Gus Crocco, LCSW
CEO & Clinical Director
Gus Crocco is the owner and founder of 1st Step Behavioral Health. He has over 25 years of direct clinical experience in the substance abuse and mental health fields. Gus has worked with diverse populations including prisoners in department of corrections, adolescents, and those met through school social work and his work at various psychiatric facilities. He also worked as an adjunct professor teaching group therapy to college students. He has extensive training in Jungian Psychology, Rational Emotive, behavioral modification and Gestalt therapies. He is versed in experiential therapy, drama therapy and performs family sculpting and role reintegration with recovering families. A number of Gus’s specializations include obsessive-compulsive disorders, eating disorders, acute and general anxiety disorders, bipolar and clinical depressions.
Chief Operating Officer
Naz Andekian joined 1st Step in 2014 as Director of Program Development. After working 4 years as director of admissions in steps to recovery, Naz brought his expertise and knowledge to First Step Behavioral Health. Naz was a client in 2010 and says he knew this place had the ability to save and change many lives.
“I am grateful to have been given this opportunity to work for the very place that saved my life, and now work with humility as part of a team that helps others to save their own on a daily basis.” Naz is convinced that he works for the best treatment center in the nation, and is proud to be part of such a caring team of individuals who always put the needs of our clients first.
Marge joined the 1st Step Behavioral Health family in 2005 as an administrative assistant and has since become the executive administrator. With a degree in science and as a Certified Medical Professional with over 25 years’ experience in the medical and administrative fields, Marge is a leader for the entire staff. She is chiefly responsible for all financial operations and her fiscal management and budgetary knowledge allows 1st Step to provide all clients the best possible care. In addition, Marge is a hands-on administrator, committed to her staff and an active member of the day-to-day operations.
Human Resources Consultant
With over 23 years of human resources experience, Patty is a wealth of knowledge at 1st Step. Patty oversees all facets of Human Resources at the facility. She says she most enjoys working for a company whose staff always puts clients’ needs above all other factors. Patty not only has experience in human resources but is also the staff baker, always prepared to come in with birthday cakes and different deserts for other staff members.
Shawn Hunsberger, RN
Director of Medical Services
Shawn is a senior member of the staff and has been with 1st Step for over 10 years. Shawn came to 1st Step as a client in 2005 and started her journey of recovery. She knew that she was in a special place and wanted to be a part of helping others change their life just as she did. Over time, Shawn has become one of the pillars here. She quickly progressed in the company, starting as a Behavioral Health Tech and is now the Medical Staff Support Supervisor. Her continued education, passion and personal experience is what makes her such an integral part of 1st Step. Shawn is responsible for overseeing the nursing staff and meeting with every client to ensure they are receiving the help they need. Shawn not only takes care of our clients at 1st Step but also takes her care-taking skills home with her to look after her three dogs, two cats, and two ducks. Shawn will soon be a Registered Nurse as she finishes her schooling at the end of 2015.
Frank Donatucci, CAC
Director of Business Development
Frank joins 1st Step as the newly appointed Director of Business Development. He brings with him 15 years experience in the field of addiction. Frank believes that by offering a consistent quality of care to both the patients and relationships he serves, it makes the outcome much greater for success. Frank is a certified addictions counselor who was most recently the Director of Admissions at The Florida House Experience, a position he held for over 9 years. Through this time he has become a highly respected name amongst the treatment community tirelessly assisting prospective patients and their families in their journey into recovery. For him joining 1st Step is a full circle process as he first worked here in 2007.
Edward Tejeiro, LCSW CAP
Clinical Director of Detox Services
Edward Tejeiro joined 1st step as a Primary Clinician in 2016 and then transitioned to the role of Clinical Director for Detox Services. Edward has worked in the fields of Mental Health and Addiction for over 15 years. He brought his prior experience as a clinician and Clinical Director to First Step. Edward holds a Master in Social Work from The University of Georgia Athens and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from Boston College. Edward is currently a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified Sex Therapist and Certified Addictions Professional.
