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Meet Our Team

The board of directors at The Haven is made up of a group of individuals who possess a wide range of specialties and life experiences. This diversity of backgrounds and perspectives enables our organization to tap into a broad spectrum of expertise and insights, which in turn enables us to better serve our community. Whether it's Public Safety, Financial Management, Law, Psychology, or any number of other fields, each board member brings a unique set of skills and knowledge to the table. This wealth of diversity is integral to our ability to operate effectively and efficiently and to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those we serve.

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Michelle Vincent
Police Officer (Ret) Ph.D, M.A.C.P., C.C.P.A., I.S.S.T.

Founding Member/ Chief Executive Officer

Michelle is an 18 year (retired) Police Veteran having worked in a variety of units, from investigative, community service to front line. She received her PhD in Forensic Psychology with a specialization in Crisis Response from Walden University in July 2021 and her Masters of Arts in Counselling Psychology from Yorkville University in January, 2016. She is a post-doc Researcher for the University of Alberta at HiMARC (Heroes in Mind, Advocacy and Research Consortium) and has co-authored various academic journals in PSP reintegration programming. She supports the publication of up-and-coming academic literature as a Peer Reviewer. Dr. Vincent is a Knowledge User in active research with top researchers at the University of Toronto in the mental health First Responder communities and has presented leading-edge mental health programming both in person and in-vivo at conferences. She has experience as a Research and Program Evaluation Specialist and is a published writer for Blueline Magazine, monthly column Holding the Line addressing a combination of mental health and policing.

 

She delivers Peer Support Training for the Mood Disorders Society of Canada in both French and English and has extensive experience with Peer Support teams and the cultural dynamics that exist and differ within each Public Safety Personnel organization. She has volunteered as a Lead Call-Out Coordinator for York Region CISM team. Michelle is trained in Edmonton Police’s Reintegration After Critical Incident and Long-Term Leave programming, TA’s Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and has an extensive list of training in evidence-based mental health modalities specifically related to PTSD/mental wellness and First Responders/Uniform Personnel/Veterans, active, resigned and retired. She is a member of the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association, the Society for Police and Criminal Psychology, the American Psychological Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, as well as the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies. Michelle has created partnerships between The Haven and several leading-edge mental health organizations including our newest and most exciting partnership with Horse Sense North, Tranquil Acres, Guelph University, First Responders Mindfulness Network and Badge of Life Canada for which supported mental health facilitation in their Sole Sistas and Hero’s Call psycho-educational retreats. She received awards including the Wilson Kimbrough Award for Scholarly Work in Psychology and Criminal Justice with an Applied Focus for The Haven: The Opportunity for Effective Mental Health Inpatient Treatment that is Occupationally-Specific to First Responders and Uniformed Personnel and for Outstanding Therapist by BOLC. Michelle's philosophy is, in partnership we can!

Melissa Petriglia
H.B.A., H.B.S.W., M.S.W., RSW.

Co-Founder, Lead Director

Melissa is a Registered Social Worker through the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers and the Ontario Association of Social Workers. After receiving an Honours Bachelors Degree in Social Work from Lakehead University, Melissa completed a Masters in Social Work at the University of Toronto where she specialized in Mental Health.


Melissa has clinical experience in both hospital and community settings. She began her early social work career working alongside York Regional Police in their Mental Health Support team. In this role, Melissa worked with a police officer, attending mental health related calls in the community. From there, she began working in the Emergency Departments in the GTA as a crisis intervention worker, completing psychosocial assessments, addiction interventions and crisis intervention services for individuals who would present to the ER. In addition, Melissa has her own private psychotherapy practice where she provides treatment for a variety of issues such as anxiety and panic attacks, depression and mood issues, stress and burnout, life transitions, relationship and family related issues, self-esteem/self-image issues, disordered eating, and work/occupational stress/trauma related issues.

Melissa specializes in working with first responders, including emergency room staff, physicians, police officers, paramedics and firefighters. Lastly, Melissa is an active member of the York Region CISM team and assumed the role of as Clinical Director this past summer (2016).

