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Our History

Our History

In 1993, the Michigan Department of Mental Health encouraged the “development of a regional service plan for family based services for children in distress.”  This was driven by the closing of the Arnell Engstrom Center state program where many of the Severely Emotionally Disturbed children were placed from the 21 northern Michigan counties. The seven Community Mental Health Boards providing service from M-55 to the Tip of the Mitt researched and selected a model of service, The Teaching Family Model, to be developed.  The Directors created a new non-profit entity, Northern Family Intervention Services, Inc. (NFIS).  The governing body consisted of the Directors from seven Community Mental Health Boards.  As part of the regional approach to children’s outreach service for high risk youth, the seven Boards participating “agreed to contribute some redirection of existing resources including Medicaid reimbursement.”

Northern Family Intervention Services, Inc. initial model, funding structure, and budgets were established and overseen by the seven Community Mental Health Board Directors.  The Directors hired Edward Watson as Executive Director of the newly created entity.  NFIS has been an accredited  Teaching-Family Model Site 1996.  Since that time, NFIS continue to grow and expand it's services to additional contracts and populations.

  • 1997 expanded to DHHS In Home, Family Support, and Parent Education contracts

  • 1998  Mobile Crisis Team

  • 2000 Training of Teacher’s for alternative school in Cheboygan

  • 2005  School Success Program

  • 2005  Zero to Five Program

  • 2009 Infant Mental Health

  • 2014  Juvenile Delinquency Program.

  • 2015 Wraparound

  • 2016  Shared Parenting Foster Care Pilot Development

  • 2017 Supervised Parenting Time

1994 Original NFIS staff training in Cal

1994-First  NFIS Family Specialists 

1994 NFIS Site Developer Giselle Benoit

1994 Giselle Benoit-Hull Community Services, Site Developer and Edward Watson, NFIS Executive Director 

Board of Directors

Board of Directors

Amy Bilyea is a graduate of Baker College where she received her bachelor’s degree in business with a major in Accounting.  Amy has more than 25 years of non-profit healthcare finance and accounting experience.  During her work career she has volunteered extensively for HFMA, a non-profit trade association, who depends on its local chapter volunteers to support its members.  In her home life, she has served in various volunteer organizations including the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.  She has a passion for non-profit volunteering which has led her NFIS!  Amy and her husband Charles have resided in Gaylord since 2007. She and her husband are the parents of three adult children and one grandchild.  Currently Amy is the Financial Controller at Munson Healthcare Otsego Memorial Hospital in Gaylord, Michigan.  

Alan Couture received his B.A. degree from Michigan State University in and his law degree from Texas Tech University. He has practiced law throughout northern Michigan, including the Upper Peninsula, for over 25 years, primarily in the areas of personal injury, insurance defense, employment law and general civil litigation, and is licensed in both Michigan and Texas. He is a partner with one of northern Michigan’s oldest law firm, Atkinson Petruska, Kozma, Hart & Couture, PLC, which has offices in Gaylord and Traverse City. He is a past Chair of the City of Gaylord Planning Commission and past Board member for the Otsego County Commission on Aging, the Grand Traverse, Antrim and Leelanau County Bar Association, and the Michigan Defense Trial Counsel, immediate past Chair of the Peninsula Township Planning Commission and continues to serve on the Township’s Planning Commission and on its Zoning Board of Appeals. He has been a Board Member for over 10 years for Northern Family Intervention Services. Few organizations provide a more valuable community service than NFIS, with its mission of helping families and troubled children work together to cope with the many problems that everyday life throws at them. Supporting families and teaching them ways to improve their relationships often has a lifelong positive impact on parents and kids alike. I am grateful to be on this Board and to help in some small way to strengthen the communities served by NFIS. 


Lisa Matt’s background includes 28 years as a special education teacher at Gaylord Community Schools and experience doing private practice counseling mostly with adolescents. I joined NFIS board because I believe in the agency and appreciate the hard work of the entire staff. I was fortunate enough to be able to work along with several of the staff while doing an internship several years ago.  I was able to see the positive outcomes from both sides. As a teacher at the time, I witnessed students and families getting much needed support and direction as they worked through difficult family and personal situations. I also worked directly in homes of several families and saw remarkable outcomes for families at risk for losing custody of their children. NFIS has been a respected organization for me personally throughout my career as both a teacher and professional counselor.

Educational background: BS degree from Central Michigan University in general and special education. MA degree in Special Education from CMU. MA in Professional Counseling from Spring Arbor University with an LPC license.

