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Meet Our Community Ambassadors!

Jenna Carlin

Overton/Putnam County

Jenna Carlin is originally from Palm Harbor, FL. She moved to the Upper Cumberland area of TN in 2015. She has a son, age 11, high functioning on the Autism Spectrum. She has a massage therapy business and enjoys pet therapy with her son. They have toy Australian Shepards, horses, and a cat. She became an ambassador in her local community to help fill the need for awareness and acceptance. She is hosting a support group in the area and informational booths. 

Lori Hodge

Clarksville/Montgomery County

Lori was born and raised in Clarksville. She has worked as a Nurse Practitioner for over 10 years and currently lives in Adams with her husband, Mitch, and two children. She discovered Autism TN after her son, Weston, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder when he was four years old. It didn’t take long for her to realize she identified deeply with the mission of the organization which is to advocate, celebrate, and educate. She has served as Ambassador for Montgomery County since 2022 and is excited to be a part of growing the local group, Spectrum Families of Clarksville. She is passionate about empowering parents and equipping them with the resources they need to advocate for their children. One of her favorite quotes for this journey is, “Believe in your child so much that the world thinks you are crazy. Then believe more” (author unknown). As a native of Clarksville, she feels blessed to connect with new people and create a community of inclusion and acceptance within her hometown.

Teresa Lira

Rutherford County 

Teresa Lira es una de las embajadoras comunitarias de AutismTN para el condado de Rutherford. Tere es originaria de México y se mudó a Tennessee en 2001. Trabajó como asistente legal de inmigración durante 9 años antes de decidirse a trabajar a tiempo completo en el negocio de jardinería que posee con su esposo. Tere decidió unirse a la comunidad de Autism Tennessee porque buscaba educarse a sí misma para poder ser la mejor defensora de su hija. Ella facilita un grupo de apoyo en línea de AutismTN para familias hispanas y está muy agradecida por la oportunidad de servir a la comunidad. Su objetivo es difundir la conciencia, la inclusión y el apoyo a la comunidad del autismo. Tere ha estado casada durante 21 años y es madre de 2 hijas, la más joven en el espectro del autismo

Translation: Teresa Lira is one of AutismTN’s Community Ambassadors for Rutherford County. Tere is originally from Mexico, moving to Tennessee in 2001. She worked as an immigration paralegal for 9 years before deciding to work full time in the landscaping business she owns with her husband. Tere decided to join the Autism Tennessee community because she was looking to educate herself so she could be her daughter's best advocate. She facilitates an AutismTN online support group for Hispanic families and is very grateful for the opportunity to serve the community. Their goal is to spread awareness, inclusion, and support for the autism community. Tere has been married for 21 years and is the mother of 2 daughters, the youngest is on the autism spectrum.

Mary Elizabeth Jackson

Sumner County

Mary Elizabeth Jackson is a wife, mother of three children, two of whom are on the spectrum. Mary is a certified special needs and disabilities advocate and the Sumner Community Ambassador for AutismTN since 2019. Mary is a children’s author who focuses on empowering children through storytelling and education. Mary Elizabeth also co-founded and co-hosts Writers Corner Live Network TV featuring author interviews and Special Needs TV featuring interviews, advice, and tools for families in that community. Her passion is to help others through education, awareness, and being more empowered in their lives.

Carrie Bawcum

Rutherford County

Carrie and her family live in Murfreesboro, TN. Carrie graduated from Middle Tennessee State University with a BBA. She owns and operates an online women’s boutique and mobile notary public firm. Carrie’s son Jack was diagnosed as autistic at the age of 3. She became an information seeker and advocate. Now that Jack is 16, she would like to aid others in the process of learning and gathering resources regarding all things that encompass autism. As a Community Ambassador for Autism TN, it is Carrie’s goal to spread awareness and to strive for acceptance on behalf of those in our autistic community.

Angela Powell

Williamson County

I am a new Community Ambassador for Williamson County. I am a mother of three sons. My youngest is autistic. Our family experience of fighting to find resources and overcome isolation has inspired me to connect with Autism TN and get out into the community and grow awareness and acceptance of neurodiversity culture over disability culture. I am an independent contractor working as a brand awareness ambassador, content creator, social media manager, and executive assistant. I am currently working through expert training to become certified as a Master IEP Coach® in order to assist and empower families through the special education process from beginning to end. My overall goals with my work through Autism TN will be to create digital fundraising funnels through local businesses, speak to sheriff and police departments regarding Autism to help strengthen safety for autistic children and adults, offer knowledge of Autism TN resources to public and private schools within the community. I look forward to being a valuable representative to the Autism Tennessee community.

