Tom Sweitzer, MMT, MT-BC, Executive Director, Co-Founder
Tom is a Certified Music Therapist and Director of A Place To Be. He graduated in 1994 from Shenandoah University with a BFA degree in Music Theater. Shortly thereafter he became head of the Theater Department for 17 years at The Hill School in Middleburg, VA. As Artistic Director of The Hill Playhouse, he produced many years of professional productions. He directed and was a Writer/Composer for Very Special Arts of Loudoun County. He received his Graduate Certificate in Music Therapy in 2010 and opened A Place To Be in 2011. In May of 2017, he graduated from Berklee College of Music with a Master's Degree in Music Therapy. Tom is also on the Virginia Task Force for the American Music Therapy Association helping make Music Therapy a more relevant, secure and understood therapy within the construct of federal policies and the public. He also is an adjunct professor at Shenandoah University's Music Therapy Graduate program. Within the last two years he has acted as a consultant and ambassador for the Balgopal School in Baroda, India teaching and supporting faculty in their work with students who are disabled.
Tom has written several original musicals, most recently “Puzzle Piece” which is about a family living with Autism. After his musical, “Giggles”, premiered at The Smithsonian, Tom was invited, along with two of his students, to visit the White House to meet the President and his wife in 2010. Tom has been a Guest Speaker and Teacher at Shenandoah University, George Mason University, and The Disability Summit in McLean, Va, and at The Virginia Association of Independent Schools. Tom also stays active as a professional actor and most recently performed as “Donkey” in Shrek the Musical and Leo Bloom in “The Producers” at Shenandoah Summer Music Theater. He, along with several of his clients, are subjects of a Documentary about the power of Music Therapy. The film is being directed by Award winning Documentary Film Maker, Susan Koch.
He enjoys writing original songs with his students and often shares the talents of those he mentors with the community, reinforcing the idea that creation is to be shared. Tom has had over 20 years of working with people from all walks of life and is excited to see A Place To Be become a reality. He hopes it creates a safe and creative haven for those people who are looking for “A Place To Be.”
Kim Tapper, M.S., PCC, CPCC, Executive Director, Co-Founder
Kim has been working with youth and adults for over 20 years as a teacher, director, choreographer, life coach, expressive arts therapist and mentor. She is credentialed as a Professional Certified Life Coach (ICF), CPCC (CTI) and holds an M.S. in Psychology and a B.A. in Dance Movement Therapy.
Kim coaches individuals to expand their possibilities, reach their personal goals and engage completely in their lives. She specializes in working on the psychosocial/emotional side of coping with medical challenges and disabilities (cancer, Lyme disease, cerebral palsy, etc.) and with teenagers and adults ages 13+ building self esteem and confidence, healing from trauma and grief, or struggling with anxiety, depression, or self-harm. Kim has also served as a group facilitator for teenage girls in multiple settings ranging from self esteem workshops to young women’s leadership groups. She created “Life Beyond Diagnosis” workshops for oncology patients focusing on acceptance and survivorship issues and is a member of INOVA’s STAR certified oncology team. Kim has been a guest speaker and teacher for Life With Cancer, George Mason University, VSA Intersections Festival, at the Disabilities Accessibility Summit and she served as an ambassador for the Balgopal School in Baroda, India teaching and supporting faculty in their work to use therapeutic arts with students with disabilities.
Prior to A Place To Be, Kim co-founded and served as Artistic Director of the Creative Youth Theater Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to teens in the arts creating productions addressing bullying and teenage struggles, and using musical theater to help youth find their voice. For 10 years, Kim served as Life Coach, special needs consultant and choreographer at the Hill School and Hill Playhouse in Middleburg, VA. In her professional dance career, Kim served as the co-Artistic Director of Crossroads Dance Project, a non-profit modern dance company dedicated to bridging communities together through dance. Her acclaimed choreography focused on raising awareness and visibility for underserved populations and across cultural boundaries, and received multiple nominations from the Metro DC Dance awards. She has choreographed and directed over 25 musical theater productions including her original theatrical production, "Reflection", about body image and womens' self worth. Her book of poetry, “Behind The Label,” inspired by the clients at A Place To Be, became the basis for their production now seen by 30,000 students and counting.
