The Lansing Area AIDS Network
913 West Holmes, Suite 115, Lansing, MI 48910
(517) 394-3560

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Staff Bios

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Jacob A. Distel, Jr. - Executive Director

Jacob A. Distel, Jr. has been the Executive Director of the Lansing Area AIDS Network since January 2004.  His responsibilities include the administration and oversight of the agency.  Prior to his position with LAAN he was Administrative Lieutenant at the Washtenaw County Office of the Sheriff where he was responsible for the management of Corrections operations and all support services within that Division including programming, counseling, food services, and medical services provision.  He has over two decades of administrative experience in the areas of criminal justice and vocational rehabilitation. 

Jacob has a B.A. Degree in Psychology from the University of Toledo.  He also has a Masters in Public Administration Degree from the same institution.

During his career, Jacob has been active on various Boards, Task Forces, and has routinely been involved in community efforts and volunteer services.  He has been a Board Member of the National Association of Nutritional Service  Agencies, a member of the Region 2 HIV/AIDS Consortium and is currently a member of the Michigan HIV/AIDS Council (MHAC).  As a voting member of MHAC he has served on both the Allocation Committee and the Statewide Coordinated Statement of Needs Committee.  Jacob currently serves on the Executive Committee and is Co-Chairperson of the Membership Committee.  He has served on numerous other Boards and Advisory Committees in the areas of public health, mental health, criminal justice, community corrections, and domestic violence.  He is currently a member of the HIV/AIDS Alliance of Michigan.

 

Ligia Romero-Balcarcel - Care Program Manager:  Community Liason

Ligia Romero-Balcarcel has been a Medical Case Manager with LAAN since November of 1999.  As a Medical Case Manager, her responsibilities include; providing case coordination and assessment to individuals diagnosed as HIV-positive and their families and significant others, actively educating and linking clients with other services and resources promoting wellness, quality of life, and increased self sufficiency, participating in risk reduction education, providing psychosocial support, and acting as an advocate on behalf of her clients. 

Prior to joining LAAN, Ligia worked at Cristo Rey Community Center in the Substance Abuse Counseling program for 16 years.  Ligia actively participates with the local National Latino AIDS Awareness Day committee and the organization of local prevention activities in the Latino community.    Ligia has been the State Chairperson for the State of Michigan AIDS Awareness Committee. She is certified by the State of Michigan to provide Case Management and Counseling and Testing Services.  Ligia has been instrumental in providing HIV/STD counseling testing among the Spanish speaking community and has assisted in the development and implementation of HIV awareness and educational workshops for the Latino community. 

Ligia is quite involved throughout the community, including her positions as a Board Member of the Capital Area Transportation Authority and as a member of the Cristo Rey Church Health Fair Board.

 

Melissa Blood - Care Program Manager:  Quality Management

Melissa Blood has been a Medical Case Manager with LAAN since January 2014.  As a Medical Case Manager, her responsibilities include; providing case coordination and assessment to individuals diagnosed as HIV-positive and their families and significant others, actively educating and linking clients with other services and resources, promoting wellness, quality of life, and increased self-sufficiency, participating in risk reduction education, providing psychosocial support, and acting as an advocate on behalf of her clients. Melissa has received state of Michigan certification in HIV Counseling and Testing as well as Case Management.

Prior to joining LAAN, Melissa has worked as a social worker in home care, working with older adults, and as a guardian representative for adults in the mid-Michigan area for over 13 years.  Melissa has her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University and is a Licensed Bachelor’s Social Worker. 

Melissa is a former member of Protection & Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) Advisory Council and Former Volunteer Outreach Ambassador for Ele’s place.  Melissa teaches Taekwondo and self-defense in her free time.  She is also remains active in various volunteer projects within the community.  

 

David O. Knechtges - Director of Finance

David O. Knechtges has been the Director of Finance for the Lansing Area AIDS Network (LAAN) since January 1998.  His responsibilities include all accounting functions, payroll, budget and financial statement preparation, office management and human resources and benefits administration.  David works with the Prevention, Clinical, Administrative and Development staff for quarterly and annual reporting. He works closely with the Board of Directors and is the staff liaison to the Finance Committee.

David received an associate’s degree in Business Administration, with emphasis on accounting, business law and economics from Lansing Community College. He has been a self-employed accountant since 1991.  Prior to his position at LAAN, he had twenty years experience in the manufacturing, warehousing, shipping and logistics industries. On a personal level, he is an active volunteer for his church.

 

Shawn Marie Hunter - Auxiliary Services Coordinator

Shawn Marie Hunter joined Lansing Area AIDS Network in 2012 as the Auxiliary Services Coordinator.  She has attended Lansing Community College, Western Michigan University, and Franklin University majoring in Forensic Accounting and Business Administration. 

Her responsibilities with LAAN include coordinating the volunteer program, overseeing the client food pantry, assisting with planning fundraising events, preparing and disseminating The Networker (LAAN’s quarterly client newsletter), updating and maintaining the website, and other various tasks.  In 2013, Shawn received her certification for HIV test counseling and also works closely with Prevention in attending outreach programs at local universities and other locations in the community.

