Kiara Banks – Investigator
Kiara Banks joined DRNC in September 2018. Her work focuses on investigations involving Social Security beneficiaries and their representative payees. Having previously served in the mental health field and with persons with disabilities, Banks brings a passion for providing advocacy, guidance, and support to our clients. She received her bachelor’s degree in family and community services from East Carolina University where she focused on early intervention. Outside of work, Banks enjoys creative writing, baking, and spending time with friends and family.
Charlie Barnes – Accounting Assistant
Charlie Barnes joined DRNC as the agency’s chief financial officer when it became the state’s Protection & Advocacy agency in 2007. Barnes has over 35 years’ experience in nonprofit accounting. Before DRNC, he worked 23 years with North Carolina Easter Seals and one year with the NC Partnership for Children. He has now “semi-retired” into his current role as part-time accounting assistant. Barnes received his MBA from Campbell University and has been a certified public accountant since 1982. When Barnes is not working, he enjoys spending time with his family, participating in church activities, reading or exercising. Barnes completed numerous marathons and ultra-marathons, including three 100-mile endurance runs.
Gabriella Bush – Investigator
Gabby Bush joined the DRNC team in 2010 as its first outreach specialist. In that role she met thousands of North Carolinians with disabilities and presented on topics such as the history of the P&A system and how to be a better self-advocate. In 2015, Bush moved to the investigations & monitoring unit to investigate facilities across the state where people with disabilities live. In her current work with DRNC she focuses on investigations involving Social Security beneficiaries and their representative payees. Bush graduated from UNC-Greensboro with a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies. When she is not working, Bush enjoys spending time with her family and rescue dog, volunteering, or attending events with her Alpha Delta Pi alumnae sisters.
Katerin Castro – Investigator
Katerin Castro joined DRNC in July 2019 on the Protection & Advocacy for Beneficiaries of the Representative Payees Team. Her work focuses on investigations involving Social Security beneficiaries and their representative payees. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Minor in Social Work from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA. She previously worked at Disability Rights California in Los Angeles, CA and at Crossroads Sexual Assault and Resource Center in North Carolina as the Bilingual Services Coordinator. She also worked at Family Abuse Services in Burlington, North Carolina. In her free time she enjoys shopping, going to the gym and spending time with loved ones.
Reighlah Collins – Attorney
Reighlah Collins joined DRNC in August 2018 as an attorney on the education team. Collins grew up in Zebulon, N.C. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina-Asheville where she interned for the Asheville TEACCH autism program. Prior to earning her law degree from UNC School of Law, Collins worked as a direct supports coordinator in a group home for adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. Collins has family members working the disability field and her brother has fetal alcohol syndrome. These experiences led her to pursue a career in disability law. Outside of work, Reighlah likes to read, bake cookies, make people look at pictures of her two cats, and spend time with her family.
Joonu Coste joined DRNC in September 2019 as an Equal Justice Works Fellow. She lives in the Triangle with her husband, three children, therapy rabbit, and cat. She graduated from Campbell University School of Law in May 2019 where she was a member of the nationally-ranked advocacy team and served as an associate editor of the Campbell Law Observer. Two of Joonu’s three children are autistic. After many years as an at-home mother/advocate/therapist/home educator/medical social worker she returned to school in order to advocate on behalf of children, families, and individuals with disabilities. Her Equal Justice Works Fellowship Project, funded by an anonymous donor, focuses on the civil rights of children living in psychiatric residential treatment facilities in NC. She loves reading, doting on her family, and running.
Barbara Daniels – Investigator
Barbara Daniels joined DRNC in September 2018. Her work focuses on investigations involving Social Security beneficiaries and their representative payees. Daniels has over 30 years’ experience in the social services field at the local and state levels. Prior to coming to DRNC, she retired from the NC Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Medical Assistance (DMA). At DMA, Daniels managed a team that provides Medicaid policy training and support to 100 county social services agencies. Daniels holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Fayetteville State University. She also earned her MBA with a concentration in public administration and a human resources graduate certificate from Strayer University. For many years, Daniels advocated for the rights of her two sons, both with a diagnosis of mental illness. Outside of work, Daniels enjoys spending time with her granddaughter and other family members, attending church, aerobic exercise, and traveling.
