Making Healthful Decisions Conference

This year's theme is "Building Connection, Community, and Belonging"

Learn about stress-reducing, regenerative, and practical tools that support the well-being of children, youth, and adults at Dutchess Community College.

Overcoming loneliness, isolation, and hopelessness happens in community! Immerse yourself in community-building strategies, making connections, and experiencing belonging. The conference will provide experiential learning, research-based information, and opportunities to engage in healing-centered dialogues.

Presenters will share current research, insights, practices, and steps to creating a culture of community that supports the varying range of everyone’s needs, including their identities, abilities, and economic power.

Date: Friday, November 1, 2024

When: 8:15 A.M. - 4:30 P.M.

Where: Dutchess Community College (53 Pendell Road, Poughkeepsie, NY 12601)


  • $80/person
  • $60/Seniors Age 65+ or Student


To Register, CLICK HERE!

Click Here to see the Official Event Flyer!

Who Should Attend:

  • Educators
  • Human Service Professionals
  • Administrators
  • Mental Health and Health Care Providers
  • Special Education Professionals
  • Childcare Professionals
  • Seniors, Students, Parents and Anyone who is Interested and Supports Youth and Families.

Organized by:

  • CCE Orange County
  • CEE Sullivan County
  • CCE Dutchess County
  • Sullivan 180
  • SUNY Orange Bridges Program
  • MISN
  • Orange County Government
  • Garnet Health

Co-Sponsored by:

  • Garnet Health
  • Dutchess Community College
  • Dutchess BOCES


Speakers Bios


Dr. Ebony Green, CEO of Cornerstone Equity Consultants

Update on the State of Families

Dr. Ebony Green is a child of humble beginnings. She lost her father at the age of 7 and struggled to make sense of the loss. Growing up in rural northwest New York, she knew she was different. She spent her childhood struggling to fit in, and dreamed about changing the world by creating a space where everyone could fit regardless of difference. She has since devoted herself to creating containers of learning, peace, joy and happiness for children and adults.

Dr. Green, CEO of Cornerstone Equity Consultants, is a teacher, principal, district leader, and nationally recognized champion for inclusion. She draws on over 25 years of experience in leading schools, organizations, and people into deep introspection and building confidence to change. She has an intuitive ability to create conditions of safely for vulnerability, deep reflection, and dreaming big for students, staff and institutions. She helps audiences understand complex ideas and simplifies them in a way that everyone, irrespective of difference, can find a space to connect, learn, grow and build.


Mike Veny, CEO & Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist

Keynote Address: Transforming Stigma into Strength

Mike Veny is the winner of Corporate LiveWire’s 2022 & 2023 Innovation & Excellence Award for his work as a Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist®. He’s also the winner of NAMI New York State’s 2023 Leader of Mental Health Awareness award. As a PM360 ELITE Award Winner, he was recognized as one of the 100 most influential people in the healthcare industry for his work with patient advocacy. Determined to overcome a lifetime of serious mental health challenges, Mike’s career began as a professional drummer and evolved into becoming a change maker in the workplace wellness industry.


Denise Bolds, MSW, CD (DONA), CLC, CBE Doctoral Student

http://www.bolddoula.com/ and www.BlackWomenDoVBAC.com

Session on Agenda: Black/BIPOC Maternal Health in the Hudson Valley: Building a Community Begins at Birth

Denise Bolds is Bold Doula, she holds a MSW degree and is currently a doctoral student at Saint John Fisher University. She is experienced in case managing high-risk pregnancies for managed care organizations. Ms. Bolds was one of the first MSW Social Workers hired in NYS for Medical Management in Health Management Organizations. She is a DONA International Certified Birth Doula with 288 births of experience since 2014. She is certified as an Evidence Based Birth® Childbirth Instructor. Ms. Bolds is also a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) providing breastfeeding support and breastfeeding classes. Ms. Bolds is the owner and developer of ‘Black Women Do VBAC’ She offers mentoring and training to birth doulas; and is known for her advocacy and empowerment in Black birth-work. Ms. Bolds is a noted public speaker, workshop presenter and podcast producer (Independently and formerly with Lamaze); she is MWBE certified in NYS/NYC. She is a native New Yorker born in Harlem NYC and is a successful single mom of a 33-year-old son. She loves skydiving, tarot decks, collecting stones and beaches.


Leah Gooch, M.Ed., 500RYT


Session on Agenda: Soulful Connections: Harnessing Empathy to Power

Leah Gooch facilitates intuitive healing classes that include yoga, meditation, writing and Reiki in order to help individuals approach a deeper awareness of their existence. She offers the tools to mitigate frustrations and transmute anger and sadness into creative outcomes. Her website, www.fourminutesaday.org references the two-week commitment she made to meditate for four minutes a day back in 2016 which led to an epiphany that changed the course of her life. Leah combines ancient practices and modern techniques to facilitate tailored programs to individuals.


