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.
Julia Rowland – Senior Strategic Advisor
Julia Rowland, PhD, who joined Smith Center in October 2017, comes to this position as a long-time clinician, researcher and teacher in the area of psychosocial aspects of cancer. She has worked with and conducted competitively funded research among both pediatric and adult cancer survivors and their families, and published broadly in psycho-oncology, including co-editing, along with Dr. Jimmie Holland, the ground-breaking text, Handbook of Psychooncology. She has also been a frequent speaker on cancer survivorship, or life after cancer, for both professional and lay audiences.
Julia received her PhD in Developmental Psychology from Columbia University and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in psychosocial oncology. While at MSKCC, where she held joint appointments in pediatrics and neurology, Julia helped to develop and was the first Director of the Post-Treatment Resource Program, one of the first non-medical survivorship care programs to be offered by a major cancer center in the U.S. In 1990 she moved with her husband and two young children to Washington, DC to become founding Director of the Psycho-Oncology Program at Georgetown University and the Lombardi Cancer Center. There she helped expand services to meet the psychosocial needs of cancer patients and families, launched some of the first quality of life clinical trials, and also introduced a program to enable first year medical students to learn the art of caring for those living through and beyond cancer from survivors themselves and Lombardi faculty. Nine years later, in September of 1999, she was recruited to the National Cancer Institute to become the first, full-time Director of the Office of Cancer Survivorship, a position in which she served for 18 years, championing the growth of survivorship research and care, before stepping down in September 2017 to assume her new role at Smith Center. Although new to the team, Julia is no stranger to Smith Center. She knew Smith Center’s founder, Barbara Smith Coleman, and has volunteered her expertise across the years as a speaker, group leader and staff member for both the 1-day and weeklong residential retreats. Julia brings to her new role a passion to translate what research has taught us about healing in the context of cancer to the broader community, in essence, taking the science of survivorship from the lab bench to the park bench.
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.
Alison Lazar – Development Manager
Alison Lazar is an experienced development professional with a strong track record in individual, corporate and foundation giving. Through her entire career in the nonprofit sector, Alison has a strong passion for mission-driven organizations and understands the power of community building and relationship management as the bedrock for success. She looks forward to continuing her career at the Smith Center of Healing and the Arts helping those in need and giving back to this dedicated community. Alison has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in French, History and European Studies, and has spent her career focused on the healthcare and arts/culture nonprofit sectors.
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.
Laura Freeman – Cancer Support Programs Assistant
Laura Freeman, MPH, CHES, started out interning with the Smith Center in January 2019 and joined the Smith Center as full time staff in May. Laura’s connection to the cancer community is close and personal, as she remembers the art programs that were offered to her brother when he was diagnosed with AML leukemia in 1999, at MCV Hospital, in Richmond Virginia. Laura is a bone marrow transplant donor for her brother who is now a cancer survivor of 20 years. For Laura, being a part of the Smith Center team is a refreshing reminder that each day is another day to be thankful. Before her time at the Smith Center, Laura received her Bachelors of Science in Community Health and, more recently, her Masters in Public Health, Health Communication, from George Mason University. Laura brings a fresh and innovative perspective of program evaluation and data collection to the Smith Center’s Cancer Support Programs. Laura’s research interest have been entertainment media role in substance use and suicide depictions, immigrant mental health, and faith-based counseling. She continues to work on projects to support the ‘art of making a difference,’ with the Entertainment Industries Council, Inc. Laura serves her church’s campus ministry at George Mason university as a volunteer with her fiancé. She’s ready to greet you with a smile by the gallery window!
Carole O’Toole – Director of Navigation and Retreat Services
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 – Director of Young Adult and Psychosocial Support Programs
Erin Price, MSW, LGSW was driven to help others facing cancer shortly after her own breast cancer diagnosis when she was 27. Since then, she has become a leader in the DC cancer community, with a special interest in advocating for and providing support to young adults diagnosed with cancer. She believes in the power of community and strives to help those faced with cancer connect to other survivors so that no one has to go through it alone. Erin’s work at Smith Center includes managing Cancer Retreats, serving as an Integrative Patient Navigator, running the DC Young Adult Cancer Community programming, and providing group and individual support to cancer survivors. She also provides support and resources to young women diagnosed with breast cancer in the DC area through volunteer work. Erin is a graduate of the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Project LEAD scientific research advocacy training, an experienced Grant Reviewer for the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program, and a member of the Georgetown Breast Cancer Advocates.
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.
Myrtis Bedolla – Strategic Gallery Consultant
Myrtis Bedolla is a long-standing board member of Smith Center and the founding director of Galerie Myrtis, a contemporary fine art gallery located in Baltimore, Maryland. She is adept in developing arts programs and providing curatorial services for arts and civic organizations, corporations and museums. As our Strategic Gallery Consultant, Myrtis brings her expertise to the Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery and to the Smith Center’s Art Advisory board.