Corye Dunn – Director of Public Policy
Corye Dunn joined DRNC in 2011 as the agency’s director of public policy. Dunn, who was born and raised in Durham, N.C., graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill and NC Central University School of Law. Prior to coming to work at DRNC, Dunn practiced law in a small firm. She also served as a direct care provider to adults and children with developmental disabilities and worked in nonprofits seeking to expand access to education and increase investment in low-wealth communities.
Meisha Evans – Policy Analyst
Meisha Evans joined DRNC in February 2018 after spending four years reviewing wrongful conviction claims for indigent North Carolina inmates. Evans received her bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech and her law degree from UNC School of Law.
Carolina Farmer joined DRNC in 2014. In her role as information and referral specialist, Farmer helps people with disabilities on a daily basis. Farmer guides individuals through the service intake process and provides referrals and self-advocacy assistance. Farmer grew up in New York City and moved to Raleigh in 2013. She enjoys spending her weekends exploring North Carolina with her son and daughter.
Virginia Fogg – Supervising Attorney
Virginia Fogg joined DRNC in 2014. As the supervising attorney of the education team, she works to resolve special education and discipline issues to help ensure positive outcomes for children and families. Fogg grew up in Wilson and attended UNC-Chapel Hill as an undergraduate. After earning her law degree from Columbia Law School in 1994, she clerked for the N.C. Supreme Court, then practiced class action litigation and transactional law in Northern California. Her legal background includes representing children in special education and discipline matters in her solo law practice. Fogg is married, has two children, and spends her free time attending sporting events and exploring the Triangle food scene.
Becka Fortune – Communications Coordinator
Becka Fortune joined DRNC in January 2019. Fortune grew up in California and earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She moved to North Carolina to attend UNC School of Law and made North Carolina her home. Fortune uses her expertise in technology and communications, as well as her legal education, to help individuals with disabilities have access to needed information and services. She also promotes the agency’s messaging to the general public and North Carolina’s legal community. Fortune is married and has a daughter. She spends her free time exploring North Carolina, attending concerts, playing board games, teaching group fitness classes, and finding new ways to be creative.
Erika George joined DRNC in May 2019. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communication studies from the University of North Carolina – Wilmington. She also has a master’s degree in human resources management from Webster University. Prior to coming to DRNC, George held human resource roles in nonprofit/healthcare, local government, education and retail. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with friends and family.
Lisa Gessler – Attorney
Lisa Gessler joined DRNC in March 2019. Gessler is originally from Ohio and graduated from the University of Akron School of Law. Before law school she worked in psychology in the mental health and developmental disabilities fields. After law school she relocated to North Carolina and worked at private law firms and Legal Aid of North Carolina.
Enid Gonzalez – Office Manager
Enid Gonzales joined DRNC’s accounting department in 2017. In her role as office manager, she provides direction and support the agency’s daily operation. Gonzales was born and raised in New York, where she worked in the marketing finance department of an international food-and-beverage company and for a franchise management group. In 2015, she relocated to North Carolina with her husband. They have two adult sons, who are pursuing careers in New York. Gonzales and her husband enjoy taking weekend trips to the beaches and mountains of North Carolina in their travel trailer with their two dogs. They also travel to New York frequently to spend time with their sons. Both Gonzales and her husband have family members with disabilities, and she is proud to work for an organization that devotes its time and resources to protecting the rights of people with disabilities.