Valerie Hoagland 

Wilson County

Valerie and her family live in Mount Juliet, TN. She is a graduate of Wright State University with a dual degree in Business Communications and Sociology. She is employed full time in corporate finance. Valerie is a proud parent of a young autistic man, Nathaniel, who was diagnosed at the age of three. Due to work relocations, she has advocated for her son within school systems in Georgia, Ohio, North Carolina, and Tennessee. She also home schooled her son for five early elementary years. During her son's homeschool years, she attended Occupational and Speech therapy sessions with her son, to learn how to support him using various interventions including: pairing, hand-over-hand direction, PECS, sign language, sensory brushing, sensory breaks and inputs, and audio integration. She also attended parent training for ABA therapy. As a community ambassador in Wilson County, Valerie’s goal is to meet with families, learn what is working for them, as well as what their needs are, and facilitate support for local events and activities for Autism Tennessee in Wilson County.

Kenneshia Downing

Rutherford County

I relocated to Rutherford County in 2017 from the Bay Area, CA. I became an ambassador for Autism Tennessee in 2023. I am a mother to a 6 year old son that was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2021 at the age of 3. I understand firsthand the need to be a part of a supportive community and to have resources accessible for families impacted by autism. My 12 years of higher education administrator experience, in addition to what I have recently learned in regards to early learning programs and public schools have led me to want to take an active role in the push for change and neurodiversity acceptance. I have dedicated the last three years to conducting extensive research on ASD, attending parent trainings, participating in advocate workshops, and finding local and national resource supports available. My goal in joining the Autism Tennessee team is to assist with empowering families, encouraging proactive participation in taking necessary steps to advocate for those with autism, providing an outlet for continued education, creating a safe space for questions to gain a better understanding, and promoting inclusivity.

Meet Our College Ambassadors!

AutismTN at Vanderbilt

Eshani Arumalla 

Eshani Arumalla is a junior at Vanderbilt University double majoring in Molecular and Cellular Biology & Medicine, Health, and Society and minoring in Chemistry. Following her brother’s autism diagnosis, she started getting more involved with educating herself about ASD, performing service projects, and raising awareness. She is President of Autism Tennessee at Vanderbilt’s chapter and is a college ambassador for AutismTN through which she created a support group for individuals with autistic siblings. She also performs autism research at the Laboratory of Affective Sensory Research (LASR) lab at the VUMC and is a lead ambassador for Next Steps, a higher education program geared for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Eshani is motivated to obtain the foundational education and experience she needs at Vanderbilt to become a physician who specializes in caring for those with autism and revolutionizing the healthcare experience for individuals on the spectrum.

Sophia Kim 

Born and raised in New York, Sophia Kim is a fourth-year student at Vanderbilt University. There, she is studying Philosophy and pursuing the pre-dental track.

Emily Plump 

Emily has been passionate about Autism awareness since she was in elementary school when she volunteered with the students who were in the special education program. Her uncle, who has a disability, has been her inspiration. She is currently doing research on Autism at the Laboratory of Affective Sensory Research at Vanderbilt. In addition, she is on the executive board for the Next Steps program. She wants to continue to be an advocate for Autism awareness after college.

Mehak Malhotra 

Mehak Malhotra is a junior at Vanderbilt University and is double majoring in Psychology and Human and Organizational Development and minoring in Art. She has served in Autism Tennessee’s Vanderbilt Chapter as the Secretary in 2022-2023, and is continuing in 2023-2024 as the PR Chair. Mehak has been involved in autism advocacy and awareness and has hosted bimonthly autism support groups in an NIH-funded mental health virtual reality platform known as Innerworld. She has also worked to develop syllabi for the Next Steps’ Experiential Seminars (ES), wherein she worked with Next Steps instructors to create course syllabi for personal and professional development for neurodiverse individuals. She is excited to continue working with AutismTN to spread awareness about autism throughout the Vanderbilt community.

Lena Kim 

Currently living in Los Angeles, California, Lena was born in Flushing NY, moved 18 times all throughout California, and went to the University of Notre Dame for one year before moving to Tennessee to attend Vanderbilt. With so much transition from one place to the other, Lena has been exposed to a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and communities. She has grown up in service for the IDD community for all her life, and worked in music therapy for children with Autism as a means to connect her passion for service, music, and interpersonal passion. From lived experience serving 7 years in IDD respite care, she has sought for a community to channel her greatest priority of empathic service towards, thus serving in Autism Speaks at Notre Dame and now currently, AutismTN here at Vanderbilt. In her off-time, Lena works as an EMT, service dog trainer, and volunteers at her nearby Vanderbilt University Medical Center as a lead ambassador, in-patient, and ER volunteer. Lena loves to spend time in nature, travel, read/blog, and spend quality time with family.

(615) 270-2077
955 Woodland Street,
Nashville, TN 37206

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Autism Tennessee, legal name ASMT, Inc. is a 501(c)3 charitable organization and donations are tax deductible. This statement is not intended to be tax advice.
100% of donations stay in Middle Tennessee to provide Support, Education, and Advocacy for the autism community. 
Tax ID # 27-1003749
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