Meet Team NSSRA (Spring 2018)

It’s no secret that our full-time team has changed quite a bit over the last few years! With so many newer faces around here these days, we are taking this opportunity for some more (or less) formal team introductions. Though some of us have been around for a decade (or two), and another handful for seven or eight years, there is a good bunch of us that are brand new. Enjoy reading some of our favorite memories and experiences with NSSRA, and a few fun facts too!

Bonnie Amir | Receptionist • 3 Years

What is your favorite program or memory with NSSRA? Shining Stars Banquet.
What surprised you about your job when you first started? What a cohesive group it is.
If you could have any one superpower, which would you choose? The power to protect.
One word that describes you at age 10. Carefree.
Favorite food? Prime rib.
Can’t live without? My family.
You’re happiest when… surrounded by my family.

 

Catherine Benson | Recreation Specialist • 1 Year

What is your favorite program or memory with NSSRA? All of the Buddy programs! I love being a part of a young volunteer’s first experiences in our field.
What is your proudest moment in your time here? Surviving lifeguard training!
What surprised you about your job when you first started? The close-knit community that we work in and the open environment in the office.
If you could have any one superpower, which would you choose? To pet all the dogs in the world at once.
One word that describes you at age 10. LANKY.
Hidden talent? I tell the best dad jokes!
Favorite food? Candy!
Can’t live without? Laughter!

Craig Culp | Executive Director • 9 Years

What is your favorite program or memory with NSSRA? My favorite program is the Shining Stars Banquet. My favorite memory would have to be swimming in the lake at Camp Wigwam.
What is your proudest moment in your time here? I am proud every time a team or athlete wins a gold medal. Nothing is better than celebrating one of our participants for an accomplishment. The glow on a participant’s face is why we do what we do.
What surprised you about your job when you first started? The amazing support from the families, partner agencies and NSSRA Foundation.
Tell us something unique about yourself. I love the game of cribbage.
If you could have any one superpower, which would you choose? No brainer… fly.
One word that describes you at age 10. Always looking for a game to play.
Hidden talent? I build furniture.
Favorite food? Crab legs.
Can’t live without? My family.
You’re happiest when… golfing with my wife and son.

Candice Cunningham | Superintendent • 15 Years

What is your favorite program with NSSRA? Camp Wigwam.
What is your proudest moment in your time here? Starting the ELA Program.
If you could have any one superpower, which would you choose? The ability to make myself invisible.
One word that describes you at age 10. Sassy.
Favorite food? Steak.
Can’t live without? Sunshine.
You’re happiest when… I’m with my family.

 

Niki Cuttell | Recreation Specialist • 1 Year

What is your favorite memory with NSSRA? Hosting a Thanksgiving feast for ELA families. Participants made the meal and families got to see what a day at ELA is like.
What is your proudest moment in your time here? Being part of an agency that my brother can also call his own for programs.
If you could have any one superpower, which would you choose?Teleportation. It would be awesome to travel the world without the hours on a plane.
One word that describes you at age 10. Overachiever.
Hidden talent? I can lick my elbow.
Favorite food? I could eat tacos every day!
Can’t live without? It’s not a physical object but music.
You’re happiest when… Spending a relaxed day of quality time with family and my doggies. I would have most likely baked something for all to enjoy.

Meggan Davies | Recreation Manager • 8 Years

What is your favorite program with NSSRA? I have enjoyed leading so many different programs at NSSRA, but my favorite program opportunities are what is available through our Inclusion services. Whether I am attending a preschool classroom, summer camp or ballet class, NSSRA’s Inclusion services are the best!
What is your proudest moment in your time here? I have enjoyed forming so many wonderful relationships with the families of NSSRA. It has been an incredible experience to introduce families to new opportunities and watch their children achieve new successes.
Funniest moment with NSSRA? Flying to Camp Wigwam with almost 30 participants! The cheers upon takeoff and landing were the best!
What surprised you about your job when you first started? I was and am amazed at all of the opportunities available to our participants. I am from a very small town in WI and nothing like NSSRA exists for people with disabilities there, so I am very proud to be a part of such a wonderful organization.
Tell us something unique about yourself. I was the valedictorian of my high school graduation class.
Favorite food? I love all Italian cuisine… and ice cream!
Can’t live without? Ketchup!
You’re happiest when? I am with my family, traveling or riding my bike.

Caitlin Deptula | Registrar • 4 Years

What is your favorite memory with NSSRA? It’s cheesy, but all the different and amazing people I have met here. Everyone is so kind and appreciative.
Funniest moment with NSSRA? I laugh here every day, it is hard to pick just one.
What is your proudest moment in your time here? Anytime I made a family or participant happy.
What is something unique about you? I used to drive a Zamboni.
One word that describes you at age 10. My mom says I was enthusiastic.
Favorite food? Caprese Salad.
You’re happiest when… I am with my family at Disney World.

