Staff

A Special Message

The heart, mind and will of God came together when we took a leap of faith to partner with the Exceptional Foundation of Atlanta and create a day program for adults with disabilities. We believe God began to work in us long before we could see the path that stands before us so clearly now. All of our individual paths of work, volunteerism, compassion and commitment to adults with disabilities were shaping us for a future together. We are forever friends, co-workers and women of faith who have come together to work with some of the best people on earth, adults with disabilities.

As special needs educators, we have heard too many disheartening stories of young adults leaving the school system at the age of 22 with no real plan for a “greater future”. Our former students deserve a life worth living, including all the facets we think of when considering the quality of our own lives. The Exceptional Foundation of Atlanta is a recognized nonprofit organization that provides year-round services to individuals with special needs. The mission of the day program is to enhance the lives of its participants by fostering opportunities for social engagement with like-minded peers, allowing for a feeling of worth from work that contributes to our community, partnering with other nonprofits to volunteer and help others in need and by participating in activities that keep the body and mind active and healthy.

Adults with disabilities have so much to offer others. We are here to show the world their talents, their hearts and their compassion for all people. We teach them, but we also learn from them. Our goal, for the community at large, is for each person to open their mind and heart to the life lessons that can be learned from our “differently abled” special needs young adults.

We do what we do because we believe our clients are worthy of a life full of opportunities and purpose. People helping people, that is our exceptional way.

Lauren Marks, Renee Smith, Susan Keeney

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Lauren Marks, Executive Director

I have taught special education in Gwinnett County Public Schools for 12 years. My passion for working with the special needs population started when I was a student in high school and was placed as a peer helper in a self-contained special needs classroom. I was so inspired by this experience that I graduated from Parkview High School and then attended Georgia College where I earned a degree in Special Education.

I taught for five years at Parkview High School in a Moderate Intellectual Disabilities self-contained class. I later became a teacher for the ADAPT program within Gwinnett County Public Schools where I was able to solely focus on teaching functional life skills as well as provide more opportunities for community skills access.

I am passionate for working with the special needs population and highlighting each of their individual strengths so that they can become productive and active members within their local community and beyond! We are greater together and I am my best when working on behalf of those with special needs. My laughter and joy comes from the work I do and I am so grateful to call our young adults family.

I enjoy spending time with family and friends, being outside, staying active, traveling and attending concerts.

Renee Smith, Director of Marketing and Development

I am a speech therapist and I have 25 years experience. I am a North Carolina girl and I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Appalachian State University respectively with my Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts degrees in Communication Disorders. You can do the math on how long ago that happened! Along the way I have run my own private practices and have worked in the hospital and school setting. I found my home working in a functional life skills program for young adults with disabilities.

I am so grateful for the life lessons I get to learn every day working in the world of young adults with disabilities. Life is about adapting to the things that come our way and living the best lives we can. My students have so much they can teach all of us in the manner of loving the life you are in and seeing the beauty in everyday. How lucky am I to get to call this “work”!

Beyond work, I have three young men that I am blessed to have the title of "Mom" to. Caleb, Josh and Noah. Crazy is the only mode they know but I love it! I am married to one of the sweetest men I know and I am lucky to call him one of my best friends in life.

You can call me Sunshine - “brightness or radiance; cheerfulness or happiness”. My first memory of being called sunshine was in college in 1987. I never really thought about the definition of the word or what that meant to others until recently. A coworker told me, “you bring the sunshine to others”. This is how I like to think of who I am and what I bring to the work I do.

I am so excited to be a part of Exceptional Foundation of Atlanta. You are my sunshine!

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Susan Keeney, Director of Programming

Worthy. What an incredible word! This single word is the powerful foundation to the “what and why” of my career as a special education teacher. I believe my students are worthy and able to do all things and that they deserve the best of what I have to offer. I am who I am as an educator because of all they have taught me about life. I am a firm believer that everyone has a purpose and thoroughly enjoy helping young adults discover that purpose. I also believe building strong relationships with others greatly increases quality of life.

I have taught special education in Gwinnett County Public Schools for 21 years. For me, teaching is not a job, it is a passion. I spent 17 years teaching elementary school and have spent the last 4 years teaching life skills to post high school young adults. I am excited for this new opportunity to focus on these core beliefs and help young adults and families discover an exciting world once a student has completed their school career.

I received my formal education from University of Georgia and later a Master’s degree from Grand Canyon University. That has been the start of my education, however, some of my greatest education has occurred through the life lessons my students have taught me. They have displayed how to take on each day with enthusiasm and share a great love of others. They have also shown me that anything is possible.

Outside of work, I love to spend time with my family and travel and participate in volunteer activities. I look forward to incorporating my experience working with Grayson Athletic Association Special Populations in the activities we plan for EF Atlanta.