Smith Center for Healing and the Arts relies upon the work of a network of faculty, staff, and volunteers from a wide variety of disciplines. We welcome inquiries, applications, involvement and/or support from anyone engaged or interested in this work.
Meet Our New Leadership Team
Jennifer Bires – Executive Director
Jennifer Bires, LICSW, OSW-C, is a rising star in the psycho-oncology field. She comes to this position with almost a decade of experience as an oncology social worker, most recently at George Washington University in DC where she helped create the cancer support program. During her tenure at GWU she created a number of deep and impactful programs for families, young adults and patients and helped to ensure program success by defining and tracking outcomes. Jennifer received the 2017 Oncology Social Worker of The Year Award from the Association of Oncology Social Workers.
Moreover, Jennifer has been a longtime partner with Smith Center. She facilitates the young adult cancer support group as well as a general cancer support group for the Smith Center community. Jennifer has intimate knowledge of the DC cancer survivorship landscape and deep appreciation for Smith Center’s unique art and healing approach to this important work.
Michelle Clermont – Deputy Director
Ms. Clermont has served as Deputy Director for over ten years. Michelle served as Acting Executive Director during Smith Center’s Executive Leadership transition. Michelle oversees operations, finance, and grant development for Smith Center, manages human resources and legal/business, and serves on the leadership/Management Team for the organization. Michelle has worked in the integrative health and nonprofit industry for over twenty-five years and has broad experience in all aspects of nonprofit management including: strategic planning; senior leadership, vision and strategy; finance management and sustainability; staff development and team building; and board communication. Prior to Smith Center, she managed a local international nonprofit that works to integrate healthcare by educating healthcare providers in mind-body medicine, integrative cancer care, and nutrition. Prior to her nonprofit work, she helped to integrate, manage, and grow two DC metro area healthcare clinics after starting her career in the mental health field. Michelle graduated from George Washington University with a BA in International Affairs with a Latin American Studies concentration, a secondary field of Psychology, and a minor in Spanish. She grew up in a family of ten children, seven of whom were adopted internationally, and her family hosted over thirty international medical foster children during their care in the United States. Michelle studied ballet for over thirty-eight years and actively practices Pilates. She has extensive experience with yogic philosophy, energy medicine, nutrition, crystal healing, and living a holistic life-style. She is also extremely passionate about creating great-tasting, healthy, allergen-free, vegan foods. Michelle and her husband, jazz guitarist Dan Leonard, live in Northern Virginia with their beautiful and active toddler son Jamie.
Casey Bauer – Development Coordinator
Casey recently returned from a year abroad teaching English in South Korea and now joins the Smith Center team as the Development Coordinator. In fall of 2016 she assisted the development department as a consultant and prior to that, in 2015, she served as the Development and Communications Intern for Smith Center. Casey graduated from George Mason University with a degree in theater with a minor in communications. She has also interned with Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts and The Hub Theatre.
Kiersten Gallagher – Cancer Support Programs Director
Kiersten serves as the Programs and Engagement Director for Smith Center. Before coming to Smith Center, she had the privilege to serve individuals and families facing cancer at Wellness House of Annapolis. As Smith Center’s Programs and Engagement Director, Kiersten aims to offer programs to reduce stress, help participants to see the world we live in from different perspectives, encourage creativity in the healing process and to educate participants about the direct connection between nutrition and health. Kiersten is a certified yoga instructor and herbalist and has been studying wellness for over three decades. She believes in a holistic approach to healing, human relationships and is grateful for each and every day. In her spare time, you may find Kiersten laughing with friends, cycling, practicing yoga and spending time with her husband Shane, son Liam, dog Hooper and the most recent additions, their three chickens.
Rex Delafkaran – Cancer Support Programs Assistant
Rex (Alexandra) Delafkaran is a California transplant joining the Smith Center with the hopes of better understanding the power of non profit institutions, and cultivating a positive impact and dialogue with those around her and in the community. She is an interdisciplinary artist, curator and administrator currently based in Washington, DC. working out of Red Dirt Studios. As a dancer, cycler and good listener she intends to learn and promote the Smith Center’s values of Nutrition and emotional health at work and beyond.
