A Little History

The Wonderwood Foundation was founded by Eric and Vicki Ehlen, the parents of Emily, who has Down syndrome. As Emily progressed and learned, she demonstrated that she was not only delightful and intelligent, but that she was fascinated with everything–people, natural science, books, languages, music, computers, food, and culture. She also had a gift for influencing the people around her in positive ways, and had no intention of spending her life at home on a couch. Through mentoring other families with children with Down syndrome, her parents came to believe that in fact all people with Down syndrome can be expected to do great things and contribute to the happiness and productivity of their families and communities.

About the time Emily turned 14, her California public school made it clear that they were unable to meet her need for a unique kind of education. They offered two options: Emily could attend a class composed of students with a very wide range of disabilities and behavioral problems who were learning “life skills” instead of academics, or stay at home. Eric and Vicki chose to take her home. With an intense interest in discovering how people with Down syndrome learn best, Eric and Vicki consulted with professionals in many fields, researched thousands of professional articles, and experimented with many teaching techniques and materials. As they taught Emily at home and applied methods that researchers had found promising, they found that Emily responded in astonishing ways and learned by leaps and bounds in some areas where the new ways of presenting information were working.

Over the next three years a circle of outstanding teachers, educational administrators, businessmen and women, medical professionals, therapists, and motivated parents gathered around them and began to form the nucleus of a foundation that would seek to overturn the misconception that young adults with Down syndrome could not be expected to make significant academic progress after middle school. In 2013, newly-instated board members created a non-profit model and began developing plans to open a one-of-a-kind learning opportunity to students with Down syndrome, with a focus on young adults with curiosity and dreams. Today, the non-profit corporation is led by five administrative members, a CEO, and sixteen advisory board members who all share the same goal: to bring together families, communities, researchers, and professionals in creating opportunities for individuals with Down syndrome to move beyond the boundaries of traditional expectations and create a life of health, learning, contribution, and fulfillment.

Our Board

Please note that the following roster is incomplete. Advisory board members not listed here are still contributing highly valued expertise. We are also immensely grateful for the hundreds of professionals and parents who continue to expand our vision and support our students’ progress.

Executive Board Members

Chris Gordon

Board Chair

Chris Gordon

Chris Gordon

Board Chair 

Chris Gordon is an active leader in the South Bay community in Southern California. In addition to owning a private insurance agency which grosses over $4,000,000 annually, he has a degree in Public Administration. Chris serves as President of the South Bay Business Network, a group that offers support to over 300 private companies in Southern California. He is the owner and founder of the South Bay Wresting Academy, along with acting as a head Club Wrestling Coach, high school wrestling coach, and a scoutmaster. Mr. Gordon has been married for 15 years and is the father of twin teenaged sons. Chris’ dedication to helping individuals with disabilities stems from his experience as a grandson of one of the founding families of a help center for adults with mental handicaps in Riverside, California, and from his close ties to an uncle who is mentally handicapped.

Peter Ehlen

Vice Chair

Peter Ehlen

Peter Ehlen

Vice Chair 

Peter Ehlen is a special education teacher licensed to teach math, language, and German to secondary education students with mild to moderate disabilities. He is employed by Lincoln Academy charter school of Pleasant Grove, Utah where he teaches 7th, 8th, and 9th grade resource classes. He is dedicated to the concept that students learn best when individualized teaching methods can be used to support each student's learning style, and was honored to present a paper on the specific needs of students with Down syndrome at the 2011 Hawaii International Conference on Education. Mr. Ehlen grew up teaching and encouraging a sibling with Down syndrome. He is married, coaches cross country track, and enjoys triathlons in his free time.

Michael Judd

Board Treasurer

Michael Judd

Michael Judd

Board Treasurer 

Michael Judd has over a decade in executive level leadership positions in the information technology industry.  He has been with CSC for 12 years, overseeing $500M in annual business revenue.  He has split his time working with financial service and aerospace and defense customers.  Prior to joining CSC, he was an investment banking associate at Bear Stearns, and he began his professional career at Deloitte and Touche.  During this time, he worked with various technology clients and in industries that ranged from software development to semi-conductor manufacturing. He graduated with honors from Brigham Young University in 1997.  In 2001, he earned an MBA in Business Strategy and Finance from the Anderson School at UCLA. 

Eric Ehlen

Eric Ehlen

CEO 

Mr. Ehlen is a cofounder of the Wonderwood Foundation and has been an advocate of students with Down syndrome for nearly twenty years. Mr. Ehlen has consulted with school districts, classroom teachers, and special education representatives regarding the needs, rights, and abilities of these students. Professionally, Mr. Ehlen oversees projects within US government Special Projects, managing the budget, timeline, and manplans of multimillion dollar operations. Mr. Ehlen has been active for many years as a community youth leader and VIP soccer coach. He believes that learning to work is the key to young people's success personally and vocationally. He and his wife have seven children, one of whom has Down syndrome.

