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Meet the START Project Staff

Karen Antone
email address:
kantone@spanadvocacy.org

Karen Antone is the current START Project Director. Karen held the position as START Project as Parent Group Specialist for central New Jersey for 6 years, and also supported the project as START Project Coordinator for several years.  Karen feels that parental involvement and collaboration at all levels gives our children the greatest gains in education. "The workshops and training I received from SPAN gave me the tools to work with my team to individualize my children's educational plans, and have empowered me to advocate for inclusion and improved programs for children of all abilities."  

Karen lives in Middletown, New Jersey where she co-led VOICES/ Middletown Friends of Different Learners, the Special Education Parent Advisory Group(SEPAG) for 7 years. She also held the position of the SPAN Monmouth County Family Resource Specialist for several years assisting, educating and supporting family advocacy for IEPs and improving programs.  Karen also participates in NJ DOE planning committees, including the planning committee for the Parent Expo: Biliteracy for Student Success and the NJ Tiered Systems of Support Development Team. She also participated as a parent representative for the Monmouth County Children's Inter-Agency Coordinating Council (CIACC), was an active member of the Monmouth Family Council, member of the Middletown Township School District Parent Information Committee (PIC), and member of Two Rivers Friends of Different Learners. Karen is also a SPAN Resource Parent and a graduate of the Institute for Special Education Advocacy(ISEA) at William & Mary Law School. Karen is a 2017 graduate of Parents in Policy Making and has received her certificate in non-profit management from the Support Center for Non-Profit Management in NYC.

Karen is the parent of a three children, her eldest son Phillip has autism and recently graduated from high school. Phillip benefited from being included in his least restrictive environment throughout his education, and is now taking classes at duCret School of Art and attending the KACH program at Brookdale. Her daughter Kristin was fully included with an IEP until 8th grade, followed by the support of a 504 plan that that she continues to utilize at the University of Rhode Island, where she is on the Dean's List and a member of the National Honor Society. Her youngest son Kie is a junior in high school and involved in sports and theatre.  


Stefanie Babits
email address:
sbabits@spanadvocacy.org

Stefanie Babits joined SPAN in January 2017 as the Parent Group Specialist for Monmouth, Middlesex, Ocean & Union Counties. In her role, Stefanie is responsible for providing information, training, technical assistance and support to parents regarding their district’s Special Education Parent Advisory Group (SEPAG). She also provides training and workshops on parent involvement in the IEP process and improving literacy achievement.  Stefanie networks with local organizations to support families of children with special education needs, and provides guidance on inclusion and family-centered principles and practices.

Stefanie is the Co-Leader of Old Bridge Township Public School’s SEPAG. She coordinates monthly parent meetings, holds workshop and seminars, and meets monthly with administration to discuss issues and present solutions to improving outcomes for all students.

Prior to joining SPAN, Stefanie spent 20 years as a Human Resources professional working across various industries including healthcare, IT, and retail. Stefanie’s background in training, organizational development and employee relations has provided her with the ability to build and foster productive and meaningful professional relationships.

Stefanie holds her BA degree in Human Resources Administration and Spanish from Muhlenberg College. She has 2 children. Her son has special needs.


Tatsiana DaGrosa
email address:
tdagrosa@spanadvocacy.org

Tatsiana DaGrosa is a Parent Group Specialist for the South under the START Project in Atlantic, Cape May, and Cumberland counties. Tatsiana also works with SPAN at the Parent Training and Information Center and on Parent to Parent Project for Southern New Jersey.

Tatsiana is bi-lingual (Russian and English). Born and raised in Minsk, Belarus, Tatsiana moved to the USA in 2002 to continue her education in restaurant and hotel business. She earned her Master's degree in Hospitality Management from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2012.

Tatsiana’s advocacy journey in special education began when for son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of 5. Today Tatsiana is an Autism New Jersey Ambassador and a PTO member. Tatsiana also serves on the Regional Family Support Planning Council #9 for Atlantic County. She is a "Partners in Policymaking" Graduate, Class of 2013, from New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities.

​Tatsiana believes in strong partnership between families and schools to help all children reach high levels of social and academic achievement. She also believes that all families, schools and communities have something great to offer and learn from each other.


Debbie Esposito
email address:
desposito@spanadvocacy.org

 Debbie Esposito is the Parent Group Specialist for Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, and Salem counties. Debbie graduated from Bucknell University with a B.A. in Economics and International Relations. Debbie is originally from Philadelphia, but has lived in Winslow for over 15 years.

