Board of Directors
Becoming Independent’s Board of Directors serve as the agency’s chief ambassadors and advocates. Committed to the agency’s health and sustainability, they bring their connections to bear when it comes to fundraising as well as expanding employment and volunteer opportunities for the people BI serves. Together, we aspire to build a Board as rich in diversity as the population we support.
Current Officers and Members:
Nick Dieter was introduced to BI in a professional capacity, but quickly became inspired to give far more than his expertise in the insurance arena. Impressed with what he saw at BI, Nick was determined to contribute in a multitude of ways. First, he deployed his professional expertise. As Vice President of Employee Benefits at MOC Insurance, Nick took over as BI’s insurance broker in 2015 and since that time has secured significant cost savings for the agency. Nick also devoted himself to helping raise the funding necessary for BI to continue offering innovative services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He has served on the Auction Committee for BI’s annual galas since 2016, and in that capacity has introduced many new community partners, sponsors, and donors to the agency. Nick and MOC Insurance were awarded BI’s June Waite Spirit of Philanthropy Award in 2017, in honor of their multi-layered advocacy, partnership, and giving. Nick then joined BI’s Board of Directors in 2019. Nick holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance from the University of San Francisco and has over 15 years of insurance and financial service expertise.
Bonnie Burrell is a second generation San Franciscan who became interested in BI twenty years ago when her now late son, Todd, became a participant. When the opportunity to serve on the board presented itself, Bonnie felt the timing was just right to give back to an organization that had offered Todd, as well as all of his peers at BI, so many opportunities for growth and development. Bonnie was then the Manager and Community Liaison for GHD Consulting Engineers, and in that role built and nurtured strong ties between BI and GHD as well as the Celebrate Community Partnership, Rebuilding Together, Council on Aging, and numerous other community supporters. Bonnie retired from GHD and remains a tireless advocate and outstanding ambassador for Becoming Independent. She has served six years on our board, including two terms as President. Bonnie’s unwavering commitment to social justice is evidenced by her deep and long standing community engagement. In addition to Becoming Independent, Bonnie served on the board of the North Bay Regional Center and Rebuilding Together, and currently serves on the board of Council on Aging. Bonnie holds a degree in Sociology and an Elementary Teaching credential from San Francisco State University, and was the recipient of BI’s Volunteer of the Year Award in 2019.
Dave House sees the intersections that exist between his personal and professional life and excels at integrating the two in ways that benefit both. Dave recently retired from law enforcement as a Lieutenant with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. Dave joined the board in 2016, just as the agency was launching a specialized program to serve young adults with autism. Claudia and Dave’s son, Isa, was among the first class of students in the program, and there he has made great progress in achieving his personal life goals. Recognizing that misunderstandings between law enforcement and people with disabilities too often result in disastrous consequences, Dave encouraged BI to create educational training to help law enforcement professionals better understand and respond to people with developmental disabilities. He is passionate about providing the community with the information they need in order to be sensitive to the unique needs of people with autism and other disabilities, and thanks to his leadership, 350 members of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department have benefited from BI’s training. Dave served on the Board of our local National Alliance for Mental Illness chapter and has served several years on the Planning Committee for Autism Speaks’ annual North Bay Walk.
Sheri Wenzel first connected with BI when she and BI’s CEO, Luana Vaetoe, were part of Leadership Santa Rosa Class 36 together. Sheri joined BI’s Board of Directors in 2022, bringing a wealth of experience in strategic planning, business development, marketing, and personnel management. After decades of experience as a program manager in the electronic test and aerospace defense industries, Sheri now serves as the Global Solution Partner Program Manager with Keysight Technologies. Sheri also holds a Master’s of Business Administration focused in Marketing from Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business, and a Bachelor of Science, Mechanical Engineering from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Sheri also serves on the Board of Directors of the Redwood Empire Food Bank.
Donna Cates became involved with BI in 2013 when she agreed to participate in a 12-session planning process created to help the agency develop services to better meet the immediate needs of our region’s rapidly expanding population of young adults with autism. Donna’s experience as a mother of a son with autism complemented the team of behaviorists, researchers, and BI staff, and she worked tirelessly to help ensure that no stone was left unturned when it came to research into best practices and effective approaches being implemented by experts such as the Mind Institute at UC Davis. Donna’s engagement continued as BI raised funds to build its state of the art Passport to Independence program, and her son Geordi was among the first class of participants. After serving as Board President, Donna is now a member of the board’s Executive Committee where she plays a role in ensuring a smooth leadership transition. Donna and her husband Bryan live in Occidental. Together, they have owned and operated Telecommunications Designs, a network integrator for Fortune 500 companies, for 25 years. Donna previously spent six years on the board of the Harmony Education Foundation, where she helped raise funds for her son’s school. In recognition of her many contributions, Donna received BI’s Volunteer of the Year Award in 2014.
