The Valerie’s House Team

Angela Melvin

Angela Melvin

Angela Melvin
Founder & CEO

A third generation native of Fort Myers, Angela is the Founder and CEO of Valerie's House. Her mother, Valerie, died in a car accident in 1987 when Angela was 10 years old, sparking a lifelong passion to find a place that could help other children like her. Angela says, “With a place like Valerie’s House, I would have connected with children like me and it could have made all the difference in my life.”  

A University of Florida College of Journalism graduate, Angela spent 10 years working as a broadcast journalist around the country and then on to become a Communications Director on Capitol Hill in 2011. In addition to her journalism career, Angela spent several years working for and sitting on boards of various non-profits including the Wendt Center for Grief and Loss in Washington, D.C. and Big Brothers Big Sisters in Lee County. Angela returned to her hometown in 2013 and shortly after, founded Valerie’s House.

Angela was honored as a News-Press “Hero of the Year” finalist in 2017, a "Person of the Year" Finalist in 2016, and a Gulfshore Business "40 under 40" in 2015.

Contact Angela at angela@valerieshouseswfl.org


Amy Strom

Amy Strom

Amy Strom, LCSW-QS, M.S.S.A., M.Ed.
Program Director

Amy oversees many aspects of the Valerie’s House grief support program, including family support, children’s grief groups, and working individually with children and their families. Amy earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Miami University, a Masters of Social Science Administration degree from Case Western Reserve University, and a Master’s Degree in Education from Ursuline College. Amy is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker Qualified Supervisor and a Certified School Social Work Specialist. She has worked in the social work field for almost twenty years providing services in schools, clinical mental health centers and private practice. The focus of her practice has been children, adolescents and their families.

Amy believes it is especially important to develop and strengthen the parent-child-caregiver relationship, assist children in learning to feel more independent and successful, as well as helping adolescents develop autonomy and learning to make good choices especially after experiencing a loss. She also supports the use of creative expression, humor, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioral strategies into her client-centered approach to therapy. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Amy enjoys spending time with her husband of 25 years and her two sons at the beach, traveling or watching sporting events.

Contact Amy at amy@valerieshouseswfl.org


Miriam pereira, CFRE

Miriam pereira, CFRE

Miriam Pereira, CFRE
Director of Development

Miriam joined Valerie’s House in July 2019. A native of Miami, she has lived in Southwest Florida since 1995 and was a newspaper reporter and editor for 20 years before she began working for area not-for-profit organizations.

A Certified Fundraising Executive, Miriam is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Collier-Lee Chapter and Greater Naples Area Planned Giving Council, serving as member of the Board of Directors for both organizations.

Miriam attended Florida International University where she studied journalism and mass communication. She graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University in 2015 with a master’s degree in business administration.

Contact Miriam at miriam@valerieshouseswfl.org


April Reilly

April Reilly

April Reilly
Communications Coordinator

April has called Southwest Florida home since 2012. She grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, then attended Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Her love of writing inspired her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism. This led her to Fort Myers. April spent seven years as a TV news producer and executive producer, covering stories big and small around our community. She rode out Hurricane Irma at NBC-2’s broadcast center and juggled continuous live TV coverage with taking care of her dog, Stella and sleeping on an office floor.

Her passion for storytelling made her fall in love with Valerie’s House. She is touched by the each child’s unique story. April is tasked with spreading the non-profit’s mission through coordination with media outlets and the use of multiple digital platforms. 

April connects with Valerie’s House because of her own struggle with loss. Her 9-month old daughter died as a result of organ failure on Christmas Eve of 2007. She hopes to be a voice for the grieving, by helping to share their stories and raise awareness of the services Valerie’s House provides.


Ally O’Brien

Ally O’Brien

Ally O'Brien
Program Coordinator

Ally understands what it feels like to grow up without a parent and can relate to many of the children at Valerie's House, having lost her own father at the age of 16. Ally is at the center of much of the Valerie's House activities, working to carry out the program and make sure every child and family is cared for. In addition, she works with our dozens of volunteers to help utilize their skills to best fit our growing program. Ally is a graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University with her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and her passion for children is a vibrant part of her personality and is shown in everything she does.

Contact Ally at ally@valerieshouseswfl.org


melody madigan

melody madigan

Melody Madigan
Family Support Coordinator

Melody Madigan is no stranger to helping the youth of Lee County. She has served Lee County students as a School Counselor for nearly 40 years. After retiring from the school district, Melody began to volunteer at Valerie’s House,  facilitating a support group. Realizing that Valerie’s House is the perfect place to satisfy her passion to help youth she readily accepted a part-time position. She participates in intake interviews, assisting in the planning of group activities, makes family contacts and, her favorite, leading children support groups.

Melody’s educational background includes a Master’s Degree in School Counseling from the University of Akron, a Master’s degree in Instructional Technology from the University of South Florida and a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from Kent State University. From her years of being a School Counselor Melody realizes the sincere need for a grief support center and is thrilled to be a part of Valerie’s House.

Contact Melody at melody@valerieshouseswfl.org


Frances Bustamante and daughter alexa

Frances Bustamante and daughter alexa

Frances Bustamante
Program Coordinator

Frances understands loss well as she and her two children were among one of the first families that started with Valerie’s House in January 2016, after the sudden loss of her husband. Because of her personal experience in the program, Frances is able to connect and provide support to families, giving them hope they can get through this. Frances works directly with Valerie’s House families, helping them navigate their journey, providing assistance, as well as leading grief support groups. She also speaks to local groups to help build awareness in the community for the need to support children grieving. Bilingual in Spanish and English, Frances also leads our Spanish Speaking grief support program.

