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Our Team

The Sheltering Tree team is a dedicated group of professionals committed to creating and maintaining a sense of belonging and community for all who live in a Sheltering Tree apartment. Living in a Sheltering Tree apartment complex means acceptance and connectedness. It means a place where our friends who have developmental disabilities are not judged, and they always feel like an integral part of our community. Our team is determined to uphold this culture of respect for our tenants.


Meet Our Staff and Board

Administrative Staff

  • Denise Gehringer, Executive Director
  • Beth Ferree, Advancement Director
  • Anne Carter, Corporate Treasurer
  • Rachel Curry, Operations Specialist
  • Beth Recker, Director of Activities and Enrichment


  • Kim Bainbridge, President
  • Kelly Walters, Vice President
  • John Griffith, Treasurer/Secretary
  • Jude Beller
  • Kirk Hanson
  • Emily Kozlik, Advancement Committee Chair
  • Doug Alvine, Building Oversight Committee Chair
  • Leah Johnson, Self Advocate, Tenant
  • Vern Davis-Showell
  • Mary Gehringer, OSM
  • Jeff Kortan
  • John Kuehl
  • DaShawn McGary
  • Louis Pol
  • Ana Torres Rodriguez
  • Jill Rotella

Ex-Officio Board Members

  • Shirley McNally, Founder and Visionary
  • Patrick McNally, Founding Family Representative
  • Molly Zavitz, Founding Family Representative

Denise Gehringer

Executive Director

From the day Denise’s fourth son was born with Down syndrome, she immersed herself in learning everything possible to better understand and assist him. This evolved into a desire to help all people with diverse abilities achieve their full potential to live healthy, fulfilling, and meaningful lives. This wish to see all people reach their life’s goals is what has propelled her into the disability field where she has been actively working for over two decades. In her work, Denise’s goal is always to empower those she serves to live self-determined lives and to boost them toward meaningful engagement in their community.

Her passion for serving those with special needs has filled every facet of her life. She is the President of the Down Syndrome Alliance of the Midlands and the Legislative Advocacy Chair. She is a Past President and a member of the Board of Directors at the Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, a board member of the Education Rights Counsel, and a board member of the Brain Injury Alliance of Nebraska. Denise is a member of the Nebraska State ADA Task Force, the Nebraska Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities, and the National Down Syndrome Advocacy Coalition. She was a 2019 ABLE National Resource Center Ambassador. Denise is the founder and past director of the BSC TOPSoccer Program and is the Nebraska State Soccer Special Needs Commissioner.

Beth Ferree

Advancement Director

Beth’s career has been dedicated to supporting those who are in need or underserved. Working 20 years with children and families in a variety of capacities, her greatest desire has always been to engage the community in championing identified populations so that they are able to live life to its fullest potential. This experience, plus her masters degrees in public administration and school counseling, has led to an even higher calling and level of advocacy and support, as she reaches out to the community to help affirm those persons identified with developmental disabilities enabling them to live with autonomy and safely in the community.

Anne Carter

Corporate Treasurer

Anne is a retired CPA with over 15 years in public accounting and is an active volunteer in the nonprofit community of Omaha. Anne is the mother of a Sheltering Tree tenant and is a driving force in the effort to provide safe, affordable housing for adults with developmental disabilities. Anne’s passion for Sheltering Tree began when she was looking for opportunities for her son to live independently. Previous to her administrative role as Corporate Treasurer, Anne was a member of Sheltering Tree’s board of directors and board treasurer. Her responsibilities include all the financial reporting and accounting for the organization.

Rachel Curry

Operations Specialist

Rachel has been a BSN registered nurse since 2016. While she does maintain an active nursing license, she took a leap of faith and followed her heart to join Sheltering Tree full-time as Operations Specialist in 2021. In addition to her main role, she also serves as GOALS program coordinator, teaching life skills to help promote independent living for adults with developmental disabilities. She also sits on the nonprofit board of directors for Down Syndrome Alliance of the Midlands. The passion that brought Rachel to Sheltering Tree is inspired by her son who was born with Down syndrome. Her journey in navigating the disability world in her personal life has allowed her to form amazing relationships and learn to become a better advocate for the adults she serves. In her free time, Rachel can be found spending time with her family & friends or watching a great documentary.

Beth Recker

Director of Activities and Enrichment

Kim Bainbridge


Welcoming a new baby changes your life for the better. Board Vice President Kim Bainbridge still remembers the joy she felt when her second son, Justin, came into this world 32 years ago. Born with Down Syndrome, Justin would impact his family in so many wonderful ways.

