WHO WE SERVE
LoveU2Pieces provides support to the St. Louis community, and is committed to supporting neurodivergent children and teens requiring minimal support.
We help children and teens build and practice skills in a safe, supportive, and understanding environment. LoveU2Pieces works with individuals ages three to 17 to develop confidence, self-awareness, awareness of others, and effective coping strategies for self-regulation and social interaction.
HOW WE SUPPORT FAMILIES
Our program is a supplemental program designed to provide a safe environment to learn and practice social interaction with a qualified staff to support their efforts. In addition to working directly with children and teens, we support families through parent consultation, Community Connections Education presentations, and providing opportunities to connect with like-minded families.
Our certified staff brings quality experience and training to our program, but most importantly, a passion and love for connecting with and supporting our families.
Programs & Services
LoveU2Pieces Groups develop social and emotional skills critical to building healthy relationships through direct teaching, practice, and ongoing feedback. In addition to building skills, confidence is a key benefit to our children and teens. Groups are formed based upon age and social skill level and meet once a week, for 8 weeks.
Early Childhood Play Groups
Facilitated by Mandi Heiser-Fisher, MA
8 week program, meets weekly
The Early Childhood programs at LoveU2Pieces focus on building on children’s strengths and interests and using them to develop new and helpful skills. In addition to strength-based teaching, I use art, music, and play to help children work together to develop and sustain positive peer relationships. Through this fun and engaging environment, children develop social skills that will aid in cultivating friendships as well as to help foster academic success through play!
Early Childhood Practice Parties
Facilitated by Mandi Heiser-Fisher, MA
Select dates throughout the calendar year
Special events are woven into society and have been celebrated for years. For individuals who struggle with change and transition, these special events that are supposed to be fun can be stressful. Our practice parties are a great way to help better prepare children for handling events that are out of the typical routine, and helps make the events more enjoyable for all.
Early Childhood Inclusive Story Time
Facilitated by Mandi Heiser-Fisher, MA
Select 2nd Thursdays of the month 10:00-11:00 at The Novel Neighbor in Webster Groves
Our story time is modified for neurodiverse children, and provides a variety of supports to make the activities fun and successful. These events include a group time for greetings, a story, and integrate art and music activities. Our Inclusive Story time is a great way for parents to connect with their children through literacy, and to meet other like-minded families in the community.
Social Connections Club
Facilitated by Kaitlin Holmes, MA
Assisted by Stefanie Hammond, MFA
8 week program, meets weekly on Saturdays 10:00-11:00
Social Connections Club gives elementary kids the chance to practice building friendships in a small, accepting environment. This club is a hybrid model where some activities take place at LoveU2Pieces and some are out in the community.
Elementary Music Group
Facilitated by Hannah Bahhur, MT-BC
8 week program, meets weekly on Tuesdays 4:30-5:20
STL Junior Rockabilities – a Midwest Music Therapy Program – gives individuals the opportunity to develop music skills through singing, moving to music and exploring a variety of rhythm and percussion instruments in a fun group setting. This program uses music-based activities to teach social skills such as following directions, taking turns, sharing, and listening. Activities include playing a variety of rhythm instruments, singing, moving to music, and learning songs about a variety of social, behavior and cognitive skills. This is a great way to develop new friendships!
Teen Music Group
Facilitated by Buddy Shumaker, MT
8 week program, meets weekly on Tuesdays 6:00-6:50
Our Teen Music group is a great way to connect with peers and enjoy the many benefits of music! This relaxed environment is ideal for musicians with all levels of experience. Music Therapist Buddy Shumaker guides our musicians to express themselves by creating lyrics and interacting with one another. Communication skills, decision-making and compromise are naturally integrated into this process. When they add instrumentation, it is amazing!
Facilitated by Becky Pessalato, BS
Stefanie Hammond, Assistant
8 week program, meets weekly on Tuesdays 7:00-8:30
Teen Time is designed to slow down the social environment in a way that allows teens to create more meaningful connections with their peers. This program provides a safe environment that encourages teens to be true to themselves while fostering self-confidence and communication skills, through group activities and games.
Meet Our Team
Leigh Rolnicki, Ph.D.
No one could have predicted that the career path Leigh Rolnicki chose in education and counseling would lay the foundation for something even greater – the creation of LoveU2Pieces, an organization dedicated to providing resources for parents and families living with a child diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Her background as an elementary school educator, school counselor and, finally, a counselor in private practice gave her the perfect background to not only see the difficulties families and caregivers manage on a daily basis, but to act on her newfound knowledge to make a difference.
Always a tenacious learner and champion for education, after achieving her B.A. in education in 1990, Leigh was often found on committees to develop and implement new education programs and receiving awards for her dedication to not only the children she served, but to other educators and the community as well.
