ATN Board and Executive Director
For current calendar of Board Meetings, go here.
In 1999, when Julie began looking for answers to her newly adopted daughter’s extreme behaviors and met Nancy Spoolstra, she never dreamed that a decade later she would be the Executive Director of ATN. Julie is responsible for the daily operations of the organization, coordinating the efforts of all the other directors, and acting as spokesperson for the organization. Prior to ATN, Julie was the president of a marketing and communications consultancy, The Epiphany Group, and has over two decades of experience in professional services marketing, strategic planning and communication strategies. As a graduate of Partners in Policymaking and through personal experience, Julie has garnered a great deal of experience in the areas of special education, school issues, and disabilities advocacy. A published author, Julie wrote a chapter in the EMK Press Adoption Parenting book and was the special needs blogger at Adoptionblogs.com for two years. She frequently presents workshops on attachment and trauma to adoptive and foster groups.
Julie holds an MBA from Avila College in Kansas City and was a Certified Professional Services Marketer. Julie, and her husband Dave, are parents to four (bio, step and adoptive), including their youngest daughter, adopted from China. This daughter’s attachment difficulties and developmental trauma disorder have changed their lives significantly…in amazing ways. Email Julie
ATN Board of Directors
Thomas Ahern was adopted and raised in a home with four other adoptees. He is a former School Psychologist working as the Senior Vice President of Calo Programs. With degrees from Boston University and the University of CT he has 30 years of behavioral health and education industry experience that spans the therapeutic ‘continuum of care’. Thomas is an outspoken advocate for adoptees and works tirelessly to advance society’s sensitivity, knowledge and compassion for those experiencing the effects of early childhood adversity. Mr. Ahern is a sought after speaker on the local, state and national levels and is a competitive endurance athlete and fly fisherman. He resides in Connecticut with his wife Belinda and there therapy dog Nando.
Like most Board members, Sheilah’s passion for post adoption support and family preservation developed from personal experience. Sheilah’s beautiful, funny, athletic daughter, despite the fact that she was adopted from birth, has significant attachment and trauma issues. Sixteen years and many, many failed interventions later, she finally found support and healing strategies via ATN. She joined their board in November of 2014 and serves as Membership Director and Fundraising Consultant.
Sheilah has spent over 30 years as an activist, working with organizations dedicated to developing and advocating for grassroots-developed solutions to social problems, ranging from environmental issues to sustainable agriculture to public school reform to improving school food. Much of her education and work background is in leadership development and training, community organizing and fundraising. She is thrilled to combine the skills she has developed over the course of her career with her experiences as a parent who has “been there and done that”, to support other families touched by trauma and to advocate for policy and on-the ground solutions that will help them to thrive.
Sandy joins ATN after years of educating others on behalf of those touched by adoption. In 1998, Sandy and her husband traveled to Russia to adopt their baby daughter. Her passion and mission in life became clear as they faced the challenge of parenting a child who was affected by neglect, trauma, FASD, medical issues, and learning disabilities. While being a mom is always her first priority, Sandy realized early on that she needed to share the knowledge she was gaining in order to help others. She has worked in various capacities on adoption-related issues including planning and implementing educational conferences and orphan support programs, connecting adoptive families to experienced professionals and resources, and managing a local support group. Sandy is also a 2009 graduate of Missouri’s Partners in Policymaking program sponsored by the Missouri Planning Council for Developmental Disabilities. This leadership training program opened a door to advocating effectively on a local, state and national level with elected officials, government agencies and educational administrators in the areas of special education needs and developmental disability awareness.
Although Sandy understands the hard work it takes to parent a child with trauma and attachment issues, she also cherishes the special times when joy is present and life is good. In 2012, she was honored as a recipient of the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute`s Angels in Adoption Award. Through her role at ATN, she continues her passion for educating others on attachment and trauma-related issues and the search for effective strategies for all children to achieve success and happiness. Sandy and her husband reside in Lake St. Louis, MO, with their daughter and two older children.
Stephanie Garde has been volunteering at ATN for several years. She and her husband are parents to one adopted son and one birth son. Their experience with trauma and attachment issues started when they adopted a 5 year old boy from state custody in 1999. Two years of struggle later, Stephanie saw a Law and Order episode that explained her son’s behaviors. Using the internet and this new term “attachment,” the Garde family started on the journey to heal. With the right therapy, their son is now 22. While he continues to struggle with the effects of early childhood trauma and neglect, he has graduated from high school and a vocational training program at a community college. He is living independently and works full-time.
Stephanie attended the University of Rhode Island and Vermont Law School. Formerly a disability attorney, Stephanie retired her license to be available full time for her son’s needs. She is finding ways to help ATN, herself, and her community. Stephanie feels that ATN gives parents a place to be themselves. She works to remind ATN members of the bond we all have as parents and caregivers.
