F.R.I.E.N.D.S. was founded in August 2009 by Behavior Consultant, Maranda Porter. Having a nephew diagnosed with Autism and facing the harsh reality that there were no summer camp programs or activities in the Savannah area that specialized in this disability, Mrs. Porter was determined to take action and become an advocate for her nephew and many other children like him.
With support from family, friends, community organizations, and local funding sources, F.R.I.E.N.D.S. officially became a reality. Liberty City Church of Christ graciously made available their facility for summer camp use. On May 23, 2011, F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Summer Camp opened its doors for children in the Savannah and surrounding area to embark on a journey of learning, exploration, and friendship.
There are many people on our team (including teachers, therapists, partners, etc) that help to ensure that your children receive the best care and attention. Given that we cannot introduce everyone, we want you to know a few key individuals on our team that whose determination and preserverance helps to produce the necessary results to achieve success in your child's therapy.
Maranda L. Porter received a Bachelor’s degree in Child and Family Development from Georgia Southern University in May 2004 and obtained her Master’s degree from the University of Phoenix in June 2009. Mrs. Porter began working in the field of applied behavior analysis in 2005 as a Behavior Therapist under the direct supervision of a BCABA (Board Certified Associate Behavior Analyst). She has worked in various environments implementing ABA based treatment programs for children ages 3-18 with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders) and is currently employed as lead therapist with the Savannah location of the Chicago Autism and Behavior Specialists (CABS). In March 2016, Maranda obtained her BCABA certification and will soon receive full BCBA certification soon.
Mrs. Porter has gained valuable experience by working closely with behavior consultants/analysts, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists. In addition, she had an opportunity to conduct a literature review on behavioral intervention programs and helped to revamp the agency’s training manual for behavior therapists.
In August 2010, Mrs. Porter started a program which provides ABA Therapy Services for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders called F.R.I.E.N.D.S. (Finding Resources In Educational Needs and Developmental Services). She designs and supervises programs for young children with ASD and trains a variety of individuals on applied behavior analysis methodologies including: school systems all over Georgia, child care facilities, and parents. Treatment is delivered in a variety of settings, including in-home and segregated and inclusive classrooms which are based upon each child’s specific needs.
With the introduction of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. 1st Annual Social Skills Summer Camp in 2011, Mrs. Porter hopes to expand F.R.I.E.N.D.S. in the near future by opening an after school program and other therapeutic venues which offer assistance to children with Autism.
M.S. Psychology/M.S.Ed. in Early Childhood Education
LaToya Browne received a Bachelor's in Child and Family Development from Georgia Southern University in 2003. She has been employed with the Screven County Elementary School as an ABA Therapist since 2005. In addition, Ms. Browne obtained two Master's degrees from University of Phoenix; a Master’s in Psychology in 2009 and a Master’s in Early Childhood Development in 2011. Currently, Ms. Brown is pursuing her third Master’s Degree in Special Education with Special Education Certification. Ms. Browne has been the Camp Director for the Savannah location since 2011 and has proven to be a valuable asset to F.R.I.E.N.D.S. based upon her work ethic and expertise in the area of ABA Therapy.
Mia Givens received a bachelor’s degree in Sociology with an emphasis in Social Work from Georgia Southern University in August 1996 and has worked as a social worker at both Johnson County (Wrightsville, Georgia) and Columbia County (Appling, Georgia) Department of Family and Children Services. In August of 2008, Mrs. Givens and her family moved from Georgia and relocated to Frederick, MD in which she became a full-time mom to her two daughters. Mrs. Givens accepted the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Office Administrator position in August 2010 in which she operates from her home office in Maryland. She travels to Georgia each summer to assist Mrs. Porter and to conduct various administrative duties. In addition to these duites, Mrs. Givens provides consultancy services which include summer camp curriculum development for all camp sites.
Namarie "Moneek" Brown
B.S. Behavior Analysis
Namarie "Moneek Brown has been a paraprofessional at the Matthew Reardon Center for Autism for 3 years and an employee with F.R.I.E.N.D.S. for 4 years. Ms. Brown holds a Bachelor's degree in Behavior Analysis from Savannah State University and is pursuing a master's degree in Special Education from Georgia Southern University.
Ms. Brown has been instrumental in the implementation of the Employing FRIENDS Program which provides on-the-job training for students with Autism and developmental disabilities through a partnership with the Carey Hilliard's Restaurant. Her patience, attention to detail, and her passion to improve the lives of children with special needs is unparalleled.
B.S. in Elementary Education
A native of Miami, Florida, Valerie Thompson moved to Savannah in 2008. Ms. Thompson obtained a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education from Liberty University and is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Special Education.
Ms. Thompson has been employed with the FRIENDS organization since its founding in 2011 and has been employed with the Matthew Reardson Center for Autism since 2012 as a paraprofessional. Also in 2012, she began providing in-home behavioral therapy to families in need. Through hard work and determination, Ms. Thompson became a lead teacher at the Matthew Reardon Center in 2015.
Helping those with disabilities to succeed and to be granted the same opportunities as their typical counterparts is a goal that Ms. Thompson aims to achieve with each and every child she encounters.
Tarsha C. Askins received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology in March of 2011 and her Master’s degree, also in Psychology, in October of 2012 from The University of Phoenix. She has been employed with the Matthew Reardon Center for Autism since August of 2006 as an ABA therapist and lead teacher. Tarsha has been volunteering and working for FRIENDS since the organization’s inception in 2011.
Sensory deficits involving different textures/tastes of foods is common among some children with Autism. Being an avid cook and witnessing first-hand how challenging it can be to introduce new foods to children on the spectrum, Tarsha enthusiastically created Cooking with FRIENDS. Tarsha creatively instructs students on kitchen safety, how to become self-sufficient when preparing meals, and encourages students to try new foods. Self-sufficiency is top priority when preparing students to care for themselves with little or no intervention from others. This is one priority that Tarsha aims to accomplish at every opportunity possible.
There would be no F.R.I.E.N.D.S. if it weren’t for Tarsha’s son, Kaelob. When Kaelob was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 2, Tarsha was immediately faced with the harsh reality that many programs/activities geared for typical children were not properly catered to nor were sensitive to the needs of children with Autism. Spear-headed by Tarsha’s sister Maranda Porter, F.R.I.E.N.D.S. was born! Allowing children with “different abilities” to participate and experience the activities that are usually afforded to typical children, F.R.I.E.N.D.S. became a home to all children.