Sandra Gonzalez – Investigator/Advocate
Sandra Gonzalez joined DRNC in August 2019 in the Investigations and Monitoring Unit. She has a personal and professional connection with people with disabilities and has worked in various advocacy roles for more than 30 years, in New York, North Carolina and the southwest. Ms. Gonzalez graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a minor in Art Therapy. She completed a Master’s Degree in Public Administration with a concentration in Health Care Administration and has a Graduate Certificate in Gerontology from CW Post/ Long Island University. Amongst her other passions, she enjoys nature and many creative pursuits including: painting, photography, jewelry making, gardening and baking.
Lisa Grafstein – Legal Director
Lisa Grafstein joined DRNC in 2011, was promoted to managing attorney in 2014, and named legal director in 2018. Prior to joining DRNC, Grafstein worked in private practice, primarily in the area of employment law. Since 2007, her peers selected her for inclusion in Business North Carolina’s Legal Elite. She was elevated to the magazine’s Hall of Fame in 2011. Grafstein also received recognition in the area of employment law by North Carolina Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers in America. In 2011, North Carolina Super Lawyers named her among the top 50 women lawyers in North Carolina. The NC Association of Women Attorneys honored her with the Gwyneth B. Davis award in 2012. Grafstein served as chair of the labor & employment law section of the NC Bar Association. Additionally, she was president of the NC Association of Women Attorneys and a board member for several nonprofits. Grafstein received a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Northwestern University and a law degree from UNC School of Law.
Iris Peoples Green – Supervising Attorney
Iris People Green joined DRNC when it became the state’s Protection & Advocacy agency in 2007. In 2019, Green took on the challenge to lead the agency’s emergency management and disaster relief efforts. She is supervising attorney of (and part of the visionary team behind) DRNC’s Disaster, Displacement and Disability project. In this role, Green works to assist people with disabilities affected by Hurricane Florence overcome barriers, access funding, and secure much needed services. Outside of work, Green volunteers with Watts Missionary Baptist Church and serves on the Johnston UNC Health Foundation board. She is also an active member of her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. She received her bachelor’s degree in political science from South Carolina State University and her law degree from North Carolina Central University School of Law. Green is married and has two children.
Oliver Harwood – Investigator
Oliver Harwood joined DRNC in September 2018. His work focuses on Social Security beneficiaries and their representative payees. As an investigator, Harwood conducts reviews of representative payees to ensure Social Security beneficiaries are not abused, neglected, or exploited. Prior to joining DRNC, Harwood was an advocate at the New York Legal Assistance Group in New York City. He also served as an ombudsman for long-term care residents in Portland, Oregon. Harwood is excited and grateful to help North Carolinians with disabilities and be part of the community.
Lucy Hatchell- Attorney
Lucy Hatchell joined DRNC in 2015 as a disability law fellow on the education team. After her fellowship, she stayed on as a valued member of the team working to resolve special education and discipline issues. Hatchell, a native of Chapel Hill, N.C., received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Indiana University and her law degree from UNC School of Law. Hatchell worked in California after college, and moved back to North Carolina to attend law school. Her brother has autism and, as a result, Hatchell has always been passionate about advocating for individuals with disabilities.
Curtis Hill – Disaster Recovery Advocate
Curtis Hill joined DRNC in April 2019. As the advocate for the agency’s emergency management and disaster relief efforts, Hill assists people with disabilities affected by Hurricane Florence. Based in Columbus County, Hill can provide local support to help overcome barriers, access funding, and secure much needed services. Hill, raised in Eastern North Carolina, brings a personal connection to the community, as well as a wealth of nonprofit experience, to his role at DRNC.
Chris Hodgson – Attorney
Chris Hodgson joined DRNC in 2015 after graduating from UNC School of Law. In addition to a law degree, Hodgson has a master’s in philosophy from Texas A&M University and a bachelor’s in English from Southern Illinois University. Hodgson developed his passion for disability rights prior to law school through his work as a direct care aide, case manager, and day program coordinator.
