Co-Founder and President
ILENE LAINER Co-Founder and President, is responsible for the strategic vision and tactical direction of NEXT for AUTISM. She became a leader in the autism community for both professional and personal reasons. Ilene co-founded NEXT for AUTISM, because she is committed to transforming the system of services and pursuing the latest innovations, so that all families living with autism would have access to the educational, social, recreational and support services they need. Formerly a partner at the law firm of Grotta, Glassman & Hoffman, P.A., Ilene practiced labor and employment law on behalf of management for nearly two decades, developing a strong interest in working with clients that were in the midst of internal structural change. Ilene has served on the board of Classic Stage Company. She has published and spoken widely about autism topics, and is currently on the Board of Trustees of the NYC Autism Charter School and on Advisory Committees for Felicity House and the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain.
Senior Vice President of Operations
GILLIAN LEEK, Senior Vice President of Operations, is responsible for internal operations and external affairs of the organization. Gillian has been with NEXT for AUTUSM since 2008, and is deeply committed to creating bright futures for individuals with autism and their families. She leads the execution and design of development efforts, including Night of Too Many Stars, a televised benefit, and the campaign to create the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. In her external affairs capacity, she oversees NEXT for AUTISM’S brand and public engagement initiatives, and is the principal liaison of media relations and national partnership opportunities to promote and cross-promote NEXT for AUTISM. As a member of the senior leadership team, Gillian works closely with the president and board of directors on tactical decisions and strategic planning. Gillian is a graduate of Elon University and holds a J.D. from New York Law School. She lives on a farm in New Jersey with her husband.
Strategic Content Specialist
QUYNH THAI, Strategic Content Specialist, creates original content to forward NEXT for AUTISM’s mission and promote its work. She helps to articulate the organization’s strategy and goals to stakeholders and the public, and writes about the extraordinary work of NEXT for AUTISM’s programs and grantee organizations. Before NEXT for AUTISM, Quynh enjoyed a career first as a television producer at ABC News, then as a media consultant at Citi, where her team created and launched a global, thought-leadership content channel. She also consulted to the Open Society Foundations, where she helped create the Soros Justice Media Fellowships and served consecutive terms on its selection committee. She was a selection committee member for the Paul & Daisy Soros New American Fellowships, and serves on the Communications Committee of the Georgetown Scholarship Program. Though not personally affected by autism, she has witnessed first-hand how the disorder turned her good friends into fierce warriors. She is in awe of all parents and people who care for those with autism.
Senior Manager, Special Projects
MARISA MALTESE, Senior Manager, Special Projects, brings over 7 years of fundraising experience to NEXT for AUTISM. After graduating with a Bachelor’s of Professional Studies degree in Hospitality Management from New York Institute of Technology, she immediately joined the National Special Events team at Autism Speaks. As Manager of National Events, Marisa was primarily responsible for the execution of the Autism Speaks to Wall Street Celebrity Chef Gala and the Celebrity Golf Challenge at Winged Foot. Each of these signature events enjoyed significantly board participation and corporate sponsor activation. In 2015, Marisa joined FACES (Finding a Cure for Epilepsy and Seizures) at NYU Langone Health, where she curated the annual gala auction, cultivated the young professionals committee, and managed the endurance program. Marisa has a great passion for helping others and for developing relationships. She is motivated by the innovative spirit of NEXT for AUTISM and its mission to have immediate impact on the lives of those living with autism and their families.
Manager of Program Development
ANDREA BENNETT, Manager of Program Development, supports the development of NEXT for AUTISM’s innovative programs. She holds a Doctorate of Occupational Therapy from Washington University, and is a licensed and certified occupational therapist in NY State. Andrea brings her clinical knowledge and personal experience as a relative and friend of individuals on the spectrum, to her work to improve the quality of services currently available and identify better ways to serve the community. Andrea has participated in programs for individuals with special needs, serving in roles from one-on-one shadow to life skills teacher to program coordinator. She began her career as an occupational therapist at a New York City Public School and at several skilled nursing facilities, but was drawn to NEXT for AUTISM for the opportunity that it provides to make a greater impact on the autism community. Andrea is a member of the SPARK Community Advisory Council and a leader in the Greek Jewish Young Professionals Network. Although she is continuously inspired by all individuals who persevere through life’s challenges, her brother, parents, and friends are the driving forces in her quest to become a better person.
Office and Social Media Coordinator
LEAH SPINDELL, Office and Social Media Coordinator, manages day-to-day office functions, social media channels, and provides administrative support to the President. She began her career in non-profit administration at the Friedberg Jewish Community Center in 2001 and continued at Sunrise Day Camp in 2009. Leah worked briefly in the for-profit sector before starting at NEXT for AUTISM in February 2016. She is very happy to be a part of NEXT for AUTISM, a group that is passionate about building programs that help the population of individuals growing as well as aging with the disorder. Leah holds a B.A. in Television & Radio Broadcasting from Queens College.