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Meet Our Team

OAR Staff

Our staff is a small, dynamic group of passionate individuals, working towards making a meaningful impact on the lives of autistic individuals and those who support them. With diverse backgrounds and experience, the OAR staff is a team that takes OAR’s mission to heart and put ideas into action.

Meet the team that drives all of OAR’s day-to-day operations.

Kristen Essex - Executive Director

Kristen Essex

Executive Director

Email Kristen   |  (703) 243-9717  |  LinkedIn

Kristen came to OAR in 2015 with an extensive professional background that included insurance sales, the restaurant industry, and newspaper and small business management. In her initial role as Business Manager and later with her 2018 promotion to Deputy Executive Director, she managed OAR’s day-to-day operations, human resources, and finances. As of December 2022, Kristen is proud to serve as OAR’s Executive Director.

Kristen is a native of the Washington metropolitan area. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Economics/Business from Randolph-Macon College and a Master of Nonprofit Management from Regis University. She is also a Certified Autism Specialist through IBCCES.


  • Chief Staff Executive
  • Business Operations
  • Fundraising Events
  • Community Outreach

What do you like to do outside of OAR?
Read, hike with her dogs, and spend time with family and friends.

Sally Tran - Business Manager

Sally Tran

Business Manager

Email Sally   |  (703) 243-9727 

Sally started with OAR in April 2023 with over a decade of experience in small businesses and startups. Before joining OAR, she was the Director of Operations for a series of indoor family play spaces in Washington D.C., New York City, and Connecticut. As the Business Manager, she works closely with the Executive Director to direct and manage day-to-day operations and finances.

Sally is a native of Northern Virginia and a mom of a child on the spectrum. She graduated from The Ohio State University (Columbus, OH) with a Bachelor of Science in Economics and is a Certified Scrum Master.


  • Business Operations
  • Human Resources
  • Financial Management
  • Corporate Partnerships

What do you like to do outside of OAR?
Sally loves to spend quality time with family and friends. When she’s not planning her next trip to Disney World, she enjoys pilates and cycling, mahjong nights, and watching college football (go Bucks!) and all San Francisco sports teams.

Michael Maloney - Special Advisor, Strategic Planning and Projects

Michael Maloney

Special Advisor, Strategic Planning and Projects

Email Michael   |  (703) 216-1115  

Mike is part of OAR’s founding team and served as Executive Director until December 2022, when he assumed his current role. A native of Weymouth, MA, and a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan, he graduated from Holy Cross and later earned a master’s degree in Business Management from Central Michigan University.

Mike served 23 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, including tours in Vietnam and the first Gulf War. Before joining OAR, he served as Executive Director of the Marine Corps University Foundation in Quantico, Va., and the Autism Society of America Foundation.

Mike and his wife, Elaine, live in Burke, VA, and have two musician sons, Kevin, a Sergeant First Class in the U.S. Army Ceremonial Band, “Pershing’s Own”, and Doug, Director of Bands at Chantilly High School in Chantilly, Va.

  • Advisor to the Executive Director
  • Board Engagement and Development
  • Strategic Planning
  • Special Projects

What do you like to do outside of OAR?
In his off time, Mike enjoys any occasion to hang out with Kevin, Doug, and their wives, being Grandpa to Maxon, Selah, and Cameron, writing, enjoying his sons’ musical endeavors, and rooting for Boston sports teams.

Kimberly Ha - Senior Director, Research and Programs

Kimberly Ha

Senior Director, Research and Programs

Email Kimberly   |  (703) 243-9762

Kimberly Ha is a certified autism specialist and an integral member of OAR’s executive leadership team. She directs OAR’s strategic vision while providing oversight and direction for the grant programs, scholarship programs, resource developments, webinar series, OARacle newsletter, and community outreach initiatives implemented by the Programs Team. Kim received her master’s degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania and has over a decade of work in service to the autism community. Prior to joining OAR in 2014, Kim taught science and transitions skills to students with high and low-incidence disabilities including autism. She previously collaborated with social workers, parents, and school staff to develop quality IEPs and ensure students received the special education services they deserved. Kim has a continued commitment to providing quality access to autism research, information, and education through OAR’s wide-ranging program activities. 


  • Strategic Vision
  • Programs Team Oversight and Direction

What do you like to do outside of OAR?
Kim enjoys hiking, reading, and playing badminton.

Cate Hickman - Community Outreach Associate

Cate Hickman

Community Outreach Associate

Email Cate  |  (571) 977-5393  |  LinkedIn

A Virginia Beach native, Cate graduated from James Madison University in May 2022 where she studied psychology and humanitarian affairs. During college, Cate was a leader in several different campus organizations, completed research in the field of cognitive development, and interned for a non-profit organization called the P.U.S.O. Foundation, or Purposeful Unconditional Service to Others.

Through her volunteer experience with organizations like P.U.S.O. and UNICEF USA, Cate has grown an appreciation for working with nonprofits that are dedicated to improving the lives of others. This, along with her passion for helping those in the autism community led her to join the OAR team in August 2022.


