You have an excellent staff and very compassionate people and I thank all of you very much.
— TWI client


Varinia Garcia Anderson, M.Ed, BIlingual Therapist

Varinia is from Costa Rica, where she grew up. She moved to Virginia to go to school, and received a BA in Psychology from Roanoke College. Varinia also obtained her M.Ed in counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has been working in the mental health field since 2011, working with children and adolescents through various agencies, such as Region Ten, ReadyKids, Albemarle County and Charlottesville City Schools. Varinia has focused on providing mental health services primarily to the local Hispanic population. Using various clinical approaches in her practice, Varinia has been trained in Trauma Focus cognitive behavior therapy, EMDR, play therapy, family therapy and mindfulness. She has experience in treating individuals with anxiety, depression, domestic violence, sexual abuse, neglect and immigration trauma. Varinia is a strong advocate for our immigrant population, who inspire her to provide positive healing to those who need encouragement and strength.


Joanna Ajex, MA, MD (RUS), Education Coordinator & Therapist

Joanna received her master’s in Mental Health Counseling from Regent University, VA. Prior to that she received her Doctor in Medicine and Post Graduate Training in Pediatrics from I.M. Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University in Moscow, Russia. Joanna has had several work and volunteer experiences in areas including crisis stabilization, integrated care, domestic violence, sexual trauma, sexual identity, psychosocial rehabilitation and addiction in multicultural and cross-cultural settings. In her clinical work Joanna regularly incorporates Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Solution Focused Brief Therapy and Mindfulness-based techniques. Her passion is to provide holistic care and empower women from all walks of life.

Elizabeth Cobb, LCSW, Social Support Coordinator & Therapist

Elizabeth received her Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of North Carolina, where she practiced before relocating to Charlottesville. Elizabeth is passionate about providing LGBTQ+ affirming care and utilizes her training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), and creative expression to support her clients in working towards their goals. Additionally, she manages The Women’s Initiative’s social support program.


Judith Curry-El, PhD, Part-Time Therapist

Judith obtained her PhD degree from the University of Virginia in 1996. She also completed her residency and post-doctoral neuropsychology fellowship at the University of Virginia. She worked as the Mental Health Director at Greensville Correctional Center for two years and, in 2002, began working at Western State Hospital. Currently, she works as a part-time therapist at The Women’s Initiative. She is passionate about helping all women have access to mental health services. Judith’s interests include insight-oriented and mindfulness-based therapies.

Donna Dean, LCSW, Clinical Services Director

Donna received her master’s degree from Smith College School for Social Work. She has experience working with people in their recovery from depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trauma and addiction. She incorporates a variety of theoretical modalities including EMDR, psychodynamic therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Internal Family Systems, all from a strengths-based perspective. Donna has more than 15 years of experience working in the field of social work in a variety of settings including crisis stabilization, intensive community treatment and outpatient therapy. She is also a yoga teacher and incorporates mindfulness based practices into her therapeutic work.

Leigh Freilich, LCSW, Part-Time Therapist

Leigh is a queer-identified therapist who brings more than a decade of experience serving low-income people in Charlottesville. A commitment to human rights and social/economic justice anchors her work. Leigh operates from a strengths-based, trauma-informed, intersectional approach. In her clinical work, she incorporates EMDR, Motivational Interviewing, CBT, expressive arts, Internal Family Systems, and Mindfulness practices. Areas of interest include cross-cultural practice, caring for the needs of refugees and immigrants, and providing affirming care to transgender and gender-diverse people.


Monica A. Garfias, LPC, NCC, Bilingual Therapist

Monica A. Garfias, LPC, NCC received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She went on to acquire her Master's degree in Mental Health Counseling from the Arizona School of Professional Psychology/Argosy University, Phoenix. She has worked in the field of mental health since 2005 and has practiced as a therapist since 2010. Her training includes Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT). She is passionate about treating women and children who have experienced trauma. 


Aislinn Groves, LCSW, Part-Time Therapist

Aislinn was born and raised in Charlottesville, and is excited to re-engage with her home community after nearly 13 years away. Aislinn has a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wake Forest University and a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Upon completion of her Master’s degree, Aislinn worked for six years as a therapist with low-income adolescents, adults and families in Durham, North Carolina. Inspired by her clinical work and various research interests, Aislinn elected to return to school, pursuing a Ph.D. in Clinical Social Work through Smith College. Aislinn is now in the dissertation phase of this degree. Aislinn has training and experience in several psychotherapeutic approaches, including psychodynamic psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and trauma-informed care. Pulling from each as appropriate, Aislinn strives to understand and support each client in a way that is individualized and strengths-based. She aims to help people of all identities and backgrounds feel welcome in her office. She learns a great deal from each client and encourages open discussion of how intersecting social identities and life experiences impact the therapeutic work together. Aislinn views therapy as a collaborative process, supporting each client in accessing their innate capacities for understanding and growth.


