The Wise Mind Project team is composed of professionals from this community, who have continually proven to be industry leaders in our respective fields. Collectively we have doctorates in Social Welfare and Health Policy and Management. We are certified HeartMath, S.P.A.R.K. and Resiliency Facilitators and Transformational Life coaches. We have authored several books, including New York Times bestseller “I Love You More”, We are Child and Family Advocate of the Year, 100 Outstanding Women of Broward County, City of Fort Lauderdale Education Advisory Board, active PTA member, Hippocrates facilitator,
founder of the Spread Happy movement, speakers, visionary curriculum developers and MORE!
As Margaret Mead so poignantly said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” We are your community, we believe we’re in this together, and together we can create an integrated school environment where everyone thrives.
Michele Verdi-Knapp, Ph.D.:
The first Social Worker at Pasco County’s first Alternative School, providing individual and family counseling for students with emotional, behavioral, and learning deficits including EH, SED, and LD. Developed school’s curriculum with an intense focus on Social Emotional Learning. Sallie Mae First Year Teacher of the Year Nominee, Pasco County; Rookie of the Year, Schwettman Education Center.
Ph.D. in Social Welfare at Florida International University (FIU) with a focus on Juvenile Justice while simultaneously acting as Field Practicum Coordinator for the School of Social Work and facilitating that department’s re-accreditation process. Created Tours of Vision, a student tour group company leading thousands of students on a mission of transforming the way they see themselves and their world through travel. Created a creative arts youth empowerment program titled “Students Rock” and hosted a weekly radio show of the same title with call-in questions from students across South Florida.
Conducts group mindfulness and meditation with students at Sunrise Middle School and with E-Sports Athletes at Next Level Gaming.
Community Involvement/Activism: City of Fort Lauderdale Education Advisory Board Member; PTA Member Virginia Shuman Young (VSY) and Sunrise Middle School; SAC Member VSY and Sunrise Middle School; Gifted Advisory Council Representative for VSY and Sunrise Middle School; Make a Miracle Board Member – responsible for school supplies and Holiday gifts for every child at Title 1 Northside Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale.
Michele strongly believes in instilling our children with the knowledge that they are powerful and that schools are the most fertile ground for instilling that knowledge. Children should know they do have control over their response to their circumstances, despite the appearance of those circumstances. This knowledge and understanding can greatly impact their behavior, achievements, and self-worth, thereby directly impacting our schools and communities. These children can evolve into adulthood with the tools necessary to be contributing, well-adjusted members of society.
Laura Duksta is an Ambassador of Love and New York Times bestselling author. At a young age she had an awareness that, “we’re all brothers and sisters, and therefore meant to love one another, though we can like or dislike someone’s actions or what they stand for, love is a given.” She knew one day she’d travel the world and share this message. She believes in a “we’re in this together” attitude, to help create a world that works for everyone, and that it starts with US, and a commitment to our children. Her books I Love You More, I’ll Hug You More and You are a Gift to the World/The World is a Gift to You have sold over a million copies worldwide, and help harness the power of love, connection and appreciation for ourselves, one another and the world. She’s delivered her program “Empowering YOU to Shine!” to nearly 100 schools and 100,000 students, teachers and groups across the US and internationally. At age 11, Laura lost all of her hair, to a stress-triggered, auto-immune condition called Alopecia Areata. After many difficult years wearing wigs, she’s embraced her bald head and the power and freedom that come from being yourself. For some, Laura’s program and presence are a transformative experience, liberating people from their own fears and often self-imposed constraints.
Laura has a degree in Sociology, with minors in both African American Studies and Criminal Justice from the University of Maryland. She’s served at alternative schools, juvenile detention facilities and rehab centers for infants born to addicts. Laura is both a teacher, and avid student, with extensive personal development and human potential training. She’s been featured on and in dozens of local TV shows, magazines, blogs, podcasts, radio shows, including USA Today, the Miami Herald and Sun Sentinel, on air with Whoopi and Sally Jesse Raphael, Disney Radio, PBS and more.
