Management Team

Sarah Milko, Executive Director

Sarah Milko quickly learned after her 2nd of 3 children was diagnosed with Autism, that other parents where the best resource when it came to getting help and support. In 2005 she got involved in what was once called UNYFEAT, originally for the purpose of simply connecting with other parents in similar situations. In doing so, she quickly realized that more needed to be done to support parents and individuals with ASD. Creating quality supports, services, and programming for children with ASD became a shared vision once she joined this dynamic and tenacious group.

Sarah worked closely with AutismUp’s founding members to establish the organization’s inaugural Board of Directors in 2007. From there, she helped launch the organization’s very first autism awareness fundraiser in 2008. Shortly after, Sarah worked with this dedicated team to start AutismUp’s very first summer social skills education program at Camp Arrowhead in collaboration with the YMCA. This has since become the organization’s flagship program. In fact, the model from which it was created is replicated throughout all AutismUp’s current programs today. Sarah has played many roles within AutismUp but most recently settled in to what has become her most important role yet—that of the organization’s first Executive Director.

In this capacity, she brings to the table her 17 years of experience working as Chief of Staff for a once prominent local NYS Member of the Assembly as well as her former experience as a Legislative analyst and fundraiser for various NYS and federal political campaigns. Her professional experience coupled with her personal drive as a parent of a child with autism, continue to be at the core of her dedication to AutismUp. Sarah, a resident of Penfield and a graduate of Canisius College, is dedicated to making AutismUp the premier Autism organization in the Rochester Region. Most importantly, she leads her dedicated team in their shared vision to create a clear and successful path to the future for all local individuals living with ASD.

Christina Hilton, Finance and Operations Director

As one of the original steering committee members that founded the organization, Christina has served in various capacities including Treasurer of the Board of Directors and currently as the Finance and Operations Director.  Prior to joining AutismUp, she worked at the Xerox Corporation as a controller and at HSBC as a commercial lender. She has served in multiple not-for-profit leadership positions including: the Autism Speaks’ Autism Treatment Network’s Family Advisory Committee, the YMCA of Greater Rochester’s Center of Excellence committee, the Local Early Intervention Coordinating Council, and the board of directors for the Epilepsy Association of Greater Rochester. Christina holds an MBA in finance and marketing from the University of Rochester and a BA in economics from Cornell University. She lives in Fairport with her husband and two teenage sons, of which the oldest has dual diagnoses of autism and epilepsy.

Lisa Ponticello, Marketing and Development Director

Lisa Ponticello began her tenure with AutismUp in 2007 with the goal of raising awareness and funding for the cause. She served in numerous roles including Vice President of the Board of Directors and Special Event Chair, before settling into her current position as Marketing and Development Director overseeing the rebranding of the organization and major fundraising initiatives during a period of rapid growth. Lisa draws from her experience as the parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder and a decade of organizational development work with Constellation Brands and Chase Manhattan Bank. A native of Fairport and graduate of The University of Pittsburgh, she resides in Brighton with her husband, Angelo, and two teenage children.

Gia Carroll,  Senior Program Director

Gia Carroll is one of the founding members of AutismUp and has been an employee of the organization since May of 2010. Her current role is Community Skills Director, which focuses on transition to adulthood and developing programs to support successful participation in the community. Prior to becoming involved with AutismUp, she was a kindergarten teacher for five years. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from SUNY at Buffalo State. Gia, along with her husband, James, have two teenage boys – one of which has Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Lisa Chidsey, Program Director, Development & Quality

Lisa Chidsey joined the AutismUp team in December of 2014. She has an extensive background in advocacy, marketing and finance. She earned an MBA from RIT and currently holds adjunct positions at the University both in the Executive MBA program as well as in assisting students with ASD navigate the college experience. Lisa also holds volunteer positions within her local school district.

Rachel Rosner, Director of Education and Support

Rachel Rosner is the Director of Education and Support at AutismUp. This is her third year at AutismUp, having started out as the Volunteer Coordinator. She graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in Education.  Prior to her work at AutismUp, Rachel worked at the JCC for eighteen years, in several capacities. She served as the Director of the JCC’s Wolk Children’s Center, the Director of School-Age and Family Programs, and the Director of the JCC’s Day Camp. As the parent of two children with autism, supporting and educating families and the community is the perfect intersection of Rachel’s professional expertise and personal passion.

Beth Ciardi, Special Events and Fundraising Manager

Beth found her passion for volunteering at a young age. As a high school and college student involved in many service and philanthropic groups, she organized community fundraisers for the National Kidney Foundation, roasted turkeys for those in need of a Thanksgiving dinner and made many friends while volunteering in a senior home. During her career at IBM and before becoming a stay-at-home parent, Beth saw first-hand the difference she made in the non-profit sector as a Junior Achievement instructor working with at risk youth, so not long after her son was diagnosed with autism, she knew that getting involved would be just as important to her family as it would be to the overall cause.

Beth was a UNYFEAT volunteer for three years, and officially came on board as AutismUp’s Special Events and Fundraising Manager in 2013. As someone who enjoys throwing an awesome party, she has since been lucky to be spending her days planning AU’s next big bash in support of its members; and is inspired every day  by the dimple in her son’s right cheek, to build a better future for those living with autism in our community.

Sue Tharrett,  Office & Facilities Manager

One of the founding members of the organization, Sue Tharrett has a son with autism who is nearing adulthood, and a young adult daughter. Sue holds a Master’s degree in mathematics, and has 20 years of experience in information technology, team building, and project management. She left the paid workforce of Eastman Kodak Company to care for her son, and spent the next 10 years honing skills in advocacy, multitasking, communication, time management, performance management and research as she pursued interventions to help her son, championed his capabilities and educational needs, managed the home and family, volunteered in schools and with UNYFEAT/AutismUp. After a few years away from the management of AutismUp, Sue returned in 2012 and is currently the Office Manager.

Lisa Latten, Family Navigator

Lisa began her position at Autism Up in January 2015 helping families after the initial autism diagnosis at Kirch and supporting families already on the autism journey. Lisa collaborates with the providers and Kirch through the Autism Treatment Network (ATN.) Lisa is the only family navigator in the 14 country wide sites that is a parent of a child with autism. This position was a natural segway having volunteered for over 2 years with AutismUp events and having a child with autism. Prior to her work with AutismUp, she was an elementary teacher in the Southern Tier and then worked for a Baltimore based nonprofit that took her to various schools along the East Coast working directly with school teams to improve curriculum and student outcomes. Lisa holds a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and a Masters in Education. AutismUp allows her to use her training and experience to directly impact the lives of those with autism, including her son Ian. Lisa resides in Penfield with her husband Dean and son Ian.