Staff & Board
Meet the Council’s staff & board
Meet the Council’s staff & board
Denise Jess began her tenure as Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired in 2016. She brings more than 35 years of experience in education, advocacy, public speaking, small business ownership and community volunteering to her position. Fostering positive relationships among staff, board, donors, volunteers, community partners and public officials is critical to her for advancing the Council’s mission.
Serving with honor on multiple national, state and local commissions, committees and boards, Denise brings the perspectives of those living with vision loss into the mainstream. She serves as Vice Chair of the board of Community Shares of Wisconsin, of which the Council is a member, and co-chairs the Wisconsin Non-Driver Advisory Committee, comprised of representatives from state agencies, the legislature, local governments, transit operators and advocates. She is also a member of the Wisconsin Election’s Commission Accessibility Advisory Committee and is active with the Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition. Denise is involved with Vision Serve Alliance’s National Aging and Vision Loss Coalition and enjoys volunteering at the local level too, serving on the City of Madison’s Transportation Commission and other committees and taskforces.
Denise treasures time with her wife of over 30 years, their two adult daughters, family and friends. Her love of learning leads her to try new recipes, grow tasty food in her garden, sample new restaurants and knit up lovely shawls and other garments.
She is proud to serve as the Council’s executive director and believes this role is truly her calling.
Mitch provides project, property, and IT management at the Council. He oversees operations and coordinates front desk staffing and event planning. Mitch’s work varies from website development and IT to answering the phone lines, and he works with volunteers and staff to ensure publications get out the door in multiple accessible formats.
Mitch joined the Council in January 2019. Before working at the Council, Mitch worked for a variety of nonprofit organizations and campaigns including Community Living Connections, Focus on Energy, and RePower Madison.
Mitch attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry. When he’s not building towers and forts with his children, his hobbies including running, gardening, and playing card games with his wife and friends.
Heather Buggs works at the front desk, greeting visitors as they come through the door. She helps people find resources, processes product orders and fulfills white cane requests. She also assists customers in the Sharper Vision Store and creates the audio version of the Council’s quarterly newsletter.
Heather joined the Council in August 2007. Through background knowledge, her life with a visual impairment, and working at the Council, she has gained experience for her position. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her children and family, reading children’s books, and trying new recipes.
Judith Rasmussen refers callers to staff members and community resources, gives educational presentations at schools and produces brailled documents for staff, board members and quarterly newsletter subscribers.
She joined the Council in August 2008. She also is a licensed massage therapist and works at her own business that she started in 1999.
Judith has a Bachelor of Arts degrees in French and Spanish and two master’s degrees, one in French and the other in social work. Her hobbies include: reading, knitting, cooking, exercising, growing outdoor plants in the summer and growing house plants year-round.
Kathleen assists and supports staff with a variety of projects and activities within the Council.
Kathleen joined the Council in February 2020. Prior to working for the Council, she worked in higher education development, as a preschool teacher, and most recently with an education focused AmeriCorps program. She served two years as an AmeriCorps*VISTA with the Schools of Hope Literacy Project.
She earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Political Science and Integrated Liberal Studies) and a Master of Arts from the University of Manchester (International Development – Social Policy and Social Development). Kathleen loves to travel, listen to podcasts, watch movies, volunteer, and spend time with friends and family.
Jaxon Baker assists with clerical and administrative tasks to aid the Council in daily operations. He joined the Council in September of 2022. Prior to working at the Council, he worked in higher education and financial aid management for almost 10 years. He has also previously worked in art education.
Jaxon holds an Associate degree in General Studies from UW-Richland, a Bachelor’s in Art Education from UW-Platteville, and is currently enrolled online at UW-Superior for a Bachelor’s degree in K-9 Elementary Education.
Jaxon loves spending time with his husband and 3 daughters. In his spare time he volunteers for a LBGTQ parent support group, enjoys plants and crafting and fiber arts.
Bob leads the Council’s communications efforts, from publishing newsletters and social media content to helping frame our public policy issues for maximum impact.
With over 20 years of experience as a professional writer and communicator, Bob has lived the transition from hand-fed fax blasts to tweetstorms.
Bob joined the Council in August of 2021 after a brief stint at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Prior to that, he spent most of his career in the nonprofit sector, developing and executing communications strategies for organizations involved in child advocacy, community development, and education philanthropy. In between those roles, he was a freelance writer and communications consultant, with clients ranging from alt weeklies to environmental groups to colleges and universities.
When he isn’t helping the Council spread the word about its services, events and policy priorities, Bob can often be found inflicting his middling trumpet skills on the unsuspecting ears of Madison audiences. Originally from Detroit, Bob holds a degree in sociology from Michigan State University.