For her part, Kim became an advocate for the disability community. She had big goals for Justin to one day live independently and hold a job, and thus, she began preparing him to reach these aspirations early on, helping other parents along the way. It was Justin’s success in securing employment and a market-rate apartment, in fact, that made her the perfect fit for the Tree’s Board.

“I was thrilled to be asked to serve on the Board and to help other individuals and their families achieve their dreams,” Kim said. “Many of Justin’s friends from a Cub Scout troop many years ago were part of the initial tenants at Bellevue and Benson. Watching founders Shirley McNally and Anne Carter, whose sons were in that group, create Sheltering Tree was truly amazing.”

In addition to her Board work, Kim has been with UNMC Munroe-Meyer Institute for more than nine years. Empowering parents in rural areas with information and services they have never heard of makes her career fulfilling each day and gives her a special outlook on the Sheltering Tree of the future.

“I see growth, growth, growth in Sheltering Tree’s future,” Kim said. “I envision Sheltering Tree models outside of Omaha, across the state of Nebraska, and into neighboring states.”

Kim, of course, is not the only family member who has been inspired by Justin. Both of his siblings are huge supporters of everything he does. Older brother Kyle coaches Justin’s Challenger Baseball team, bonding with him through this tradition. Younger sister Kristin became a speech language pathologist in part due to the battles they experienced getting Justin speech therapy. The three are close as any siblings can be, with Justin even serving as Kyle’s Best Man in 2009 and Kristin’s Man of Honor in 2020.

Kelly Walters

Vice President

Interestingly enough, it was the same Jeff mentioned in the story above and another fateful friendship that brought Board Treasurer Kelly Walters into our fold. Kelly’s wife of 30 years, Kara, has been friends with Jeff’s mother, Sheltering Tree Corporate Treasurer Anne Carter, for more than two decades. Knowing her pal’s husband would be a great fit for our community board as it was being formed, Anne approached Kelly about becoming involved with the nonprofit that was so dear to her. Kelly agreed to a tour, and the rest is history!

“Throughout my first visit, the joy in the tenants’ tones when they talked about their home was so very positive that I knew something extraordinary was underway with this organization. So, I signed up to help wherever I could,” Kelly recalled.

Kelly, who has spent the bulk of his career in the investment management arena and is a current partner with Kuehl Capital Holdings LLC and the Chief Executive Officer of Quarter Circle Capital, has a background which lends itself to the financial needs and pursuits of our organization. His strong ties within the business community, as well as his corporate board experience with Supertel Hospitality (now Condor) and Bridges Investment Fund and his charity board experience with the Omaha Chapter of the FBI Citizens Alumni Academy, are further assets to Sheltering Tree. But, all this expertise and knowledge might mean little without personal connection – both Kelly’s personal connection to a tenant and his family and the personal connections Kelly sees as the heart of our mission.

“I think the difference between Sheltering Tree and other organizations offering housing for disabled adults is the continued connection that the Sheltering Tree management team maintains with the tenants and their loved ones. It begins and remains personal,” Kelly said.

Kelly envisions a bright future for Sheltering Tree, one full of growth and prosperity. It seems like a sure thing to a man who believes what his mother always told him: “If you keep doing the right things, good outcomes are bound to follow.”

John Griffith


It started with a testimonial from close friends and a tour of the Benson location. That is all it took for Previous-past Board President John Griffith to want to become involved with Sheltering Tree, an organization he regards as a wonderful example of how great things can be accomplished by believing in a vision.

Having spent 25 years in the local banking industry in various management roles, including but not limited to community development and affordable housing, John’s occupational expertise is certainly a point of strength. Furthermore, his time serving on several area Boards and committees makes him uniquely adept at understanding the challenges faced by the nonprofit community and the ways in which to overcome those hurdles.

“I am so very grateful to have had the opportunity to become a part of this unique and rewarding mission,” John said. “I believe the strengths of Sheltering Tree are numerous! From its origins with the McNally family to the direction of Denise, the contributions of our small but mighty staff, and the time and support given by the Board, so many people have stepped in to make this dream possible. I look forward to continuing to spread the good news of Sheltering Tree and to bringing more people together to accomplish future growth and success.”

In addition to his professional and philanthropic pursuits, John is also a loving husband to his wife, Doreen, and a proud father to two adult children, Kaitlyn and Kevin.

