Rochanda Hiligh-Thomas joined AJE in 2004. She has over 25 years of experience working in the District of Columbia’s legal services community and has diverse experience in the non-profit sector. As Executive Director, Rochanda currently leads the overall strategic operations, program development, and partner development for AJE. As the former Director of Legal Services and Advocacy and Senior Staff Attorney at AJE, Ms. Hiligh-Thomas developed a robust legal program that provides legal assistance to DC families with special education and school discipline matters. She has represented hundreds of parents and students in school discipline, special education, and other education matters. In addition, Ms. Hiligh-Thomas provided extensive training to parents, youth, school staff, and other professionals in these areas. Before joining AJE, Ms. Hiligh-Thomas was the Assistant Director for Legal Operations at the Neighborhood Legal Services Program (NLSP). She began her career at NLSP as a Covington & Burling Howard C. Westwood Fellow where she spent over seven years providing free legal services to low-income D.C. residents in the areas of public entitlement, education, employment, social security benefits, housing, family, and consumer law at the administrative, trial court, and appellate levels.
Ms. Hiligh-Thomas is a native of D.C., the proud mother of four children, one of whom had an IEP, and is active in her local community. She has served on various committees and working groups in the DC public school system. In 2020 she was re-appointed by Mayor Bowser to the State Advisory Panel for Special Education as a parent member, and she chairs the governance committee of a local public charter school. Also, she served on the steering committee of the DC Consortium of Legal Services Providers for nine years (2012 – 2021) and served as Co-Chair for 4 of those years (2015-2019). Ms. Hiligh-Thomas obtained her bachelor’s degree with honors from Tuskegee University and her law degree with honors from the District of Columbia School of Law. In 2017 she received the prestigious Jerrold Scoutt Prize from the DC Bar Foundation and the Advocate for Justice Award from the University of The District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law.
Director of Programs and Outreach
Maria Blaeuer joined AJE in 2016 as a staff attorney and currently serves as AJE’s Director of Programs and Outreach. She has over 16 years of legal experience and has spent most of her legal career in private practice focusing on special education law and the needs of students with disabilities in low-to-moderate-income communities. As part of her practice, she has provided professional development skills to attorneys, teachers, and other service providers in the District of Columbia, Virginia, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Pennsylvania in regard to special education. Ms. Blaeuer oversees the four core components of AJE’s mission: Community Education, Direct Advocacy, Peer-to-Peer Engagement, and Training and Information. She works with schools and families to ensure that students receive the best education possible under the law and focuses on establishing more effective training and family engagement efforts for the D.C. special education and disability community. Maria Blaeuer has taught students with disabilities in the past and had an IEP during her time as a student. Maria’s role as a parent and an attorney has allowed her to introduce a unique perspective when working with special education cases.
Ms. Blaeuer obtained her Bachelor’s Degree with honors from Virginia Commonwealth University, earned her law degree from Howard University School of Law, and is pursuing her Master’s degree in Education Policy. She is a Washington D.C. native and active member of the Montgomery County, MD Commission on Juvenile Justice, and is on the board of a small charter school serving at-risk and over-age, and under-credited students. Maria is the proud parent of three children.
Yolanda Corbett joined AJE in 2021. As a native Washingtonian born and raised in Southeast, DC, Ms. Corbett is no stranger to the inequities that her city is faced with and has a long history of service as a community and parent leader. She is a devoted mother of three including a child that has a neurodiverse learning disability. Ms. Corbett is also a strong parent advocate within many other organizations that are committed to assuring that the educational rights of children with disabilities are met in the District of Columbia. As a Parent Organizer for AJE, Yolanda is constantly pushing herself to learn more about education policy issues that will help strengthen the voice and presence of families of children that have a disability in order to become more present in political spaces of change. She believes in the power of making connections for parents to build a support network, all while finding ways to empower parents with the resources and tools necessary to create a healthy balanced lifestyle for both caregivers and their loved ones. Ms. Corbett has served as a member of the DC SBOE ESSA Task Force (2017-2018), My School DC Parent Action Committee Ward 5 Rep (2017- Current), HSCSN Parent Advocate Leadership Chair, DC PAVE Ward 7 Parent Leader in Education (2017- current) and Former AJE Parent Ambassador.
