Leslie DeDora – Founder
I am a very grateful wife, mother, grandmother and daughter. In addition to my work with ATOU, I have had the good fortune to work with children and individuals with disabilities in a variety of ways, as a teacher, a tutor, and program director for Joni and Friends, a worldwide ministry for individuals with disabilities.
As the co-founder (along with my father, Ed Ennis) and Executive Director of A Touch of Understanding, I have the privilege to work with a team of incredible human beings! Our ATOU Team has become a circle of friends, more like family than coworkers. The close relationship we share, despite the fact that we have different abilities and use a variety of adaptive devices such as white canes, service dogs, wheelchairs, and artificial limbs, is easily observed through the laughter and cooperation we show when we are out in the community.
I believe a healthy community can be likened to a patchwork quilt. Each individual, like each square of a quilt, has his or her own unique pattern. For the individual, this is comprised of, among other things, their personality, their interests, their abilities, their challenges and their dreams. Just as the sewing of the squares forms a functional quilt, the connection of individuals forms a healthy community. Each individual is attached by a fine thread of understanding, acceptance and respect.
A Touch of Understanding strives to create that thread where it does not exist, and strengthen it where it does, especially for individuals with disabilities. Our disability-awareness programs have proven to create and strengthen this thread by increasing understanding, acceptance and respect for children on school campuses throughout the Greater Sacramento area. Our character-building programs teach the life skill of empathy towards individuals with disabilities. Understanding of and empathy for individuals with disabilities is a springboard for appreciation and respect for all people. ATOU is working with our young people, the crafters of our future, helping them realize their personal value and their influence on those around them. We are asking them not to simply tolerate one another, not to coexist, but to get to know one another, to embrace their differences, and to connect with that thread of acceptance and respect. In so doing, A Touch of Understanding is empowering our young people to craft strong, functional communities on their school campuses and beyond.
My life has been enriched exponentially by the friendships I share with individuals with disabilities. It is my hope that the students we reach will have their lives enriched as I have, and enrich the lives of those with disabilities as well.
Meghan Adamski – Executive Director
I have been with ATOU since May 2015. I graduated from California State University, Sacramento with a Bachelors of Science in Speech Pathology. I have always been around individuals with disabilities. In elementary school I became good friends with a girl who had cerebral palsy. I also spent most of my lunches and recesses in the special education classes. A dear friend of mine throughout high school, and still to this day, has muscular dystrophy. My love for working with and being around individuals with disabilities led to a passion for autism, and a position in college at the Autism Center for Excellence.
After obtaining my degree, I received my Speech Pathology Assistant License and worked at a speech clinic with children on the autism spectrum for 3.5 years. I loved working one on one with each client, really getting to know them as human beings with so many gifts. As I was working with clients, and writing their progress notes, I found myself writing all about my clients’ strengths, activities that would highlight some of those strengths, while still focusing on goals. I didn’t find this to be common practice. In my experience, it was often the challenges that were highlighted instead of strengths. This work helped me realize my true passion for educating others about disabilities, and highlighting every person’s individual strengths and beauty.
Back in 2008, a friend of mine was doing her internship with A Touch of Understanding, and asked for extra help to serve at a fundraising dinner. When I realized that I wanted to educate others about disabilities, the name A Touch of Understanding rang in my head, and after some quick research, I realized their mission was directly in line with mine. I reached out to ATOU and found it was a perfect match. I bring passion and enthusiasm as well as extensive experience in working with individuals with disabilities into my role as Executive Director at ATOU. I feel blessed to be a small part of this life changing organization, and to have gained an incredible family of beautiful, unique, caring, talented, wonderful individuals. When I am not with my ATOU family, I love spending my time with my husband Michael, our son Benjamin, and our 4-legged child, Tana.
Jana Suthahar – Program Coordinator
I joined the ATOU family in early 2012 as a volunteer working with the Access to Care Fair planning committee. Shortly after, I was excited to join the ATOU staff as a Program Coordinator. In this role I helped expand the outreach of the program to several counties in the Greater Sacramento region. I have also enjoyed leading the activity stations and facilitating the workshops at schools. This invaluable experience has given me the opportunity to see firsthand the kids’ enthusiasm for their newfound knowledge, and a sense of pride for their brother or sister who has a disability. ATOU has also provided a haven for my children to interact with kids with different abilities and always remain upbeat in the face of any challenges.
