Meet The Team
M.Ed, LCSW, BCBA, DT
Lorell Marin founded LEEP Forward in 2001 out of her desire to create innovative and inclusive learning environments for all children that focused on social emotional development. She expanded this vision in 2018 to include a school focusing on diverse learners. Lorell holds a master’s degree in both Social Work and Teaching (specializing in Special Education ). Lorell believes passionately in the potential of all children. This belief has driven her to continue to build up her toolbox and evolve with her clients. Just as no two children are alike, neither can the approach we take to support them along their path. She continues to learn as much as she could while prioritizing listening to her clients and honoring their journey. This has brought her to become certified or trained in a variety of areas. Most recently completing requirements to become an LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) and BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analysts). Prior to this she completed training as a level 2 DIR practitioner. In addition, she completed training in RDI, Play Project, Mendability, SCERTS, TEACCH, Social Thinking programs and a host of other training. Lifelong learning is in her DNA. However, she continues to learn the most by observing and listening to children and their families. She knows with the right support the children she works with will take over the world (and what a beautiful world that will be)!
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!
Dana Hutchins, M.S., D.T.
Quantum LEEP Academy Head of School & 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.
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.
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”.
Lindsey Adams, M.S. OTR/L
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!
Emily Witham M.S., CF-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist
Emily grew up in a small, beach town in West Michigan called North Muskegon. She received her Bachelor’s of Science in Speech-Language Pathology with a minor in Biology from Marquette University. After graduating, she moved to Madrid, Spain to teach English for grades 1-6, where she enjoyed having the opportunity to work with native Spanish speakers and immersing herself in new cultures. She later moved to Chicago and obtained her Masters degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Midwestern University in Downers Grove. Emily has always known her passion is working with children and her areas of experience include working with a variety of speech and language disorders such as apraxia of speech, articulation and phonological disorders, and language disorders/delays. She additionally has experience working with children with developmental delays and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) using social thinking concepts as well as Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). She is passionate about pediatric feeding and is currently obtaining her certification as a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC).
She believes in an interdisciplinary approach to care, working closely with the child’s team and family to support them in all of their areas of need. Emily believes that children’s cognitive and linguistic development is enriched through play, which is what drew her to LEEP Forward and their DIR® Floortime approach. She is so excited to be a part of this wonderful and talented team!
Emily grew up hiking, biking, snowboarding, water-skiing and wakeboarding, anything outdoors you name it! In her free time, she enjoys being with her friends and family, running along the lakeshore, and practicing yoga.
Olivia Palutsis R.B.T.
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.
Laura Zimmerman, MS DT CEIM
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.
Social Worker, LCSW
Kayla grew up in the western suburbs of Chicago. Her passion for working with children developed at an early age, inspiring her to tutor refugee youth in her hometown and volunteer at an orphanage in Kigali, Rwanda. Kayla holds an undergraduate degree in Psychology from Johns Hopkins University, as well as a Masters degree in Social Work from The University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Throughout graduate school, Kayla concentrated in school social work and interned at two charter schools on the south side of Chicago. She attained her Professional Educator License with School Social Work Endorsement upon graduation in 2016, after which she served as school social worker for Kindergarten through 12th grade students.
While working in the school setting, Kayla gained experience in conducting social-developmental studies and functional behavioral assessments for diverse learning students, as well as providing direct social work services for students with IEPs and 504 plans. She also planned and facilitated a social skills group for middle school students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Before joining the LEEP Forward team in September 2020, Kayla worked for three years as an adoption preservation therapist on the south side of Chicago, providing adoption-focused, trauma-informed, and home-based therapy services to adopted youth and their adoptive families. In this position, she facilitated individual and family therapy, led parent support groups, and educated parents about attachment, trauma, and core issues in adoption. Treatment modalities included: Theraplay; Attachment, Regulation, and Competency (ARC); and Trust-Based-Relational Intervention (TBRI).
Kayla strongly believes in early intervention to support youth in progressing on positive developmental trajectories – all the while feeling safe and unconditionally valued in the therapeutic relationship. She seeks to empower parents and implement a collaborative, empathic approach to ensure that children receive holistic, consistent, and effective care.
When she is not at work, Kayla enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, laughing (about anything!), and playing with her German Shepherd, Rex.
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!
Gabby Drew, R.B.T.
