OUR MISSION

We are committed to uniting individuals of all abilities through friendship, thus redefining the concept of community. We provide programs to foster relationships between the special needs and neuro-typical populations, creating a world that is home to all and influencing generations to come.

OUR VISION

To break down all barriers, foster understanding and create friendships between
the special needs and typical populations.

<center>SAMANTHA NOVICK</center>

SAMANTHA NOVICK

President

Bio

Samantha Novick is an ASHA certified speech-language pathologist and the owner of Bridge Therapy, LLC. Samantha works in affiliation with Boca Integrative Health, a comprehensive medical practice offering many diverse services. She has experience treating children and adults with a variety of communication needs including those with aphasia, articulation and phonological disorders, apraxia of speech, autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, receptive and expressive language delay, pragmatic concerns, fluency disorders and those who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Samantha strongly believes in treating the family as a whole and is a fervent advocate of a team approach to therapy.

Samantha graduated with high honors from the University of Florida with a degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders. She received her Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Nova Southeastern University, also receiving high honors and recognized with the NSSLHA Leadership award as well as the Research award. Samantha has worked in a private clinic setting, in a behavioral therapy practice, as a teaching assistant at Baudhuin preschool for children with autism and as a social skills instructor. Samantha has received PROMPT and LAMP trainings, is a certified yoga instructor for children with special needs, knows American Sign Language (ASL) and is listed as a CASANA professional for individuals with childhood apraxia of speech. Samantha is proud to be the Vice President of Operations for The Friendship Initiative as well as the Program Director of Reading With Friends, a program that The Friendship Initiative offers. She is passionate about giving back to her community and believes in breaking down barriers in our increasingly diverse world.

<center>LISA FERRARA</center>

LISA FERRARA

Vice President of Operations

Bio

Lisa has been an active member in her community since her children started grade school. Prior to moving to Florida in 2014, she served in many capacities in her school community in New York, including President of the Dobbs Ferry PTSA and Head of Fundraising for the Dobbs Ferry Educational Foundation.

In 2011, Lisa co-founded Rivertown Parents, a community organization comprised of parent/teacher associations from five cities in association with Mercy College, providing parent education and family support to students and parents.

Lisa has been awarded the Abigail Chapman Northrup Volunteer of the Year Award for extraordinary service to the Dobbs Ferry community and the Spring Community Partners “Spring Into Action Award” for exceptional dedication and commitment to promoting children’s full and active participation in life, school and their community, regardless of means.

Prior to her volunteer work, Lisa was the Director of Conference Programming Development for The Direct Marketing Association, the largest trade organization for marketers which seeks to advance and protect responsible data-driven marketing.

Lisa received her Bachelor of Arts from Rochester Institute of Technology and a Masters in Business Administration from Rutgers University.

Lisa’s commitment to public service and advocacy for the welfare of children, is a strong influence on her three children, who are all active volunteers in Friendship Initiative programs.

<center>JASON NOVICK</center>

JASON NOVICK

Vice President of Marketing & PR

Bio

Jason is the manager of strategic partnerships with TapToBook, Inc., a technology company headquartered in Sunrise, FL. TapToBook allows local service businesses to offer demand-based pricing and provides insights into consumer purchasing patterns with easy to understand recommendations on how to better engage customers.

Jason graduated from Oswego State University with a degree in Business Administration and a minor in International Affairs. Moving to Florida in 2011, he worked in event marketing for the NHL’s Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center prior to his current role. Jason thoroughly enjoys attending the programs The Friendship Initiative has to offer and is passionate about TFI’s mission of inclusion. As the first employee of TapToBook, Jason has the unique experience of building a concept from the ground up, along with bridging the gap between consumers and technology. Jason will bring these valuable skills to The Friendship Initiative and will never stop “Dreaming Big.”

<center>SCOTT BROOK</center>

SCOTT BROOK

Vice President of Strategic Development

Bio

Scott is a partner in the law firm Brodzki Jacobs Brook in Coral Springs, Florida specializing in family law, estate planning and workers compensation, Scott has been a lawyer for nearly twenty five years. A graduate of Tulane University, where he additionally received his Master’s Degree in Business Administration, having been selected for a two year fellowship focused on Finance, Scott is also a graduate of the University of Miami School of Law. As important as his long and distinguished legal career, Scott has spent a lifetime in the service of others. In 2002 he was elected to the Coral Springs City Commission and in 2006 Scott was elected as the Mayor of Coral Springs and subsequently was re-elected to a second term. During his Mayoral term, Scott was instrumental in helping the City to become the first City ever to obtain, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Scott also founded the City’s Customer-Involved Government Committee and served as Chair of the City’s Financial Advisory Committee for many years.

