About CPAC

Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center, Inc. (CPAC) is a statewide nonprofit organization that offers information and support to families of children with any disability or chronic illness, age birth through 26. The Center is committed to the idea that parents can be the most effective advocates for their children, given the confidence that knowledge and understanding of special education law and its procedures can bring.

Through outreach efforts and referrals from schools, social service agencies and other parents, the number of families that Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center serves has grown dramatically over the past 41 years. We continue to take pride in providing prompt and personal assistance to all who contact us. CPAC is staffed by parents of children with disabilities who have training in, and personal experience with, the law and disability issues.

In addition to speaking with parents on a daily basis, CPAC staff conduct workshops for parents as well as in-service presentations for schools, teachers-in-training and service providers throughout the state so that they may better understand and serve the parents with whom they work. Staff and Board members serve on numerous statewide committees and various organizations, representing issues that are of concern to parents and families in Connecticut.

CPAC Board Members

Claudia Bachmann-Bouchard, President
Jonathan Metcalf, Secretary
Grace Coombs, Treasurer
Jocelyne Braffith
Margarita Vargas-Torres
Natasha Singer
Trisha Pytko
Katrina Woodward
Sharma Piersall

The Board of Directors is actively seeking new board members, if you are interested in becoming a member please email us at [email protected] to request an application package.

Co-Executive Director

Jane Hampton-Smith is the parent of two adult sons, one who has both autism and intellectual disability. She has been a trainer and parent consultant for the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center since 2001. She has served on a variety of state level stakeholders groups during this time and is the coordinator of CPAC's Next STEPs Parent Leadership Training Series. She has participated in mediator training and IEP facilitation training as she works to help families and schools resolve their differences in an effort to improve outcomes for students with disabilities. Jane's areas of interest include challenging behaviors, discipline procedures, early dispute resolution, building relationships and accessing community resources.

Co-Executive Director

Beth Reel is the parent of two young adults. Her oldest is a young man with autism who recently transitioned from public school to adult services. Beth has been with CPAC since 2002, providing technical assistance and training related to postsecondary transition to students with disabilities and families throughout the state. Beth has served on the Transition Task Force for the Connecticut State Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education since 2007. She is also a CORE member of the Connecticut Transition Community of Practice (CoP) and has served as a member of the CT Bureau of Rehabilitation Services (BRS) Transition Committee since 2011. She is a Governor appointed member of the Connecticut BRS State Rehabilitation Advisory Council and the Bureau of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB) Advisory Board. The focus of Beth's work is helping students with disabilities and their families understand the significant changes that will come about when students leave mandated services and to support students in learning leadership skills so they have a voice at the table. Beth believes that with the right preparation, students can, and do, lead successful lives after they leave school.

Assistant Director

Adriana Fontaine, has been with CPAC since 2007. During this time, she has served as a Bilingual Parent Consultant and as the Early Childhood Programs Manager. She has helped in the development, implementation, and evaluation process of two programs that have a collective impact for families of young children with developmental delays/disabilities in Connecticut, Family Connections and Preschool Pathfinder Program. Adriana is passionate about educating families regarding the importance of early intervention, how to describe their child's unique needs, and encouraging families to engage in collaborative practices with professionals early on. Another important aspect of her work is addressing bias and cultural barriers for monolingual families, and she has avidly worked on disseminating best practices that promote working in partnership with families from diverse, multicultural backgrounds as she provides one-to-one support to monolingual families. Adriana has a master's degree in Health Communication from Boston University. She is the aRPy ambassador to Connecticut through ECTA (Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center) and the DEC (Division of Early Childhood), and she serves on several statewide initiatives related to Early Childhood. She is the proud mother of two young adults, a daughter and a son who is in College and has NVLD.

Parent Consultants and Program Team

Leona Adamczyk, Connecticut Family School Partnerships Coordinator, is the parent of three sons. Leona has worked with CPAC since 2018. She is a graduate of Next Steps, Partners in Policymaking, and the LEND program. Leona's areas of interest include family engagement and facilitating connections between families and districts.

Siobhan Brearley, Bureau of Special Education (BSE) Call Center Specialist, is a former middle school teacher and administrator at a private school in RI. While taking a break from full-time work to raise her children, she worked part-time in the roles of instructor, tutor, and life coach with Thames Academy and Mitchell College students. Although she has experience with working with a vast profile of students addressing their strengths and needs, her focus became working with students on the autism spectrum and with various learning disabilities such as dyslexia and dysgraphia. She has taken several trainings, including CPAC's Next Steps and Train the Trainer programs. In addition, she has attended a large number of conferences and trainings on reading disabilities and effective reading instruction based on the science of reading. Siobhan has been involved with CPAC for several years but officially came on board in 2022. She enjoys spending time with her family, traveling, and volunteering.

