Board of Directors
Clay Aiken, Chairman, is co-founder of the National Inclusion Project and a graduate of UNC-Charlotte where he earned his Bachelors degree in special education. He is a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, a multi-platinum recording artist and an American Music Award and Billboard Music Award winner. Clay’s passion for music started at a young age and followed him throughout his adolescence. He performed in numerous musicals and was a member of his school choir. When Clay entered college, music took a backseat while he pursued a degree in special education. While earning his degree, he worked with individuals with autism, among them Michael Bubel, son of Diane Bubel. As Diane and Clay’s friendship grew, it became apparent they both shared the same vision – a world where children of all abilities were offered the experiences of full inclusion. Their goal became to create the National Inclusion Project and make this shared vision a reality.
Diane Bubel, President, is co-founder of the National Inclusion Project and mother of Michael (Mike) Bubel. She actively works to spread the message of inclusion through conventions, television appearances and radio interviews. Though dedicated to the Foundation, Diane manages to also focus on the most important priority in her life, her family. Her son Mike was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. She has developed a unique and viable methodology that has helped Mike succeed with the challenges he’s faced. Diane focused not on Mike’s limitations but on possibilities. She learned how to restructure the activities of daily living using routine, patient repetition, and images to allow Mike to feel a sense of control and to become more and more independent. Diane treats Mike as any other child and encourages his growth as an individual. She is an enduring, loving mother and role model. Inclusion is not only a message she carries. It is a message she practices.
Elsbeth Brown, PhD earned her B.S. Degree in Early Childhood from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, her Master’s Degree in Special Education from Winthrop University and her Doctorate Degree in Elementary Education/Early Childhood Education from the University of South Carolina. While on faculty at the University of South Carolina, she served as the Director of the South Carolina Center of Excellence in Early Childhood and provided technical assistance to the State Office of First Steps and the Catawba Indian Nation, and served as an evaluator for Even Start, Early Head Start and Zero to Three initiatives. As the Principal Investigator for the BASICspaces project and 4KEEPS program, Dr. Brown worked with communities throughout the South to enhance the quality of early care and education. A sibling to three brothers with special needs, Brown has been a life-long advocate for inclusionary efforts. She recently retired from her second career as Director of Research and Grants for the YMCA of Middle Tennessee. Under her leadership the Y established a formal Division of Sponsored Programs and as Director of this Division, Brown oversaw the increase in grants managed from $850,000 to over $5.2 million.
Sarah Cronk is the founder of The Sparkle Effect, a national nonprofit that generates cheerleading and dance teams that bring together students with and without disabilities. Since 2009, The Sparkle Effect has generated over 200 inclusive teams, and Sarah delivered the organization’s message to thousands of students nationwide. Sarah graduated from Whitman College in May of 2015 with a degree in Psychology and currently works on the corporate marketing team at Varsity Spirit.
Danielle Liebl is Founder and Executive Director of DIFFERbilities Experience, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides opportunities to high school and college students to promote inclusion of people with and without disabilities. Danielle is a graduate of the College of Saint Benedict, where she received a dual-degree in Theology and Peace Studies. Currently, Danielle is a J.D. candidate at the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Impassioned by her personal experience growing up with Cerebral Palsy, Danielle has become an ambassador for people with intellectual disabilities. She has served on the Board of Directors for Special Olympics Minnesota and United Cerebral Palsy of Central Minnesota, spoke at several national education conferences, as well as the White House, and founded her own 501(c)3 organization. Danielle aims to reduce the stigma associated with disabilities by connecting people with and without disabilities. Through her work, she has helped build friendships and develop understanding among students of different backgrounds. Danielle has designed a powerful model of partnering students with and without disabilities in a controlled environment.
Faye Parker, Secretary, has vast experience as an active volunteer who has worked with numerous goodwill organizations including the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Food Bank of Eastern and Central NC, Women’s Missionary Union, the Raleigh Rescue Mission, Relay for Life and CROP Walk for World Hunger. Throughout her son Clay’s younger years, Faye volunteered frequently for his elementary and high school events. She served as a role model for her children teaching them the volunteer spirit and the importance of contributing to the community. When not spending her time volunteering, Faye is busy running her own business, Parker Exclusives, which she founded in 1991.