Kim is deeply committed to the mission of helping people live a full, confident life beyond their label or diagnosis. She believes in the power of the arts and coaching, creating safe spaces and authentic compassion to help people live their best lives knowing they are worthy.
Kathleen Howland, Ph.D., Clinical Consultant/Research
Kathleen is both a board certified music therapist (MT-BC) and speech-language pathologist (CCC-SLP). She is a fierce advocate for the power and beauty of the arts in the treatment of a wide variety of diseases and disorders. She specializes in the connections made between neuroscience and the arts in order to advance the validity and nobility of music-based interventions and music education. She is a professor of Liberal Arts and Music Therapy at Berklee College of Music in Boston. She filmed a TEDx talk called ‘how music can heal our heart and our brain.’ She frequently lectures nationally and internationally for medical and educational audiences.
Angelle Cook, MA, RDT, Director of Program Measurements, Drama Therapist
Angelle has been working with individuals from various populations (special needs, at-risk youth, mental health issues, college students) since 2002. She holds a Master’s Degree in Theatre Education from Emerson College. While at Emerson, she focused on how theater can be used therapeutically and for social change with various populations. Additionally, in graduate school, she studied Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed method. Angelle employed this method in her thesis project: "Using Theatre of the Oppressed with Youth Offenders: Working to Improve Collaboration, Communication and Conflict Resolution Skills,"within an all-male revocation facility.
In 2016; she completed another advanced degree in Drama Therapy with the North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA) and became a Registered Drama Therapist (RDT). Drama therapy is the intentional use of drama and/or theater processes to achieve therapeutic goals. This approach can provide the context for participants to tell their stories, set goals and solve problems, express feelings, or achieve catharsis. As an RDT, Angelle uses the power of theater to support participants as they process, tell, and overcome their stories, along with helping them work through other obstacles in their lives.
Angelle is the Program Director at A Place To Be and works directly with the groups and programs, including the social groups; The Same Sky Project; Lunch Bunch; Summer Camps; and the Immersion Program. As Program Director, Angelle has her hands in all that APTB does from meeting new clients, to planning and running core programs, to directing and touring with The Same Sky Project.
In 2005, while finishing her undergraduate degree in Theatre, she founded and helped run a non-profit which raised funds for lower-income families to participate in after-school arts activities. From 2010-2012, Angelle spent two seasons with VSA Arts as Director. In the past she has worked at The Academy of Performing Arts in Arizona running their theater program, with The Hill School and with The Creative Youth Theatre Foundation in Virginia and Pennsylvania. Since 2013 she has taught collegiate courses at Lord Fairfax College. In her free time she writes and is working on her fourth novel, a historical fiction story set from 1938-1944.
John Tong, Senior Director of Finance and Administration
John’s responsibilities include the development and maintenance of financial plans, reports, budgets, forecasts, accounting systems and ensuring fiscal transparency for A Place To Be. Additionally, he assists the Executive Directors in strategic decision-making and manages human resources, technology and administration for the organization.
John has 15 years of management experience across both the not-for-profit and nonprofit communities. Prior to his work with A Place To Be, he spent years in advocacy on behalf of homeless veterans and as the Chief Operating Officer for a national, insurance brokerage trade association. John also worked in the Office of Planning and Evaluation for the Department of Social Services in Charlotte, NC.
John is also an award-winning public speaker and is a professional storyteller and teacher. A former North Carolina Oratorical Champion, John has performed at the Lincoln Theater, the 9:30 Club, the Birchmere and numerous other venues in the National Capitol Area. He believes passionately in the power for healing and catharsis that expressive arts can hold for individuals and communities.
John received his Masters in Public Administration (MPA) from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and a B.A. of Political Science from Reed College in Portland, OR.
Ashley Gant, MMT, MT-BC
Ashley Gant has been at A Place To Be since 2012. She graduated from Shenandoah University with her Bachelor's of Music Therapy degree and received her Music Therapy Board Certification in November 2012. She graduated with her Master's of Music Therapy from Shenandoah in May of 2016. Through school, clinical practice, and personal research, Ashley is working on two different research projects; one that focuses on group music therapy with adults with developmental disabilities, and one that explores the professional identity development of music therapists.
