John Roper

Chief Executive Officer

Mr. Roper’s career began in Law Enforcement where he served in different roles for 15 years, such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education instructor, canine officer, and patrolman. He moved on to become a Field Director for the State of Alabama Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board, then to Executive Director with the United States Green Building Council for the State of Alabama. His most recent position has been as Executive Director for Lighthouse Counseling Center in Montgomery.As a parent advocate of a special needs child, John understands the needs and challenges of the special needs community.He and his wife and children have relocated to the area from Wetumpka, Al.

Email John Roper:

Suzanne Sanderson

Director of Finance

The Director of Finance assist the Executive Director in managing the fiscal affairs of The Arc of the Emerald Coast.  Suzanne is an integral part of the Arc EC team as she develops & recommends policy, establishes procedure and insures that the implementation of multiple fiscal programs are run efficiently, properly and within local, state and federal compliance.  We welcome Suzanne to the team.


Debbie-SmithDebbie Smith
Children’s Center Director

Debbie has worked at Horizons since April, 1992. She was appointed as Director of the Children’s Center in May, 2003. She is the mother of two and the grandmother of six. She feels a strong commitment to the children she serves.

Education: Debbie has an Associates of Applied Science degree (AAS) in Early Childhood Education; Director’s Credential; Debbie is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

Email Debbie Smith:

Nikki Owen
Director of Quality Management

Nikki earned her Associates of Arts from Okaloosa-Walton Community College in 1994. She graduated from the University of West Florida with a Bachelor of Arts in 2003, with a major area of study in Criminal Justice and a minor in Psychology. Nikki first joined The Arc of the Emerald Coast in October 1994 and has worked a range of positions.  Primarily supervising residential programs.  Nikki has been certified by the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) as an instructor for Introduction to Developmental Disabilities, Health and Safety, and Zero Tolerance, and by Professional Education Services, Inc., as an instructor for Therapeutic Alternatives in Crisis Training, and active in fundraising activities supporting The Arc of the Emerald Coast. Nikki and her husband reside in Fort Walton Beach and are the proud parents of twin daughters.

Email Nikki Owen:

Mike Whitley
Director of Life Management

Mike happened upon his career in Developmental Disabilities as a parent of a daughter with disabilities. His daughter, Meredith had several developmental disabilities and Mike quickly learned what it takes to become an advocate for those who can’t always advocate for themselves. Mike and Meredith were very active for The Arc and The United Way.

When Meredith passed away, Mike decided to continue what he had learned as a parent/advocate and started to work as direct support staff for a provider agency. Mike continued his advocacy efforts with The Arc, serving as board president as well as being appointed by the governor to serve on the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities all while completing his education in Human Services.
Prior to moving to the area, Mike held the position of Operations Manager for a provider in N.C. for 8 years. Mike has a total of over 25 years’ experience as parent/advocate and as a professional.
Mike and his wife, Crystal have 3 adult sons who plan to visit Dad and Mom at the beach…often.

Email Mike Whitley:

Donna Tashik
Director of Community Development

Donna is responsible for all aspects of fundraising, branding, marketing, community programs, and events. Donna is also involved with all four area Chambers of Commerce, and the Emerald Coast Foundation.

Donna has been with The Arc of the Emerald Coast since 2009 as a volunteer, Foundation Adviser and Event Coordinator. Her background prior was in construction management and sales. She and her husband John have lived in the area for over 20 years, have 4 children and 6 grandchildren and a black lab.

Email Donna Tashik:

Ashley Bauchwitz
Human Resources Coordinator

Ashley started off with the Arc of the Emerald Coast in January 2015 as a Teacher Assistant at the Children’s Center. She moved to Administrative Assistant at the Center in July. Ashley became the Human Resources Coordinator in September 2015.

Ashley is responsible for the hiring process of new employees. She schedules employees for trainings and makes sure they are current in their certifications. She manages worker’s compensation claims, assists in processing payroll, and works closely with ADP, our payroll/HR company, to ensure our employees’ needs are met.

Ashley has an A.A. in Liberal Arts. She graduated from NWFSC with a B.A.S. in Project Management – Training and Development/Human Resources.

She enjoys crafting, spending time with her family, and traveling, especially to Disney World. She is married  to Michael Bauchwitz, who also works at The Arc of the Emerald Coast.

Email Ashley Zaleske:

 Erin Thatcher

Community Development Coordinator

Erin is not a native of Florida but has called Florida her home for over 30 years.  She moved  to Niceville from West Palm Beach after her oldest daughter was born, in 2003.  She is a proud mother of two girls. Since finding out that her oldest daughter was going to be born with spina bifida, Erin has been a parent advocate for those with varying abilities, and speaks the language of the Arc of the Emerald Coast, understanding first hand the services we provide and our need of funding. Erin received her bachelors in Legal Studies from the University of West Florida in 2006 is a graduate of the Florida Partners In Policy-making class of 2016.  Erin has many skills to bring to the Community Development Department, from administrative to management, graphic design to event production.

Email Erin

debraDebra Diemand
Program Manager/Infant-Toddler Developmental Specialist

Debra oversees the Birth to Three program affiliated with Florida Early Steps. She graduated with a BA in Developmental Science from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. After touring the world with her military husband, they settled in Northwest Florida in 1991. Debra’s first job with Horizons began in 1992, at the Children’s Center. In 1994 she began working with the Birth to Three Program as an Infant-Toddler Developmental, taking over the position of Program Manager in 2006.

