Bradford West (he/him)
My name is Bradford West. I am 28 years old, I was born and raised in Durham NC. I graduated from Northern High School in 2011. From 2011-2018 I lived in Greensboro and went to College at UNCG. In 2015 I graduated from UNCG, my major was Integrated Community Studies (ICS for short). While in college I worked as an assistant auto mechanic at Honest 1 Auto Care. I also worked as a peer mentor, I helped students with intellectual disabilities get around UNCG campus and the community. Right now I’m living in my own house in Durham and working at the VA Hospital as a patient escort. I help veterans get to their appointments and in and out of the hospital. I have been working at the VA hospital over two years.
Rebecca Joyner (she/her)
Rebecca is a partner at Parker Poe, where she serves as counsel in financings for cities, towns, counties, authorities, private schools, colleges and universities, as well as other nonprofit institutions across North Carolina. She also has extensive experience in municipal bond financings. Rebecca has been recognized as one of Woodward/White’s The Best Lawyers in America in Public Finance Law. In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys traveling with her husband, Ben, and three kids, Stella, Nora and Nate. Their current goal is to see as many national parks as possible before the kids get sick of traveling with their parents!
Jackie Pilgrim (she/her)
Jackie Pilgrim is an Advocate for persons having Epilepsy, Autism, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and Mental Illness; Founder of Autism’s Love: The Pilgrimage, Public Speaker, Artist, Poet, Blogger and Parent to a young adult who challenges the stigma of having disabilities. Jackie is currently partnered with the Durham CIT Leadership Collaborative to increase Autism and Intellectual/Developmental Disability awareness. In 2017, Jackie received an invitation to participate as a panel speaker at the United Nations World Autism Awareness Day Observation in NY, where she spoke on the importance of increasing autism awareness and education for Police Officers and First Responders. Jackie also serves on the Board of Directors for NAMI Durham (National Alliance on Mental Illness), the Mayor’s Committee for Disabled Persons and Jackie is a representative of the National Black Disability Coalition (NBDC) and serves on several committees. Jackie’s goals are to dismantle disability stigma and empower disabled individuals, family members, caregivers, and providers by increasing education and awareness of Autism, Intellectual Disabilities, and Mental Illness from the vantage point of lived experience.
Catalina Gonzalez (she/her)
Catalina was born in Tijuana, Mexico. She moved to the United States in 1996, spent 9 years in Racine, Wisconsin, and then moved to North Carolina in 2005. Catalina is married and has 7 children, 5 girls and 2 boys with Autism. She believes that “being a parent is the only profession where you first get the diploma, and then you study the course.” Since two of Catalina’s children have autism, she has learned to value the inclusion of others who learn in different ways. She has jumped into advocacy for children with learning differences, and embraces the opportunity to share her experiences with other families.
Catalina studied ESL at Durham Technical Community College in 2006. She has actively volunteered at organizations and programs that promote the healthy development of children and adults, including the Autism Society of NC for 12+ years. In 2020 Catalina started working in a child care as a teacher so she decided to continue her education in Early Childhood at Durham Technical Community College.
Advocacy for her children is something that will continue to be a fundamental part of her life. Catalina is excited and thankful to be part of the Board because she believes in it and that, not only her children, but all people with different capacities, deserve and need an opportunity to be active in the community and develop their many abilities.
Jonah Sanville (they/she/he)
My name is Jonah Sanville and I am 24 years old. I have lived in Durham my entire life. I was diagnosed with autism right around my 5th birthday. I have gone to school, worked, dated, and lived with autism since then. I know what it is like to be a young person with autism living in Durham. I am hoping to be able to share these experiences with the community and help them understand how the Autistic mind works. I am really excited about this opportunity. I love to spend time with my friends, eat out, travel, read web comics, and spend time with my dog.
Martina Ballen (she/her)
Martina Ballen is the Senior Associate Athletics Director, Human Resources and Chief Financial Officer with the Department of Athletics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She provides oversight to the financial operation of a $110 million athletics program and directs all human resources activities for the athletics department. Martina also serves as the diversity liaison to campus for her department and has spearheaded a number of diversity and inclusion initiatives to raise awareness of the success and impact of current and former student-athletes of color. Martina earned a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an M. B. A. from Wake Forest University. Martina currently serves on the board of the Autism Support and Advocacy Center and has served on the board of the Autism Society of North Carolina for several years, including board chair, and various committees. She also served on the board of The Carolina Club, a membership dining facility on the campus of UNC.
Wendy Ruggiero (she/her), Treasurer
Wendy is the Chief Financial Officer with Capital Associates Management, LLC in Raleigh. She is responsible for all accounting and financial reporting, information systems, banking relationships, tax planning, administration and human resources. Wendy is currently on the Audit Committee and the Land & Building Committee at SECU Family House at UNC Hospitals. She is also a former board member and Treasurer of SECU Family House. She is also a former board member and Treasurer for the NCACPA Foundation. Wendy has lived in Durham for over twenty years with her husband and two sons.
Ben Sellers (he/him)
Ben is passionate about working towards a local food economy that is more equitable, humane, and resilient. Ben is a staff member at Don’t Waste Durham and works on the GreenToGo program, which creates waste-reduction solutions for our community, including a circular-economy reusable takeout container system. He is a part-time farmer and is a product of North Carolina public schools.
Brandon Travis (he/him)
Laura Pyatt (she/her)
Laura Pyatt is a Durham native with a passion for building community, creating an equitable food system, and working in her garden. Laura graduated from Duke University in 2007 and since then has worked in the Domincan Republic, Washington DC, and back to Durham for good. Pre-pandemic Laura enjoyed a career as a Freelance Events Coordinator, working on organizing various community events around Durham. She shifted that work once the pandemic hit and is currently the Program Manager of Durham Delivers, working to support and sustain our local restaurants. Laura is also proud to be an NC State Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Durham County. You can often find her hanging in her backyard with her partner, two step kids, two cats, and two German Shepherds.
Cris Rivera (they/them)
Cris moved to Durham in 1990 for college and decided to stay forever. A former specialty foods buyer, videography instructor, and nonprofit auditor, Cris offers strategic HR and finance support services for small business, coops, and nonprofits in the advocacy, arts, and food justice arenas. Their ability to build systems and implement policies and procedures is complemented by their “off” sense of humor and tendency to be a goofball. In the HR realm, they have implemented DEI initiatives and guided the process of aligning organization culture and values to mission. Pre-pandemic, Cris served as the Ad hoc parish chef for First Presbyterian Church of Durham, and is currently the moderator of FPC’s Creation Care Team.
La Tasha Cowden (she/her)
La Tasha currently works part-time as a budgeting reporting specialist at Duke University Press. Prior to that, she worked as a lead financial analyst with the Private Diagnostic Clinics at Duke University. Her professional expertise is budgeting, forecasting, financial reporting, and various financial analyses. She has two kiddos, one who is on the spectrum. In addition to advocating for her son, she volunteers with the autism community through pet therapy. She and her certified pet therapy dog Rusty have made several school visits to support the intellectual and emotional needs of students. She recently adopted a second golden retriever (Shila) to train and hopefully get certified as well.