Staff of New Directions
Our staff are dedicated educational and medical professionals who have been trained to support individuals with all levels of Autism and Asperger’s syndrome.
- Sylvie Hawkins: Director
Sylvie Hawkins, a native of Montgomery, Alabama, has worked in social services since 2002. An advocate for the underrepresented in society due to her own family experiences with mental illness, Sylvie began volunteering with the American Red Cross, the local Rotary Club, the Boys and Girls Club, and Sunbridge Rehabilitation Center in high school. Later, she worked for the State of Alabama in juvenile corrections in a therapeutic treatment program. Over time, she realized that she had a deep interest for helping those struggling with mental issues, and compassion for their families.
Afterwards, she moved from Alabama to Georgia in 2008. She began working as a mental health therapist for several agencies, before finding her niche, working in the field of developmental disabilities in 2012.
Sylvie has several years of experience in developmental assessment, behavioral management, and individualized supports. Her focus is on helping individuals discover their strengths and realize their goals. She believes that individuals with disabilities deserve interesting and fun life experiences in a safe, nurturing environment.
Sylvie’s educational background includes a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from Auburn University Montgomery and a Master of Science in Counseling and Psychology from Troy University Montgomery. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family, karaoke, browsing Pinterest, and Sudoku puzzles.
- Mary O’Connell: Founder and Developmental Disabilties Professional
Mary J. O’Connell worked in the Gwinnett County Public Schools for over seventeen years teaching children with Autism, before retiring in May 2012. She has experience working with children affected by all levels of Autism. She holds a Masters Degree from Georgia State and is a Highly Qualified Certified teacher in the state of Georgia.
Mary is the founder of New Directions Georgia, a day program founded for adults with moderate or severe Autism. In addition to directing Social Skills Today and New Directions Georgia, Mary enjoys educating adults and teachers at conferences and within the school system. Mary has presented at the Autism 101 Conference sponsored by the Georgia Chapter of the Autism Society of America, and several Autism Conferences in Georgia and North Carolina. In the school system, Mary designed and provided many training courses on a variety of educational issues, and instructional strategies. She is a key instructor for the Spectrum Kommunity Inclusion Program (SKIP), a program, which provides trainings on Autism to community organizations wanting to include children and adults with Autism.
Mary is also the director of Social Skills Today. Social Skills Today (SST) manages Spectrum Camps and Clubs’ many programs and events in Gwinnett, social skills programs in North Fulton and Rockdale County Autism Support Group's Saturday programs. Over the past ten years SST has expanded its programs to include Social Skills groups, summer camps, and overnight respite for children with Autism and their siblings. As the director, she provides high quality instructional leadership guiding the teachers and staff toward developing meaningful and measurable outcomes for individuals with social interaction and behavioral needs. Her vision for Social Skills Today is to continue to expand into other counties within Georgia and provide more activities for children with Autism.
Mary is on the board of the Swan Song Foundation and has cooperatively written an introductory sailing curriculum for families of child affected by Autism.
She looks at each day as a chance to change the lives of persons affected by Autism. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her children and grandchildren, traveling and reading.
All staff are CPR certified and have worked in the school system for many years in Autism and Regular education classrooms which include individuals with Autism/ Spectrum Disorder.