Bryan Wright became involved with BI through his oldest brother Greg, who has been a participant in BI’s Employment Services program. Seeing the happiness and sense of accomplishment that Greg gains from earning his paycheck and connecting with his peers at BI inspired the Wright family to become generous and active supporters of BI. Building on this history of family engagement and bringing a valuable perspective as part of the second generation of support for his brother Greg, Bryan joined BI’s board of directors in 2018. Bryan holds a Bachelor of Science in Construction Management from California State University, Chico, and currently serves as the Vice President at Wright Contracting, a General Contractor based out of Santa Rosa since 1953. Bryan’s expertise in his field is especially valuable as BI embarks on the redevelopment of its Santa Rosa campus from an aging manufacturing building into a dynamic, multi-dimensional Program Headquarters.
Alicia Burns comes to BI with an extensive and diverse professional background. After establishing her career in the grocery industry, Alicia then earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Humanities & Sociology from Dominican College, while also working as a behavioral assistant in the Special Day classroom at Twin Hills Middle school. While her career then took her into the real estate industry, Alicia looks back on this experience fondly, and it inspired her to join BI’s Board of Directors in 2022. After over 20 years in the real estate industry, Alicia now serves as the Executive Director of Westwater Financial, an independent Native Community Development Financial Institution which seeks to provide access to capital, financial education, coaching, and technical assistance for Native Americans and Alaska Natives residing in Sonoma, Mendocino, and Lake Counties.
Terry is a banking professional with 30 years of experience, previously at Exchange Bank, Bank of America and Citibank. His experience and skills include regional sales team coaching and leadership, relationship-focused business development, cross-divisional teamwork, and consumer and commercial lending. Terry and his wife Nicole have been staple supporters at many BI fundraising events over the years. Terry also has a sister with a disability who has recently relocated to the area from Oregon and who receives similar services to those offered by BI. Terry is passionate about supporting BI due to the significant impact that BI has on individuals and families in our community.
Born in Petaluma and raised in Sonoma and Glen Ellen, Eric Gullotta loves his community and gives back what he can. He has sat on many nonprofit committees and is most proud of his service to the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce and Becoming Independent, having served as Board President in the past at both organizations. In his professional life, Eric has attained dual professional accreditations, starting his career as a Certified Public Accountant and earning a Master’s degree in taxation before returning to school at Empire College to obtain his law degree. He is currently the managing attorney at Gullotta Law Group, specializing in estate planning and probate.
Denee Locke joined BI’s Board of Directors in 2022, bringing her unique perspective as a professional artist and a dedicated community volunteer. When Denee joined BI’s Professional Art Program in 2014, she already had experience with art in many different forms, including cartooning, architecture, figure drawing, pastels, sketching, and painting, having attended art classes at Piner High School and Santa Rosa Junior College. Denee enjoys exploring and creating art in different mediums. Denee is extremely talented at bringing people’s beauty and humor to life in her works. Her paintings are bold and colorful, and have been displayed and sold in many local venues and selected for the labels of multiple wine releases. Denee also volunteers with the homeless community, her church, her Kashia Pomo Native American Tribe, and at polling stations during elections.
Carrie Mauritson was born and raised in Durban, South Africa, but established deep roots in Healdsburg after meeting and marrying Clay Mauritson, the owner and winemaker of Dry Creek Valley’s Mauritson Family Winery. She moved to Healdsburg in 2004 and learned all facets of the multigenerational family wine business. She currently oversees Direct-to-Consumer Sales and Hospitality for the enterprise. She and Clay have three children and together are co-founders of Project Zin, an annual fundraiser inspired by their personal journey with their son, Brady. The fundraiser has raised more than $1 million for the Down Syndrome Association North Bay. “I know personally that what these individuals can contribute to our community is so enriching,” she says. “Our mission is to make sure more people realize that.” Carrie joined BI’s Board of Directors in 2019, bringing a strong commitment to BI’s mission and an active engagement in fundraising.
Joerg Olson’s path to BI’s Board of Directors was lit by his mother, Ann Joergenson, a devoted advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who was a founding BI board member. Joerg’s sister Kari, who has been an enthusiastic and very active BI participant for 20 years, can be credited with sparking a family of activists in the field of disabilities. Joerg joined BI’s Board of Directors in 2012. Joerg and Kari are joined in their devotion to BI by their sister Erika, who is a valued member of our Dinner Under the Stars Auction Committee. Joerg and his wife Millie live in Santa Rosa and operate Olson & Olson Insurance Services, where they have provided insurance products and services for professionals and small businesses for over 25 years.