Executive Board & Board Advisors


 President: Stephanie Johnson, MHS, OTR/L 

Stephanie graduated from Shorter College with her undergraduate degree in Biology in 2005 and from the Medical College of Georgia with her Master’s in Health Sciences in Occupational Therapy in 2008. Stephanie’s clinical work revolves around clients with neurological conditions and while full time teaching at Augusta University as an Associate Professor within the Department of Occupational therapy, she continues to provide OT services for the ALS, MS, and Movement Disorder/Interdisciplinary Clinics at AU Health. 

Stephanie is currently working on her Ph.D. in Applied Health Sciences, where her research interest includes ALS and Quality of life. She has spoken nationally and internationally for her work within ALS and quality of life, including in the Ukraine for their inaugural conference to facilitate bringing the profession of OT to Ukraine. Stephanie has previously served as GOTA Vice President, Treasurer and Education Liaison. She loves spending time with her family and being a wife and mom!



Past President: Jennifer Allison, OTD, OTR/L

Jennifer graduated from Brenau University OT in 2003 and has worked in the school system, private pediatrics, developmental disabilities, and community based mental health.  Jennifer has a passion for Mental Health, Sensory Processing, and most recently has been studying about aroma therapy.  Jennifer has served the GOTA Board on the Legislative Committee.

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Vice PresidentPatty Watford, OTD, MS, OTR/L

Patty graduated from Mississippi State University with her undergraduate degree in Elementary Education.  She taught elementary school and home schooled for 20 years before getting her master’s in Occupational Therapy from Florida Gulf Coast University.  After working full-time in skilled nursing facilities and part-time in assisted living facilities and home health care, Patty went back to school at Creighton University where she earned her Doctorate in Occupational Therapy.  She has been a full-time assistant professor at Augusta University since 2019.  Patty’s passions include older adults and orthopedics and is interested in research associated with caregivers and interprofessional student activities.  She most enjoys her roles as a wife, mother, and grandmother.

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Secretary:  Jade Gross, OTD, OTR/L, CSLT

Jade graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Kansas and a doctorate degree in Occupational Therapy from Washington University in St. Louis. Her clinical work as an occupational therapist included treating adults and older adults with a focus on rehabilitation for general medical conditions, orthopedic conditions, neurological conditions, lymphedema, and breast cancer. Jade has taught in the Georgia State University OT Program since the inaugural class began in January of 2017. As a clinical assistant professor, Jade developed and taught many of the foundational occupational therapy courses, clinical occupational therapy courses, and the community-based practice course that features some community programming components including with the refugee population. In her current role as faculty, she aims to continue strengthening community partnerships with local non-profits that serve at-risk and marginalized groups.


Treasurer:  Melissa Toporek, OTD, OTR/L, BCP

 Melissa is board certified in pediatrics by the American Occupational Therapy Association. She received her degrees in Occupational Therapy from Medical College of Georgia and Rocky Mountain University. She has experience in early intervention, school based practice, clinic based services, and residential setting for medically fragile children. Additionally, she has worked in a variety of international settings including Israel, Ethiopia, and Zambia serving children and families in community and education based settings through direct care, program development, and staff training. She is a certified DIR/Floortime practitioner and lectures on culture and occupational therapy. She was an adjunct professor at Stanbridge College in California. She has served as a reviewer for conferences including WFOT, AOTA, and AOTA pediatric specialty certifications and is a peer reviewer for AJOT and OTJR.


 Representative to the Georgia Licensing Board:  Maria Irma Alvarado, Ph.D, OTR/L

Dr. Alvarado is a Professor, Brenau University, School of Occupational Therapy. She co-owns Essential Therapy Services, Inc. in Cumming and Lula, Georgia. Her past and present teaching experience includes: Institute on Human Development and Disability, University of Georgia, Athens Cultural Competence and is a resource on sensory integration and international study. Her research interests include the health and well-being of children and families, Latino families, childhood disability, early intervention, and sensory processing abilities in children. Her community experience is dedicated to increasing awareness of issues affecting families and their children with disability and networking between parents, professionals, and friends of children with disability. As a professional in this regard; she views her role as one who facilitates the capacity of families to nurture the abilities of their children with special needs to become participating members of society. Irma loves travel, nature, hunting and fishing, and gardening; she is also a member of the Cumming Garden Club. Dr. Alvarado has served GOTA as a research liaison; as Vice President; and on various other committees. She is also bilingual in Spanish.