Lindsey Yancich – Gallery Coordinator
Lindsey Yancich is the Gallery Coordinator for The Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery. She comes to the gallery with over ten years of experience working in fine art galleries, museums, and arts organizations in Washington, DC. She received her BFA from Corcoran College of Art and Design and her MA from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Lindsey strongly believes in the power of art and creativity to connect people with their community and their inner spirits. She hopes her passion for art, social equality, and wellness will help strengthen the connection between the Smith Center and the Joan Hisaoka Gallery communities. Lindsey loves meeting new people so stop by the gallery soon to say hi!
Shefa Nola Benoit – Operations & Special Projects Manager
Shefa Benoit has served the Smith Center in various capacities on and off since 2013. As the Operations & Special Projects Manager, Shefa combines her 20+ years of nonprofit management with her passion for personal and corporate narratives & the digital arts in support of Smith Center’s unique, life-affirming mission. Living in both DC and WV, Shefa experiences the best of urban and rural life where she enjoys gardening, fishing, homesteading (almost) and collecting stories (always).
Laura Gonzalez – Office Manager
Laura is the Office Manager for The Smith Center for Healing and the Arts. She comes with over 20 years of versatile management and administrative experience with a focus in finance. She believes in the concept of true customer service as an integral part of her daily life and is excited to join the Smith Center Family. Each year she spends several weeks in the Adirondack Mountains with family, communing with nature, reading, writing and fishing.
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 – Vice Chair
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.
Annette Polan – Secretary
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.
Paul has spent most of his career running the finance function at non-profit organizations. He currently serves as Executive Vice President and CFO at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). PhRMA represents the country’s leading innovative biopharmaceutical research companies, which are devoted to discovering and developing medicines that enable patients to live longer, healthier, and more productive lives. Prior to PhRMA, Paul served for 14 years as the CFO for the American Society of Clinical Oncology and its related foundation, Conquer Cancer Foundation. Together the organizations work to conquer cancer through research, education, and promotion of the highest quality patient care. Paul holds a BS in Accounting from Va. Tech and an MBA from The George Washington University. He is the husband of a cancer survivor, father of two daughters and an avid cyclist.
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.
Meredith Goldberg has worked in Washington DC’s thriving hospitality industry for nearly 15 years. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32, she became one of the first patients in the district to utilize hair conservation therapy during her rounds of chemotherapy. Post diagnosis, Meredith jumped back into the world of hospitality marketing and has been at the award winning Jefferson hotel for over 5 years. She recently published her first book, From Cocktails to Chemotherapy: A Guide to Navigating Cancer in Your 30’s and in her spare time writes for the women’s website, SheKnows.com where she focuses on women’s health and relationships. When she’s not at the hotel or behind her laptop, you can find her dining around at any and all of the city’s restaurants.
William (Bill) Lammers
In addition to the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts, Bill currently serves on the Board of Directors for other Washington DC based nonprofit organizations, including Active Minds, the nation’s preeminent collegiate mental health/suicide prevention organization; and, the Institute For Behavior and Health, a highly regarded national thought leading organization whose mission is to reduce illegal drug use and improve public health. Bill recently concluded a highly successful nine-year term on the Board of Trustees of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, the nation’s largest nonprofit addiction treatment organization.
Bill’s professional career to date includes: service as an accomplished financial and healthcare consultant; a leadership role in the US Housing and Urban Development’s financing programs for hospitals and nursing homes; the chief financial officer for a large, multi-state, 13-hospital healthcare system; a partner in a large regional CPA/Consulting firm; and, a leadership role in a large community hospital. Bill also served as an Officer in the US Navy.
Bill has been honored as a ‘Life Fellow’ in the American College of Healthcare Executives; ‘Chapter Life Member’ in the Healthcare Financial Management Association; CPA (Retired) in the American Institute of CPA’s and Indiana CPA Society; and as a ‘Distinguished Alumni’ inducted into his Ohio high school Hall of Fame.
Bill has undergraduate and graduate degrees in accounting and business administration from Miami University, Oxford OH, and counts as his greatest achievement his wonderful 4 children and 10 grandchildren.
Oren Slozberg became the executive director of Commonweal in 2017. He is also the program director of the Center for Creative Community at Commonweal in Bolinas. Oren joined Commonweal in 2013 as the chief strategies officer. He works closely with Commonweal President and Smith Center co-founder Michael Lerner, developing sustainability and organizational development strategies for future programming. As director of the Center for Creative Community at Commonweal, Oren developed new programs including the Power of Hope summer camp for teenagers, the Fall gathering, the ROC gatherings, and more.
He has been a senior program developer in the fields of education, youth development, and the arts for more than 30 years. Before coming to Commonweal he was the Executive Director of the national organization that implements VTS in the United States and abroad reaching more than 100,000 students. In 2016 VTS merged into Commonweal to further expand its reach into new communities around the world. In 2002 Oren was the Executive Director of the San Francisco LGBT Community Center when it opened. He also developed the program for the conference center for the California Endowment’s new center for health providers in downtown Los Angeles.
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.
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.
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.