Luann Mabarak is the Director/Academic Advisor for Kirtland Community College’s northern site in Gaylord where she blends her passions of positive thinking, servant leadership and compassion for others.  She attained Master of Arts degrees in both Organizational Management and Counseling and is a Licensed Professional Counselor, earned a Bachelor in Social Work degree and is a Certified EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) Mental Health Practitioner, Health RHYTHMS Group Empowerment Drumming Facilitator, Appreciative Inquiry Facilitator and Michigan Master Gardener.  Born with strong connections to nature, Luann credits some of her greatest lessons in life, leadership and compassion to her four-legged teachers.  As a portion of Luann’s career in the field of social work involved providing in home services to foster care and community mental health clients, she has great respect and admiration for the in home work that NFIS provides to individuals and families throughout Northern Michigan.   


Kevin Wahr is a local healthcare administrator working in the Munson Healthcare system.  He has been an advocate for children in crisis ever since his wife and he became foster parents many years ago.  He has a family of three sons, all adopted from foster care, and two with identified special needs.  “Servicing NFIS is a delight as it is a phenomenal resource to families and individuals in crisis or need in this region.  It’s a solid model that I proudly and fully endorse!”  

Ed Watson has provided 35 plus years of service to children and families in northern Michigan. His extensive contributions to NFIS and home-based services in northern Michigan began in 1994. During his tenure, NFIS served over 4,500 families and 10,000 plus children. Ed Watson has recruited and trained over 55 home-based workers.  Prior experience was at the Child Guidance Center where he developed nine group homes, a treatment-foster care program, and a crisis respite service to support children and families in northern Michigan.   From 1975-1980 worked at Father Flanagan’s Boys Town in Nebraska as a group home teaching parent and later in administration.   Ed’s over thirty-five years of Teaching-Family success relates to his ability to bring out the best in staff. He recruits talented people, supports them, and empowers them to be independent. He may be short on words, but he is never  short on praise.  Ed retired in 2015, however returned to serve as a Board member in 2017.  In his retirement he enjoys golfing, tennis, visiting his two grown children, and attending to his wife’s to do list—most likely in that order.

Meet Our Staff

Meet Our Staff

Suzann Barger first became interested in the workings of the mind and what makes people tick when she was in High School and her best friend attempted suicide.  This came at a time when she also learned of her father’s challenging teenage years – he lost his father to suicide, his brother to a swimming accident and his mother to alcoholism all in the span of three years.  He went on to become a police officer, and a devoted family man, who put others’ needs above his own.  The idea of resilience and how people cope with tragedy fascinated her.  This led to Suzann to  taking a psychology class and she was hooked!  She went on to study psychology in college with the goal of becoming a psychologist.  However, that goal was put on hold when she began doing direct work working with teen mothers and their children and loved doing this work.  Her career at Northern Family Intervention has allowed her to practice her passion, which is working with people to help them overcome adversity and reach their goals in a way that makes sense to them.  She is consistently inspired by the families who welcome her into their home and trust enough to work on making things better for themselves and their children.  She frequently feels like she learns more from them than she has taught and is humbled by the reciprocal nature of social work.  In her spare time she loves spending time with her two sons, her family, and her friends doing pretty much anything outside!

Marion Beardsley received her Associate of Arts Degree in Psychology from North Central Michigan Collage in 1993.  My Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology from Central Michigan University in 1996 and my Master of Arts in Counseling from Central Michigan University in 1999.  Over the course of her career, she has worked as a therapist at safe houses counseling children, adolescence, and adults in sexual abuse and domestic violence.  As a foster care therapist, she provided services to children who were either neglected or were abused.  Also, parenting skills were taught to either foster parents or parents.  Further, she has been a pastor’s wife, who encouraged people and served on different committees.  As a therapist, working with children, adolescence, parents, families and couples, a number of clinical issues have been addressed in therapy such as trauma, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and childhood trauma plus many more.  At Northern Family Intervention services, she works with families to help make them to develop skills to strengthen their families.  NFIS staff also works as a team to help families.  These connections are so important to deliver to families the best intervention as possible.

As far as what she does in her spare time, she likes to read, crochet, play the piano, watch my grandchildren, and do everyday tasks that are required—oh well we all have some things we don’t like to do, but it makes the things we like to do more enjoyable!

Roxanne McLintock didn’t plan on being a social worker.  She pursued her teaching degree at the University of Michigan—Go Blue! Returning to northern Michigan she answered an ad for a pilot program working with families using the Teaching-Family Model.  Twenty Five years later, she is now the Director of the agency, having grown up through the Agency’s development, learning more from families than she has ever taught them.  Her passion is teaching training and developing programs to support others in reaching their goals.  She values the  Teaching Family model focus on relationships and teaching skills to attributes this to the positive success of NFIS. S In her free time, she loves to escape by reading just about any genre, digging up ancestors in her genealogy, and camping and hiking with her husband and three children.  She and her family are active in their local church, soccer, and home school cooperative.


