Elevating Human Abilities Since 1967
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Leadership Team

Luana Vaetoe

Luana Vaetoe

Chief Executive Officer

Luana was appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of BI in July 2013, having demonstrated success in strategic business planning and implementation as Agency Director. Under her leadership as CEO, Becoming Independent has seen significant positive outcomes in various areas. A program designed to support the unique needs of the rapidly growing numbers of young adults on the autism spectrum launched in 2016 thanks to an infusion of private sector funding, and is now at full capacity. In 2017, the agency launched a significant expansion of its Social Enterprise Division, allowing BI to create community based opportunities for job training and market wage employment while generating revenue to continue advancing quality services. Luana received The North Bay Business Journal’s (NBBJ) Nonprofit Leadership Award as well as their 40 Under 40 Award for the positive community impact made by Becoming Independent under her leadership. In 2014, Becoming Independent was awarded Business of the Year by the YPN for excellence in developing young professionals in the community and in the workplace. BI continues to be selected by The NBBJ as one of the North Bay’s Best Places to Work each year from 2013-2018.

Paula Finley

Paula Finley

Chief of Services

Paula joined BI in February of 2011 and became Manager of the Production Services team in June of 2011. She had the privilege of leading BI’s vocational team through the transition from sub minimum wage to minimum wage in January of 2018. As Chief of Services, she continues to work to not only ensure BI remains a fun place to work but that it truly exemplifies its values in all areas, supports individuals to live self-determined lives and celebrates the staff who make BI the best. Paula is a graduate of the National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities program through the University of Delaware.
Lisa Folsom-Ernst

Lisa Folsom-Ernst

Director of Resource Development

Lisa assumed her role in 2009 at a time when the agency, having relied almost exclusively on governmental funding for the previous four decades, was eager to develop new revenue streams that would help to support quality service delivery. Since then, thanks to a strong partnership with CEO Luana Vaetoe and an exceptional team of talented Resource Development staff, much progress has been made. She earned a Bachelors degree from Bard College, a Masters in Social Work from City University New York, and is a graduate of the National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities program through the University of Delaware. 
James Cox

James Cox

Director of Community Services

In 2013, James joined Becoming Independent and immediately developed and implemented a collection of meaningful volunteer opportunities across Day Services. The partnerships he established with local organizations such as The Council on Aging, Catholic Charities, and The Redwood Empire Food Bank, created anchor activities for those served by BI to become active participants in supporting their local community. James’s diverse background in human services spans 25 years. His experience in Residential, Day Services, Supported Living, Transportation, Employment, Respite, and Behavior Management affords him a global perspective across the service spectrum. James’s experience, revolutionary philosophy on person centered services, and unwavering positive attitude is a valuable support to all facets of the organization. James is a graduate of the National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities program through the University of Delaware.
JayJay Rico

JayJay Rico

Director of Operations

JayJay Rico joined BI in 2012 and since that time has served the organization in several different capacities, currently overseeing the agencies operations. JayJay earned his Bachelor’s in Organizational Communications from Sacramento State University and is a graduate of the National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities program through the University of Delaware. JayJay graduated from Sonoma State University with a Master’s in Organization Development, and he received The North Bay Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Award for his leadership in creating meaningful, community based job training and employment opportunities for the individuals we serve.