist

      Tish Graf is a Chicagoland native who has dual master’s degrees: one from Western Michigan University in occupational therapy and the other from Rush University (Chicago, IL) in audiology. In addition, Tish has a Bachelor of Arts degree in education from the University of Michigan. She was drawn to L.E.E.P. Forward due to the unique opportunity it created to provide occupational therapy services in an environment that embraced the DIR®/Floortime approach, and is honored to be a part of the L.E.E.P. team.

      In addition to her passion for watching the children and families she works with achieve success, Tish also owns American Saddlebred horses, is a certified yoga instructor, and parent to a daughter who fills her heart with joy each and every day.

      Tyler Choate, M.S., CCC-SLP

      Director of SLP, Speech & Language Pathologist

      Tyler specializes in the assessment and treatment of infants, toddlers, school-age children, and adolescents who have diverse needs in communication, language, and speech. He believes in relationship-based approaches that embrace individual differences to help children relate, communicate, and think in complex ways. At his core, Tyler is a developmentalist, working with children and families to hone their strengths and adapt to challenges. As a speech-language pathologist, Tyler’s mission is to help children create meaning around their lives and share that meaning in the context of healthy, attuned relationships.

      Currently, the bulk of his clinical practice focuses on using the DIR®/Floortime model with children and families impacted by neurodevelopmental differences, including: Autism, language disorders, developmental delays, regulatory challenges, social communication problems, and weak executive function. Tyler embraces transdisciplinary models and has a breadth of experience working with other disciplines. His therapeutic style is heavily informed by body-based work and the field of mental health. Additionally, Tyler has a range of experience implementing meaning-based approaches to literacy, story telling, and narrative thinking. He uses a whole-language perspective to increase foundational capacities for reading and writing and often speaks to parents and educators about the pitfalls of phonics-based reading programs.

      In 2015, Tyler completed a year long training to become a DIR®/Floortime clinician through the Profectum Academy. He is currently enrolled in Profectum’s Fellows course where he is deepening his understanding of child development and being mentored by DIR® experts. Tyler is also a certified Interactive Metronome provider with specialized training in Best Practices for Pediatrics. He is also currently seeking credentials to become a Certified Educator of Infant Massage.

      Tyler is a native of Acadiana, the southwestern region of Louisiana. He attended the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where he obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in speech-language pathology. In his spare time, he enjoys exploring Chicago, visiting his native Louisiana, and volunteering with local and national affiliates of The Trevor Project.

      Elena Martinez

      Billing Manager & Medical Insurance Advisor

      Elena is the LEEP Forward Medical Insurance Advisor, Communications & Office Manager, helping families navigate through insurance benefits as swiftly and painlessly as possible. Born in Chicago, she is a graduate of DePaul University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce. Elena brings a strong sense of compassion through her own experiences with helping her own beautiful son get the coverage he needs. In her free time she enjoys spending time with her family and making her son laugh. If you have any questions regarding medical insurance just ask for Elena or also commonly referred around the office to as “Diego’s Mom”.

      Thomas Wallace

      Director of Operations

      Tommy has been at L.E.E.P. Forward, Inc. for three years now and has loved every minute of it. Tommy started out in the classroom as a Assistant Clinician. He started the L.E.E.P. Gymnastics Program which grew to huge success and a kiddo favorite after only a few months at L.E.E.P.  In wanting the best for every kiddo, Tommy collaborated with Tish in the 2014-2015 programming year to provide an occupational therapy gymnastics experience.  Gymnastics continues to be provided at L.E.E.P. during enrichments for the 2015-2016 year.  Tommy currently serves as the Director of Operations for L.E.E.P. Forward, L.E.E.P. Beyond, and Sensational Supports. Tommy is also on the Advisory Council for the National Pediatric Development Differences Forum and works hard to promote this innovative forum.

      Tommy is a proud Chicagoan and loves everything that the city has to offer. Tommy attended the University of Illinois-Chicago and Harrington College of Design.​ When Tommy is not working, he is cooking in his kitchen.  Tommy has a great passion for cooking and loves trying new recipes. Tommy completed his first marathon in 2013 here in Chicago.  If that isn’t enough, Tommy is also the Head Cheerleading Coach at New Trier High School and owns choreography business that provides innovative choreography for competitive cheer and dance programs nationwide.

      Michaja Prendergast Johnson, M.S. OTR/L

      Director of Occupational Therapy, Occupational Therapist

      Michaja is a pure Michigan native who received her masters degree in Occupational Therapy from Western Michigan University. She is driven by a passion for her work with parents and children who are affected by sensory processing challenges. The last five years she has spent working with kids with developmental differences using a DIR®/Floortime approach. She recently opened up Prendergast Pediatrics and seeks to have kids thrive where they are and provide therapy in unique ways and changing settings to support progress in all areas of life.

      Michaja’s journey to her landing spot in Chicago has been quite the adventure! Much of her free time is spent looking for the perfect latte or working on her other projects; including writing and continuing her families non-profit.