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Lissa Ruocco
Police Officer

Chair & Lead Director

Lissa has over 24 years of policing experience in one of the largest municipalities in the country. The last 17 years have been dedicated to Tactical work as an Operator and more recently, a Trainer. Her areas of expertise include Counter-Sniper/Sniper, Rappel Master, Hostage/Crisis Negotiator, and Fitness. Lissa is the longest serving Female Tactical member in North America and the first female sniper in the country. She is an Adjunct Instructor for the Crisis Negotiator Course at the Canadian Police College and was nominated by CPC to attend the FBI Hostage Negotiator course. Lissa was one only four people worldwide that were selected to attend this course in 2023. She is a Master Trainer for iPREP, an International Resiliency Program that is offered by the University of Toronto. She is the Coordinator for Crisis Negotiation and Mental Performance Resiliency within her unit. Lissa has been the 2022 recipient of the Aumiller People’s Choice Award from the Society of Police and Criminal Psychology. The last year and a half, Lissa has been involved with federally funded research that is developing a program for PTSI for First Responders. Throughout her career, she has mentored and coached many to reach their ultimate goal of becoming Police Officers as well as supported many in preparing to contend for selection to specialized units and as a result, was recognized by Ontario Women in Law Enforcement receiving a Mentoring and Coaching Award in 2021. She has great passion for sports and has competed and medalled in several disciplines over the years in the World Police and Fire Games, Canadian Law Enforcement Games, Can Am Police and Fire Games, Ohio Police and Fire and Ontario Masters.

Dr Paula Di Nota
PhD, Postdoc Researcher University of Toronto

Secretary

Dr. Paula Di Nota received her Ph.D. in Psychology from York University in 2017, specializing in Brain, Behaviour, and Cognitive Sciences. Paula’s research used multiple neuroimaging techniques (fMRI, EEG) and behavioural experiments to show how training and expertise impact performance and manifest in the brain.

As a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Toronto Mississauga and member of the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT), Paula’s research program aims to develop and test evidence-based interventions that support wellness and functioning in police and other public safety personnel (i.e., firefighters, paramedics, emergency communications officials, etc.). Her specific research focuses on learning-related changes to performance, resilience, and health in police. She has trained samples of frontline, tactical, and military personnel from around the world and evaluated biological and psychological measures of stress. Paula is also actively collaborating with the Police University College of Finland to establish operational definitions and effective educational practices for situational awareness and lethal force decision-making.

Paula's interdisciplinary research program has been supported by numerous competitive federal and provincial grants, including priority funding in public safety wellness by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), is published in top peer-reviewed journals in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, policing, and occupational health, and has been presented at various local, national, and international conferences and workshops.

As a subject matter expert Paula has also translated her work into actionable policy reports and has consulted on numerous public inquiries concerning mass casualty response, anti-Black racism, and use of force training in Canadian police.

Dr Sara Aharon
EdD Registered Psychologist

Director

Dr. Sara Aharon is a Registered Health Psychologist who has extensive experience in supporting the mental wellness of First Responders, Military/Uniformed Personnel. She recently trained in TA’s Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and is a Supervising Psychologist for Equine Therapists for The Haven. She has an extensive history and experience including pioneering a group-based nightmare processing and re-scripting treatment for military clients suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorders and Addictions at Bellwood Health Services in Toronto with great results. She has taught these techniques to Psychologists, Physicians, Psychiatrists, GPs, Psychotherapists, Social Workers and Nurses, as well as, numerous clients. Dr. Aharon was the first to introduce Energy Psychology modalities as the primary tool for symptoms down-regulation in an Addiction/Trauma rehabilitation setting in Canada, pioneering this work with Military clients with severe PTSD who found little or no relief with other commonly used approaches such as exposure therapy, CBT or even EMDR. She expanded the tool bags that Clinicians can draw on and has been pro-actively sharing her clinical findings and successes with the health care community through conferences and training seminars. Building on years of training and experience, Dr. Aharon developed a unique and highly effective approach to treating extreme emotional stress, including PTSD symptoms. The unique approach she uses: combining Energy Psychology modalities with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Dr. Aharon supports The Haven’s approach to evidence-based modalities delivered through their three primary lenses of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, Edmonton Police’s Reintegration After Critical Incident and Long- Term Leave Programming and Writers Collective Canada.

