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



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.


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.


Ashley Barlow, LPC, Clinical Services Director

Ashley has committed herself to developing and maintaining therapeutic environments that are inclusive and aim to empower and support women, regardless of their background and circumstances; empowering them to live to their fullest potential and support them in breaking down barriers that might inhibit them from doing so. As such, she spent more than 10 years as a therapist and eventually the Mental Health Director at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. At the prison she was provided the opportunity to work with the seriously and persistently mentally ill, survivors of childhood and adult trauma and those simply looking to work through the challenges and obstacles that stand between them and the women they hope to be. She draws from a number of therapeutic modalities and theories that are person-centered, trauma-informed and gender-responsive. Ashley received her master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from the University of Virginia where she also completed an internship at the UVA Women’s Center.

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.


Elise Gibson, LCSW, Part-Time Therapist

Elise received her Bachelors of Arts from the University of Virginia in Anthropology and her Masters in Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has over six years of clinical experience, including community mental health and substance abuse treatment, early childhood home visiting, and working with medically underserved groups. Elise provides a strength-based and empowerment-focused approach to treatment. She believes all people have a natural bend toward wellness and that therapy can help tap into those already present internal resources. She is both skill-based and process-driven, providing her clients with the practical tools to manage their current life stressors while also addressing deeper wounds that may keep them stuck in old patterns. She has a specific interest in the neurobiology of trauma and has received specialized training in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).


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. 


Juanika Howard, MS, Part-Time Therapist

Juanika received her Bachelors of Science from Old Dominion University in Psychology and her Masters in Mental Health Counseling from Longwood University. She has over nine years of mental health experience, working with children and adolescents through Region Ten Community Service Board, Albemarle County and Charlottesville City Schools. In addition to being a part-time therapist at The Women’s Initiative, Juanika works full-time at Charlottesville High School as a Student Assistance Program (SAP) Prevention Counselor. She has received specialized training in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Within the community, Juanika is an active participant of the Central Virginia Clinicians of Color Network and C’Ville Walks with Heart, as well as a community volunteer.

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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.


Ulises Martinez, QMHP, Bienestar Support Specialist

A graduate of the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico in Atlacomulco, Ulises holds a Bachelor’s in Psychology and nearly ten years of experience in the clinical field working with adults, adolescents and children with mental health issues. As a mental health professional, Ulises has always been committed to the well-being of the people around him. He firmly believes that every person is born with the capacity to transform the world with their everyday actions and thoughts. "By being conscious how our own choices can affect our life, we can start generating positive changes that will impact ourselves and the people around us."


Andrea Mayfield, Client Support Specialist

Andrea welcomes clients to The Women’s Initiative with compassion and respect. Her career experience includes educating children with special needs and behavioral challenges in Albemarle County Public Schools and Northern Virginia. She has a passion for offering reading support to students during summer vacation to encourage children to develop a love for learning and help close achievement gaps in education. Andrea is an avid lifestyle blogger and believes every woman has a meaningful story to tell.


Andrea Perez, QMHP-C, Client Support and Referral Specialist

Andrea received her BA in Psychology with a minor in Professional Education from the University of West Florida and is currently attending Virginia Commonwealth University in pursuit of a Master’s in Social Work. Andrea has spent much of her professional life volunteering and working with counseling centers for individuals with disabilities, as well as in private counseling centers and group therapeutic centers for high school students who face social and emotional challenges. Andrea also has experience in community outreach and working with adolescents and adults diagnosed with severe mental illness. Andrea is passionate about being an agent of change in the community.

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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.


Shell Stern, MSW, Therapist

Shell has a master's degree in social work from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), a bachelor's degree in sociology and a background in community organizing. 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 believes in the innate healing power of each individual and often uses EMDR, Internal Family Systems, Mindfulness and Nature Connection to promote self-awareness and well-being.


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.


Emily Zeanah Shelton, LCSW, Therapist

Emily completed her master’s degree in social work at VCU in 2013. Previously, she received an MFA creative nonfiction writing at the University of New Orleans and participated in several community-based efforts to address trauma and race, first in Greensboro, NC and then in New Orleans. Her clinical background in intensive, community-based treatment has helped her appreciate the multiple and intersecting layers of experience that influence well-being and mental health, as well as the importance of meeting clients where they are. Although she draws from a range of treatment modalities including training in DBT, EMDR, and mindfulness, her clinical practice is grounded in a commitment to social justice, sensitivity to trauma, and belief in relationships as sites of healing and growth.


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

Amy oversees all TWI financial needs including coordination with our accountant, collection and analysis of agency data, and support of the development database and reports. She also provides support and coordination on branding as well as on print materials for fundraising and marketing. As part of the Challenge into Change Committee, Amy designs the marketing materials and print anthology for the annual writing contest celebrating women’s stories of growth and healing. Amy has been part of the TWI 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.


Molly O'Halloran, Operations Manager

Molly joined The Women's Initiative team as a front desk volunteer in July 2017 and quickly realized she wanted to be a full-time part of the important work TWI does in the Charlottesville community for women’s mental health. She received her Bachelor’s in the School of Media Arts and Design from James Madison University and has worked in small business management for the last 11 years. She is excited to support the growing needs of The Women’s Initiative as their Operations Manager.

Clinical Interns


Laura “Lo” Somel

Lo Somel is currently attending Virginia Commonwealth University in pursuit of a Master’s in Social Work. She has experience working with diverse populations such as children with special education needs, refugees, undocumented immigrants, and families in poverty. Lo also served in the Peace Corps, working with women artisans in a rural Moroccan village. She believes that mental health services should be a part of how we approach individual, community and system health issues.


Anna Maria “Maria” Tricarico

Maria is a graduate student pursuing a master's degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling through Prescott College. She has a passion for the therapeutic benefits of creative expression and is pursuing a certificate in expressive art therapy alongside her counseling degree. In her work as a student and as an artist, Maria often explores the intersection of culture, identity, and mental health. She has experience working cross-culturally, both in the US and internationally. She spent many years living in East Africa as a part of a humanitarian NGO and has volunteered with refugee resettlement agencies while in the US. These cross-cultural experiences greatly inform her approach to mental health as well as her career aspirations as a therapist.