Aisha received her master’s degree in Counselor Education from the University of Virginia. Aisha first began her commitment to promoting and empowering women during her internship at the UVA Women’s Center. Since that time, she has been providing counseling and community support to women and their families as they overcome barriers and manage mental illness, trauma, and grief.  Aisha approaches counseling from a person-centered, strengths-based framework, and she regularly incorporates elements of family systems and mindfulness into practice. 

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Elizabeth Irvin, LCSW, Executive Director

Elizabeth Irvin has dedicated her career to promoting healing for women who have experienced trauma and working to assure that everyone has access to compassionate and effective care. She has a joint degree in law and social work from the University of North Carolina and has worked for more than twenty years providing mental health treatment for women. She joined The Women’s Initiative in 2009 as the agency’s first Spanish-speaking therapist, founding the Bienestar program to serve Latina women in our community. In 2013 she became the Executive Director and has guided the agency into becoming the second-largest provider of mental health care in the Charlottesville area and a leader in trauma-informed, culturally responsive care. As a therapist, Elizabeth emphasizes a strengths-based perspective as she supports clients on their healing journeys from past traumas. Her clinical work incorporates EMDR, mindfulness-based practices, internal family systems and grief work. She believes that every person possesses the strength and resilience they need to heal.

Zyanya Otal, Client Support Specialist

Zyanya is a recent graduate of James Madison University with a degree in Biology. Her interests include raising awareness of the importance of mental health care as well as the empowerment and advancement of women, particularly women of color. She is a native Spanish speaker and has a variety of experiences working with nonprofit organizations.

Liz Ramirez-Weaver, LCSW, Part-time Bilingual Therapist

Liz Ramirez-Weaver is bilingual in English/Spanish and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She received her master’s degree in Social Work from Syracuse University with a specialization in community organizing, policy, planning and administration. Liz has over a decade of experience in various social work settings as an outpatient mental health therapist, hospital based forensic social work, and early intervention social worker. Prior to working as a part-time therapist, she was the Integrated Care Coordinator for the Charlottesville Free Clinic and The Women's Initiative's Integrated Care Program.

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Ingrid Ramos, LPC, BIENESTAR & Resilience Programs Director

Ingrid has a master’s degree in professional counseling from Liberty University and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the Universidad Tecnologica de Santiago.  Her past work includes experience as  Latino Services Program Coordinator at the Charlottesville League of Therapists where she worked with children, individuals and families.  She is passionate about her work with Hispanics and women's issues. Ingrid has experience working with issues of depression, anxiety, and trauma.  At the Women's Initiative she enjoys individual work with women, couples therapy, and group therapy for Latina women.

HILARY STEINITZ, lcsw, Mind-Body Coordinator & Therapist

Hilary received her master’s degree in clinical social work from VCU. She has experience helping women heal from challenges such as depression, anxiety, childhood and recent trauma, eating disorders, and relational stress. In her clinical work, she integrates a variety of treatment modalities, including psychodynamic theories, Internal Family Systems, Motivational Interviewing, and EMDR. She also holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UVa and believes in the creative process as a tool for healing. Additionally, Hilary has taught yoga since 2000 and her training and experience in mindfulness practices ground her clinical work.


Alyson Stewart, MFT, Sister Circle Coordinator & Therapist

Alyson received her master’s degree from Valdosta State University in Marriage and Family Therapy. Her experience includes school counseling, providing intensive in-home services and working in a brief-therapy center conducting individual, couples, group and family therapy. Presenting problems she has worked with include but are not limited to depression, anxiety, chronic pain, marital work, intellectual disabilities, parenting needs and eating disorders. Strengths-based, Narrative, Solution Focused and MRI are models she uses when working with clients. Her hobbies include writing, blogging, reading, listening to music, spending time with friends and watching movies. She believes that an individual can either “forget everything and run, or face everything and rise; the choice is their own” --Zig Zigler. She is passionate about working with women’s understanding of self-worth, cultural identity, identity within interpersonal relationships and motherhood. Alyson describes a client’s process as the overcomer’s journey, where the path on the road to progress can be a bumpy one, but it leads to resiliency, resourcefulness and perseverance.