Meredith Huml – Communications Assistant
Meredith Huml joined DRNC in 2017. She previously worked as an independent living specialist at Alliance of Disability Advocates in Raleigh. Huml has FSHD, a form of Muscular Dystrophy, and is the NC Chapter Director with the FSH Society. She and her father wrote a book on MD, published in July 2015, and continue to publish papers on FSHD in the hopes of spreading awareness and one day finding a cure. She enjoys writing, snacking, petting people’s dogs, and spending time with her loved ones.
Emma Kinyanjui – Supervising Attorney
Emma Kinyanjui joined DRNC in 2016. She began her legal career as a Clifton Everett Fellow in the Morganton Office of Legal Aid of North Carolina where she represented low income clients in housing, benefits, and consumer related issues. After her fellowship, she continued working for Legal Aid for seven years as a staff attorney, supervising attorney, and eventually as the managing attorney of the Smithfield Office. Kinyanjui also worked as a director in the Office for Career Services at NCCU School of Law before returning to her first passion, helping individuals receive the rights and services to which they are entitled. She received her bachelor’s degree from Hollins University and her law degree from NCCU School of Law.
Virginia Knowlton Marcus – Chief Executive Officer
Virginia Knowlton Marcus joined DRNC in September 2018. She is a nationally recognized disability rights attorney who has been advocating for disability rights at the federal, state, local and international levels for 25 years. Her prior positions include executive director at Disability Rights Maryland, director of legal advocacy and director of public policy at Disability Rights California, and executive director at the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation. Her relevant experience includes leadership positions on the National Disability Rights Network Board of Directors. Knowlton Marcus earned her J.D. and B.A. at the University of California, Davis. She was thrilled to join the great team at DRNC in September 2018.
Nicholas Lett – Paralegal
Nick Lett was born and raised in Sanford, NC, where his family owned and operated Lee Builder Mart for three generations. He received his bachelor’s degree from UNC-Wilmington and a diploma in paralegal technology from Central Carolina Community College. Prior to joining DRNC, Lett worked in his family’s business for eight years and then as a paralegal for a law firm in Lillington for two years. Lett has family members affected by hearing impairment, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, depression and Myasthenia Gravis. He considers it a privilege to be a part of an organization that supports and advocates for people with disabilities.
Tadra Martin – Supervising Attorney
Tadra Martin joined DRNC in 2015 and leads the intake team. Although originally from South Carolina, Martin is a proud Tar Heel. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her law degree from Vanderbilt Law School. For over five years, she represented low-income individuals in various areas of civil law as a staff attorney at Legal Aid of North Carolina. Prior to joining DRNC, Martin conducted unemployment appeals hearings as a legal specialist at the NC Division of Employment Security. At DRNC, Martin’s work is focused on ensuring high-quality information and referral services and timely responses to service requests.
Andrea Martinez – Advocate
Andrea Martinez, a native of Raleigh, N.C., joined DRNC in 2018. Her work focuses on advocacy and investigation within the education system. Martinez earned her bachelor’s degree in child development at Brigham Young University in Idaho. Afterwards, she moved to San Francisco with AmeriCorps in their partnership with Prevent Child Abuse California. In California, she worked with children with delays and disabilities as a teacher, coordinator, and developmental therapist. She continued that work after returning to North Carolina. Martinez is pursuing her master’s degree in education from UNC-Wilmington. Outside of work, Martinez likes to read, try the most delicious restaurants in the Triangle, and attend to her two dog’s every whim.
