Dr. Janie Avant, President
Dr. Janie Avant has worked with students with intellectual, physical, and health disabilities for over 40 years. She has an extensive background in both education and sports with individuals with disabilities. Dr. Avant taught students with intellectual disabilities for 10 years, and students with physical and health disabilities for over 30 years. She retired from teaching in May 2019. Currently she works part time as an early intevention specialist with GA PINES, and as the Inclusion Specialist for The Nora Project. She completed her doctorate in Education of Students with Exceptionalities at Georgia State University in May 2013.
Dr. Avant has coached disabled sports at the local, regional, national, and international level. She was a coach for the United States Team at the International Games for the Disabled in New York in 1984, and the Paralympics in Seoul, Korea in 1988. She has coached indoor wheelchair soccer, wheelchair basketball, track and field, bocce, and softball with athletes with physical disabilities as well as athletes with intellectual disabilities. She has also officiated indoor wheelchair soccer and bocce at the national level.
Dr. Avant has been recognized for her work with individuals with disabilities, including being named teacher of the year at Arcado Elementary School in 1992, 2007, and 2019 (top 25 in Gwinnett County). She has received awards including Special U.S. Congressional Recognition for Outstanding and Invaluable Service to the Community – 1999, Georgia Federation Council for Exceptional Children - Outstanding Member – 1987, Metro Atlanta Council for Exceptional Children - Outstanding Professional Award -1985, and the United Cerebral Palsy of Atlanta - Humanitarian Service Award in 1982.
She and her husband, Jimmy, have three children with intellectual disabilities who participate in a variety of sports.
Michael J. O'Connell, Vice President, Operations
Michael’s work career included roles in organizational management with non-profit trade associations and many years in the trade show and event industry working in information technology and tele-communications fields. He joined Gwinnett Masters as Secretary when GMSO was organization in April 2009 and has served as Coordinator since October 2009. He serves on most all committees, and coached the Mavericks softball start team in 2010.
Michael and his wife Mary have five children, with the youngest “Ellie” participating in Special Olympics every season. They served as foster parents for some 20 years in Gwinnett County and continue now advocating for special need children and young adults through Special Olympics and Spectrum Camps and Clubs which is directed by wife Mary and son Tim is program manager.
James E. Avant, Jr., Secretary
Jimmy Avant was a founding member and chairperson of GMSO, the precursor to Greater Atlanta Pathways and Gwinnett Masters Special Teams. Before that he was on the management team for Gwinnett County Special Olympics.
Jimmy and his wife Janie have three special needs kids who have been active in Special Olympics since 1997. Jimmy met Janie when their kids bowled on the same special needs bowling team. Jimmy manages the GMST Kool Kats Bowling League in Buford. He is head softball coach for the GMST Renegades and has SOGA certification in softball, athletics, bocce, bowling, and basketball.
Jimmy is currently employed by Silvaco, Inc. in Suwanee as an electrical engineer. He graduated in 1982 from Ga. Tech with a BEE degree. Jimmy grew up in the Atlanta area and moved to Gwinnett County in 1982.
Mary O'Connell, Owner, New Directions, Inc.
Mary J. O’Connell worked in the Gwinnett County Public Schools for over seventeen years teaching children with Autism, before retiring in May 2012. She has experience working with children affected by all levels of Autism. She holds a Masters Degree from Georgia State and is a Highly Qualified Certified teacher in the state of Georgia.
Mary is the director of New Directions Georgia, a day program she founded for adults with moderate or severe Autism. In addition to directing Social Skills Today and New Directions Georgia, Mary enjoys educating adults and teachers at conferences and within the school system. Mary has presented at the Autism 101 Conference sponsored by the Georgia Chapter of the Autism Society of America, and several Autism Conferences in Georgia and North Carolina. In the school system, Mary designed and provided many training courses on a variety of educational issues, and instructional strategies. She is a key instructor for the Spectrum Kommunity Inclusion Program (SKIP), a program, which provides trainings on Autism to community organizations wanting to include children and adults with Autism.
Mary is also the director of Social Skills Today. Social Skills Today (SST) manages Spectrum Camps and Clubs’ many programs and events in Gwinnett, social skills programs in North Fulton and Rockdale County Autism Support Group's Saturday programs. Over the past ten years SST has expanded its programs to include Social Skills groups, summer camps, and overnight respite for children with Autism and their siblings. As the director, she provides high quality instructional leadership guiding the teachers and staff toward developing meaningful and measurable outcomes for individuals with social interaction and behavioral needs. Her vision for Social Skills Today is to continue to expand into other counties within Georgia and provide more activities for children with Autism.