Carole O’Toole – Director, Integrative Navigation and Cancer Retreats
Carole developed the Patient Navigation Program for Smith Center in 2006, introducing integrative navigation to Howard University Cancer Center, and developing faith-based community navigation services for African-Americans and African immigrants that operate from four churches in underserved areas and the community at large. She has also designed a training model for integrative cancer care navigation that is offered to navigators nationwide through Smith Center. Prior to her work at Smith Center, Carole was a Patient Navigator at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, MD, and ran a private integrative cancer care navigation practice. She also has over fifteen years’ professional experience in environmental consulting.
In addition to her navigation work at Smith Center, Carole also staffs the weeklong retreats, coaches individuals on integrative cancer care decision-making and complementary resources, and leads Smith Center’s “Living Well With Cancer” one-day workshops. Carole frequently represents Smith Center at national and local conferences and other public forums. She is the author of two books on integrative cancer care: “Cancer Community Healing Network”, and “Healing Outside the Margins”, and holds a Masters degree in Medical Anthropology and Health Policy. Carole has been a survivor of advanced cancer since 1994, enjoys biking and rowing on the Potomac with a survivor crew team, and is a wife and mother.
Erin Price Schabert – Manager, Integrative Navigation and Cancer Retreats
Erin serves as Smith Center’s Development Manager and has a solid background in Direct Marketing fundraising for nonprofit organizations. During her years as a fundraising consultant she did work for a variety of causes from women’s organizations and animal welfare groups, to health and environmental nonprofits. Receiving numerous awards for her work over the years, she was most recently honored as the 2011 Rising Star by the Direct Marketing Association of Washington. After Erin’s diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer in 2011, she decided to devote her time toward cancer support organizations and found her place at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts. She graduated from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA, and holds a B.S. in business administration. Outside of work, Erin continues to enjoy creative outlets: dance, cooking, painting and pottery. She can also be found volunteering for various breast cancer organizations in the Washington, DC area.
Laura Pole – Director of Nourishment Programs
Laura has served as Smith Center’s health supportive chef and nurse consultant since 1997. She is an Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist and Cancer Guide with 25 years experience in caring for people with serious illness. She is also a Certified Health Supportive Chef, professional musician and Nia body-mind fitness instructor. Her popular cooking class, Eating for a Lifetime: Cooking for People with Cancer, introduces participants to the Eight Principles of Food Selection, along with truly tasty and healthy recipes. Laura is the founder of “Eating for a Lifetime,” a consulting business dedicated to teaching individuals and professionals about health supportive eating and food preparation. In addition to Laura’s work with nourishment, she is the co-coordinator of Smith Center’s Patient Navigation Training in Integrative Cancer Care. Laura also serves as coordinator of the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv.
Spencer Dormitzer – Gallery Director
Spencer recently moved to Washington DC from a long stint in Brooklyn NY, where he worked as an Executive Producer for a large community based sporting event, working closely with professional sports teams, former Mayor Bloomberg and several government agencies. Spencer has always lived a creative life; Having attended The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he enjoyed a successful career as a visual artist and also worked as a Studio Manager for a prominent New York Abstract Painter for many years. It has been a varied and organic path that has brought Spencer to the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts and he is honored and excited to bring his point of view to the Gallery. Outside of work, Spencer still makes art and tries to play soccer twice a week. Most important, he is an incredibly proud husband of his wife Kendall, a Physical Therapist and his 2 sons’, Odin and Jackson.
Simon Ebelhar – Operations Assistant
Simon serves as the Operations Assistant at Smith Center. He is primarily in charge of front desk activities and will likely be the first person you speak with if you call! He also assists with various projects and day-to-day tasks the Operations team encounters. Simon comes to Smith Center via Louisville KY, where he worked in operations support for UPS at their global air hub. He is very excited about working for such an amazing organization that promotes healing through art, community, and culinary/nutrition knowledge. He is also excited about gaining experience in the nonprofit world and hopes to make a positive impact here at Smith Center. In his time away from work, Simon enjoys exploring the city by bicycle, trail running in Rock Creek Park, visiting museums, and spending time with family and friends.
