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 Almeida is a Partner at Thoma Bravo, a leading private equity firm with a focus on investing in software and technology companies. Based in Miami, he joined the firm in 2012 as an Associate, and today focuses on supporting and growing the firm’s leading cybersecurity practice. Prior to joining Thoma Bravo, he worked in investment banking at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Andrew graduated from The University of Wisconsin – Madison with a BA degree in Finance and BBA degree in Economics and holds an MS degree from Vanderbilt University. He’s also a proud husband and father and spends his free time on the beach with his wife and daughter 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 has been working at Piedmont Athens Regional for over 18 years now. She has worked in a variety of roles from the electronic medical record team, Training, IT, Continuing Medical Education and Operations. Delena is the Executive Director of Operations for Piedmont Athens Regional, including the Oconee Health Campus, Clay Community Care Clinic, Royston Health Campus, and Outpatient Cancer Wellness.

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.

Gretchen Corbin, Georgia Lottery Corporation

Gretchen Corbin is the president and CEO of the Georgia Lottery Corporation. As president and CEO of the Georgia Lottery, Corbin’s business goal is to fulfill the Corporation’s mission to maximize revenues for HOPE and Pre-K, ensuring that Georgia’s students continue to have access to these important educational programs.

Prior to her role at the Georgia Lottery, Corbin served as Commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG), the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, and as Deputy Commissioner of Global Commerce and other roles at the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Corbin is involved in a number of professional and civic organizations, including Rotary International, Leadership Atlanta and Leadership Georgia, where she has served as president and chairman. In 2021, she became President of the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries (NASPL) and Vice President of the Atlanta Rotary Club. Corbin has been named the last nine years as one of Georgia Trend magazine’s 100 Most Influential Georgians, she was named one of the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Top 20 Women Who Mean Business, and she is one of James magazine’s Most Influential Georgians for the last four years.Corbin, her husband, David, and their two daughters are proud to call Georgia home.

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 Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Georgia.

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. 

Deutsch is a graduate of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and holds an Executive Master of Science degree in sport business from Temple University. Deutsch and his wife, Karen, have two adult children and reside in Dunwoody, Georgia.

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 grew up in New York as part of a large family.  He graduated from the University of Delaware as a Dean’s Scholar with a degree in History and International Relations with minor focuses in Economics and Comparative Literature.  While his love of Russian history and literature remains a pillar in his personal enrichment, the draw of food and beverage was too hard to resist.  A start in the business at The Glen Cove Mansion in New York and The Hotel DuPont in Delaware blossomed into a 15 year restaurant career.  While working, Daniel received his Master’s in Hospitality Administration from William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Michael Raeber, University of Georgia

Mike Raeber serves as General Counsel of the University of Georgia and its Athletic Association.  As UGA’s chief legal officer, Mike is a member of the University’s Cabinet and serves as the University’s primary liaison with legal counsel for the Board of Regents and the Office of the Attorney General. Before joining UGA in 2014, Mike was a partner in the Business Litigation group at King & Spalding in Atlanta, where he worked for almost 20 years.

In addition to the ESP Board, Mike serves on the board of Athens Academy, and he previously served on the boards of KIPP Metro Atlanta (a charter school network serving underserved communities) and the Truancy Intervention Project Georgia (a non-profit provider of pro bono legal counsel to children involved in truancy proceedings).

Mike joined the ESP Board in 2018.  He lives in Athens with his wife Carrie and their three children, Jane Ann, Elizabeth, and Charlie, all of whom have volunteered with ESP.

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 family’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

Anne Marie is a University of Georgia graduate and an Athens, Georgia native. Her day job is at Philips Healthcare in the Implantable Device Monitoring sector. As an accomplished account management and customer service professional, she offers a track record of achievement in understanding client needs and aligning solutions to meet their requirements. Before working in the device monitoring world, Anne Marie was in the field for 10 years representing implantable cardiac devices. In addition to her role at Philips, Anne Marie is the President of the Luther and Susie Harrison Foundation. The Foundation was established by R. Harold Harrison in 1994 to honor his parents, Luther and Susie Harrison. Luther, a farmer, and Susie Tanner Harrison, an educator, instilled in their son the importance of education, perseverance, and contribution to the community.

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.