Board of Directors
The Celiac Kids Connections Board of Directors is comprised of Medical staff from Boston Children's Hospital and volunteers from the group. Their focus is to guide the group and serve the needs of our members moving forward. Board meetings are open to all and are held the second Tuesday of the month from September thru June at the Waltham location. If you are interested in attending a meeting or would like additional information please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dascha C. Weir first became interested in celiac disease during her medical training and is now a board certified pediatric gastroenterologist with expertise in Celiac Disease in children. She is the associate director of the Celiac Disease Program at Boston Children's Hospital and serves as the medical advisor of Celiac Kids Connection.
Originally a Boston area native, she attended Dartmouth College and graduated with a BA in History in 1995. She subsequently graduated from Case Western School of Medicine in 2000. She returned to Boston and completed her internship and residency in Pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston Medical Center. After finishing her pediatric gastroenterology fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital, she joined the Division of Gastroenterology and Nutrition there and is involved both in clinical care and celiac related clinical research. She is also on the executive committee of the Harvard Medical School Celiac Research Program. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and settling into a good book.
Alan M. Leichtner, MD, MSHPEd, is the founder of Celiac Kids Connection. He is also the Director of the Program for Celiac Disease at Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) and Co-Director of the Harvard Medical School Program in Celiac Disease. He serves as Vice Chairman of the Department of Medicine (Pediatrics) for Clinical Affairs and is the Chief Medical Education Officer at BCH. He is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Leichtner has a long-standing clinical and research interest in childhood inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease. He has authored more than 100 original publications and chapters on various topics in pediatric gastroenterology. In his tenure at BCH, Dr. Leichtner has been a highly regarded clinician, teacher, and clinical researcher.
He is the recipient of the 2010 Murray Davidson Award from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). This annual award recognizes an outstanding clinician, educator, and scientist who has made significant contributions to the field of pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition. Dr. Leichtner is also the recipient of the 2012 Distinguished Service Award from the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (NASPGHAN) and the 2014 Harvard Medical School Charles J. Hatem Award for Faculty Development in Medical Education.
Janis received her undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Michigan and Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Chicago. She worked in the field of juvenile justice within the juvenile courts, before transitioning to social work within the healthcare field. She previously worked with pediatric diabetes, cardiac and kidney transplantation programs as a clinical social worker at Children’s Memorial Hospital (affiliate of Northwestern University) in Chicago. In 2004, Janis began working as a clinical social worker and mental health clinician in the Celiac Disease Program, as well as in as in the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center to provide psychosocial support to families at Boston Children's Hospital,
She frequently speaks to parent, sibling and family groups, provides both regional and national presentations and has published on topics including the mental health considerations and impact of chronic illness on families, state and federal equity programs for effective advocacy for patients with chronic illness, school advocacy and educational equity, transitioning from pediatric to adult medical care, and impact of chronic illness on rights and medical coverage. Her research focus includes transitioning from pediatric to adult centered care with chronic illnesses.
Francie first learned about celiac disease in December, 1998 when her then 3-year-old daughter was diagnosed. She immediately became active in the celiac community and with two other Moms started a support group in Austin, TX.
Francie and her family moved to the Boston area in 2013 and in 2014 she began volunteering with Celiac Kids Connection. She served on the board and eventually served as the board chair. She became Executive Director in December, 2015.
Francie studied business at St. Anselm College and received an MBA from Babson College. She spent 15 years working in human resource management and benefits administration. She took time out of the workforce after the birth of her daughter. At that time she got involved in volunteer work. She was active in PTA and led the celiac group in central Texas for many years.
In her free time, Francie likes to travel, ride horses and cook. Prior to her daughter’s celiac diagnosis she was an expert at finding ways to get out of cooking. But once she had to learn gluten-free cooking and baking, she discovered that she really enjoyed it.
Alvaro Tobar is an instructional technology specialist. His areas of expertise include education, instructional technology and media integration, multimedia design, and video production. Alvaroworks for the Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston where he leads the design and implementation of a range of accessible instructional technology solutions. Some current interests include social learning, video editing, accessibility, and social media, soccer, biking. Alvaro enjoys serving in the community and he is member of a few boards. A native of Chile, Alvaro is fluent in Spanish, English, and French.
Julia Bandini became active in the Celiac Support Group (now Celiac Kids Connection) in 2004 as the Kid’s Corner writer for the newsletter for several years before going to college. After graduating from the College of the Holy Cross in 2012, Julia joined the board of the support group as the Treasurer in 2013. She has enjoyed planning and helping at events for families and children with celiac disease. Julia is currently working on her PhD in medical sociology at Brandeis University.
Deborah Ferguson became a member of the Celiac Kids Connection (formerly Celiac Support Group) in 2014, when she first learned that her young son had celiac disease. In 2016, she became a board member.
Deborah attended the University of Manitoba and graduated with a BSc in Genetics. She subsequently earned a PhD in Experimental Medicine from McGill University and completed her postdoctoral studies at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Currently, Deborah works in the Boston area as a medical writer and scientific consultant.
In her free time, Deborah enjoys reading, gardening, trying out new recipes, and watching her two boys play hockey.
Nathan Couture was diagnosed at the age of 1. He has been a participant of the Boston Children's Hospital Celiac support group (now the Celiac Kids Connection) for 12 years and a board member for the last year. He has enjoyed educating others regarding the life style of a child with Celiac Disease. He loves to fish, ride ATVs, and play video games. In September he will be heading into High School (where there are no Gluten-Free options).
Laura was diagnosed with celiac in 2013. Along with Laura, one of her 4 children has also been diagnosed with celiac disease. As a member of the Children’s Hospital community, Laura joined the board of the Celiac Kids Connection in order to help other young families adapt their lives to a healthy, gluten-free lifestyle.
Laura graduated from Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH in 2002 with a degree in pre-med and accounting. In 2006 she completed a degree in Physician Assistant studies at Touro College and began working at Children’s hospital in the Orthopedic department. She continues to work on a per-diem basis and lives in Sudbury with her husband, Zack, and four young children. In her spare time, Laura love to garden, cook, play tennis and tries hard to keep up with her busy creative kids!
Alexandra Weinsten is a sophomore in high school. She was diagnosed with celiac disease at the age of 12. She has been a participant of the Boston Children's Hospital Celiac support group (now the Celiac Kids Connection) for 4 years and just joined the board this year. She is eager to help encourage other teens to engage, educate, and support one another. She loves soccer, tennis, photography, and testing new gluten free dessert recipes with her twin sister.