Our Team

Our Team

A vibrant community

As a charitable nonprofit organization, High Hopes is governed by a 17-member all-volunteer Board of Trustees, and managed by a team of 14 full-time and 7 part-time professional staff. The staff is augmented by over 350 active volunteers who further support our daily operations.

Discover Careers at High Hopes


Alison Zack Darrell

Alison Zack Darrell

Interim Executive Director
860.434.1974 Ext. 113
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Meet Alison

Claire Gadrow

Chief Philanthropy Officer
860.434.1974 Ext. 122
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meet Claire
lesley olsen

Lesley Olsen

Finance Director
860.434.1974 Ext. 111
Email Lelsey


meet Lesley

Melissa Saracino Lamont


Operations Director
860.434.1974 Ext. 112
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Meet Missy


Kim Severance


Wellness Program Instructor
Email Kim


Elizabeth Rolison

Volunteer Engagement Manager
860.434.1974 Ext. 116
Email Elizabeth


Audra Chmiel

Office Manager
860.434.1974 Ext. 128
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Nicole Makos

Development Officer
860.434.1974 Ext. 119
Email Nicole


Ava Swartz

Equine Program Coordinator
860.434.1974 Ext. 121
Email Ava


Meet Ava

Mykenzie Parker

Lead Camp Counselor & Lesson Assistant


Meet Mykenzie

Amara Alpert

PATH Intl. Driving Instructor In-Training

Volunteer Outreach Coordinator
860.434.1974 Ext. 115


Kathy Christensen

PATH Intl. Certified Equine Specialist (ESMHL)

Horsemanship Instructor


Jenn Dube

Program Coordinator
860.434.1974 Ext. 118
Email Jenn


Meet Jenn

Barbara Abrams, LPC




Meet Barbara

Trudy Burgess

Event Manager
860.434.1974 Ext. 123 


meet Trudy

Karen Castelli

Development Assistant
Email Karen


Meet Karen

Chris Clarke

Volunteer Coordinator
860.434.1974 Ext. 133
Email Chris


Meet Chris

Megan Ellis

PATH Intl. Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor (CTRI)

Database Specialist, Instructor and Mentor
Email Megan


meet Megan

Jordan LaJeunesse

Barn Assistant


Nicole LaJeunesse

Caretaker and Barn Coordinator


Carolyn Jagielski, PT




Dawn Nelligan

PATH Intl. Advanced Instructor

Program Support Specialist


Juanita Paris

Barn Assistant



Hayley Plas

PATH Intl. Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor (CTRI)

Program Manager
860.434.1974  Ext. 132
Email Hayley


meet Hayley

Suzie Zimmerman

PATH Intl. Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor (CTRI) and Equine Specialist (ESMHL)

Equine Program Manager
860.434.1974 Ext. 124
Email Suzie


Meet Suzie

all appointments as of July 1, 2022

Board of Trustees

Peter Watt


Peter Watt is Vice President, Consumer Marketing at Outdoor Sportsman Group, in New York, where he oversees all direct to consumer-related lines of business, including subscriptions, single copy management, and merchandise sales. Outdoor Sportsman Group, a media company that publishes 15 outdoor enthusiast magazines, also owns several cable networks including Sportsman Channel and Outdoor Channel, as well as the OTT Streaming Service, My Outdoor TV. Prior to joining the High Hopes board, he was a side walker from 2008-2015 and served on various committees for the annual benefit. Peter and his husband, Gerard Cattie, live in New York and in Lyme. They are the parents of two school-age children, Louisa and Alec. A Larchmont, NY native, Peter is a graduate of Middlebury College, with a B.A. in English Literature.

Affiliation – Outdoor Sportsman Group



Mac Mummert

Mac and her husband, Earl, are veterinarians and have owned four small animal practices. Her special interests include internal medicine and oncology. She has served in many area civic organizations including the Lyme Garden Club, Child and Family Agency and is a Past President of the SE Connecticut Professional Women’s Network. She has served on the vestry of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, and was District Commissioner of the Connecticut Valley Pony Club. Mac has two children, Brian and Anya. Anya has been a participant at High Hopes since she was five and now works as a volunteer twice weekly. Mac earned a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 1977 from Auburn University and resides in Lyme.