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Jennifer Boyette (above)

Ruth Bourque (below)

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Conference Co-Chairs: Jennifer Boyette  & Ruth Bourque 

Jennifer Boyette has a clinical background as an occupational therapist and Certified Hand Therapist with specialization in industrial injury prevention, high trauma upper extremity rehabilitation, and workers’ compensation program development. She received her undergraduate degree through the University of Houston and a Master’s in Occupational Therapy from Texas Woman’s University in the Houston Medical Center. In 2007, she became a Certified Hand Therapist, completed a Doctorate in Health Care Administration in 2010, and became a Level III Certified Ergonomic Assessment Specialist in 2016. She has been an adjunct professor and thesis advisor with Brenau University since 2013. Jennifer was raised in Texas where she lived in Houston for many years, but now lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband and 2 sons.

Ruth Bourque has a clinical background as an occupational therapist in pediatrics. She received her undergraduate degree at Spring Hill College and a Master’s in Occupational Therapy from the University of South Alabama in the Mobile, AL. She currently works in three different pediatric settings, outpatient clinic, inpatient hospital, and home health. She has focused her practice in feeding, eating, and swallowing. She currently volunteers her time with Feeding Matters and Airway Circle.  Ruth was raised in South Louisiana and always visits home for Mardi Gras, but currently lives in Savannah, GA. 


Regional Chair, Atlanta:  Kyle Oatis, OTR/L

Early in his career, a mentor once told Kyle that "our hands are essentially our connection to the world around us." This motivated Kyle to pursue a career focused on those who lost hand and arm function. 

Kyle currently works as hand and upper extremity specialist at an outpatient hand therapy clinic. In his masters program, Kyle was president of the program's inaugural class and acted as a founding member of their Student Occupational Therapy Association. Kyle completed the AOTA's Emerging Leaders Program. Kyle is pursuing an OTD at the University of St. Augustine. 


Regional Chair, East:  Pam Hartle

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Regional Chair, Middle:  Betsy McDaniel, BS, COTA

Betsy is currently serving as the Academic Fieldwork Coordinator at the Middle Georgia State College OTA program in Dublin, GA. When not at work, she enjoys camping and spending time with her 3 children.  Betsy has a passion for providing continuing education workshops to practitioners in rural areas of Middle GA, so if you have an interest in discussing possibilities, don’t hesitate to contact Betsy. 


Regional Chair, South:  This position is open. Interested? Email [email protected] for more information!



Regional Chair, North:  Ben Keeling, OTR/L

Ben received his Bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of Georgia and his Masters degree in Occupational Therapy from Brenau University. He is currently working as a Pediatric Home Health therapist. Ben has a passion for interventions with an emphasis on social and community integration for children and young adults with mental health diagnoses and/or developmental disabilities.



Communication Committee Chair:  Marissa Mirecki, MS, OTR/L

Marissa earned a Bachlelor's degree in psychology from Bryn Mawr College and her Master's degree in Occupational Therapy from Thomas Jefferson University. Marissa joined the Shepherd Center as a spinal cord injury research fellow in 2018 where she completed training in translational research and continues to bring her passion for practice-based evidence to her role as an occupational therapist in the SCI program.

To address the common challenge occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants face in translating research from article to practice, Marissa introduced the Research Update to the Georgia Occupational Therapy Association Newsletter. Quarterly, Marissa covers newly published research relevant to occupational therapy.


Membership Chair and Journal Club Chair:  Kelsey Reeves Taylor, MHS, OTR/L

Kelsey earned a Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy from Augusta University. After graduating, she worked as a travel occupational therapist in a variety of settings all over the country before moving back to the Atlanta area. Kelsey now works at the Shepherd Center on a dual injury team specializing in patients with simultaneous brain and spinal cord injuries. She has a special interest in cultural sensitivity and fostering inclusive environments for the LGBTQ+ community. Kelsey’s passion for applying current research to everyday practice inspired her participation in GOTA’s Journal Club. In addition to coordinating the monthly Journal Club, Kelsey also assist with running the GOTA website, Youtube Channel, and social media accounts.


