Meet Our Team

Executive Team

Laura Whitaker: Executive Director

Sometimes you choose your job, other times your job chooses you.

Laura Whitaker 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 15+ 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 Patrick (11), Finley Gray (7) and newest addition Tate Alan (2).

For more about Laura, visit her site:

Nicole Andrews
Executive Coordinator

Nicole is a recent graduate of the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) with a BA in Communications Studies. After working for the Whitaker family and also having her two older sisters previously work at ESP, Nicole was thrilled to accept her job as Executive Coordinator, where it already felt like home. In her free time, Nicole enjoys spending time with her close friends and family, reading, playing frisbee, or exploring the amazing Athens, GA. Nicole is so honored to spread ESP magic by supporting her team and serving the incredible ESP community. Contact Nicole at

Programs Team

Our programs team is responsible for planning and executing all of ESP’s programs and events that directly serve our participants of all abilities and their families!

Jake Sapp
Director of Programs

Jake Sapp made his way back to ESP after spending his first year following graduation in South Carolina. Jake is excited to be home while continuing to grow with the organization that was so pivotal in shaping the person he is. Jake works closely with staff, families, volunteers, and the community to ensure programs run smoothly! In his free time, Jake enjoys spending time with his family; his wife, Annie Kate; his friends; and his dog Goose. Contact Jake at

Hunter Pugh
Family Support Coordinator

Hunter Pugh currently lives in Athens with her fur baby, Luna. She holds a BS in Psychology with Honors from the University of Alabama and she’s currently pursuing her Masters in Social Work. Hunter began her relationship with ESP as a camp counselor in 2017, before taking on a leadership role, then the role of full-time Volunteer Coordinator. Hunter was thrilled to shift her role and begin putting her social work knowledge to use as our new Family Support Coordinator. As Family Support Coordinator, Hunter is our parents' number one resource and advocate. She works with our AmeriCorps team to provide transportation, needs based services, and knowledge to families. Contact Hunter at

Matt Waring
Volunteer Coordinator

Matthew Waring grew up in Oconee County and has been a part of ESP Summer Camp and afterschool programs for the last six years. He recently graduated from the University of Georgia with a Bachelor's in Special Education and was excited for the potential of working at ESP full time. This dream just became a reality as he is our new Volunteer Coordinator at ESP. As the Volunteer Coordinator, Matt will recruit and manage the training and engagement of all types of volunteers for 360 programs, events, and committees. In his free time, Matt loves to spend quality time with family and friends, dance, and travel to foreign countries. Contact Matt at

Sarah Farriba
Programs Assistant

Sarah Farriba joined ESP as an intern while she finished her degree at Georgia College. After a year of service as an ESP AmeriCorps member providing family engagement in Athens, Sarah is excited to be joining the ESP team. She will be a part of growing and expanding ESP's programs locally and across Georgia.
Contact Sarah at

Operations Team

Our operations team keeps ESP running – safely and effectively!

Gina Elliot
Director of Operations

Gina is excited to join the ESP team as the Director of Operations. She previously served as bookkeeper for ESP and has more than a decade of experience in accounting and management with a degree in Business Management & Accounting from Gwinnett Tech. Gina knows firsthand the effect that ESP has on the children and families we serve. She is the proud mother of an ESP participant Clete and camp counselor Tyler. Her family fully supports ESP and the valuable services it provides. Gina and her family are also the caretakers of Camp Hooray. Contact Gina at

Shellie Sullivan
Administrative Coordinator

Shellie brings over 25 years of administrative experience from the Corporate and Retail World. Looking for a more serving direction in this next phase of her life as an empty-nester, she is so excited to be a part of the ESP Family. Shellie and her husband Greg live in downtown Athens and are huge supporters of several UGA Sports including football, basketball, and baseball. Contact Shellie at

Peter Cates
Facilities & Recreation Coordinator

Peter Cates is a native of the rural town of Waynesboro, Georgia. He became involved with ESP during his time at UGA while earning a Bachelor of Science in History. Peter has now spent the last four summers as varying staff positions at ESP, and now assists programs year-round as well as managing ESP’s facilities. When he is not at ESP, he enjoys spending time traveling, hunting, and spending time with his close friends and family. Contact Peter at

Karen Lee

Karen comes to ESP with 30 years of experience in operations in the corporate world, small businesses, and volunteer organizations. She earned a business degree from the University of Michigan back way before everyone carried a computer in their pocket. Karen was introduced to ESP through her daughter, Amy, who had phenomenal love for the organization but continued to come back to volunteer weekly because of the incredibly positive magic that ESP brings to everyone it touches. She is super excited to support ESP by assisting Gina with bookkeeping and operational initiatives. In her free time, Karen enjoys fitness, spending time with friends, and traveling. Contact

Development Team

Our development team is focused on finding ways for our community to connect with the mission of ESP!