Jude Beller

Kirk Hanson

Emily Kozlik

Advancement Committee Chair

“I am sold.” Board member Emily Kozlik remembers when her late friend, former Board Secretary Mark Treinen, approached her about becoming involved with Sheltering Tree. All it took was a peak into the mission and the outcomes of the work being done for her to be all-in, saying the exact words that opened this paragraph.

Since that time, Emily has completed one three-year term and is beginning a second. A long career in social services, including positions as the former Director of Development at Catholic Charities and as the former Executive Director of the YWCA in Omaha, has given her unique insight into the nonprofit world and has made her an asset to our growing organization. She, of course, is quick to say it’s a team effort.

“Under the current leadership, Sheltering Tree has taken flight,” Emily said. “The organization’s goal of helping people to be the best they can be, happy and flourishing and also safe is one of its best strengths. I am thrilled that together we will be able to serve more people, and I am encouraged by the community response in helping fill the gap in consumer-controlled, affordable housing for adults with developmental disabilities.”

As the Board looks to expand the footprint of Sheltering Tree in the metro area through locations in Papillion and Elkhorn, Emily finds herself motivated not only by their collective desire to see the Tree develop and mature, but also on a more personal level. Her role as a mother of two and grandmother of two – soon to be four! – reminds her what it is we are all striving for.

“It is especially heartening to see the relief and joy that parents of Tree tenants feel when their family member has a long-term home at Sheltering Tree. I am proud to be part of making that happen.”

Doug Alvine

Building Oversight Committee Chair

With 18 siblings between them and six children of their own – evenly split three boys and three girls – you could say family is a BIG priority to board member Doug Alvine and his wife, Kim. The pair have been married more than three decades and just last year their youngest child finally entered high school. “Sam is 16 and a sophomore at Burke. He is a member of their swim team and participated in all of the meets, as well as state, in his freshman year,” Doug bragged. Like most proud parents, Doug and Kim are eager to cheer on their kids as they embrace new challenges in academics, in sports, and in life.

In Sam’s case, milestones are a little sweeter – he is their last and he happens to have Down Syndrome. That’s part of why Sheltering Tree came onto their radar. Friends from Doug’s other family – his church family at Our Lady of Lourdes – invited him and Kim to our Living the Dream Gala a few years back. Their daughter, Cassy, is a tenant at the Benson Tree, and they thought Doug and Kim would be interested in learning more about the organization. How right they were!

Lucky for us, Doug is always willing to create more branches on that ol’ family tree, and he was eager to get involved. Fast forward to now, and he is officially serving Sheltering Tree via our board and getting a front row seat to young adults realizing their goals and reaching greater independence, much like he hopes for Sam. “I participate in a number of not-for-profit organizations and have been on quite a number of boards over my time. Sheltering Tree is one of the best,” Doug said. “The individual qualities and faith of the founders, of the board members and of the supporters of Sheltering Tree make the mission almost impossible to fail. I have learned that the need is so great, and thanks to Sheltering Tree’s advocates, the community is learning about the mission and the need, too. Marrying clarity of mission, passion, faith, and a lot of hard work will ensure that Sheltering Tree’s growth remains strong for years to come.”

Leah Johnson

Self Advocate, Tenant

Wise and well-rounded, Leah is the voice of our tenants. As Benson resident Leah Johnson says, this isn’t her “first rodeo” living alone. When she attended the Nebraska Center for the Blind in Lincoln, she was able to learn techniques to live independently via the training center. Yet, four and a half years in, she knows there is something special about Sheltering Tree.

“A friend visited me before Labor Day, and she asked if I would live anywhere else,” Leah said. “I responded that I have a built-in community here that I would not have if I lived somewhere else. I really enjoy being part of the community and interacting with the other tenants.”

There are other things Leah enjoys about Sheltering Tree, too. Surprisingly, cleaning makes the list, and unsurprisingly, so does being able to stay up as late as she wants without hearing about it from her mom. Leah, like many tenants, has learned a lot during her tenure at the Tree, and she has some advice for future tenants.

“I would tell future tenants that this will be stressful at the beginning because it is their first time. I would also tell them that they should be themselves. They should also go outside their comfort zone and try to do and go on as many activities as they can. They should also make friends with those who will become their neighbors,” Leah said.