Ashley Otto, since the age of 5,  has always had a strong sense of desire to help others.  She continued developing this desire through early work experiences and by watching her mother work in mental health field. Ultimately, she decided to pursue a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Michigan.  During that time, she was able to work for and intern at several non-profit agencies, where she developed a passion for working with children and families.  A friend mentioned NFIS to her and once she met the staff and learned more about the agency, she knew it was a good fit.  In her spare time, she likes to run and has raced in 4 marathons in three different states.  She also likes to travel and spend time with her family.

Lee Anna Richards has  worked for NFIS for 10 years.  I was born and raised on a small farm near Lake Huron in Northern Michigan.  I come from a blended family and am the oldest of 7 children.  As a child I enjoyed Girl Scouts, Softball and playing the saxophone.  After graduation, I moved to the Detroit area to attend college for business management and accounting.   My family had experienced some events which made me re-think the classes I was taking.  Before long I was enthralled with lectures about psychology and human behavior.  After moving back north, I transferred to Saginaw Valley State University and began the Social Work Program, completing an internship at Ogemaw County Department of Human Services.  I wanted to continue to live in my small hometown and practice social work, which made for very few options.  I was married and working as a preschool teacher, while continuing my education in Youth Services and Sociology, when my past intern supervisor contacted me about a position with Northern Family Intervention Services.  Upon being hired, I knew that it was going to be more than a job and after a decade I still feel this way. The opportunity to learn from  co-workers and other professionals, along with each and every family I work directly with, is priceless. I stay busy in my free time with my two sons.  We love being outside, gardening and playing at the river.  My long term plan is to just continuing learning about the world and people around me, and hopefully make a change for the better while at it.


Aaron Rieder graduated from Olivet Nazarene University in 2003 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education. Before joining NFIS He worked as a teacher, minister, and healthcare aide. One of Aaron’s greatest joys in life is seeing what he calls light bulb moments. He describes it as, “a moment of clarity where suddenly something makes sense that never made sense before, and you can see in the other person’s eyes that their life is now going to change because they finally understand something they were struggling with.” He and his wife have 3 children. Aaron enjoys spending time with his family and stargazing through his telescopes.

Karen Ross, as a child,  always dreamed of working with the special needs population.  She pursued her degree in Therapeutic Recreation from Central Michigan University.  She moved to Orlando where her internship took her.  She worked at Orlando General Hospital in the adolescent psychiatric unit.  After getting tired of the relentless humidity and heat, she moved back to Northern Michigan.  After working with that population, Karen knew that she wanted to work with children in the mental health field.  She applied at Northern Family Intervention Services and has been there for 21 years!  During that 21 years Karen was grandfathered into the Social Worker field and received her LBSW.   Karen has enjoyed the various programs that she has been able to work in with the agency.  Her passion is keeping families together and empowering them to make a change for the better.  In her spare time she loves to spend time with her husband and her daughter.  She enjoys going cross country with her husband on their motorcyle.  Her favorite trip on the bike was last year when they went to Nova Scotia.  Her daughter Allison graduated from Central Michigan University and is working on her Master's Degree in Social Work.  Another one of Karen’s passions besides her work at NFIS is rescuing and helping animals especially dogs.  She has rescued three golden retrievers and is planning on retiring someday and having a dog sanctuary.    Her favorite quote is “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Jessie Rypkowski realized she wanted to work with families when she cared for a foster child while working at a childcare facility. Jessie worked as a caregiver for 5 years while earning her Associates in Arts degree. She met with her school advisor who helped her reach her goal of earning her Bachelors in Social Work from Spring Arbor University. Jessie’s mother is a part of the Board of Directors and encouraged her to internship at NFIS. She was offered a job once her internship was over and gratefully accepted a position as a Family Specialist. Jessie enjoys spending time with her husband, dog, family and friends. In her spare time she enjoys reading, crafting, and exploring Northern Michigan’s four seasons.

Meriyah Shampine, I was born and raised in Northern Michigan. I've always wanted to be in a profession where I was helping others. The idea of being a social worker started when I took a Psychology class when I was a Sophomore in High School. I earned my Bachelor of Social Work at Central Michigan University. I have volunteered at soup kitchens-making hot meals for those in need, volunteered at a rotating homeless shelter-playing games and talking to the guests. I was also an intern at a nonprofit adoption agency for a year where I worked closely with parents and children in the PACT (Parents and Children Together) program to ensure that children could safely remain in their home. I have been with NFIS serving Cheboygan and Presque Isle counties since 2019. In my free time I enjoy walking my dogs, camping, and boating. 