Andrea Vallely is the founder of spreadhappy.net, and a transformational coach. Andrea has been awarded internationally as a self-help blogger and is listed in the top 10 of the Top 100 Self-Help Blogs along with prestigious sites like Psychology Today and The Happiness Project.
Andrea is a regular contributor for many well-known and popular media sites such as MindBodyGreen, Café Truth, and The Master Shift. She has been heard on numerous radio outlets including Blog Talk Radio, Transformational Talk Radio, and the “Happiness Expert” on the The Happy Hour at News Talk 1180 in Philadelphia, and News/Talk WJNO in West Palm Beach, FL. Andrea is also the host for Spiritual Growth Radio on WJNO in West Palm Beach.
Since 2017, she has had a weekly segment on CBS 12, WPEC Morning News at 9, Live Your Happiest Life.
Andrea’s Happiness course is part of the curriculum at the world-renowned Hippocrates Health Institute’s Health Educator Program, where she also facilitates workshops. Andrea’s written and taught her Self-Esteem building curriculum for teens at the Yeshiva Academy in Boca Raton, Florida.
Andrea has been studying personal growth for more than a decade and has coached clients with severe anxieties and addictions, and those who are looking to take their life to the next level. Andrea is certified in Hypnosis and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), and as a transformational coach and speaker, Andrea passionately encourages others to live an EMPOWERED life, rather than be at the mercy of their circumstances.
Debbie Milam has a passion for empowering others to experience the highest level of emotional well-being possible. Debbie is a visionary program developer, certified resiliency coach and HeartMath facilitator. For many years she worked as a school-based occupational therapist and syndicated columnist for United Press International.
Her SEL programs were implemented at Gator Run Elementary, The Sagemont Upper and Lower School, Conservatory Prep, Temple Beth Emet Preschool and Day School, Potential Youth, Noah’s Ark, University of Peace in Costa Rica and Children’s Home Society Keeping Families Together.
She is the winner of the Child and Family Advocate of the Year, 100 Outstanding Woman in Broward County, and Children’s Home Society Volunteer Award.
She is the creator of the children’s book I Love Being Me, The Stress Less Family Program, A Moment Of Peace relaxation CD series for parents, children, and teachers, Hopefest Family Empowerment events and the Creating Peace Project school-based curriculum.
Debbie’s ground-breaking work on conflict resolution, stress reduction, interpersonal communication and special needs kids has been featured in First for Women, the Miami Herald, Elle, and Ladies Home Journal, and on the Hallmark Channel, PBS, and WebMD.
Debbie has a passion for helping students, parents and teachers connect to the peace, resiliency and wisdom inside of them so they can thrive regardless of their circumstances. This helps them to become more self-aware, use their unique gifts, and have healthier relationships. She does this by bringing abstract concepts to life in an easy to implement and engaging way.
Norby Belz, Ph.D.:
Norby is a business coach and consultant, specialized in developing, training, and educating workforces, aligning individuals, students, and professionals with current employer demands. After a nearly 17-year career in health technology at an academic medical center and earning a PhD in Health Policy and Management, Norby left a leadership position as department chair and professor to create a coaching practice and help people find their path in life. As a department chair, he recruited a nationally recognized team and created a departmental culture and innovative curriculum focused on social-emotional learning, applied experiences, interprofessional education, employer partnerships, and employable skills. He also had over 10 years of experience developing and teaching on-campus, hybrid, and online curricula at the baccalaureate and graduate levels.
As a business coach, Norby consults with universities, schools, employers, and entrepreneurs to develop, train, educate, and transform workforces and future professionals. His expertise is creating and implementing visionary strategies, including online and in-person courses, programs, seminars, and webinars. He has also taught hundreds of courses, expanded departments, and started new businesses.
As a career coach, Norby helps individuals create a vision for their life and career, and supports them to take actionable steps towards making their vision a reality. He has helped people transition into new careers, start new business ventures, complete lingering projects, overcome procrastination, and improve personal and professional relationships.
Norby’s passion is transforming the lives of others through meaningful and mindful experiences.