Meet The Team

Lorell Marin

MST., DT., M.S.W.

Founder & Chief Executive Officer

Lorell Marin founded LEEP Forward in 2001 out of her desire to create innovative and inclusive learning environments for all children. She expanded this vision in 2018 to include a school focusing on Diverse Learners.  Lorell holds a Masters in both Social Work, Teaching, specializing in Special Education and a host of other credentials that may just complete the alphabet! She believes in offering a choice by listening to the child's voice (she knows kids communicate in a variety of ways so being a detective and honing your observation skills is helpful). 

Michaja Prendergast, M.S. OTR/L

Clinical Director

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 ten years she has spent working with kids with developmental differences using a DIR® Floortime  approach. As the Director of Related Services and the Occupational Therapy Department she 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! Her time away from LEEP is spent with her husband and two sons looking for the perfect coffee or working on her other projects; including writing and continuing families non-profit.

Brittany Kowalik, M.S. , R.B.T.

Program Director & Clinical Coordinator

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.  Brittany has experience working with children of all ages with a wide variety of needs and abilities.  Brittany is a behavioral and developmentally focused therapist with a demonstrated history of working in variety of settings including pediatric clinics, preschools, and hospital & health care industries, and is a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT).

 

She loves continuing education and has been trained across a variety of approaches including Motivational Interviewing, Applied Behavior Analysis, Social Thinking, Collaborative and Proactive Solutions, Sensory Enrichment Therapy, and thanks to LEEP, the DIR/Floortime approach! Brittany has worked as a Lead Therapist in the LEEP Forward pediatric clinic in the preschool, transitional kindergarten, and the Quantum LEEP program. Her time away from LEEP is spent balancing her family life with her husband and daughter!

Ashley Ganski

Chief Operating Officer

Ashley is a Chicagoland native with a passion for executing visions and supporting professionals making an impact in their field.   Ashley has served as the Director of Marketing and External Affairs and Chief Strategy Officer at LEEP Forward and Quantum LEEP Academy. 

 

Prior to joining LEEP , 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. She is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a Bachelor’s Degree in communications.  

 

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, volunteering with Open Heart Magic as a children's hospital magician, or around town attempting improv & stand-up comedy.

Elena Martinez

Director of Insurance and Billing

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”.

Dana Hutchins, M.S., D.T.

Program Director

Dana is a credentialed Developmental Therapist and has been a Lead Therapist at LEEP Forward since 2013 and has also worked as the Transition Coordinator. Dana received her professional DIR-FCD Model certificate in Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Development through the Profectum Foundation. 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. 

Dana is a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and in her free time loves to explore the culinary world of Chicago with her husband, Harley.

Tyler Choate, M.S., CCC-SLP

Director of Speech-Language Pathology & Clinical Education

Tyler specializes in the assessment and treatment of infants, toddlers, & school-age children 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 a range of neurodevelopmental differences. 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 years 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 addition to his clinical work, Tyler is LEEP’s director of clinical education. In this role he provides coaching, training, and supervision for our staff.

 

In 2016, Tyler completed a two year training to become a DIR®/Floortime Fellow through the Profectum Academy where he deepened his understanding of child development and was mentored by DIR® experts. Tyler is also a certified Interactive Metronome provider with specialized training in pediatrics. And he is currently enrolled in a post-graduate certificate program in Infant Mental Health through the Erikson Institute in Chicago.  

 

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, working with clay, and volunteering with local and national affiliates of The Trevor Project.

Anna Gray, PT, DPT

Physical Therapist

Anna Gray grew up in Albany, NY and received her Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT) from Ithaca College. Anna spent two clinical affiliations in pediatric physical therapy care, working in school-based and early intervention. She continued to work with children after graduation in a an outpatient pediatric setting in Boston, MA that further emphasized her love for working with all children.


