Board of Directors

Debbie Fagnant, President

Debbie came to Alaska in 1973 to begin her elementary teaching career in St. Mary's, an Eskimo community off the Yukon. She has three wonderful children with husband Dick Fagnant and delightful grandchildren. Debbie retired from the Juneau School District in 2011 and now has more time for ceramics, hiking with friends, visiting family, and reading good books. Debbie wears many hats for NAMI Juneau and is committed to supporting others through NAMI's various family education and support programs.

Rob Steedle, Treasurer

Rob is honored to join the NAMI Juneau board membership. He is deeply committed to the NAMI mission of education and advocacy to positively influence mental health public policy and is delighted that his recent retirement from the City & Borough of Juneau affords him time for this important work. Rob has benefited directly from NAMI Juneau’s presence in coming to terms with the challenges of family members who are living with mental illness, and he looks forward to deepening his understanding while helping others along this road.  

Rachel Jeans

Rachel was born and raised in Juneau, Alaska. Lingit, Kaagwaantaan from Déix X’awool Hít (Two-Door House). She obtained her Masters in Counseling Psychology, in 2015. She is passionate about serving our Alaskan Native populations and the community of Juneau as a whole. Rachel is a mental health clinician at the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida under the new Community Behavioral Healing Services. She feels honored to be considered for the NAMI board membership and is excited for the potential collaboration. She truly appreciates the NAMI mission of advocacy, support, education, and public awareness to overcome stigmas.

Bonnie Chaney

Bonnie recently retired from over 25 years working with the City and Borough of Juneau and is now looking forward to being a more active member of the NAMI Juneau community. Primarily she wishes to help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness issues and help family members learn about the resources available to them. We all know individuals and/or their family members dealing with mental health challenges and she feels that by working together, we can change people's lives. Bonnie is the Finance Chair, helped establish and is a state trainer for NAMI's parent education program, and serves on the fundraising committee.

Jem Gaceta  

Jem was raised in the Philippines and migrated to the US in 2009. Since then, Jem has called Juneau home and is raising her family here. Working as an educator in both the US and in the Philippines, Jem has seen mental health challenges affect the lives of people from all walks and backgrounds. She knows that taking an active role as a board member of NAMI, Jem will become more educated and able to empower others in our community. As a school counselor, a parent, and a community member, it is Jem's mission to be a voice and an advocate for families who are needing guidance in the mental health area.  

Crystal Jackson

Crystal is part Inupiaq and grew up as the oldest of four children in an Air Force family, relocating to exotic places like Panama, Germany, and Nebraska. She graduated from the University of Alaska in Anchorage with a BA in Marketing and minor in Psychology. Crystal is familiar with mental health issues that face many Alaskans and Alaska Natives alike. She considers herself an advocate for squashing stigmas around mental health issues, and she has a passion for relationship-building and empathy-skill training. She has had personal experiences with managing depression, sleep disorders, panic attacks, and antidepressant medications.

Cyndy Rutto

Cindy became a PMHNP in 2005 and had a private practice for 15 years in Portland, OR. Her background includes kids, adolescents, and adults, as well as First Responders. Her areas of interest were primarily anxiety, suicide prevention and education, and trauma, thus she became trained in trauma therapy (EMDR, and Internal Family Systems).  Cyndy also worked with individuals who were diagnosed with mood disorders. Her dog, Bijou, was also a part of her private practice.

In 2019 Cyndy closed her practice to do locums work, which brought her to Juneau. Her initial contract was for 6 months, however, her job at Bartlett has been more than she had dreamed, so she signed on as an employee for at least 3 years.  Cyndy is looking forward to  becoming a more active member of the Juneau community.

Amelia Hanrahan

Amelia is a mental health clinician working at Floyd Dryden Middle School. Her work is focused in childhood trauma, suicide prevention, and 2SLGBTQIA+ mental health. She previously worked at Juneau Youth Services as a clinician and at Kodiak Area Native Association providing primary care mental health services. She previously worked as a teacher in South Korea. A native of Toronto, Canada she moved to Alaska in 2016. She is passionate about the mission and programs offered by NAMI and is excited to bring his skills, connections, and experience to benefit NAMI in helping our community.

