Updated about us

We are all volunteers and all parents of children with disabilities. While our children run the gamut in ages and disabilities, we share one goal: to be part of the solution in educating children with special needs in Marin. Our Executive Committee includes:

Autria Christensen, Co-chairLeo EideSarah KingBetty Lituanio, Co-ChairNikki Anderson MillerLinda MillerKathleen O’BrienLeigh ShemariaBeth SilverSusan Simpkin

Autria Christensen, Co-Chair

Autria has a background in financial and international economics, with a BA in Economics with Honors from UC Berkeley and an MA in Economics from the University of San Francisco. She has worked in the research departments of the International Monetary Fund and Federal Reserve Board as well as in Banking Supervision at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. She has been privileged to serve on the Executive Committee of Dedication to Special Education (DSE) since 2013. Autria is co-chair of the board and co-chair of the DSE Grants to Special Educators Program, she also serves as Vice-President-Fundraising for the Strawberry Point Elementary School PTA in Mill Valley. A native of Mill Valley, Autria lives there with her husband, Jens, their son, Allan and daughter Olivia. Allan, the "actor" in the family, is mainstreaming at Strawberry Point Elementary School.

Leo Eide

Leo has worked for over 30 years in accounting, the last 20 at Lucas Licensing. Working part-time gives Leo the opportunity to volunteer and help raise awareness for Muscular Dystrophy, Families of Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and Dedication to Special Education. Leo and her husband, Hans, have two wonderful daughters, Erika and Hanna. When Hanna was born in 1996, everything was fine, but at one month her legs went limp. At three months she was diagnosed with Type I Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a recessive genetic disease. The muscles for walking, swallowing, and breathing progressively get weaker, but it does not affect the brain. Since she was 6 months old, Hanna has been trached and on a ventilator, with 24-hour nursing at home. Despite all odds, Hanna attends school in Novato, accompanied by her nurse and an educational aide. Through technology provided by the school district and with much work at the Technology Resource Center, Hanna has become an expert on her communications (AAC) device. She talks with it and can turn on her TV, DVD and CD players as well as connect with a computer. It’s a whole new world of communication for Hanna with email and Facebook. Because of her fragile health, Hanna misses much school, but is connected to the classroom through Skype. She cannot talk but she can communicate! Managing Hanna’s physical care and medical equipment is Leo’s “other” job. The Eide family lives in Novato with their dog Reba and their cat, BJ.

Sarah Weller King

Sarah graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in English Literature and has over 25 years of fund raising and marketing communications experience, working as a freelance consultant with over 75 nonprofit organizations and communications companies on the local, regional, national, and international levels. Currently she works in partnership with her husband, Bruce King, managing their nonprofit, Ecological Building Network and Green Building Press, a small publishing company the Kings founded in 2004. For DSE, Sarah serves as co-chair of the executive steering committee and administers the Grants to Special Educators program. She started as a volunteer when DSE was founded in 1997. Her son, Tyler, was born in 1992 and has Fragile-X Syndrome. He attends a special day class at College of Marin. She also has a daughter, Lucy, born in 1996 and adopted from India. The Kings live in Lucas Valley with their dog Louis and their six chickens. She served as DSE's Co-Chair from 2002-2016.

Betty Lituanio, Co-Chair

Betty is a marketing executive with 20 years experience in consumer advertising, public relations, and promotions. Her career includes 5 years as Director of Marketing for the Simplicity Pattern Company in Manhattan and 5 years as Senior Account Executive for Retail Marketing, a Bay Area advertising agency. In 1995 Betty and her husband, Nick, had a daughter, Alessandra. During birth, Alessandra suffered asphyxia that caused brain injury and resulted in her current diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy. Since that time, Betty has devoted much of her time and energy to raising Alessandra and managing her medical, educational, and physical care. In 2001, Betty joined Dedication to Special Education, focusing her efforts on publicity and community awareness issues. She served on the Board of Directors of Support for Families of Children with Disabilities, a San Francisco nonprofit organization, from 1997 through 2002. She also volunteers as a parent mentor for both English- and Spanish-speaking families, offering support and information to other parents who are new to the disabled community. She received an associates degree in Business from New York University and a bachelors degree in Latin American Studies from University of California at Berkeley. A native of Uruguay, she is fluent in Spanish. She resides in San Rafael with husband, Nick, Alessandra (born 1995), and daughter Daniella (born 1998).

Linda Miller

Linda worked in the field of social work for twenty-two years prior to becoming a teacher. Much of her service involved helping people who were without housing, and those recovering from homelessness. During her time in social services, she also worked as a consultant, focusing on research, data collection design and analysis, grant writing and grant reporting, program design, strategic planning, and training. She has bachelor’s degrees in Social Work and Sociology, a master’s degree in Sociology, and a Special Education Teaching Credential. Linda is currently a Special Education teacher in Novato. Linda and her husband, Alex, have two sons, Jack and Davey. Davey, who is charming and incredibly active, was diagnosed with autism at age three. The Miller family lives in Novato with their two dogs, Lucy and Nelly.

