Meet Our Team!
Haifa Aridi brings nearly 20 years of experience to UCR and is excellent with behavior management. She has grown to love and understand both children and adults with disabilities. She holds a degree in Elementary School Education from Montgomery College and is currently a para-educator with MCPS. Watch for Haifa at our Weekend Enrichment programs!
Kathy Clarke has 20 years of experience working as a special education teacher in Montgomery County, Maryland where she helped preschool children achieve developmental milestones through creative and sensory-based education. She also served as a Parent Educator for the families of her students. She supported the families by taking them on community outings and developing behavioral supports. Prior to teaching, Kathy worked as the Managing Editor of a journal for deaf educators. She has a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education and a Bachelor’s degree in Humanistic Studies. In her free time, Kathy enjoys visiting her children and grandchildren in Boston, San Francisco, and downtown DC, taking walks with neighbors, and playing Pickleball.
Dr. Jeni Stepanek (“Mama Peace”) is professionally recognized as a bestselling author, a well-respected educator and advocate, and an award-winning inspirational speaker, but she is most proud of her purpose as a memory curator, peace cultivator, and “welcome mat.” Jeni serves as a Senior Faculty Specialist at the University of Maryland (Special Education) and is the President & Founding Chair of the Mattie Stepanek Peace Foundation. She is joining us to facilitate our relationships courses.
Chitra Vijayakumar is passionate about yoga and has more than 12 years studying techniques. Ms. Vijayakumar discovered Yoga to be helpful and wondered if someone could teach yoga to her son, who has autism. She was inspired by a Yoga instructor who was teaching to our population and signed up to become a certified yoga instructor herself.
In 2018 she became certified (200 RYT) through The Mindfulness Center in Bethesda and licensed through Yoga Alliance. She has been teaching Yoga to family, coworkers, and individuals with special needs. By breaking asanas into simple steps and making yoga fun and accessible appreciates every sincere effort all special yogis make. You can experience her class as part of Weekend Enrichment Expressions! Ms. Vijayakumar has also worked for MCPS as a paraeducator.
Amy Gardiner brings over 25 years of experience as a music therapist to the Sunday Respite Program at Asheir. Receiving her music therapy degree from The University of Georgia as well as post graduate studies from UVA, Shepherd University, and Trinity University in Education/Special Education, Amy specializes in individuals with developmental differences. For 24 years she has been a music educator/therapist serving students with special needs for MCPS and other private schools. She is currently working on her National Board Certification for Music Education and is the lead music teacher for the Longview School serving individuals 5-21 with medical/cognitive challenges in MCPS. She has provided music therapy for PCR for over 20 years, originating several of the music therapy programs. Amy loves to combine humor, fun, and contemporary music (ok also the oldies and goodies) to her music programs to provide the members with a client centered uplifting experience. When she is not busy being a music therapist, Amy loves being the chaos coordinator to her three daughters Kara (20), Katie (18), and Lizzie (15), playing flute in her the music ministry at St Rose Catholic Church, serving on the advisory board for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society(LLS) and being new dog mom to her dachshund puppy, Tom Wilson.
Michael Favin earned his Masters degrees in Latin American history (Indiana University) and Public Health (University of Texas at Houston). We are so lucky to have him as one of our most reliable volunteers. Look for him at our Weekend Enrichment programs and WORKS Programs. He has been with UCR for several years and was the Volunteer of the Year in 2020.
Marianne Green is our longest serving volunteer! We're thrilled to have her in our therapeutic classes. She has extensive experience working with people with special needs and is very attentive and intuitive to the needs of our UCR adult members! We're excited Marianne will join our. She was Volunteer of the Year in 2019.
Lisa Alexander is a stay at home mom with more than 30 years experience! A great multitasker, juggling kids and balancing family life while making time to train for triathlons, army 10 milers and turkey trots with her adult children and mud runs with her youngest daughter. She is a garden enthusiast who loves growing vegetables and herbs in her backyard and loves baking; making delicious desserts for the family and friends!