Board of Directors & Staff

Board of Directors

The governing body of SMILES is the Board of Directors.

The members listed below are not compensated, as service on the Board of Directors is a volunteer position.

Mark Hanson, President
Retired Educator

Thomas (Bill) Koch, Vice President
Director of Logistics, Blain Supply

Becky Dyckman, Treasurer
Retired Vice President, Administration, LFC Capital, Inc

Cassie Kriefall, Secretary
Title 1 Teacher, School District of  Janesville

Dr. Liana Wiegel, DVM
Veterinarian, Elkhorn Veterinary Clinic Ltd.

Judy Atkinson
HR Coordinator, City of Whitewater

Dennis Markley
Retired Educator

Bonnie Hoover
Retired HR Director & Accountant

Hamza Jaka
Contract Attorney, Gardiner Kock Weisberg & Wrona


Leslie and Bullet

Leslie Warnecke

Office Manager

BA-ART, Associate of Applied Science - Accounting

Leslie began as a volunteer in 2015, became a board member in 2016-2022, and became Office Manager in mid-2022. She has always had a “soft spot” in her heart for horses as she rode often as a child. Growing up in Delavan, she knew about SMILES and the wonderful work they do with the students. She wanted to become involved and was fortunate enough to volunteer to see firsthand all the benefits equine-assisted therapeutic activities bring to the students and the self-fulfillment for herself. She continues to volunteer when and where she is able.

Leslie graduated from UW-Whitewater with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art with an emphasis in graphic design. She worked in the marketing department for a few businesses before starting a career in accounting. After receiving her associate degree in accounting, she has worked 20+ years in the accounting field.

Emily and Sarah

Emily Willert

Marketing and Development Coordinator

BA-Integrated Studies - Secondary Fields of Study in Psychology and Business & Management

Emily calls SMILES her dream job when she started in mid-2022. She has a huge passion for equine-assisted therapeutic activities and riding. Emily grew up volunteering at nursing homes and assisted livings since her mother was a nursing home administrator.  Her experiences helped her discover she enjoyed helping others and sharing her joys with others.  Being around horses for 13+ years and volunteering with residents, frail elders, developmentally disabled, mentally ill, and with dementia residents.  In 2013-2018 she blended these two things to find a niche that gave her fulfillment by bringing her horse to the communities her mother ran for an annual fair day.  The pleasure on the residents’ faces was what she decided should become a career.

Emily attended Alverno College in Milwaukee and completed a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in integrated studies along with secondary fields of study in psychology and business and management. She knows the positive effect animals can have on people and she knew she wanted to work at a facility that used animals for therapeutic activities. With her knowledge in websites, writing, and being certified in grant writing, she helps SMILES strive on social media, event planning, website updates, and writing grants.

Katie Boss and Ben

Katie Firn Boss

Program Coordinator & Instructor

PATH Intl. CTRI, PATH Certified Mentor

Katie’s enthusiasm for Therapeutic Riding started at the young age of 13 when she started as a class volunteer at SMILES. Wanting to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a Program Coordinator, Katie knew she wanted to pursue Therapeutic Riding as a career. Starting as the Volunteer Coordinator in 2006, Katie went on to become PATH Certified as a Therapeutic Riding Instructor in 2008. In 2012, Katie took on the role of Program Coordinator and later became a PATH Certified Mentor in 2015.

Katie was fortunate enough to grow up in an equestrian household and spent much of her youth and amateur career competing on a national level in the all-around events on the International Buckskin Horse Association circuit, winning World Championships, and national titles. With her strong passion for horsemanship and her love for therapeutic riding, it has been a dream career for her.

Watching the program grow over the years into the successful organization it is today leaves Katie feeling grateful to be a part of something so wonderful, and that improves the lives of the clients, volunteers, and staff every day.

Katie Lu and Freckles

Katie Luessenhop

Volunteer Coordinator & Instructor

BSE-Elementary/Middle School Education, PATH Intl. CTRI, PATH Certified Mentor

Katie joined the SMILES team as a staff member in 2013, however, she was involved with the program as a volunteer for much longer.  Like many young girls, Katie loved being around horses, and since the SMILES facility was only a mile away from her childhood home, it was an ideal place for her to volunteer.  After graduating from UW-Whitewater with a degree in Elementary/Middle School Education, her passion for teaching, helping people, and being around horses called her back to the SMILES program.  Having witnessed the positive impact of equine-assisted activities during her time as a volunteer, Katie knew that continuing her involvement with SMILES would be the perfect fit for her.

Katie is the Volunteer Coordinator and has been a PATH Intl Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor since 2014.  In 2015, Katie also became a Certified Mentor for new instructors and has successfully mentored several individuals through the PATH Instructor Certification.  Working as an Instructor at SMILES has made Katie a firm believer that horses help bridge the gap between disability and ability. Katie is incredibly grateful to work with an amazing team of volunteers and staff and, together, make a difference in the lives of individuals with special needs.

Melinda and Holly

Melinda Ludlum


PATH Intl. CTRI - In Training

Melinda was born in Cedar Rapids, IA, and lived there until she was 12. She then moved to Beloit, WI. Her fondest memories of living in Iowa were caring for her chickens and sheep on her family's farm. She's always been an animal lover and it was her dream to one day have her own little farm.

In 2014, her family moved to a farm on the west side of Beloit. Her husband of almost 21 years have three incredible teenage boys (17, 15, and 14). Her family enjoys sporting events, hiking, and swimming together in the summer. They also enjoy taking care of their farm together. They have three horses, one mini horse, three dogs, two goats, chickens and ducks.

Melinda and her sons volunteered together for Meals on Wheels throughout the years. Melinda then saw the volunteer opportunity for SMILES come across her Facebook feed and knew it would be the perfect spot for her! Her loves for horses, combined with helping people, brings her so much joy. She's very excited to learn and grow with the SMILES family!