Development Team & Professional Partners
The Artistas leadership is currently comprised of a small but passionate group and is supported by
an engaged and involved Advisory Board.
Vicky Westra (with daughter Gabrielle, diagnosed with autism at age 4, now 21 years old)
- is the Founder and Chief Executive of Artistas Café and Javamo Art for Autism, both social enterprises supporting individuals diagnosed with Autism. Previous to starting these companies in 2006 and 2007 respectively, Vicky worked at Tampa Electric Company for 22 years in various roles. Her last role prior to leaving TECO was Director of Customer Services and Marketing. During her time with TECO, Vicky developed an Energy Resource Center in the Research and Development Park located within The University of South Florida Campus. This 15,000 foot center was a collaboration with USF, equipment manufacturers, TECO customers and the broader community. Vicky is an innovative and strategic leader, a speaker, a trainer and coach, and an advocate for those with Autism. She has a B.S. in Business Marketing from The University of Tampa. Vicky has served on various boards including The Hispanic Services Council, United Way for TECO Energy Campaign, and the High Heel Hike to benefit Easter Seals. She is active in her church and has also served in support of various organizations within the community.
“ This was a job I was praying for, and my prayers have been answered. “
-Artista Russell Wadsworth
Russell Wadsworth ( cafe supervisor) – is one of the founding Artistas team members, starting at the Café in 2011. Russell has been a true testimony of someone with autism who has many “uniqabilities”. Russell is a talented artist and has helped developed our brand in many ways. He is the creator of the Artistas Bean Characters (who are all on the autism spectrum_ and has assisted with many other branded aspects of the Café. Russell has also shown true leadership abilities and is now in training to become a Café Supervisor. He is attending Hillsborough Community College and will be receiving his AA Degree in Business Marketing.
Tony Aponte – began his career at Artistas in 2013 and has quickly acquired all the skills necessary to achieve success at the Café. Tony has shown great leadership qualities and is now in the Artistas Leadership program to become a Café Supervisor. Tony has provided training to many of the interns that have passed through the Artistas program. He currently attends St. Petersburg College and is studying to become a videographer.
Laurie DeFrain Stemm – graduated from the University of South Florida and started a full-service advertising agency, where she managed over 20 employees and annual sales of $2,000,000. Laurie was recognized twice by Venture magazine as one of the top 100 young entrepreneurs in the country and was on the founding Board of the Young Entrepreneurs Organization. After having two sons, Laurie relegated her professional responsibilities and focused on parenting education, becoming an instructor for Redirecting Children’s Behavior, and she assisted in the founding and fundraising for “Smart Parenting”, a company focused on teaching positive parenting skills. Laurie ‘s education in integrative medicine Homeopathy, Tai Chi, meditation and yoga fulfills her personal mission of educating wellness and empowering families dealing with autism. She has helped develop educational plans, increased mentorship programs, been active in planning fundraising events and on boards with other non-profits and social enterprises.
Eric Tridas, MD, FAAP -
Dr. Tridas is the Medical Director of the Tridas Center for Child Development and President of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics Consultants, Inc. He is a Developmental Pediatrician who specializes in the diagnosis and management of neurodevelopmental conditions including ADHD, learning differences, dyslexia, autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disabilities and other developmental and behavioral problems.
He is Clinical Associate Professor in Pediatrics at the University of South Florida, Morsani College of Medicine, a member of the National Joint Commission on Learning disabilities (NJCLD) and Immediate Past President of the International Dyslexia Association. Dr. Tridas is also the State Medical Director for Pediatric Health ChoicePrescribed Pediatric Extended Care Facilities (PPEC). Dr. Tridas is a founder and partner of Tridas, LLC, a software company that developed the Tridas eWriter, an application for web based structured interviews of caregivers and teachers that generates a customized evaluation report and provides hundreds of specific recommendations.
Dr. Tridas has resided in the Tampa Bay area since 1982. He completed his fellowship in Ambulatory Pediatrics with emphasis on Developmental Disabilities at the Children's Hospital Medical Center in Boston. During that time he held an appointment as a Teaching Fellow at Harvard University. Dr. Tridas completed his residency in Pediatrics at the Children's Hospital of Buffalo. He graduated from the University of Puerto Rico, School of Medicine in 1977.
Dr. Tridas lectures nationally and internationally on topics such as dyslexia, learning disorders, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, anxiety, executive functions and other behavioral and developmental pediatrics related subjects.
Dr. Tridas edited a book for parents titled From ABC to ADHD: What Every Parent Should Know About Dyslexia and Attention Problems.
Pier Westra – was born and raised in Lakeland, Florida and graduated from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida with a degree in Sociology. Following his undergraduate work, Pier has spent 30 years helping those in need in various roles as a property and casualty claims professional. Managing local, regional and national claims organization in day to day as well as catastrophe situations, he has found value in helping families to rebuild their lives during a time of loss. His ability to martial resources, engage the community and motivate groups to act has brought value to the Art for Autism Foundation and Artista’s cafe. Pier and his wife Vicky adopted their daughter, Gabrielle, from Romania at age two and who was diagnosed with ASD at the age of four. While working to obtain assistance for their daughter, Pier and Vicky became acquainted with the obstacles that face those with disabilities. Whether in obtaining the best support system available for Gabrielle, or at Artistas, in helping young adults on the spectrum reach their highest level of independence and joy, it has become their life goal to bring opportunities to this underserved group of talented individuals. Pier’s desire to serve those with disabilities, in conjunction with his personal and professional experiences, brings a unique and holistic approach to his role on the Board of Art for Autism/Artistas Cafe.
Bob Gomez – has a strong 30 year background in site selection, land procurement, entitlement process, and development, Bob delivers comprehensive services for companies seeking experience and strong local relationships. He has completed over 200 commercial real estate transactions valued at nearly $1 Billion. In addition, as Managing Partner of STK Capital, Bob represents a private source of capital investing in commercial and residential real estate projects in Florida. Since its’ inception in 2011, STK Capital has successfully placed $96,000,000 in debt restructurings and loan acquisitions. STK Capital is ranked in TBBJ Top 25 Private Equity Firms 2014 He has enjoyed great success and is highly respected in the commercial real estate community. As a native of Tampa, Bob graduated from USF in Mass Communications and received a Masters Certification in Non-Profit Management from University of Tampa. Along with his wife Doria, they founded, Dalia’s Reach; a nonprofit organization that advocates safety and prevention on college campuses that provided immediate support to the families who have lost a student. He has been very active with Make A Wish Foundation, Tampa Bay Sports Club, US Air Force Reserve, Special Olympics, Hispanic Business Initiative Fund and many more.
The following are companies that Artistas enjoys a contracted partnership with. These suppliers have provided discounted or pro bono work in the past for Artistas Café and Autism Shifts.
Juan Frett - provides CPA and accounting services
Minuteman Press of Town and Country – provides printing services.
Latitude 23.5 Coffee – provides coffee roasting and delivery services
Joffrey's Coffee & Tea – provides syrups and mixes used by the Café
Fresh Brew – provides smoothie mix used at the Café
Florida Fresh Vending – provides sodas offered at the Café.
Sunny Florida Diary – provides all the diary product offered at the Café.
Orlando Provisions – provides pastries and foods offered at the Café.
Roney Insurance Company – provides insurance services.
Artistas Cafe Supervisors
Laurie DeFrain Stemm
Mary Jo Pennino
Eric Tridas, MD, FAAP