Susan McLean – Director of Development & Communications
Susan McLean joined DRNC in December of 2018. McLean grew up in the Triangle and earned a degree in special education from East Carolina University. She taught and developed after school programs in for a number of years before joining the American Red Cross as a blood recruiter. McLean returned to education as part of the administrative team of the Center for International Education in Chapel Hill. Her winding career path brought her to DRNC after more than 15 years as part of the develop teams at both Duke University and UNC’s law schools. She and her husband live in Raleigh with her adult brother with an intellectual disability. They spend as many weekends as possible in the mountains visiting her daughter in Asheville or hiding away in their tiny cabin off the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Kishona Mimms – Investigator
Kishona Mimms joined DRNC in 2012 as an investigator for the investigations & monitoring unit. Mimms graduated from Touro College in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She obtained a master’s degree in urban policy/public administration from Brooklyn College in 2007. Mimms worked for seven years as a paralegal in the sex crimes/special victims bureau of the King’s County District Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, N.Y. where she conducted child abuse investigations. She also spent two years working as an associate investigator for the NYC Department of Education in the special education unit. Mimms, who relocated from New York with her husband and two children in 2009, loves spending time with her family and running the children’s program for her church.
Kenya Myers joined DRNC in January 2019 as an experienced voting rights advocate. During the 2016 election cycle, she developed and implemented a strategic election protection plan that doubled the capacity of the program, expanding the statewide footprint from 36 to 79 counties. Her advocacy campaigns increased minority recruitment and participation. In addition to her voting work, Myers has vast experience in identifying abusive lending and housing practices. She worked to resolve loans and conflicts for victims of predatory lending and fair housing violations. Over the past 17 years, Myers assisted and trained numerous local, state and national organizations on various civil rights and economic parity topics. Myers serves as an adjunct instructor at the Patricia Robert Harris National Fair Housing Training Academy and as faculty at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition Training Academy.
Elizabeth Myerholtz – Attorney
Elizabeth Myerholtz joined DRNC in August 2018. She is from Ohio and graduated from Miami University with bachelor’s degrees in psychology and English literature. She worked as a direct support professional for adults with autism before moving to Washington to attend law school at American University Washington College of Law. While in law school, Myerholtz worked at the San Diego public defender’s office – mental health unit, the American University’s Disability Rights Law Clinic, and the Supreme Court of the United States. Outside of work, Myerholtz enjoys crocheting, restoring furniture, and exploring the Triangle with her two dogs.
Lisa Nesbitt – Senior Attorney
Lisa Nesbitt joined DRNC in 2012. Her work involves helping children and adults obtain necessary medical services, including mental health and developmental disabilities services. She received her bachelor’s degree from Cook College at Rutgers University and her law degree from George Washington University. Nesbitt practiced law with several private firms in Washington and New Jersey before taking time off to raise three children.
Susan Pollitt came to DRNC after joining Carolina Legal Assistance in 2005. She specializes in defending the rights of people with disabilities who are incarcerated. A native of Chapel Hill, N.C., Pollitt earned her law degree from Northeastern University School of Law. She returned to North Carolina and began her career in 1984 at the Mecklenburg County public defender’s office. She and her husband moved to the Triangle in 1987 and she took a position with the North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Project where she advocated for workers’ rights. In 1989, Pollitt joined North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services where, over her 16 years of service, she developed the expertise that makes her one of our state’s leading advocates for breaking down the connections between poverty, disabilities, and incarceration. Her years of advocacy have led to increased public awareness of the psychological effects of long-term solitary confinement, the treatment of juvenile offenders with mental health disorders and intellectual disabilities, and incidents of suicide in prisons and jails. She is known within the state and around the country as an expert and mentor in this area of law.
Josh Prater – Paralegal
Josh Prater works as part of DRNC’s community inclusion team to assist in Medicaid and Waiver appeals and litigation. Prater also assists the investigation and monitoring team in reviewing reports of potentially suspicious deaths from state-funded facilities. Before joining DRNC, Prater worked as a lab technician, a teaching assistant for students with autism in Wake County Schools, and as a paralegal. Prater is a North Carolina native and a Triangle transplant.
Valerie Reed joined DRNC in November 2018. She graduated from the University of Washington in Seattle with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in speech and hearing science. Reed has over 25 years’ experience as a speech language pathologist working with, and frequently advocating for, both children and adults with various disabilities. During her free time, Reed enjoys live music performances, worshipping with her church and serving the physical and spiritual needs of the community as part of the hospitality ministry. She strives to be a positive role model of how to live with a disability, and is grateful for her family members who are supportive of her.