Advisory Board Members

Gordon Gibb, PhD

Director of Special Education, Brigham Young University

Gordon Gibb, PhD

Gordon Gibb, PhD

Director of Special Education, Brigham Young University 

Dr. Gibb coordinates the special education program in the McKay School's Department of Counseling Psychology and Special Education.  He was the 2001 recipient of the Hilda B. Jones Special Educator of the Year award from the Utah Council for Exceptional Children, and is a contributing author to the widely acclaimed textbook Exceptionality: School, Community, and Family.  Dr. Gibb has also served as principal and director of the Peery Matriculation School for Rising Stars, an academy associated with Rising Star Outreach of India, an NGO which provides education and support for children from leprosy colonies in south India.  Dr. Gibb has over thirty years' experience in teaching special education students, developing teacher training and evaluation protocols, designing curriculum, conducting research, and consulting with state and local government representatives to advocate for students' needs.

Martin J. Nygaard, MD

member of the American Academy of Pediatrics

Martin J. Nygaard, MD

Martin J. Nygaard, MD

member of the American Academy of Pediatrics 

Dr. Marty Nygaard is the medical director of Intermountain Medical Group, Southwest Division. He was honored as the Washington County Medical Alliance 1998 Doctor of the Year, served as Dixie Regional Medical Center's medical staff president in 2002, and was also honored by his peers a "Best Doctor," a nationwide recognition, in 2003. While cerebral palsy has somewhat limited Dr. Nygaard's dexterity with his hands, it has increased his compassion and his commitment to serving those who are disabled or limited. During his work as a general pediatrician for more than 24 years, Dr. Nygaard has taken care of a number of patients with Down's syndrome and other chromosomal and congenital anomalies and is enthusiastic about supporting the Wonderwood Foundation's quest to develop best practices for the health and lifestyle of its students. For the last five years Dr. Nygaard has been active in the leadership of a church-sponsored weekly activities night for adolescents and adults with special needs.

Kameron Johnson

doctor of chiropractic

Kameron Johnson

Kameron Johnson

doctor of chiropractic 

In addition to his professional work, Dr. Johnson has been involved in strengthening youth programs for many years. He has volunteered for over 15 years with Boy Scouts of America and coached a youth swim team. For nearly a decade Mr. Johnson served with the Optimist International Service Club, whose mission is to empower disadvantaged youth to "be the best that they can be." Dr. Johnson's devotion to youth and their personal development and success is a great asset to the students of the Wonderwood programs.

Sharon Senecal

consultant, U.S. Department of Education

Sharon Senecal

consultant, U.S. Department of Education 

Louise Nygaard

philanthropist

Louise Nygaard

Louise Nygaard

philanthropist 

Louise Nygaard is a devoted supporter of youth programs focusing on music and the arts. She volunteers her time for a variety of educational and community organizations, including the Southern Utah Hope Task Force, whose aim is to fight the rising suicide rate, the Heart Walk Foundation, and several local parent-teacher organizations. Mrs. Nygaard has been instrumental in improving educational opportunities for the learning disabled as well as for gifted students.

Dezie Van Dyke

recreational specialist

Dezie Van Dyke

Dezie Van Dyke

recreational specialist 

Dezie Vandyke has been helping youth and adults with disabilities through recreational therapy for over six years. She is certified by the Boy Scouts of America to supervise COPE courses in recreational programs, and is certifying with the state of Utah in recreational therapy. Her Level II Training with Challenge courses and recreational therapy training have allowed her to program and manage challenging activities for students with Down syndrome and help them set goals, overcome fears, and progress both emotionally and physically.

Arlene Platten

special education teacher and common core research consultant

Arlene Platten

Arlene Platten

special education teacher and common core research consultant 

Inclusive education teacher and common core research consultant
Dr. Platten is a bilingual urban educator with an MA in inclusive education. She earned her EdD at the University of Southern California with an emphasis on teacher education and curriculum development. For her dissertation, “Meaningful Access to the Common Core for High School Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities,” she developed a curriculum linking functional life skills situated in community-based instruction to Common Core standards in the assessed areas of ELA, math, and science. She then field-tested the curriculum on special educators from four southern California school districts to ascertain their perceptions of the program’s utility. Outside of her association with Wonderwood, Dr. Platten develops curriculum for the high school-aged moderate to severe special education population, based on research in ecological development and learner-centered theory, and on personal experience with the learning needs and interests of her 17 year-old son with Down syndrome.

Karla Carlson

special education teacher

Karla Carlson

special education teacher 

Mrs. Carlson is a credentialed elementary school teacher who teaches at a Title I school in Utah.  She has experience teaching special education as well as mainstreamed students with learning disabilities. She is passionate about encouraging acceptance among students and professionals for all students regardless of their abilities, and works to individualize teaching methods to reach those who have atypical emotional and intellectual needs.

Cathy Horne

special education teacher

Cathy Horne

special education teacher 

Kristin Mullen

special education teacher

Kristin Mullen

special education teacher 

Legal Counsel

Glenn Bronson

Legal Counsel

Glenn Bronson

Glenn Bronson

Legal Counsel 

Mr. Bronson is president of Prince Yeates law firm in Salt Lake City, Utah. He previously served on the firm's board for several years. Mr. Bronson concentrates on contract and fraud litigation. He graduated cum laude from the J. Reuben Clark School of Law, where he served on the school's Moot Court Board of Advocates. Before joining Prince Yeates, Mr. Bronson practiced with Chadbourne & Parke in Los Angeles, focusing primarily on government contracts-related litigation.