      Abbie Gray Lande, M.S., CCC-SLP.

      Speech & Language Pathologist

      Abbie holds a Master’s degree in Speech and Language Pathology from Miami University of Ohio. She is from Indianapolis, Indiana and obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology at Indiana University. Abbie completed graduate school in May of 2015 and began working at LEEP Forward, Inc. as a Clinical Fellow in August of 2015. During graduate school, Abbie completed practicum placements working at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Mason City Schools, providing her with amble opportunities to work with children of varying ages and with varying diagnoses. Abbie has experience treating children with a variety of disorders including articulation and phonological disorders, apraxia of speech, Autism Spectrum Disorder, expressive and receptive language delays, use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, feeding disorders, and weak executive functioning skills.

      Abbie loves to incorporate themed activities, creative games, and books within her therapy sessions! She is very excited to be joining the LEEP team again this year and work within a multidisciplinary family-centered clinic to provide best practices for the LEEP families and children. In her spare time, Abbie enjoys spending time with her family and friends, playing tennis, exploring new restaurants in Chicago, and finding new shows to binge watch on Netflix. Not only did Abbie obtain her Certificate of Clinical Competence while working at LEEP this year, but she also got married; you may now recognize her as Abbie Gray Lande, M.S., CCC-SLP.

      Ally Moravec, MOT, OTR/L

      Occupational Therapist

      Ally is a Colorado native but has spent the last several years moving around to end up in Chicago. After graduating from Colorado State University with a Masters in Occupational Therapy, she is amazingly grateful to have found such a great place like Leep to launch her OT career. The DIR/Floortime model immediately made sense and couldn't be more fitting for a career of helping children and their parents achieve participation and engagement in all the activities and opportunities life has to offer. Embracing both a sensory integration model and DIR/Floortime at Leep leads to a rewarding experience to work with so many families. Ally has received certification in the basic course for using a feeding program called Get Permission Approach in both individual and group settings, as feeding and mealtime is an area of interest and passion in her work. In both individual and group settings, she utilizes the handwriting program CEW (Connect-Experience-Write)- a interpersonal, multi-sensory program that inspires children to learn to write through use of affect, music, movement and visual spatial supports. Ally is certified as an Interactive Metronome provider and has attended workshops/trainings for Social Thinking and Sensorimotor Integration as well. With all of that, she is most excited about beginning the Profectum Professional Course in January 2017 to become a certified DIR/Floortime provider to enrich her practice even further.

      Nick Rizza


      Nick was born in the northwest suburbs of Chicago with three brothers. He didn’t go too far for college; he received his BA at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Nick began volunteering at L.E.E.P. Forward in the summer of 2013 and fell in love with the staff, and kiddos.  A few months later, Nick was asked to join the staff and he couldn’t have been more honored. Nick loves working with these children and wouldn’t change it for anything.

      Jeremy Wiener


      Jeremy was born in Baltimore, but only lived there until the age of seven. He then traveled with family and lived a substantial amount of his life overseas in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Macedonia. Jeremy traveled back to the US to attend college at the University of Arizona. Jeremy pursued his BS in Psychology with a double minor in business administration and ecology/evolutionary biology all while playing collegiate Rugby.  Jeremy gained a passion for working with children at the beginning of his sophomore year of undergrad when he began working at a respite home. Jeremy expanded his work and incorporated teaching life skills classes to kids with special needs and from broken homes after his first year in the field. After three years experience and graduating Jeremy decided to further grow his knowledge in child development and moved to the Chicago area in June of 2013 to join the L.E.E.P. team. Jeremy plans expanding even further and pursuing his Masters degree within the next year. Jeremy is grateful to be surrounded by such amazing kiddos and caring co-workers who can learn so much about themselves and from one another every day.

      During his free time Jeremy enjoys traveling, watching sports, snowboarding, trying Chicago’s amazingly diverse restaurants, spending time with friends/family, and reading books over a wide array of genres.

      Nick Donahue


      Nick Donahue completed his undergraduate studies in the teaching of history at the University of Illinois-Chicago and is currently pursuing a master’s in special education. He has worked with children as a babysitter, volunteer youth coordinator at the YMCA, and assistant clinician at L.E.E.P. Forward for close to seven years.

      When he’s not working, he loves playing the drums, running, basketball, and all things music-related.

      Olivia Bellis


      Olivia Bellis graduated from Illinois State University in 2009 with a Bachelors Degree in Psychology. While pursuing her degree, Olivia was a Big Sister through the Big Brother Big Sister foundation and mentored a young boy with less than fortunate circumstances. This experience made her realize her true passion for working with children. After graduation, Olivia moved to Chicago and had the opportunity to work at The Little Gym as a gymnastics and dance instructor for children 3-5 years old. As she worked as an instructor for two years, she realized how beneficial individualized attention and relationships can be to the development and learning for every child. While Olivia was looking for more opportunities to challenge herself, she was lucky enough to find LEEP Forward. She started at LEEP as an assistant clinician in the winter of 2012. She feels lucky to learn from such a strong group of therapists and to be able to build relationships with so many amazing children and their families. Olivia is growing as a professional everyday and loves that LEEP is challenging her to be more creative and imaginative to keep up with these wonderful kids!