In addition to specializations in sex and substance abuse therapy Edward has developed expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of Axis II Disorders. He believes in the early diagnosis and treatment of co-occurring disorders believing they play an important role in maintaining long term sobriety. Edward also believes in the importance of the family in the recovery process and First Steps commitment to supporting the family throughout the treatment process
Edward was raised in Boston MA and spent summers on Cape Cod. He came to South Florida to experience the endless summers he wished for as a kid.
National Outreach Director
Adam Ponsky has been working in the field for 8 years. He joined the First Step team a year ago after a 7 year career at steps to recovery. As the National Outreach Director his role is to connect and support his team at First Step and meet with other professionals and collaborate services. Adam has traveled to numerous states and has had the ability to work with other like minded professionals. Adam was a client himself in 2010 and has dedicated his career trying to help others seek the same care he was given. The uniqueness and compassion that the staff offers at First Step is what motivates Adam to connect individuals and families to the care offered at First Step.
Angelo Sartar, M.Ed
Angelo Sartor joined the 1st Step team in 2016 as a primary clinician with over 15 years experience working as a highly educated and skilled clinician in both the mental health and addiction fields. Angelo holds a Master in Educational Psychology from Wayne State University and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from William Tyndale College. Angelo truly believes in the philosophies of our primary mission and has a passion for teaching and educating the clients on the neurological and biological aspects of addiction and change.
Janice Watson, BA, CAP, ICADC
Janice Watson joined the 1st Step team in 2012 as a primary clinician with 30 years experience in the field, as a highly educated, experienced and skilled clinician. Her accomplishments include winning the 2005 Counselor of The Year Award from the New Hampshire Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors Association, for her many years of dedication to quality treatment. Janice has made a phenomenal impact in the lives of many individuals and families, and as the senior member of our clinical staff, with her years of experience, work ethic and passion, she is continues to create a rare bond with her clients. Janice has made a great name for herself battling on the front lines of addiction as well as specializing in treating perinatal addiction for over 9 years.
Alexis Mercado, MS, CAP, ICADC
As a Certified Addictions Professional, Alexis Mercado also holds an MS in Marriage and Family Therapy, continuing her education over the years in order to grow with the ever-evolving world of addiction. Alexis brings many years of education, experience and passion to the 1st Step Behavioral Health team, and truly enjoys the compelling clinical environment created at the facility. As a primary clinician at 1st Step, she truly believes in the philosophies of our primary mission. Alexis draws on various techniques such as CBT, psychodrama, meditation, and experiential therapy to treat each individual client and generate the best possible results. Alexis is an avid reader and Maya Angelou fan. One of her favorite quotes, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you,” speaks volumes of Alexis’ dedication to helping individuals in recovery.
Jennifer Digilio, BSW, CAP, ICADC
Jennifer Digilio joined the 1st Step Behavioral Health team as a Primary Clinician in 2014. Jennifer’s years of experience in the field of addiction give her an innate ability to connect with clients regardless of their struggles and help them to make their goals a reality. Jennifer has found a home with the 1st Step team because she feels she is a part of a system of care that is truly committed and dedicated to its clients and their needs. Jennifer has been in recovery for over 20 years and in that time she has created a life fulfilled with love and joy including a marriage of 19 years, two children, four step children, two dogs, and many cats.
Jerry Barbarino, CAC
Jerry Barbarino joined the 1st Step Behavioral Health team in 2015 as a Primary Clinician. What has attracted Jerry to work at 1st Step is the philosophy of teamwork and the opportunity to put caring for the clients first. Jerry takes a client centered and individualized approach with every client. He enjoys the challenge of working with business-professional clients, treating each person with the highest regard and really focusing on the underlying issues of their addiction. Jerry is a big Bob Dylan fan and stands by the quote, “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”
Martin Waddington, BA, CAP, ICADC
Martin Waddington has been a part of the 1st Step family since 2011, first as a client and now as a well-respected staff member. Martin’s personal recovery fuels his drive and passion to help clients who are in need. In his first position as a Case Manager at 1st Step Behavioral Health, Martin proved to be a great asset to the team and while continuing his education, he has now taken on the position of Outpatient Clinician. His education and years of recovery experience have given him the opportunity to become a great clinician for our clients in the early stages of recovery. As a transplant from Pennsylvania to Florida in 2011, Martin now calls Palm Beach County home and considers the 1st Step family a part of his own.
