Joe Simek, Founder and President
Alexis Ridge-Simek, Founder and Board Member
As former foster parents and adoptive parents, Joe and Alexis understand firsthand the foster care system and the community that The Fiaria Project supports. Residents of Bucks County, PA for more than a decade, the couple co-own Dragonfly Yoga Studio in Doylestown. Joe and Alexis met as students at Arizona State University, graduating on the same day, but with different degrees: a BA in Journalism and a BS in Recreation Management, respectively. The couple has two daughters, Fiona and Aria, and an old labrador mix named Wilco.
Vance Pallatt, Treasurer
Vance Pallatt is a seasoned organizational consultant and bookkeeper. She has worked with nonprofit organizations since 2001. Working for Philadelphia Safe and Sound, she handles city, state, and federal budgets from $8 million to $30 million with audited statements. In 2005, Vance helped set up Neighborhood First Program, a local non profit that mentors and monitors at-risk children in Bucks County. Personally, Vance is passionate about photography, travel and her grand daughters. She is a lifelong resident of Bucks County.
Melissa Heller, Board Member
During 20 years in education, Mrs. Heller served as a special education teacher at Truman High School in Bristol Township. In retirement, she worked with the mayor in Bensalem Township as consultant to implement a community garden for Bensalem residents. She volunteered to expand gardens at Our Lady of Fatima Outreach Center (Saint Mary’s Hospital), which produced vegetables for their food bank. She also assisted teachers with students in the pre-school program at Fatima. She earned her bachelor’s of arts degree (Elementary/Special Education from Holy Family University and her master(MAED) from Gratz University. Mrs. Heller and her husband Robert have two adult children.
Rachel Mele, Board Member
Rachel Mele is a development professional with past experiences in alumni relations, business development, event execution, and external communications. She graduated from Temple University with a BA in philosophy and gained graduate level certificates in creativity & innovation as well as non-profit management. During her time studying creative development she gained a deeper understanding of the importance of a positive environment for a child’s overall well being, which connected her to Fiaria’s mission.
Lori Shanken, Board Member
Lori has spent most of her adult life committed to the growth, development and well being of children. After earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology, Lori worked as a Foster Care Caseworker in Montgomery County, Pa. She went on to earn her Master’s of Social Service from Bryn Mawr College and worked as a Psychotherapist where she counseled children, adolescents, and their families. After marrying her husband, Ross, and having three children, Lori has had the honor and privilege of working as a stay at home mom. Lori’s work at the Fiara Project has brought her back to her earlier passions of helping foster children.