Blair Hill | Recreation Manager • 5 Years

What is your favorite memory with NSSRA? The ELA program will always have a piece of my heart. I loved watching the participants experience things for the first time.
What is your proudest moment in your time here? I was really proud when the ELA program hosted the Fun Run for the first time. When it started we had very few people outside of the program attend. It has continued to grow over the years and now is a big event at NSSRA!
What surprised you about your job when you first started? I was most surprised that work could be this fun… it’s true work is play at NSSRA!
Tell us something unique about yourself. I love sweets but my favorite food is broccoli.
If you could have any one superpower, which would you choose? I would like to fly, mainly so I can miss traffic!One word that describes you at age 10. LOUD.
Hidden talent? Cooking, I just got into it a few years ago, but have really improved over time. I burnt rice during my first month at ELA…
Favorite food? Broccoli and chocolate but not together.
You’re happiest when… I get to experience new things with people I love.

Katie James | Recreation Specialist • 1 Year

What is your favorite program with NSSRA? Gator Basketball.
What is your proudest moment in your time here? When my Gator Green Basketball team won the gold medal at the 2018 ITRS Tournament.
What is something unique about you? I lived in a haunted house when I was little and supposedly talked to the ghost!
If you could have any one superpower, which would you choose? I would choose to be able to fly so I can avoid driving and traffic at all times!
One word that describes you at age 10. Energetic.
Favorite food? Pizza!
Can’t live without? My sister! We’re 22 months apart and best friends!
You’re happiest when? I’m eating candy and/or when I’m outside and hiking.

Dani Kern | Recreation Manager • 3 Years

What is your favorite program or memory with NSSRA? Going to Camp Wigwam three years in a row! The participants are amazing and it truly is such a memorable week. One of my favorite days at camp has to be when all the participants forced me to face my fears and go tubing in the lake!
What is your proudest moment in your time here? Cultural Arts Open House 2015. It was my first time overseeing the event and I was also leading NSSRA Drama Co. at the time. My group performed “Grease the Musical” and it was so amazing to watch their progress over the course of the season. And it made it just a little sweeter having some of my closest friends and family come out to watch as well!
What surprised you about your job when you first started? How quickly it felt like home!
If you could have any one superpower, which would you choose? Teleport – traffic is the worst!
One word that describes you at age 10. Creative.
Favorite food? Too many to name.
Can’t live without? Cheese.
You’re happiest when… laying on the beach with a good book.

Rebekah Lee | Manager of Marketing & Communications • 5 Years

What is your favorite memory with NSSRA? My first banquet in 2013 was an experience I will never forget, and sometimes I still can’t believe I get to work here.
What is your proudest moment in your time here? I am really proud of how much our brand and visual identity as an organization has grown and transformed over the last five years.
Funniest moment? When I unknowingly walked into an office fire drill in progress with the Northbrook Fire Department, which caused our overall score to drop.
Tell us something unique about yourself. I graduated high school a year early.
One word that describes you at age 10. Thoughtful.
Favorite food? Very dark chocolate and tahini!
Can’t live without? Coffee. And music!
You’re happiest when… with my brothers or my friends and their kids!

Amy Lubawy | 2018 Summer Intern

What is your favorite program or memory with NSSRA so far? So far, the best memory has been the ELA Fun Run. Everyone was covered in stickers by the end of the day! It was great to see everyone who showed up and made it go so smoothly, and to be able to meet some of the participants for the first time.
Funniest moment with NSSRA? The very first participant I met told me I look like Jessica Alba.
What are you most excited about this summer? I am most excited to start the programming season and to interact with so many different participants. I know it’s going to give me a lot of valuable experiences that I will be able to carry into my future as a CTRS. I also can’t wait to start developing new friendships with everyone here at NSSRA, and with all of our participants and their families.
Tell us something unique about yourself. I was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada.
If you could have any one superpower, which would you choose? I have always wanted to fly! I’ve even had dreams that I could, and they did not disappoint. Flying would be the best!
One word that describes you at age 10. Outgoing.
Hidden talent? I can blow bubble rings underwater.
Favorite food? I love all food, I’m not picky at all, but I would have to say Mexican food is one of my go-to meals.
Name one thing you can’t live without. My family. They can be a little crazy at times, but I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am without them.
You’re happiest when? I’m making an impact on someone else’s life, or just making people laugh/smile.

Darleen Negrillo | Manager of Human Resources • 8 Years

What is your favorite memory with NSSRA? Playing trivia with the team and learning more about everyone.
What is your proudest moment in your time here? Getting to know the participants and them remembering me.
What surprised you about your job when you first started? How nice and welcoming everyone was.
If you could have any one superpower, which would you choose? Reading minds.
One word that describes you at age 10. Tree-topper.
Favorite food? Potatoes of any kind.
Can’t live without? My family.
You’re happiest when… drinking coffee.

George Pappas | Finance Coordinator • 1 Year

What is your favorite memory with NSSRA? My first Summer Bash – the staff and community had a great time.
Funniest moment with NSSRA? Forgetting my keys to the office the second day of my first audit. Wasn’t funny that day, but it is now.
What is your proudest moment in your time here? Winning the monthly customer service award.
What surprised you about your job when you first started? The passion NSSRA staff have for what they do.
One word that describes you at age 10. Baseball (obsessed).
Hidden talent? I can juggle.
Can’t live without? My family.
You’re happiest when… I’m with my family.