“After arriving at 1st Step as a client I immediately understood what a special place it was and am eternally grateful to be able to carry 1st Step’s mission to other recovering addicts in an effort to help them with the same levels of care and compassion that were shown to me.”
Glenda Summerlin Graham, BA, CAP, CMHP, CPP, ICADC
Glenda has been working in the field of Dual diagnosis since 1991 as a primary therapist. Glenda is experienced in not only treating Chemical dependency, but also the underlying Mental health issues that exacerbates the Substance abuse problem. Issues such as Adult children of alcoholics, Childhood and adult Trauma, eating disorders, Mood Disorders and personality disorders are just a few that are addressed when working with Glenda. Glenda began working with First step in 2005 to 2011 and returned in 2016. Glenda also enjoys incorporating her artistic abilities into her therapy and utilizes art therapy, Music therapy and experiential therapy in her therapeutic style.
Debra Edwards brings 25 years of experience in the fields of addiction and mental health to her role as a Clinician at First Step Behavioral Health. Debra holds a Master’s Degree of Arts from Bellevue University, Bachelor Degree of Science from Bellevue University, and Associate Degree in Chemical Dependency Counseling from Metro Community College in her home state of Nebraska.
During Debra’s career, she has managed transitional housing programs, worked as a certified evaluator/DUI instructor, provided prevention and intervention education for the 15 Judicial Circuit Courts diversion program, and has been a sober coach for over 15 years.
Debra’s personal philosophy is that being spiritually connected, having a positive attitude, and serving others is key to a purposeful, successful life. Debra’s passion for her work and the depth and wealth of her experience, is an asset to our clinical team, clients and families she serves.
Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW
Brittany has been working in the field of addiction and mental health since 2012. Brittany holds a master’s degree in social work and has experience with chemical dependency and oc-occurring mental health diagnoses. She is experienced with various therapeutic techniques, including CBT, DBT, motivational interviewing, and experiential therapy that she individualizes for her clientele. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery. Brittany’s role as primary clinician has allowed her to integrate the philosophies of 1st Step into her daily practice and continue to grow both professionally and personally. She enjoys practicing yoga and spending time with two of 1st Step’s furry mascots, her dogs Maya and Cairo.
Renee Altman, LCSW
Renee Altman is a licensed clinical social worker by the state of Florida. She has been working in the field of substance abuse and co-occurring mental disorders for the past 25 years. In addition to substance she has been clinically trained in: Experiential Therapy, Dialectial Behavioral Therapy, Gestalt Therapy and Psycho-drama. As a primary clinician, she treats each client as an individual and will utilize whatever modality is best suited for sustainable long-term recovery and increased mental health. Her passion for working in this field and with this population has only increased over time. Renee believes that each client is a perfect and unique individual with the ability to create a fulfilling life worth living.
Jeffrey Caparros, CAP
Jeff Caparros has been a counselor in mental health and addictions for the past 28 years. He earned his Bachelor’s of Science (BS) degree in the field of psychology and his Certification as an Addictions Professional (CAP). Jeff has practiced counseling in both inpatient and outpatient settings. He has many years of training and experience counseling individuals, couples, families and groups in these therapeutic settings.
Dana Latheef, LMHC
Dana Latheef joined 1st Step as a clinician at Detox treatment services. Dana has worked in the field of addiction and mental health since 2012. Dana holds a Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling and is currently a Licensed Mental Health Counselor.
