Conference Speaker Biographies

Tanya A. Alvarado, Esq.

 Alvarado Ms. Alvarado is a Senior Shareholder at McAndrews Law Offices. Having two siblings with disabilities, she has dedicated her legal career to pursuing the rights of adults and children with disabilities. Her practice focuses on special education and related civil matters. She has handled federal court matters involving disability-based discrimination and successful integration of individuals with disabilities into our communities. 

Marilyn Benoit, MD.

 Benoit Dr. Marilyn Benoit is a child & adolescent psychiatrist and Chief Clinical Officer at Devereux, the nation’s largest not-for-profit behavioral healthcare provider. She is a Past President of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and has been on the faculties of the medical schools of Howard University and George Washington University. She is also a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center. Dr. Benoit has lectured internationally and has published widely on several issues pertinent to children’s behavioral health. 

Ira. M. Fingels, Esq.

 Fingles Mr. Fingles’ experiences with his sister, who has multiple disabilities, shaped his legal career representing individuals with disabilities and their families. He focuses on educational rights for children with disabilities, benefits and services for adults with disabilities, guardianship, and estate planning. Ira is Immediate Past President of the Autism Society of America – Greater Philadelphia Chapter, and a member of the Penn Autism Network Advisory Committee. 


2013 Community of Hope Award Recipient:  Frank and Colleen Foti

Frank and Colleen Foti are parents to Tom, 22 and Brian, 20.  In 1995, Brian was diagnosed with classic autism and mental retardation. Through their family’s highs and lows, they have been steadfast in their passion, determination and, at times, humor. Frank and Colleen founded AALIVE, a 501c (3) non-profit whose mission is to create social and awareness opportunities to and for individuals with special needs.  Five years after its conception, AALIVE has provided thousands of awareness and social events for individuals and families with special needs in the greater Philadelphia area, and has raised more than $250,000 to continue providing opportunities for continued learning and happiness.


Amy Kelly

 Kelly Ms. Kelly is a mother of three whose 11-year-old Annie was diagnosed at 2 with severe autism, intellectual and developmental delays, verbal apraxia (nonverbal) and motor dyspraxia.  Amy is Director of Family Supports and Services for Devereux PA Community Services and serves as a family representative on several autism boards. 

Paul A. LeBuffe, M.A.,

 LeBuffe Mr. LeBuffe is the Director of the Devereux Center for Resilient Children in Villanova, PA. He received his Master’s degree in experimental psychology and has authored many widely-used assessments of behaviors related to children’s social-emotional strengths and needs. His major research interests are the measurement and promotion of social-emotional competence and resilience in children, psychometrics and test development, and suicide prevention education. 

Barry L. McCurdy, Ph.D., NCSP, BCBA-D

 McCurdy Dr. McCurdy is the Director of Devereux’s Center for Effective Schools, a research and training center focused on building the capacity of schools to better serve children and adolescents with, and at risk for, emotional and behavioral disorders. His primary research interest in the treatment of disruptive behavior disorders has led to several prevention/early intervention initiatives in urban schools. 

Robert Naseef, Ph.D.

 Naseef Dr. Naseef is a psychologist and father of an adult son with autism.  His new book, Autism in the Family: Caring and Coping Together (2013) includes advance praise from Temple Grandin, “Fathers often have difficulty expressing their feelings, and this book should be required reading for all fathers who have a child with a disability.”Dr. Naseef received international recognition for his book Special Children, Challenged Parents: The Struggles and Rewards of Parenting a Child with a Disability (1996).  He has lectured internationally and appeared on radio and television. He is the co-editor of Voices from the Spectrum: Parents, Grandparents, Siblings, People with Autism, and Professionals Share Their Wisdom (2006).  He is also featured in the DVD Living Along the Autism Spectrum (2009 along with Stephen Shore and Dan Gottlieb.In 2008, he was honored by Variety, the Children’s Charity for his outstanding contributions to the autism community. You can visit him on the web at 

Nefertiti Bruce Poyner, M.Ed.

 Poyner During her 10 years with Devereux, Ms. Poyner has focused on educating parents, teachers and administrators on the importance of paying attention to not only how children perform academically, but also how they feel on the inside. Prior to joining Devereux as an Early Childhood Specialist and National Trainer, she worked as a teacher in Philadelphia.  She recently co-authored Building Your Bounce: Simple Strategies for a Resilient You and the award-winning Socially Strong, Emotionally Secure:  50 Activities to Promote Resilience in Young Children. 


Stewart Shear, Ph.D.

 Shear_1 Dr.  Shear is Director for Clinical Services for Devereux’s Pennsylvania Adult Services and a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania. He oversees the implementation of clinical services for adults with intellectual disabilities, dual diagnosis and brain injury. He is interested in applied research related to self management, practice of faith and quality of life issues for adults with disabilities. 

Vernick Smith, M.S.

 Smith Ms. Vernick Smith is a Camden native residing in Philadelphia. Herself a victim of childhood abuse, Ms. Smith works as a therapist at VisionQuest Outpatient Clinic, empowering youth and helping them heal from the effects of emotional and physical trauma. Ms. Smith is also the Director of Counseling Services at Catalyst for Change in Philadelphia, providing therapeutic support to those who cannot afford therapy. 

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