She also continued her own education, receiving her M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction in 1994, M.Ed. in Counseling in 1999 and her Ph.D. in Counseling in 2004. She also became a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Missouri and graduated from the Leadership Academy for Character Education. Recognized as a leader in her field, Leigh was chosen for a coveted tenure-track position at UM-St. Louis in the College of Education, Division of Counseling and Family Therapy also in 2004. It was this position she elected to leave in 2005, to fully experience the next chapter of her life, being full-time Mom to her son. She closed her private counseling practice 2006, to devote herself to being a full-time mom to her son and her daughter who was due in early 2007.
After her son’s diagnosis, Leigh again became a student, learning as much as she could about ASD through reading about it, discussing it with doctors and affected parents, and therapists. She began to take note of the mental and physical demands of effectively meeting the needs of a child with ASD, and wondered how parents without so much support from family and friends could manage. Leigh read about entire families stressed nearly to the breaking point, trying to apply some semblance of normalcy to a situation that was anything but normal, particularly in the early stages of diagnosis.
At that point, she began to ask herself several questions: If parents have difficulty handling the stress and behaviors surrounding autism, how can they feel secure leaving their hurting children with others, who likely know even less about Autism? Further, if so few are able to adequately meet the needs of the ASD child, what will happen if the parents/caregivers become ill and are unable to care for that child?
She realized at that point she had to act, and LoveU2Pieces began. Leigh believes that all parents need to take care of themselves so that they can be their “best” for their families, friends, coworkers and the community. Parents of children with special needs need to be even more proactive in stress management and healthy living, due to the unique stresses associated with parenting a child on the Autism Spectrum. One critical way of supporting families in the community is by providing opportunities for parents and their children living with autism to connect, learn and grow in a strong, supportive environment. Leigh continues to learn and grow herself, so that she may educate, counsel, empower and build resilience in families living with Autism.
Board of Directors
Bio Coming Soon
Director of Development
Julie has spent her entire career in the helping profession. After receiving her master’s degree in counseling 18 years ago, she worked as a family therapist, an EAP Counselor, and a home intervention counselor with DCFS. For the next few years, she continued working as an EAP counselor and then added certified Personal Trainer to her regime. For the past 8 years, Julie has been working as a personal trainer, a wellness coach, and a JP+ Nutritional Consultant. During her various work experiences, she has honed her natural skills of patience, ability to listen to others, and leadership. Her determination, goal-oriented style, inner strength, sense of humor, zest for life, and her faith in the human spirit, drive her enthusiasm and support of others.
Family, friends, working out, educating herself and others on health and wellness, living her faith, good wine, and laughing are Julie’s greatest passions. She lives her passions as she raises her daughter with her husband, Rich. She also serves as a Eucharistic Minister at St. Peter Catholic Church.
As a friend of the Rolnicki family, Julie has seen from an insider’s view the life changes that are often made to provide the best possible chances for growth and progress for a loved one diagnosed with ASD. She feels both awed and amazed by Leigh’s generous heart, passion for helping others, and her talents and faith to create this mission, particularly while parenting two children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. As such, she feels honored and privileged to serve on the board, and to help Leigh raise awareness and the funds necessary to provide education, support and opportunities for families living with ASD.
Janie spent 30 years as a teacher with the Special School District. She taught in self-contained classrooms and partnered with numerous families in the growth and development of their children with special needs. Janie’s incredible sense of humor, good nature, and belief in others made her an ideal individual to support, learn and laugh with her students. Known by many of her students as “Walker,” she supported students both in- and outside the classroom. She took students into the community for social experiences, providing exposure to a natural learning environment and greater opportunity for a smooth transition into the larger world. Part of the real-world support Janie provided involved her working with employers who hired her students for part-time jobs and mentoring and supporting her students through site visits in the work place.
Since her retirement, Janie has continued to substitute for the Special School District. In addition to this, she is very active in Manchester United Methodist Church, having served on the board of trustees, working with youth groups and traveling on mission trips. She has been involved as a Volunteer in Mission, which took her to Mexico to work in support of others. She furthers her support of the community by volunteering for Shalom House and working on weekly bulletins at the church. Janie is also very active in PEO, which supports women in higher learning. Beyond her volunteer work, Janie enjoys golf, bowling, card making, singing in choir, and her women’s investment club. She spends time throughout the year with family, including her husband, Herb, her father, 5 grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Janie’s background in special education, experience working with children with special needs and their families, and her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education will be an incredible contribution to the LoveU2Pieces board. Her attention to detail, ability to work with a team, and her core belief in others will serve the board and the community it supports very well.