Gary Rogers

Vice Chair Development

Gary is a marketing & business development executive with expertise leading a number of Fortune 500 brands. He has recently retired from his work with the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern CT, cultivating members and forging strategic partnerships. His global brand marketing initiatives generated over $1 million in charitable contributions through national cause-marketing campaigns. He served as VP of the Alumni Association Board of Directors for Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY, where he focused on capital campaign strategy and branding for the President of the College and Development Office. An avid supporter of High Hopes alongside his wife Linda, Gary leads corporate sponsorship efforts for the June Gala. Gary and Linda live in Lyme, CT.  Education: M.S., Leadership & Strategic Management, Manhattanville College School of Business, Purchase, NY; B.A., Biology, Colby College, Waterville, ME.


Sarah Hill Canning

Vice Chair

Sarah has volunteered at High Hopes since 2003, most recently in the Carriage Driving Program. She served on the Board from 2007-16 and was scribe for several years. She came back on the Board in 2017.  Sarah is a past Chair of the Volunteer and Governance Committees, and has served on the Symphony, Development, and Strategic Plan Committees. She is an alumna of Boston University and lives in Stonington.


Jackie Kangley


Jacqueline oversees product development and online marketing and sales for Amelie Michel French Table Linens. Jacqueline was introduced to therapeutic riding by her Essex Elementary School classmates’ rides at the Lower Connecticut Valley Educational Riding Association. Her first volunteer experiences were with Hawaii’s Haku Baldwin Center and upon returning to Connecticut 15 years ago, she began volunteering with High Hopes. Jacqueline currently volunteers in the therapeutic riding program and serves on numerous committees. She has Co-Chaired the Concert in the Barn and many Auction, Décor, and other Benefit committees. Jacqueline is the 2018 Path Intl. Region 1 Volunteer of the Year for her outstanding contribution to High Hopes. Jacqueline is an alumna of The Hotchkiss School and Dartmouth College. She lives with husband Stephen Dedman in Hadlyme.


Natalie Yonker


Natalie is the Manager Organizational Effectiveness for Dominion Energy at Millstone Power Station where she has worked since 2015.  Since obtaining her Bachelor of Science degree in Nuclear Engineering from Purdue University and a Master of Business Administration degree from Averett University, Natalie has worked in the Nuclear Industry for 22 years at both Millstone Power Station and Surry Power Station in Surry, VA.  In addition to her current position, Natalie was also a Supervisor in Engineering and Operations with Dominion Energy.  Natalie has served on the High Hopes Development Committee since 2018 and has been a member of St. Matthias Parish Women’s Club and Certified Food Protection Manager since 2019. She is an active member of the local chapter of Women in Nuclear (WIN) since 2020, as well as a member of the American Nuclear Society since 1998.  Natalie resides in East Lyme.

Affiliation: Millstone Power Station


Chris Berger

Chris is the Managing Director and Human Resources Co-Practice Leader at Diversified Search Group. With over 24 years of executive search experience following ten years spent in HR on the corporate side, and after seven years as co-owner of the successful boutique HR executive search firm, RomanoBerger LLC, he is now co-leader of the firm’s Human Resources Practice, based in the firm’s New York office.  Chris has a BA from the University of Connecticut and is a Participating member of both the Society for Human Resources Management and HR People & Strategy.  He is a current High Hopes volunteer as well as a current LYSB Volunteer and past Region 18 Student Mentor. Chris is a past LOL soccer club Coach, Board Member and President and a past CT River Ticks Coach, LOL Little League Coach, and Park & Rec Coach.  He is a past Hamburg Cove Yacht Club Bridge Member and Trustee and current Admissions Committee Member. Chris has three grown children and has lived in Old Lyme for 26 years.

