Eric Davis, President
Darren Purnell, Vice President
(Biography coming soon..)
Yolanda Sonnier, Esq., Member at Large
Yolanda is a practicing attorney at Randal and Sonnier, LLC. She is a very active board member at Challengers independent Living, Inc. and has been for over 10 years. Yolanda has witnessed Challengers growth and spent many hours advising the organization’s leadership through its many challenges. She is extremely active in the community and is very generous with her personal finances and time. Yolanda is the co-founder of A Step Close Foundation, Inc. a non-profit organization that provides educational support and resources to children who are at a disadvantage in the state of Maryland. Through this organization, Yolanda’s team facilitates a National Conference called “She Matters”. During the holidays the organization hosts an annual party and provides gifts to under-privileged children. Yolanda is also a co-host on a weekly talk radio show called “Lawyers Who Care. Last, but certainly not least, she is a wife and mother of two talented and intelligent children.
Clarence Lewis, Member at Large
Clarence is a solutions consultant at Pegasystems. He was deeply interested in volunteering his time to encourage young men to follow their dreams and attend college, and after delivering a speech at Challengers' 10th anniversary banquet, was a natural choice to be nominated for a position on the board of directors. Clarence has been an active board member since 2008. He received his B.S. in Information Systems from UMBC and his M.S. in Information Science from UNC-Chapel Hill. Clarence has worked for variety of organizations ranging from non-profit to fortune 500 companies during his 20 year IT career. His area of expertise is business process re-engineering and innovation. In additional to his IT professional career, Clarence spent 2 years as an adjunct professor teaching business process improvement, and he is currently the owner/operator of a children’s entertainment center that provides family fun and entertainment in the Silver Spring community. He has been married to his wife Yalonda for 19 years and together they have two children, Symone and Nathan. Clarence co-chairs Challengers' annual Night Golf Tournament, which has been one of the organization's largest fundraising events for the past 6 years.
Challengers Team Members
Darren Purnell, Vice President
Darren is an Alumni of Morgan State University, and received his MBA from the University of Loyola. Darren is an abet business man. He is a strong force in Maryland’s child welfare community. He is the CEO of Second Chance Unlimited, where he supervises over 30 professional employees. Darren has served on Challengers Board of directors for several years. His knowledge of business from a child welfare perspective has enabled the organization to navigate the many challenges present in the changing climate of Maryland’s Child welfare system. Darren is an active member in The US Army Reserves. He is a devoted husband and loving father to three wonderful children.
Challengers Independent Living provides foster care teens ages 15-21 with the opportunity to practice independent living skills. Specifically, Challengers will provide clinical support, vocational training, independent life skills training, and home-life support services, in a safe, and nurturing environment.
"IT'S A CHALLENGE NOT A PROBLEM"
Michelle Wright, Program Manager, Bert's Place Too
With a Bachelor’s Degree in human services and a Masters of Social Work from the University Of Maryland School Of Social Work, Michelle Wright has dedicated her life to helping others. Michelle’s best assets in this position are her passion and resourcefulness as well as her ability to connect and empower others. Mrs. Wright has over 20 years of experience working with families and children and 10 years as a family Service coordinator with another community organization. For the past 10 years, she has been working with young people in and from the foster care system citywide.
Michelle started off with Challengers Independent Living Inc. through an internship opportunity and now leads as a Program Manager helping our young people prepare for a successful transition into adulthood.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Walter McNeil, Founder, Board Chairman & CEO
Walter McNeil, Founder and Executive Director, is a native Baltimorean and attended the Baltimore City Public School system. He matriculated to Coppin State College (now Coppin State University), and completed his academic studies receiving two degrees, Bachelors of Social Work and Bachelors of Social Science. He later attended the University Of Maryland School Of Social Work, where he received his Masters degree. Walter is licensed on every level of Social Work: Social Work Associate, Graduate Social Worker and Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
His vision has received recognition from local and national media organizations including The Montel Williams Show and the Tom Joyner Morning Show. He has been listed in the Who’s Who Among Executives for the past ten years and an on going interview on the Internet, Time To Act.org. He is a proud member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Incorporated. More importantly, he is a loving husband and a nurturing father of two intelligent young ladies.
