Our Staff

STEP has offices strategically located across TN to ensure that families from all 95 counties in TN can be well served including both urban and rural. Of the project staff, seventy-one percent are parents of children with disabilities, while others are family members of a person with a disability, and some staff are individuals with a disability. The melding of STEP staff’s professional and personal experience, knowledge and connection to other disability organizations and resources is a springboard for meeting the needs of families with compassion, expertise, and enthusiasm.

Viviana Aureille | Bilingual Family and Youth Mentor Education Specialist

Viviana Aureille joined the STEP team in August 2016 to help the Hispanic families in the middle Tennessee area. She is a 2014 graduate of the Volunteer Advocacy Project. She was raised in Quito, Ecuador and graduated with a Master’s degree in Computer Science in Washington DC. Viviana has a young son with Autism. She became an arduous advocate for her son during the early intervention and now in the public school. While she was learning about special needs she met lots of families that speak only Spanish and saw the need not only to translate for them but to learn to advocate for themselves and their kids. Viviana enjoys gardening and cooking. She and her family live in Nashville, TN.

Joey Ellis | Family & Youth Educator and Mentor/ Post-Secondary Transition Specialist

Joey Ellis became part of the STEP team in July of 2011. Joey holds a B.S. Special Education from the University of Tennessee at Martin and has 5 years of teaching experience in both CDC and Resource settings. As a person who experiences disability, a mild form of Cerebral Palsy, Mr. Ellis had an IEP growing up. He watched as his parents advocated for his rights and eventually began advocating for his own rights. These life circumstances led him to pursue a degree in Special Education and a career helping both students with special needs and their families. Joey’s areas of expertise and special interest are in transition planning, Autism, and Cerebral Palsy.

Derek Flake | Juvenile Justice and Civil Rights Liaison

Derek Flake is a native Memphian who continued his post-secondary studies in Organizational Leadership at Union University. Derek has spent most of his adult life working in the pharmaceutical industry as well as the hospital direct and indirect patient care environments. He is a 2013 graduate of the Volunteer Advocacy Project. His passion of helping bring awareness and empowerment to families was nurtured primarily due to personal experiences. Derek has spent over 15 years volunteering and mentoring juveniles with and without disabilities in schools, foster care institutions, and those incarcerated in low to high security correctional facilities. Derek has been a member of the STEP staff since 2012 and in his new role will be working with the STEP team on issues related to juvenile justice, civil rights and reaching children and youth with disabilities in the foster care system.

Lisa Gosnell | Research, Data & Information Coordinator

Lisa Gosnell began providing services under contract with STEP in 2013 and transitioned to a full time staff position in February 2014. Lisa is a native of Limestone, TN who graduated from Chuckey-Doak High School is married and has one daughter. She continued her post-secondary studies at Greeneville-Greene County Vocational Center earning certificates in Legal Office Procedures and Basic Computer Programming. As a person diagnosed with Dyslexia, she experienced first-hand difficulties experienced by youth who are not properly diagnosed and do not receive needed services. Lisa is an avid volunteer in the community serving on local and regional boards. She is a Certified Genealogist and history buff. Lisa is passionate about helping families’ access quality evaluation to determine eligibility for services early and advocate for needed services. Lisa and her husband reside in Jonesborough, TN.

Dorca Rose Guayurpa | Bilingual Community Outreach and Education Specialist

Karen Harrison | Executive Director

Karen Harrison was appointed Executive Director of STEP, Inc. in 2009. She has more than 20 years of experience in the field of special education rights. She is the parent of a 21-year old daughter with special needs and special gifts. Karen has personally navigated special education systems from early intervention through adult services with her own daughter. Her first-hand knowledge has enriched her work with families across Tennessee since she became a STEP employee in 1994. Karen holds a certificate in nonprofit management and excels at bringing awareness of parental rights. She works closely with families to develop strategies to improve educational outcomes for their children. She also focuses on systemic change in the areas of inclusion, disability rights, and parent empowerment. Karen lives in Greeneville, Tennessee.

Donna Jennings | STEP Business/Personnel Manager

Donna Jennings is a graduate of West Greene High School and received her business training through Walters State Community College with a Field of Study in Computers. She joined the STEP team as an employee in 1999 after serving on the STEP board. As a parent of a young adult who experiences different abilities, Donna has had the opportunity to learn and grow in the in her knowledge of special education through her journey with him. She was a guest lecturer at King College and is a TN Partner in Policymaking Graduate, class of 2000-2001. She enjoys volunteering and helping with community projects, sharing her son’s journey with other families to help give them hope and make them familiar with resources. Her interests include horseback riding and motorcycle riding with Cody in the sidecar, outings with family and friends, camping, cookouts, picnics, swimming, going to the beach, and doing home improvement projects. Her area of focus in special education is ensuring students with significant disabilities have to access to the general curriculum with supports, assistive technology, adaptations and modifications. Donna resides in Greeneville in East TN.

Gina Lynette | Director of Communications, Learning, and Development

Deborah Yates-McBride | Director of Rural Services/ Professional Development Specialist

Shuntea Price | Director of Urban Services West TN

Beth Smith | Director of East TN Services

Beth Smith joined the STEP team in September 2014 to have more opportunities to assist parents of children with disabilities. Her desire is to ensure parents have access to the information and support they need to navigate the complex special education maze and communicate effectively with school personnel, equipping them to be the best possible advocate for their child. A parent advocate herself, Beth has a daughter with Asperger’s Syndrome, and she knows how overwhelming the laws and system can be. Beth was raised in Dallas, Texas and graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of North Texas. A lifelong business person and manager, she made a dramatic change in joining STEP and feels rewarded by the decision. Having moved to Tennessee in 1997, she shows her true volunteer spirit by donating her time and abilities to several organizations on local and state levels.

Patricia Valladares | Director of Middle TN Services/ Multicultural Liaison

Patricia Valladares has been with STEP since 2008 in the Nashville office providing services to parents and family members in Middle Tennessee. She also provides information to Hispanic families statewide and assists STEP staff in outreach efforts to Hispanic families. Patricia worked as an Inter-Institutional Advocate for nine years and served on the Committee for the Blind and Deaf in Guatemala, Central America. She is a native Spanish speaker and is a person who experiences blindness. Ms. Valladares serves as the Governor appointed PTI representative on the board of the Statewide Independent Living Council and is a Board member of the Middle Tennessee Council of the Blind. Patricia is always concerned and willing to help others and let them know their rights are. She has a passion for assisting families who may feel disenfranchised with services or have other barriers that inhibit participation in meetings and at school events.