Get to Know Our Hardworking and Compassionate Team

Staff Bios

Toni Fuller Merfeld, M.S.Ed

is the President and founder of Metro West Learning Center. She has extensive experience working with students on the autism spectrum with learning and behavior challenges both in the classroom and as a consultant in the public and private sectors. She has been trained in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and structuring classrooms for students with Autism and challenging behavior. Her experience in ABA teaching strategies provide students with the individualization of instruction necessary to create a meaningful learning experiences at school, home and community. In addition to her work at Metro West Learning Center, she is a board member of the Autism Society of Iowa, past Executive Board Secretary for the International Council for Exceptional Children’s Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities (DADD), past President, Iowa Council for Exceptional Children; and was the Children’s Mental Health Consultant for the Iowa Department of Education. She is a member of CEC’s Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities and the Division on International Special Education, The Association of Positive Behavior Supports, National Autism Society and the Iowa Autism Society. She also sits on the Regional Autism Program (RAP) Advisory Committee and RAP Expert Panel.

Office Staff

Megan Christensen

Director of Operations, holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies from The University of Iowa, along with two minors; Business Administration and Human Relations. She has worked in the insurance industry and brings a wealth of knowledge to the position as Director of Operations. As a Professional in the Academy of Healthcare Management, she stays up-to-date on healthcare, insurance industry standards and helps families understand their insurance policies. She is also a green belt with Lean Six Sigma, utilizing the six sigma methodology to improve operational efficiencies in Metro West’s business office. Along with her business background, her professional experience includes four years as a Teacher’s Assistant, providing specialized care for diverse youth. She also worked for Camp Adventure® (a partner with the United States Department of Defense) spending time overseas in Germany on the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center base.

Natalie Bensley

Administrative Assistant, has education in both Early Childhood Special Education and Pre-Medical/Pre-Professional Health from The University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University. She has experience working in non-profit organizations with Adult Intellectual Disability and Mental Health waiver services. Natalie is a member of the National and Iowa Associations for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and is a coach for the Special Olympics and a NAMI volunteer.

Speech Language Pathologists

Molly Warner, M.S., CCC-SLP

holds a Master’s degree from Rockhurst University. Molly has experience working with children in a variety of settings including: schools, home-based early intervention, and outpatient rehabilitation.
She strives to support the academic success and future endeavors of her students. Molly is passionate about helping children of all ages and abilities succeed. Molly is a member of the American Speech-Hearing Association and has advanced training in the Lindamood-Bell Programs, Sequential Oral Sensory (SOS) approach to feeding, with an emphasis in autism.

Jeri Fyock, M.A., CCC-SLP

holds a Master’s degree from the University of South Dakota. She has worked for Green Hills AEA and has experience working with children of all ages with a variety of communication disabilities. Jeri is a member American Speech-Hearing Association.

Amy Dannenfeldt, M.A., CCC-SLP

holds a Master’s Degree in Speech–Language Pathology from the University of Northern Iowa. Amy has worked for Heartland AEA 11 in the Knoxville and Pleasantville areas and the Omaha Public Schools with children ages 2-18 and has experience with a wide variety of speech and language disabilities. In addition to providing speech and language therapy at Metro West, Amy works in private practice.

Alishea Henze (1)

Alishea Henze, M.A., CCC-SLP

Social Group Lead, holds a Master's Degree in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Northern Iowa, a Bachelor's Degree from Iowa State University, and an Associate's Degree from Cottey College, in Nevada MO. In addition to her work consulting and leading social language groups at Metro West Learning Center, she has worked in public schools for more than 15 years. She has extensive experience working with children and families with a variety of communication disorders, with a specialization in social language and Autism. Alishea has training and experience with Alternative and Augmentative Communication, including Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and Language Acquisition through Language Planning (LAMP). She is a member of the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA).

Occupational Therapist

Dr. Taylor Vos, OTD, OTR/L

is an Occupational Therapist at Metro West. She holds a doctorate degree in occupational therapy from Drake University, and has received her Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology & Health from Iowa State University with a minor in Psychology. Taylor joined Metro West as a part of her doctoral experiential component, and studied under Dr. Gloria Frolek Clark. She has a passion for working with children and their families at a holistic level and making a difference in others’ lives. To further her knowledge and skills, Taylor has attended courses on strategies for children with feeding difficulties and the Learning Without Tears hand readiness/handwriting. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and Iowa Occupational Therapy Association. She participated in a systematic review of interventions to increase cognitive development in children 0-5 years, co-presented at annual AOTA conference, co-authored an article for the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, and is co-writing a chapter for Best Practices for Occupational Therapy in Early Childhood.

Physical Therapist

Andrea Krueger

Andrea Krueger, M.S.

Physical Therapist, received a degree in Biology at St. Ambrose University and received her Master’s in Physical Therapy degree at Des Moines University.  Andrea has experience with early intervention and school based physical therapy.  She worked for the MBAEA in Davenport, Iowa serving birth to 21 year old clients with diagnoses of Cerebral Palsy, Developmental Delays, Genetic Defects and disorders, Down Syndrome, Autism, Muscular impairments, Traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and other chronic illnesses.

Therapy Classroom Staff

Candice Fedeler, MA ED.

