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Our Board

Founder & CEO

Heather Astuto

Heather is known for her philanthropy on behalf of individuals with special needs as well as her commitment to community activities where children and adults with developmental delays are given opportunities and resources to excel. As the Founder and CEO of Especially Needed, a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization, dedicated to building a strong community where individuals with special needs are valued, respected and included, she advocates for this special population who is all too often forgotten about. Heather is responsible for much of the vision and strategy efforts for Especially Needed as it touches families all across North Texas.

Heather is the mother of two beautiful girls, LeAnna and Giana. In 2003 LeAnna was born with Down Syndrome and since that day Heather works with determination and passion to ensure her daughter is not only provided with the resources to live a happy, full life but that she also has the support and tools needed to succeed. 

Heather attended undergraduate school at UNT with a focus in Sociology. She has extensive experience in the real estate sector, managing medical offices as well as a Surgery Center on the Texas Health Presbyterian Campus'.  She holds her Real Estate License and has over 9 years  of experiance in residential real estate.  To provide her with the flexibility and time needed to reach the goals for Especially Needed she recently made the decision to practice real estate full time and is a Realtor at Caine Premier Properties in McKinney, TX.

Vice President

Nechole Whitlock

Nechole is a single mom of two special needs children, so working in and supporting the community is near and dear to her heart. She also an entrepreneur, an ecommerce business trainer, parent mentor and vocal advocate in the special needs community.  Her focus and passion is to consistently execute the mission and vision of Especially Needed and to assist in the operations, marketing and fundraising for our events.  Nechole's desire is to help Especially Needed expand and grow to provide even more support and services to the community.  

As a stay at home mom, Nechole spends her time caring for two sons who are on the autism spectrum.  Her oldest son Tony was born in 2005 and has Asperger's, Central Auditory Processing Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder.  Her youngest son Nicholas was born in 2007.  He is Autistic, has seizures, speech delay, digestive challenges and sensory issues.  When not working with Especially Needed, Nechole spends her time regularly commuting to therapies, conducting research and implementing solutions (diet, exercise/activities, inhome therapies, tutoring, visual schedules, etc.) that will help both her sons live happy, successful and productive lives as they grow older.  


Over the years, Carrie has been involved in some very successful entrepreneurial opportunities, but she wanted more. These prayers were answered more than three years ago, when Carrie discovered she was pregnant with sweet Addison. Little did Carrie and her husband Jeff know, Addison's arrival would alter the course of their life, forever. Addison was born on July 11, 2010 with a rare form dwarfism known as Metatropic Dysplasia. Her care and needs were severe which required Carrie to suspend all of her current endeavors to focus on her daughter’s well-being. Even though this experience was extremely daunting for Carrie and her family, they developed much inner strength and character.  Not only did Carrie gain a heart and compassion for her situation, but others as well. She is excited to serve the families of Especially Needed and help them with new realities, and become more informed about options to enrich and enhance their lives for years to come. Along with caring for her precious daughter, Carrie is also a Solavei Social Thousandaire and Co-Leader of the Allen, TX Chapter of the Heart Link Network.


Carrie Strimel

Looking for a wonderful individual to fill this position. Please contact Carrie Stimel if you are interested. 



Over the years, Karen has been significantly involved with Especially Needed. Originally serving as Vice President, then as Volunteer Coordinator, she has worked along-side her daughter, Heather Astuto, through many of the events. She now serves as an advisor to the Board offering guidance and expertise when needed. 


Karen Smithhart

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© 2013 by Especially Needed

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