Craig Vrablic, ARNP
Dr. Craig Vrablic holds a doctoral degree in Clinical Sexology from The American Academy of Clinical Sexologists and a Master of Science in Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing from Florida International University. As an undergraduate, he studied at the University of Miami and Northwestern University. He is a Board Certified Family Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner and a Board Certified Sex Therapist. He is a member of The National Honors Society, The Honor Society of Nursing, American Psychiatric Nurses Association, Neuroscience Education Institute, and Diplomat of the American Board of Sexology. Dr. Vrablic has worked in health care since 1978 and in the past 20+ years of his professional career, he has focused in the field of Psychiatry and Addiction. Dr. Vrablic blends the Rogerian Client-Centered approach with Rational Emotive Therapy, building on client’s strengths and integrating harm reduction. He incorporates appropriate psychopharmacology when necessary to achieve optimal mental health and functioning. Dr. Vrablic is available to address psychopharmacology needs, sexual issues, brief psychotherapy, individual, relationship and family therapy, as well as addictions and co-dependency issues.
Claudia Mulhall, LPN
Medical Support Supervisor
Claudia joined the 1st Step team in 2011 as a recent nursing graduate. Claudia’s knowledge, passion, and work ethic makes her a major asset to the 1st Step medical staff. Claudia enjoys helping clients and seeing their transformation from detox to discharge. She is continuing her education, and looks forward to becoming a Registered Nurse.
Donna Grizzle, RN
Physician Coordinator & Outpatient Supervisor
Donna Grizzle joined the 1st Step family originally in 2010 as a client and has since become an integral part to our daily operation. With many years experience working in a private practice as an RN, Donna is the physician coordinator, and most recently became the outpatient supervisor at 1st Step Behavioral Health. Donna’s responsibilities range from working hand in hand with our team of physicians, to being a willing listener for struggling clients. Her education combined with her passion to help those in need has been her greatest asset at 1st Step. As a result of overcoming her own battle with addiction, Donna is now known as a mother figure to many of the clients at 1st Step, and is a wealth of knowledge and comfort for clients in need.
Mariela Espinoza, LPN
Medical Support Supervisor
Mariela has over 15 years of medical experience. She has worked with primary care services, emergency care services, cancer care, and substance abuse. She started with first step in December 2016, as a LPN, and has been recently promoted to Medical Support Supervisor. Her passion is to help others when they can longer help themsleves. She is currently enrolled in nursing school and pursuing a degree in Registered Nursing. she wants to specialize in Mental Health, and is looking forward to growing with her First Step Family. Her personal quote she lives by is: Let your smile change the world, don’t let the world change your smile”
Admissions & Outreach
Kevin joined the 1st Step family as staff in 2014 as a Behavioral Health Technician. Originally, Kevin entered the facility as a patient in 2012, and now in recovery, he is able to take pride in his work and become a supportive hand to other addicts in need of help. He has continued to be a major asset to the 1st Step team, being quickly promoted from his Behavioral Health Technician role to his current position in admissions. Kevin is in the midst of continuing his education to obtain his CAC to continue his career in the substance abuse field. With a constant smile on his face and always willing to go the extra mile for each client, Kevin has proven to be an example of what recovery can do. Along with his other talents, Kevin is also the staff artist, painting numerous murals and pictures for different staff members.
Jason became a part of first step as a client in 2014. After successfully completing his treatment, he became a member of the staff in 2015 as a behavioral health technician. By the end of 2016, Jason was promoted to the admissions team where he then was able to utilize the tools he learned while under the care of first steps’s devoted staff. He is now able to impart the things that he learned to other prospective clients and their families giving them hope for a better future through his own experience. Throughout the time Jason has worked at first step, he has also been a valuable member of the recovering community in South Florida. Coming from Philadelphia, Jason has adopted Florida as his new home and enjoys playing golf, relaxing on the beach and spending time with his new family and friends.
Maura joined the First Step family in 2017 in the admissions department. Maura has 8 year experience in the field of addiction. She has been working in admissions for 7 years. Maura started as a behavioral health tech before finding passion with the admission process of helping struggling addicts. She enjoys the beach in her off time as well as football.
Gail Para, CRS
Case Management Supervisor
Gail has been an important member of the treatment team since 2004. As Case Management Supervisor at 1st Step, Gail serves as a liaison between the clients and their employers, attorneys and EAP. She provides documentation for clients with a leave-of-absence from work, a disabled status, or those involved with the criminal justice system. She works closely with attorneys and the court liaison. Gail is also skilled in helping clients who are applying for assistance, both for vocational and financial needs. Her role on the clinical team is significant, in that she assists our clients with the numerous resources available in the community. Gail helps each client with compassion, support and dignity as she guides them through complex matters. It is of extreme importance to her to make certain our clients are able to accomplish their goal of returning to the workplace after treatment.
