Meet Our Board
Katherine Gabry, President
Kathy's grassroots community volunteerism began when she was a teenager. At that time, she was a Candy Striper at a convent, a math tutor, and, while a student at Penn State, a Girl Scout leader. Her strength as an advocate emerged in 1992, when her school district suggested sending her son, who was born profoundly deaf and legally blind, to a “nice, residential placement out of state.” Thus began the adventure of navigating systems, developing personal and professional networks, collaborating on community education and service projects, and examining her core values and beliefs. This life-long journey has resulted in a profound passion for and belief in those who are DeafBlind. Ms. Gabry is a co-founder of DB CAN NJ.
Mark A. Gasaway, Vice President
At the age of 8, Mark contracted encephalitis and ended up in a coma for 10 days. When he awoke, he was profoundly deaf, legally blind and had nerve issues that affected his balance. He learned to walk again, assimilated back into school and grew into life as a DeafBlind individual. Earning a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s in organizational management has supported his lifelong commitment to volunteering for nonprofit organizations in his home state of Georgia and across the U.S. He believes that DB CAN NJ offers programs and projects that are educational and inspiring, and that the organization provides a much-needed feeling of belonging in the community for DeafBlind individuals. He is pleased to offer his support for the organization to grow and become strong in its work.
Marci Friedman, Secretary
Growing up with an older brother who is DeafBlind and learning American Sign Language (ASL) at a young age, Marci decided to pursue a career as an ASL interpreter. She is nationally certified and has devoted her career to working with Deaf and DeafBlind individuals. She has been a member of several organizations related to those who are Deaf and DeafBlind, including her current position with DB CAN NJ. Marci believes that DB CAN NJ can be instrumental in assisting DeafBlind people with both educational and social opportunities that would lead them to have more independent lifestyles. She believes DB CAN NJ is truly needed for this population, and she looks forward to seeing all that can be achieved.
Nicholas Pallessi, Treasurer
Watching the Oscar-nominated short film Feeling Through was Nick’s first exposure to the DeafBlind community. Seeing how well the film illustrated the power of kindness, a concept Nick wholeheartedly believes in, Nick was inspired to do his best to find a way to support this community any way he could. After sitting in on one of DB CAN NJ's Classic Bingo community events and seeing all the smiles and camaraderie amongst those in attendance, Nick knew this is where he could share his professional talents and focus his personal efforts. As a CPA, Nick brings financial and business acumen to the organization, and as an advocate of the DeafBlind community, Nick hopes to inspire more to join in supporting this outstanding community.
Sherel Beslanovitz, Board Trustee
Sherel’s first memory of sign language was at age 6 when her mom would return home from sign language class to teach the family so that they could communicate with their youngest family member who had been born deaf. Years later, the family learned that she was born with Usher Syndrome, but that hasn't stopped her from fulfilling her dreams. Sherel is constantly inspired by her younger sister’s determination and achievements: graduating college, having a family, and learning braille and state-of-the-art technology to be able to independently and successfully communicate with the hearing world. After Sherel graduated college and retired from the Marine Corps with 20 years of service in 2018, she returned to NJ and has found a different way to serve. She enjoys spending time with her family, advocating for her sister and serving the DeafBlind Community.
Betsy White, Board Trustee
Diagnosed at the age of three with retinitis pigmentosa, Betsy grew up with, and had to adapt to, ever-decreasing sight. She worked in finance and customer service until her early thirties when she was declared legally blind. At that time she also started experiencing hearing loss. Betsy has found strength in talking to other DeafBlind people - laughing, crying and sharing stories. One of Betsy’s goals is to connect DeafBlind individuals to each other. Betsy is grateful to have the opportunity to serve on the DB CAN NJ board, and is excited to offer her services in the many areas in which DB CAN NJ supports the DeafBlind community.
Former Board Members
Kathy-Kady-Hopkins, Founding Member (2016 - 2019)
All her life, Kathy has had a very personal understanding of communications challenges. Growing up hard of hearing and with family members who were deaf, she dreamed of establishing a business that would bridge the communications gap between people who are deaf, hard of hearing and DeafBlind, and the businesses that serve them. In 1995, her dream was realized when she and her mother founded American Sign Language Interpreter Referral Service, Inc. (ASL IRS), with a $2,000 investment and an office in her home. In 2008, ASL IRS was named New Jersey’s Small Business of the Year. Kathy is honored to be a co-founder of DB CAN NJ and to serve on the board, as she recognizes the need to do more for this underserved community.
Jamie Pope (2016 - 2019)
Jamie has a passion to show that DeafBlind people can do anything they set their mind to, being DeafBlind herself since early childhood. Today, as an independent consultant, she draws on her life experiences as a trainer, presenter and adjunct instructor at Towson and Gallaudet universities, where she teaches undergraduate courses on DeafBlind communication and culture. In addition, she’s the business manager for DeafBlind Training, Interpreting and Professional Development (DB-TIP), which provides online professional development webinars for interpreters and professionals working with DeafBlind people. Jamie has devoted her professional career to education and advocacy on behalf of DeafBlind Americans, both adults and children. She is married to Randy Pope, who is also DeafBlind.
Paul Werner (2016 - 2020)
Paul and Tara, who are both deaf, have been together since 2001. In 2014, Tara experienced a sudden loss of vision due to a form of glaucoma. Since then, she has been completely blind and deaf. Only through diligent perseverance did the couple find appropriate resources to acquire the skills necessary to cope with the challenges of being DeafBlind and to succeed again. Paul’s goal is to help others who are DeafBlind obtain the necessary resources to succeed in life, and to share his experiences with those who are DeafBlind and their families. He believes that creating a place to give and obtain resources, such as DB CAN NJ, is the key for a person who is DeafBlind to achieve as a whole.