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PFP Staff and Team

Diane Helgeland, Executive Director and Founder

Diane is the Executive Director and Founder of Partners for Progress, NFP. She received her BA in Special Education from Illinois State University. Some would say Diane was driven by life to the world of service and horses. Her brother was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome as an infant. In an era when most individuals with special needs were institutionalized, her parents chose to bring their son home and raise him with their other children on the family dairy farm. Her family experience led her into teaching Special Education. While raising her young family she ran an equine boarding facility for over 15 years. Her children became interested in horses and soon competitive, championship riding. Always eager to learn and help, Diane wanted to assist her children with their riding goals, this led her to acquire training skills from some world class riding instructors.

Diane took her knowledge and began to train students of her own. She became Level I Certified with The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA). She has been a therapeutic instructor for over 20 years working with children with mental illnesses and at-risk teenagers. “Our mission is therapeutic programs for riders with disabilities. We believe our clients come here for functional gains. My passion is being in the arena and doing programs that make kids work that much harder. I love every part of it.”


Amanda Braden, Director of Operations

Amanda is an Occupational Therapist and the PFP Program Director. She received her BS in Occupational Therapy from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. She completed her field work in Hand and Upper Extremity rehabilitation and pediatrics. She holds NBOCT (National Board for Certification Therapy) licenses in both Illinois and Wisconsin. She has a Level I Certification with The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA), specializing in the horse as an intervention tool and facilitator of mental health patients. Amanda holds a Level 2 Myofascial Release certification through John Barnes courses.

Amanda began riding horses at the age of 5 and showing competitively at the age of 9. She has represented the State of Wisconsin at the American Quarter Horse Youth World show and won numerous awards including American Quarter Horse Congress (AQHC) Grand Champion and Hunter Under Saddle, Hunter Hack, and Equitation Over Fences Grand Champion.

In addition to being PFP Program Director, she has worked within schools for over 5 years as an occupational therapist and assists families through the IEP process. Amanda is an active advocate in the equine therapy world. She developed Therapeutic Goal Writing and first presented it at the 2007 North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA, now PATH International) Region 7 Conference. She has presented numerous times at industry events on the Importance of Documentation to Therapeutic Riding and Effective Horse and Rider Pairing. “The use of equine therapeutic intervention is second to no other treatment modalities in the therapeutic world, the use of the horse is a critical tool that allows for the greatest challenges to be overcome and promotes engagement in everyday life for our clients. It is a privilege to be part of such an effective therapy on a daily basis.”

Karin Kepski, Program Coordinator

Karin is a Speech/Language Pathologist. Karin received her BS, in Anatomical Sciences, from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and then a MHS, in Communication Disorders/Speech-Language Pathology, from Governors State University. Karin began riding at a very young age and fell in love with Barrel Racing. Karin is unsure what, where, and when she became interested in becoming a therapist. In 2001, Karin was introduced to Hippotherapy and Special Olympics (Equestrian Division). In 2004, Karin received her NARHA Registered Instructor Certification. In 2009, Karin was part of the inauguration of Bravehearts at the Bergman Centre where she received her Level I and II Hippotherapy Certification. “I believe each child is a unique puzzle, never straightforward, and is always an opportunity to learn. This is why I am a strong advocate of Hippotherapy - it incorporates many systems of the body that a traditional setting is unable to replicate.”

Jamie Herwald

Jamie is a Master Level Path Certified Therapeutic Instructor and Certified Equine Coordinator. Jamie holds a BS from the University of Wisconsin, Parkside in Management Information Systems. Jamie was first introduced to therapeutic riding when she was 13 years old. She started as a volunteer leading horses and side walking. While still in high school she started teaching the classroom portion of group sessions. Upon graduating from college, she knew her passion was with horses and helping others. She joined Partners for Progress full time as an Instructor, Equine Manager and Volunteer Coordinator. Additionally, Jamie coaches the PFP show team that competes in AQHA and NSBA horse shows and the PFP Illinois Special Olympic Team. “I enjoy working with all our riders and volunteers and watching them grow in our environment.”