Scott also served as Chairman of the Coral Springs Parent Education Committee and Citizens’ Government Committee and was a member of the Board of the City’s Charter School throughout his almost nine years of service. He has worked as a motivational speaker for youth and various charities throughout Broward County. Scott has been very active in numerous civic organizations, including mentoring for Take Stock in Children, serving on the Board of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of South Florida and working with Keeping Dreams Alive. Since 2003, Scott has helped mentor over 700 teenagers through a Leadership Project led by students under his guidance. Scott has also lectured nationally for Business Week Careers Magazine as a motivational speaker at colleges and universities throughout the country.Most importantly, Scott is a proud father of five children, grandfather of three children and married to Brenda for almost 20 years.

<center>KELLI YSELONIA</center>

KELLI YSELONIA

Secretary

Bio

Kelli has been a Broward County Elementary Public school teacher since 1996. She has a teenage son with autism who participates in the Friendship Initiative programs and a younger typical daughter who likes to help the students in her mom’s classes. Kelli has a unique perspective as both a parent and educator of special needs students. She enjoys being involved in the Friendship Initiative to give kids the opportunity to participate in programs they normally would not have the chance to be able to enjoy.

<center>KAREN WILSON</center>

KAREN WILSON

Treasurer

Bio

As a CPA in Florida for over 20 years, Karen’s experience has included work in both public accounting and private industry.  Currently, she provides clients with small business and tax services from her home office in Parkland. Working from home gives Karen the flexibility to spend time with her family and support her daughter, Elisabeth, in academics and after school activities. Karen enjoys taking an active role in the organizations that have helped her daughter grow. Elisabeth has had difficulty learning to socialize with typical peers, but she has had no trouble connecting with her Friendship Initiative friends. The Friendship Initiative programs have been a place where Elisabeth feels totally loved and accepted.

<center>JUAN VELAZQUEZ</center>

JUAN VELAZQUEZ

Director

Bio

Juan is a single widowed father of two boys. Matthew, his oldest, is twenty-one and was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. Matthew enjoys participating in The Friendship Initiative’s programs. Christian, his youngest, is a typical thirteen-year old and is a proud volunteer for The Friendship Initiative. Since Matthew was diagnosed, Juan has been involved in numerous autism related charities and was on the board of Reaching Potentials. In that capacity Juan led fundraising efforts that resulted in donations exceeding two million dollars during his fifteen-year affiliation. Currently, Juan works as an Institutional Sales Trader at Bay Crest Securities.

<center>HOWARD LEWIS</center>

HOWARD LEWIS

Program Director, Photo Friends

Bio

Howard A. Lewis, M.A., M.S., CBA, CVA, ABAR, BCA, is the former Executive Director of the Institute of Business Appraisers, the nation’s oldest membership association serving the educational and accreditation needs of business appraisers. Prior to joining the IBA in 2008, Howard served as the National Program Manager for the Engineering and Valuation Programs at the Internal Revenue Service. Howard worked for the IRS for over thirty-two years, serving as a valuation engineer, and first-level, mid-level, and top- level manager, both in the engineering and valuation programs, as well as the corporate examination programs. Howard was also the IRS’ national quality improvement coordinator, where he assembled, trained, and facilitated dozens of teams in their system improvement activities.

Howard received his graduate and undergraduate degrees in Industrial Engineering from New York University. His first job was as an industrial engineer with the largest elevator manufacturer in the world, where he specialized in work measurement and design, ranging from classical time and motion studies, to plant layout and design. Howard designed the packaging systems and field assembly procedures for the installation of the elevators at the World Trade Center, the largest project of its type at the time. In 2016, Howard and his wife, Ramona, both graduated from Knox Theological Seminary with Masters degrees in Biblical and Theological Studies.

Howard began his IRS career as a field engineer, evaluating depreciation rates, plant construction capital budgeting and accounting, and learning the practice of real property appraisal and business valuation. Howard became a team leader, coach, and first-level supervisor, and managed groups in the 80s and 90s in New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Ft. Lauderdale, Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware. Howard became a mid-level manager in the mid-1980s, and was responsible for the audit project of the largest tax protestor case in United States history.

In the late 1980s, Howard assisted in the design of a group decision support system, developed at the University of Minnesota, and managed the largest research project using GDSS in history, encompassing thousands of teams in multiple sites. Howard constructed several decision rooms, implemented the GDSS systems, recorded results, facilitated and instructed teams, and collaborated in several published research papers, including a HICCS award-winning paper, presented in Hawaii, in the early 1990s.

Howard was selected in 2000 as the first IRS National Program Manager for the engineering and valuation programs. He created the national program, established the staffing of approximately 400, and focused on improving the knowledge, skill and abilities of the IRS engineers and appraisers. Howard wrote the first valuation standards ever implemented at IRS, created credentialing programs enabling hundreds of staff members to study for and attain their appraisal certifications, and worked with the leading national appraiser membership associations to strengthen the government- private partnership.

Howard lectures widely on business valuation, report writing and review and tax controversy issues. He is a co-author of a text on business valuation for business owners, has developed courses in business valuation and related appraisal fields and has testified in the United States Tax Court.

Howard lives in Coral Springs, Florida, with his wife, Ramona Anderson. They have eight children and, at latest count, fourteen grandchildren.