We practice what we preach and we're grateful to have such dedicated board members supporting our mission, vision, and dream of inclusion.



Jody Van Ness, MA | Board Secretary and Advisor
U of M Institute of Community Integration

Jody has 30+ years of experience in education and training focused on early intervention, family, person-centered engagement, employment, and autism. She's also trained in The Learning Community’s model of person-centered thinking.

Jody was the founding director of Lionsgate Academy, and the CEO of Eyebox Tools Inc. Her experiences within the educational, medical, and social services systems continually inform her work and practice. 

Currently, Jody's employed by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration (ICI). She works on a team within the Research and Training Center on Community Living (RTC-CL) that provides a wide range of research, training, and technical assistance and dissemination projects related to community supports.

She also provides writing, consultation, and coordination support for new courses in the College of Direct Support, drawing on a varied background in writing, editing, teaching, and educational consulting.

Most importantly, Jody feels she's learned what’s most important from her adult son who lives with autism.


Nell Coonen-Korte | Board Inclusion Officer
Special Olympics Minnesota

Nell is a highly decorated Health and Wellness Ambassador for Special Olympics Minnesota, as well as a Special Olympics North America Health Messenger who has shared her journey with audiences in Washington D.C, Atlanta, and Seattle.

She's public speaker who's mission is to give a voice to those who don't have one. She's spoken in front of various corporations including Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc., Voya, United Health Group, I Heart Radio, Delta Airlines, US Bank, and JNBA.

She's spoken to Minnesota Senators at the State Capitol about inclusion and advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities and she's presented in front of various nonprofit leaders in our Minnesota community.

When she's not out making the world more inclusive, she trains and competes on the Hardshell Barbenders SOMN Power lifting team and enjoys reading, writing, and networking with other passionate humans. 




Ben Swarts | Founder and Executive Director

Ben's reason for getting up in the morning is to make the world a better place by impacting individuals and building a community around what it means to be human - health and wellness.

Ben has 14+ years of working with individuals with intellectual disabilities. In 2013, he shifted his career from being a service coordinator at Opportunity Partners to helping run sporting events at Special Olympics Minnesota. 

Of particular note, Ben was instrumental in creating and implementing the SOfit Unified Wellness program, which is now impacting people in Special Olympics programs all over the world. In addition, he's been part of panels, presentations and trainings focused on inclusive wellness at a national level as well as consulting gyms on becoming more inclusive.

He's the head coach and founder of the Special Olympics Minnesota HardShell Barbenders powerlifting team. They're a group of lifters with and without disabilities who train together because iron sharpens iron! Since 2016, our athletes have consistently placed at the top in the state while showcasing determination, coach-ability and discipline in their training. (Needless to say, he's PROUD!) 

Ben enjoys helping people realize their ability, and he loves seeing the 'domino' effect happen when people find success in one part of their life as it carries over to their overall quality of life. He knows being a good coach and leader is more than making decisions - it's meeting people where they're at, listening to what they want and helping them get what they need while providing space for success.  

Korie Floe | Program Manager

Korie’s passion in life consists of finding and bringing out everyone’s abilities. She lives this passion everyday with determination, compassion, and enthusiasm in her desire to make a positive difference in the lives of her friends and clients.

Korie earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Exercise Science from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN. She has been working with individuals of all abilities and all ages for six years in various environments. Korie possess' extensive experience and education with individuals who have physical and intellectual disabilities. She is determined to find the “why” behind a limitation, discover ways to break down the limitation, and eliminate it.

Korie has previously worked as a Special Need’s Fitness Trainer in a sensory gym. Sensory integration, movement based learning, and other methods were utilized in both therapeutic and recreational activities. In addition, she had the opportunity to share her knowledge with college students who were seeking degrees and experience with adaptive movement.

Volunteering with Special Olympics allows her to continue to grow and strengthen her passion. For the past 3 years she has been a coach for volleyball, basketball, soccer, and Young Athletes. Her greatest achievement thus far in Special Olympics was bringing SOfit Unified Wellness to North Dakota in the Cass County Chapter. In addition to starting SOfit, she lead a research study on the program as part of her undergraduate degree.

She was humbled and honored that the State of North Dakota Special Olympics recognized her with the 2017 Youth Service Award while she was a college student there.  

The greatest part of her life is helping individuals discover new possibilities/abilities through movement and celebrating their amazing success.




We’re the sum of the people we surround ourselves with. Meet some of the experts who push our organization to brilliant
new heights.


Katie Thune - Mad Hatter Wellness, Founder + Chief Educator
Sexual Health Educator

Teresa Kosmas - Finance Consultant
Finance & Accounting

Ashley Mondor - Communication Specialist for Allianz Life + Life Coach
Marketing & Communications

Karen Ryan - Ocean of Violets, Founder/Consultant and SVP, Director of Account Operations - Team General Mills at McCann Minneapolis

Max Shank - Author, Coach/Owner of
Ambition Athletics

Personal Development + Business Mentor

Mike Kane - Special Olympics Minnesota, VP of Program