Over the years, Ashley has had the opportunity to work with a variety of clients, each with their own challenges, strengths, and personalities. She enjoys working with school aged individuals on the autism spectrum, adults with developmental or intellectual disabilities, children as young as 2 with Down syndrome, mature adults recovering from a stroke, and everything in between. In addition to offering individual sessions, Ashley is very involved with many other programs at A Place To Be. From Lunch Bunch to Immersion, 10 and Under Music Therapy Group to Middle School Girls Group, preschool to adult music therapy, and Pop Rocks camps; Ashley uses these opportunities to help individuals of all ages socialize, communicate, connect, serve, and live. Ashley’s primary instrument is piano, but she also plays guitar along with a number of other woodwind, brass, and string instruments. Ashley brings a positive and upbeat attitude to her music therapy services and believes in finding the individuals’ personal music within themselves to attain their therapeutic goals.
Ray Leone, MMT, MT-BC
Ray is a graduate of Shenandoah University and Montclair State University and comes to A Place To Be directly from spending most of the past year at The Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at Mount Sinai/Beth Israel Hospital in New York City. At Beth Israel, Ray specialized in working in radiation oncology/cancer care, pain management and in the respiratory/COPD units, providing music therapy in acute and out-patient care. Ray has also had the opportunity to work with various other populations including children with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disabilities, acute psychiatric care and with older adults with dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Ray also brings with him over 20 years experience as a teacher and professional musician, having spent the past 10 years as the lead singer/guitarist and principle songwriter for the critically acclaimed family-friendly rock band StarFish. He's also brought his family-friendly program "Beatles & Bubblegum" to several schools, libraries and performing arts centers in the New York tri-state area and now to the D.C. Metro area.
Clinically, Ray works within a Humanistic and Psychodynamic approach believing that the client, with guidance, can and will lead their own direction towards therapeutic change and well being. Song-writing, song-sensation and story-telling are Ray's main areas of clinical method, believing that songs accompany us through life and provide meanings which we all can identify with as well as bringing awareness to our own thoughts and feelings. Songs lyrics can project our own feelings, especially for those who have difficulty with emotional expression. Ray truly believes in the power of music and when working clinically, finding the beauty and aesthetic within the art and within oneself.
Allison Echard, MMT, MT-BC
Allison is a board-certified music therapist, born and raised in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She received her Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Music Therapy from Shenandoah University. Allison began her clinical training at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio where she worked with patients and families on all medical units, inpatient and residential psychiatric units, and patients receiving in-home hospice and palliative care. She has since worked in the DC/Metro area, providing music therapy services to individuals and groups in public schools, private clinics, community centers, nursing home facilities, and adult group homes.
Allison is currently the student delegate for North America for the World Federation of Music Therapy, an international organization dedicated to developing and promoting music therapy throughout the world as an art and science. She has also worked and trained music therapy students abroad in Jamaica and locally in private-practice and medical settings. Aside from music therapy, Allison enjoys cooking, traveling, spending time with family, and being outside.
Kevin Leong, MA, MT-BC, NMT
Kevin graduated from Berklee College of Music with a Master of Arts in Music Therapy. During this period, he had obtained specialized training in Neurologic Music Therapy. Prior to joining A Place to Be, he had worked and trained at several institutions; these include Massachusetts General Hospital, Rosie’s Place, McLean Hospital, Hale House and several other assisted living facilities within the greater Boston region. At Massachusetts General Hospital, Kevin had worked in pediatric oncology, pediatric intensive care unit, adult oncology, inpatient psychiatric care and adult inpatient care. Additionally, Kevin helped facilitate a joint collaboration between Berklee and Rosie’s Place to bring songwriting to homeless women in an effort to help guests better assimilate into American society. He also had the opportunity to work with various other populations including children with autism spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities, and older adults with dementia and other forms of neurological impairments.
Hailing from Malaysia, Kevin speaks four languages and is aware of the cultural differences across multiple societies. As a therapist, Kevin is familiar with music-centered, person-centered, cognitive behavioral and neurologic approaches. His primary instrument is the piano, but he also plays the guitar, bass, drums and sings.
Catherine Parker, MA, MT-BC
Catherine Parker is a music therapist, teacher, and singer-songwriter who has specialized in work with children and adults with developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities and a wide range of emotional difficulties.