Ashley Stewart
Director of Development

Ashley is an Orlando, Florida native who graduated from Florida State University and made her way to Athens to complete her Master of Public Administration degree at the University of Georgia. Ashley began as the Development Intern for ESP and fell in love with all this community had to offer and the joy it brought her each day. Ashley oversees various philanthropic and continues to help strengthen the support our community provides to our families. Ashley loves corny jokes; traveling; quality time with friends; her dog, Riley; her husband, Alan; and putting a positive spin on everything she can! Contact Ashley at

Katarina Christmann
Marketing Manager

Katarina studied Advertising and Art History at the University of Georgia graduating in May 2015. Katarina began as a Public Relations and Special Events Intern at ESP. As an intern, Katarina loved the fast-moving environment of ESP, but the families and mission are what kept her around. She leads ESP's communications through design, marketing, email, and social media. Her favorite part of the job now: working with the many interns who support ESP - a few of which who are now full-time staff! Katarina is from St. Simons Island. When she’s not at ESP, Katarina loves spending time with her fiance Gordon, baking, reading, hiking, and cuddling with her cats Clementine & Gus. Contact Katarina at

Marcella Genut
Communications Coordinator

Marcella graduated from UGA with a bachelor’s in Public Relations, a minor in Communication Studies, and a disability certificate. She was a public relations intern for ESP in 2016. After internships with the Georgia Aquarium and the CDC, she is excited to be back home! Marcella grew up being a spokesperson for many nonprofits such as Fragile Kids, Muscular Dystrophy Association, and Bert’s Big Adventure. She is thrilled to be an advocate for ESP and its families. When she is not at ESP, she enjoys spending time with her dog, Reed, going to the Athens Farmers Market and craft fairs, and being outdoors. Contact Marcella at

Brittney Butler
Social Media & Creative Coordinator

Brittney studied Journalism and Women’s Studies at the University of Georgia graduating in May of 2019. She got involved at ESP as a communications and special events intern in 2019. When her internship was over, she then she took a year of service with AmeriCorps for Java Joy Atlanta, where she helped employ the first class of 20+ White Apron Joyristas in the city. Now, Brittney works as the Creative and Social Media Coordinator where she uses her strengths in graphic design and content creation to share ESP, Java Joy and Camp Hooray’s stories to their fullest, making sure our missions are spread widely across the country as we continue to grow. While not at work, Brittney loves spending cooking with her family, going to the gym, reading and spending time with her dog Cardi and her cat Lana.
Contact Brittney at

Steve Argo
Development Officer

Steve Argo comes from Gordon State College in Barnesville, Ga., where he also served as Development Officer on the Advancement, External Relations and Marketing team since 2019. Steve also served as the College's Director of Athletics. Born and raised in Athens before moving to Gwinnett County, Steve earned a Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of Georgia. He has worked in higher education administration for 30 years and also has an extensive corporate sales background. Steve and his wife, Jane, now make their home in Oconee County where Jane is a 2nd-grade teacher at Athens Academy. They have three grown sons -- Chase, Collin and Cam -- who all live in the metro Atlanta area, plus two grandsons -- Isom and Eli. Steve enjoys traveling (beach and snow skiing), tennis, golf and spending time with his family.
Contact Steve at

Java Joy

Our Java Joy team keeps growing, but Erica keeps them connected to the main ESP team!

Erica Cates
National Expansion Manager

Erica worked as a counselor at ESP Summer Camp in 2015, then went on to open retail boutiques with Dress Up across the Southeast, and recently worked at Booster in HR. She brings leadership and entrepreneurial skills to the Java Joy team. Erica graduated from the University of North Georgia with a degree in Sociology and a minor in Business Administration. In her free time, Erica enjoys running, cooking, photography, and coffee! Contact Erica at

Communications and Marketing

Corporate Partnerships and ESP Fan Club