Director of Legal Services
Akela Crawford joined AJE in 2023 as the Director of Legal Services, where she manages AJE’s legal services work. Akela has over 13 years of legal experience and has spent most of her legal career providing legal services to the DC Community. In 2012, Akela served for over three years as a compliance case manager with DCPS, ensuring that DCPS carried out its legal obligations under IDEA., including educating and training school-based staff on understanding and implementing special education laws and policies. Before joining AJE, she was a supervising attorney at the Neighborhood Legal Services Program. She provided program management and supervised staff attorneys, paralegals, and loaned pro bono attorneys in various housing matters at the administrative and court levels. Akela also first volunteered as a pro bono attorney and then served as a full-time staff attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless (WLCH), where she represented tenants and tenant associations and provided legal assistance in public benefits, subsidized housing, shelter and street rights matters. Also, while working in private practice, Akela provided legal advice and representation in domestic relations matters, bankruptcy, and small business matters.
Akela also brings to AJE her lived experience and expertise in navigating DC’s education system as the mother of a child with special needs in the DC public school system. She graduated from North Carolina Central University and North Carolina Central University School of Law and is an active member of the DC Bar. Akela is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and served as Social Justice Co-Chair of the Washington Bar Association–Young Lawyers Division, a Mayoral appointed public member on the Commission on African-American Affairs, a member of, and a Community Volunteer Circle Co-Chair for Girls on the Run-DC.
Bilingual Family Intake Specialist/Paralegal
Kelly Dau joined AJE in 2022 to serve as a Family Intake Specialist/Paralegal. Her passion to assist families with students with special needs and learning challenges stems from her personal experience of seeking a professional advocate to help her through the IEP process for her own son. This experience moved her to join a law firm where she served for over a decade as a paralegal to attorneys that represent students with special needs in the District of Columbia. After gaining knowledge and experience in special education law, she moved on to the private school sector to witness the success and transformations of private school placements for herself, and not only gained knowledge and experience of the private school admission and IEP implementation processes but also developed personal and professional relationships. In her current role, Ms. Dau utilizes her experience and toolbox of special education resources to build new relationships and to gather the information needed to begin the process of support to families in need of AJE services. Ms. Dau attended Purdue University in Ft. Wayne, Indiana before leaving her studies to serve in the U.S. Army. Ms. Dau is a veteran and looks forward to developing partnerships with agencies in order to better assist military families seeking AJE assistance. Ms. Dau is a mother of three, loves to travel, tell stories, speaks Spanish, and is a Notary Public.
Stacey K. Eunnae
Senior Staff Attorney
Stacey Eunnae re-joined AJE in 2018. She has over 7 years of legal experience assisting families with children who have special needs. Stacey is AJE’s Senior Staff Attorney, she is responsible for representing students in disciplinary and special education matters, and providing Know Your Rights training to help parents increase their self-advocacy skills. Ms. Eunnae began her career with AJE as a law student volunteer in 2013. In 2015, Ms. Eunnae pursued her LLM with a concentration in clinical instruction, systems change, and special education law in the Juvenile Special Education Clinic at the David A. Clarke School of Law. She returned to AJE in March 2018 with additional experience and knowledge about how to serve families in D.C. Stacey Eunnae holds a Bachelor of Arts in Women Studies from the College of William and Mary, a Juris Doctor from Georgetown School of Law, and a Masters in Law from the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law.