Anna has always enjoyed movement as she played and coached soccer throughout her collegiate work. She has found her passion working, playing and building relationships with children, as well as incorporating movement and fun. She is excited to become a part of the team at LEEP Forward and to assist all children and families in leading an active and fun lifestyle.

Shelby Neubauer, M. Ed., R.B.T.

Lead Therapist & Social Media Manager

Shelby is originally from La Crosse, Wisconsin.  She spent most of her childhood (and adulthood :) on the banks of the Mississippi River.  She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology with minors in Sociology and Child/Youth Care from the University of Wisconsin- La Crosse.  Shelby moved to Chicago in 2009 and fell in love with this amazing city!  She earned her Master of Education degree in School Counseling from DePaul University in 2012.  In 2015, Shelby completed a yearlong training to become a DIR®/FloorTime clinician through the Profectum Academy.  In 2017, she became a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT).  Shelby has worked at LEEP Forward since October of 2013 and believes she has truly found her passion.

 

In her free time, she enjoys exploring the city with her husband and son Griffin, playing with her two crazy dogs. and cheering on the Green Bay Packers.

Lindsey Adams, M.S. OTR/L

Occupational Therapist

Lindsey Adams, M.S. OTR/L

Occupational Therapist

Lindsey grew up in the western suburbs of Chicago and received her Master's degree in Occupational Therapy from Midwestern University in Downers Grove, IL. Lindsey also has a Bachelors of Social Work (BSW), which she received from Indiana University, Bloomington. Much of Lindsey’s clinical and employment experiences involve working with children, including working for Ray Graham Association as the Activities Coordinator for their camp for children and adolescents with disabilities. Her demonstrated passion is to provide services to promote and support participation in everyday activities across multiple environments. She finds joy in seeing every child flourish and grow to their greatest potential.

 

In her spare time, Lindsey loves reading, doing puzzles running along the lake, and spending time with family and friends!

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 LEEP 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 LEEP 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.

Leigh Makely, M.S. 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!

Alyssa Giacalone, M.S., CCC-SLP

Speech-Language Pathologist

Alyssa was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, 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!

Shira Goldstein, M.S., CF- SLP

Speech Language Pathologist

Shira Goldstein, M.S., CCC- SLP

Speech-Language Pathologist

Shira grew up in the suburbs of Maryland, received her B.A. in Hearing and Speech Sciences and Psychology at the University of Maryland, and her M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology at Teacher’s College, Columbia University in New York. She then moved to Chicago to begin her journey at LEEP full time! Shira has always had a passion for helping children functionally communicate their wants, needs, and ideas through exploring the world around them. Shira has experience working with a variety of speech, language, and feeding/swallowing disorders; she has training in the LAMP™ approach for alternative and augmentative communication (AAC), PROMPT© method for motor speech disorders, SOS Approach to Feeding©, and The PLAY Project© for children on the autism spectrum. She also continuously pursues DIR®/Floortime model courses to advance her journey in developmental, individualized, and relationship-based work. Shira cherishes this model and the interdisciplinary team that LEEP provides, and loves to learn and grow with these wonderful people and children every day!

In her spare time, Shira enjoys seasonal activities with family and friends – lake in the summer, apple picking in the fall, staying warm with movies and hot chocolate in the winter, and botanical gardens in the spring!

Sarah Hernendez, MSW

Social Worker

Sara Hernandez, MSW

Sara has worked with children in families throughout her career. In 2012, she received her undergraduate degree from Illinois State University in social work. During her undergrad, she volunteered for a suicide prevention hotline and worked with the only Spanish speaking community based organization in Bloomington-Normal providing translation/interpretation along with crisis work. In between 2012-2013, Sara spent 11 months traveling to many countries around the world in rural communities, hospitals, schools, churches, and non-profit organizations as a volunteer. In 2017, Sara graduated from Loyola University Chicago specializing in Mental Health and sub-specializing in Migration Studies. Sara’s background and experience include crisis intervention, trauma, community work, and early intervention. Modalities for her work have included Child Parent Psychotherapy, Play Therapy, DIRFloortime, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. In her spare time, Sara enjoys traveling, the outdoors, and spending time with her friends and family.