Darrin Kelly

Darrin was born at a very young age and spent a childhood in New York struggling with depression. Decades later he learned the context for his early struggles when he learned the extent of mental illness in his family. This instilled a passion in overcoming stigma and advocacy for mental health services at the earliest ages so that his two amazing sons and their peers can have different experiences around mental illness than he experienced. He spent most of his adult life in Downeast Maine and Maritime Canada as a naturalist, sea kayak guide, ecotourism owner/guide, and working for conservation non-profits. He moved to Sitka over a decade ago to work for the Forest Service as a wilderness sea kayak ranger and has held a number of positions in his eight years in Juneau and plans on retiring from the Forest Service in Juneau in a decade or two. Darrin will take this approach to his work with NAMI Juneau as a recipient of the full suite of mental health services in Juneau and listening and learning as a NAMI Connections participant and facilitator. Most importantly he stays regulated thanks to frequent outdoor adventures in the wilds around Juneau, iderally with his two sons.

Betsy Brenneman

Betsy Brenneman has lived in Juneau since late 1977 and in Bethel, Fairbanks and Anchorage before that. She currently does contract work as the owner of Brenneman Communications and Consulting. Formerly a reporter, editor, producer and manager for various Alaska radio and television stations and newspapers, she also worked for Sealaska Corporation and Big Brothers Big Sisters of SE Alaska, created the B.A.M. afterschool program at Juneau’s two middle schools, and most recently coordinated a needs assessment and strategic plan for the state’s early childhood system for the Association of Alaska School Boards. . Family members’ mental health challenges, as well as her own, opened a whole new area of learning for her, a fascination with brain science and hope for new norms and paradigms for discussing, managing and treating mental health. As a board member, she would focus on advancing those new paradigms by increasing public awareness and confidence in NAMI’s work while moving board priorities forward. Betsy is married, has a grown son and likes spending time with friends and family, hiking, yoga, travel, skiing, creating, and almost anything outdoors. 

Staff

Aaron Surma (he/him), Executive Director

Aaron has received mental health services for over twenty years.  During this time, he has experienced first-hand the power of peer support.  In particular, the role of peer support in helping people find their voice as it relates to their own recovery.  His goal is for people in Juneau to feel the confidence to make decisions about their mental health care while making sure the proper resources are available to them. Before joining NAMI Juneau in 2020, Aaron worked for the Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition and a variety of community mental health providers.  He also has a degree in social work.

Karen Lipson (she/her), Office Manager

I recently retired from a 37 year career working for the State of Alaska in the Departments of Fish & Game and Education and Early Development. This work allowed me to experience life in both remote Alaska and Juneau. I have a loved one who lives with mental health challenges and my journey with them brought me to the NAMI Family-to-Family class more than 10 years ago. Since then, I have stayed involved with NAMI as an instructor for the NAMI Basics course and a facilitator for the Family Support group. I enjoy these volunteer opportunities very much. In 2020 I was pleased to begin working for NAMI as the office manager. This has proven to be a great retirement job. When not engaged with NAMI I enjoy walking the local trails with friends and visiting with my grown daughter in Washington.

Meryl Connelly-Chew (they/them), Program Coordinator

I grew up in Tenakee Springs and have spent most of my adult years working in the domestic violence and sexual assault field (including at AWARE). During that time, I have also specialized in working with LGBTQ2+ folks who have experienced trauma, including continuing to facilitate Spectrum, a trauma support group for LGBTQ2+ folks. In my free time I enjoy spending time with my dog, Fathom, my two-year-old niece, and spending time outside.
In this new role, I am most looking forward to building and growing community partnerships, expanding the reach of our programming, and prioritizing inclusivity and cultural relevance in all that we do. I’m grateful to be here!  

Virginia Plett (she/her), Youth Program Coordinator

I have a background in Education. I have spent my professional life as a teacher, school counselor and clinician. I have a passion for assisting young people navigate their paths in life. In my free time I enjoy many types of crafting, playing board games and enjoying being outside soaking up the beauty of this place we call home.

I am so honored to have this role and I am looking forward to working with our partners in the community to provide programs to educate and support the youth of Southeast Alaska.

Tina DeAsis-Samaniego (she/her), JSPC Program Coordinator

Bio coming soon. 

Charity Anderson (she/her), JSPC Program Associate

I am the Program Associate for Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition.

I have spent most of my adult years providing services to those with physical and intellectual disabilities here in Juneau. In high school, I found that supporting some of my classmates helped me get through a very difficult time and I knew I wanted to continue to give back. I have worked with two service provider agencies here in Juneau, REACH and TIDES LLC, providing services to ensure the quality of life. I honor the “People-first language” and strive for equality in our community. I am looking forward to using my previous experiences to help our team and community reach a deeper understanding of mental health within the disability field.