Ria Fraley, the Special Needs CommUNITY of Northern Nevada’s Founder and Chief Executive Officer, is a proud Indigenous and Latinx woman who is also a devoted wife and a loving mother to two autistic children. Ria’s life has been shaped by her experiences as a neurodivergent person, as well as being the mother of children with special needs. Her dedication to her family and her community has inspired her to become a powerful advocate for disabled individuals and their caregivers.

Ria’s journey as an advocate began when she realized the lack of support and resources available to families like hers. Frustrated by the system’s inability to meet the needs of her family and others like them, Ria took matters into her own hands and founded the Special Needs CommUNITY of Northern Nevada. This nonprofit organization provides a safe and supportive community for disabled individuals no matter their ability, and also provides another layer of support for caregivers. It also serves as a platform for advocacy, raising awareness about the challenges faced by disabled individuals and their families.

Ria’s advocacy work has not gone unnoticed. She has become a respected leader in her community, working tirelessly to ensure that the voices of disabled individuals and their caregivers are heard. Her efforts have led to significant improvements in disability services and increased awareness of the challenges faced by disabled individuals and their families.

Despite the many challenges she has faced, Ria remains committed to her family and her community. Her dedication to making a positive impact in the lives of disabled individuals and their caregivers has earned her the admiration and respect of those around her. Ria is a true inspiration, demonstrating the power of love, dedication, and advocacy in the face of adversity.

Lauren Karp, President of the Special Needs CommUNITY of Northern Nevada, is a dedicated and passionate leader committed to making a positive impact in the community. With 15 plus years of experience in the public sector, a community organizer, and a mother to three boys, Lauren has a proven track record of success in working with an array of different types of organizations to influence change and advocate for marginalized communities and individuals with disabilities.

As President of SNCNN, Lauren is responsible for overseeing the organization’s operations and strategic direction, working closely with the board of directors to ensure that the nonprofit is fulfilling its mission and making a meaningful difference in the lives of those it serves.

Lauren’s leadership has been instrumental in further establishing the mission, values, and goals of a more inclusive community and she is committed to building on this success to create an even greater impact in the future. Through ongoing consistent sensory friendly programming for all abilities, Lauren and the team at SNCNN are working tirelessly to transform the lives of individuals, parents, and caregivers impacted by special needs and disabilities through social, vocational, and educational connections with the community, while strengthening awareness and respect for individuals with all abilities.

In addition to her work at SNCNN, Lauren is actively involved in the community through mutual aid and direct action and is currently participating in the Nevada’s Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities Partners in Policy Making, and is enrolled in Nevada Association of Community Health Worker certification courses.

Savannah Carsten, the Vice President of the Special Needs CommUNITy of Northern Nevada volunteered for SNCNN during the holidays to help with the Angel Tree families, as well as the holiday event before she joined the board officially in the Spring of 2022. She helped launch our fundraising efforts in 2021 through a variety of events that we still do today, like our wonderful bingo event. She has a background in advertising, print, and media sales and loves to network with as many people as possible, because she truly loves to help people wherever she can (at work, in the community, and for SNCNN). When not working or volunteering her time, she enjoys camping, off-roading, and spending time with her husband and two boys. She was born and raised in Sparks, NV and is a 4th generation Nevadan.

Amy Koeckes (she/her) is the Secretary of the Special Needs CommUNITy of Northern Nevada volunteered for SNCNN.  She is a native Nevadan who was born and raised in Fallon Nevada and moved to Reno to attend the University of Nevada, Reno. She earned her MA in educational leadership and her BA in art at the University of Nevada, Reno. She is the Chair of the Nevada Governors Commission of service and has served on various location, state, and national boards.  Outside of work, she spends time with her daughter and nephew who are both on the autism spectrum.  She hopes to grow connections in the community as well expand more events for Teens and Young Adults. 

