Staff Bios

unnamed2-169x300Toni Fuller Merfeld, M.S.Ed., is the President/Managing Member, of Metro West Learning Center. She has been in the field of education for 35 years and has extensive experience working with students on the autism spectrum with learning and behavior challenges both in the classroom and as a consultant in the public and private sectors. She has been trained in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and in structuring classrooms for students with Autism using the TEACHH model developed by the University of North Carolina. Her experience in ABA teaching strategies provide students with the individualization of instruction necessary to create a meaningful learning experience for students and parents alike. In addition to her work at Metro West Learning Center, she is the past Executive Board Secretary for the International Council for Exceptional Children’s Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities (DADD), past President, Iowa Council for Exceptional Children; and was the Children’s Mental Health Consultant for the Iowa Department of Education. She is a member of CEC’s Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities and the Division on International Special Education, The Association of Positive Behavior Supports, National Autism Society and the Iowa Autism Society. She also sits on the Regional Autism Program (RAP) Advisory Committee and RAP Expert Panel.

img_6201-269x300Candice Fedeler, MA ED., Director of Programming, holds a degree in Early Childhood Special Education from the University of Northern Iowa and completed her course work in Applied Behavior Analysis from the Chicago School of Psychology. She worked for Des Moines Public Schools as a Behavior Interventionist for grades K-5. Candice has been trained in ABA, Verbal Behavior, Lindamood-Bell Visualizing Verbalizing and Seeing Stars, TEACCH, Picture Exchange Communication Systems, and other communication devices. She is well-versed in Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS) and has given several trainings to staff and families on how to implement with fidelity. Candice is as a Certified Crisis Prevention Intervention (CPI) Trainer and A Registered Behavior Technician. She is currently finishing up her 1500 Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) supervision hours and is projected to take the BCBA exam February 2019. Candice has a gift for identifying specific behavioral needs and working with families to develop structures to increase success at home and in the community.


Megan Christensen, Director of Operations, holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies from The University of Iowa, along with two minors; Business Administration and Human Relations. She has worked in the insurance industry and brings a wealth of knowledge to the position as Director of Operations. As a Professional in the Academy of Healthcare Management and a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt, she continually strives to improve operations at Metro West. Along with her business background, her professional experience includes four years as a Teacher’s Assistant, providing specialized care for diverse youth. She also worked for Camp Adventure® (a partner with the United States Department of Defense) spending time overseas in Germany on the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center base. When she is not working, she enjoys spending time with family and friends (including her identical twin sister), baking, crafts, playing tennis, and walking the Iowa trails.

Dr. DeAnn L. Nerem, Psy.D., is a neuropsychologist, with an unique background in working with both pediatric and adult populations. She received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Iowa in Therapeutic Recreation Services, a Master’s of Science degree from Drake University in Agency Mental Health Counseling, and a Doctor of Psychology degree from Nova Southeastern University in Clinical Psychology with emphasis in neuropsychology. She completed an internship at the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center in clinical neuropsychology and pediatric psychology, and a three-year post-doctoral fellowship at the Medical College of Wisconsin in pediatric neuropsychology. Her pediatric populations have focused extensively on understanding the impact of neurological disorders on language and learning performance; in particular the relationship between learning disabilities and seizure disorders, traumatic brain injuries, Autism and ADHD disorders.  She is currently focusing on a systematic treatment approach for dysgraphia based on brain-behavior research. Her adult populations have focused on the cognitive effects of Multiple Sclerosis, Traumatic Brain Injuries, Dementia, and Vascular disease. She also conducts psychotherapy.

Dr. Nerem’s work experience includes seven years as a therapeutic recreational specialist at an inpatient pediatric mental health unit in Des Moines, IA, four years as a research assistant in a National Institute of Health NIDA/SAP grant evaluating drug exposed infants in Miami, FL., eight years as a neuropsychologist (adults) at the Ruan Neurology Clinic in Des Moines, IA. She started a private practice in Clinical Neuropsychology in 2009 servicing both adults and pediatrics from across Iowa. In 2015, she moved her practice to Metro West Learning Center, which afforded her the opportunity to expand the scope of her practice to include consultations in the educational system, conducting a young adult autism social group, and entry into Applied Behavioral Analysis.

Dr. Nerem has spoken at multiple conferences across Iowa educating professionals on brain-behavior relationships including the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Alzheimer’s Association of Iowa, IOTA conference, and School conferences.