Affiliation:  Diversified Search Group


John Catlett

John spent more than 26 years with the consulting firm Accenture before retiring as a senior partner. During his 14 years as a Trustee, John has served as Chair of the Board, Chair of Strategic Planning, Development and Governance Committees and continues to serve on the Development, Finance and HRAC Committees. He holds degrees from Drew University and Lehigh University. John lives in Lyme with his wife, Athana, and three daughters, Sarah, Sabrina and Anna.


Liz Doering

Liz is the owner of Sperry View Farm in Bethany, CT.  Before spending 15 years in the Healthcare Insurance Industry, Liz received an undergraduate degree at Mt. Holyoke College, a Master’s Degree in International Affairs from American University, and an MBA in Health Administration from Quinnipiac University.  In 2012, Liz decided to follow a lifelong ambition of owning her own equestrian facility and purchased Sperry View Farm.  She grew up in Pony Club where she stays active as a National Examiner and Chief Horse Management Judge as well as having served on multiple National Committees throughout the years.  For the past four years, Liz has served as the President of the Connecticut Dressage Association (CDA).  While remaining as the VP of CDA, Liz stepped down from the President’s position in 2022 to continue her pursuit of her Dressage Technical Delegate’s License through the United States Equestrian Federation (USDF).  She is a USDF Bronze and Silver Medalist and continues to compete at the Intermediate I Level.  Liz resides in Bethany, CT and Old Saybrook, CT.


Mark Fader

Since 2008, Mark Fader has been the 10th Head of The Williams School, New London, Connecticut, after previously serving as Assistant Head. He has over 25 years of experience as an educator, administrator, and coach. Before joining Williams, he was at Providence Day School in Charlotte, NC and Severn School in Severna Park, MD. A Cum Laude Graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, Mark earned his BA in History and French and holds a Masters of Arts in Education from The College of William and Mary. Mark is active in the shoreline community as a former board member at New England Science and Sailing (NESS) and as a member of the Ocean Commotion Committee at Mystic Aquarium. Mark and his wife Suki have three children, Jack, Ellie, Lucy, who all volunteer at High Hopes.

Affiliation: The Williams School


Sarah Kitchings Keenan

Sarah and her husband Christopher reside in Essex with their three children, Ryan, Maggie and Ashley. Her son, Ryan has been an active High Hopes participant for five years, both of her daughters have attended the High Hopes Summer Camp. Sarah has served as a member of the High Hopes Development Committee and is currently Treasurer of the Essex Elementary School Foundation. Sarah attended Miss. Porter’s School, followed by the University of Oregon. She received her Juris Doctor from Quinnipiac University School of Law. Sarah then practiced as an Attorney specializing in real estate law, trusts and estates. She has worked as a realtor at William Pitt Sotheby International Realty and currently works for the Essex Marine Group.

Affiliation – Essex Marine Group


Todd Machnik

Todd grew up in Old Lyme and received a C.Eng. from Vermont Technical College. Todd is owner and President of Machnik Bros., Inc., established in 1957. Todd has been a member of the Old Lyme Fire Department since 1970 and has served as an Officer for ten years. He also served on the Town of Lyme Flood & Erosion Control Board for 20 years (five years as Chair) and is a member of the Planning and Shellfish Commissions. Todd is currently a Trustee of Essex Savings Bank, and has served on the High Hopes Building & Grounds Committee for five years, two years as Chair. Other committee positions have included the Southeastern CT Youth Hockey Board where he was President for five years and St. Bernard’s School Hockey Manager for 12 years. He married his wife, Becky Machnik, in 1978 and has three sons: Tom, Kevin, and Peter. Becky and Todd have been the Lord Creek Horse Trials course designers and builders for five years.

Affiliation: Machnik Bros., Inc.


Landon Potts

Landon is a self-employed attorney.  In June 2010 she was admitted into the Connecticut Bar after receiving her Juris Doctor degree from the University of Connecticut School Of Law in 2009 and a Bachelor of Science in Business Management, Summa Cum Laude, from Quinnipiac University in 2005.  In addition, Landon interned with the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch and Hubard, Samuels & Lewane where she mediated landlord/tenant disputes and assisted in trial preparation of felony criminal cases and personal injury cases respectively.  Landon is very familiar with High Hopes.  She was a program participant from early childhood through her teenage years, as well as High Hopes’ Development Assistant from 2004-2006 and Administrative Assistant/Intern from 2002-2004. Landon was a Trustee on the Board of Living Rock Church in Killingworth from 2017-2020 and presently holds several leadership positions within the church.  Landon resides in Essex, CT.


