Board of Directors

Stephen Wilder, Chair

Stephen is retired from multiple careers and now lives in Willow with his wife, Susan.  They both have been active members of the Zen Mountain Monastery community for more than 20 years. Stephen has worked in construction, run a cabinet shop in Los Angeles, and he has spent 16 years as a school business manager, where-in he was responsible for multiple construction projects, financial reporting, employee benefits, risk management, endowment, kitchen and maintenance and served for 8 years on the NYSAIS Business Affairs Council. He has served on a number of non-profit boards and is very pleased to be able to contribute to the efforts to provide quality end-of-life care.


JoAnna Scari, Vice Chair 

JoAnna (Scari) Scaramuzzo serves as a Funeral Celebrant, Home Funeral Guide, Death Midwife, and is a member of the National Home Funeral Alliance (NHFA). Jo holds a degree in Global and Professional Studies from Marist College, a hybrid study of Organization Leadership & Communications Management. She joined the CFD team in 2015 and is a loyal and dedicated volunteer. Jo holds a Degree in Mortuary Science and Funeral Service from the American Academy McAllister Institute and was recognized with an award in Clinical Embalming. She has directed a variety of funeral services from conventional burial to Military Honors at a National Cemetery.  Jo is guided by her beliefs, and as an experienced Mortician, aims to be available with guidance and information to help people through the pragmatic aspects of planning a funeral service, while also supporting their emotional journeys in grief and acceptance of mortality. JoAnna is grateful for this opportunity, and excited to help bring a Home for the Dying to the community of Ulster County.


Vicki Stent, Secretary

Vicki Stent joined the CFD Board in 2017 and has been passionate about the cause since meeting former Board Member Gai Galitzine after moving to Woodstock in 2014  and learning about the organization and quest to open a home here in the local community.  Vicki lives in Woodstock NY.  She is a self-employed Executive Recruitment Specialist.   Originally from England, Vicki has a background in publishing sales and executive recruitment and not-for-profit fund-raising.  Vicki is inspired to be part of the CFD mission having had various experiences with friends and family facing end of life decisions.  She feels strongly that a community should support their sick and elderly and that those with, and without need, be able to have a graceful and peaceful end of life ‘home’ option.


Marianne Collins

Marianne retired as Dean of Advancement and Continuing Education at SUNY Ulster in 2015. At Ulster, she led the College Foundation and all of the programs and initiatives of the Continuing and Professional Education Division, including the Small Business Development Center. Previously, she served as Governor Mario M. Cuomo’s Mid-Hudson Regional Representative. Appointed by both Governors Cuomo and Pataki, she served on the SUNY New Paltz College Council for 14 years. She also worked as a grant-writing and development consultant for not for profit corporations and as Executive Director of Creative Music Foundation. She currently is on the Advisory Committee of Girls Leadership Worldwide, a program of the Eleanor Roosevelt Center, as an Honorary Trustee of the D. & H. Canal Historical Society. She is an elected member of the Board of Directors of Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union.


William Gooch, MD

photo_bill_goochWilliam Gooch and his family discovered and embraced the Hudson Valley in 1988.  Since then, while practicing neurology in Kingston, he has served on the Board of the Kingston Hospital, acted as the Medical Director of the Benedictine Acute Rehabilitation Unit and, as the Stroke Program Director of both Benedictine and Kingston Hospitals.  He continues to practice neurology in Kingston.

Elise Lark, PhD, LCSW, Founder
Elise Lark is the Visionary Founder of Circle of Friends for the Dying (CFD). She received her PhD in Leadership and Change, with a concentration in healthcare, through Antioch University. In her dissertation, Making Space for Dying: Portraits of Living with Dying, she describes the lived experience of dying and the care culture in community-based end-of-life residences, introducing the Home for the Dying model to the literature. Earlier academic research led to the co-founding of CFD. Through her fieldwork, she has observed the benefits of community-centered care of the dying for patients, families, and lay caregivers. Elise is an Oncology Social Worker, at the HealthAlliance Hospital Oncology Support Program. She was involved in an initiative to develop palliative care services at the hospital and is a member of the palliative care team. Since 1988, she has been a licensed massage therapist, practicing traditional Oriental massage, and later developed SYNtegration Therapy, uniquely blending somatic and psychotherapeutic modalities with the expressive arts.
Gary Heckelman

Gary is a real estate agent but his real passion is working with non-profit organizations to build caring and inclusive communities. While living in his native NYC, 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 the “Inquiring Mind” independent bookstore that continues to serve as a literary mainstay in our community. He is also a lifelong artist who has enjoyed sculpturing and more recently painting and printmaking.


Laurie Schwartz, MA, Co-Founder 

photo_laurieLaurie 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 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. Laurie is presently a doctoral candidate in Thanatology.


Lisa Wilson

Lisa Wilson is the Executive Director of Hudson Valley Hospice Foundation, responsible for the Foundation’s mission to raise awareness and funding in support of the programs and services offered by Hudson Valley Hospice. Always inspired by her mother and grandmother, Lisa doesn’t remember a time when she wasn’t involved with non-profits. She has spent the past thirteen years working with and serving on a number of Boards in the Hudson Valley and is also currently a Board Member of the Community Foundations of Hudson Valley, Dutchess County Advisory Board. Prior to that, she spent over 20 years in finance, serving as the Director of Operations for a financial services company. She and her husband Curt reside in Pleasant Valley, New York.



Honorary Board Member:

Barbara Sarah, LCSW, Co-Founder 

photo_barbara-sarah-2Barbara Sarah, a co-founder of Circle of Friends for the Dying, is the founder of the Oncology Support Program at Health Alliance 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 the 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.