  • Blog/Newsletter coordination
  • Community Outreach
  • Social Media Announcements and Campaigns
  • Scholarship Programs
  • Resource Fulfillment

What do you like to do outside of OAR?
Cate’s hobbies and interests include baking, swimming, reading, travel, and spending time with her friends.

Vivian Muhumuza - Grants and Programs Associate

Vivian Muhumuza

Grants and Programs Associate

Email Vivian  |  (571) 977-5391  |  LinkedIn

A Philadelphia/Delaware native, Vivian began her college career at Oxford College of Emory University in Oxford, Georgia, where she received her Associate of Arts. She graduated from Emory’s College of Arts and Sciences in December of 2022 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. During her junior year, Vivian interned under Dr. Mindy Scheithauer, Dr. Nathan Call, and Dr. Colin Muething at the Marcus Autism Center, where her passion and love for research sparked.

Vivian’s passion for breaking stigmas surrounding mental and intellectual disorders and disabilities is part of why she joined OAR. Along with her academic, clinical, and lab background on sustainable solutions in research, her choice to join OAR supports her hope to be a part of research that will aid those directly affected by autism and educate those who may not be.


  • Applied Research Grant Competition
  • Graduate Research Grant Competition
  • Peer Education Grant
  • Community Grant Competition

What do you like to do outside of OAR?
Vivian loves attending church, watching (and playing) sports, and reading her Bible. Her favorite book of the Bible is Genesis, while her favorite person is definitely Jesus! She loves spending time with her family, watching any and all sports, and attempting to re-learn how to play the violin.

Courtney Carroll - Manager, Hire Autism

Courtney Carroll

Manager, Hire Autism

Email Courtney   |   Office:  (703) 497-3438   |    Cell:  (703) 216-1372  

Courtney, a Connecticut native, graduated from James  Madison University (JMU) with a degree in Health Sciences, a minor in Special Education, and a Certificate in Autism Spectrum Studies.

Throughout college, Courtney worked at a non-profit providing hands-on life skills support to individuals with disabilities, 18 years and older, who were looking to achieve independence. At JMU, she was President of her sorority and led their philanthropic partnership with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Courtney has also volunteered within the Harrisonburg community and school systems to raise awareness about autism and promote inclusion. In her previous role, Courtney worked as a Registered Behavior Technician where she provided behavioral support to a variety of individuals on the autism spectrum between the ages of four and eighteen.

Courtney’s passion for working with the autism community led her to join OAR in 2021.


  • Hire Autism Website
  • Employment Initiative
  • Hire Autism Events
  • Employment  Resource Development

What do you like to do outside of OAR?
Courtney loves to run and be outdoors. She enjoys spending time with her friends and family in New England. Courtney is a big fan of all Boston sports teams, especially the Patriots.

Brittany Short- Hire Autism Associate

Brittany Short

Hire Autism Associate

Email Brittany   |   Office:  (571) 384-1821 

Brittany, a native of the Washington metropolitan area, spent most of her childhood in Virginia and graduated from James Madison University (JMU) in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. A few years later, she moved to Montgomery County, Maryland where she currently resides.

After college, Brittany spent one year working in veterinary medicine and five years in the research industry working with oncology and infectious disease studies. Throughout this time, she managed a diverse team and multiple projects to improve the operations at her facility. Eventually, she was ready for a change and was inspired by her relationship with her future sister-in-law who has autism to find work supporting the autism community. This led her to join OAR in 2022 as the Hire Autism Associate.


  • Hire Autism Navigator Program
  • Outreach and Engagement
  • Training and Resource Development

What do you like to do outside of OAR?
Brittany enjoys being creative and spends her time exploring hobbies such as painting and photography. She also greatly enjoys caring for her growing collection of houseplants and seeks to learn more about gardening. Most importantly, she loves spending time with her family and friends.

Ben VanHook - Community Support Coordinator

Ben VanHook

Community Support Coordinator

Email Ben  |  (703) 243-3466  |  LinkedIn

Ben is from Harbin, China, but has been a long-time resident of Northern Virginia. He earned his bachelor’s degree with a double major in political science and psychology at Mercyhurst University and is currently pursuing his master’s at George Mason University in public policy with an emphasis in education policy.

Being autistic himself, Ben has partaken in numerous conferences, panels, and summits to discuss the equitable inclusion of autistic individuals in education and employment.


  • Managing Community Support Programs
  • In-house Self-Advocacy Resource
  • Assists in Developing Community Support Plan
  • Establishing an Autistic Advisors’ Council

What do you like to do outside of OAR?
Ben likes to play music (piano and guitar), write and perform poems, and watch soccer.

Rachel Luizza - Director, Development and Marketing

Rachel Luizza

Director, Development and Marketing

Email Rachel   |  (571) 977-5392  |  LinkedIn

Rachel is originally from the Mile High City and graduated from Colorado State University’s College of Business in 2015 with degrees in Marketing, Management, and Human Resource Management. After graduating from CSU, she worked as the Marketing and Event Coordinator at an athletic event nonprofit.

