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Board of Directors & Others

Board of Directors & Others

Board of Directors

Laurie Schwartz, Cofounder and Chair

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.

Nathan Brenowitz, Treasurer

Nathan Brenowitz has been part of CFD since its inception, serving on the Capital Campaign Committee and various events committees, and has been a constant supporter of the mission. A graduate of Pace University with a BBA in Finance, he was the District Manager of the Northwestern Mutual Financial Network for over 25 years where he dealt with balance sheets, profit and loss statements, and budgets.  He was also licensed to work with mutual funds, annuities, and (Charitable) life insurance. Nathan served as president of the Woodstock Jewish Congregation, and was on that organization’s Finance Committee. He is currently on the Family of Woodstock Board of Directors. Most importantly, he says, “I’m a musician and a baseball player!”

Dr. Randall Rissman, MD, Co-Chair

Randy Rissman is a family medicine doctor in Woodstock, New York, and is affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area, including HealthAlliance Hospital-Broadway Campus and HealthAlliance Hospital-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. Randy assists with the Education and Awareness Committee.

Sara Loughlin,  Secretary

Sara Loughlin is a mental health counselor based in the Catskill Mountains of NY.  Her interest in CFD was born out of her time at HealthAlliance Hospital’s Oncology Support Program, where she worked with cancer patients and those dealing with loss and grief, which has become a focus of her professional work. She was also educated and has practiced as a visual artist and worked for many years as an innkeeper in Phoenicia, NY.

Barbara Sarah, LCSW, Cofounder and current 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. Barbara’s 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 was instrumental in bringing Death Cafés to Westchester County, where she organized conversations in that community about the end of life.


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 Café member, and hospice volunteer. As co-chair of the Education and Awareness Committee, she produces various workshops, such as Advance Directives workshops, and co-hosts monthly Death Cafés online. Her informative Endpaper essays can be found on our Full Circle Blog.

Gary Heckelman

Gary serves as the Building Project Manager for Jim and Lisa’s Circle Home. He is also a real estate agent with a real passion to work with non-profit organizations to build caring and inclusive communities. While living in his native New York City, Gary worked for many years as a director of a program for homeless, chronically mentally ill adults. He relocated to the Hudson Valley 25 years ago with his wife Naomi to raise their two children. Gary became active in Habitat for Humanity’s flood relief effort following tropical storm Irene that devastated several Catskill areas. He served on the Board of Habitat until undertaking the development and operation of a new Habitat center and ReStore. Gary previously co-created Inquiring Minds Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Saugerties and New Paltz, NY, that continues to serve as a literary mainstay in our greater community. He is a lifelong artist who has enjoyed sculpting, painting, and printmaking.

Ann Hutton

Ann Hutton is a free-lance writer, editor, and writing workshop facilitator here in the Hudson Valley. In her experience, language is how we create our reality. What we say—and write—literally causes ideas to manifest. Ann has participated in causing a Home for the Dying to become a reality as a volunteer for CFD for a number of years. As chair of the PR/Communications Committee, she is responsible for the media portion of the  mission.

Jane Barry

Jane Barry has been working with older adults for over 40 years.  As Program Director of a new senior center in Manhattan, she developed all activities in the center. Working with terminally ill patients at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx as a Recreation Therapist, she gained insights into enriching the lives of those nearing end of life. She earned a Masters Degree in Social Work, then served as Program Director for Service Program for the Aging at International Center for the Disabled in Manhattan, and later as Executive Director of several senior centers funded by the NYC Dept. for the Aging, including the Stein Senior Center in Manhattan. Jane has continued her love of singing and has performed around the U.S. and Europe in opera, chamber ensembles, and solo appearances with orchestra. Now retired in Kingston, she is inspired to join forces with CFD and help in any way she can.

Amanda Yanzek, LCSW

Amanda has over 20 years experience in the social service field, with 13 years of clinical experience as a Licensed Social Worker. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling & Human Services from Boston University and a Master of Social Work degree from Hunter College School of Social Work, with a concentration in Gerontology. Amanda has extensive experience providing direct care to clients in a number of clinical settings including hospitals, non-profit social service organizations, inpatient substance abuse facilities, and in-home hospice care. She has worked with diverse populations addressing issues such as aging, mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, and palliative care/end-of-life decision making. She is passionate about normalizing death and dying. Her experience as a Hospice Social Worker exposed her to numerous individuals who could have benefited from a Home for the Dying in their final days of life. Amanda feels privileged to assist CFD with its goal “to help those with the greatest need and the fewest options.”


                           Home Director

Elise Lark, PhD, LCSW, APHSW-C
CFD Founder, former Chair

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.


Advisory Council

Carol B. Armitage, Consultant
Jimmy Buff, Radio Kingston
Rev. Lynda Elaine Carré, Wellspring Passages of Hudson Valley
Hayes Clement, Berkshire Hathaway
Joshua Koplovitz, JD, Wapner Koplovitz & Futerfas
Joel Mandelbaum, MD, Hurley Avenue Family Medicine
Daniel Rubenstein, Financial Executive
Maggie Carpenter, MD Nightingale Medical
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

Dr. William Gooch, founding Board member