She received her MA in Music Therapy from Immaculata University in 2016 and has since worked as the co-director of a musical ensemble for adults with disabilities who appeared on the TODAY Show, collaborated with the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra, produced a music video featuring adults with disabilities, and worked privately with a large range of individuals.
Catherine is excited to join the APTB family this September. She looks forward to getting to know each client and believes every human being has beauty and gifts to share with the world, regardless of their circumstance.
Valerie Jackson, MT-BC
Valerie is a board-certified music therapist who has called Virginia home for almost 20 years now. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Vocal Performance from Shenandoah University in 2012, completed a Professional Studies Certificate in Music Therapy in 2016, and has recently returned to SU to pursue a Master’s degree in Music Therapy. Valerie first came to A Place To Be as an intern in the summer of 2016, working with a wide range of populations including children and adolescents with developmental disabilities, hospice and elder care, mental health, and eventually began specializing in medical music therapy while working in pediatric and adult medical settings. She also assisted with summer camps, the Immersion program, and performed in the Behind The Label show alongside a very talented cast.
Valerie enjoys music therapy research and anticipates completing her thesis relating to the benefits of music therapy in the medical world. Additionally, Valerie is a published author in the field of music therapy research, with literature printed in Music Therapy Perspectives. A true creative, Valerie enjoys crafting, crocheting, songwriting, writing poetry, and is an avid abstract painter. Valerie incorporates a humanistic approach into her music therapy clinical work and believes whole-heartedly that there is music inside of everyone. She trusts that guiding a client with healing insight, humor, and pure compassion can uplift, expand, and reaffirm one’s inner self, helping each individual she works with to transcend any negative circumstance and find a sense of calm appreciation for themselves and their journey.
M.G. Camarillo, MT
MG is a Music Therapy graduate of Shenandoah University, who hails from Virginia Beach. He completed his internship with A Place To Be in the Fall of 2016. During his time at Shenandoah, he was involved in an a capella ensemble as a singer and an arranger.
His love for music therapy comes from his intense desire to help others. A gifted vocalist and pianist, MG uses his 10 years of experience in playing the piano in his private sessions and groups. His infectious personality and charismatic nature create a warm and nurturing environment for every client that crosses his path.
MG is the Musical Director for the Same Sky Project's show, "Behind the Label", and will be touring with the traveling ensemble of cast members the 2017-2018 school year in Loudoun County.
Rich Hixon, Program Director
Rich’s passion for music and other performing arts has been ever present throughout his career. He has worked as a store manager for a DC-Metro based music retail chain, as a retail sales manager for JazzTimes magazine, and for membership services of the Smithsonian Institutes’ Resident Associate Program.
From 2000 until 2016, Rich worked for a theatrical producer as a touring Company Manager and Associate General Manager for theater productions in North America, Argentina, Israel and South Korea.
He recently completed an internship as a Social Work Case Manager at the Washington County Department of Social Services in Hagerstown, MD. In May of 2017, Rich graduated, summa cum laude, from Salisbury University with a bachelor degree in Social Work.
Through volunteer work, Rich has delivered meals to home-bound clients with HIV/AIDS diagnosis, provided companionship and light housekeeping chores to hospice patients, and provided mentorship to at-risk youth through a diversion program of the Department of Juvenile Services.
Meagan Mckinnon, Program Assistant
Meagan has been a dedicated member of A Place To Be since the fall of 2014. She was introduced to the organization while working as a caregiver to a client of APTB who introduced her to the Same Sky Project show, "Behind The Label". She quickly fell in love and became invested in the mission, community and organization that makes up APTB. Meagan continued to volunteer for APTB for social groups, summer camps and productions. In the fall of 2015, Meagan joined the APTB staff. Since that time, she has served the organization in various roles, including Client Mentor and Support Staff.
When Meagan isn't working in the APTB office, she is an independent contractor for weddings and other special events. Meagan loves creative thinking, logistics and problem solving. She is grateful that she can utilize and grow those skills as part of the A Place To Be team. Meagan strives to empower and encourage others, and loves being part of an organization that is achieving those same goals with its mission.
Skylar Freeman, MT
Skylar Freeman is a music therapist as well as an administrative staff member at A Place To Be. Skylar interned at A Place To Be from January to July of 2017. Upon completion, Skylar graduated from Shenandoah University with a Bachelor’s in Music Therapy. After a brief break, Skylar joined the staff of A Place To Be in September. Throughout her time with A Place To Be, she has met and worked with many extraordinary people. You can find Skylar leading groups, working with individual clients, and conducting the “Different Strokes For Different Folks” stroke choir. In the summers, Skylar is heavily involved with her favorite A Place To Be program, summer camps!