Frances Wilson has been the Chatham County Tax Collector since being promoted in 1989. Frances is Past President of the North Carolina Tax Collectors Association, serves on the Taxation and Finance Steering Committee for the NC County Commissioner’s Association and was named 2005 North Carolina Tax Collector of the Year. Prior to her employment with the Tax Administration, Frances was administrative assistant to the Executive Director of the Chatham County Housing Authority. There she served as the agency’s financial director, a position that allowed her to work with underprivileged families in need of housing assistance. The Raleigh News & Observer honored her as “Tarheel of the Week” in May 2005. Frances has served as a board member of the Chatham County United Way, a volunteer for Relay for Life and officer of the Pittsboro Jaycees.
Jerry Aiken serves the National Inclusion Project with 30 years of corporate experience in the telecommunications industry where he held numerous senior level positions in manufacturing, marketing, customer service, and general management. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in engineering with graduate work in management and marketing. Jerry has volunteered and supported many charitable causes throughout his career including Junior Achievement, United Way, Lymphoma Society, Samaritan’s Purse, and additional mission work assisting hurricane victims. He served on the Board of Directors for the Durham, NC Chamber of Commerce and was Vice-Chair for international development. He was appointed Executive Director for the National Inclusion Project in 2007 and retired October of 2015.
Nick Leisey, Executive Director, manages the overall operations and performance of the Project. In addition to holding degrees in public relations from East Carolina University and in elementary education from Salem State University, Nick possesses a wide range of nonprofit and educational leadership experience from community engagement and board development for UNICEF USA to elementary classroom teaching with Boston Public Schools. His very first job came as a summer camp counselor at the Raleigh, NC based A.E. Finley YMCA nearly 20 years ago and has stayed committed to serving children ever since. Nick has volunteered with the Project since its founding in 2003 and was appointed Executive Director in 2015.
Tonya Gillham, Director of Development and Marketing, leads the business development and fundraising activity for the Project. Tonya has over 10 years of nonprofit development experience and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from UNC-Chapel Hill. She has served on many nonprofit and chamber committees in the Raleigh-Durham area, most recently participating in the development of the Triangle Chapter of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network.
Aron Hall, Director of Programs, coordinates the National Inclusion Project’s Let’s ALL Play partnership programs and trainings. A graduate of N.C. State University, Aron has had multiple experiences in education and recreational programs. As Summer Camp Director for North Raleigh Christian Academy, he was responsible for creating and implementing its full-summer day camp program. He also directed a local chapter of Royal Family Kids’ Camp, a non-profit overnight camp for kids in foster care. While in college, he worked for the A.E. Finley YMCA as a counselor and leadership staff in five after school programs, three summer day camps, and a year-round tracking out program. Aron is a member of the Advisory Board for the National Alliance for Accessible Golf.
Dora Pulley, Administrative Assistant, has 25 years of experience in the Human Resource departments of various North Carolina State Government agencies including the North Carolina General Assembly, the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources Division of Water Quality and the Division of Forest Service, the Department of Health and Human Services Division of Social Services and the Division of Child Support Enforcement Services, the Department of Revenue, and the Murdoch Training Center. While working with the Division of Forest Service, she served in the field as Human Resource liaison on the Fire Environment Working Group (FEWG). Prior to her government service, Dora attended Business College. She enjoys serving as a volunteer with various organizations within her community and in addition provides service as a Notary Public. Dora served as one of the annual NIP Gala Silent Auction team members from 2007 through 2015. She considers reaching the level of First Degree Black Belt in the martial art of Tae Kwon Do, after over seven years of intense training, as being one of her major accomplishments.
Debbie Cain, Treasurer, is a teacher at the Magellan Charter School in Raleigh, North Carolina, which provides a fully inclusive learning environment. She serves as chairperson of the mathematics department and works closely with the Special Programs team. Debbie has over 30 years of teaching experience, having previously taught at Leesville Road High School and Enloe High School. At both schools, she was named Teacher of the Year. She received the NCSU Sigma Xi Outstanding High School Mathematics Teacher Award. She has been a member of NCAE, WACT, NCTM and NCCTM. At the same time, she is very active in her church community having served as a Sunday school teacher, deacon, elder and receiving treasurer.