Nikki Anderson Miller

A California native, Nikki was born in Sacramento and migrated to San Francisco after college in 1995. After years of working in the Corporate world, Nikki pursued a new direction in her career attaining her Masters in Psychology from The California Institute of Integral Studies and later, attending The Coaches Training Institute to receive her Certified Co-Active Professional Coach Certificate. In 2007 Nikki met her husband, Danny, and in 2010 they were married. One year later they welcomed their first son, Carson, and moved from San Francisco to Corte Madera. Caron’s younger brother, Chase, was born just 14 months later. Both boys were diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy before the age of two. Needless to say, Nikki has dedicated much of the past 4 years to exploring treatments, doctors and other solutions for her boys to thrive. During this time, Nikki was introduced to the Technology Resource Center as a resource in exploring communication devices for her boys. This was Nikki’s first exposure to Dedication to Special Education (DSE). This was an organization that was making a difference county wide and having a direct impact on Carson and Chase. It wasn’t long after this introduction that the wheels started turning and Nikki made herself a part of this great cause, hence joining the Board of DSE. Nikki’s passion within DSE is in connecting parents with one another to use as a valuable resource and as support - that is unique to having a special needs child. Special needs parents have a one-of-a-kind journey that only another in the same boat can understand and empathize with - we undoubtedly need each other to not only to survive but thrive! In Nikki’s ‘free time’ she loves yoga, connecting with other moms, relaxing with her husband and playing with her two adorable boys.

Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O’Brien has thirteen years experience working in both the corporate and non-profit sectors, including account management for Foote, Cone & Belding, public relations work for Williams-Sonoma and project management/fundraising for Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, The Exploratorium, and The San Francisco Bay Book Festival. Since her daughter’s first year in preschool, Kathleen has been an educational advocate and fundraiser, first for two cooperative preschools, and for the past 8 years for the YES Foundation. YES is a collaboration of parents, teachers and administrators dedicated to providing high-quality, engaging arts and educational programs to students of the Ross Valley Public School District, the funding for which would otherwise not exist. Kathleen also serves on the Advisory Committee for the YES Foundation’s annual Theater Festival. Kathleen’s preshool-age son, Oliver, currently attends the Marindale Early Intervention Program for a severe speech delay and other educational challenges. Kathleen and husband, Paul Valerio, Live in San Anselmo with Audrey (born 1997), Oliver (born 2006) and their lovable mutt, Mocha.

Leigh Shemaria

Born in Liverpool, England (same hospital as Paul McCartney, grandparents lived off Penny Lane!) Leigh grew up in Yorkshire and has an Education degree from Leeds University, specializing in Middle School Arts. After coming to the U.S.A., she worked in private schools in San Francisco and Marin for 15 years before starting her own flourishing redecorating business. In 2002, Leigh and her husband, Mark, adopted their daughter, Ruby Kay Mingyue (“Bright Moon”), from China when she was just one year old. Ruby has Ataxic Cerebral Palsy and needs a one-on-one aide to help her attend regular classes at Dixie School. She uses both a manual wheelchair and a power chair to navigate through her day. Ruby also has a smile that’ll make your knees buckle, and an outlook on life that would make millions, if only we could bottle it! :) Leigh credits her daughter with giving her many blessings, not least of which has been joining the Special Needs community and being privileged to work alongside a group of “the strongest women you’ll ever meet.”

Beth Silver

Beth has worked in account management for marketing and advertising firms for over 10 years, in both in the strategic and creative planning areas. She has managed projects for Robert Mondavi, SanDisk, Twentieth Century Fox, Guinness Import Company, and several others. She received her BS Degree from the University of Southern California and is an avid Trojan football fan. Beth and her husband, Barry, have two children, Brooks (born in 1999), and Bebe (born in 2003). Their sweet Brooksie suffered a massive stroke at birth, causing cerebral palsy/hemiplegia, speech and language delays, as well as a seizure disorder. Brooks underwent brain surgery in January 2005 to end his daily battle with seizures. Beth is very active in promoting awareness of pediatric strokes via Children’s Hemiplegia and Stroke Association and serves as an Ambassador for the Cleveland Clinic Pediatric Epilepsy Support Group. Beth has co-chaired the Prius Raffle for the past six years and oversees student communications for DSE. The Silver family lives in San Rafael with their doggies Bella and Beau.

Susan Simpkin

Born and raised in San Francisco and Mill Valley, Susan has a double A.B. in English and Political Science from UC Berkeley and a Juris Doctor from the University of San Francisco. Susan first worked as an honor graduate trial attorney with the Department of Justice in New York City. Subsequently, she went into private practice in New York where she met her husband, Masaya Juge. As newlyweds, Susan and Masaya moved to The Hague, Netherlands and had two daughters, Hannah (born in 1997) and Tenaya (born in 1999). With Tenaya's birth, Susan transitioned from practicing law in Amsterdam to teaching graduate and undergraduate courses at Webster Univeristy (Leiden) and the European University (The Hague). Susan helped establish the only English language special education school in the Netherlands, The Lighthouse Foundation for Special Education. In 2010, after an additional 3 years abroad in Tokyo, where she volunteered with various organizations and served as an adjunct professor in the LLM Program at Temple University in Tokyo, Susan returned to Marin and, soon thereafter, joined the DSE community and subsequently the DSE Executive Board.