Our Team

Paul Varisco

Paul Varisco

Chairman of the Board

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Beyond founders Steve and Michel, Paul is the original Team Gleason member. He is also Steve’s father-in-law and the former Executive Director of the Foundation. After 11 years of building Team Gleason, we would not have made the impact, nor would we have helped as many people as we have, without Paul’s steadfast leadership, insight, dedication, and patience.

Paul is a life-long resident of New Orleans, a long-time business owner, lead singer of a band, and a restauranteur. His talents include managing a group of intensely passionate people trying to help those living with ALS. Paul works endlessly to raise funds for Team Gleason while creatively implementing the organization’s mission. Most importantly, he knows everyone’s birthday.

Steve Gleason

Steve Gleason

Co-founder

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Steve Gleason played for The New Orleans Saints from 2000-2008. As a counter-culture athlete who spent his off-season adventuring in third world countries, he will always be remembered for his blocked punt on the night the Louisiana Superdome reopened for the first time after Hurricane Katrina.

In January, 2011 Steve was diagnosed with ALS, considered a terminal neuromuscular disease. Beyond his faith that there is a solution to heal, it is his mission to show that people can not only live but thrive after this diagnosis. In doing so, he intends to inspire others to do the same.  With that in mind, Steve and his wife, Michel, formed “Team Gleason” to help him accomplish those goals and more.

Steve has helped pass 2 laws, innovated for and helped create new technologies for people with ALS and other disabilities, is a Congressional Gold Medal Winner, and most importantly, the father of two amazing children.

Michel Varisco

Michel Varisco

Co-founder & Merchandise

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Michel has been described as the pillar of Team Gleason. Although most pillars don’t collect swords and wear down jackets in the summer, she is eclectically the structure that completes and supports Team Gleason.

In her original role as Co-Founder of Team Gleason and also as Steve’s wife, Michel had a crash course in ALS and all that implies. In the film, ‘Gleason’, she and Steve shared their story with the world, creating enormous awareness for the disease and Team Gleason. Her official roles are as an advisor and also managing merchandise for the organization, but she remains a pillar or maybe two. And, every good idea is always attributed to Michel.

David Darragh

David Darragh

Managing Director

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David joins Team Gleason as Managing Director, overseeing day to day operations and optimizing organizational structures. After a tenured career leading food manufacturing and marketing companies, David felt the call to pivot to a more mission-driven organization. David feels energized while working closely with and supporting the growth of his team members. He is excited by the bold goals of Team Gleason and the work they do to empower those living with ALS.

David originally learned about ALS through Lou Gehrig and draws inspiration from both him and Steve to work toward making positive changes in people’s lives. David was born and raised in Cincinnati and lived in a few different cities before settling in New Orleans in 1998 after meeting his wife. They now raise two children together.

Blair Casey

Blair Casey

Executive Director

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Blair is the Executive Director, but he will always be known as the “Manny” from his role as Steve’s primary caregiver as reflected in the film ‘Gleason’. During his time spent with Steve through his progression with ALS, Blair became an extension of his body. Whether it was carrying Steve up the Inca Trail or exploring better technologies, Blair was not only instrumental in moving Steve forward but continues to push Team Gleason and the advancement of assistive technology.

Blair was named on Gambit’s 2022 40 Under 40 list for his work and dedication to advocating for the ALS community through technological innovations.

Sally Cox

Sally Cox

Chief of Staff

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On Sally’s first day as a Team Gleason Intern, Executive Director Paul Varisco said, “Stand up and give me a hug, you’re family now.” From that moment, Sally committed herself to Team Gleason’s mission of helping people living with ALS. Sally believes she has the most exciting job at Team Gleason. Despite starting as an intern, she now develops and implements fundraisers and events for the team.

Sally can be seen putting together a fundraising softball game with NFL players or taking spouses of people with ALS to a spa day. She could be working countless hours on any given event, but you will rarely see her without a smile. She is our Chief Smile Officer.

Kearney Gay

Kearney Gay

Director of Development

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A native New Orleanian, Kearney has committed his life’s work to furthering causes he is deeply committed to. Whether it was his time raising critical funds for Tulane University or with the American Red Cross, Kearney is now a powerful asset for Team Gleason and the ALS community. When asked what he hoped to accomplish working with Team Gleason, Kearney responded, “I want to help all people who are living with ALS get the help they need.” That was all we needed to hear. With a Masters Degree in Sports Administration and a long time tennis pro, Kearney brings the competitive spirit that all at Team Gleason focus on to find solutions for people living with ALS. Kearney is the father of 3 beautiful children and is reported to be a better than fair singer. Although he lived in Nashville for some time after Hurricane Katrina, we are glad he returned to New Orleans to literally sing Team Gleason’s praises.

 

Kenny Mellor

Kenny Mellor

Finance and Operations Officer

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Kenny is integral to the fundamental day-to-day financial operations within Team Gleason. His background in business and finance has been a welcomed addition to Team Gleason’s primary focus of helping people with ALS each and every day. The role Kenny plays helps the organization continue to do those things more effectively.

Although Kenny did not know much about ALS, he joined Steve’s care team a few years ago and now has a rich understanding of not only the disease, but a valued understanding of the complexities of caring for someone with the disease. Those assets are essential to all Team Gleason’s missions.

Clare Durrett

Clare Durrett

Strategic Advisor - Advocacy, Legislation & Communications

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Clare came to Team Gleason as one of the original volunteers. Steve and Michel initially thought she was a stalker, until they realized she actually was, but still allowed her to stay. Although she had no direct connection to ALS, Clare was immediately affected by Steve’s drive and Michel’s resolve. Some may call it stalking and others a passionate commitment, but she’s still here.

Clare’s roles vacillate between communications, policy, and like all within Team Gleason, duties as needed. With ALS, there is no shortage of needs, so there’s no task Clare, nor the team aren’t willing to approach.

Suzanne Alford

Suzanne Alford

Strategic Advisor - Marketing & Advertising

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Everything in Suzanne’s life directed her perfectly to Team Gleason. She’s been friends with Michel since the 9th grade, was in Steve and Michel’s wedding, and is a leader in advertising and marketing.  When Team Gleason was founded, Suzanne jumped in with both feet to assist with all things creative. 

When Steve declared there will be “no white flags” when founding Team Gleason, Suzanne seemed to make that her personal mantra when approaching any project for the group or for people with ALS.

Kacie Banegas

Kacie Banegas

Marketing Associate

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Steve once said, “through adversity we find our heroes,” and our very own Content Development Associate, Kacie Banegas, is a living example of that statement. Kacie is a Type One diabetic, who like the ALS community we help, is empowered through the use of technology. Every day, Kacie uses innovative technology to manage her Diabetes, so she knows all too well how the power of technology can give back some of what diseases take away.

Kacie is the consummate “message-bringer.” She uses her natural writing abilities to share inspiring stories about the ALS community and the work Team Gleason does as community partners. Kacie was born and raised in New Orleans and we are glad she calls Team Gleason “home.”

Daniel Vance, LOTR

Daniel Vance, LOTR

Lead Technology & Equipment Specialist

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Daniel may be the single most educated person within Team Gleason, but his passion toward helping people impresses us most. While seeking his Masters in Occupational Therapy, he wrote a paper on wheelchair seating and position for people living with ALS and was really drawn to the way technology can be used to bridge the gap between loss of physical functioning and meaningful activities. He was a perfect match for Team Gleason and for continuing to provide and innovate for more solutions for people living with the disease.

Despite all the positive assets Daniel brings to Team Gleason, none is more impressive than his ability to play the bouzouki, mandolin, tuba, and bass. We aren’t sure if he can do that all at once, but it wouldn’t be surprising.

Emily Kornman, MCD CCC-SLP

Emily Kornman, MCD CCC-SLP

Speech Language Pathologist

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Emily joined Team Gleason after obtaining experience as a Speech-Language Pathologist in an ALS multidisciplinary clinic, and neurorehabilitation outpatient clinic. Her value among the team is immeasurable and brings a critical depth of knowledge to help Team Gleason meet its goals of assisting more people living with ALS.

In her time at Team Gleason, Emily has said, “It feels unreal to be able to help the amount of people each day in the way that we do. This was a big change from working in a clinic where you have a certain amount of time to work with each patient and have to see so many per day, to being able to actually listen and assist each person no matter the time or insurance. 

From New Orleans, Emily was a longtime fan of Team Gleason and has always been passionate about working with people living with ALS. Despite her fears of watching the film, ‘Gleason,’ because she felt she would cry for hours, she said it only made her more passionate to join the team and make an impact. We’re glad she did.

Jeff Powers

Jeff Powers

Program Manager

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As Program Manager, Jeff oversees all of Team Gleason’s Program Services. Jeff’s role ensures the continued progress of the overall Team Gleason Mission in each facet of the organization, including the Technology and Equipment Team, the Adventure Program, and Respite Services. “The work that we do here at Team Gleason is both challenging and extremely rewarding. Getting to work with such an incredible community of people everyday is a real blessing.” Jeff is dedicated to helping Team Gleason meet its goal of reaching 100% of the ALS community in the United States.

Jeff joined Team Gleason on the simple premise that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. A native New Orleanian, he grew up with a sense of community, compassion for helping people, and to make the world a better place. Having an uncle who had ALS and being impassioned by the work of Team Gleason, Jeff is a perfect fit for advancing that mission.

Chontayia StPe

Chontayia StPe

Logistics Coordinator

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Coming from a background of in-home care and customer service, “Shon” is a perfect fit for not only Team Gleason, but for the ALS community.  As the Logistics Coordinator, Shon oversees all inventory, including updating and troubleshooting devices, shipping and prepping equipment, and processing donations and returns. She loves working with and learning about assistive technology. Her focus is always to make the lives of those with ALS more manageable with added independence while supporting those who care for them. 

There is a consistent theme with all who work at Team Gleason to make life better for those living with ALS and Shon is no exception. She chose to join Team Gleason in her path to help make an impact on the lives of others. Shon said, “The work I do brings me so much joy. I help provide needed equipment to maintain a degree of independence for pALS and take the stress off of caregivers and families. It gives me a sense of gratitude and humbleness.” And we are so grateful Shon is here to help the ALS community continue to do those special things.

Yutha Basuseto

Yutha Basuseto

Technology & Equipment Associate

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Yutha plays a critical role in communicating with people and families living with ALS about the benefits of the equipment or technology they may need. Her goal is to ease some of the fears about those needs by sharing valuable information and ongoing support.

Yutha’s path from Boston to New Orleans came through interning at the State Department, working for a law firm, and on a Congressional campaign. But her overwhelming passion for life is in public service and humanitarian work. Yutha credits her drive to work for a non-profit with being raised by a family who dedicated their lives to helping others. Team Gleason and the ALS community are grateful.

 Michael Holoway

Michael Holoway

Technology & Equipment Associate

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Louisiana native Michael Holoway is a perfect addition to the Team Gleason Technology program. His experience in leadership, management and customer service is incredibly valuable for Team Gleason’s mission, but also critically important to the ALS community.

In joining Team Gleason, Michael said, “the ability to bring positive change into people’s lives is the most rewarding thing I have ever had the pleasure of doing in my professional career.”

Michael is a life-long Saints fan and that kind of fighting spirit is a job requirement at Team Gleason.

Richard Bourgeois, Jr.

Richard Bourgeois, Jr.

Technology & Equipment Associate

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Following his desire for a career that involves helping others, Richard drives forward Team Gleason’s mission to empower those living with ALS. He enjoys working with technology and learning how it can improve the way that someone lives. His passion for working with families who are new to ALS, while educating and guiding them, never goes unnoticed.