Before coming to SPAN, Debbie worked in her school district as an instructional aide in several special needs classrooms where she learned the importance of parent/professional collaboration to improve student outcomes. To that end, she helped to form, and continues to be active with her district’s Special Education Parent Advisory Group. She has taken the SPAN Resource Parent training and understands value of the parent to parent connection (especially for parents with newly diagnosed children) when navigating the special education system.

​Debbie believes that we as parents will always be our children’s first and best advocates.  
 


Brenda Figueroa
email address: bfigueroa@spanadvocacy.org
 

Brenda L. Figueroa is the Parent Group Specialist serving Bergen, Hudson, and Passaic Counties. Brenda is also the Program Coordinator for the NJ Statewide Parent to Parent and the Director of SPAN's Empowering Parents to Address and Prevent Obesity in their Children with Special Needs Project. She is bilingual (English and Spanish). Brenda is a graduate of Partners in Policymaking 2017.

In September 2005 she moved to NJ from Aguada, Puerto Rico in order to provide her sons with the opportunity to receive a better education. Brenda has two teenage sons with special needs. Her eldest, Norberto is on the Autism Spectrum and Khalil has Unilateral Sensorineural Hearing Loss, severe dyslexia, ADHD and SPD. Both her children are currently fully included in their home district. Norberto is a member of the Varsity Track Team at his high school. Khalil is a Jr. Volunteer Firefighter in their hometown’s fire department. Both her children participate in Special Olympics Sports and in numerous community activities.

Brenda is currently the chair of the Elmwood Park SEPAC, a member of the Regional Family Support Planning Council (Region 2), a member of the EHDI Family Support and Engagement Learning Community and the EHDI Audiology/EI Learning Community. Brenda administrates various Facebook groups, in which parents can access resources and events throughout NJ. Brenda is also certified in Mental Health First Aid.

​Brenda believes in the power of early intervention, inclusion and educated parents. She has successfully advocated for her sons and is currently teaching them to advocate for themselves. Brenda and Norberto are also currently presenting the Charting the LifeCourse: Integrating Supports Across the Lifespan workshop together in Northern NJ. In this presentation they help participants to look ahead to think about life experiences that will help move them toward an inclusive, productive life in the future.


Monique DuJue-Wilson
email address:
mdujue@spanadvocacy.org

Monique Dujue Wilson is our Mercer, Hunterdon and Somerset County Parent Group Specialist on the START Project . She has over thrirty years experience in community, education and disability advocacy. She is a results oriented leader with a record of successful collaborations with various stakeholders. Monique is experienced in recruiting, training and motivating with a leadership style that facilitates success.

Monique’s son, Khary, has a dual diagnosis; Intellectual Disabilities as well as Mental Health Challenges.  Monique has successfully advocated for her son navigating through the maze of several systems from Early Intervention, Special Education, Transitioning to Adult life and the Behavioral Health Care Systems. Khary now lives in his "own" home in the community  successfully carving out his life in the community; directing his life course with supports through “REAL Life Choices”.

The START Project has provided opportunities for Monique to empower parents and develop parent leaders and leadership.  By involving parents and building collaborative groups and partnerships with community stakeholders to be an equal partner at the tables where decisions are made that effect families and the communities they live in.

Monique currently provides support and/or participates with - Community Parent Advisory Groups (parent education advisory groups/early childhood advisory groups), leadership development for the County Councils for Young Children, coordination of statewide conversation/groups focusing on the overrepresentation of students of color in special education and disciplinary actions,  and a partner at the table with the Department of Education Accountability Committee; NJ State Performance Report Card, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and New Jersey Tiered System of Supports (NJTSS).

 


  Fanny Ochoa
email address: fochoa@spanadvocacy.org

Fanny Ochoa is the Parent Group Specialist covering Essex, Morris, Sussex and Warren counties. At SPAN, she also works as the NE Regional Parent Associate for NJ Statewide Parent to Parent and a Trainer/Support Specialist and Administrative Assistant for the project Empowering Parents to Address and Prevent Obesity in their Children with Special Needs. Fanny is bilingual (English and Spanish). Also, she is currently a participant in Partners in Policymaking.

Fanny has two children with special needs. Both children have IEPs. Fanny is an active and collaborative member of her children’s education and partners with educators to ensure the best outcomes for them in and out of school. She is also an active member of her community and collaborates with local organizations to provide recreational activities that promote inclusion.

Before working for SPAN, Fanny was a parent leader that helped facilitate local support groups by volunteering to interpret information into Spanish. She would share all the information she learned at workshops, trainings and conferences she attended. Fanny believes whole-heartedly in the NJ Statewide Parent to Parent’s motto, “parents helping parents…It’s a simple concept that works!”.