Outside of LAAN, Shawn is a novice photographer and she is often found honing her craft or volunteering her services in the community.  She has spent time on the Board of Directors as President for Pied Piper Preschoo, as Treasurer and Waverly Community Representative for the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO Region 176, as well as  President of the Waverly Orchestra Association.

 

Nhoua Yang - Prevention Specialist

Nhoua Yang has been the Prevention Specialist of the Lansing Area AIDS Network since February of 2016. Her responsibilities include counseling, testing, and referral services at LAAN. Nhoua assists in all prevention related services and interventions at LAAN and all outreach and community events and initiatives. Nhoua is certified in HIV testing and counseling, Couples Testing, and Personalized Cognitive Counseling.

Prior to coming to LAAN, Nhoua received her Bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies in Health and Society with a concentration in Psychology from Michigan State University in 2012. Prior to joining LAAN, she worked at Michigan State University with the TRIO Student Support Services program that supported low-income, first generation students, and students with disabilities in ensuring a successful transition into college life.

 

Kirk Taskila - Medical Case Manager

Kirk Taskila has been a Medical Case Manager with LAAN since November 2007.  As a Medical Case Manager, his responsibilities include; providing case coordination and assessment to individuals diagnosed as HIV-positive and their families and significant others, actively educating and linking clients with other services and resources promoting wellness, quality of life, and increased self-sufficiency, participating in risk reduction education, providing psychosocial support, and acting as an advocate on behalf of his clients.  Kirk has received State of Michigan certification in Case Management, as well as in HIV Counseling, Testing, and Referral Services.

Prior to joining LAAN, Kirk worked for St. Vincent Catholic Charities as a Therapist and Foster Care Case Manager.   He has also worked for the National Association of Social Workers – Michigan Chapter, and for the Michigan State University School of Social Work assisting the Director of the School of Social Work.

Kirk has been involved throughout the LGBT community serving on the Board of Directors for the Lansing Association for Human Rights (LAHR), Director of the Lansing Area LGBT Hotline, and as a former member of LansingOut. 

 

Fiza Irfan - Medical Case Manager

Fiza Irfan is a new addition to the LAAN team as of early 2015. As a Medical Case Manager, her duties and responsibilities include providing case coordination and assessment to individuals diagnosed as HIV-positive and their families and significant others, engaging clients in education that promotes healthy living and wellness, linking individuals to care services that increase self-efficiency and quality of life, as well as advocating on behalf of clients.

Fiza has her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University in Interdisciplinary Studies in Social Science with a concentration in Health. Prior to joining LAAN, she worked at Michigan State University with a program for low-income, first generation students, and students with disabilities in ensuring a successful transition into college life and academics by coordinating tutoring, providing mentorship, and engaging students in culturally enriching activities in the community.

Fiza has worked and volunteered with HIV/AIDS organizations in California and Alabama focusing on prevention and advocacy, and is a certified HIV Test Counselor for the state of Michigan as well as a certified Couples HIV Test Counselor.

 

Ashley Edwards - Medical Case Manager

Ashley Edwards has been the Part D Medical Case Manager at the Lansing Area Aids Network since 2016. As a part of the Part D program, Ashley is housed at the Forest Community Health Center, which is a branch of the Ingham County Health Department. Ashley is responsible for working with women, infants, youth, children, and individuals under the age of 24.

Ashley received her bachelor’s degree in Social Work from the University of Michigan Flint in 2015. Prior to joining LAAN, Ashley worked as an HIV medical case manager at Wellness services in Flint Michigan for over three years. She is also certified to practice HIV medical case management, and complete HIV testing through the state of Michigan. 

 

Bambi Burnham - Early Intervention Services Coordinator

Bambi Burnham (formerly VanWoert) began working with Lansing Area AIDS Network in November 2015 as the Early Intervention Services Coordinator. Bambi started working with the Ryan White population in November of 2013 through a collaborative arrangement with LAAN. This allowed her to forge a unique partnership with the agency, and a special bond with her clients.  

Prior to being hired by LAAN, she served the community at Ingham Community Health Center as a Certified Application Counselor (CAC) for the Health Insurance Marketplace and as a MIBridges DHS application assister. In her role as a CAC, Bambi educated individuals on health reform and enrolled community members into the new health coverage programs available due to the Affordable Care Act. She also connected consumers to other social services as they expressed their needs. 

Bambi’s prior experience includes nearly 2 decades of working in the dental and healthcare administration field; including employment related to customer service, claims processing, materials creation, IT analyst positions,  project management, and contract administration; as well as successfully implementing two local health program initiatives in Ingham County.  Bambi holds certifications in HIV Test Counseling, Medical Case Management, EIS Coordination, and she is a Certified Application Counselor for the ACA (Affordable Care Act).

In addition, she is well versed in disability rights and accommodations, trauma-informed care and provides primary case management for a family member with a disability. These experiences and skill sets give her a unique approach for the clients we serve.