The Garde family lives in New England. They enjoy rehabbing an old lake house, rowing whaleboats, running, walking, watching football and hockey, and savoring the good days. Email Stephanie
Gari Lister, JD, Vice President
After 20 years as an antitrust lawyer, and 7 trying to juggle being a part-time partner with full-time needy kids, I left my corporate clients far behind for a world of kids with issues and general craziness.
In 2002, my husband Matt and I adopted two little girls from two different countries – an 11 year old from Russia and a 17 month old from Ukraine. Because of the 11 year old, we educated ourselves about the importance of attachment issues pretty early on. But still it wasn’t until years later when we adopted a third little girl – a 2 year old from Russia – that we truly came to understand the devastating impact of trauma on children. Our girls are now 9, 11 and 21. In the ten years since we’ve been a family, our girls have faced a wide range of physical and emotional issues. In search of help, we’ve tried a wide range of therapies, most of which have helped to varying extents. Our youngest didn’t talk until she was 4, and still faces many developmental and emotional challenges. Because of those challenges, I quit working even part-time to homeschool her. After tumultuous teenage years, our oldest daughter ran away from home at 17. She’s now returned to the family, but faces daily struggles with her past and with both family and friend relationships. And the third “middle” daughter – who fools almost everyone into believing that she is “normal” – fights her own quiet battles with the demons of her past.
Today, we’re all based in a big old Dallas house – with cats, border collies and a Chihuahua (all of whom have issues, too!) – but we still call Washington DC home and spend summers in a tiny Virginia town by the Chesapeake Bay. Email Gari
Melissa is a mother to two sons (one adopted and one bio), a wife, and a life long educator. She began her career as a high school special education teacher working in a self-contained classroom for emotionally challenged young adults. After twelve years in classrooms in all grades 2-12, she became an administrator. During her years serving as an administrator she worked in elementary schools and an alternative school for behaviorally challenged children in grades K-12. She was a behavior modification specialist who provided workshops across the state on meeting the needs of students with challenging behaviors.
In 2001, Melissa and her husband adopted a three-year-old boy from a Bulgarian Orphanage. It was this brave, hurting boy who taught Melissa the value of relationships and the limitations inherent in behavior modification. In searching for ways to heal her son, she began a journey that continues today.
Despite her therapeutic parenting and counseling support, her son struggled to behave and learn in his middle school. It was at this time that Melissa left her career in education to provide full time support to her son. In addition, she began providing professional development on trauma informed classroom strategies to teachers in local school districts and serving as a special education consultant for parents of children who were not receiving appropriate educational programming.
Today Melissa is a published author and education consultant. She is an advocate for trauma informed schools and has produced numerous webinars on the topic. She holds two Masters Degrees, and is currently in the dissertation phase of her Doctoral degree in Special Education. Her dissertation topic is the creation of trauma informed school climates.
Jane and her husband are the parents of three daughters: college, high school and elementary. A former litigator for fifteen years, Jane “retired” when their youngest joined their family at the age of twelve months. Waiting through two years of prayer and paperwork to meet their new daughter had given Jane ample time to read up on attachment in adoption, and she thought she was prepared for what lay ahead; she knew that parenting this new child would be different from parenting her biological children. Little did she know that what was “sold” in the mainstream media as the psychology of adoptive children was outdated, scientifically unfounded and bound up by old stereotypes.
After a rough start parenting their attachment and trauma challenged youngest Jane found ATN in 2007 via some very supportive mothers in the Attach-China online group. Pulling her research skills out of retirement she began to read, and read, about attachment and trauma – the stuff no one had shared with them at the adoption agency or in their home study conferences. In reading she found therapies that worked for her daughter and ones that did not. And along this path she found her own passions too, educating others about trauma and attachment and writing about adoption and special needs parenting. Jane has spoken nationally and internationally on therapeutic parenting (adoptive and bio), sensory processing disorder in children with trauma and understanding the signs, symptoms and causes of attachment issues. When time allows she blogs at www.motheringinthemiddle.org. Her work has appeared in the NY Times Opinion Page, Singapore American Newspaper, Adoption Today magazine, ATN”s Therapeutic Parenting Journal, and the anthologies From Home to Homeland; Our Very Own – Stories Celebrating Adoptive Families. Vols. 1 and 2.
A graduate of the University of Massachusetts/Amherst and Suffolk University Law School and a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, Jane and her husband are currently raising their family in Kentucky.
Responsible for much of the behind-the-scenes administration of ATN, Lorraine is an experienced administrator, bookkeeper and business manager.
“Trying to parent my daughter, I thought I was going crazy and posted basically that on another adoption support forum. Thankfully, someone there recommended that I turn to ATN.” This is how Lorraine Schneider, ATN’s Administrative Director, describes how she found ATN. “Joining ATN’s Little Zebra’s online support group, I found others just like me and felt at home at last.”