Mel Robson | Superintendent • 22 Years

What is your favorite memory with NSSRA? Winning the 1997 Special Olympics State Volleyball Tournament in a tough match over then-rival WDSRA (the trophy is still on my bookshelf).
What is your proudest moment in your time here? Every year at camp staff training. It is exhilarating for me to work with that large group of staff to gear up to accomplish a successful summer in six short weeks!
What is something unique about you? I grew up on a dairy farm in rural Wisconsin.
If you could have any one superpower, which would you choose? Teleportation.
One word that describes you at age 10. Carefree.
Favorite food? My mom’s lasagna.

Sierra Shum | Recreation Specialist • 1 Year

What has been your proudest moment with NSSRA? NSSRA’s Adult Show Choir performance this past fall. It is wonderful to see the joy and unity that music can bring. The performance surrounded the theme “Dreams.” The singers had incredible energy, confidence and passion for what they were doing!
What surprised you about your job when you first started? The feeling of being a part of a fun and driven team. You can’t find that everywhere!
If you could have any one superpower, which would you choose? I would choose to fly! I will try anything involving jumping off mountains, planes and/or being up high!
One word that describes you at age 10. Imaginative.
Hidden talent? It’s not all that hidden because I am the first one to volunteer to make a banner, but art making! I love painting, drawing and creating.
Favorite food? I am all about tacos, chips and guacamole and anything southwest flavored!
Can’t live without? Having a passion and my family!
You’re happiest when… When I get to interact with others and be creative!

Marissa Wayne | Recreation Specialist • 1 Year

What is your favorite program or memory with NSSRA? I love all of the memories and stories that come from trips! I have been to Camp Duncan and a Youth Short Trip to Lake Geneva. Participants are able to make what they want of the trip. It is their vacation and they are in control of what they want their participation and outcome to be. It is time for them to relax and have fun with their friends.What has been your proudest moment with NSSRA? I have loved seeing the progression made by participants during Crocodiles, from nervous on the first day to dumping water on their own head by the end of the season!
What surprised you about your job when you first started? When I first started at NSSRA it was very apparent the difference that our services make in the lives of not only our participants but also our families. It was great to see the trust that so many families have in our programs. They stand by decisions made and truly support all that NSSRA has to offer.
Tell us something unique about yourself. I have three brothers and everyone in my family has a name that starts with an “M”.
If you could have any one superpower, which would you choose? To fly; you could see the whole world at any time for free!
One word that describes you at age 10. Shy.
Hidden talent? I can do a backflip.
Favorite food? Chocolate.
Can’t live without? Dogs!
You’re happiest when? I am with my family (including my dog, of course)!

Abby Whalen | Recreation Specialist • 1 Year

What has been your proudest moment with NSSRA? I loved being the leader of the Adult Line Up program during the Winter 2018 season. The NSSRA Drama Co. group worked so hard on their production; it was a really special moment to see how much the audience loved the play and how proud the participants were of their hard work.
What surprised you about your job when you first started? I was surprised by how quickly I became comfortable with my position, the NSSRA team and our participants. NSSRA quickly felt like a family!
Tell us something unique about yourself. I’ve also lived in Ohio, Kansas and Iowa (and Indiana counting college, Go Hoosiers!)
If you could have any one superpower, which would you choose? I would choose the ability to fly. I love traveling so it would be great to be able to fly around the world and see new places.
Favorite food? I love Thai food!
Can’t live without? Music!
You’re happiest when… spending time at the lake with my family and friends.

Flynn Vance | Executive Assistant • 9 Years

Funniest moment with NSSRA? Gave a white elephant gift that left Jerry Barton speechless!
What surprised you about your job when you first started? Pleasant surprise to have all the staff working toward a common goal.
What is something unique about you? I grew up in Normal, on Normal Avenue, went to Normal High School and worked at Normal Pool.
If you could have any one superpower, which would you choose? Fly!
One word that describes you at age 10. Awkward.
Hidden talent? I am ambidextrous (learned talent from two broken arms during childhood).
Favorite food? Currently, I am obsessed with the shaved brussel sprouts salad at Cooper’s Hawk.
Can’t live without? My cats and my great niece (not necessarily in that order).
You’re happiest when… I am working in my garden.

Becca Zajler | Recreation Manager • 8 Years

What is your favorite program or memory with NSSRA? That’s a tie between coaching the Gator Softball team and going to Camp Wigwam.
Funniest moment? Playing with shaving cream outside at a Saturday kids program in the summer!
What surprised you about your job when you first started? How many participants and families NSSRA is fortunate to serve.
If you could have any one superpower, which would you choose? I would like to be able to fly. I could travel to so many more places if I could get there and back quickly.
One word that describes you at age 10. Outdoorsy.
Favorite food? Ice cream.
Can’t live without? The sun!