Melissa O'Connor, Clinical Coordinator for the Center of Victim Safety and Support (CVSS) program

Session on Agenda: The Art of Co-regulation and Connections: From a Polyvagal Perspective

Melissa O’Connor is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and is currently the Clinical Coordinator for the Center of Victim Safety and Support (CVSS) program through Family Services. She received her Bachelor’s in Psychology from Binghamton University and a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling from Marist College. Melissa has been passionately working with those affected by crime, specifically domestic violence (DV), and sexual assault (SA), for seventeen years. Ms. O’Connor has worked extensively with children, adolescents, and adults through various DV/SA agencies, partial-hospitalization programs, residential programs and an infant and child learning and development research lab. In her current role as Clinical Coordinator, she supervisors the CVSS clinical team, and continues to provide therapy services, utilizing therapy modalities such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) with her individual client and facilitates the CVSS’s DV support group. Melissa is an Adjunct Professor at Marist College within the Clinical Mental Health, master’s program.


Jennifer Simpkins, Coordinator of Outreach and Expansion at Family Services’ Center for Victim Safety and Support (CVSS) Program

Session on Agenda: The Art of Co-regulation and Connections: From a Polyvagal Perspective

Jennifer Simpkins is the Coordinator of Outreach and Expansion at Family Services’ Center for Victim Safety and Support (CVSS), in upstate New York. She supports, trains and models to the crisis center staff, how to assess the needs of, survivors of crime, such as domestic violence and sexual assault survivors. She also directly aids clients with an array of services ranging from safety planning to advocacy and accompaniment and doing so while utilizing a trauma-informed approach. In not only the work at CVSS, but with 15 years of experience in customer service, Jennifer has had a realistic take on interacting with people that are experiencing high levels of stress; thus, she has developed skills to understand trauma responses. Jennifer has cultivated skills including, but are not limited to, being able to connect through active listening, providing a sense of safety, and empowering clients to find resolutions. As the Coordinator for Outreach and Expansion, her main objective is to help build and foster connections within the community, to allow it to not only survive but thrive. She does this by facilitating and attending community events, providing education, and promoting awareness and prevention, all related to the impact of crime and trauma.


Adhara Jimenez-Banse, 2 Generation Family & Youth program Manager at Cornell Cooperative Extension Orange County

Session on Agenda: Parent Panel: A Glimpse into the Daily Stressors Faced by Families of Children with Special Needs

Adhara Jimenez-Banse is a dedicated bilingual social worker in Orange County, NY, specializing in mental health and wellness; she is the 2 Generation Family & Youth Program Manager at Cornell Cooperative Extension Orange County. Married to Dr. Salif Banse and mother to two teenage boys, one is a person with Down Syndrome; she is deeply committed to leadership, advocacy, and community improvement. Her advocacy includes council membership for the Transition Council @ Orange-Ulster BOCES and a Youth Mental Health Trainer. Outside work, Adhara enjoys exploring new adventures and cherishing time with loved ones. She continually seeks opportunities for growth and meaningful impact.


Stacey Orzell

Session on Agenda: Parent Panel: A Glimpse into the Daily Stressors Faced by Families of Children with Special Needs

Stacey B. Orzell graduated from New York Institute of Technology with her Masters Degree in Communications in 1996 with her undergraduate work at SUNY Oneonta. Her Professional path changed after having two Sons. Jason (20), will become an earth science teacher. Eric (17) works hard in school. He is a talented artist and has spent many years on the basketball court and in the pool with NYS Special Olympics. Eric was diagnosed with autism just after he turned 2. Stacey is a strong family advocate, NYS Ambassador for the Jesse Lewis ChooSELove Movement, Cornell Cooperative Extension Parenting Coalition Member & Event Planner-Making Healthy Decisions Conference, Founding Member; Orange County Think Differently, Goshen Special Education Parent Teacher and Student Association, Dignity Works Here, Inc. and Pro Active Caring. Her passion is NYS Special Olympic Swim Coach of 10 years with Jason & Brian-husband as Coaches and Eric is a top swimmer on their team.


Yaa Yaa Whaley-Williams, DEIJAB Consultant

Session on Agenda: Parent Panel: A Glimpse into the Daily Stressors Faced by Families of Children with Special Needs

Mrs. Whaley-Williams currently works as a DEIJAB consultant with school districts facilitating professional development workshops for teachers and administrators. Currently she is the owner of Sadie’s Books & Beverages (the 1st black-owned bookstore in Orange County that is sensory-friendly and inclusive). Sadie has over 20 years of experience in education. She began her journey as a High School mathematics teacher in Brooklyn, New York and has since served as both a building and district level administrator in New York City, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, Middletown & Monticello. A graduate of Brown University and Pace University she holds a BS in Business Economics and Africana Studies as well as two master’s degrees in Secondary Education and School Leadership. An unapologetic bookworm, creative and mom of a neurodiverse rockstar, she will continue to commit her time and energies to lifelong learning and service through the partnership with her community members.