Dr. Taylor Crane, OTD, OTR/L, is an Occupational Therapist at Metro West. She holds a doctorate degree in occupational therapy from Drake University, and has received her Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology & Health from Iowa State University with a minor in Psychology. Taylor joined Metro as a part of her doctoral experiential component, and studied under Dr. Gloria Frolek Clark which she thoroughly enjoyed. She has a passion for working with children and their families at a holistic level and making a difference in others’ lives. To further her knowledge and skills,  Taylor has attended courses on strategies for children with feeding difficulties and the Learning Without Tears hand readiness/handwriting. She is a member of the  American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and Iowa Occupational Therapy Association. She participated in a systematic review of interventions to increase cognitive development in children 0-5 years, co-presented at annual AOTA conference, co-authored an article for the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, and is co-writing a chapter for Best Practices for Occupational Therapy in Early Childhood.

When she’s not working, Taylor loves spending time with her family, friends, and her corgi, Charlie. Traveling, hiking, staying active, and Netflix binging are a few of her favorite hobbies.

img_6163-227x300Amy Dannenfeldt, M.A., C.C.C. – Speech and Language Pathologist, holds a Master’s Degree in Speech –Language Pathology from the University of Northern Iowa .  Before taking time off to stay home with her kids, she worked for Heartland AEA 11 in the Knoxville and Pleasantville areas and the Omaha Public Schools.  Amy has worked with children ages 2-18 and has experience with a wide variety of speech and language disabilities.  In addition to providing speech and language therapy at Metro West, Amy works in private practice.  “I am excited to be a part of the Metro West Learning Center team.  I enjoy working closely with the families  to help improve the speech and language needs of each child.”

img_6169-236x300Andrea Krueger, Physical Therapist, received a degree in Biology at St. Ambrose University and received her Master’s in Physical Therapy degree at Des Moines University.  She has worked as a physical therapist in pediatrics for the past 11 years.  Andrea has experience with early intervention and school based physical therapy.  She worked for the MBAEA in Davenport, Iowa serving birth to 21 year old clients with diagnoses of Cerebral Palsy, Developmental Delays, Genetic Defects and disorders, Down Syndrome, Autism, Muscular impairments, Traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and other chronic illnesses.  Andrea and her family relocated to the Des Moines area and are happy to move closer to both sets of grandparents since they have two little boys, Blake and Bryce.

img_6289-245x300Megan (Coady) Mobley, CCC-SLP, is a Speech-Language Therapist who earned her Master’s Degree from the University of Northern Iowa. She has experience working in her field with both adults and children. She especially enjoys working with kids on the Autism spectrum. When she is not working, she enjoys biking, doing running competitions, and spending time with friends and family.

Nichole ClarkNichole Clark, M.A., BCBA, ABA Clinic Director, holds a Master’s Degree in Applied Behavior Analysis with an emphasis in Autism from Ball State University. She has worked in the field of behavior analysis for over five years, including: working as an ABA therapist providing one-on-one therapy,  conducting social skills groups and providing parent education. As the clinical director, Nichole demonstrates strong leadership skills and provides education, training, and supervision to our Registered Behavior Technicians and BCBA’s while encouraging a fun, creative, supportive environment for her team members. She believes in using a team approach to therapy and takes pride in the individualized treatment each client is given, which includes consistent collaboration with other professionals, school districts and parent trainings that provide education and support. She holds memberships with Association for Behavior Analysis International, Association of Professional Behavior Analysts, Iowa Association for Behavior Analysis, and Organizational Behavior Management Network. When she’s not working, she loves spending time with her family and friends. She also enjoys traveling, hiking, biking and being a part of the Des Moines social scene by attending concerts, checking out all things art, and trying new restaurants.

Julie Dauterive, M.A., BCBA, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Jacksonville University and a Master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from Ball State University. She has over 10 years experience working in the field of Behavior Analysis, providing services at a private school, in home and clinical setting. Julie is married and has 4 children. She also has real life experience as a parent of a child with special needs.

Jeri Fyock, Speech-Language Pathologist, received her Master’s degree from the University of South Dakota. She has worked for 24 years with Green Hills AEA and recently relocated to Des Moines to be closer to her grandchildren. Jeri has experience working with children of all ages with a wide variety of communication disabilities. She is so happy to be part of the Metro West family and to have the opportunity to provide quality services to families and children. When she is not working, Jeri loves reading, watching movies, and spending time with her family.