Nkechi Feaster joined AJE in 2022. She was born in Washington, DC, grew up in South Carolina, and returned to her home city as a homeless resident. Since 2000, Nkechi has navigated services for low-income and homeless residents and has seen the inequities that have shown up in those areas. Nkechi became a Community Advocate who now lends her experiences, expertise, voice, and perception as a board member of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless and Diverse City Fund, as a member of the grassroots organization People Power Action, a Community Advisory Board Member for Howard University Research Centers In Minority Program, and a co-owner of Service to Justice, which has provided anti-black racial equity training since 2019. Nkechi understands how true change can only come about with the voices of the impacted at the table and shapes her work to be in those circles. In addition to her advocacy experience, Nkechi has experience in office administration, operations, and management in diverse settings. While not advocating, Nkechi is a mother, dancer, lover of great food, a fan of local and creative talents, and a writer who is working on her third published work.
Advocacy & Pro Bono Manager
Amelia French joined AJE in 2022. She is a 2nd generation Washingtonian with over 8 years of experience serving the DC Community through community organizing, legal services, and volunteering. In 2012, Amelia served as a parent outreach intern with AJE on a school pushout campaign, working in the community with both parents and students to elevate and address undocumented suspensions from DC public schools. Prior to joining AJE, Amelia managed the Pro Bono program and Fraud Prevention Project at Tzedek DC, where she was the Staff Attorney/Victims of Crime Act Fellow. She served as a Union Leader, at Unite Here! Local 25 where she helped to organize workers to address workplace concerns and successfully advocate for the DC City Council to pass legislation to protect the jobs of hotel workers. Amelia volunteered for a year at the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project representing domestic violence survivors and while in her law school’s Community Development Law Clinic (CDC), Amelia, represented residents of DC housing cooperatives in preventing displacement. As the lead student counsel in one matter, she successfully negotiated against the DC Office of Tax and Revenue to prevent the tax foreclosure and displacement of a housing cooperative client. As a result of her work in the CDC, Amelia received the Earl H. Davis Award from the Jack and Lovell Olender Foundation for her demonstrated commitment to public interest law and her exemplary performance.
In addition to her professional experience, Amelia brings to AJE her lived experience in navigating DC’s education and health systems. She is the mother of two children with special needs in the DC public school system and is committed to ensuring that all children receive an education that allows them to flourish into adulthood. As the Advocacy and Pro Bono Manager, Amelia will help lead AJE’ss advocacy programs focused on building community power to achieve systems change in education and health care. She is a member of the DC Bar and is a graduate of the State University at Buffalo and the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law. In 2019, Amelia was appointed by Mayor Bowser to serve on the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board.
Parent Support Specialist
LaJoy Johnson-Law joined AJE in 2018 as an Intake Specialist/Receptionist. She served as a Parent Support Specialist and now serves as a Training Coordinator and Outreach Specialist. She is the proud mother of a daughter who has special needs and she has been engaged in disability advocacy for over 8 years. Ms. Johnson-Law’s daughter helped her realize her passion for advocacy for families that have special needs children. Through her personal experience, Ms. Johnson-Law has acquired a wealth of knowledge in navigating DC’s health and education landscapes for children with disabilities. Ms. Johnson-Law utilized her personal experience to provide direct services and peer-to-peer emotional support to families of children with special needs and special health care needs. In her role current role, she builds relationships with various DC agencies, and community-based organizations to create a system of referrals for families to be connected with AJE’s services and to coordinate training. Her goal is to ensure all children in DC with disabilities are heard. In 2019, Ms. Johnson-Law was appointed by Mayor Bowser to serve on the District’s Thrive by Five Coordinating Council. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree with Honors in Psychology and a Master of Public Administration Degree from the University of Phoenix.
Parent Support Specialist
Tamiesha Lawrence joined AJE in November 2022 as a Parent Support Specialist. She is the proud mother of four children, two of whom have special needs. Tamiesha is an alumna of the Maryland Foster Care system. At the age of 21, she first learned to advocate for herself, and other foster care youths, serving as a spokesperson for the Youth Advisory Board of the State of Maryland. Tamiesha worked for a former foster parent, who founded Good Children in the Making, Inc., a treatment foster care provider for Bowie, MD area. Ms. Lawrence served as a group home staff member and eventually was made an office administrator of the agency. Tamiesha found her passion in advocacy, which started her journey into special education advocacy over 16 years ago when one of her sons began to show signs of Development Delay at 18 months. She used this new learning from hand-on experience to develop the patience and determination needed to engage in special education advocacy. Through her experiences, and new relationships fostered, Tamiesha acquired a network of supporters, who encouraged her to follow her calling in advocacy, by providing knowledge and support to other parents like herself, and to be the voice for the voiceless.