Malinda Ware, MBA, Project Director at Cornell Cooperative Extension Sullivan County

Session on Agenda: Mindfulness and Movement Moment

Malinda is a Project Director at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Sullivan County and the Statewide Diversity, Equity, and inclusion facilitator for CCE Administration. In one of her many roles at Cornell, Malinda manages the NYS Department of Health Creating Healthy Schools and Communities grant which is a coordinated, multi-sector initiative designed to increase demand for and access to healthy, affordable foods and opportunities for daily physical activity in high-need schools and communities. The opportunity to work with the Cornell Cooperative Extension CHSC program in Sullivan County has provided a great deal of challenges and knowledge about health disparities in a rural community. Malinda has and continues to work closely with evidence-based programs, assisting communities to build resilience, and is familiar with the health disparities within the Catskills and Hudson Valley region. Finally, Malinda has successfully completed the 2023 Health Essential program.


Scarlett Lewis, Founder of The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement

Session on Agenda: The Choosing Love Mindset: Thriving not just Surviving Post Traumatic Growth

Scarlett Lewis founded the nonprofit Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement after her six-year-old son’s murder in the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012. She became part of the solution to the issues in society -- and that also caused the tragedy -- and is an advocate for our children’s health and well-being. She's the author of Nurturing Healing Love: A Mother’s Journey of Hope & Forgiveness, a memoir of her journey toward choosing love and forgiveness, From Sandy Hook to the World: How the Choose Love Movement Transforms Lives, an in-depth look at how Scarlett founded the Movement and its impact around the world today, Rose’s Foal, a children’s book, with photographs by Scarlett Lewis, that tells the poignant story of a beloved horse and her newborn foal, and her most recent illustrated children’s book, Choosing Love: A Pathway to Flourishing. The Movement's Choose Love for Schools Program is a no-cost, comprehensive, lifespan, next generation, life skills and character development program, empowering educators and students to choose love, handle adversity, and manage their emotions. Choose Love programming is extended into homes, communities, athletics, and the workplace, and has been accessed in all 50 states, over 120 countries and by more than 11,500 schools positively impacting millions of individuals. Speaking across the US and internationally to diverse audiences, Scarlett urges everyone to become part of the solution, dedicating her life to helping children and adults around the world to thrive mentally, socially, and emotionally. She has also been instrumental in changing legislation to incorporate teaching life skills in schools. Scarlett was named a Forbes 50 over 50 Impact Honoree, one of 50 women leading the way with impact and changing their communities and the world in ways big and small through social entrepreneurship, law, advocacy and education. Scarlett was recently named to Bloomberg Businessweek's 2022 Bloomberg 50 and was a featured speaker at the 2022 New York Times Dealbook Summit alongside world leaders, CEO's and emerging leaders.


Jaye Holly, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging at Together for Youth

Session on Agenda: A Trauma-informed Approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Jaye Holly has been designing and delivering training for more than 20 years on a wide array of topics, including performance management, adult learning, and DEI. Her career includes working in an eclectic mix of settings, from human services to academia to government. In 2010, Jaye began working in trauma-informed care, and has worked across the country and around the world to help build trauma informed communities. She has an M.S. in Human Resources Development from McDaniel College. She currently resides near Albany, NY.


Marla Behler, MSW, Program Director at the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) of Putnam County

Session on Agenda: Handle with Care Program

Marla Behler, a Licensed Master Social Worker in New York, brings over 30 years of expertise in Child Protection. Serving as Program Director at the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) of Putnam County since 1999, Marla ensures comprehensive services for children suspected of abuse through a multidisciplinary approach. Under her leadership, the CAC has grown significantly, now serving nearly 300 children annually. Beyond child protection, Marla co-founded the Putnam County Suicide Prevention Task Force and oversees the Putnam County Child Fatality Review Team. Her commitment extends to various teams ensuring children's safety in crises.

Marla's impactful initiatives include the "Handle With Care Program" and introducing key prevention and training programs in New York.