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Shelly Wood, MSW, JSCC and Sister Circle Coordinator & Therapist

A native of Charlottesville, Shelly has a master’s degree in Social Work from VCU and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia. Her passion is empowering women to reach their full potential as well as an overall sense of well-being. As a therapist, Shelly regularly incorporates Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Internal Family Systems, EMDR, and Mindfulness techniques into her practice. Shelly values working out in the community and collaborating with other organizations to provide much needed services, such as leading monthly Wellness discussions at JABA’s Mary Williams Day Center. Shelly is also a facilitator of the Advocates & Clinicians of Color Network, which seeks to increase our community’s capacity to provide culturally responsive mental health care.


Kerry Day, Director of Philanthropy

Kerry Day has dedicated her professional career to supporting the vital work of nonprofits. Her extensive experience spans nearly 25 years and includes the full spectrum of responsibility from executive director to passionate volunteer. She brings specialized grant writing and development skills, and has helped organizations large and small, from Charlottesville to Seattle, in pursuit of their mission. Locally, she has supported the efforts of Focused Ultrasound Foundation, UVA Department of Pediatrics, Piedmont CASA, Virginia Quarterly Review, Common Ground Healing Arts, Charlottesville High School Orchestra and more. Perhaps most importantly, she served as The Women’s Initiative’s first Executive Director and is honored to return with an emboldened passion for the cause.

Amanda korman, communications and outreach coordinator

Amanda coordinates The Women’s Initiative’s community outreach as well as all program-related communications—including the website, newsletters, social media, and media relations. As the co-chair of the Communications Committee of the Community Mental Health and Wellness Coalition, she works to raise awareness of and destigmatize mental health and substance use services throughout our region. Amanda joined The Women’s Initiative in 2016 after working as a magazine editor and a newspaper reporter. She is a graduate of Williams College and the University of Virginia’s MFA Program in Creative Writing.

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AMY LANE, Finance Manager

As Business Manager, Amy is the key backbone of The Women's Initiative's daily operational activities. She maintains financial, Board and organizational records; oversees the collection and analysis of data for budget, governance and programmatic functions; and manages the agency's technology needs. As Marketing Manager, Amy is responsible for design and production of programming materials, our website, social media and in-house publications. Amy has been part of The Women's Initiative team since 2010.

Sarah Medley, Special Projects and Grant Support Specialist

Sarah received her PhD in Marine Science from The University of California Santa Barbara in 2011. Employing her research and grant-writing experience, she refocused her career on advancing gender equality and promoting diversity in the sciences at the University of Virginia. Now with The Women's Initiative, Sarah has broadened her aim to empowering all women in our community, supporting the Executive Director with research, analysis, fundraising, board governance, and technology.

Clinical Interns

Lucie Fielding, Clinical Intern

Lucie Fielding is a trans- and queer-identified intern in counseling, currently studying for her Master's degree in Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute (expected graduation, March 2018). Lucie also holds a PhD in French from Northwestern University (2008). Areas of clinical interest and focus include: identity development; discharging shame; clients concerned about their consensual sexual urges, thoughts, or behaviors; sexual identity; erotic expression; sexual communication; support for alt-sex communities; and gender-affirmative care. Lucie helps her clients by using person-centered, insight-oriented, sex positive frameworks. She regularly incorporates narrative, image, dream work, family systems, and mindfulness practices in her work. Lucie works with individuals and couples to develop empowered visions of sexual and relational health.


Shelly Stern, Clinical Intern

"Shell" has a bachelor's degree in sociology and a background in community organizing. She is in her clinical year of the Masters in Social Work program at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Shell has worked extensively with women and families as a mentor, teacher, tutor, camp director and case manager. She is committed to approaching social work through a social justice lens. Most recently Shell spent a year working as an advocate with survivors of sexual assault. She is also a Virginia Supreme Court certified mediator and helps parents find resolution to issues affecting their co-parenting choices. Shell has a keen interest in exploring implicit bias and how it affects services available in our community. Shell co-facilitates The Women's Initiative's new Nature Nurture retreats in partnership with Wildrock to promote healing in the outdoors. She relies heavily on her yoga and meditation practice to sustain her work and nurtures a spirit of creativity, abundance and community wherever she goes.