Benjamin Staples, MS, MBA
Ben's career has integrated clinical, business, and advocacy aspects of mental health services in North Carolina and Washington state. Clinically, he has worked with individuals experiencing the emotional consequence of chronic illness including substance abuse, mental illness, industrial injury, and traumatic brain injury. Administrative positions have included Health Center Administrator for the clinical psychiatry services at Duke Hospital and Clinics, Executive Director of NAMI North Carolina, and a Regional Leadership Consultant with NAMI National. In the latter position, he supported boards and executive directors of State Organizations and Affiliates, assisting them develop capacity and strategy.
A native of Durham, he attended Durham Public Schools and graduated with a degree in Psychology from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. After working as a Substance Abuse Counselor with Durham County Mental Health Services, he went on to complete a Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling at the School of Medicine at UNC-CH and a Masters in Business Administration at Seattle Pacific University. Staples has served on the board of the Brain Injury Association of North Carolina, Montessori Children’s House of Durham, and the International Association of Rehabilitation Professionals (North Carolina).
Ben is married to Brenda Nevidjon, a professor at the Duke University School of Nursing. They have a son, Jameson.
Family Advocacy Network Program Director
Julie has a rich history with Mental Health America of the Triangle (MHAT). She served as the original family advocate when the Family Advocacy Network (FAN) began in 2000, establishing program criteria which remains the foundation of FAN today: parent support, education and empowerment utilizing System of Care core values. Shortly after the first year of operation, Julie left FAN to tend to the demands of her three special needs children. In 2005, she returned in a volunteer capacity and was rehired on staff in 2007.
Julie currently oversees FAN and serves as the agency liaison to various community groups, such as the Orange Collaborative, Legislative Breakfast Organizing Committee, Orange Transitions Collaborative and the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Implementation Committee. Julie worked over 25 years in public relations and marketing before her move into the field of mental health, which occurred after adopting three children with mental health issues in 1996. She authored The Adoption Reunion Survival Guide: Preparing Yourself for the Search, Reunion and Beyond, (New Harbinger Publications, 2001) and she continues to write for various publications about adoption and mental health issues. She is a 2009 recipient of the "Heroes in the Fight Award" from the NC Coalition on Persons Disabled by Mental Illness.
Linda holds the record as the longest sustaining family advocate at FAN having come to the organization in 2002 after having worked in patient care at UNC Hospitals for nearly 20 years. When she began with FAN, she provided parent support and education. Today she provides intensive support to parents whose children become court involved. Linda advocates for the family's needs in all three juvenile court systems - juvenile, social services, and truancy courts - and helps parents navigate what is often a confusing and frustrating system of care. She has been a constant productive force in rural Orange County, helping families in child and family team meetings, youth planning conferences, court planning conferences, as well as participating in a variety of public forums. Linda currently serves as FAN liaison on a special work group with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) relating to issues surrounding the achievement gap. She also serves as liaison at monthly meetings for the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council (JCPC). She is an active member of NC Families United and trains local parents in skill-building and strengthening-families techniques. Linda is the mother of three adult children, one whose special needs taught her the importance of advocacy.
Georgia became a staff family advocate in October 2010. A native of Brooklyn New York, she received her nursing training at St Vincents Medical Center of New York City. She received her BSN from Hunter College CUNY at the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing. After 5 years as a paramedic in NYC, she moved to Baltimore MD to pursue her nursing career full time in critical care. After more than 20 years of critical care nursing, she stepped out of the profession to care for her family. Her experiences navigating special education services for her son led to wider community involvement. She has volunteered with a number of school-based groups and FAN over the past 5 years, as well as attended many seminars and meetings on a variety of disability related topics. Her involvement with FAN began when she attended parent training meetings, and grew with training to become a Peer Parent Mentor, and IEP partner.
Bilingual Family Advocate
Ana Velásquez is an experienced customer service specialist and administrative assistant. In her prior positions, Ana has worked for a variety of socially active organizations including the North Carolina Cooperative Extension; Youth Extensions, LLC; and Securing Resources for Consumers, Inc. Her work at the latter organization, which offers support services for people with mental disabilities or illnesses, helped inspire her to pursue her current position with the Mental Health America of the Triangle. Ana is particularly interested in outreach to the Latino community, and her bilingualism has allowed her to serve a variety of groups and individuals as a translator, interpreter, trainer, and advocate.
Pro Bono Counseling Program, Compeer
Shelley is the Program Coordinator for the Pro Bono Counseling Network and the Compeer Program at Mental Health America of the Triangle. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, she has provided direct clinical services in the mental health field for ten years leading up to her position at MHAT. Starting in 2008, Shelley was the Mental Health Specialist in the Bridge Program serving high school students struggling with mental health challenges in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. At the same time, she provided outpatient psychotherapy to adolescents, adults and families in a private practice. During those six years she taught many students and clients the technique of mindfulness to manage emotional distress. Prior to the Bridge Program, Shelley provided school-based mental health services in the middle schools in Chapel Hill-Carrboro. She has also provided outpatient mental health services in homes, schools and the community in Boston, MA and Durham, NC.
Shelley graduated with a BA in English and History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1998. After working for three years at UNC Press and volunteering in the social work field, she decided to pursue a Masters in Social Work. Shelley received her MSW from Boston College in 2003.
Marianne Hark, a former program coordinator for the Orange Partnership for Alcohol and Drug Free Youth, currently works as project director for this local partnership. In this role, she manages a five year Drug Free Communities grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and oversees the general direction of the partnership to ensure compliance, as well as progression towards established goals and objectives. Marianne received her Bachelor of Science degree from James Madison University and her Masters of Public Health from George Washington University with a focus on health promotion and disease prevention. Prior to joining MHAT, she served as Assistant Director of the Center for Alcohol and Substance Education at the University of Virginia, where she coordinated a US Department of Education grant to reduce alcohol and substance abuse among college students.
Shriya Soora received dual B.S. degrees in both Biology and Psychology from UNC Chapel Hill and through her work at the UNC-CH Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, investigated the impact of binge drinking on adolescent brain development, behavior, and learning. Shriya also volunteered full-time with underserved youth in New Delhi, India through Manzil, a youth empowerment and creative learning space. While living within this low-income community for six months, she served as a mentor and teacher to over 150 students aged 7-25 regarding matters of identity, career plans, and family relationships. Through these experiences, enhanced with numerous volunteer engagements with at-risk and urban youth (SEEDS- Durham, NC) and young refugees (Lutheran Family Services Tutoring, Chapel Hill, NC), she has a firm grasp on adolescent development, and a passion to promote substance-free living for youth.
Also at Mental Health America of the Triangle
Orange Partnership for Alcohol and Drug Free Youth
Gayane has been program coordinator for the Orange Partnership for Alcohol and Drug Free Youth since Sptember 2011. She brings with her a long history of volunteer activism, particularly in Orange County where she has lived for the past 30 years. Gayane has been involved in town and county politics advocating for citizens, volunteered with Advocates for Adolescents, Safe Homes Network and in schools mentoring children and serving as past PTSO member and then president. She continues to serve as a board member for KidSCope, a local nonprofit organization which focuses on serving children birth to age 5, as well as serving as the Community Watch Chairperson for her neighborhood.
Having originally worked in advertising and in the travel industry, Gayane took time off in order to meet the needs of her family, and has just completed a currently pursuing a Masters Degree in counseling at North Carolina Central University. Her focus has always been in meeting the needs of youth.