Board of Directors & Advisory Council

Board of Directors

Susan Banks, MSW, Chair

Sue Banks is a recent transplant from Massachusetts and has a deep interest in supporting individuals in the end of life.  Sue is currently a Grant Consultant to non-profit organizations and holds a clinical Social Work degree.  She has worked in psychiatric and medical hospitals addressing end of life and quality of life decisions, in addition to many years working with the homeless and developmental disabilities populations.  

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Debra A. Benn, Treasurer

Debra Benn is the branch manager at Ulster Savings Bank, with 15 years of banking experience and six years of board and committee participation. From 2013-2016, she served as a board member/secretary for the Phoenicia Rotary and was a member of the Phoenicia Business Association. After transferring to the Woodstock branch of USB in 2017, she became a board member for the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce and Arts and the Good Neighbor Food Pantry of Woodstock. Benn is also currently on the new members committee for the Ulster County Chamber of Commerce. With a strong compassion for people and life, she looks forward to contributing her talents to CFD.

William Gooch, MD

Dr. William Gooch, MD, is a retired neurologist whose 30-year practice was based in Kingston, NY. After earning a BA degree from Plattsburgh State University, Bill went to Albany Medical School, where he also did his neurology residency. He served on the Board at Kingston Hospital and acted as Medical Director of Benedictine Hospital’s Acute Rehabilitation Unit. He also served as Stroke Program Director at both Benedictine and Kingston Hospitals (now merged as HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley).

A resident of the Hudson Valley since 1988, he is invested in bringing safe and comforting end-of-life care to people in need. His commitment comes from the intimate experience of his wife’s at-home death when she succumbed to cancer, something he recognized few people could manage. Bill was able to stop working and take care of her until the end. Providing a home-like situation for those who have no such alternative is his personal goal.

Ann Hutton, Secretary

Ann Hutton is a free-lance writer, editor, and writing workshop facilitator here in the Hudson Valley. In her experience, language is how we humans create our reality. What we say—and write—literally causes reality to manifest itself. Ann has participated in causing a Home for the Dying to become a reality as a volunteer for CFD for the past five or so years. She is honored to serve on the CFD Board of Directors as secretary.

Randy Rissman, MD

Dr. Randall Rissman is a family medicine doctor in Woodstock, New York and is affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area, including Health Alliance Hospital-Broadway Campus and Health Alliance Hosptial-Mary’s Avenue Campus. He received his medical degree from University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine and has been in practice for more than 20 years.

Photo of Carolyn Van NessCarolyn Van Ness

Carolyn Van Ness is a retired Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner with experience as a medical journalist and author. Currently her priority is end-of-life education through her efforts as a Death Doula, Death Cafe member, and Hospice volunteer.

While CFD is just over nine years old, its co-founders bring nearly a century of involvement in the issues of hospice care, dying, and death.

Laurie Schwartz, MA, Co-Founder, Advisory Council Member

Laurie Schwartz is a co-founder of Circle of Friends for the Dying. She is one of the early leaders of the hospice movement in the United States. In 1979, she co-founded and directed what is now Hudson Valley Hospice and was recognized in 1995 by Hudson Valley Hospice and ARCS as a dynamic visionary and social activist. She has trained hundreds of people in the arena of dying, death, and bereavement through Hudson Valley Hospice’s volunteer trainings and through Securelanding programs. Laurie co-founded Community Possibilities in 1984 (which assisted community leaders in forming their desire into vision and then into action) and the Woodstock Jewish Congregation in 1986. She has served on numerous Boards of Directors, held positions of administration, and worked as a trainer/facilitator. In 2018 Laurie was again honored by Hudson Valley Hospice for her commitment and service to the community.

Elise Lark, PhD, LCSW, Founder and Board Member

Elise Lark is the visionary founder of Circle of Friends for the Dying. Her passion for this project was ignited by her work as a clinical social worker at the HealthAlliance Hospital Oncology Support Program, and furthered as a member of the Palliative Care Team. These experiences led her to recognize the need for alternative end-of-life care settings in our community. Working in both the hospital and its Cancer Support House has allowed her to observe how setting influences the quality of care and relationships within, and the natural sense of ease elicited by a home environment.

These interests led Elise to return to school with the goal of investigating community-based end-of-life residences and to the discovery of the Home for the Dying care model (aka Comfort Care Home). Her research culminated with her PhD dissertation, Making Space for Dying: Portraits of Living with Dying (2014), introducing this model to the literature. Through her fieldwork, she has observed the truly wonderful healing and educational benefits of this simple but elegant care model for residents, families, lay caregivers, and the communities they serve.

