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Faculty & Staff

Faculty & Staff

Leadership & Administrative Team

Marcia Whitney
President & CEO

Marcia was named President & CEO of Verner Center for Early Learning in May 2018. She is a collaborative leader with a 29- year career dedicated to education, nonprofit management, and fundraising. She has held numerous positions in early education and other nonprofit agencies, including The Jane Goodall Institute and The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina. She passionately believes in high-quality, comprehensive early care and education for all children and families, especially those who are under-resourced and over-burdened. Marcia lives in South Asheville with her partner Mike and their combined four children. Interesting fact: Marcia was evacuated from Rwanda, where she was caring for two orphaned chimpanzees, when their civil war began in April 1994.

Kaitlyn Guyer
Vice President of Grants & Continuous Improvement

Kaitlyn has worked in early care and education (ECE) in various capacities for more than 17 years. She started working at Verner in May of 2014 as a Lead Teacher of 2-3 year olds. In her current role, she gets to combine her passion for ECE with her background and interest in policy and governance. Kaitlyn is passionate about working towards a WNC where every family with a child under 5 has access to the kind of ECE experience that works best for them. To that end, she is currently working on an MPA degree at Western Carolina University. Kaitlyn lives in Old Fort, NC, with her husband, 7-year-old daughter (a Verner alumna!), 3 dogs, a cat, and 6 chickens.

Laura Martin
Vice President of Clinical Services

Laura is the Vice President of Clinical Services at Verner Center for Early Learning in Asheville, North Carolina. She has spent her entire career working in early childhood mental health, utilizing a trauma-informed care lens while implementing developmentally appropriate practices in early education. For the last fifteen years, her work has focused intensively on training early childhood educators about the importance of mental health and its impacts on children, families, and coworkers. Her past research explores the effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on early childhood educators and learning environments. Additionally, she is a resiliency educator with Resources for Resilience and a Circle of Security Parenting facilitator. She completed a Master of Social Work degree from Western Carolina University and specialized in Addiction. Currently, Laura and her team are building the “Center for Resilience,” which will specifically focus on developing a clinical program and providing therapeutic services to early educators at Verner and other providers in Asheville. 

Brad Barnhart
Vice President of Operations

Brad has been at Verner since September 2020. He has 15 years of HR leadership experience and earned an MBA in 2019. Brad has worked in many different realms from corporate to small family owned businesses. Brad is an avid outdoor lover and enjoys hiking, biking, & fishing with his wife and two children.

Ken Ganskie
Vice President of Finance

Ken joined Verner in 2021 after providing 7 years of financial management services to a Head Start program in Lewiston, Idaho.  Additionally, he has 24 years of fiscal experience working for various county governments in California and Colorado. Ken lives in Waynesville, NC with his wife, Sarah, and enjoys hiking and playing with his six canines.

Jessica May
Vice President of Philanthropy & Marketing

Originally from the Upstate of South Carolina, Jessica May joined the team at Verner Center for Early Learning as VP of Philanthropy & Marketing. Jessica and her husband David relocated to North Carolina nearly 7 years ago, and immediately fell in love with Western North Carolina. Jessica began her career as an elementary music teacher, educating children in Duncan, SC and then briefly for the Buncombe County school system. In 2017, Jessica served as Director of Development at the Western Carolina Rescue Ministries. During that time, she successfully and exponentially increased the organization’s visibility, hosted a variety of successful fundraising events, more than quadrupled their grant funding, and established and secured relationships with donors from across the Western North Carolina area. In 2021, Jessica joined the team of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra as Director of Development. During this time, Jessica met and exceeded all fundraising goals set before her, and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know new donors throughout the WNC region. Jessica and husband David welcomed their child, Abigail Jane in 2020.


Hilary Biggar
Co-Director (East)
Julie Jones
Director of Community-based EHS Services
Stephanie Kelley
Director of Operations
Lisa Nesmith
Co-Director (East)
Omaira Ojeda
Assistant Director (Central)
Ashley Parks
Verner Residency & Professional Development Director
Anna Peterson
Director (Central)
Whitney Rea
Director of Family Engagement & Community Partnerships
Jason Treadway
Director of Food & Nutrition

Specialists & Administrative Support

Kim Akbar
ERSEA Coordinator
Lauren Angarano
Mental Health & Development Manager/Therapist
Courtney Clarke
Executive Assistant
Marcela Cuadra
Community Advocate and Inclusion Coordinator
Aylin Durkin
Bilingual Family Advocate
Emily Howard
Health Coordinator
Becky Lafnear
Administrative Assistant
(Verner Central)
Tosh Maloney
Business & Financial Services Coordinator
Alex Martinez
Social Emotional Learning & Curriculum Coach/Therapist
Anja Mayr
Clinical Services Manager
Rose Sperry
Marketing Coordinator
Gerri Stover
Family Advocate
Shelby Ward
Early Childhood Mental Health Specialist
Emily Young
Administrative Assistant (Verner East)

Food & Nutrition Team

Judy Goldsmith
Food & Nutrition
Jerry Lafnear
Food & Nutrition
Sandy Norville
Food & Nutrition
Hope Schalhorn
Food & Nutrition
Meshaela Sundblade
Assistant Director of Food & Nutrition
Tessa Sebastian
Food & Nutrition

Interested in becoming a part of the Verner team? Check employment opportunities here.