After moving to the DC metro area with her partner, Rachel joined Organization for Autism Research’s RUN FOR AUTISM team as a Coordinator in March 2017 and was promoted to Senior Coordinator in January 2019.  After three years working on OAR’s RUN FOR AUTISM team, Rachel transitioned into the Manager, Development and Marketing role in September 2020 and was promoted to the Director, Development and Marketing in January 2024.

Rachel currently lives and works remotely from Colorado.


  • Marketing and Communications Management
  • Organization Development
  • Website Management

What do you like to do outside of OAR?
Rachel, like most Coloradoans, loves the mountains and exploring them with her husband, young children, and dog by trail running, snowshoeing, camping, hiking, and fishing.

Sean Flynn - Director, Fundraising and Special Events

Sean Flynn

Director, Fundraising and Special Events

Email Sean  |  (703) 243-8020  |  LinkedIn

Originally from Florida, Sean graduated from the University of Central Florida with degrees in Liberal Studies and Sport Management.  After two years of working as a RUN FOR AUTISM Coordinator with OAR, he held positions in Education and endurance events industry, before returning to OAR in 2016 as Manager, RUN FOR AUTISM .  He was promoted in 2017 to Director, RUN FOR AUTISM providing oversight and direction for all aspects of the program. In 2023 he was promoted to Director, Fundraising and Special Events responsible for the oversight of multiple fundraising campaigns and the development and execution of a signature fundraising event



  • Lead peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns in traditional and digital-first methods
  • Develop, execute, and grow OAR’s live streaming fundraising efforts and develop industry partnerships
  • Manage and grow grassroots fundraising efforts
  • Plan and develop outreach strategies to increase new lead development

What do you like to do outside of OAR?
Sean enjoys being active and doing anything that is outdoors as well as, taking in sporting events and other fun activities going on around the DC area.

Sarah Culver - Director, RUN FOR AUTISM

Sarah Culver


Email Sarah  | (571) 977-5390

Sarah is a native to the Northern Virginia area and a graduate of East Carolina University with a degree in Recreation Management.  Before joining OAR She worked for SHAPE America focusing on professional development for physical education teachers.

Sarah has been a part of the OAR’s RUN FOR AUTISM team since April 2017.  She is a certified running coach, certified race director, and avid runner; completing over 42 marathons and 15 ultramarathons.

Sarah lives and works remotely in Virginia Beach, Virginia with her husband and two dogs.


  • Oversee all RUN events
  • RUN marketing and communication
  • Runner support and fundraising

What do you like to do outside of OAR?
When she’s not running, Sarah loves hiking, stand-up paddle boarding, snowboarding, and anything outdoors, the higher the adrenaline factor, the better! She also enjoys traveling to new places, playing fetch with her dogs on the beach, and watching/playing sports.

Cora Bentley - Coordinator, RUN FOR AUTISM

Cora Bentley

Coordinator, RUN FOR AUTISM

Email Cora  | (571) 977-5395

Growing up with a parent in the Air Force, Cora has lived in seven different states but feels most at home near mountains. She graduated from Utah State University in 2021 with a degree in Special Education and a minor in psychology.

During college, Cora interned with a non-profit that focused on housing for adults with autism. She has worked at numerous group homes and summer camps providing friendship and direct support to teens and adults with intellectual disabilities. At USU, Cora was President of her sorority and dedicated over 100 hours of service to domestic violence shelters in her college town.

From a young age, Cora has been passionate about helping people with disabilities. This passion began when her brother was diagnosed with autism, grew in college through her studies and work experience, and finally led her to join OAR’s RUN FOR AUTISM team in 2022.


  • RUN event coordinator
  • Participant engagement and support

What do you like to do outside of OAR?
Cora loves all outdoor activities, but her favorites include hiking, skiing, running, and even goat yoga! She also enjoys baking, sketching, dancing, and true crime podcasts.

Adeline Hahn - Coordinator, RUN FOR AUTISM

Adeline Hahn

Coordinator, RUN FOR AUTISM

Email Adeline  | (571) 977-5394 ext.232

Originally from Montana, Adeline graduated from Brown University in 2023 with degrees in International and Public Affairs (with a health policy focus) and Business. She moved to the DC area in Fall 2023.

During college, Adeline worked for a variety of organizations, including a youth education non-profit and a congressional campaign. She also served as a student peer advisor and president of a musical group. Through work and extracurriculars, she discovered a love of organizations that seek to improve the lives of others, leading her to OAR’s RUN program.


  • RUN event coordinator
  • Participant engagement and support

What do you like to do outside of OAR?
Adeline enjoys being outside, from running to hiking to kayaking. She loves traveling to and exploring new cities, spending time with friends, baking, and jigsaw puzzles.

Board of Directors

Our Board of Directors currently has 14 members, mostly autism parents. Dr. Peter Gerhardt, the Chairman of our Scientific Council, is also a member of the Board. Combined, they represent more than 400 years of autism experience.

Meet Our Board of Directors

Scientific Council

Our Scientific Council is comprised of 20 leading autism and medical professionals from across the U.S. Together they serve as an expert information resource for us on matters related to research and current practice.

Meet Our Scientific Council