It wasn’t long after Lorraine found ATN via the internet that she and hubby, Chris, found their way to an ATN conference. They learned a lot, had a very good time, and enjoyed some much-needed respite. It was then that Lorraine began volunteering her many support and business talents to ATN.
Lorraine is mom to three, two sons and their youngest, a daughter, adopted from foster care, who struggles with severe attachment and trauma issues. Email Lorraine
Her award winning documentary, “My Name Is Faith” captures the Junker’s early journey, coming to terms with the impact their daughter’s difficult beginning would have on them all.
With her own growth process as an example, Tif mentors and advocates for a “connection before correction” approach to parenting. Stressing EXTRA empathy, mindfulness, humor, attunement, self-compassion and reciprocal atonement as key ingredients to helping tough kids achieve higher function and healthy relationships.
Through stories of struggle and lessons learned with her brilliant, challenging and hilarious children, Tif raises awareness and an authentic understanding for the EXTREME neurology, behavior, circumstances, and the emotional strength found in families struggling to overcome the aftermath of childhood trauma.
Neil has been in the substance abuse and mental health fields since 1976. Presently he contracts with a human services department and school district in Wisconsin and provides therapy services to people of all ages. A life-long learner, Neil obtained a Master’s Degree in 1975 in Family and Child Development from Kansas State University. Since then he’s studied the ACEs work, as well as interpersonal neurobiology with Dr. Daniel Seigel and provides trauma-informed care. His work has focused on serving rural areas, and he’s been in private practice since 1995, where he enjoys working with children, adolescents and their families. Neil has historically used music, poetry (lyrics) and humor, as well as focusing on the strengths within his clients and his belief that each person has their own story to tell and individual path to recovery. He is currently working with the school system in the process of creating a trauma-informed school district, which has been especially rewarding work.
Carl and his wife are parents of five, three who have special needs of some kind. Their youngest was adopted at 18 months and has been impacted by early trauma and attachment disorders. Carl is a passionate advocate, frequently speaking to the state legislature and serving on task forces in North Dakota. He plays an active role in his state’s Protection and Advocacy Project, Family Voices of North Dakota and the Consumer Advisory Council at North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities. He’s the past chair of the ND Behavioral Health Planning Council. Carl also supports other parents through the IEP process as a volunteer advocate. Carl was a child of adoption and in 2015 traced his birth family and is learning more about them. His business card reads “Father-Advocate- Blogger” because he feels being a father is the most important thing he’s ever done. Carl frequently shares his family’s story in their on-going quest in getting appropriate mental health services for their youngest son.
Nancy Spoolstra was 5 years old when she told her parents she wanted to be a veterinarian; she was 13 when she announced her desire to one day parent adopted children. She achieved both goals, but life took many unexpected turns along the way. After giving birth to a son and daughter, Nancy and her husband, Larry, adopted 3 children internationally. They were completely unprepared for the issues the older two adoptees brought into the family. It soon became apparent that the mental health community, adoption community, and school/neighborhood community were equally unprepared to understand and address the special needs of this population of children. As a veterinarian, Nancy played many roles. She was a diagnostician, researcher, and problem solver, and she thoroughly enjoyed the privilege of supporting and educating clients and helping them become better and more informed pet owners. When Nancy expected the same investment and respectful reciprocity from those to whom she turned for help with her troubled children, she was shocked to be blamed, denigrated and dismissed.
In the mid-90’s, Nancy was finally referred to a therapist who provided many of the missing pieces. That therapist connected Nancy with 2 other moms, and the Attachment & Trauma Network was born. Although Nancy had planned to return to the practice of veterinary medicine when the children were older, her mission of support and education shifted from pet owners to distraught and distressed parents. The stakes were so much higher, and the resources virtually non-existent.
The other two moms initially involved in the formation of ATN disengaged fairly early, and for many years ATN was a one-woman show. Around 2000, Nancy met Gail Trenberth and Gail’s organization- the Attachment Disorder Parent Network. Nancy and Gail merged the two organizations and Nancy took the lead. Eventually, Julie Beem and several other awesome parents came on board to share the load and spread the word. After a dozen years of service, Nancy transferred the mantle to the capable shoulders of Julie Beem.
Although the oldest 4 children have left home, Nancy and Larry are still parenting their last adoptee. She joined the family as a toddler over a decade ago after disrupting from her first placement due to attachment issues. This time, the Spoolstras were prepared for the task. They are also enjoying grandkids, and family activities such as boating and travel. Nancy is spending some very enjoyable time trail riding her horse around the Midwest, and playing with the family dogs. Nancy is overjoyed that the organization she so heavily invested in is continuing to thrive and provide support to families and children.