Who’s who at Friends in Action?
Friends in Action Staff – Bryan, Ben, Holly, Wayne
Friends in Action Staff – Heidi and Amanda
Heidi Chase, Executive Director
Friends in Action was formerly known as “Friends Project” when under the Portsmouth School Department in 2000 and it was run under the guidance of Heidi Chase. Heidi still manages Friends in Action as the Executive Director and uses her Master’s degree in Marriage and Family therapy to enhance the lives of the Friends in Action families. Heidi also has her undergraduate degree in English and Communication. She gains great satisfaction in watching the faces of participants light up when they see their friends every day. She also says, “It is heartwarming seeing everyone care for and support each other”.
Amanda DeGiovanni, Program Director
Amanda is an enthusiastic and motivated person who has been involved with Friends in Action since the beginning. She started helping Friends in Action when she was a high school freshman in Portsmouth and then as a student from the University of Maine. Her favorite program at Friends in Action is the Friday Night Social because she has the chance to dance, socialize, and play games with most of the members in one big event. Amanda says, “I love creating a space where our participants are safe and able to have fun while the parents/providers can feel content for a few hours”. Recently, she took on the hobby of metalsmithing and is excited to use the skills she’s learned to create sterling silver jewelry.
Sarah Garstka, Project Manager at the Echo Thrift Shop
Sarah is an incredible part of the Friends in Action team. Her countless hours of dedication over the past few years have made the Echo Thrift Shop what it is today. She loves seeing the FIA members interact with the shoppers from the University of New Hampshire and the Durham community. “Our participants are definitely learning new skills at Echo, too – some of our participants are using these skills to get paid work at Goodwill or TJ Max”. While Sarah is at the Thrift Shop on Mondays and Tuesdays, the rest of the week she is the Executive Director of the Workforce Housing Coalition of the Greater Seacoast. Sarah is a UNH alumna with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition/Dietetics and a Master in Public Policy. She also has training in facilitation and community engagement. Sarah involves herself in a wide variety of activities, including ultimate frisbee, reading, fantasy football, cooking, playing Mario Kart, hiking, and blogging.
Linette Miles, Theater Instructor
Before joining the Friends in Action family in 2011, Linette graduated from UNH with her BA in Theater and Dance. She also has experience from her work with One Sky, another nonprofit organization for people with developmental disabilities. Watching everyone grow and learn together is what inspires her continue working with Friends in Action year after year. Her extensive knowledge in physical activity make her a great addition the Friends in Action team. When she’s not on stage, Linette enjoys reading and exercise. Her favorite activity that Friends in Action provides is, of course, theater class.
Heather Perigny, Wildcats Friends Teacher
Heather has her B.A. in human development and a Master’s in education. She started working for Friends in Action during September of 2017 in the Wildcat Friends program on Wednesday nights. She has volunteered as a Special Olympics Coach for many years and is more than happy to share her experience with others. During Heather’s free time, she spends as much time outdoors with her family that she can manage, and refurbishing or refining furniture. “I love creating and implementing hands on learning experiences. I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity to work and learn from such an amazing group of people.”
Kali Moulton, Arts and Crafts Staff at Friday Night Socials
Kali loves to help people express their creativity through artwork. She has been with Friends in Action for a handful of years and enjoys working the Friday Night Socials. While Kali has worked with other organizations, such as job coaching through OneSky, she feels a sense of belonging while working with the staff at Friends in Action. She studied art at the University of Maine in 2009 and is also educated in art instruction and team building facilitation. In her free time, Kali likes to express her own creativity through music, writing, and cosplay.
Kasey Darnell, Supervisor
If you’ve attended the bowling or basketball Special Olympics events in New Hampshire it’s likely you’ve already seen Kasey in action. She has been working with Friends in Action for over three years now, and has her B.S. degree in community and K-12 Health Education. Kasey relishes her time with the participants at Friends in Action because “I can always count on them to put a smile on my face. It’s my second family!”, Kasey says. She keeps herself active with any sport she can think of and brings her love for sports to the Friends in Action community.
Alex Cousins, Supervisor
The staff at Friends in Action have a near unlimited amount of education and experience, this is especially so for Alex. Alex has her Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy and has been with Friends in Action for over seven years. Since earning her degree, Alex has worked with children between the ages of 3 and 21 in a pediatric private practice outside of Friends in Action. During her free time, Alex appreciates the outdoors by fishing, hiking, and kayaking.
“The participants are what inspires me! I cannot leave a FIA program feeling anything other than happy!” – Alex Cousins
Rachel McKaig, Supervisor
2010 was an exciting year for Friends in Action because it was the year Rachel Mckaig started volunteering at FIA. Rachel has the skills to communicate effectively with the deaf and hard of hearing while having her B.S. in Recreational Management and Policy. Her favorite event, hosted by Friends in Action, is the bi-weekly Friday night social where she can show off her dance moves and encourage others to share their dances too. Though Rachel enjoys staying active through hiking, she can still appreciate relaxing in front of the TV watching Netflix on a warm couch. Rachel works for Friends in Action, but in her opinion, “I never truly feel as if I’m working when I’m at Friends in Action!”.
Meg Falkowski, Staff
Meg has been working with Friends in Action for one year. She is always eager to learn, and she feels that Friends in Action has provided her with the real-world experience she needs. Meg enjoys working with Friends in Action because it gives her the opportunity to make a difference in the community and in the lives of individuals. She most enjoys the socials hosted by Friends in Action on Friday nights. She is currently studying at the University of New Hampshire and is scheduled to graduate in the spring of 2018 with a degree in therapeutic recreation. Outside of work, Meg likes to be spontaneous. She enjoys traveling and spending quality time with loved ones.
Emma Jones, Staff
Emma is currently studying at UNH for a B.S. degree in therapeutic recreation. She started working with Friends in Action during September of 2016 through a theater and recreation program on Fridays. Emma also works with the Burlington department of parks and recreation to support children with disabilities in recreational activities. She uses her skills in the wider world as the personal care assistant for two children with disabilities. Emma enjoys spending her time at the beach, with friends, and helping with the Relay for Life committee at UNH. “The friendships I’ve made with participants, volunteers and other staff are so genuine and have continued to be a huge source of joy for me while at school. There’s nothing I love more about being a Wildcat than being a part of Friends in Action.”
Alyssa Thiem, Staff
Alyssa had been involved with Friends in Action for nearly a decade. She says, “Watching people make connections at FIA and then seeing those initial connections turn into authentic friendships is by far the most rewarding aspect of working for FIA and keeps me coming back each year.” She most enjoys the Friday Night Socials because she feels they give everyone an opportunity to be themselves. Her desire to help the community grow makes her a shining example of the Friends in Action mission. Alyssa is more than qualified for her position, having graduated from UNH in 2013 with Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and an additional Direct Support Professional Certification from Great Bay Community College. Alyssa was also involved with Best Buddies during her time at UNH.
Ethan Guyer, Staff
While Ethan is relatively new to Friends in Action, he is just as dedicated to the cause as anyone else. He enjoys his work because he feels he is actually making a positive impact on the people around him. Ethan likes the theater class at Friends in Action because it allows everyone to take part in a project they can be proud of and enjoy. He is currently a senior in college studying Recreation Management and Policy. Outside of school and work, Ethan likes to get outdoors and stay active. He is a great new addition to the Friends in Action team.