James Stankes joined the 1st Step Behavioral Health team first in 2012 as a patient from New York looking to better his life and start his recovery. Two years later, James jumped on an opportunity for the role of Behavioral Health Technician at 1st Step. Since that time, James has grown not only in his recovery, but also in his role at 1st Step. Promoted to Case Manager in 2014, he takes on responsibilities of managing all clients’ legal, family, and employment issues, or any additional things that may prevent a client from solely focusing on their recovery. James is continuing his education to become a Certified Addiction Counselor in hopes to one day become a therapist and assist clients in their journey to recovery.
Ron joined First Step Behavioral Health as a client in 2015. It was while he was a client that he learned and developed his passion for helping others who are suffering in their addiction. Ron made a promise to himself, the day he discharged, that he would be back to work in the case management department at first step, and in 2017 his dream paid off. Ron takes a great amount of pride in helping our clients with their work, legal, and other issues so that they can focus on the core of their problems and get on the path to success in their recovery.
Ginia Ernest, BBA
Ginia Ernest joined 1st Step in 2013 as an Administrative Assistant and has since become a valued member of our team. Ginia not only takes on the administrative role, but also oversees client accounts and finances. She has become the welcoming and familiar voice on the phone for families and loved ones here. With a bachelor’s degree in finances, Ginia gets to use her knowledge and education to assure each client’s financial records are up to date. Ginia enjoys her working here and it has given her the ability to meet people from all different walks of life, allowing her to watch them grow and change.
Sarah Hatch Carlisi joined the 1st step team in 2017 as an administrative assistant and client account coordinator for the detox. She works closely with the admissions and case management departments to ensure the clients’ financial needs are taken care of sometimes before they even arrive and up until their transition out of the detox level of care. Sarah became interested in the treatment field in 2012 when she entered into rehab for her own battle with addiction, and has since celebrated over 5 years of sobriety. She is currently a student at Florida Atlantic University, working towards becoming a licensed mental health counselor. Outside of work and school, Sarah enjoys spending time with her husband and two beautiful daughters.
Amanda recently graduated top of her class for Medical Billing and Coding. She works with the COO of First Step to ensure all insurance is billed correctly. Amanda handles any audits, discrepancies and updates with the policies, as well as marketing tools. She works closely with the administrative team and coordinators.
Annette Swan, CBHT
Annette originally joined 1st Step in 2008 as a Chemical Dependency Technician and has since risen through the ranks to Residential Supervisor. Annette’s responsibilities are to oversee the Behavioral Health Tech staff and to ensure all daily tasks at the residences are managed effectively. Having been in recovery for over 11 years, Annette is always available to our clients and willing to assist in getting them through any situation. Annette decided to stay at 1st Step after being “enamored by the owner’s big heart and the actual care for the clients.”
Vandy Brisbon, RT
Vandy Brisbon joined the 1st Step Behavioral Health team in 2009 as a Behavioral Health Technician and has since became the evening Residential Supervisor. Vandy takes pride in his work and personal contact with each client that walks through the door. He has become an unwavering staple of the 1st Step staff, always willing and ready to assist clients in any way possible. With 11 years in recovery under his belt, Vandy has an innate ability to connect with clients and be a part of their early recovery process. He believes in the principles of 1st Step Behavioral Health and enjoys the sense of family and community he finds while helping clients get introduced to the recovery process.
Susi Ferguson is a long time employee and member of the 1st Step family. Susi started her career here as a bus driver in March 2007. Over the years, she has worked up the ladder, receiving several promotions and is now a Supervisor overseeing all residential operations including transportation, support staff, housing operations and client activities. Susi works in direct contact with clients and their families. She makes sure to come to work each day with a positive attitude in hopes to affect each clients’ life in a positive way.