Anne Margaret Huffman

Anne Margaret is the Director of Community Relations. She has a BA in Advertising and Marketing having studied at Loyola University and Northeastern University. She always had a love for horses and rode for leisure. It was no surprise when her daughter showed an interest in horses. Anne Margaret’s daughter has Autism. Her daughter has been a rider at PFP for over 12 years. “I have seen the difference these horses and this therapy can make for a child with Autism. It is this therapy that has changed my daughter’s life forever, pulling her out of the “darkness of Autism”. Her daughter is now looking at the potential of an independent future, possibly in the area of design media.

Marle Novatnik

Marle is a Path Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor. She received her BA in Communication from Purdue University. Marle began riding at age 12 with a saddlebred trainer, where she spent a decade learning the discipline and working up to teaching and an assistant trainer title. Towards the end of high school, Marle was introduced to PFP through another volunteer and eventually became a lesson therapy assistant (LTA). She continued to work as an LTA on and off through college, while studying speech therapy. During this time, she learned horses have something to offer everyone. Upon graduating college, she became an accredited instructor and has been teaching since. Marle also assists the PFP show team at shows around the country. “I enjoy seeing how the riders are impacted by the horses, teaching the students to become confident equestrians and watching them shine in the spotlight at a horse show.”

Kimberly Metnick

Kim is a certified clinical instructor and a member of the American Physical Therapists Association. She is a graduate of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine. Kim has a special interest in patients with neurologic diagnoses, balance disorders, autism spectrum disorder, genetic, and developmental disorders. She has taken additional education courses in NDT techniques, Myofascial release, muscle energy techniques, pediatric yoga, kinesiotape, orthotics, pediatric gait courses, sensory integration, and orthopedic courses. She is a certified yoga instructor for children with special needs and has been practicing physical therapy for 20+ years. “I always enjoyed working with children and through physical therapy I have the opportunity to work with children and their families, and help children reach their highest potential.”

Kathy Church

Kathy is a licensed  Physical Therapist. Kathy received her degree from The Chicago Medical School. Directly out of school she began working in the school system and has continued in the school system for the past 23 year. She immediately fell in love working with children. It was through these children that she learned about hippotherapy. Kathy recalls a student who had been going to hippotherapy for a few years and had to stop. “I remember the decline in this child's physical strength, endurance and abilities after a relatively short period of time post hippotherapy. That was the catalyst that started me on my journey learning about and being involved in the use of a horse as a significant modality to encourage optimal function and quality of life.” She has been working part-time at PFP for over 20 years. PFP is an integral part of her life. Her children have volunteered and worked at PFP, it is where she met her husband, and currently her youngest son is riding at PFP. “I am grateful for being a small part of a program that touches and makes a difference in so many lives, including my own.”

Annette Shaffer 

Annette is a Path Certified Therapeutic Instructor. Annette received her BA from Old Dominion University, Norfolk Virginia. She is a certified Registered Behavior Technician. She started working with horses at the age of 6. She rode and showed horses at the 4H level all throughout high School and into her adult life. She is currently a full-time employee of Lake Zurich School District 95’s special education program. Because of her extensive work with students with behavior needs, she was certified as a Registered Behavior Technician. Her certification allows her to work directly with District 95’s behavior analyst, who serves students in need of behavior interventions. She brings both experience working with horses and working with students with learning and behavior needs to PFP. “I am honored to be a part of such an amazing program. I see firsthand the progress many of the clients make each week.”

 Brittany Frankel

Brittany is an Occupational Therapist. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Social Work from Northeastern Illinois University and her Master of Occupational Therapy from Elmhurst University. Brittany has a passion for working with children and has always dreamed of combining this passion with her love of horses. She began riding horses at the age of 8 and continued on through high school. Brittany also works as an occupational therapist at an outpatient pediatric clinic and is excited to apply her skills to supporting children within the hippotherapy setting. “I selected a career in occupational therapy after learning about the opportunity to provide hippotherapy, it combines both my passions.”

Katelyn Derrig

Katelyn is an Occupational Therapist. She received her Bachelors of Occupational Science and Masters of Occupational Therapy from Saint Louis University. Katelyn has past experience working in outpatient rehab with adults, focusing on hand and upper extremity rehab. Additionally, she has experience in aquatic therapy for pediatrics. She is currently focusing on outpatient pediatrics, taking special interest in neurological disorders, autism spectrum disorder, sensory integration, and primary motor patterns (reflexes). She has taken continuing education courses in Neurodevelopmental Treatment (DT) and Mastugova (Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration (MNRI), sensory integration, astronaut training protocol, and DIR/Floortime.

