bg image

About Us – Banner

How We Got Started

When visionaries collide…

With well-known education philanthropist Dale Halton as the catalyst, the Aspire Carolinas Foundation team brought their extensive backgrounds in philanthropy, education, and fundraising together to create a new model of “school.”

Dale Halton and Jennifer Nichols began planning for an organization to help establish independent schools in areas where there is a clear need for alternative educational settings for students who learn differently. The organization would assist local communities in creating a framework of collaboration and network of support to establish and maintain each school.

They worked with Marty McCarthy on the start-up phase. Marty had served as Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church when he experienced the call to begin opening schools in the Carolina region based on the Classical Education model. Jennifer Nichols had many years working in both education and non-profit fundraising, with a specific focus and passion for helping challenged learners. Dale Halton is a well-known philanthropist who has supported education in the Charlotte region for decades.

What if they could partner to help children with learning differences and Asperger’s all across the Charlotte region gain access to small schools in their local community? They knew there was a huge need, and there are children currently struggling in their local public and private schools unable to attain success.

By partnering with existing special needs schools looking to expand into new areas, and with local communities already organizing to create schools, a vision to create a non-profit to support the opening and expansion of these schools was born. Slowly an idea took shape and they felt they had been pulled together for a reason. The perfect team, with a wealth of experience to achieve the number one goal of Aspire Carolinas: to give every child the ability to succeed, had been created.

One driver of success will be the curated selection of staff and board members. Combining their many talents, the staff and board has years of experience and expertise in starting new schools, working with key stakeholders, donor management, advancement, non-profit fundraising, business acumen, zoning, government, entrepreneurship, communications, marketing, administration, and special education. Above all, a drive and a passion to help students with learning differences. This established, seasoned team is the best of the best!

Meet the Team

Meet the Team

Jennifer Nichols

Jennifer Nichols

Board Member

Executive Director/Founder of the Aspire Carolinas Foundation

Jennifer holds a Bachelor of Science in Education from Malone University in Canton, Ohio and completed additional coursework in reading education (Eastern Michigan University) and developmental disabilities (CPCC). She taught for nine years in Michigan before moving to North Carolina and changing careers. After several years in sales and management, she entered the non-profit field. She is a certified grants writer and seasoned fundraiser working with organizations such as InReach, The Arc of Mecklenburg, The American Red Cross, and Discovery Place. Jennifer most recently worked at The John Crosland School as Director of Institutional Advancement. For eight years she was responsible for fund development, program development, marketing and public relations. The opportunity to start the Foundation and serve as Executive Director of Aspire Carolinas marks the culmination of a lifetime dream.  She always wanted to start an educational non-profit that would address the needs of underserved populations such as students with learning differences, Asperger’s and those needing career and technical options.

Cathy Fasciana

Cathy Fasciana

Marketing and Communications Manager

Cathy attended Lafayette College and then transferred to Seton Hall University where she received her B.S. degree in Secondary Education and History. She completed her M.S. degree in Management (HR Concentration) at the College of St. Elizabeth. Cathy previously worked in Human Resources Management for ten years. After relocating to Charlotte she took the position of Advancement and Communications Coordinator at The John Crosland School. Cathy is excited to bring her website administration, marketing, social media, writing, administrative and communications experience to her new role as Communications Manager at the Aspire Carolinas Foundation.

Jessie Norman

Operations and Fundraising Manager

Jessie received his business degree from Gaston College. Jessie has over ten years of experience working with children and adults with developmental disabilities. Jessie began his career working at a non-profit group as a Direct Support Activity aide for adults with disabilities. He was then promoted to Insurance Billing Administrator, Manager, and finally to Office Administrator. Jessie also helped the non-profit in raising funds. After a career change, Jessie spent 3 years working at a mortgage company. He was hired as a Mortgage Processing Assistant and he was promoted to Underwriter’s Assistant. Jessie is excited to bring his excellent administration and fundraising skills and his passion for exceptional students to his new role as Operations and Fundraising Manager at Aspire Carolinas Foundation.