Martha Troy is the Administrative Assistant since 2-8-2010 for NFIS, (aka…. Data Diva, Staff Cheerleader and Arts & Crafts Specialist!) Seriously… Martha was adopted as an infant by a Methodist Minister and his wife and annoying older brother.  Martha raised 3 beautiful daughters and now has the pleasure of now having 3 ACTIVE Grandsons…FYI: Girls & Boys are not the same!).  Although, Martha is not out working in the homes and schools to support the families NFIS works with she loves the NFIS “Family Staff” and is inspired by the work the Family Specialist’s and Therapist’s do.  Martha has found her place at NFIS being the SUPPORT for the staff, whether it be a client’s phone number, address, send more resources or even just an ear to listen about their day. She also has a passion for office supplies and surprises staff with smiley stickers and inspirational quotes amid their documentation packets.  Finally, Martha realizes her NFIS Co-Workers have helped her find a special joy.  As quoted by Confucius, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”  NFIS is   A JOY   not   A JOB   for Martha.                                                    


Bonnie Williams is the Office Manager at Northern Family Intervention Services, Inc. (NFIS). Bonnie was hired as part-time office help in June of 1998, then moved to secretary/records and in 2002 was promoted to Office Manager.  Bonnie graduated from Spring Arbor University with her bachelor’s degree in Management and Organizational Development in 2006.  Bonnie is the mother of three son’s and one daughter, plus 8 grandchildren.  Bonnie grew up on a farm in Albion, Michigan with her 5 siblings and her parents, both 86 years old still live on the farm. Bonnie loves to travel, garden and help with her beautiful grandchildren.  While Bonnie loves serving NFIS mission and working with the staff at NFIS, she is looking forward to retirement to spend more time doting on her grandbabies. 

Holly Williams,  I was guided to doing social work for NFIS. I believe this was because I’ve been through some similar situations that our client’s experience daily. I learned a lot being a young single parent mother,  I was lucky enough to have good support people to assist me through those times, to be who I am today. Now, it’s my turn to assist the best that I can, to support clients to empower themselves. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2.  I am blessed with raising four children and am now a grandmother.  During my free time I enjoy gardening, reading, attending my children’s school activities and spending time with my family.

Allison (Allie) Woiderski, born and raised in northern Michigan and always knew I’d find my way back. After moving to Mount Pleasant for 4 years and receiving my Bachelors of Social Work from Central Michigan University I continued on with my education and received my Masters of Social Work from Saginaw Valley State University. After a long 5 years I found myself back in my hometown. I have always knew from a young age that I wanted to help people. I was born and raised an empath and a social worker's daughter. My mom, Karen Ross, has been with the agency for over 20 years and I decided to follow in her footsteps. After growing up and seeing the work that she’s done for NFIS I knew that was exactly the person I wanted to become. I am a Home- Based Therapist at Northern Family Intervention Services and have been a part of the team since May 2021. I have background in working in schools and doing home based therapy throughout my college career. In my free time I enjoy hanging out at the lake, spending time with my family, and loving on my bearded dragon, Rex! I am honored to work as a therapist with an amazing team and the families that I serve! 


Mika Wilson-Everest is passionate about quality living!  Certainly, for myself, but also for others.  I was hired by NFIS as a graduate of Central Michigan University at 22 years old to work on the newly developing Children’s Crisis Team, where I worked for 8 months.  From there, I transitioned to the position of a Family Specialist.   I just turned 44, so you do the math, but I’ve been at NFIS for quite some time!  Although it has been over two decades, my work at NFIS feels like maybe 6-7 years.  I attribute this to NFIS being a wonderful fit for my life.  NFIS allows me to truly experience quality living by doing meaningful work, which at it’s core is about supporting the quality of living of those I work with, while also supporting my need for having a balanced work-life schedule.  Working with families provides me a daily education in relationships and connections, hardships and hope, and I feel grateful and honored to experience that as part of my vocation.  NFIS is small in size, but mighty in the strengths that we are diligent about seeing while supporting those we work with.  This is partly a result of being based on the TFA model, but most importantly due to the people who comprise this agency.  Something quirky about me is my sense of humor, which has been fun to be able to share with my co-workers!  I so love that we all appreciate laughter, and are able to keep things fun!  There are many people I admire and who are on my list of heroes, but Betty White is one who stands out for me.  No, I don’t personally know her, but she sure emits a bright light, has a passion for animals and has done much for animal advocacy (major passion of mine), and she seems to have lived an authentic life with humor and joy leading the way.   Margaret Mead has a quote that inspires me  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” And so we did what we could to change the world, or at least our part of it.  And I get to do that every day as I go to work.  Quality living.

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