Elise has been a practitioner of the healing arts throughout her adult life, specializing in traditional Oriental massage and SYNtegration Therapy, her unique blend of somatic, psychotherapeutic, and expressive modalities.

Barbara Sarah, LCSW, Co-Founder and Board Member

Barbara Sarah, co-founder of Circle of Friends for the Dying, is the founder of the Oncology Support Program at HealthAlliance Hospital in Kingston, New York. Following a breast cancer diagnosis in 1992, she left a 20-year career as a school social worker on Long Island and chose to dedicate herself to work in oncology. She is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the NY State Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and the NY State Governor’s Award for Innovation in Breast Cancer Education. Her work in the Hudson Valley has taught her the importance of creating a Home for the Dying. For 25 years she has been an instructor of Morita and Naikan therapies, Buddhist-based strategies for mental wellness. She is now a resident of Westchester County, organizing conversations in that community about the end of life, including Death Cafes. She will continue to participate in CFD meetings and events and work on projects supporting their mission.

Elise Lark, PhD, LCSW, Founder and Board Member

Elise Lark is the visionary founder of Circle of Friends for the Dying. Her passion for this project was ignited by her work as a clinical social worker at the HealthAlliance Hospital Oncology Support Program, and furthered as a member of the Palliative Care Team. These experiences led her to recognize the need for alternative end-of-life care settings in our community. Working in both the hospital and its Cancer Support House has allowed her to observe how setting influences the quality of care and relationships within, and the natural sense of ease elicited by a home environment.

These interests led Elise to return to school with the goal of investigating community-based end-of-life residences and to the discovery of the Home for the Dying care model (aka Comfort Care Home). Her research culminated with her PhD dissertation, Making Space for Dying: Portraits of Living with Dying (2014), introducing this model to the literature. Through her fieldwork, she has observed the truly wonderful healing and educational benefits of this simple but elegant care model for residents, families, lay caregivers, and the communities they serve.

Elise has been a practitioner of the healing arts throughout her adult life, specializing in traditional Oriental massage and SYNtegration Therapy, her unique blend of somatic, psychotherapeutic, and expressive modalities.


Barbara Sarah, LCSW, Co-Founder and Board Member

Barbara Sarah, co-founder of Circle of Friends for the Dying, is the founder of the Oncology Support Program at HealthAlliance Hospital in Kingston, New York. Following a breast cancer diagnosis in 1992, she left a 20-year career as a school social worker on Long Island and chose to dedicate herself to work in oncology. She is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the NY State Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and the NY State Governor’s Award for Innovation in Breast Cancer Education. Her work in the Hudson Valley has taught her the importance of creating a Home for the Dying. For 25 years she has been an instructor of Morita and Naikan therapies, Buddhist-based strategies for mental wellness. While residing in Westchester County, she organized conversations in that community about the end of life and generated Death Cafe meetings.


Laurie Schwartz, MA, Co-Founder, Advisory Council Member

Laurie Schwartz is a co-founder and current Chair of Circle of Friends for the Dying. She is one of the early leaders of the hospice movement in the United States. In 1979, she co-founded and directed what is now Hudson Valley Hospice and was recognized in 1995 by Hudson Valley Hospice and ARCS as a dynamic visionary and social activist. She has trained hundreds of people in the arena of dying, death, and bereavement through Hudson Valley Hospice’s volunteer trainings and through Securelanding programs. Laurie co-founded Community Possibilities in 1984 (which assisted community leaders in forming their desire into vision and then into action) and the Woodstock Jewish Congregation in 1986. She has served on numerous Boards of Directors, held positions of administration, and worked as a trainer/facilitator. In 2018 Laurie was again honored by Hudson Valley Hospice for her commitment and service to the community.

Executive Director

John McKenna

Advisory Council

Carol B. Armitage, Consultant
Jimmy Buff, Radio Kingston
Rev. Lynda Elaine Carré, Wellspring Passages of Hudson Valley, NY
Hayes Clement, Berkshire Hathaway
Guy Kempe, Vice President of Community Development, RUPCO
Joshua Koplovitz, JD, Wapner Koplovitz & Futerfas
Joel Mandelbaum, MD, Hurley Avenue Family Medicine
Daniel Rubenstein, Financial Executive
Vicki Stent, Coldwell Banker Village Green Realty

 

Honorary Board

Jennifer Gohlke Khan, JD

JoAnna (Scari) Scaramuzzo, Former CFD Vice Chair

Stephen Wilder, Former CFD Board Chair