Assistant Clinician - RBT
Gabrielle was born and raised in the south suburbs of Chicago and is a triplet. She is a recent graduate from the University of Missouri with a bachelors in Family and Lifespan Development with a Multicultural Certificate. She plans on continuing her education and pursuing a Masters degree in the near future.
Before LEEP she spent time volunteering with hospitalized children, emergency children’s shelters, and summer camps that support bereaved children and teens.
When she isn’t working you can find her spending time with her cat Luna Moon, learning new ways to express herself creatively, or binge-watching Netflix.
Nick Rizza, R.B.T
Senior Floating Facilitor
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!
Ciara Putnam, R. B.T.
Ciara is a California native from warm and sunny Los Angeles with a bachelor's degree from San Francisco State University, and because of the various internships, classes, and experiences with kids she had during her time there, she knew specifically that she wanted to work with the special needs community and be a voice they needed. After graduation, she worked as a School Program Assistant for grades K-5, before making the switch to behavior technician for the past few years and working with all kinds of amazing kids. Down the road, she hopes to attain my Master's Degree in Special Education. LEEP is an incredibly special place in that the collaboration and support and free spirited play here is unlike anywhere she's seen, and she so excited to grow and learn with the company!
In her free time, she loves FaceTiming my dog back at home, eating her weight's worth in potatoes at brunch, and soaking in as much sunshine as she possibly can and wherever she can with a good book.
Annalissa grew up on the island of Kauai, hiking, surfing, and playing with two brothers and a rotating cast of pets. She received her undergraduate degree in Dance from Northwestern University in 2016, and has been dancing and teaching around the city ever since! Annalissa was introduced to some of the LEEP team while leading an Adaptive Dance residency through Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and immediately fell in love with the staff and kiddos. She is so excited to be learning and growing as part of the LEEP Forward family.
When she's not at LEEP, you can find Annalissa reading by the lake, making pizza, or having dance parties in her kitchen.
Assistant Clinician- RBT
George grew up just west of Chicago proper in Oak Park, IL. He studied biology and psychology at National Louis University here in the city and finished his B.A. in Psychology at The College of Wooster in Ohio, with a focus on the importance of play in human development, and on development differences. He has a long history of working with children of all ages -- as frequent babysitter, as full-time live-in au pair in Europe for 4 months, and during various summer jobs helping out at the non-profit WSSRA (West Suburban Special Recreation Association) over nearly 9 years. Recently, George had worked extensively with WSSRA during the COVID pandemic to provide recreation therapy and inclusion services to elementary school students with various disabilities. George has a passion for helping people whose disabilities keep them from “fitting in,” a passion that stems from his experiences making friends with students in the Special Ed class at his middle school, where he volunteered his recess in 7th and 8th grades.
As a lifelong proponent of play-based learning and therapy, George is extremely excited to support the work being done by LEEP Forward.
When George is not hard at work supporting and playing with children as they develop, you can find him struggling to improve his guitar-playing, gleefully chasing a soccer ball, or disappearing down a remote trail for a week or two of backpacking. At least when he is not plotting or prepping what to cook for dinner that night.
Ada attended Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology. Before graduating, she gained experience with young children as a field study student promoting social and emotional development and academic readiness to children ages birth to five years old. After graduation, she worked in multiple children’s settings such as a daycare lead teacher and a children’s group home as a residential counselor supporting severely traumatized children. Ada has a strong passion for working with children and loves seeing the positive impact she has in children’s lives. Ada Is really looking forward to furthering my skills as an Assistant Clinician with the Leep Forward team.
In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, spending time with friends and family, and playing Call of Duty.
Olivia is originally from St. Louis, Missouri. She grew up in the western suburbs with one older brother. However, she is a major Chicago sports fan! She attended Columbia College where she obtained her degree in Psychology and a minor in Sociology. Before coming to LEEP Forward Olivia worked with youth for four years including extensive experience in outdoor education and leadership development. During this time she was a certified Wilderness First Responder and worked as an outdoor/backcountry trip leader. She plans to attend a graduate program in the future to pursue her dream occupation as a clinical counselor.
She enjoys any outdoor activity, exercising, playing video games, spending time with friends or family, and petting dogs.
Abigail was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago and received her bachelors degree in Psychology from Illinois State University. In the future, she plans to go back to school for her masters degree in Social Work. In her spare time, she enjoys exercising, traveling, and enjoying life with her family, friends, and her dog, Milly!