Her wisdom is part of the reason Leah currently serves as the Self-Advocate member on our Board of Directors. She is the “voice” of our tenants. Additionally, Leah is active in the National Federation of the Blind in Nebraska and has many hobbies and interests. She reads books of various genres, loves games of all types, and is an avid podcast listener. Oh, and she travels extensively, having been to Hawaii half a dozen times, as well as Mexico, Jamaica, Tortola, the Galapagos Islands, London, Amsterdam, and China. Leah is the perfect example of the well-rounded individuals that make up our amazing community!

Vern Davis-Showell

When asked what she envisions for Sheltering Tree’s future, board member Vern Davis-Showell responded with an enthusiastic “Sheltering Forest.” She went on to explain that to her this of course means physical growth, so that more adults with developmental disabilities can access affordable housing their families feel good about. But, it’s also more than that! Vern would also like to see more community and vocational connections.

Vern, herself, is a great example of a community connection. By trade, she’s a school psychologist at Papillion-La Vista High School. This career experience, which is certainly an asset to our board, isn’t necessarily what brought her into our fold, however. It was actually her time coaching high school dance team, where she met Executive Director Denise Gehringer, which planted the seeds for Vern’s current involvement. Years after their fateful meeting at local dance competitions and camps, where they learned about each other’s families, values and passions, Denise reached out to Vern with an important ask.

“I am so grateful that, when Sheltering Tree was in need of a new board member, Denise thought of ME,” Vern said. “The mission of Sheltering Tree is right up my alley! I’m all about supporting people with disabilities to be independent and realize their life goals alongside their peers.”

Supporting people … reaching goals alongside peers … seems like a natural thing for a coach, a school psychologist, a mom of two, a loving wife, or a board member to say! While Vern has had decades of working with students with disabilities, her example shows us that even without that, she’d be a fantastic advocate for Sheltering Tree because she truly understands what it means to invest in making others’ lives better. It inspires us to think of those not currently connected to the disability community and the ways they might find meaning in helping organizations like Sheltering Tree tackle the challenges before us.

“The everyday involvement of family members and the commitment of donors and board members is wonderful and indicative of the stated importance of community,” Vern said. “We should also be continuing the efforts we’ve made in the past and present to branch out, gathering more people, more leaves on our thriving tree.”

Mary Gehringer, OSM

After graduating from Marian High School in Omaha, she was called to join the Servants of Mary Community, the very sisters who founded her school, to pursue a religious vocation. Later, she was called to the ministry of education, beginning as a teacher in Detroit and working her way up to become an elementary school principal, then Associate Superintendent of the Detroit Archdiocesan schools, and finally Superintendent. Sr. Mary has also been called to serve the OSM Community Leadership Team a total of four times over the years. She’s held the role of Councilor, Assistant Provincial, and most recently Provincial Prioress for two terms. In the first of those terms, she was introduced to Sheltering Tree.

“One of Sheltering Tree’s founders, Shirley McNally, asked to meet with me to present a proposal. She explained the mission and ministry of Sheltering Tree and asked if they could purchase a portion of our property to build what would then be their second residence,” Sr. Mary recalls. “In due time, our Council presented the proposal to the Community and got unanimous support of approval.” Since that time a strong bond has grown between the OSM Sisters and the Benson residents. And, of course, the semi-retired Sr. Mary – who still volunteers her time with the Peregrine Ministry, in the Community archives, and with various projects at St. Bernard Parish – answered another calling. This time it was to become a member of Sheltering Tree’s board. “The need for residential housing for those with developmental needs has been sorely lacking in the Omaha area. Sheltering Tree continues to move forward in educating the public and in securing the funding and community support required to build additional residences for those in need,” Sr. Mary said. “The momentum of this ministry is growing day by day. In the future, I see there will be more residences opening, along with the facilities to provide housing and a variety of programming for residents and non-residents alike. With the addition of staff, these types of programs can be developed, provided and maintained.” We love the future Sr. Mary envisions and hope that many more people like her are called to help us achieve the goals we’ve already established, as well as those we haven’t yet dreamed up.

Jeff Kortan

John Kuehl

Growing up as the youngest of eight boys in a Catholic family, Board member John Kuehl felt the pressure. He jokes that as the final sibling, he was his mother’s last hope to have a priest. This upbringing may not have led him to take religious vows, but being surrounded by love and faith has inspired him to become a volunteer within his community.

For years, John was on the Catholic Charities Board, where he served alongside fellow Sheltering Tree Board member John Griffith. This friendship would lead to the latter asking John to become involved at the Tree, as well.