John Rittelmeyer – Director of Litigation
Prior to joining DRNC, John Rittelmeyer worked in private practice in Raleigh, N.C. for more than 15 years, concentrating on consumer finance issues and disability insurance claims. As the parent of a child with severe developmental disabilities, Rittelmeyer found himself drawn to disability issues and served on the board of directors for Carolina Legal Assistance for more than 10 years before joining the staff. He and his wife live in Cary where he can often be found in his garden.
Cas Shearin – Director of Investigations and Monitoring
Cas Shearin joined DRNC as an advocate in 2007. As director of the agency’s investigations and monitoring unit, Shearin oversees investigations of serious allegations of abuse or neglect for people with disabilities. Her responsibilities also include supervising the protection & advocacy for beneficiaries of representative payees program and DRNC’s disaster relief project. Shearin reported for newspapers in Georgia and North Carolina for eight years before pursuing her career in advocacy. For 15 years, she worked as an investigator, consultant, administrator and legislative liaison for a Durham nonprofit law firm that specializes in defending people facing the death penalty. She is particularly passionate about people whose humanity and dignity has been overlooked or discounted by others.
Kathy Smith – Investigator
Kathy Smith joined DRNC’s investigations and monitoring unit in 2007. Smith covers the western part of the state. She has worked for the North Carolina protection and advocacy organization for more than 30 years, beginning with 23 years at the governor’s advocacy council for persons with disabilities.
Brad Spivey – Chief Financial Officer
Brad Spivey joined DRNC in January 2018. As chief financial officer, he oversees accounting and financial management functions for the agency. Spivey, who brings many years of experience in nonprofit accounting to DRNC, is a North Carolina State University alumnus. When he is not working, he enjoys spending time watching soccer or volleyball with his kids. He also enjoys golf, fishing, working in his yard and traveling with his wife.
Kristine Sullivan – Supervising Attorney
Kristine Sullivan joined DRNC in 2007. She serves as the supervising attorney for the investigations and monitoring unit. Her work includes investigating allegations of abuse, neglect or suspicious deaths; monitoring the care and treatment provided at facilities throughout the state; and advocating for policy changes to protect the rights and dignity of people with disabilities. Sullivan earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and her law degree from UNC School of Law. She is conversant in American Sign Language and is the author of a manual for attorneys and advocates who represent students in matters related to seclusion and restraint in schools.
Larkin Taylor-Parker – Attorney
Larkin Taylor-Parker joined DRNC in 2017, shortly after graduating from the University of Georgia School of Law. Before and during law school, Taylor-Parker spent time as a grassroots organizer in Atlanta’s disability community and in various roles at nonprofits that advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Outside of work, Taylor-Parker enjoys spending time with friends and family, playing the tuba, and tinkering with an old Land Cruiser.
Debbie Thome – Advocate
Debbie Thome came to DRNC in 2007 via Carolina Legal Assistance, where she first worked on the Thomas S. class litigation and then on the Special Education Juvenile Justice Project. She now splits her time between representing children to resolve special education and discipline-related issues in schools and monitoring the rights and safety of children and adults with disabilities in facilities throughout the state. Thome earned her bachelor’s degree in special education from East Carolina University. She has worked with people with disabilities and their families in the nonprofit sector for more than 30 years and has both lifelong friends and family members with disabilities. Outside of work, she enjoys walking, reading, attending live music events, camping and going to the beach with her two teenagers as often as possible.
Luke Woollard joined DRNC’s prison and jails team in January 2019. He received his bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University. He attended UNC School of Law after spending two years in Americorps. Prior to DRNC, Woollard began his legal career working to correct the wrongful convictions of indigent North Carolina inmates.