About Us

The Team

In 2012 we met at Harvard and recognized our shared dedication to helping families of children with disabilities gain better access to services and supports. We knew disability information was available, but that much of it was too general or inaccessible for families who needed it. To solve this problem, we began collaborating on technology to empower families. In 2013, we launched Exceptional Lives.

Team member: Jay O'Brien

Jay O’Brien

Co-founder and Executive Director

Jay O’Brien has worked in the disability field for 14 years, following positions in the US Senate in Washington and high-tech communications in Boston. His experience includes nine years as a field office director and corporate fundraiser for Special Olympics Massachusetts. Jay received an MPA from Harvard Kennedy School where he was a Harvard Alumni Public Service Fellow. He has a BA from Holy Cross College.

Team member: Anne Punzak Marcus

Anne Punzak Marcus

Co-founder and Board Chair

Anne Punzak Marcus has over ten years of experience working with organizations focused on brain disorders, education, and health. She was a co-founder of the Autism Consortium and previously worked for Fidelity Investments as a portfolio manager and research director. Anne was a 2012 and 2013 Harvard Advanced Leadership Fellow. She earned her MBA from the Wharton School after receiving her BS from Boston College.

Team member: Carrie Menke

Carrie Menke

Digital Marketing Expert

Carrie Menke is a digital marketing expert who has managed Google grants and other online marketing programs for more than 40 nonprofit organizations. New to Boston, she is a transplant from Southern California, where she also produced independent films. Carrie graduated cum laude from the University of Dayton (Ohio) with a BA in Communications and Journalism.

Team member: Taylor McMahon

Taylor McMahon

Social Media Specialist

Taylor McMahon is a social media & marketing specialist with avid interest in narrative-based messaging. She received her BS in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Emerson College, with a focus in Health Communications. She currently lives in NYC, where she also pursues her career as an actor/dancer. From a young age, Taylor has been closely involved with people of different disabilities as a teacher, mentor, and friend.

Team member: Julie McKinney

Julie McKinney

Health Literacy Expert

Julie McKinney is a health literacy consultant with extensive experience writing and revising health information for audiences with lower literacy skills. She has a BS from Brown University and an MS from Northeastern. As a parent of a child with special needs, Julie also has a personal understanding of the barriers that complex health information presents, and a heartfelt appreciation for information that is easy to understand and use.

Team member: Alexander Steacy

Alexander Steacy

Web Developer

Alexander Steacy is a web developer with special interests in developing rich and engaging educational media that is accessible to all audiences. He has a BA from Southern Vermont University. He has experience developing e-learning applications for homeless services providers and developing multimedia rich, interactive experiences.

Team member: Paul Shafer

Paul Shafer

Data Manager

Paul Shafer is a teacher, actor, and graphic designer with a newly found interest in the disabilities field thanks to his work with Exceptional Lives. A native North Carolinian, Paul has bachelor’s degrees in Music and French and a master’s degree in Voice Performance from Boston University.

Team member: Katie Emanuel

Katie Emanuel

Web Content Specialist

Katie Emanuel is an entrepreneur with expertise in writing, team-building and supporting special needs families. She earned bachelor degrees in International Affairs and Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Georgia, and she is currently working towards a master of education specializing in special education for grades pre-K to 8. She is passionate about her family and building bridges between the special needs community and the greater community.

Board of Directors

Christine Letts, MBA

Ms. Letts is the Rita E. Hauser Senior Lecturer in the Practice of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School. She has extensive experience in private, nonprofit and public management. She was the founding executive director of HKS’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations (now the Hauser Institute for Civil Society at the Center for Public Leadership). She is the author of High Performance Nonprofit Organizations and Social Entrepreneurship and Societal Transformation.

Carol Raphael, MPA

Ms. Raphael is a senior advisor at Manatt Health Solutions. She serves on numerous corporate boards and advisory boards, and is the former chair of the national AARP. She served as president and CEO of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, the largest non-profit home health agency in the US. She currently chairs the Long-Term Quality Alliance and is a board member of the New York eHealth Collaborative (NYeC), a public-private partnership to advance the adoption of health information technology.

David Sargent

Mr. Sargent is a managing director at Duff & Phelps, where he handles M&A activities in the southwest US. He has more than 30 years of M&A origination, execution, management and board experience with middle-market public and private companies. He currently serves on the boards of Asuragen Inc., SAM Inc., and the Babson College Board of Overseers. He is a member of the 2016 Advanced Leadership Initiative at Harvard University.

Cynthia Strauss

Ms. Strauss has specialties in both for-profit and non-profit investing and research. She recently retired from Fidelity Investments, after seven years as director of research for Fidelity Charitable and 13 years in numerous senior management and investment roles for Fidelity Management & Research’s actively managed fixed income and equity funds. Prior to Fidelity she was a founding managing director of a French-owned merchant bank in New York and held a leadership position in leveraged finance at Citibank.