bg image

Meet the Board of Directors – Benner

Meet the Board of Directors

Board of Directors

James Secunda

James Secunda

Board Chair

Investor/Business owner

Mr. James (Jim) Secunda graduated from Farleigh Dickinson University in 1975 with a degree in business and marketing. He then received his Master’s degree in 1976 from the American Graduate School of International Management (Thunderbird) in 1976. He began working for the INA Corporation in Philadelphia in 1977. In 1979 he started his first company, American Rehabilitation Inc., which he later sold in 2008. Jim then co-founded two additional companies, CompSource Inc. in 1993 and Synergy Coverage Solutions Inc. in 2005. In addition to his extensive business experience, Jim also generously gives of his time serving as a board member for both schools and non-profit organizations. Jim has served on the boards of: Stony Brook Prep School, Charlotte Pregnancy Center, Community Health Services, Boy Scouts of America (Special Needs Board Member) and The Epiphany School of Charlotte. In addition, he currently serves on the board of Charlotte Christian School.


Dale Halton

Dale Halton

Vice Chair

Retiree of Pepsi Cola Franchise

Ms. Dale Halton graduated from Myers Park High School and attended Agnes Scott College in Georgia. After two years she returned home to marry and start her family. In 1970 she began working for the family business, Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of Charlotte, managing the company’s advertising. Although many good people worked at the company the business was struggling, and in 1981 she was made President of the Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of Charlotte. She began successfully running the company and gradually turned it around to again become profitable. She created a charitable foundation that gave 10% of the company’s profits to charity each year. Notable recipients include UNCC Charlotte and the NC Dance Theatre. “The more you have, the more responsibility you have to give to others,” Halton says. “I think it’s important to help folks who don’t have what I have. I wish I could do more. It’s fun.” Because Dale successfully faced many obstacles working in business at a time when it was difficult for women to do so, she continues to always root for those that face challenges. She is a strong supporter of children with learning differences and Asperger’s/autism spectrum disorder, and is thrilled to be able to support schools that help the students reach their potential.

Lauren Nicholson

Lauren Nicholson


Vice President at Bank of America

Mrs. Lauren Nicholson’s extensive financial work experience and her specialization in the areas of non-profits and education has made her a great fit to serve as Treasurer on the Board of Directors.  Lauren has a strong connection to the Foundation’s mission to provide schools for children with autism or learning differences and she is a dedicated member of our Board.  Lauren holds Bachelor of Science degree in Finance, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in French from West Virginia University.  Beginning her career with Bank of America in California as a Credit Product Analyst and Credit Development Program Manager, she then served as a Portfolio Manager II (Healthcare and Non-Profit) in Atlanta and Charlotte, and Sr. Vice President (SVP) Senior Credits Product Officer.  Since 2017 Lauren has served as SVP-Sr. Relationship Manager for Healthcare, Education, and Not-for-Profit for Bank of America in Charlotte.

Derek Partee

Honorable Derek L. Partee


Private Investigator

The Honorable Derek L. Partee graduated from Southern University with a Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Science/ Psychology. He then received his Master’s degree in Public Administration from Long Island University. Derek served for 36 years with the Town of Hempstead, NY and Nassau County on Long Island, NY.  In January 1984 he joined the Nassau County Police Department and retired after 25 years at the rank of Detective. Derek has extensive experience in conducting criminal investigations in auto crimes, dignitary protection, gang violence, homicides, narcotics, sexual offences and special weapons tactical response. When Derek retired in 2007, he had a 100% solvability and conviction rate on his homicide cases. He was the first detective in the Nassau County Police Department to be assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in the Manhattan office from 1999-2003. Derek was present at the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and involved in the investigation. Upon moving to North Carolina in 2012, he obtained his Private Investigators license and he currently consults for Carolina Fingerprinting/Citywide Investigations, located in Waxhaw. Derek’s passion is serving the community in which he lives. From 2017-2019 he served on the State Council of a political party.  Derek also served on the Town of Huntersville Planning Board. On November 2, 2021, Derek was elected to the Town of Huntersville Board of Commissioners.  Derek’s appointed committee assignments are the NC73 council of planning, planning board coordinating committee, parks committee, greenways, bikes and trails committee and the liaison to the police department.