In the past 20 years I have worked as a researcher and program coordinator in the fields of family violence, juvenile justice, international relations and child welfare services. I am also passionate about teaching. I worked as a school teacher in Sri Lanka and continue to volunteer teaching underprivileged children in the Sacramento region. I earned my B.A. in Economics from University of Colombo in Sri Lanka, and M.A. in Sociology from the University of Nevada, Reno. I enjoy reading, Indian classical dance and traveling.
Jeneane Stover – Volunteer Coordinator
My name is Jeneane Stover, I am the mother of a wonderful young lady, Hanah, with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). I became involved with ATOU originally through the ATOU Youth F.O.R.C.E. several years ago. The monthly meetings and activities have helped my daughter blossom into the outgoing young lady that we knew she was capable of becoming. Hanah also speaks at ATOU workshops about her Autism, this has given her the opportunity to become her own advocate and be proud of who she is. Additionally, we have also been fortunate to have ATOU workshops in all of my daughter’s elementary schools growing up. The students in her class experienced the ATOU workshop first in second grade. Because her peers understood her unique challenges, Hanah has never experienced teasing or bullying. She has been included in school activities. She has friends. I believe this has played a big role in how people, both students and adults, treat and interact with her.
My experience raising a child on the Autism Spectrum uniquely qualifies me to understand and work with children with various forms of intellectual disabilities, and their peers to better understand each other. In August 2012, after working full time for 23 years in the Title and Escrow Industry, I was able to provide the care my daughter needed and work part-time at ATOU As the Volunteer Coordinator, I enjoy nurturing and supporting our wonderful volunteers. In addition to coordinating the scheduling of our volunteers at workshops and providing volunteer training, I facilitate the workshops and activity stations, recruit new volunteers, and provide administrative support to the agency. My favorite part of my job is going to workshops and having the privilege of presenting this program to school children.
Over the past several years since I began working at ATOU I have developed so many friendships with people both staff and our volunteers, that ATOU feels like a family to me. There are so many people that have watched my daughter grow up and have appreciated and loved her for who she is and can see clearly what she has to offer the world. I have tried to imagine our lives without ATOU and I simply can’t!
I am honored to be a part of such a wonderful program that is making the world a better place for everyone, and especially those with a disability.
It is a privilege to be part of this worthwhile program.
Pam Gehrts – Grant Writer & Speaker
My Parkinson’s Disease symptoms began in 1990. I was 35 years old and a parent of a 4 year old and a 6 year old. Additionally, I had my Master’s Degree and I was co-owner of an urban planning consulting firm. My mind kept saying, ”Oh no, this can’t be happening.” But it was happening – I had Parkinson’s Disease at age 35.
In 2003, I had my first of three brain surgeries to implant and fine-tune a small “brain pacemaker” – a DBS (Deep Brain Stimulator). The DBS was located in my chest and connected to wires deep down in the brain. My DBS worked wonderfully! With the help of my doctors and my DBS, I was able to eliminate most of the drugs used to control the violent tremors and severe muscle spasms. Now I could “make good” on a promise I made to myself. I promised that if I ever regained my health, I would do whatever I could to make life more fair, accommodating and loving for people with disabilities.
As you can imagine, my new-found freedom produced some very positive changes in my life. The most important change was having the good fortune of finding A Touch of Understanding (ATOU) in 2004. I began volunteering with ATOU as a workshop assistant and soon I was given the honor of being a workshop speaker and eventually a grant writer. As a speaker, I had the opportunity to share my story with students in the 2nd grade through high school. Once I shared my story, which includes a picture show of my family, my pets, and my hobbies, the students’ faces showed empathy and understanding. I was just like them, except I used different tools (my DBS and my cane).
ATOU staff and volunteers are my family. Someone is always there to give you a hug or words of encouragement. They are a dedicated and loving group of individuals working for a kinder and gentler world for all people, disabled or not. ATOU has filled a void in my heart; it gave me hope when there was none. Most importantly, ATOU is allowing me to fulfill my promise to all individuals with disabilities. Thank you A Touch of Understanding!
Pam Evers – Workshop Assistant
I have been with ATOU since September 2017. My background is in the healthcare field starting as a medical assistant in the pediatric field for many years. I have held various positions while in healthcare including supervisor, software analyst, new employee and physician training and most recently as a IT analyst assisting with the build of the electronic medical record order sets for the inpatient hospital setting. I retired shortly after the birth of my grandson to help take care of him while my daughter and son-in-law were at work, until he started 1st grade and school full-time.
My love for children and also my love for teaching led me to look for a part-time position that I am passionate about. I observed a workshop at one of the local schools and was so moved by the mission of ATOU I yearned to join the family at ATOU and assist with the disability awareness program. I am very happy to have been chosen to join ATOU as a part-time Workshop Assistant. I currently live in Auburn with my husband and dog. I enjoy baking, sewing and gardening.