Katelyn has always enjoyed riding recreationally. She became interested in hippotherapy in college while working as an aide for a child who attended hippotherapy sessions. "I am fascinated by how hippotherapy is used to support a wide range of therapy goals. I am excited to continue to expand my skills here at PFP while helping clients expand their abilities for a fuller life.

Elise Livingston

​Elise is a licensed physical therapist with her Doctor of Physical Therapy from Northern Illinois University. She is a credentialed clinical instructor and is certified in Applied Functional Sciences. She enjoys finding creative ways to treat the person as a whole and not just a diagnosis. Her passion for physical therapy and helping others started right here at PFP when she was a volunteer over 15 years ago. She has been treating in the outpatient setting for 8 years. Elise is excited to return to the hippotherapy setting as a Physical Therapist. "I have so much love for helping others and find so much power in the emotional healing the horse can bring to the physical therapy process".



Megan  Wurzbach

Megan has a BS and MS degree in civil engineering from Purdue University. She is currently working on her Master’s in Occupational Therapy at North Central College. Megan started volunteering at PFP while in college. After volunteering for many years at equine therapy programs she realized her true passion and decided to change careers. She started riding when she was 7 years old and continues to take lessons for fun. She has a border collie mix named Raven and hopes someday to have a horse of her own. “I like that I can combine my love of helping people and working with horses.”

Mackenzie Lullo, “Kenzie”

Kenzie is a Physical Therapy Assistant. She received her Bachelor of Science in Physical Education from DePaul University. She has experience working with students of all abilities in elementary and high school settings. While Kenzie does not have a background with horses, she has quickly learned how beneficial hippotherapy is for children with disabilities.

Kenzie is currently working on her certification in instrument assisted manual therapy as well as primitive reflex integration. 

Kenzie works with direct treatment and power hour clients. She has also has been involved with the work skills group.  In her free time, she loves training for powerlifting and bodybuilding competitions and being an active member in her community. “I have always loved working with children, and helping people reach their goals to become the best versions of themselves!”

Rhiannon Huffman

Rhiannon is a Lesson Treatment Assistant. She is a graduate of Antioch High School and the Partners for Progress Life Skills Program. She h​as additional extensive training in horse handling, equine care, and stable maintenance. Rhiannon began riding at PFP at the age of five and has been part of the Power Hour and Direct Treatment programs. She is now part of the traveling show team. Although she loves all the horses in the barn her current favorites are Fiona and Pearl. “I love leading the horses for the kids. I also enjoy doing many of the cleaning jobs around the barn. 

Kelsey Weick

Kelsey is a lesson Treatment Assistant. She is graduate of Stevenson High School and Partners for Progress Life Skills Program. She has additional extensive training in horse handling, equine care, and stable maintenance. Kelsey started riding here at PFP at the young age of 7 along with sister. In fact, Kelsey began her lessons with our Executive Director Diane. Kelsey has benefited from all the programming that PFP offers and is a competitive member of the traveling show team. Kelsey has a deep love for horses. Kelsey has a special soft spot for Tia and often rides her in competitions. “I enjoy working with the staff and interacting with all the kids who ride throughout the week.” 

 Evan Zaloudek

​Evan is a Lesson Treatment Assistant. He has received extensive training in horse handling, equine care, and stable maintenance. Evan works between 20-30 hours at PFP a week. Evan began riding at PFP in 2008 through Northpointe Resources (now Aspire) and immediately fell in love with the horses and the atmosphere in the barn. While Evan has benefitted from many programs here at PFP, his heart is in the show pen. He has a competitive drive. He is a natural showman as proven by his many blue ribbons. Evan loves his routines and keeps himself busy taking care of the horses, the barn, leading horses for others and assisting therapists in sessions. “I absolutely love working with all the kids”

Emma Quane

Emma is a Lesson Treatment Assistant. She is a graduate from Lakes Community High School. Emma has been part of PFP since the age of 3 and feels like PFP is her second home. She has participated and benefitted from many of the programs, including Direct Treatment here at PFP, making significant advances over the years.

Emma is familiar with all of the PFP horses and can answer almost any question you might have about them. She is also an expert on many of the retired PFP horses especially her forever favorite Fiona. “I enjoy working with all of PFP’s clients and I hope to instill the strength and confidence I learned at PFP to each and every one of them.”

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