Marisol Lizaola, Grant Writer of Special Needs CommUNITY of Northern Nevada, has years of experience in managing, overseeing, and evaluating grants. Most recently, her role at the Reno Police Department involved coordinating multiple grant efforts that focused on the dangers and misuse of opioid abuse in our local community. Through a comprehensive multidisciplinary action group, multiple goals and objectives were reached such as providing prescriber education trainings, increasing access to Medicated-Assisted Treatment, and spearheading a mass-reach health communication campaign to increase awareness and resources available in the community with one goal in mind: to help those affected by the opioid crisis in our local community. Beyond the completion of her Master’s Degree, she has also received hours of training in Advanced Behavior Analysis (ABA), a therapy based on the science of learning and behaviors. For those that may be unfamiliar, ABA therapy is a widely used and effective form of behavior modification designed to help individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other related issues and disabilities learn new skills, modify existing behaviors, improve communication, and promote academic success. 
As the grant writer, her focus primarily resides in persuasively communicating SNCNN’s needs, goals/objectives, programs, and missions to potential donors. Additionally, she is responsible for finding ways to secure essential funding to support SNCNN through research, writing, communication, and project management skills. Beyond her education and professional experience, Marisol Lizaola is also a mother of two beautiful boys who inspire her everyday to keep pushing forward and help others in need. She is a passionate, hard working individual who eagerly volunteers her time and efforts for SNCNN and the community.

Axel was working as an Operations Manager for a Junk removal company when in April of 2021 his 22 month old daughter was diagnosed with Autism. Axel and his partner Lynnsey decided to put their lives on hold in order to care for their daughter and ensure that she would not fall behind her peers. Axel left his job to focus on his family. During this time he also decided to follow his passion for photography. Axel would spend his down time practicing photography and short form video creation. Axel and his family attended a sensory night at Roller Kingdom and fell in love with the care, thought, and acceptance from all those attending. SNCNN had shown so much love for his family from the first visit that Axel wanted to use his skills behind the camera and knowledge of the social media landscape to help SNCNN reach as many people as possible. On top of being the Social Media Director for SNCNN, he is also Social Media Manager for Wonder and Unwind (a developmental play center for children in Reno, NV) and Pinecrest Academy of Northern Nevada (a tuition free K-8 charter school in Spanish Springs). When he is not producing content, or engaging with his family, you might find him and his camera in the forests on a mountain capturing this curious world.

Alli (They/Them) is a non-binary, autistic parent who is making a real difference in the lives of other autistic individuals and their families. As a single parent raising an autistic child, Alli understands firsthand the challenges and struggles that come with autism. But they have turned their experiences into a powerful force for good in the world.

Alli is our lived experience support guru, often offering advice and support to other autistic individuals in areas such as adult skills, organizational management, assistive technology, and parenting tips. They are a dedicated and caring individual who is always there for those who need help or a listening ear. Their passion for helping others led them to join the Special Needs CommUNITY of Northern Nevada, a nonprofit organization that provides support and advocacy for disabled individuals and their caregivers.

Through their work with the nonprofit, Alli has continued to grow and develop as a leader and advocate for autistic individuals. They have brought their own experiences and perspectives to the table, helping to shape the organization’s programs and services with a more inclusive and progressive lens. Alli is a powerful voice for the autistic community, and their dedication and commitment to making a difference in the world is truly inspiring.

Ashley (she/her) has worked professionally and personally with Autistic adults and children for the past 10 years through Best Buddies, social skills education, special education, and inclusive dance education. She received her B.S. from University of Texas at Austin then attended the University of Houston for graduate school as she transitioned from education for neurodivergent individuals to advocacy. Ashley got her Masters in Social Work from UH before working with children in hospital settings prior to obtaining her clinical license in 2021. She now specializes in providing therapy to the neurodivergent population and was previously a lecturer for the UNR School of Social Work. Ashley joined SNCNN in the spring of 2022 after moving to Reno from Houston, Texas and enjoys spending time with her husband and two cats in her free time.