      Rachelle Karnchanaphati, M.Ed, RBT

      Lead Therapist

      Rachelle earned her Master’s Degree in Special Education in 2012 from Ashland University. She just moved to Chicago from Columbus, Ohio. In Ohio, Rachelle taught first grade for nine years and was an intervention specialist for two years through the Autism Scholarship Program. As an intervention specialist, she provided one-on-one academic instruction to home-schooled students. She is currently working on her certification for Relationship Development Intervention (RDI).

      During her free time, Rachelle enjoys running, biking, exploring the city, and spending time with her husband and their dog, Bailey.  She is very excited to be apart of the L.E.E.P. Forward Team.

      Dana Hutchins, MS, DT

      Lead Therapist & Transition Coordinator

      Dana is a credentialed Developmental Therapist and has been a Lead Therapist at LEEP Forward since 2013. She implements the DIR®/Floortime model in the therapeutic preschool groups. Dana received her undergraduate degree in ElementaryEducation from the University of Wisconsin and taught in the public
      schools in Aiken, South Carolina. Dana returned to Chicago and graduated from The Erikson Institute with a Master’s in Science with a focus in working with children with special needs after commpleting her internship as the Transition Coordinator. She continues to support families to move to school environments after their time at LEEP Forward. Dana also completed a year long training to become a DIR®/Floortime therapist through the Profectum Academy. Dana is a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and in her free time loves to explore
      the culinary world of Chicago with her husband, Harley.

      Shelby Croell, M.Ed., RBT

      Lead Therapist

      Shelby is originally from La Crosse, Wisconsin where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a Child/Youth care emphasis. Working part-time at a daycare all through college confirmed to her that she was passionate about working with children. She then moved to Chicago to pursue a Master of Education in School Counseling at DePaul University. While in graduate school, she nannied for a family with two children.

      In her free time, Shelby enjoys running, playing with her dog, and cheering on the Green Bay Packers.

      Amanda DeAngeles, MS

      Consultant & Trainer

      Amanda first started at L.E.E.P. Forward as an intern in the fall of 2009. From the start, she knew that she wanted to be a part of L.E.E.P. Forward’s warm, nurturing environment, conducive to each child’s growth and success.  Amanda cherishes her work at LEEP and continues to learn from each child every day!  After taking a brief leave, Amanda is excited to rejoin the L.E.E.P. team!  Amanda holds a bachelor’s of science degree in Psychology with a concentration in social sciences as well as a bachelor’s degree in Human Services from the University of Loyola Chicago. Currently, Amanda is a graduate student at The Erikson Institute working towards the completion of her Master’s of Early Childhood Education with an endorsement of Special Education.

      Amanda has worked in special needs for several years, including in an early intervention classroom, therapeutic preschool and in therapeutic recreation as an inclusion companion in community camps.  Additionally, she held an internship in where her primary responsibilities included developing differentiated classrooms in private grade schools, to cater to each child’s ability to learn in a variety of methods. Amanda has had training in the DIR®/Floortime model including the completion of basic skills course. Additionally, she traveled to the Atlanta regional training program in July of 2011 where she completed the DIR® B level and is continues to attend various trainings and conference opportunities.

      In her free time, Amanda is a mentor for middle/high school students through a non-profit, Big Shoulders within the Catholic school system. Amanda also loves exploration, culture and enjoys traveling with family and friends. As a certified scuba diver some of her favorite excursions include swimming by a nurse shark and feeding sea turtles! Amanda hopes to write a children’s book one day inspired by her experiences and dedicated to her “LEEP kiddos!”

      Erika Larson, M.Ed, D.T.

      Program Director, Developmental Therapist, Educational Therapist

      As the Program Director and Parent Liaison of LEEP Forward, Erika Larson holds a Master’s degree in Special Education, a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Theatre Studies and is a credentialed Developmental Therapist in the state of Illinois. She has an advanced certificate in DIR/Floortime, ran a thriving developmental and educational therapy business in the northern suburbs before merging her business with LEEP Forward, and is a Certified PLAY Project Consultant In Training. She has been working with families in their homes for the past 12 years and is often asked to consult with parents around the topics of development, education and best parenting practices. She specializes in helping children on the autism spectrum, those with ADHD, developmental delays and general anxiety and depression. Also a mom of two precocious boys, Erika is a true “problem solver” and adores helping parents find solutions so that “every day can be a good day.”  Originally trained as an actor, Erika has taken her passion for performing and transformed it into a passion for play.  In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, meeting new people, eating at well-reviewed restaurants and killing it at karaoke.


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