Nick Cookas – RVPE Foundation, Chairperson
Nick has lived in the South Metro area since 1977 and he and his wife Barb have four sons and three daughters-in-law. He has been involved on the RVPE Foundation board for eight years and his son Max has enjoyed participating in a variety of Project Explore activities and classes for several years. Recently retired, Nick worked in the recognition industry for 37 years for MTM and Jostens Recognition Division in sales, sales management and sports marketing. He has a M.S. in Education. Prior to his career at Jostens, he taught and coached.
Derek Appleyard – RVPE Foundation, Vice Chair
Derek has lived in Dakota County since 1988 with his wife Anne, who was an elementary teacher in District 196 for over 25 years (teaching English Language Learners and Reading Recovery). Derek became the coordinator of Project Explore in 1991 and was instrumental in shaping the program until his retirement in 2017. Since retiring, he volunteers with the Adult Basic Education program in District 196 helping adults with their English reading and writing in order to improve their skills so they can move ahead in their jobs, prepare for further education and improve their daily lives. He frequently is seen helping out at Project Explore dances and other large events.
Derek’s lifetime passion to help and encourage others is just part of his DNA, and he officially became a member of the Foundation in June 2017 so that he can continue to help enhance, enrich and expand opportunities for adults with disabilities.
Elaine Becker – RVPE Foundation, Treasurer
Moving from North of the river to Apple Valley in 1999, Elaine continues to volunteer with the disabled community. Previously she served on a community Adaptive Recreation Board. She believes that educational and recreational programs need to be available to individuals with disabilities throughout a lifetime.
She has volunteered on the Project Explore Advisory Board for 15 years, assuring her son and others benefit from the Project Explore classes. She believes that cooking and other educational classes have helped her son develop and maintain the skills that allow him to live independently for many years. Elaine knows first-hand how Bingo and Pizza, and the many dances increase the opportunities for social interaction for all. She values the Project Explore activities that allow all those served by the programs, to remain active all year long.
As the Treasurer of the Foundation, she is able to use her career experiences in accounting and incredible skill of attention to detail to help administer the Foundation’s finances. In 2008, Elaine championed completing and submitted the paperwork required to become a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit allowing the Foundation to receive tax-deductible contributions.
Lisa has lived in Apple Valley since 1996 with her husband Bruce, where they raised their three children. Their daughter, Sarah, has been a participant and benefited from the RVPE program for many years. Sarah has developed friendships, learned social skills, and developed a love of art and music through RVPE. Lisa is looking forward to helping support adults with disabilities through the RVPE board. Lisa works full-time as a nurse practitioner and also works for a local hospice. She and her husband enjoy camping in a recently purchased RV and traveling.
Rick has lived in Apple Valley for more than thirty years. Together with his wife, Kris, they own a web and graphic design studio and a book publishing company. They have worked with some of the largest non-profits in the Twin Cities over the past twenty-three years. Their thirty-three-year-old son has enjoyed Project Explore events for a long time. Rick and Kris got involved with Project Explore ten years ago and have been decorating for the dances and proms ever since. Rick has previously served on the Board of ARC Great Rivers, where he and his wife had the opportunity to design and coordinate several of their themed annual fundraising galas. Rick also serves on the Board of Guyanese Outreach, a Minnesota-based NGO that serves school-aged children in the South American nation of Guyana.
Suzanne has been bringing her son (Alex age 25) to River Valley Project Explore (RVPE) activities since he turned 18, giving her a first-hand view of the wide range of activities offered, the dedication of the staff and volunteers, and the engagement of the participants. She has been a coach for the RAVE Special Olympics swimming team for many years and is happy to be able to support this important local resource for the disabled community that promotes community engagement, social interaction, healthy habits, and creative outlets. Raised in Burnsville, Suzanne returned with her husband to her hometown to raise her two sons after nearly 20 years out of state. Now an Eagan resident, Suzanne lives in a multigenerational household and works to support crime victims and advance their needs.
Jeanne has lived in the Twin Cities area for 30 years. She raised two children as a single parent. Jeanne was introduced to Project Explore eight years ago by a young lady who is an active participant in Project Explore’s program. Jeanne has supported students and young adults for many years, working for ISD 191 and has recently become a licensed provider. Jeanne is new to the Foundation board. She sees tremendous value in the programming Project Explore provides to the community and is dedicated to seeing the Program expand its offerings and reach more people.
Monica moved to Minnesota over thirty years ago. After being injured in a car crash, she and a friend who is blind co-founded Awareness Training, Inc. As part of her research, she learned about the wonderful opportunities Project Explore provided to adults with a disability and volunteered as a Board member. She continued to advocate for those with disabilities by joining the Foundation, and now works behind the scenes to make opportunities for social, emotional and a side of education, a reality for this community and support the hardworking staff.
Monica lives in Burnsville with her husband Steve. They have two adult children (Britt and Tom) and three grandsons (Jack, Walter and Hank) they adore. When not working in community relations, they enjoy traveling and lake living.
Jeff is a Minnesota native and has two daughters and two grandchildren also living in Minnesota. Jeff is new to the Foundation board. His interest in the Foundation developed through people he supports that are avid participants in Project Explore classes, activities and events. Jeff is a veteran, has worked as a construction manager and trainer for 30 years, and has recently become an office manager at a group home in Dakota County.