Doreen Caruso: President and Co-Founder
Bernadette Jackel: Vice President
Wendi Taylor: Treasurer
Diane Smola: Secretary
Melissa DeMartin: Creative Director
About the Members:
President and Co-Founder
Doreen is Co-Founder and President of The Pilot House. She has extensive leadership experience in a variety of organizations serving the special needs community. Prior to the birth of her twins in 1999, she worked for the Bridgeport Board of Education in the Federal and State grant department as an accounting specialist. From 2003 – 2005 she was President of the Early Childhood Center Parent Support Group, spearheading fundraising efforts and selecting parent speakers. During that time she also organized a Walk for Autism in Fairfield, CT for the Autism Spectrum Resource Center, and served as a Board Member of that organization.
After serving as Vice President of Fundraising for the Fairfield, CT SEPTA (Special Education Parent-Teacher Association) in 2004, Doreen became President, a post she held from 2005 – 2007. With a board of 20 people, she organized programs, engaged speakers and created the model for and development of the first SEPTA summer camp. For her summer camp experience, she was invited to deliver the Inspirational Address to the 2007 CT State SEPTA Council. At that time, she was also on the Honorary Committee for the Kennedy Center “Autism Project Benefit” from 2006 – 2007.
Doreen and her husband Nicholas live in Fairfield, CT, and have a teenage son named Michael, and twins, Allison and Christopher. Christopher was diagnosed at 2 with autism. The Pilot House was a dream of Doreen’s not only for her son, but for the countless families searching for a place for their children to have fun and just be kids.
Bernadette Jackel joins The Pilot House board after many years of advocating for children. She spent six years on the board of the Ahlbin Center for Rehabilitation Medicine Auxiliary, three years as an Executive Board Member. During her tenure, the board was successful in opening the Pediatric Center in Southport. She has held various Fairfield PTA board and executive board positions over the past 14 years and is currently an executive board member of Fairfield PTA Council. Concurrently she served on Fairfield Septa Executive Board in various positions including chairing the Grant committee where she led funding of various grant applications. She also successfully led the committee in changing the stucture of the program to one that now also includes giving district-wide grants so all children in the district will benefit, not just the few whose teachers applied. Bernadette is a member of NAPVI (National Association of Parents with children with Visual Impairments), AER (Association for Education and Rehabilitation of Blind and Visually Impaired), FOVI (Focus on Visual Impairments), NFB (National Federation of the Blind) and AFB (American Foundation for the Blind).
Bernadette holds a degree in special education. She currently works as a marketing assistant in the real estate industry yet continues to attend conferences and workshops related to all aspects of special education. Bernadette is proud to be a native of Fairfield. She and her husband Glenn have raised two children. Their daughter Emma attends Boston College while their son Michael, who has Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI), currently attends Perkins School for the Blind.
Bernadette is excited to be a part of The Pilot House and holds the same vision that all children can be successful when the necessary opportunities to learn are offered to them.
Wendi has over 20 years of banking and finance experience. She worked at People’s Bank for 21 years and was involved in many different aspects, from being a teller to becoming the Operations Manager for the Greater Fairfield County branches. She maintained the budgets and all financial operations.
Wendi has since become the Operations Manager for The House Designers, an architectural design company, which is web based and has published magazines that are sold nationally. Her position there is to maintain the budget and all incoming and outgoing finances for the entire company.
In addition, Wendi was the treasurer for her Condominium Association; she is a notary and has been involved with many events that pertain to Special Needs Children. She lives in Fairfield, CT with her husband Brian and her dogs, Smitty and Emmett.
Diane Smola joins The Pilot House board after many years of advocating for children. Currently, she serves as Vice President of Leadership for Fairfield PTA Council, and has served as an executive board member of Council for the last six years. In addition, she has held various Fairfield PTA board and executive board positions over the past 15 years, including Board of Education representative and chair of the Grant committee for Fairfield SEPTA. She spent ten years on the board of the Ahlbin Center for Rehabilitation Medicine Auxiliary, six years as an Executive Board Member filling the roles of Treasurer and Secretary. During her tenure, the board was successful in opening the Pediatric Center in Southport.
Diane holds a master’s degree in economics. She has her own consulting business providing investment consulting services to corporate retirement plans, and financial writing services to institutional investment consulting firms.
Diane has been a resident of Fairfield for the past 17 years. She and her husband Rick have three children, one attends Colgate University, one attends Fairfield Warde High School and their youngest, who has been diagnosed with autism, attends Burr Elementary school.
In 1999, Melissa and her husband Michael founded Designsite, a design and marketing communications firm, specializing in branding, website and print design. Prior to Designsite, Melissa worked for DMCD, one of America’s leading exhibit design firms, for eight years as a Senior Exhibit Designer. Melissa earned a Bachelor of Science Degree from Rochester Institute of Technology in 1987.
As the Creative Director for The Pilot House Special Needs Resource Center, Melissa designed an idenity, website, thepilothouse.org, signage, brochures and other print materials. Melissa is also co-owner of The Painted Bird, an art, design and craft business that runs after school programs in elementary schools in Fairfield, CT.
Melissa served on the Executive Board of the Jennings School PTA from 2007- 2009 as the VP of Communications. Melissa also served on the Executive Board of the Fairfield SEPTA (Special Education Parent-Teacher Association) from 2003 – 2007. She designed, developed and maintained the SEPTA website, fairfieldsepta.org, for two years then served on the Executive board as Director of Resources for another two. Melissa ran other committees for Jennings school including: interior beautification, art in the classroom, the Jennings Times, holiday boutique and 5th grade moving up committee chair. Melissa received a National PTA Volunteer Recognition Award in 2010.
Other community positions include Parent Support Group co-chair at the Early Childhood Center in 2003, Craft Coordinator for Mothers of Preschoolers in 2002 and coordinator for Children’s Events with the Welcome Club of Fairfield and Easton, CT in 2001. Melissa and her husband Michael reside in Fairfield, CT with their 12 year old twins, Madeline and Michael John (MJ). MJ was born with Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome and has been diagnosed with high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder.