Introducing ESP's National Board

ESP is delighted to announce the recent addition of several members to its National Board of Directors. This group of committed volunteers serves by providing governance, fiduciary accountability, and strategic oversight of mission and vision to ESP. In addition to personal financial commitments, these leaders dedicate their time, network and expertise to advance ESP’s mission of creating transformative experiences for people of all abilities, and their families.

Laura Whitaker, ESP Inc. 

Laura Whitaker serves as the CEO of ESP. She began volunteering with ESP as a special ed college student in 2003. She was named Camp Director at just 19-years-old after the sudden passing of our founder, Martha. Over the last 17+ years, Laura has led ESP to growth and the expansion of our mission. She is passionate about leadership and uses her management strengths to manage staff, oversee multiple year-round programs, and raise funds to run programs. Her favorite part of the job is getting to hug the many children who walk through the ESP doors. Laura’s most important roles include wife to husband Joseph and mother to Owen, Finley, and Tate.

Andrew Almeida, Thoma Bravo

Andrew is a father, husband and investor in the cybersecurity space. He currently lives in Miami, Florida where he spends his time at the beach with his family and on the golf course with his friends.

Philip Bernardi, Oconee State Bank

Philip joined Oconee State Bank in December 2016 and was named Executive Vice President and Chief Banking Officer Philip is an experienced leader in the areas of commercial lending, business development, sales leadership and relationship banking. As Oconee State Bank’s Chief Banking Officer, Philip is responsible for leading the Commercial, Consumer, Mortgage, SBA Lending, and Retail Branch Operations of Oconee State Bank. Since joining Oconee State Bank as their CBO, the Commercial footprint of their Lending Area has expanded into Athens/Clarke County & Gwinnett County by opening new offices. Oconee State Bank will celebrate 63 years of service next year and is the only locally owned and operated community bank in Oconee County. Philip is a graduate of the University of Georgia with a Master’s of Public Administration and is also a graduate of Presbyterian College in South Carolina with an undergraduate Degree in Political Science and Business Administration. In addition to the Oconee Parks Foundation, Philip is an active member of the Oconee County Rotary Club, serves on the St Mary’s Young Professional Advisory Board & is the vice chair of ESP’s National Board. Philip and his wife Courtney reside in Oconee County and have two children, Milania and Luca who are both raving fans of ESP and Java Joy.

Delena Brockmann, Piedmont Athens Reigonal 

Delena Brockmann has been working at Piedmont Athens Regional for over 10 years now. She started her first job with Athens Regional in 2004 as the Clinical Applications Assistant Director where she oversaw the project management of electronic medical record initiative. She spent a lot of her time shadowing everyone she could at the hospital so she could learn as much as possible. Now, Delena is the Executive Director of Piedmont Athens Regional’s Oconee Health Campus.

Keeca Burroughs, EY

Keeca Burroughs is an assurance managing director and joined the EY family in September 1992, serving a variety of industry sectors within the entrepreneurial services and real estate markets.  She has predominantly focused her talents by contributing unique insight and understanding of the business and regulatory risks confronting benefit plans sponsored by many EY clients and she lives in Atlanta, GA, with her husband and family.  Keeca was first introduced to ESP by a colleague who asked if she might be interested in working with the organization, and having made an initial dive into what ESP was all about.  She was immediately consumed and inspired by Laura’s vision and mission for the organization.

Andrew Costas, Landmark Properties

Andrew is Senior Director of Development at Landmark Properties managing the development of residential housing projects across the US. Andrew is a native of Atlanta, Georgia and a graduate of The University of Georgia. He lives in Athens with his wife Theresa and their children Ford, Margaux, and Nell.

Ben Deutsch, Retired from The Coca-Cola Company

Ben Deutsch retired from The Coca-Cola Company in December 2017 after a 25-year career, the last 11 years of which he served as Vice President, Corporate Communications. Currently, Deutsch serves on the advisory boards of BoxLock, a start-up security solutions company, and Own the Room, an interactive communications training organization, and is an adjunct professor in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida. In addition to ESP, Deutsch serves on the Board of Directors of Covenant House Georgia, which supports homeless and trafficked youth, the Posse Foundation-Atlanta, which recruits, trains and connects dynamic high school students from diverse backgrounds with top colleges and universities, and the HAVE Foundation, which provides quality education for the children of the Agalta Valley of Honduras. He also served as Chairman of the Board of Special Olympics Georgia and currently serves on the organization’s Honorary Board. A journalism graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Deutsch has been a very active alumnus. He served on the Board of Visitors (BOV) of the university’s School of Journalism & Mass Communication from 2007-2012, and served as Chairman of the BOV from 2013-2014. He currently serves as a Committee Co-Chair of the College of Letters & Sciences Career Initiative, SuccessWorks. In August 2022, Deutsch earned an Executive Master of Science degree in sport business from the School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management at Temple University. Deutsch and his wife, Karen, have two adult children and reside in Dunwoody, Georgia.

Bryan Harris, Jackson Spalding

Bryan joined Jackson Spalding in 2006 and has been a leader in the growth of our sports practice, which has included outreach for clients like the Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Falcons, College Football Hall of Fame, ESPN/SEC Network, Chick-fil-A Bowl, Atlanta Sports Council, PrimeSport, Mizuno and theUniversity of Georgia. He has also helped manage media relations for marquee events like the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship, 2018 MLS All Star Game, Super Bowl LIII and multiple PGA TOUR-sanctioned events.

John McLean, Allied Paving Contractors

John McLean is President of Allied Paving Contractors in Pendergrass, GA. Originally from Waycross, GA, John is a graduate of The University of Georgia and has been involved in the heavy civil and site construction industry in Metro Atlanta and North Georgia for over twenty years. John resides in Athens with his wife, Teresa, and their children Hanna, John Wolfe and Ian.

Daniel Palawasta, Levy Restaurants

Daniel is the Regional Director of Operations at Levy Restaurants. 

Michael Raeber, University of Georgia

As General Counsel at the University of Georgia, Mr. Raeber serves as chief legal counsel for the University and is a member of the University’s Cabinet. He serves as the office’s primary liaison with the Office of the President, with legal counsel for the Board of Regents, and with the Office of the Attorney General on litigation matters. Mr. Raeber also serves as General Counsel to the University of Georgia Athletic Association. In addition to these responsibilities, and the general supervision of the Office of Legal Affairs, Mr. Raeber provides guidance to the several units and colleges of the University.

Michael Ripps, Jittery Joe's

Michael has lived in Athens with his wife Kim and three daughters Olivia, Natalie and Janie for 16 years. In addition to Jittery Joe's, he is a partner with Vu Partners, providing strategic advice and consulting services to entrepreneurs in the Southeast US. Prior to Jittery Joe's, Michael was CEO of Lycos Asia in Singapore after serving as Director of Finance for Lycos in Boston. He graduated from Vanderbilt with a BA in Economics..

Bo Rutledge, University of Georgia

Bo Rutledge serves as dean of the University of Georgia law school. He learned about ESP when his daughter began volunteering there and then founded an esp club at her school. Inspired by what he saw at Big Hearts, he resolved to jump out of a plane to help raise money for the participants. He believes unequivocally in Laura Whitaker's vision for ESP. and it has become one of his familily's largest philanthropic priorities.

Carter Strickland, Turnaround Properties + Winshire Green

Carter Strickland is a Managing Partner at Turnaround Properties and the CEO of Winshire Green.Carter was a reporter for for 2 years after covering the University of Georgia for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the University of Oklahoma for The Oklahoman and Washington State University for The Spokesman-Review. Carter lives with his wife and family in Austin, Texas.

Anne Marie Tison, Geneva Health Solutions

Jon Williams, Williams & Associates

Jon Williams is the President of Williams & Associates in Athens. He has worked in the northeast Georgia area for almost twenty years on commercial, office, recreational, and residential projects. Jon has been a member of the Oconee County Economic Development Committee, the ASLA, and the Athens Area Home Builders Association. He is a graduate of the University of Georgia. Jon and his wife, Amy Stone, have four children.