Michelle Fitzgerald, Bilingual Parent Consultant, received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Quinnipiac University in 2004 with a concentration in sociology and a minor in Spanish. Michelle has dedicated much of her personal and professional experience to supporting families in need within her local community as a mental health counselor in IICAPS, a care coordinator in Child First, and a registered circle of security parent facilitator, as well as a master trainer of Army Family Team Building and a Family Readiness Group leader during her time as an army wife. Michelle is the proud mother of four children; two teenagers and two elementary-aged children. Her oldest and youngest both have an ASD diagnosis and vary drastically in their functionality. Michelle joined CPAC in January 2024 as a bilingual (Spanish) parent consultant and continues her passion for supporting families of young children as they advocate, collaborate and navigate through their special needs journey. Creating lasting memories with her family is Michelle's greatest joy. Whether they're baking, singing and dancing in their kitchen, traveling or crafting something special; the gift of time with those she loves most are her greatest treasure.

Robin Grondahl, Intake and Data Manager, is the parent of three adults, the youngest has both physical and cognitive disabilities. She has been a parent consultant with CPAC since 2011. Robin provides support and technical assistance to families. She has served on various stakeholder groups at the state level. She previously worked as a paraprofessional in the public schools and brings a unique perspective as both a parent and a service provider.

Emma Joseph, Multilingual Parent Consultant, is the mother of two young children, her oldest is receiving special education services. Emma has a long history of serving people with disabilities. Before joining CPAC, Emma worked as a residential advisor for young adults with autism, emotional disturbance and intellectual disabilities. Emma also worked as a paraprofessional in the public schools. Emma has been a CPAC parent consultant since 2019. Emma has experiences with autism, emotional disturbance, intellectual disabilities, blindness, anxiety and impulsivity. Emma works directly with parents who speak Haitian Creole, French, and English related to their children's needs.

Laura Knapp, Transition Coordinator, has five wonderful children, some with attentional and emotional health needs. Her youngest child had complex medical, physical, and cognitive disabilities. Laura has officially worked with CPAC since 2017, although she has worked with CPAC on special projects or events in the past. She has served on several stakeholder groups at the state level. Focus of her work is providing support and training to parents, this is important because it is difficult to navigate the special education system and build effective communication. Laura' s area of interest includes transition, medically complex students, and those with mental (emotional) health needs.

Jennifer Lussier, Partnership Programs Manager, is the parent of two teenagers and has been a CPAC Parent Consultant since 2016, providing technical assistance, support and training to families of children and youth with disabilities. Jennifer's work centers around family-school partnerships, leadership development and family engagement. She coordinates CPAC's Special Education Advisory Council (SEAC) Program and Parent Leaders Roundtable, and collaborates with CPAC's Bilingual team on the Spanish Parent Leaders Roundtable and the CT Language Access and Equity Strategic Workgroup. Jennifer is on a team of facilitators for the Planning and Placement Team Leadership Institute (PPTLI). She serves on several state groups, including the Commissioner's Roundtable for Parent and Community Engagement, the CT State Advisory Council for Special Education, CT Special Education Task Force, Suspension and Expulsion Workgroup, Restraint Prevention Workgroup, and the Statewide Social Emotional Learning and School Climate Collaborative. On the national level, Jennifer leads the State Advisory Panel (SAP) and State Interagency Coordinating Council (SICC) Workgroup.

Goviana Morales, Bilingual Parent Consultant, is the parent of five children; two with disabilities. Goviana is a Next Steps graduate, COPAA graduate, and LEND graduate. She recently received a degree as a disability specialist with a focus on speech and language pathology assistant. Goviana offers bilingual (Spanish) services, and her areas of interest include language access, transition to adult life, and family engagement. She loves to read and craft.

Lisa Opert, Next Steps Coordinator, is the parent of four children. She has had two of her children participate in Birth to Three Services, and those same children currently have IEP's. Between her children, she has experience with speech and language differences, epilepsy, and autism. Prior to coming to CPAC Lisa was a general education classroom teacher working in New Haven, Connecticut and brings a unique perspective from a parent and a professional role. She is the coordinator of the Next STEPs Program through CPAC and loves sharing information to other parents to help them feel educated and confident in advocating for their children. She is also a parent mentor for the Family Connections Program and enjoys speaking with families of young children just starting the special education journey. She loves being creative and spending time with friends and family.

