Board of Directors

Dirt's Board of Directors are a guiding force behind its mission and vision. These individuals volunteer their time and money to ensure Dirt's impact reaches far and wide. Get to know em, they're pretty awesome!

 
 

Lauren Burgess, M.Ed., co-Chair

A Colorado native who comes to the field with over 11 years of education and experience. Her work has been recognized by the Denver Business Journal9News and the Denver Post. In addition, she has served on the board of Autism Society of Colorado and Colorado Coalition of Autism Professionals. 

Lauren holds a Master's degree in Educational Psychology with an emphasis in Human Development and is currently completing ABA coursework at the University of Colorado at Denver. In addition to her work at Dirt, Lauren serves as Executive Director of Garden, a social enterprise she founded in 2010 with a mission to educate and empower individuals with autism through community. She is also a Leader of the Beanstalk Foundation.

Recognizing the growing need for advocacy at the state and national level, Lauren serves on the board of Alliance, is a member of the South-Metro Chamber of Commerce and a City Commissioner for Denver's Commission for People with Disabilities. When she's not at Garden or Dirt, she's advocating on behalf of families impacted by disability living in Colorado and beyond.

EMILY WALLACE, M.A., CO-CHAIR

Emily began working with individuals with developmental disabilities in 2006. After attending a life-changing leadership conference that summer, Emily became President of Best Buddies Indianapolis and started volunteering with the state Applied Behavior Center. These experiences taught her about the gifts that individuals with autism possess and it was then that she knew she wanted to make a career out of serving people on the spectrum. After moving to Denver in 2013, Emily began working as a Behavior Therapist at Garden, where she teamed up with Lauren for the launch of Dirt. She has since received her Masters in Educational Technology and is currently overseeing Dirt's training and education programming. 

JULIE HARRIGAN, CO-VICE CHAIR

Julie was first introduced to the amazing programs offered to individuals with autism through her sister, who worked with Lauren and Emily at Garden.  Julie has long been an advocate for fostering inclusive communities, and Dirt's innovative approach to offering neurodiverse individuals opportunities for growth while educating the local community was something she was eager to join.  She has her MBA and a PMP certification and hopes to bring her experience with business and project management to the Dirt community to help it thrive and grow.  

MENDI TWEDT, CO-VICE CHAIR

Bio coming soon!

ROB CHANEY, CO-TREASURER

Rob and his wife Stephanie relocated to Colorado in the early 1990’s and have raised two native Coloradans.  Rob’s journey with autism began with his son, Robby’s, diagnosis in 1995 . Robby was honored as the 2018 Employee of the Year at Dirt and currently serves as a manager at the coffee shop.  His daughter is an Office Manager for a construction company located in Parker.

Rob has been employed by FirstBank for 27 years and is currently the President of Loan Operations there.  Rob has served in many capacities with non-profit organizations in Colorado including the Autism Society of Colorado, Hope Communities, Mile High Connects, Blue Star Recyclers, and Urban Land Conservancy.

MICHAEL TWEDT, CO-Treasurer

Mike is a long-time advocate for individuals with developmental disabilities, and currently serves as Dirt’s Co-Treasurer.  He has a wonderful brother, Bob, from Aurora, CO, on the Autism spectrum.  Along with being an active Knight of Columbus, Mike has had volunteer experience with Special Olympics, and Food Bank of the Rockies.

Mike and his wife, Mendi, enjoy their time with their 3 children, and 2 grandchildren.  Mike is a Finance and Accounting professional with over 25 years of experience.

STACY BROWN, SECRETARY

Bio coming soon!

BENNETT PARNES, M.D.

Father of a young woman with autism, Bennett and his wife Betty are founding members of Pinyon Ranch, a non-profit with a mission to provide work and living solutions for adults with autism. Originally from Kansas City, Missouri, Bennett has lived in Chicago, California, Thailand, and Hawaii finally making his way to Denver in 1995. A physician and Medical Director of the Senior's Clinic at the University of Colorado Hospital, he continues to provide support and direction to our growing organization. 

CHRESSE POWERS

Bio coming soon!

CY HILL

Over the last 10 years, Cy has represented neurodiverse and under-served citizens at political events, caucuses, senate hearings and school district meetings, advocating for funding of programs that promote their independence, well-being, and access to an appropriate education.

Cy works as senior operations engineer at a company that provides advertising technology for national television programmers. In her spare time Cy enjoys running, travel, playing guitar and singing harmony to her favorite songs. Cy is blessed to have three teenage children, one of whom is neurodiverse with autism and intellectual struggles.

FRANK POWERS

Frank and his wife, Cheresse, are self-advocates. Together, they live in a neurodiverse community in Colorado. Frank works in food service for a hospital in Parker, Colorado. Frank was born and raised in Colorado, but has lived in Florida and Louisiana. His goals are to get his drivers license and, in the future, getting a college education.

LAUREL WHITAKER

Bio coming soon!

MEGAN DRYSDALE

Megan has two cousins with developmental disabilities who are incredible examples of how employment, skill-building, and mentoring can help individuals with disabilities thrive. She comes to Dirt ready to spread the mission far and wide so all individuals with autism have this opportunity to feel empowered and engaged in the world around them. She previously served on the board of directors for Girls on the Run of the Rockies from 2014-2018 and has worked in the human resources field in the private and public sector; currently working for the University of Colorado.

ODETTE SAHAKIAN

A California transplant, Odette proudly has called Colorado home for over 20 years.   She has always been a supporter and volunteer for groups and communities committed to inclusivity.  Having seen friends and family with neurodiverse children get excellent support, Odette wanted to make sure that adults have advocates too.  The opportunities for empowerment and growth at Dirt truly spoke to Odette and she is very excited to join the group and help in every way. 

Odette has worked in finance for 30 years, mostly as a financial advisor.  She is a Principal at Investment Security Group and hopes her many years of experience can bring some great opportunities to the Dirt community.  In her spare time, she loves to travel and hike with her puppy, Maya.