Regulatory and Reimbursement Committee: Aileen Deogracias, OTR/L, Chairperson

Committee Members:  Jennifer Allison, Bethany Bearden Tri Alliance Members:  Kay Nelson and Nicole Walker

Aileen Deogracias is a wife, a mother to 2 teenagers as well as a pediatric occupational therapist and the Clinic Director at Therapy Works, PC in Lawrenceville, GA. Aileen has been working with children since she received her bachelor’s degree in Occupational Therapy in 1997 at the University of the Philippines. In 2000, Aileen was part of a group of therapists who established one of the first and few pediatric therapy centers south of Manila. This clinic continues to thrive and serves about 700 families in the area.  She moved to the US with her family in 2006 and has worked in various settings in pediatrics, geriatrics and school-based practice, She provided services in the preschool special education classes and the transition program.  She specializes in preschool assessments and worked with a team of speech therapists, psychologists and preschool teachers. She moved to Georgia in 2014 and has been working as a pediatric occupational therapist at Therapy Works which she currently manages. 


Research Committee ChairLaura Carpenter

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 Ethics Chairperson:  Sarah Shirley, OTD, OTR/L

 Sarah received her BS in Family and Child Development from Oklahoma State in 1994 and her BS in OT from Louisiana State University in 1996. She holds a Master of Divinity from Emory University and a Doctorate of Occupational Therapy from Temple University in 2010.  Sarah has practiced in school system and pediatric settings throughout her career.  She also has a passion for continuing education and provides workshops on professional reasoning. 
Please send your confidential concerns regarding ethics to Sarah: [email protected]

Georgia Occupational Therapy Association's
Community Coalition for Equity, Inclusion, & Diversity:
  • Dr. Frederica Kennedy, OTR/L, OTD, CAS
  • Rebekah Buehler, OTR/L
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AOTA RA Rep (Non-Voting Advisor to the Board): Helene Smith-Gabai OTR/L, PhD, BCPR

Helene is currently working as an associate professor at Brenau University in their MSOT and ELOTD programs. Before that she worked as a clinician at Emory University Hospital for many years. Her experience has been in acute care, home health and inpatient rehabilitation. She is also the co-editor and a co-author of the book Occupational Therapy in Acute Care. She started the GOTA listserv more than 16 years ago, and is currently on the GOTA continuing education committee, in addition to being the newest Georgia RA.

Contact Helene: [email protected].


Continuing Education Approval Chairperson: 

Tamara Mills, PhD, OTR/L, ATP

Tamara earned her BS in OT from Florida A & M in 1999.  She attained her Master’s in OT (2001) and her Doctorate in Rehab Science from University of Pittsburgh in 2004. Tamara holds a graduate certificate and a credential in Assistive Technology. She has practiced with adults and children, with a particular emphasis in seating and wheelchair skills. Tamara has worked in acute care, long-term care, home health, as well as working in the Georgia Cyber Academy.


Nominations & Recognitions Chair:  Suzanne Masino, MOT

Suzanne formed the recruiting and consulting firm Staffing Innovations, Inc. in 2009. Staffing Innovations, Inc. is a professional recruiting and consulting firm specializing in the healthcare recruitment industry. Suzanne graduated from The Ohio State University as an Occupational Therapist in 1994. Her extensive background as an Occupational Therapist provided the insights and understanding of the healthcare industry and its recruiting and retention challenges.


OTA Liaison:  LaDonna Yvonne Nash , COTA/L

LaDonna graduated with an OTA degree from Middle Georgia College and she currently works for RehabCare.  LaDonna lives in Allenhurst, GA.

Please send your confidential concerns regarding OTA issues to: [email protected]


Education Liaison: Ryan Carrick, PHD, MHS, OTR/L

Ryan enjoys being outdoors and helping people thrive. After courting his wife, Jenna, at Mercer University, he earned a MHS in Occupational Therapy from the Medical College of Georgia and a PhD in Adult Education from Auburn University. His clinical background as an occupational therapist includes inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation, acute care and home health. Ryan has a passion for learning and creating, including development of an industrial rehab program for an outpatient therapy system and a preceptor new staff education program for a home healthcare company. As an Assistant Professor, he is thrilled to continue life-long growth alongside students in the School of Occupational Therapy at Augusta University. Aside from time with students, he has fun coaching sports and relaxing whether on land or water with his wife and kids, Caleb, Carly, and twins Mac and Mercer.