Frances holds an Associate's Degree in Management & Marketing and years later continued her studies in Early Childhood Education. One of her favorite quotes is: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.”   ~ Maya Angelou

Contact Frances at Frances@valerieshouseswfl.org


Mary Cross, Collier County Program Coordinator

Mary has been serving children and families in the Valerie’s House-Naples program since 2018. Mary started as a volunteer facilitator for the Middle School peer support group and quickly became immersed in all things Valerie’s House.  In her role, Mary is able to utilize her education and passion in an organization whose mission she fully embraces. Mary has seen first-hand how Valerie’s House provides a safe, nurturing and calm environment for children who are grieving as well as their families. 

Mary received her Master’s Degree in Child Life at Wheelock College and a Bachelor of Science in Child Development and Family Centered Care from Plattsburgh State.  Mary worked at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston before relocating to Naples. She has served on various boards/organizations and is eager to expand the services of Valerie’s House in Collier County. Mary enjoys her free time with family and friends.


JOANNE HAYDEN

JOANNE HAYDEN

Joanne Hayden, Operations Director

Joanne helps the various moving parts of Valerie’s House to run smoothly. She takes care of all of the property needs as well as the business side of Valerie’s House, and is also often seen at community events speaking and helping build awareness for Valerie’s House. She identifies with what the children at Valerie’s House are going through, as she lost her father when she was 14 years old.

Joanne comes to Valerie’s House after working for 23 years in office management and leadership positions with the Lee County Tax Collector’s office. She is a Certified Public Manager and earned her Bachelor degree in Interdisciplinary Social Science from Florida State University. Joanne has called Southwest Florida her home for more than 40 years and enjoys her free time with her husband and three children.

Contact Joanne at joanne@valerieshouseswfl.org


Group Leaders

Heather Payne

Heather Payne

Heather Payne, LMHC, RPT, NCC

Heather is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, a Registered Play Therapist, and a Nationally Certified Counselor who began working with families experiencing grief and loss during her previous career as a Neonatal Intensive Care Registered Nurse. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Nova Southeastern University and a Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling from Argosy University Sarasota. She has received bereavement facilitator training from the American Academy of Bereavement (AAB) and Resolve through Sharing (RTS). She is a member of the Association of Death Education and Counseling (ADEC), the American Counseling Association (ACA) and the Association for Play Therapy (APT).

Heather works with children as young as two-years old, adults, couples, and families, on a variety of issues including grief, loss, and trauma. She uses a number of therapeutic techniques tailored to fit the individual client. Heather and her dog, Griffin, are completing the certification process for Animal Assisted Play Therapy, and Griffin joins her in many of her sessions. Heather also coordinates the Pediatric/Pregnancy Bereavement program for Lee Memorial Health System, where she provides grief support to parents who have lost a child. 

Aman Singh Nemitz

Aman Singh Nemitz

Aman Singh Nemitz, LCSW

Aman has worked with Valerie’s House families since 2017 and has been an integral force of healing for our families in the program. Aman obtained a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Psychology and Sociology from Wayne State University in her hometown of Detroit, Michigan in 2011. Aman graduated with her Master's in Social Work degree from University of Southern California in 2017 and obtained her certfication as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in 2019. After the sudden loss of both her parents in a fire in their home, Aman, then 22 years-old, became a co-guardian to her teenage brother. This sparked a passion to devote her life to working with others facing difficulties.

Aman has volunteered and worked in both individual and group counseling settings with clients experiencing addiction, dual diagnosis, homelessness or poverty. She has also worked extensively with clients who are court ordered to treatment for felony drug court, anger management, and batterers convicted of domestic violence. Aman has completed more than 400 hours of additional training on specific treatment modalities including cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, play therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy. Aman enjoys incorporating elements such as creativity, humor, and mindfulness into the therapeutic process. In Aman’s free time, she and her husband, Jason, have fostered and adopted out over 200 pugs for a pug rescue, specializing in caring for medically complicated pugs. They also share a love for weather watching and go storm chasing in Tornado Alley every year.

Monika Urbanska

Monika Urbanska

Monika Urbanska, MA, ATR-P

Monika is a graduate of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods-College mastering in Art Therapy and Mental Health Counseling.  She also graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2009 from Boston University with a BFA in painting and minor in printmaking.  Prior to working with Valerie's House,  Monika worked at De LaSalle Academy of Fort Myers as a teacher and counseling intern with special needs children K-12. She specializes in working with children adolescents, and adults with Autism, ADHD/ADD, anxiety, depression, and grief as well as substance use in adults. She employs a client centered approach utilizing Constructivist, Cognitive-Behavioral, and Dialectical-Behavioral theoretical platforms.

Originally born in Torun, Poland, Monika is bi-lingual in Polish and English. Monika works in private practice in Fort Myers at Florida Art Therapy Services, LLC. She is also the owner, co-founder and artist of a local performance fishing apparel company called The Reel Chase. 

Van Eric Beers

Van Eric Beers

Van Eric Beers, Group Leader

Van has directed three summer camp programs for the Episcopal Church. This has included managing beautiful conference centers related to the programs. Starting in Michigan, Van then had significant time leading centers on the Chesapeake Bay and in the deep hilly forests of Brown County, Indiana.

“I love being part of Valerie’s House because it demonstrates the same kind of support and empathy I have worked to create in summer camp experiences for thirty five years. It feels like home. Volunteering allows me to support fundamental learning in extraordinary circumstances. I am so fortunate to be a mentor and friend to youth working through loss and grief!”

Van has four grown children scattered from Maine to D.C. to Indiana. He moved to Fort Myers in May of 2018 to be close to his retired parents.