Marie Josée Lafleur
LL.B. C.J.C. (QC) Defence Lawyer

Vice Chair

Originally from Northern Ontario, Marie-Josée studied at Ottawa/Dalhousie Universities and finished her undergrad degree in Slavic Studies/Political Science at Saint Petersburg State University in Russia, before returning to Ottawa to go to Law school.  Marie-Josée is now a criminal defense lawyer with over 20 years of experience.  She works in both official languages helping individuals caught up in the criminal justice systems in Ontario, Québec and Nunavut where she travels throughout the Arctic.  Working on the defense side is like being a frontline worker as she often has to deal with individuals in crisis, who have lost their liberty.  As such, she acknowledges the utmost importance of mental wellness in all participants of the criminal justice system.  Marie-Josée is also a teacher of criminal law in the Law Society of Ontario’s Law Practice Program where she shares her knowledge and love of the profession with future lawyers.  In her spare time, she trains and competes in international Dragonboat competitions and Out Rigger canoe races.  Finally (but not the least) she is a mother of four amazing not so small children who are her strength and inspiration.

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Matthew Simon
Paramedic Superintendent

Director

Matthew is currently working for one of Ontario’s largest paramedic services as an Operations and tactical superintendent. While also working part time with as a TEMS with the UCRT team. He has various experience and roles responding to emergencies throughout Ontario. Through the last 20 years, he has advocated and supported his peers by being apart of York’s CISM team and a peer supporter. In his current leadership roles, he works collaboratively with others to find new ways to better support our frontline staff.

 

In Matt’s off time, he is active in his community as a hockey coach for his kids teams. He uses running and time outside as a way of maintaining my own equilibrium.

 

Matt is also a huge fan of Simon Sinek and the leadership style he speaks to. He believes as leaders, our staff’s mental health is hugely impacted by what we do and therefore believes it’s his responsibility to always be seeking to learn and grow.

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Paula McKechnie Ballak
Emergency Room Nurse

Director

Paula is a nurse, having worked in the ER for a number of years. She currently works in the community as a nurse and has a strong connection to mental wellness. Paula breads Barbet puppies (French Water dogs) which many have gone to Policing and other First Responder organizations as support dogs. She has supported mental wellness promotion for many years in CISM.

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Matthew Di Nota
RBC Wealth Management, VP & Director of Specialized Sales Support

Treasurer

Matthew is a financial services professional with over 15 years of experience in various roles within Canada’s largest banking institutions. His current role oversees a team of over 150 employees supporting various functions within RBC’s Wealth Management Business. Matt has previously worked in all levels of retail banking and immediately prior to his current role managed the largest commercial relationships in the Media and Entertainment sector.

Throughout the course of Matt’s professional career, he has demonstrated a passion for his communities by actively volunteering and organizing events to support various initiatives, including Junior Achievement, Triec, Access Employment, Gilda’s Club, and Ronald McDonald. Matt has also served as a Cabinet Member for RBC’s national Employee Giving Campaign for the last 6 years, which encourages employees to give back time or resources to their charity of choice.

Matt is also an avid golfer and has turned his lifelong passion for hockey into a position as a referee for competitive youth hockey within the GTA. Through his understanding of the need for services like The Haven, Matt is excited to continue his philanthropic work as a member of the Board.

Milana Drobner
Hon. B.Sc, M.Sc in Legal and Forensic Psychology

Director

Milana has an Hon. B.Sc. in Psychology from the University of Toronto as well as an M.Sc. in Legal and Forensic Psychology from the University of Leicester.  Along with her 16 years of experience in working with the national security community for the federal government, Milana brings significant personal, professional and educational experience in improving mental health awareness amongst the first responder, uniformed and national security community.

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