Email Debra Diemand:

Renee Autry
Behavior Department Manager

Renee joined our team in 2017. She] is the Clinical Director and is responsible for behavior analytic support services.  She has a background working with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Renee started her career as a Qualified Intellectual Disability Professional in Mobile, Alabama at a day program in 1998. She has worked in multiple areas of service from schools to residential homes.  They graduated with an MS in Community Counseling from The University of South Alabama in 2000. In 2007 Renee became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and has worked as a BCBA ever since.

Renee’s hobbies include her participation in a Mardi Gras society, activities with her children, and exercise.

Email Renee Autry at: rautry@horizonsfwb,com

Jason Hoffman
Aquatic & Education Center Manager

Jason comes to The Arc of the Emerald Coast as a retired Master Sargent of The Air Force.  Jason is currently working on his degree in Global Hospitality and Tourism Management in the College of Business at the University of West Florida.  As the Aquatic Center Manager Jason directs, administers, and coordinates the activities of the Arc of the Emerald Coast’s Aquatic and Education Center in support of policies, goals, and objectives established by the Chief Executive Officer and the Board of Directors.

Jason’s interest include being a supportive dad to his son, his Mustang, attending the local Cars & Coffee group, and playing poker.

Email Jason Hoffman:

Toni McCormick
Life Skills Development Manager

Toni is a life-long resident of the local area. She graduated from the University of West Florida with a BA degree in Psychology. Toni began volunteering at the agency formerly known as Horizons in August of 1998 to complete her internship for her degree. She became employed by Horizons in Dec of 1998 as a direct care staff at the Adult Day Training Center in Fort Walton. After a year, she moved to the Supported Employment Program as an Employment Consultant where she worked for 3 years. In 2002 she was promoted to the Adult Services Manager over the FWB Adult Center. In 2005 she also took on managing the Support Services department which now includes Companion, Personal Supports (Community), and Respite services. In 2016 Toni oversees and mentors the managers at our three Adult Centers, manages the Supported Employment Dept., and continues to manage the Support Services Dept.

Email Toni McCormick:

 April Hagan, Supported Living Manager



  Jill Cox, Accounting Assistant


Sean E. Long, RBT

Billing Coordinator

Sean joined ArcEC in the summer 2011. He began as a behavior tech in our behavior focused homes. Since then he has worked in various positions and departments while working to obtain certification as a Supported Living Coach, TACT instructor, RBT through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. He was the Program Coordinator of the Adult Day Training center in Fort Walton Beach in early 2016 before accepting the positon of Supported Living Manager for Okaloosa County in the summer of 2016 and in 2018 moved into the role of Billing Coordinator. Prior to ArcEC, Sean was a Group Home Manager and Facility Supervisor of an ICF facility in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Being raised in a military family and living many places around the world even being born in England and having family members with autism, the experiences he has faced has given Sean a sense of what most hope for and the best way to achieve dreams. He graduated from Fort Walton Beach High School and has remained in the area ever since. He volunteers in many of the ArcEC fundraisers and continues to strive at helping others.

Email Sean Long:

Heath Bechtal
Senior Accountant 

Heath has been with The Arc of the Emerald Coast for 5 years in bookkeeping, and has recently been promoted to Senior Accountant. Heath is an integral part of The Arc, managing all accounts, billings and donations for the entire agency. Heath also volunteers continuously at Arc events, plays on The Arc’s softball and bowling leagues, and will be a first time father this spring.

Email Heath Bechtal:

Michael Bauchwitz
Santa Rosa Area Program Manager

Michael has worked at the Arc of the Emerald Coast, formally Horizons of Okaloosa County since August of 2005.Over this period, he has worked in several different capacities, including; clerical work in the accounting office, mobile work crew, In-Home Support Live-In, Supported Employment Consultant, and Supervisor of Santa Rosa Community Supports. Since August, Michael has been working out of the Santa Rosa office located in Milton, supporting individuals with obtaining and maintaining competitive employment in the community. In July, Michael was promoted to Santa Rosa Area Program Manager. Michael’s’ responsibilities include; overseeing the ADT, Supported Employment, Supported Living, and Personal Support programs in Santa Rosa County.

Michael graduated from Fort Walton Beach High School in 2006, and attained an A.A. from Northwest Florida State College in 2009. In 2012 he earned a Bachelor’s of Arts in Political Science from the University of West Florida. In addition, in 2014 he completed an alternative teacher certification program from Gulf Coast State College. Michael also holds certification in Social Security Work Incentives, Best Practices in Supported Employment, and Pre-Service in Supported Living. Michael has grown up living and working closely with individuals with developmental disabilities, starting from the time he attended the Children’s Center. Michael finds his work very rewarding and fulfilling, as his favorite thing is seeing the individuals we serve become excited with joy when they learn new skills.

Michael enjoys traveling, reading, writing, exercising, and spending time with family and friends. In April of 2016 Michael married Ashley Bauchwitz, who also works at the Arc. Michael and Ashley became proud parents of a Siberian Husky/Lab mix puppy, Cooper, in June.