Richard is “NOLA born, Metairie raised,” and first learned about ALS and Team Gleason through the Ice Bucket Challenge. Growing up with a mother who served as his grandmother’s caretaker, Richard empathizes and understands the intricacies of dealing with those living with disabilities and their families. “I work hard to help everyone out and ease the burden. That motivates and fuels me.” Richard states his passion for spreading awareness about Team Gleason is forever, and we love that.

Mollie Bush

Mollie Bush

Technology & Equipment Associate

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Inspired by Steve’s story and the work Team Gleason does, Mollie is thrilled to join Team Gleason as a Technology and Equipment Associate. With previous experience as a certified nursing assistant and as a caregiver, Mollie is passionate about working each day to ease the stress of people living with ALS and their families. “I’ve witnessed first hand people struggling to live productive and independent lives because of the lack of resources provided to them. The programs Team Gleason provides for people living with ALS are exceptional.” Mollie is excited to expand her knowledge of accessible solutions and looks forward to forming lifelong connections within the foundation. 

Mary Schmidt

Mary Schmidt

Technology & Equipment Associate

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Mary’s experience as a special education teacher led her to develop a deep interest in promoting accessibility for others. Working with students with limited verbal communication and motor skills helped guide her to her role as a Technology and Equipment Associate. “As a special education teacher, I worked with students who used various AAC devices and adaptive equipment and, in doing so, I became really interested in how those technologies can promote independence and improve someone’s quality of life.”

Building relationships with the ALS community is important to Mary. She enjoys assisting those living with ALS and their caregivers, especially learning and understanding their unique needs and finding accessible solutions. Mary believes that everyone has the right to independence, and she is proud that her work with Team Gleason truly enhances the quality of life for others. 

Mary grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and attended college in Jackson before moving to New Orleans. As a diehard Saints fan, she was a natural fit. Mary brings a unique and valuable perspective to Team Gleason through her past experience and we are lucky to have her on the team.

Emily Cornett

Emily Cornett

Adventure Coordinator

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Emily’s love of travel is the perfect prerequisite to create and coordinate Team Gleason Adventures for people living with ALS. She’s traveled extensively and understands not only the joy and anticipation of travel, but also the preparation for a successful adventure. She says it best, “traveling changes you and informs you. If I can help anyone travel, especially those facing barriers they shouldn’t have to, I’ll be happy.” 

If her travel background wasn’t enough, Emily has worked in disability rights and in journalism. She first learned about ALS through the Ice Bucket Challenge and then saw Steve and Team Gleason in a Mardi Gras parade. Once she became more familiar with team Gleason’s mission, she joined the Team in an effort to return to helping people. We are thrilled to have her, but we especially hope she brings some of her Scottish folk dancing skills to the team.

Kelly Viator

Kelly Viator

Support Services Coordinator

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As the founder of the Louisiana/Mississippi Chapter of the ALS Association who led the organization for 12 years, Kelly has a deep understanding of the needs of the ALS community. After losing her mother to the disease in 2001, she’s been committed to learning and teaching about ALS, while comforting and supporting the community.

As Team Gleason’s Respite Care Coordinator, Kelly is not only focused on supporting families who need respite relief, but she also connects directly with families after a recent diagnosis or ALS families who have unique questions or needs. 

Although Kelly has a specific role with Team Gleason, her purpose is best described in her own words, “I want to help bring light to their darkness, and hope to their despair. I only want to help as many families as I can.”

Rian Emmerson

Rian Emmerson

Northwest Liaison

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Rian is integral in all aspects of Team Gleason’s Pacific Northwest activities. Within the organization, Rian has known Steve the longest. She is his linebacker-in-law, as her husband Grady played football with Steve at WSU.

Despite not knowing much about ALS when Steve was diagnosed, Rian dug in and began helping in every way. She’s been instrumental in the growth of Team Gleason in Steve’s hometown of Spokane through Gleason Fest, the Gleason Classic Golf Tournament, and other events, while creating many more key programs that benefit people living with ALS.

“Our foundation continues to work with leading minds in technology, and we believe we will continue to change how many live with physical limitations. Help us keep pushing the limits.”

– Steve Gleason