Frank Guglieri, M.ED., Regional Safety Coordinator for Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES

Session on Agenda: Handle with Care Program

Frank Guglieri, the Regional Safety Coordinator for Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES for the past five years, is a seasoned consultant, trainer, and advisor for 18 component school districts and 10 non-component districts. Formerly a chemistry and forensics teacher, Frank's expertise spans emergency response plans, safety evaluations, chemical storage, waste disposal, and safety policy development. As the regional trainer for threat assessment teams and the BOCES COVID Coordinator, Frank has trained over 1,200 individuals across four counties. Holding degrees in chemistry and special education, he is pursuing a master’s degree in education. Frank's dedication to safety stems from a passion ignited by the Columbine incident early in his teaching career.


Sergeant Matthew Kraisky, Patrol Shift Supervisor at the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office

Session on Agenda: Handle with Care Program

Sergeant Matthew Kraisky is currently assigned as a patrol shift supervisor at the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office where he oversees patrol operations and various other programs like Handle with Care. Matt has been a police officer for 13 years and has a BA in History and an MS in Criminology. He currently serves as an active member of the Sheriff’s Office SWAT team and is the supervisor of the Marine Unit as well as an instructor in multiple disciplines.


Michelle Varvaro, Community & Provider Relations Specialist for CHHUNY: Children's Health Home of Upstate NY

Session on Agenda: Connection: Collaborating with Community Resources for Youth Ages 0-21

Michelle created a Community Youth Collaborative in the Capital Region. This collaborative is a networking and resource sharing group for anyone working with youth ages 0-21. In 18 months, she now has over 170 members. This workshop will provide ways on how to begin a community initiative, discussion on finding appropriate resources, ways to share information and current marketing methods.

Michelle Varvaro is the Community & Provider Relations Specialist for CHHUNY: Children's Health Home of Upstate NY. Michelle is responsible for sharing information about Children's Care Management Services and helping the Care Management Agencies serving youth, know about the various resources available in their communities. CHHUNY serves youth in 55 counties of NYS. This past year CHHUNY has worked with 89 Care Management Agencies and served other 12,000 youth. Michelle has provided services and supervised staff in NYC and

Lower Hudson Valley for the past 35 years. She holds an MA in Rehabilitation Counseling and an MA in Special Education. She has a special love for youth, teens and creating connections!


Anthony Dandridge, PhD, Lecturer, Department of Black Studies, SUNY New Paltz

Session on Agenda: In here/Out there: Integrating Contemplative Practices in Our Life and Our Work

Anthony Dandridge, Lecturer, Department of Black Studies, SUNY New Paltz. Anthony Dandridge has also taught in Temple University's Philosophy Department in Africology and Af-American Studies and the Africana Studies Department at the University of Delaware. An Afrocentrist who prioritizes the importance of cultural lenses, he has been teaching university courses on race and racism for 20 years and worked with incarcerated youth and adults. He is a founding member of the Black Lives Matter at School Collective at SUNY New Paltz, a Co-Chair of the SUNY Black Faculty and Staff Collective, a New Paltz Faculty Sustainability Fellow, an instructor of Contemplative practices, and a steering group member for The Sojourner Truth Library Antiracist Campus Read.


Terry Murray, PhD, Associate Professor Emeritus, Department of Educational Studies, SUNY New Paltz

Session on Agenda: In here/Out there: Integrating Contemplative Practices in Our Life and Our Work

Terry Murray, Associate Professor Emeritus, Department of Educational Studies, SUNY New Paltz. Terry Murray's diverse background includes careers as a university professor, a public school art teacher, a YMCA summer camp and youth/family program director, and a freelance trainer/consultant/graphic designer. His career in higher education has an ongoing focus on teaching and learning that is holistic, experiential, reflective and critical. Over the past many years, he has focused on approaches to teaching and learning and self-knowledge development that are grounded in contemplative education and mindfulness practices and believes that these approaches are a critical third way of knowing that supports presence, sustained attention, compassion and interconnectedness.


Chris Whitaker, MS Ed Multicultural Counseling, Advisor, School of Education, SUNY New Paltz

Session on Agenda: In here/Out there: Integrating Contemplative Practices in Our Life and Our Work

Chris Whitaker, Advisor, School of Education, SUNY New Paltz. Chris Whitaker is a veteran college counselor and advisor of 25 years at SUNY New Paltz, Baruch College, and Pace University who is dedicated to supporting underrepresented college students through his work with the Educational Opportunity Program, the Disability Resource Center, the Scholar’s Mentorship Program, the Anti-Racist Education Study Group, the Employee Assistance Program, the Multicultural Education Conference, the Black Lives Matter at School Collective, and the Faculty Staff Contemplative Group. He has practiced qigong and meditation for over 20 years and has taught both for nearly 10 years along with qi healing and Taoist philosophy. He is also a published writer and composer.


Julika von Stackelberg
Parenting & Family Life Educator
(845) 344-1234, Ext.274

Last updated June 6, 2024