Michael Hawkins, MD
Michael Hawkins, MD, a medical oncologist, is Medical Director of Smith Center and conducts clinical research in Oncology at Gilead Sciences in Foster City, CA. Formally, Dr. Hawkins was the Chief Medical Officer at Abraxis BioScience and was instrumental in obtaining FDA approval of Abraxane for women with metastatic breast cancer (2002-2007); an Associate Director of the Washington Cancer Institute at the Washington Hospital Center (1999-2002); the Director of the Clinical Research and Developmental Therapeutics Program at the Lombardi Cancer Center (1992-1999); and the Chief of the Investigational Drug Branch while at the National Cancer Institute (1984-1992). He was the chairman of the Cancer Advisory Panel to the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine from 2000-2002. In his oncology practice he encouraged patients to pursue inner healing while being treated for their cancer.
Board of Directors
Jackie Ogg – Chair
Jackie has an MSW and has worked for the past 30 years in the field of social services bridging direct service, philanthropy, and community engagement. She is currently with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington where she serves as Director of Outreach and Community Relations. In 2010 Jackie and her husband Clay lost their 20-year-old son, Brendan, to brain cancer. Brendan was an emerging writer and took part in a poetry workshop at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts. The work he created is included in Brendan’s book of poetry, Summer Becomes Absurd, and became the inspiration for a number of community art works including Encircled, exhibited at the Joan Hisaoka Art Gallery.
Steven Bookoff – Treasurer
Steven Bookoff has over 30 years of financial and management experience and has been the CFO of ORGANIC INDIA since 2002. Steven also volunteers as an officer and director of the Bet Lev Foundation, a Private Foundation in the USA, and serves as a Director to Insight Intensive, a therapeutic residential program for young men. Steven had testicular cancer in 1989. He has been completely free of Cancer for over 20 years and he lives a very active, healthy, and vibrant life. In his spare time he enjoys spending time with his family, swimming, practicing Yoga, running on trails, or exploring the outdoors.
Myrtis Bedolla is the founding director of Galerie Myrtis, a contemporary fine art gallery located in Baltimore, Maryland. As cultural liaison for the embassies of Ghana, Haiti, Mali, Republic of Georgia and Zimbabwe; Ms. Bedolla uses art to encourage cultural exchange and awareness. Among the highlights of her career was her research and documentation of the utilitarian and ceremonial art forms created by women of the eight ethnic groups in Niger. The objects collected were featured in the exhibition: The World of Women of Niger mounted at the National Museum of Niger in 2005. She currently serves on several boards, including the Art Advisory Board, University of Maryland University College, College Park Maryland, as well as the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, Baltimore, Maryland. Additionally, Ms. Bedolla is a contributing writer to The International Review of African American Art and Valentine Magazine; online newsletters: ARTINFO and IRAAA (International Review of African American Art). She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of Maryland, University College, and received her curatorial training at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland.
Robert Hisaoka is President of RRR, LLC and is the Founder and Event Chairman of the Joan Hisaoka “Make A Difference” Gala Assisting Those Living with Cancer. Bob is an investor in Venture Philanthropy Partners, a philanthropic investment organization that helps community-based nonprofit organizations maximize their impact. Other local and national charities Bob supports include CharityWorks, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Michael Weiss Foundation, Chuck Norris’s KICKSTART, KEEN, San Jose State University, Salvation Army and Greater Washington Sports Alliance.
Annette Polan is known internationally as a portrait artist. She has photographed and painted the official portraits of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and other leaders of industry and government. In addition to painting, Ms. Polan is Professor Emeritus at the Corcoran College of Art & Design and Principal of Insight Institute, a series of visual workshops to enhance critical thinking and creative problem solving in the medical profession through interaction with the world of art. Professor Polan has taught and lectured on her work and contemporary American portraiture in Europe, Asia, and Australia,and has had numerous solo and group exhibitions in the United States and abroad. She is a participant in the U.S. Department of State’s Art in Embassy Program. She was Chair of Faces of the Fallen, an exhibition of 1323 portraits by 230 American artists, honoring the servicemen and women who died in Afghanistan and Iraq between October 10, 2001 and November 11, 2004. In recognition of her leadership on that project, she was awarded the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Outstanding Public Service Award.