Eric Davis, President
Eric was born and raised in Baltimore and is a graduate of Cardinal Gibbons High School and the University of Baltimore. Eric is an active member of St. Cecilia Church in Walbrook Jct. With a passion for technology, he is an IT Manager at UPS, Inc. He proudly served in the U.S. Army as a Combat Signal Soldier and Paratrooper in the 197th Infantry and 11th Special Forces Group in an active and reserve capacity. With a desire and love to help “…Create fishermen who can fish for themselves and others,” Eric volunteered as a youth football coach for 14 years with Pikesville and Owings Mills Recreation programs. He continues to educate and teach our youth to become “fishermen” by volunteering as a Robotics Team Coach for Newtown HS and Lyons Mill Elementary. Eric was recently named a University of Maryland Greek Centennial Honoree for contributions of brotherhood, leadership, service and scholarship to the Univ. of MD. In April 2015, Eric was instrumental in organizing community members and members of the PanHellenic Council to assist with cleaning up Baltimore City after the recent unrest. Although afraid, he enjoys jumping out of perfectly good airplanes for no apparent reason (except the door was open and there are no refunds for not jumping). “I do it because it is the right thing to do” is why Eric has served on the Board of Directors of Challengers. Challengers provides an opportunity for Eric to create a Culture of Service and provide a Service to Humanity by his example of service; something he learned and aspired to achieve over 30 years ago when he earned membership into Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. which subscribes to the same principle.
Mark Jews, Program Manager, Bert's Place
Mark Jews’ Community/ Human Service career began as a peer counselor at the distinguished Baltimore City College. Thereafter, he went on to major in Elementary Education at Morgan State University. While at MSU, Mr. Jews volunteered with the community service office and founded and operated several after school and summer camp programs throughout the Baltimore Metropolitan area.
Going on to service Baltimore through a unique blend of social service and sport, Mr. Jews coached high school and youth football and baseball for many years. To further hone his skill set, Mr. Jews went on to the prestigious Lincoln University Masters of Human Service Program. Mr. Jews has been with Bert’s Place since its inception (12+ years) and continues to be a stalwart at Challengers Independent Living, Inc.
Brett McAlily, Vocational Coordinator
With more than 16 Years in Corporate America and 9 Years as a Business Owner, Mr. Brett McAlily has had his hands on the pulse of communication in the workplace, along with understanding the needs of the employer as well as the challenges that today’s youth face, when attempting to gain employment. Mr. McAlily is a proud Alumni of UNC Wilmington where he obtained a Bachelors Degree in Computer Information Systems and a Bachelors Degree in Political Science. Mr. McAlily was also afforded the opportunity to attend The University of Baltimore School of Law, where he excelled in the areas of Labor, which included Arbitration, Mediation and Contract Negotiation.
Mr. McAlily has a passion for success and opportunities for youths in foster care, hence his serving in the role of Vocational Coordinator with Challengers Independent Living, Inc. He believes that if the youth of today can be allowed to express the talent that they possess, without being judged, they can prove to be assets beyond measure.
Raven Spady, Director of Clinical Services
Raven is a Licensed Certified Clinical Social Worker that believes in using a clinical approach tailored to the unique needs of youth in foster care. She has over 11 years of experience working with children and adults in a variety of settings and has received training in Trauma, Clinical Social Work, Grief and Loss and Supervision. Raven holds a Bachelor's degree in Social Work from Coppin State University and Master’s of Social Work with a concentration in Children and Families from the University of Maryland School of Social Work.
Ms. Spady’s desire and passion to support young people in foster care led her to Challengers Independent Living Inc. where she initially interned in Graduate School. She is now part of our team, supporting our foster youth in developing and maintaining strong and healthy relationships.
Shalita O'Neale, Director of Resource Development
With a Bachelors Degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Maryland College Park and a Masters of Social Work from the University of Maryland School of Social Work, Shalita O'Neale has over 15 years of experience working with transitioning foster youth and young adults from the foster care system nationwide. Founding her own Baltimore-based non-profit over 8 years ago, she is not new to the issues young people face in foster care or the success they can achieve when given the proper supports. As an Alumna of Maryland's foster care system.
Mrs. O'Neale has both personal and professional experience with what works for our young people in foster care. We are excited to have her on-board as our Director of Resource Development and look forward to the innovation she will add to our work.
Tonya McNeil, Fiscal Specialist
A graduate of the prestigious Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Mrs. McNeil ran varsity track and field all four years and studied Math and Science in the B Course. She attended Coppin State College (now University) where she received her Bachelor's of Science Degree in Management Science with a minor in Information Systems. After graduation, she worked 7 years at Coppin State College in the Title III grants department, then 15 years for the State of Maryland - Department of Budget and Management as a Computer Network Specialist II.
In an effort to share her track and field skills and give back to the youth in the community, Mrs. McNeil has served as middle distance and hurdle coach for the Pikesville Cheetahs and Owings Mills Track Club over the past 10 years. Mrs. McNeil has been employed with Challengers Independent Living since 2007 as the Fiscal Specialist/Director of Human Resources, among many other responsibilities.