Roxanne Snyder – Development Associate/Marketing
After years of working in a couple different careers, I found myself asking…”What do I want to do now? What could I do that would provide a sense of purpose while making a difference in the lives of others?” Much of this desire to contribute to life altering experiences has been realized by the mission work I engage in each year. There was still the burning desire to use my work and life experiences in a manner that would be a value add with any organization I might team up with.
Enter ATOU… As I prepared for my interview, I reviewed the ATOU website and read all the testimonies of teachers, volunteers, staff and students that had participated in one of more of the ATOU programs. Over and over you could sense the genuine passion that everyone had about A Touch of Understanding and how the program(s) had changed and/or impacted their lives. The more I read about ATOU’s mission to encourage the acceptance and respect for all individuals I knew this was an organization I could get behind and make a contribution.
I spent 30 years working with adults with disabilities at Pride Industries and Easter Seals, and had missed the passion I felt years earlier. I am so grateful to be part of this wonderful organization that makes a difference in the lives of children every day, with and without disabilities. The transformation that occurs is priceless and has the potential to be life altering. It is an honor and blessing to be part of something larger than ourselves. There is no greater gift than to help others. This quote sums up my purpose and mission in life…”It is not the duration of your life…rather it is the donation of it.” I am proud and humbled to be a part of ATOU.
I am also a proud Rotarian and co-founder of a nonprofit called Mission Sistahs. One of my greatest passions is mission work and helping others. I travel each year to help families around the world in the areas of clean water, education, food, clothing and housing.
I share the Mommy-ship of a 13(+) year old lab mix rescue boy…Mr. Cody. He loves to go on morning walks to see his friends at the park, chase squirrels, go for rides in the 4-Runner, sleep and guard the house.
I am the proud Auntie, Great Auntie and surrogate Auntie to 15 nieces and nephews.
Cheryl Sanchez – Workshop and Administrative Assistant
I joined ATOU in August 2018. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts and have over 8 years of experience working with adults and high school students with disabilities. My work history has been filled with many rich avenues that have led me to where I am now. I worked for 2 years at Far Northern Regional Center in Chico as an Office Assistant. I assisted Service Coordinators in the office with their case loads and at IEP and IPP meetings. I was a Substitute Teacher for SJUSD for 4 years and subbed in many Special Education classes by request and assisted the special education aides in the regular education classrooms. At my last job, I learned about ATOU through supporting one of my clients. I was a Support Facilitator at Progressive Employment Concepts for 2 years where I supported adults with disabilities in carving out employment, learning job skills at volunteer sites, and with their community/daily living. I supported a young lady, in particular, who used a facilitated communication device as her voice. I supported her at her wrist on a daily basis as she typed on her device to communicate with others and her community.
This young lady volunteered every week for ATOU as a speaker for the workshops. She used her communication device during her presentations to speak to the children. It was at these workshops, as I supported her, where I came to learn about and fall-in-love with ATOU. Their message of understanding, acceptance, and respect resonated with my heart. I am now a proud staff member at ATOU as the Workshop and Administrative since August 2018. I wear many hats in my posititon, and I love every minute of it. In my spare time, I relax and hang-out with my husband and three boys. I also enjoy camping, hiking, rock scrambling, kayaking, and swimming in the water with my two dogs.
John Adams – Director of Philanthropy
Global technology businessperson to local nonprofit executive, that is the transformation that I have undergone in the last decade. After 25 years in the corporate world, most recently leading a worldwide $100M business unit, focused on large technology infrastructure projects, I made a purposeful transition to the nonprofit sector and have never looked back.
After initially consulting for two years to the nonprofit sector, on matters like strategic planning and fund development, I was the Executive Director for a local Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program for seven years. When I made this critical transition in 2008, ATOU was the first place I went. I was naturally drawn to the program, as a local Granite Bay resident, with a son on the Autism Spectrum. I have seen firsthand the difference this program can make for the children, teachers and families who we serve.
In the past decade, I volunteered for the ATOU program, facilitated board strategic planning sessions, spent six years as a board member and now have come ‘home’ to ATOU, as a staff person. In this new role as Director of Philanthropy, I am focused on further development of ATOU’s critical resources.
Today, I bring a combination of business acumen, along with a deep passion for the mission, to my new assignment of helping to spearhead the critical business, foundation, philanthropic and government partnerships required to help ATOU increase our capacity to serve and long-term sustainability.