Shelley has always loved working with children. This early love led her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with an emphasis in Child Development. Shelley then received her master’s degree in General and Special Education, so that she could work with children with special needs. She began her career as a Special Education Itinerant Teacher in New York City, where she provided services for children ages 3-5. After moving to St. Louis, she started working for the Special School District. Shelley’s first position in St. Louis was in the Parkway School District as a paraprofessional, supporting middle school aged students with autism. After a year she transferred to an elementary school where she supported students with social, emotional and behavioral disorders. For the next three years, Shelley has made a difference in the lives of children in her own self-contained classroom, where she supported lower-functioning students with autism. Shelley has loved her work in the field of special education for many reasons, but above all, she found connecting with students and their families and seeing progress the ultimate reward as an educator.
Shelley and her husband welcomed their first baby in 2015! She made the important decision to stay home with our son and is loving every minute, watching him grow. Shelley is excited to be a part of LoveU2Pieces so that she is continuing to make a difference in the lives of families living with autism. In her spare time, Shelley enjoys music, painting and jogging at the park.
Bio Coming Soon!
Richard has spent his 10 years of retirement working part-time and enjoying family and friends. He is passionate about Autism Awareness and education, his grandchildren, golf, his faith, and family and friends. Over the years, Richard’s natural desire to help others led him to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, Kids in the Middle board of directors, and as a member of the Finance committee at his church. He worked as a 2010 Census Worker and spent three years of his retirement as a sales associate at Home Depot.
Prior to retirement, Richard worked for Southwestern Bell for 30 years, in customer service management positions. Building upon his degree in journalism, Richard managed and led groups in business offices, customer sales and service, and regulatory and strategic planning. Prior to this work, he spent 3 1/2 years in the U.S. Army in the Vietnam era.
The LoveU2Pieces organization will benefit from Richard’s strong work ethic, desire to help others, his outstanding written communications skills, his respect for others and how they should be treated, and his enthusiasm. Since the diagnosis of his grandson, he and his wife Charlotte have worked to educate themselves about the impact this condition has on the child, as well as his immediate and extended family and friends. He feels the needs of all those affected must be considered and hopes the board, through LoveU2Pieces, will be able to assist some of those affected over time.
Jan developed her love for serving individuals with special needs when she was in elementary school, volunteering for an organization offering social activities to those with special needs who were living in a residential facility. During high school, she started working at UCPA camps and summer programs, which continued until well after her college graduation. Jan worked for 31 years for Special School District, as a teacher, and later as a school psychologist. During this period, she earned her Master of Education in Counseling, and multiple special education certifications. As a School Psychologist, Jan completed evaluations in both SSD self-contained schools and numerous local school districts in St. Louis County. As criteria and special needs classifications changed over time, Jan assisted and mentored other school psychologists in the evaluation of children with possible autism spectrum disorders. For the past 25 years, Jan has worked in an after school program, teaching students classified with educational disabilities whom attend non-public schools. Since retiring from her full-time career, Jan also continues to work part time as a School Psychologist, regularly participating in meetings where she reviews existing data with families to determine whether further assessments are necessary, and has done some advocacy work. Additionally, Jan has been an adjunct instructor at Fontbonne University, teaching a graduate level course, involving the Evaluation/Assessment of Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Jan is also active at her church, working as a Stephen Minister and on teams that advocate for fair treatment and acceptance of all people, regardless of any individual differences. She is also very proud to have a new grandchild, and enjoys spending time with family and friends. Jan’s interest in LoveU2Pieces isn’t just that of a professional and caring nature. She also has two school-aged family members on the autism spectrum. Her family is grateful and thankful to have her as a resource and advocate for the children. LoveU2Pieces is very fortunate to have her as a board member, bringing nearly 50 years of love and service to families and children with special needs.
A recent Webster University graduate, Lisa has a BA in Media Communications with a focus in public relations. She also has a double minor in Interactive Digital media and Advertising/Marketing. She is currently in pursuit of her master’s in Business Administration at Webster.
A dedicated and passionate individual, Lisa is always looking to serve and help in new ways. While at Webster she served as President of Commuter Council, Orientation Leader, Student Government Association Elections Commissioner, served on the Student Activity Fee Advising Committee, Leadership Council, and as an Ambassador, representing the University’s Presidents Office.
For the past four years she’s worked as an Event Coordinator for Webster’s Campus Activities and has extensive experience working with several different companies as a coordinator, publicist, and advertiser.
When she’s not taking on a new project, Lisa enjoys watching movies, reading books, and visiting new restaurants.
Lisa came to learn of LoveU2Pieces and work with Leigh during her time as an undergraduate student. She is thrilled to be part of the LoveU2Pieces team and can’t wait to spread awareness of the LoveU2Pieces and its mission.
Teen Time Groups