Our Team

We have a team of passionate and professional people ready to help. We will work with you to provide the information and support you need. We listen, we understand and we help. Call us: (02) 9841 4444

Chief Executive Officer

Sherie Avalos
Sherie joined us in August 2021 with over 20 years of leadership experience in disability organisations. Most recently, Sherie has been employed in a senior capacity role at the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission.  

Sherie has a deep understanding and experience of the disability landscape, ranging from broad industry and organisational issues around policy, project and program management, strategy, and compliance, to the everyday life and routines of people and their families living with disability.   

Sherie has extensive experience working with both State and Federal Governments, playing an active role in various working groups overseeing and contributing to the development and review of program guidelines, and the implementation of innovative new directions. 

Sherie is passionate about and committed to our members and their families.

Emily Caska

Chief Strategy Officer

Emily Caska
Emily joins us with 20 years of executive leadership expertise in the disability, child protection, foreign affairs and corporate sectors across Australia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Vietnam and the UK. Emily was the UP! Club Coordinator from 2002-2004, following which she served on the DS NSW Board.

Specialising in strategy, governance, policy and business development, Emily has a long history with DS NSW and is passionate about embedding authentic consumer centric approaches and strengthening the NFP sector as a central mechanism to build social capital.

Emily’s extensive experience includes Policy Director at National Disability Services, Executive Advisor to the NSW Department of Finance, Services and Innovation, Deputy CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce Hong Kong, Macau and China as well as Executive Leader Strategy at Lifestyle Solutions, and Strategic Projects Director at Achieve Australia. Having attended Harvard University and the University of Sydney, Emily has founded a number of social enterprises employing people with disabilities and mental health. Emily advises Dementia Australia on quality care in response to the Royal Commission, as well as holds an executive position in the hospitality industry. She is also President of Rafiki Mwema, a charity in Kenya providing housing, schooling, court support, therapeutic care and community outreach services children who have been sexually assaulted.

Emily is known for her strategic vision, operational optimisation and business development acumen all aimed at having a measurable impact and positive change in the lives of those we support, the systemic framework and the community at large. Emily has lived experience of disability and is very close with her sister Lucy.


Manager – Inclusion and Education

Miriam Philomena
Miriam Philomena is the behaviour specialist at DS NSW. Miriam is a passionate advocate for people with Down syndrome and their families. She draws on her knowledge as a Social worker, her lived experience as the mother of a thirty-year-old daughter who has Down syndrome and is a talented artist, and fifteen years of working with our families. She has a wealth of knowledge on the NDIS and planning processes. Miriam provides training workshops on understanding Down syndrome in all settings across all life spans.

Manager – Engagement

Nicola Hayhurst
Nikki is our Director – Engagement at DSNSW and oversees our UP!Club and Up, Up and Away programs. Nikki has 12 years of experience working with adults with a moderate level of intellectual disability within open employment settings as well as leading life skills programs in recreation settings within the Sydney region, many of whom have Down syndrome. Within the UK, she had a background in social work and education, working as a hospital case manager and associate university lecturer on a diploma level health and social care program. Nikki applies a person-centred inclusive approach to innovate, implement and evaluate programs that will support members to engage, participate and develop skills. She also brings additional expertise in neuro-linguistic programming and positive psychology.

Education and Training Manager

Stephanie Rodden

Stephanie brings more than a decade in education and training expertise to her role, having worked in formal education environments as a teacher, in creative education, and in a wide range of training, facilitation and leadership roles. Committed to lifelong learning, Stephanie’s belief is that “the path to success is always under construction”, and she takes an approach of inclusion, diversity, creativity and adaptability to her training and education work. As an educator, Stephanie encourages contributions, and creates spaces where all people can have a voice.

Stephanie’s creative talents as a photographer and musician mean she injects creativity into every aspect of her personal and professional life, reflected by the creative projects she’s led within her Community of Schools (COS), as Creative Director of The Illawarra Music Foundry and Founder of the social enterprise, Celebrate T21.

Man smiling at the camera

UP!Club Coordinator

Mark Adler

Mark has 20 years of experience working in human services with people with a disability, where he has provided advocacy support for people with an intellectual disability. Mark is a qualified Gestalt Psychotherapist and has run personal development programs, where a significant part of his role was supporting people with a learning or intellectual disability to feel welcome, included and comfortable. For the last two years, Mark has worked closely with NDIA Plan Managers and Case Managers to ensure that people received the best possible support they required to match their needs. Mark has also supported  adults with an intellectual disability in their home.

Information and Support Officer

Julie Louden

Julie has a varied background including Nursing, In home Aged Care, Company director, Office Management, administration and accounts.Julie has lived experience as a mother of a teenage daughter with Down Syndrome.Julie is extremely passionate about advocating for people with a disability to enable them to have a voice and opportunities to live life to the fullest.Julie also believes it is extremely important to support and assist families and friends of people with Down Syndrome where ever possible.

Ellen Hester

Specialist – Administration

Ellen Hester
Ellen is our Administration specialist and is involved with data entry, administrative support to all staff and helps keep our office running smoothly.  She is also a valued team leader at UPClub and teen camps.

Specialist – NDIS Finance and Collaboration

Sophia Cuthbertson

Sophia is our NDIS Finance and Collaboration specialist. Sophia supports all our programs with finances and administration. With a background of senior administration and finances Sophia’s skills and knowledge are a great asset to our organisation. Sophia’s lived experience with her son Mitchell who just happens to have Down Syndrome and her knowledge on the NDIS and processes has made her a valued member of our team

Up,Up & Away Coordinator

Melissa Cotterill

Melissa is a coordinator on our Up Up & Away team.  This program, which started in 2018, brings children 4-17 years who have Down Syndrome together along with their siblings and parents.  Melissa is passionate about families and seeing them socialise, network and have fun together.  Melissa has a teenage daughter who has Down Syndrome and is an active member of the community connecting with other parents and children. Melissa has organised fundraising events for Down Syndrome NSW to help bring about awareness of Down Syndrome in the local community. 

Employment Connector

Julia McCarthy

Julia has 7 years of experience working with adults with a moderate level of intellectual disability within open employment settings within the Greater Sydney region, many of whom have Down syndrome. Julia has worked closely with NDIA Plan Managers and Case Managers to ensure that people received the best possible support they required to match their needs. Julia has over 10 years of experience supporting children, adults and older adults with an intellectual disability and Down syndrome in their home. Julia applies a person-centred inclusive approach to innovate, implement and evaluate the Work Readiness program that will support members to engage, participate and develop work ready skills.

Information and Support Officer

Lee-Ann Fortuin

Lee-Ann has recently joined us with over 32 years of Nursing Experience across all areas of care from Emergency Department, Intensive Care through to Palliative Care in the Hospital setting and 15 Years within Complex Care in the home for Disability. She has worked 7 years as a Clinical Educator and held a position with Policy Development and Clinical Governance Nationally in Australia and therefore is an advocate for Disability.

Lee-Ann is a passionate advocate for people with Down syndrome, their families as well as educating within the community. She has lived experience as a mother to a 16-year-old son James who has Down syndrome, and is currently undergoing supporting others with in the category of youth Mental health and Dementia in older group.

Lee-Ann also volunteered for 3 years with supporting families with children who have disabilities and have learnt to swim through Rainbow Club. Lee-Ann looks forward to meeting new parents and current members to provide you with the information and support you need.