“I was very surprised to find many people I know that have young adults in this program,” John said. “I had no idea of the need for Sheltering Tree services prior to getting involved. My goal is to make a positive difference in the lives of those that face daily challenges that I take for granted and to bring awareness to friends and family.”

Since joining the Tree’s Board, John has been impressed by the dedicated staff, Board, and parents. He likens it to “watching God’s work in action.” Being a part of this committed, goal-oriented, and selfless group has shown him both the necessity of making affordable, safe, community-centered housing available and the rewards of providing apartments to new and existing residents.

“We are very fortunate in Omaha to have many tremendous organizations assisting various communities,” John said. “I consider my Board memberships a privilege for the opportunity to serve and to have family volunteer, as well. We are all working together to make a positive difference in real peoples’ daily lives.”

DaShawn McGary

Louis Pol

Ana Torres Rodriguez

Ana Torres Rodriguez comes to Sheltering Tree with lived experience of overcoming obstacles. A mom to three daughters, one who was diagnosed with Autism at 4 years old, she tells us “Her diagnosis changed our lives, and it took time to learn, understand and accept her disability. We celebrate “the little things” that are huge wins, and we do not take anything for granted.”

Ana was born in Mexico City. She and her parents emigrated to the United States, over 25 years ago and on February 15th, 2022, she became a US citizen.

Growing up in South Omaha, Ana has a strong connection to her community and has chosen to direct her career to elevating the lives of others. Her experiences include working as a Spanish medical interpreter at Creighton University Medical Center, working for Omaha Public Schools as a Community Bilingual Liaison, working at Step-Up Omaha as a Bilingual Career and Life Skills Coach, and now working in the GrOW Program at the Greater Omaha Chamber assisting clients in overcoming barriers and helping them towards success.

When Ana heard about Sheltering Tree’s mission, it excited her and brought hope. Ana says “Knowing that my daughter and other people with disabilities have a chance to live an independent life with support. I would love to be a part of this mission and share it with the Latino Community.”

Jill Rotella

Each May, we celebrate Mother’s Day and honor the women who have made a difference in our lives. Jill Rotella’s role as mom is one of the reasons she’s been so active in area nonprofits, most recently joining Sheltering Tree’s Board of Directors.

A nurse by trade and co-founder of Source Medical Staffing, Jill is married to Lou Rotella III, and together they have three children – Louie IV, Mia and Niko. Louie, who is 20, was born with Down Syndrome and, at the age of eight, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Although they have worked hard to provide all their kids with the same experiences, the older Louie got, the more Jill noticed obstacles to what he desired to achieve in life.

“Louie’s sister Mia is 20 months younger than him. As young children, they would often reach milestones at the same time,” Jill said. “As young adults, Louie has watched Mia surpass him in some of life’s milestones, such as driving, college, and living away from home. It is only natural that Louie would question when he gets to do these things, as well. His biggest question is when he gets to live on his own.”

Jill visited Sheltering Tree for the first time several years ago, witnessing for herself the pride the residents had in their apartments and the friendships that were blossoming. She was immediately overcome with emotion and, for the first time ever, saw a way to help Louie’s dream become reality. Now, as Board President, she is helping that dream become a reality for more and more individuals with developmental disabilities.

“I am honored to be part of such a great concept – Sheltering Tree is a leader in the industry,” Jill said. “As many great people have done before me, I look forward to doing my part on the Board to maintain the integrity of the current residences, work toward the success of the next two building projects, and ensure opportunity for many more locations in the years to come!”

Shirley McNally

Founder and Visionary

Sheltering Tree was founded as a nonprofit entity by Tom and Shirley McNally and their Family. As the youngest member of the McNally family, their son who was born with Down syndrome, became a young adult, the family realized there was a critical need for safe and affordable housing for individuals with developmental disabilities. Because of this need, they felt compelled to find a solution. Having spent 30 years in the housing industry, the McNallys used their experience to make this dream a reality by creating a model for their vision of residential living in 2006. Their family values and traditional roots have always been at the core since the inception of Sheltering Tree.

Patrick McNally

Founding Family Representative

Patrick has spent countless hours contributing in every way possible to the progress of the organization by supporting the grassroots efforts at the beginning and continuing to the present time assisting in the growth of Sheltering Tree.

Molly Zavitz

Founding Family Representative

Molly, as part of the founding family, has contributed to the advancement of Sheltering Tree from concept to where Sheltering Tree stands today. She and her husband Aaron have spent countless hours creating digital media for the organization as well as providing many other forward-moving contributions.

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