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., 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 Journal, 9News 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.
Jennifer Harris, M.Ed., Vice Chair
Raised in the Metro-Detroit area of Michigan, Jennifer moved to Colorado in 2006. She holds a Bachelor’s in Special Education from Metropolitan State University and her Master’s in Education Leadership from the University of Kansas. Throughout her years of experience, Jennifer has worked with students with disabilities in a variety of capacities. Most notably, founding a program for students with a dual diagnosis as Special Education Lead Teacher at Jefferson Hills Academy in their Intensive Day Treatment Program.
More recently, she has worked as a Special Education Autism Teacher and Regional Team Specialist for Denver Public Schools. Recognized as a Distinguished Teacher, Jennifer's work helped shape educational practices for students with autism. Currently, she serves as the Education Specialist for the Sie Center for Down Syndrome at Children’s Hospital where she utilizes her expertise in autism to help serve dual diagnosed patients and improve educational outcomes for all.
Her passion is in reforming school policy and supporting educators to be successful in a least restrictive environment. Jennifer loves spending time with her husband and two children, aged two and five, spending time outdoors, and is a self-proclaimed french fry critic. We're grateful for her continued leadership.
Ryan Dore, CFA, Treasurer
Ryan joined the board in 2017 as Treasurer. He has seven years experience in the financial services industry and is a CFA Charterholder. Ryan graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. He is excited to bring his background and experience to contribute in a meaningful way to the Dirt mission. Ryan is passionate about increasing awareness and acceptance for those with neurodiversities throughout the community.
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.
EMILY WALLACE, M.A.
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.
Robby has been with Dirt since the very beginning, first as an Intern, then as a Videographer and now as a Board Member and Shop Manager! When he's not working at Dirt, he's creating original works of art including scripts, comic strips and sketches. Oh, did we mention he also films, produces and edits his own films? Well, he does. He has worked hard to get to where he is today and embodies Dirt's mission through and through. We are lucky to have him on our team!
KAELE WAY, M.ED., ED.S., NCSP
Kaele has been in education as a school psychologist for four years. Originally from the Chicago area, Kaele came to Denver in July 2016. Advocating for students in special education is both a professional and personal passion of hers. Kaele also has experience in a residential treatment center, after school day-care facility for families in poverty, tutoring for executive functioning, and acting as a one-on-one assistant for numerous students in after school activities.