Vanessa Pollock, Multilingual Parent Consultant, is the parent of two children with special needs. She has worked with CPAC since 2017. She started her work at CPAC translating for families who speak Portuguese. Now Vanessa works directly with parents who speak Portuguese, Spanish and English related to their children's needs. She helps families to learn how to advocate for their children and it is important to her to give them accurate information to be successful. She understands how important it is for non-English speaking parents and really wants to help families that have hard time understanding the information in English by translating to Portuguese and Spanish. When she has free time, which is very rare, she likes to sit outside and relax or watch a funny movie.

Kiomary Sotillo, Bilingual Parent Consultant, is the parent of four sons. She has had two of her children receive services through Birth to Three. Currently, two of her children have IEP's and one is on a 504 plan. Between all of her children, she has experience with autism, ADHD, anxiety and impulsivity, mild hearing loss requiring hearing aids, specific learning disability in reading and auditory processing. She has worked with the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center as a bilingual workshop facilitator and parent consultant since 2012. She facilitates training for Birth to Three Service Coordinators and has presented to families, pre-service teachers and other professionals, on various special education in both English and Spanish. Her focus is to help families and schools work as collaborating partners and to create an extension of support between home and school for students with special needs and their families.

Renee Toper, Parent Consultant, is a parent of two young adults and a teenager. Her youngest daughter is medically compromised and has a rare genetic disease. She has been through the Birth to Three process and is now actively going through high school transition with her daughter and is part of CPAC's Transition Team. She has experience with the medical home model, CYSHCN (children and youth with special healthcare needs), and children's mental health. Renee has a passion for helping families navigate services and is no stranger when it comes to AAC (Augment Alternative Communication). She is a CPAC Next Steps graduate, 2013 Partners in Policymaking graduate, Voices for Families graduate, Parent Co-Chair of a children's mental health collaborative, and a Parent Ambassador for an early childhood council in which she is involved in Sparkler and Early childhood education. She loves sharing information and resources with families while empowering them to be able to advocate for their children. She believes that true collaboration and communication are vital to successful outcomes in all areas of the journey. In her spare time, Renee sings in her church choir and plays the flute in a local community band.

Youth Team

Emily Ball, Youth Educator, has a Disability Specialist A.S. degree. Emily is a member of the CT State Department of Education Transition Symposium Planning Committee and the CT Community of Practice CORE Team. She has been a member of the CT Youth Advisory Board (YAB) and now helps facilitate the meetings. Emily is a member of CPAC's Youth Team and of the YAB Core planning team. Emily volunteered at CPAC before beginning to formally work for CPAC in March 2021. Emily loves to read and spend time with her pets.

Lois Eldridge, Youth Training and Leadership Coordinator, is the parent of two adult children. Her oldest was diagnosed with a neurological disorder at 15 months. She is now 38 and living and working independently and planning her future. Her son is living his dream in New York City. She recently retired from LEARN Regional Education Service Center, Student Support Services, as the Transition Coordinator. She worked with families, teachers and students as well as state and local district representatives with the focus on secondary transition. Lois is a strong advocate for youths and their families, realizing early on that most life goals are possible with the appropriate resources and support. She is excited to work with CPAC families and youths to share her personal experiences and professional resources. She is a Life Course ambassador and a trained MAPS facilitator.

Jake Shumbo, Youth Intern, sustained a traumatic brain injury at age 13. He has a passion for self-advocacy and public speaking and has spread his message of self-advocacy, youth voice and being DIFFERENTLY abled to audiences from around the country. Jake is currently studying Communications at Three Rivers Community College. He is a member of the CT Youth Advisory Board, CPAC's youth intern, a Member at Large on the State of CT State Advisory Council for Special Education, and a member of the National Youth as Self Advocates (YASA) board.

Finance Manager / Human Resources

Patricia Glynn is responsible for implementing and maintaining the organization's accounting systems, human resources, and payroll. Pat joined CPAC in 2022.

Communications and Marketing Coordinator

Mairin Finnegan-Johnson has been with CPAC as Communications and Marketing Coordinator since 2016. Mairin's role involves creating public relations and marketing materials such as press releases, blog posts, and newsletters for CPAC and all its programs. Mairin is responsible for the branding and development efforts for CPAC. When Mairin isn't developing new materials, Mairin is busy maintaining CPACs records and working closely with the State and Federal Governments in the reporting process.