Hannah Newman, LCSW

Social Work Consultant

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 time working closely with the DIR/Floortime model in a pediatric developmental therapy clinic working with children individually, in small groups, and as part of a therapeutic school program. This then led her to the wonderful team at LEEP Forward. 

 

She is an Intermediate DIR® Floortime Provider through The Interdisciplinary Council on Development and Learning (ICDL), a Certified PLAY Project Consultant, and is now working toward her certificate in Horticultural Therapy. She looks forward to integrating work with plants and gardening into her sessions as she embarks on this new endeavor. 

Hannah also has training in social and emotional assessment, is a certified Music Together teacher, and a certified Rainbows for all Children Facilitator. She very much enjoys utilizing art and music during her sessions, which are both activities she enjoys in her spare time.

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

Hannah Scher, MSW

Social Worker

Hannah grew up in the north-suburbs of Chicago. Hannah received her Bachelor's degree of Social Work from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and earned her Masters degree in Social Work from Jane Addams School of Social Work with a concentration in Mental Health. Hannah completed her internship placement at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls as a clinical intern with adolescent males.  Having worked effectively with adolescents with severe trauma in a residential setting, Hannah is dedicated to LEEP Forward’s mission to provide the foundations for future success and practice early intervention.  Hannah is working towards her LCSW to help children grow and thrive. In her spare time, Hannah enjoys practicing yoga, and snuggling with her kitty, Aspen.

Caroline Smith, RBT

Organizational Manager

Born and raised in Wheaton, IL, Caroline joined LEEP and Quantum LEEP Academy with more than a decade of child development experience working with children from a wide range of different developmental levels, cultural backgrounds, and various settings/environments.  She holds a BA in Human and Child Development from University of Texas-Austin and master's degrees from Erikson Institute in Child Development, and the coursework for a master’s degree from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in Applied Behavior Analysis and is in the process of completing her BCBA.  She also completed internships at Chicago's Lurie Children's Hospital, Northwestern, and Central Dupage Hospital - All ’Bout Children (ABC) Pediatrics.   While she was a student at The Erikson Institute she worked for a medical researcher and spent the summer terms living and doing research on early child development programs in France and Singapore.

 

Caroline has found that her love of performing arts (speech, theatre, and dance) continues to enrich her professional interaction with children— broadening her ability to communicate effectively with them and their families. A tennis and dance enthusiast and a licensed yoga instructor, Caroline has learned that movement and the performing arts play a profound and essential role in human development at every age, but particularly in young children.

Laura Zimmerman, MS DT CEIM

Lead Therapist, Supervisor

Laura was born and raised in the western suburbs of Chicago. Laura attended the University of

Kansas, earning her Bachelors degree in Psychology. She went on to earn her Master’s of

Science degree in child development with a specialization in infancy from Erikson Institute in

Chicago. Laura has worked in a variety of settings with children of varying needs and abilities.

Laura is also a Certified Educator of Infant Massage, believing in the importance of massage to

support bonding, attachment, and development.

Laura strongly believes in the foundation of relationships as a basis for using play-based therapy

methods, to support children in reaching their highest potential, while focusing on the whole

child approach to further development.

In her free time, Laura enjoys traveling and taking advantage of all the fun things to do in the

city with her husband and their Labrador, Millie.

Bridget Foley, MSW, R.B.T.

Lead Therapist

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.  She is a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT).  

 

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!

Olivia Palutsis R.B.T.