Pursuing music therapy has been a dream come true for her and she is thankful for all of the support given by loved ones near and far. Besides music therapy, Skylar has a passion for performing. In the past, Skylar was a member of the TOTL Theatre On The Lake company located in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. Skylar has performed in many roles including Anne Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank as well as Rapunzel in Into The Woods. Skylar plans to begin performing in the Loudoun County/Frederick County area.
Brandon graduated from Berklee College of Music in May of 2017 with a major in Music Therapy. During his three years at Berklee Brandon learned from and worked alongside professional music therapists. At Little Sprouts Early Education & Child Care Brandon focused on developmental, behavioral, and social skills. He led large group sessions for elders with comorbid Alzheimer’s diagnoses at Rogerson House. He co-led community-based music therapy sessions at Peterborough Senior Center for seniors and adolescents. He utilized person-centered therapy at The Manville School with adolescents on the autism spectrum and with general anxiety disorder. In his final practicum, Brandon deepened his knowledge and practice of Neurologic Music Therapy at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.
Brandon has volunteered at Boston Children’s Hospital with MyMusicRx, pioneered a capital campaign in partnership with Franciscan Children’s Hospital, Berklee Music Therapy, and The Boston Globe to raise money for a new hospital wing, worked as a sighted-guide/tutor for a client with multiple debilitating diagnoses for the last year, and this past summer Brandon volunteered as a guide for music therapy students at Peterborough Senior Center.
Aside from music therapy, Brandon is an accomplished musician. He has toured internationally, been on television, worked in social media marketing, served as a frontman, multi-instrumentalist, and leader for 7 bands, and spends his free time going on adventures with friends and writing songs. Brandon attributes his leadership abilities to Scouts and his mother whose encouragement helped him achieve his Eagle Scout Rank by high school. In Irving, Texas Brandon was raised amongst a diverse international community. As a result, Brandon has a tough time not liking people. He is patient, understanding, and accepting – warm and loving. Brandon is excited to join A Place To Be over the next few months and cultivate his knowledge of and approaches to music therapy.
Sierra Roberts, Production and Special Events Coordinator
A native of North Carolina, Sierra is excited to be joining the team at A Place To Be as the Production and Special Events Coordinator. She received her B.A. in Music and Theatre Arts from Davidson College in 2013. While a student at Davidson, Sierra performed with the Davidson College Chorale and Davidson Jazz Ensemble. She also served as music director of the all-female a cappella group, the Davidson Delilahs, and appeared in numerous operas, musicals, and theatrical productions. After completing her bachelors, she spent a semester teaching music, English, and algebra at Pan African Christian University-College in Ghana. While there, Sierra co-created a musical with the local youth and held a performance for the village of Winneba.
In 2017 she completed her M.A. in Educational Theatre at New York University. As an NYU student she had the opportunity to study abroad at Trinity College, Dublin, where she co-authored and performed a site-specific theatre piece at the Trinity College Museum. From 2015 to 2017 she served as a high school theater arts teacher and director. She has also collaborated on numerous projects with the Actor’s Conservatory Theater at Gaston Day School as a performer, technician, designer, and director.
Melanie Mullinax, Communications and Development Coordinator
Melanie is a seasoned communications and development professional with nearly two decades of nonprofit experience, both leading and implementing communications strategies that inspire donors and grow organization awareness.
Before joining A Place To Be, Melanie provided communications support and management for an international health organization for more than a decade where she worked with staff and beneficiaries around the globe to improve health and save lives. Her nonprofit experience expands to managing marketing and communications for an experiential children's museum and she has worked as a contributing writer and journalist for area publications. Melanie believes in the power of storytelling to communicate the heartfelt mission of nonprofits and spark donor support.
Melanie is thrilled to bring her extensive global communications experience to A Place To Be where she can witness the impact on people’s lives closer to home. In her spare time, Melanie enjoys yoga, reading, walking in the woods, volunteering in her community and most importantly spending time with her husband John and their three children.
Melanie earned her B.A. in Communications from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.