Tamiesha is a 2022 graduate of the University of District of Columbia with an A.S. degree in Legal Studies – professional training as a Legal Assistant. What is important to Tamiesha is for all parents to know that “We have a voice in both the herald and defense of what happens with our children’s learning process, and more importantly, we have a right to understand the processes that are involved”. Her favorite quote is-” If it isn’t in writing, it didn’t happen.’ -Philippe Kruchten.
Bilingual Educational Support Specialist
Berta Mata joined AJE in 2001. She is the mother of four children including one with special needs. Mrs. Mata provides one-on-one assistance, training, and emotional support to Latinx families to ensure their children receive appropriate education and health services. She also leads outreach efforts to immigrant communities to support newly settled families with navigating resources and systems of support and currently operates AJE’s intake center at Mary’s Center twice a week. Mrs. Mata has a firm commitment to supporting children with special needs and their families. She is a native Spanish speaker and has deep ties to the Spanish-speaking community in D.C. Ms. Mata served as a member of Mary’s Center’s Board of Directors (2016-2019). In 2019 she was appointed by Mayor Bowser to serve on the District’s State Rehabilitation Council and in 2021 appointed to serve on the Developmental Disabilities Council.
Lead Parent Ambassador
Michelle D. Parrish joined AJE in 2021. She is a native Washingtonian and mother of two children both enrolled in public education in the District of Columbia. She “crash coursed” her way into special education advocacy when her son was diagnosed with a myriad of disabilities impacting his access to education. With AJE as a resource, Michelle was able to learn how to support and advocate for her son, later reaching back to support other families through her personal organizing efforts. She has been a Parent Ambassador since May 2020 and has continued to work with AJE to support families in the District of Columbia. As a career public servant, Michelle holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in the English Language from the University of Maryland at College Park in addition to a Master of Science Degree in Contracts and Procurement Management from the University of Maryland Global Campus and a Master’s Certificate in Project Management from George Washington University.
Program Associate – Contractor
Corissa Redmond joined AJE in October 2020 as a policy intern during her last college semester and now serves as AJE’s Program Associate – Contractor. She graduated from the University of Riverside, California, where she majored in Political Science with an emphasis on policy work. Corissa has prior experience working with adults with developmental disabilities and behavioral health challenges and children from underserved communities. As a Program Associate, she works closely with the Director of Advocacy in implementing AJE’s advocacy program objectives. Corissa is excited to continue supporting families in building their capacity to elevate their advocacy to achieve equitable solutions in education for their children and all children in the District of Columbia.
Whitney A. Smith
Whitney A. Smith joined AJE in 2022. As a staff attorney, she works with families to identify their needs and goals and provides legal assistance in special education, discipline, and other educational matters. Ms. Smith began her legal career, serving DC families in 2017 with the Juvenile Special Education Clinic at the David A. Clarke School of Law. She also served as an AJE law clerk in 2017. Ms. Smith’s experience advocating for the rights of families includes representing parents of DCPS students in due process hearings, suspension hearings, IEP meetings, and criminal proceedings. Through creative problem-solving, she has dedicated her career to remedying the obstacles faced by underrepresented communities. She specializes in negotiation and dispute resolution, and her experience spans private industry and all levels of government. She aims to bring her unique perspective on issues of social justice and equity to her role as she works to support DC families.
Ms. Smith obtained her Bachelor’s degree in both Philosophy and African American Studies, Public Policy from the University of Maryland, College Park. She received her law degree cum laude from the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law and her Master of Laws (LL.M) from Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law. Ms. Smith is a member of the DC Bar. She is a native of the DMV area and enjoys traveling in her free time.