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.
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.
Amelia is a mental health clinician. 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 her skills, connections, and experience to benefit NAMI in helping our community.
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 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.
Michelle Martin bio coming soon!
Sarah is an assistant professor of Behavioral Health Sciences at the University of Alaska Southeast. Prior to her career in academia, she spent 18 years practicing behavioral medicine in Michigan, rural Alaska, and Southeast Alaska.
She has a Bachelor of Psychology, a Master of Medicine, a Doctorate of Health Science, and is both a certified Health and Well-Being Coach and a member of MINT (Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers). In 2022, she started the first Alaskan chapter of Active Minds, a nationwide nonprofit organization, at UAS to help support mental health awareness and the promotion of positive mental health among college students.
Without mental health services, Marian Eiben, also known as Mim, believes that her life would have gone in a very different direction. With help and support of counselors, mentors, and peers, Mim graduated from high school, college, and is soon to receive her master’s in international relations. Despite growing up in an unstable environment, she is proud of herself for being able to maintain healthy relationships, brush her teeth every day, and pay bills on time. She is grateful for organizations like NAMI that help people find their inner strength, and is honored to serve on the board.
Alyson Currey bio coming soon!
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.
Jessica Gray (she/her), JSPC Program Associate
From lived experience, Jessica can attest to the ripple effects of suicide and suicidal ideation. Having grown up in a small rural community in New Brunswick, Canada, she was the main support person for her closest loved ones. Over the years, Jessica developed a battery of coping strategies and strong willingness to decrease the stigma of mental illness, neurocognitive disorders, and suicide. Jessica's background is in working with individuals of all walks of life. She is a Certified Dementia Practitioner, and a Registered Yoga Instructor with Yoga Alliance. Jessica is passionate about lifelong learning, loving kindness, equality, and sustainable living. She believes that how we show up matters. As Program Associate, she looks forward to making a positive impact in the lives of our community members through responsive service and programming aimed at enhancing well-being.