Administrative Assistant

Angela Erb has been CPACs Administrative Assistant since 2017. Angela is the mother of two adult daughters. In this position, Angela provides administrative assistance for the CPAC staff and families. She serves as the primary contact for all incoming calls. Angela supports all staff in the day to day operations of the office. Angela works closely with the Next Steps coordinator making sure all materials are prepared and maintained.

Operations and Training Coordinator

Yoice Alvarado graduated in May 2022 with a bachelors in Public Health specializing in target populations. She plans to further her education with a Master of Public Health in Health Policy. Being trilingual, Yoice is able to connect with Spanish and Portuguese-speaking families. Yoice offers support in the many systems and day-to-day administrative and operational functions at CPAC. Yoice enjoys hiking new trails throughout New England with her two dogs.

CPAC Board of Directors

President, Claudia Bachmann-Bouchard, currently teaches Multilanguage Science at the secondary level at NFA. She received her Master's Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Connecticut, Neag School of Education in 2019. She also holds a Bachelor's Degree in Chemistry certified by the American Chemical Society and a Bachelor's Degree in Biochemistry, Cellular, and Molecular Biology from Connecticut College. She has two young adult children and is the legal guardian and caregiver for her adult sister with Down Syndrome. She has been a board member since 2016. Her interest in education for children and young adults with different abilities has been a driving force to join the board membership to provide individuals with advocacy and opportunities for social, emotional, and academic growth.

Secretary, Jonathan Metcalf, has had a thirty-year career teaching kids confidence and prosocial skills through martial arts. He has two children both with Special Needs. He has a deep sense of gratitude for the work of CPAC and for the many times when they helped him navigate the maze of the Special Education world for his children. He is also a member of the Special Education Advisory Council for the CT Board Of Education and has served on the CPAC board since 2018.

Treasurer, Grace M. Coombs, is the parent of triplets who were born 3 months premature. Her children received early intervention services and special education and related services. Prior to having children of her own, she was a Foster parent. Five of her seven Foster children had special needs too. Grace is employed by TVCCA Head Start as the Disabilities Manager. She has enjoyed and embraced this role since 1994. In this role, she educates families about the referral processes to Birth to Three and the local education agencies; supports families through the special education process; collaborates with Birth to Three and LEAs to coordinate services to children enrolled in Head Start; attends PPT meetings; and creates, updates and secures signed Memorandums of Understanding between TVCCA Childcare and Preschool Programs and Birth to Three providers and the LEAs within New London county, as well as other responsibilities as they relate to Head Start Performance Standards. Grace is also a graduate of Next Steps. She has served on CPAC's Board for several years as a regular member, as the Secretary and she's currently the Treasurer.

Board Member, Margarita Vargas-Torres, currently works for Yale University/Yale Cancer Center as a Community Health Educator and has been working in the health field for over 20 years. She is a parent of two boys. Her oldest son, a young adult with autism, was the reason she became a CPAC Board member in 2017. She's a big supporter of outreach efforts and referrals from health centers for CPAC to provide support to families of children with any disability or chronic illness.

Board Member, Jocelyne Braffith

Board Member, Natasha Singer

Board Member, Trisha Pytko, currently teaches science at the Walter Fitzgerald Campus for Fairfield Public Schools. She is certified to teach general science, biology, chemistry, and special education. She teaches organic chemistry at Sacred Heart University. She is a board member of the Fairfield S.E.P.T.A Special Education Parent Teacher Association. She earned a 6th Year degree and 092 Administration certification from Sacred Heart University. She earned a Master's in Environmental Education and focused on Curriculum and Instruction. She is a parent of an elementary-aged child with medical issues and has an I.E.P. She Is an education consultant for all children.

Board Member, Katrina Woodward has spent 13 years navigating the special education system alongside her husband Mark, collaborating with school and community providers to support the academic and social needs of their three children, now teenagers. Katrina is a firm believer that we can always do better for all students and their caregivers through transparent, open and ongoing communication. She is a medical speech pathologist specializing in eating and swallowing problems, working across New England as Chief Administrative Officer of SDX Dysphagia Experts, advocating for better patient outcomes through the education of healthcare teams.

Board Member, Sharma Piersall is the mother of two adult sons, one of whom is diagnosed with Intellectual Disability. Sharma worked in journalism as a features writer prior to entering the field of Human Services, obtaining a master's in social work in 2019. Sharma has worked with adults experiencing addiction, severe mental illness, and complex trauma. Currently, Sharma serves as a clinician for Waterford Country School in their Therapeutic Boarding Program, which provides residential placement for teen boys who attend Waterford Country School for special education.