Jessica Stafford Davis
Raised in Virginia, love of art is nothing new for Jessica Stafford Davis. She is the founder of The Agora Culture, a multi-cultural web-based business arts platform that connects artists with a diverse array of new and experienced collectors. Jessica currently serves on the boards of the Washington Project for the Arts (WPA) and the Advisory Council for George Mason University School of the Arts. Mrs. Stafford-Davis also is a member of ArtTable, a leadership organization for professional women in the visual arts. At home, Jessica nurtures her most precious works of art, her two sons, Thurston and Triston.
Lucinda (Cindy) Emmet
Cindy is a retired nonprofit and philanthropic professional who divides her time between Northern Virginia, Florida, and New England. Cindy brings an extensive nonprofit, philanthropic and business background. She recently served on the Boards of the Loudoun Free Clinic in Leesburg, VA, and the National Board of Directors of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She started the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation in 1991 and served as Chair from 1997-2000. Prior to that, while living abroad in the early 80s, she was Managing Director of Tai Tai Shoppers.
Shanti Norris – Co-Founder & Retired Executive Director/CEO
Ms. Norris served as Executive Director of Smith Center for Healing and the Arts from 1996 – 2017. She initiated the Smith Center hospital Artist-in-Residence program and Healing Arts Gallery. She ran the weeklong retreats for people with cancer, and oversaw new initiatives, including the Faith-based Community Navigation project at Smith Center. Former Vice President of Kent Homeopathic Associates, she has an extensive background in complementary medicine and mind-body approaches to healing. She has taught meditation, yoga philosophy and stress reduction for over 35 years and underwent a formal ten-year mentorship with a renowned yoga master. She is a three-term member of CARRA, the patient advocacy program at the National Cancer Institute and a graduate of Project LEAD from the National Breast Cancer Coalition. She is a graduate of the Georgetown University Non-profit Leadership certificate course and the James P. Shannon Leadership Institute in Minneapolis/St Paul. She is a former board member of the Society for the Arts in Healthcare and Chaired their Annual Conference in 2004. She is a founding board member of The Art Connection in the Capital Region and a founding member of Arts in Healthcare Advocates (AHA.) She is a frequent speaker on the healing power of the arts. Her formal art training began at New York University and The Cooper Union in New York City and includes running the fine art studio of artist Peter Max. She is a member of ArtTable, the mother of three adult children, and is a painter and sculptor.
Michael Lerner – Co-Founder & Chair Emeritus
Michael Lerner, PhD is President-Emeritus, Senior Advisor, and co-founder of Smith Center for Healing and the Arts and of Commonweal, a health and environmental research institute in Bolinas, California. He is also co-founder of a dozen major initiatives including the Cancer Help Program, Health Care Without Harm, the Collaborative on Health and the Environment and The New School at Commonweal. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Prize Fellowship and the author of “Choices in Healing: Integrating the Best of Conventional and Complementary Cancer Therapies.” He has co-led 170 week-long Cancer Help Programs at Commonweal and Smith over the past 25 years.
Susan Braun has more than 20 years of health care and oncology experience. She currently serves as the CEO of The V Foundation. Prior to this, she was Executive Director of Commonweal, Executive Director of the ASCO Cancer Foundation and also served as President and CEO of CURE Media Group, which publishes the award-winning direct-to-patient cancer publication, CURE magazine. In addition, she served as President and CEO of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation (now Komen for the Cure). Prior to joining the Komen Foundation, Ms. Braun worked in the Oncology/Immunology Division at Bristol Myers-Squibb, where she was involved in patient advocacy, strategic planning, public policy, and health care economics and finance.
Web Coleman was a staff member at CHP’s Hallowood weeklong cancer retreats for over 15 years. He led orientation and trail walks, plus Sugarloaf Mountain trips and climbs. He aided his wife Barbara Smith [Coleman] in researching and founding Smith Center. Web’s early experiences included camping, scouting, outdoor activities and sports. Careers included teaching, advertising, nationwide corporate consulting: employee communications, technical writing, supervisory training, management development. Web was a lifetime sailor. In retirement, he took up horses and 100 mile competitive trail riding. He knew Barbara for many years, and when both were widowed, married in 1994 at the original Smith Farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.