Lori builds relationships with clients, store customers and donors to ensure the Council’s work continues, thanks to their generous financial support. A highlight for Lori is hearing the stories of why people give and their delight when they learn how that gift can change lives.
She joined the Council in Summer 2013. She has a Bachelor of Science in business administration and earned her Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) credential in 2011.
Lori and her husband Mark enjoy spending time with her adult children and visiting family throughout the U.S. They are both involved with Young Life. Lori recently joined Mount Horeb’s Neighbors Helping Neighbors in helping to keep the food pantry stocked with essential care items.
As part of the fund development team, debbie maintains donor records and supports fundraising efforts.
Debbie joined the Council in April of 2022. It was during her tenure as director of a nonprofit feminist media organization that she discovered a love of fundraising.
Debbie holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Minnesota and an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she focused on independent, noncommercial media and mainstream media criticism.
Debbie deeply appreciates sunshine, warm weather, reading, writing, making music, preparing vegan food, and spending time with animals. She’s passionate about housing cooperatives and other forms of communal living as a way of sharing resources and caring for one another. She’s an active member of a local intergenerational housing cooperative where she lives in community with four children and 11 adults, ranging in age from 1.5 to 73. She’s also a longtime political activist/organizer and yoga/meditation teacher.
Amy provides low vision evaluations at the Council. She works with clients to find ways to maximize their remaining vision, using color, contrast, lighting and magnification. She leads staff in providing hands-on assistance, resources and information to vision services clients.
Amy joined the Council in January 2015. Before the Council, Amy worked for the Veterans Administration with veterans who have visual impairments. She spent 13 years at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital Blind Center in Hines, IL, and 6 years at the William S. Middleton VA Hospital Low Vision Clinic in Madison, WI.
She holds a Master of Science in education, with an emphasis in Rehabilitation Teaching of the Adult Blind, from Northern Illinois University, and a Bachelor of Health Science in speech pathology from Governors State University in Illinois. In her free time, Amy enjoys reading, working on cross-stitch and craft projects, and spending time with her family.
Jim conducts technology assessments and provides training on a wide array of tools, such as screen readers, screen magnification software, smart phones and refreshable braille displays. Being blind himself, Jim utilizes much of this technology on a daily basis. He is passionate about helping individuals with disabilities learn to use technology to accomplish tasks that seem impossible.
Jim joined the Council in October 2017. Prior to this position, he spent ten years as the Director of Assistive Technology for the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts. He has also worked for the American Foundation for the Blind and Optelec US.
Jim grew up in Southern Wisconsin and has a Bachelor of Science in computer information systems from St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin. When not at work, Jim can be found watching sports, cooking on the grill or exploring new and interesting brewpubs with his wife.
Brent Perzentka meets with individuals who have vision loss, assessing needs and teaching them new methods and/or providing them with assistive devices to enable them to accomplish tasks.
Brent joined the Council in 2003, and has worked in different capacities within the organization. Most currently he has served as the Sharper Vision Store Manager for the past 10 years, before becoming a certified vision rehabilitation therapist. He obtained his certification in orientation and mobility in 2022.
Brent holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, associate degree from Madison College, and master’s degrees in vision rehabilitation therapy and orientation and mobility from Western Michigan. Brent is married to his beautiful wife, Blair, and together they have one spirited daughter, Brooke. When Brent can get away from his schoolwork and family obligations, he enjoys playing basketball and baseball competitively in the Madison area.
Rachel Pavone collaborates with clients who are blind and low vision to educate and inform them on ways to accomplish independent living tasks. She introduces them to new methods and assistive devices to help with daily activities.
Rachel joined the Council staff as a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist in June of 2022 and is working with other staff to develop an on-site clinic that will allow members of the Vision Services team to work with clients at our offices.
Rachel has a Bachelor of Science degree in General Studies with a focus on Family Studies and a Master of Arts degree in Vision Rehabilitation Therapy, both from Western Michigan University. When she is not collaborating with clients, Rachel loves to play with her guide dog and play jazz on her alto saxophone.
Greg greets and provides help to clients that come into our storefront as the Sharper Vision Store Customer Service Specialist. He makes sure that customers receive the information they need and helps them obtain the items they are seeking.
He joined the Council in June of 2021. He previously worked for Habitat for Humanity’s Restore and Pre-played a used movie, music and video game store.
Greg attended the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design focusing on Illustration. He does freelance work, and when he is not playing with his energetic son or working on commissions likes to watch old movies, listen to Brewer games and play board games with his wife and friends.
The Council’s board consists of people who are blind or visually impaired (BVI) with three seats available for sighted allies. Board members are well-educated, involved in local communities and actively employed. Each board member serves as an advocate for the BVI community in their geographical area.
Nurudeen (Deen) Amusa
Charles (Chuck) Fehl
Human Resources Committee