The members of the Board of Directors donate their time, and expertise in varying fields, however, participation as a board member does not imply a professional endorsement by the Central Coast Autism Spectrum Center.
Board of Directors:
Shawna Whitfield: Chair, Board of Directors.
Ms. Whitfield is a former fourth and fifth grade elementary school teacher who now parents a son on the Autism Spectrum. First-hand experience dealing with the services and providers in San Luis Obispo County has prepared Ms. Whitfield to share her knowledge with families who are in similar situations and expand the field of opportunities for those affected by autism. As the Center’s WALK for Autism Coordinator, Ms. Whitfield works to manage, fundraise, and garner sponsorships for this event with a two-thousand person involvement. The desire for inclusion and acceptance is what drives Ms. Whitfield to take action by contributing to the Autism Spectrum Center.
Susie Penner, Vice Chair, Board of Directors
Ms. Penner is a Director of Corporate Communications for Oracle. She is responsible for the enterprise applications product PR team and has been with Oracle since 2004. Prior to Oracle, Ms. Penner worked at Trolltech (acquired by Nokia), SGI, Egon Zehnder International, The Weber Group and Arbor Software. Ms. Penner has volunteered for the Center since relocating back to the central coast in 2009. She has previously volunteered for organizations including the SLO Downtown Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters of SLO and SF and the Peninsula, Loaves and Fishes, and the Anita Borg Institute among others. Ms.Penner holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Social Sciences with a concentration in Organizations from Cal Poly SLO.
Debra Balke, MD: Secretary, Board of Directors.
Dr. Balke is a board-certified pediatric neurologist with expertise in epilepsy and autism. She received her medical training at the UCLA Medical Center and also worked during these years to support a free pediatric neurology outreach clinic in Bakersfield. She is a founding member of CCASK and CCASC and is a co-founder of the North County Autism Support Group. She runs a busy, part-time, solo pediatric neurology practice in San Luis Obispo County. Dr. Balke is also the proud and busy mother of two children with autism spectrum disorder, one of which is currently home schooled.
Mercedes Meier: Treasurer, Board of Directors.
Ms. Meier is the bookkeeper and human resource administrator for LMB investments. LMB Investments manages and operates nine bars and restaurants and three investment corporations. Ms. Meier’s duties include initial opening of the business and implementing policies and procedures as well as ongoing management of financials, payroll and personnel. Ms. Meier is also the mother of a child diagnosed with autism and is passionate about improving local resources for families that are living with autism.
Laurie Ferguson, PsyD, Member at Large, Board of Directors
Dr. Ferguson is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Atascadero, specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of children with autism spectrum disorders and related issues, including learning, attention, mood and behavior. She helps families to coordinate services with their child's school and with local agencies, including the Regional Center. Dr. Ferguson received her training at The Children's Hospital in Denver, Colorado and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center, also in Denver. She graduated from The Wright Institute in Berkeley with a doctorate in clinical psychology, specializing in diagnostic assessment and treatment of children and teens. Dr. Ferguson has also worked at the University of San Francisco Center for Child & Family Development, San Francisco County Jail, St. Francis Memorial Hospital, and the San Francisco Department of Public Health, among other organizations. Dr. Ferguson has been in the mental health field since 1996, when she worked in Ecuador to establish the first support and advocacy group for women and families, and she now provides bilingual assessment services in Spanish. Having a family member on the autism spectrum, and being a mother of three young children, brings personal experience to her professional practice.
Gary Dee, Member at Large, Board of Directors
Mark Machala, Member at Large, Board of Directors
Sandra Price: Member Emeritus, Board of Directors.
Ms. Price is the mother of a child with autism that was diagnosed at three years of age. This experience has driven Ms. Price to help other families through participation on the board of directors, to affect positive systems change. As a credentialed general education teacher, currently on a leave of absence, Ms. Price brings the expertise of management and administration. She has experienced the inclusion of children with special needs in her classrooms, participated in Student Study Teams (SST’s), understands the Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s), and knows what it means to be on either side of the table during conversations regarding the needs of children with autism spectrum disorders. Ms. Price has a great deal of training in the field of autism, having attended California Association of Resource Specialists and Special Education Teachers (CARS Plus), and trainings provided through Tri-Counties Regional Center including “Parent-to-Parent” Trainings, Occupational Therapy (OT) trainings by Diana Henry, and Socialization Trainings by Michele Garcia Winner. The Price home has been host to a variety of behaviorists, and there is a desire to see programs, generally designed for the “typical” child, accept and include children/individuals with autism and other special needs.
Michael Ruef, PhD., Emeritus, Board of Directors
Juli Miller: Founder and Executive Director.
Compelled by great need in San Luis Obispo County, Ms. Miller is one of four founders of the Central Coast Autism Spectrum Center, and currently serves as Executive Director. The organization was formalized in December, 2007, and has grown rapidly- serving hundreds of families in need from throughout the California Central Coast. Ms. Miller has degrees in Early Childhood Education and Social Services Administration, and has 16+ years of experience in administration and development of non profit, and for profit, corporations. In 1994, she created and directed the E.L. Wiegand Infant Care Center at Transition House in Santa Barbara, serving the infants and toddlers of families experiencing homelessness. During this time she acted as the Children’s Policy advisor to the late Congressman Walter Capps, was a founding member of the Board of Directors for Concerned Citizens for Children, was an active member of the Tri- Counties and California Associations for the Education for Young Children (CAEYC) and implemented an acting Student Council at Antioch University, Santa Barbara. Upon moving to San Luis Obispo County, Ms. Miller was Vineyard Administrator for the then new, Seven Peaks Winery in Creston. She developed all policies and procedures for staff and contract help, with special attention to human resources, finance, and the development of the company health care policies and selecting a high quality health care plan for minimum wage employees.