Director of Programming,holds a degree in Early Childhood Special Education from the University of Northern Iowa and completed her course work in Applied Behavior Analysis from the Chicago School of Psychology. She worked for Des Moines Public Schools as a Behavior Interventionist for grades K-5. Candice has been trained in ABA, Verbal Behavior, Lindamood-Bell Visualizing Verbalizing and Seeing Stars, TEACCH, Picture Exchange Communication Systems, and other communication devices. She is well-versed in Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS) and has given several trainings to staff and families on how to implement with fidelity. Candice is a Certified Crisis Prevention Intervention (CPI) Trainer and A Registered Behavior Technician. Candice is a board member of the Autism Society of Iowa.

Rudy Pithan

Rudy Pithan

Lead Teacher, Therapy Classroom, Justin “Rudy” Pithan graduated from Morningside College with a degree in elementary education and endorsements in special education, middle school, reading and coaching and a Master’s Degree in administration from Grand Canyon University. He has teaching and administration experience in both  Arizona and Iowa. He was also a high school baseball coach for 14 years.

Gretchen Lamar (1)

Gretchen Lamar

Behavior Technician/Classroom Support, holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Purdue University in Human Services. She is currently pursuing her Master of Science in Human Services with an emphasis in Family and Community Services. Gretchen has great experience working with children with behavior disorders and adults with special needs. 


Amanda Olson

Lead RBT and Classroom Support, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Iowa State University and a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Iowa. She has experience working with children on the autism spectrum in a clinical setting and working with children with behavior disorders in an elementary school setting.

Chuck Krueger (1)

Chuck Krueger

Classroom Teacher, grew up in Newton, Iowa. After graduation, he went to Iowa State University and graduated with a  Bachelor of Science ( double major: Physics and Psychology ). He taught for several years in Iowa and Kansas at High School and Junior College level. Chuck finished a Masters in Special Education with an emphasis in talented and gifted, from Wichita State University. He has taught from Kindergarten to Junior College, usually math and science.

Ambrose Ball-Harney

Lead RBT Classroom Support and Transition, received a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology along with a minor in Religious Studies from the University of Iowa. He has a long history of working in the Human Services field and greatly enjoys working with students with autism and challenging behavior.

ABA Staff

Julie Dauterive, M.A., BCBA

holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Jacksonville University and a Master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from Ball State University. Her work experience, in the field of Behavior Analysis, includes services at a private school, home, and clinical setting. Julie is a member of Iowa ABA.

Zola Schultz (1)

Zola Schultz, M.S., BCBA

holds a Master's Degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from Drake University.  She has experience working with children in both clinical and school settings while providing behavioral support for students with various developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities and challenging behaviors. Zola is the mother of a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder and is passionate about helping children become more independent as individuals and within their communities. She is a member of the Iowa Association of Behavior Analysts, Association for Behavior Analysis International, and Association of Professional Behavior Analysts.

Gracie Benton

Lead RBT and Classroom Support,  graduated from Baker University with a Bachelor’s degree in Ecology in 2018. Since graduation. she has worked at Woodward Academy, House of Mercy, and Balance Autism. Gracie has worked with many individuals with autism and other genetic disorders while in Kansas, giving rise to her increased interest in developing skills among those with special needs.

Samantha Lingle

RBT, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education with endorsements in special education, reading, and ESL from William Penn University. She has extensive experience working with a diverse group of pediatric clientele; including ESL and special needs in the Head Start program. She is also a member of National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Along with her experience working with children, Samantha is experienced in using C3-Deescalation and Motivational Interviewing while working with adults with intellectual disabilities. She brings a wealth of knowledge to our ABA clinic working with our pediatric clients.

Mikayla Whitmer

RBT, has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Health from Graceland University. She has experience working with both children and adults diagnosed with a variety of special needs through volunteering at nonprofit organizations.

Hannah Alberts

RBT, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from the University of Iowa. She has worked with individuals diagnosed with autism in a variety of settings, including: elementary school classrooms, private schools, and in in-home/community support positions. As an educator, she believes that every learner deserves genuine compassion, patience, and understanding. The thing she enjoys most about being an RBT is the personal connections she has made with clients and families.


Dr. DeAnn L. Nerem, Psy.D.

is a Neuropsychologist, with an unique background in working with both pediatric and adult populations. She received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Iowa in Therapeutic Recreation Services, a Master’s of Science degree from Drake University in Agency Mental Health Counseling, and a Doctor of Psychology degree from Nova Southeastern University in Clinical Psychology with emphasis in neuropsychology. She completed an internship at the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center in clinical neuropsychology and pediatric psychology, and a three-year post-doctoral fellowship at the Medical College of Wisconsin in pediatric neuropsychology. Her pediatric populations have focused extensively on understanding the impact of neurological disorders on language and learning performance; in particular the relationship between learning disabilities and seizure disorders, traumatic brain injuries, Autism and ADHD disorders.  She is currently focusing on a systematic treatment approach for dysgraphia based on brain-behavior research. Her adult populations have focused on the cognitive effects of Multiple Sclerosis, Traumatic Brain Injuries, Dementia, and Vascular disease. She also conducts psychotherapy. Dr. Nerem has spoken at multiple conferences across Iowa educating professionals on brain-behavior relationships including the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Alzheimer’s Association of Iowa, IOTA conference, and School conferences.

To contact Dr. Nerem for neuropsychological testing and services, please call her office at 515-337-8689 or email

Marketing and Communications

Elyssa Appleton

Elyssa Appleton

Communications Consultant, is in charge of Metro West’s social and digital sites. She holds a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of Iowa. She has more than half a dozen years in writing, editing, copy writing, public relations and and content management. She is the former director of VSA Iowa, a nonprofit that provides free arts programming for kids with disabilities.