Priya Tandon, MD, FACP

Priya is a Board-Certified Internal Medicine Specialist who has operated a private practice in Colchester, CT since March 2008.  She is affiliated with Hartford Healthcare, William W. Backus Hospital.  In addition, Priya is an Assistant Professor at Quinnipiac University (2013-Present) and was awarded the Excellence in Clinical Teaching Award at the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine in 2021.  Priya earned her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at MS Ramaiah Medical College in Bangalore, India followed by Residencies at Coney Island Hospital, University of Connecticut Health Center, and Chief Medical Resident at Hartford Hospital.  Her Fellowship in Hematology and Oncology was completed at University of Connecticut Health Center.  In addition to Priya’s 30 years of experience in the medical field, she volunteers with SNEHA (President), a non-profit organization for domestic violence against South East Asian origin, American College of Physicians Health Care Policy and Advocacy Committee, American Medical Association – Private Practice Physician Society, and Kodaikanal Friends International Board.  Priya holds a special affection toward High Hopes – her daughter, Shruti, rode with High Hopes for several years beginning when she was three years old.  Priya and her husband, Michael Rajkumar, reside in Colchester.

Affiliation:  Private Practice


Wendy Visgilio

Wendy is a real estate professional with Coldwell Banker in Old Lyme, Connecticut. Wendy and her husband John have raised their four children; Brenna, Will, John Michael and Evan in the Old Lyme community over the last thirty years. Their youngest, Evan has been an active rider with High Hopes since preschool and found great joy while John and Wendy saw remarkable benefits and outcomes. Wendy served nine years on the board at Lyme’s Youth Service Bureau and was instrumental in launching Project Paws where she served as a founding board member. Project Paws brings animal therapy into school systems across the region. Wendy has also served as president of the Junior Women’s Club, President of the Mile Creek PTO and president of the Valley Regional Touchdown Club. Before launching her business as a realtor, Wendy worked in Account Service for Overabove, a strategic marketing firm headquartered in Chester Connecticut, founded by husband John. Wendy holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Education from the University of Connecticut.

Affiliation: Coldwell Banker


Gregory Varga

Greg is a Partner at Robinson & Cole LLP, Hartford CT, a national law firm with offices throughout New England, New York, California, and Florida. As Chair of the firm’s Insurance & Reinsurance Practice, Greg represents property and casualty insurance companies and other clients in high-exposure litigation and arbitration arising from contract disputes, claims for punitive and statutory damages, and related matters. Greg also counsels and assists clients in pre-litigation dispute resolution, and advises clients regarding open claims. He is a fellow of the American College of Coverage Counsel and a member of the Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel. He has been honored by his peers with an “AV Preeminent” ranking by Martindale Hubbell®, has been honored by Connecticut SuperLawyers® since 2011, and named to The Best Lawyers in America® in the field of insurance law since 2012. Education: Boston College Law School, Juris Doctor, 1995; Boston College, B.A. in History, magna cum laude, 1991; Fairfield College Preparatory School (1987)

Affiliation: Robinson + Cole, LLP


Maris Wacs

After 50 years of living in Manhattan, Maris moved to Old Lyme in 2013.  Maris holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the School of Visual Arts and has worked as a national award-winning graphic designer at numerous national magazines, e.g., Condé Nast, Vogue, and Rolling Stone, as well as with Jim Henson Productions until his death in 1990.  Since relocating to Connecticut, Maris has done pro bono design work for Safe Futures, CT River Museum, Community Foundation of Middlesex County, and The Community Music School.  She is on the Development Committee at Safe Futures and volunteers as a sidewalker at High Hopes.  Additionally, Maris is a 500-hour, nationally-accredited yoga teacher with a studio in Old Lyme.  Maris has three adult children, Jordan, Sydney, and Lindsey.


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