Lead Facilitator

Olivia Palutsis, RBT
Senior Lead Teacher 

 

Olivia is a Chicagoland native born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology with a minor in Psychology from Marquette University located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Upon graduation, Olivia entered into the beautiful world of LEEP Forward. Through play, Olivia has learned from other professionals to tailor her approach to best fit each child and their unique style of learning. She is passionate about incorporating concepts of sensory regulation and school readiness skills into play while building fun and positive relationships into her daily practice. 

 

Her favorite part about working at LEEP Forward is the collaborative and inclusive environment that she gets to engage in each day. In June 2017, Olivia became certified as a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) and will be starting the M.Ed program in Special Education at the University of Illinois in Fall 2020. In her spare time, Olivia enjoys brunching at any of Chicago’s beautiful restaurants, spending time with friends and family, and enjoying the outdoors.

Shana Rosenbloom, R.B.T.

Lead Facilitator

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 is a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT). Shana is currently attending graduate school at the University of Depaul to pursue a 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. In the past she has had the opportunity to work in a transition program at Keshet in the Chicago suburbs for 18-22 year olds with varying disabilities. Shana is extremely passionate about using the Developmental Individual Relationship based approach with these kiddos! She especially loves that her job incorporates playing, while building positive relationships.

 

When Shana isn’t working you can find her playing with her one-year-old niece, babysitting for babies and dogs, binging netflix, exploring Chicago, and traveling!

Brittiny Lattimore

Office Assistant

Brittiny is a Georgia native who enjoys helping any and everyone! Prior to joining the Leep team (and relocating to Chicago), Brittiny worked in development for Tennessees first all girls charter school. She believes that children are our future and we must do anything that we can to insure that they're well prepared for the world. In her spare time, you can find Brittiny buried in a book, an antique shop, fishing with her dad, or planning her next vacation!

Heather Abbott, R.B.T.

Senior Assistant Clinician

Heather grew up in Garland, Texas. She graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Performance. After graduating, Heather moved to Chicago, IL to study improvisation. She has completed programs at Second City, iO, and Chicago Improv Den. 

 

During undergrad, Heather spent her summers working with the non-profit Junior Players as an Artistic Instructor for their Discover Theatre camps. These camps encourage intellectual growth, mental well-being and the development of life skills through participation in the dramatic arts. Through her work with Junior Players, Heather developed a passion for working with children. Then, while studying abroad in England, Heather took a six-week course focusing on leading inclusive movement workshops for children with developmental differences. Heather is excited to join the Leep Forward team and eager to develop her skills as an Assistant Clinician. 

 

In her free time, Heather performs improv around Chicago as well as writing, producing, and acting in independent film.

Madison Cramer, R.B.T.

Assistant Clinican

Madison Cramer, RBT 

Senior Assistant Clinician

 

Madison is a Chicagoland native, born and raised north of the city in Evanston. She attended University of Oregon and DePaul University to obtain her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Human Development. Before graduating, Madison gained experience with young kiddos at a local preschool, spending time and continuing to learn about cognitive development for children from the ages of 3 months old to 5 years old. After graduation, Madison found her way to LEEP Forward and learned more about the importance of play in learning and teaching. Soon after, she became passionate about integrating these concepts into building foundations for strong relationships with the kiddos she works with. Madison obtained her Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) certification and will begin her Masters of Social Work program specializing in Children and Family at Loyola in the Fall. 

 

In her spare time, Madison indulges in books, rollerblading by the lakefront, spending time outside and exploring, as well as spending time with her friends, family, and her Australian Shepherd.

Nick Rizza

Senior Rotating Clinician

Nick was born in the northwest suburbs of Chicago with three brothers. Nick received his BA at the University of Illinois-Chicago and began volunteering at LEEP Forward in the summer of 2013. He fell in love with the staff and kiddos.

 

Nick loves working with these children and continues to grow with LEEP!

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1280 W Washington

Chicago, IL. 60607

QLA: 1447 W. Montrose

Chicago, IL. 60613

Tel: 312-624-8750

Fax: 312-374-8979

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© by LEEP Forward Inc.