Molly Warner, Speech Language Pathologist, holds a Master’s degree from Rockhurst University. Molly has experience working with children in a variety of settings including: schools, home-based early intervention, and outpatient rehabilitation.
Although she is no longer working within the school system, Molly strives to support the academic success and future endeavors of her students. Molly is passionate about helping children of all ages and abilities succeed. She enjoys being silly and making therapy a fun learning experience. When she is not working, Molly likes to spend time with her husband and dogs, crafting, and watching HGTV.

Mikayla Whitmer, RBT, has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Health from Graceland University. She has experience working with both children and adults diagnosed with a variety of special needs through volunteering at nonprofit organizations. When not at work, Mikayla enjoys playing soccer, spending time with her family and dogs, and enjoying activities outdoor.

Gracie Benton, RBT and Classroom Support,  graduated from Baker University with a Bachelor’s degree in Ecology in 2018. Since graduation she has worked at Woodward Academy, House of Mercy, and Balance Autism. Gracie has worked with many individuals with autism and other genetic disorders while in Kansas, giving rise to her increased interest in developing skills among those with special needs. Her continued interests include plant ecology, plankton, autism, and mental health. Gracie enjoys knitting, video games, and live music in her spare time.

Amanda Olson, RBT and Classroom Support, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Iowa State University and a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Iowa. She has experience working with children on the autism spectrum in a clinical setting and working with children with behavior disorders in an elementary school setting. When not at work, you can find Amanda at home listening to podcasts with her dog, at Target, or out training for her next running event. She believes her students should live by the famous words of Miss Frizzle “Take Chances, Make Mistakes, Get Messy!”

Wendy Berkey, RBT, holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from the College of Saint Benedict – St. John’s University. She has several years of experience working with and advocating for children, so she is excited to join Metro West where she can work more directly with children in a therapeutic setting. Outside of Metro West, Wendy enjoys watching hockey, hiking, playing board games, and spending time with her husband, friends, and family. abilities succeed. She enjoys being silly and making therapy a fun learning experience. When she is not working, Molly likes to spend time with her husband and dogs, crafting, and watching HGTV.

Hannah Alberts, RBT, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from the University of Iowa. She has worked with individuals diagnosed with autism in a variety of settings, including: elementary school classrooms, private schools, and in in-home/community support positions. As an educator, she believes that every learner deserves genuine compassion, patience, and understanding. The thing she enjoys most about being an RBT is the personal connections she has made with clients and families. When she is not at Metro West, Hannah likes to hang out with dogs, mountain bike, make music, swim, paint, and watch movies.

Sophie Klaus, RBT, has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Missouri State University and a Master’s degree in School Psychology from Central Michigan University. She is a certified Registered Behavior Technician. She has experience working with both children and adults with special needs in the schools and community mental health settings.  When not at work, Sophie enjoys spending time with her husband, enjoying activities on the lake, and playing piano.

Ambrose Ball-Harney (1)Ambrose Ball-Harney, RBT and Classroom Support, received a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology along with a minor in Religious Studies from the University of Iowa. He has a long history of working in the Human Services field and greatly enjoys being here to help with whatever pops up during the day. When he’s not working, Ambrose enjoys attending local artist events, going on walks, and cooking.

Justin “Rudy” Pithan graduated from Morningside College with a degree in elementary education and endorsements in special education, middle school, reading and coaching. He has more than 11 years of experience teaching in Arizona and Iowa. He was also a high school baseball coach for 14 years. He likes spending time with his boys and being outside. Rudy truly feels the work he is doing now is his calling. His favorite quote comes from the former UCLA men’s basketball coach, John Wooden, “It is amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit!”

Natalie Bensley, Administrative Assistant, has education in both Early Childhood Special Education and Pre-Medical/Pre-Professional Health from The University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University.  She has 17 years’ experience in non-profit organizations working with Adult Intellectual Disability and Mental Health waiver services. Her time here at Metro West has been a refreshing change! She loves working and interacting with the families here. Seeing the kiddos make progress is extremely exciting! When she’s not working, she enjoys spending time with her son, Anthony, being outdoors, and making new recipes to share with others.

pCUjDVKOElyssa Appleton, Communications Consultant, is in charge of Metro West’s social and digital sites. She holds a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of Iowa. She has more than half a dozen years in writing, editing, copy writing, public relations and and content management. She is the former director of VSA Iowa, a nonprofit that provides free arts programming for kids with disabilities.

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