Denise Sowell Montford was born and raised in Panama City, Florida. She graduated from Auburn University with a B.A. in Psychology and a Master’s in Social Work from the University of South Carolina. Denise’s professional experience includes mental health counseling in outpatient, inpatient, and long-term care settings; child welfare and foster care case management; hospital-based social work and other health care settings. Specifically, she spent 18 and a half years in social work, bereavement, education, and training in the hospice setting. Additionally, Denise has been an adjunct instructor in the Social Work Department at Florida State University Panama City for 10 years. For the past 3 years, Denise has been on the Social Work Department faculty at Florida State University Panama City. In 2015, Denise co-founded Angel House Bereavement Center and now serves as its President and Executive Director. She continues to promote the field of Social Work by providing supervision for social work and counseling interns, and clinical supervision for social work and counseling interns who are pursuing their licensure.
Denise is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in Florida and a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) in Alabama. She is also a Certified Trauma Professional (CCTP) through the International Association of Trauma Professionals (IATP). Denise completed the Thanatology Certificate Program at the University of Alabama. She is a member of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and has the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW) credentials through NASW.
Denise has received the following awards:
First Lady of the Year from the Beta Sigma Phi Sorority in 1999
Social Work Educator of the Year from the NASW Emerald Coast Unit in 2014
Social Worker of the Year from the NASW Emerald Coast Unit in 2018
In her personal life, Denise is married to James Montford and they have a teenage daughter, Sadie whose siblings include 5 cats: Dexter, Sylvester, Leo, Tabby, and Mr. Whiskers.
For Denise, Angel House is a mission and dream that is rooted deeply in her heart, “Twenty-five years ago, my siblings and I began our grief journey following the death of our father. We were unprepared for the major impact this loss would have on our family. Through my own grief, I learned how unpredictable grief can be and how everyone grieves in their own way. Because of my own experience, I decided that I wanted to help other families who had experienced the loss of a loved one. The following year, I began working for a hospice as their bereavement specialist. I had a wonderful mentor who taught me much of what I know about grief and loss. I learned the rest of what I know about grief from the many individuals who have allowed me to walk with them in their own grief journey. Throughout my years with hospice, my dream of one day opening a free-standing bereavement center began to develop. This dream was shared by the other co-founders of Angel House and all our dedicated volunteers. It was a dream come true for all of us when Angel House opened its doors in April 2015. In our society, death and grief are often denied and many find it uncomfortable to support others who are grieving.
It is my mission to provide education and support to others who are grieving. Angel House BCI is a quiet and safe place where they can come and share their deepest pain and receive support from our therapists, staff, volunteers, and others who are grieving. It is truly an honor to walk with individuals through their grief journey.”
Vanessa Pogue Serio was born in Missouri and raised in Panama City. Vanessa has a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City where she graduated Summa Cum Laude with Arts and Sciences Honors. She has a M.A. in Industrial/ Organizational Psychology from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Vanessa spent over 10 years as a Human Resource professional. She began her career as a Human Rights Officer with the State of Missouri investigating complaints of discrimination and sexual harassment. Vanessa then progressed to the Classification and Pay Analyst for 35 Missouri Division of Developmental Disabilities facilities. She was then promoted to Compensation Analyst with responsibility for the State of Missouri Merit System Pay Plan. Vanessa’s career culminated as the Human Resources Director for the Missouri State Retirement System. During her career, she was assigned to the Missouri Governor’s Commission on Management and Productivity charged with streamlining and re-writing state personnel law. After retirement, Vanessa worked for a hospice as the regional media coordinator. Vanessa is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). She is a 1998 Graduate of Leadership Missouri, Member of Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, Outstanding Student of America 1988-1989, National Dean’s List 1987-1989 and received Bereavement Volunteer of the Year in 2005. She has been married to the love of her life, Scott Serio, for over thirty years.
Vanessa is passionate in her support of Angel House. “I had a very traumatic, difficult time dealing with the unexpected deaths of my mother and father when they died in their 50’s. I eventually learned, I was suffering from complicated grief and PTSD. Unfortunately, I experienced many professionals (doctors and counselors) who were not knowledgeable and trained in the field of grief. As a result, these professionals were harmful to me. After years of suffering, I finally found a professional with specialized knowledge and experience in grief who saved my life. This was Denise Sowell Montford our President and Executive Director. I support Angel House any way I can because I don’t want anyone else to suffer.” Type your paragraph here.
Janice P. Chavers,
Dana Paramore Dunnigan, Treasurer
Adrienne Bartle, BSW MS
Masters of Science in Counseling and Psychology
Our Staff & Board of Directors
Gail Little was born in Florida and raised between Florida, Georgia and California. She graduated from High School in Miami, Florida and from the Wiesbaden School of Art, Troy University. While raising three daughters, Gail ran a day care from her home and a cake business from various military stations around the world. During this time, Gail became fluent in Thai, Spanish and German. After retirement, Gail became a Life Coach at Chautaugua Learn and Service School in Bay County. She met her husband Marty Little in high school and they got married after he joined the Air Force. They will be celebrating their 48th anniversary this year! Together they have three daughters, Amy, Emily and Jessica. They also have two nephews, Matthew and Ryan and a niece Sarah that they helped raise. They have six grandchildren, Emilia, Gelina, Guliana, Benjamin, Miles and Ella. Gail volunteers her time to Angel House and serves as its secretary. She also volunteers for various church activities as well as everything grandparent related! Additionally, Gail is certified as a Lifeguard, has several art certifications and in an exceptional claim to fame, she won 2nd place in the Troy State University Chili cook off! With any free time, Gail and Marty love to travel, go boating, camping and spending time with their amazing grandchildren!
For Gail supporting Angel House is personal. “After the death of my mother, Elizabeth, I received bereavement counseling and joined a bereavement group. I know firsthand how important these services are and how vital having a qualified bereavement therapist to assist you during a time a grief and loss can be.”
Adrienne Bartle was born in Landstuhl, Germany (a dependent of an Army Officer) and grew up along the East Coast from New Jersey to Florida; however, she calls Charlotte, North Carolina her true home.
Adrienne started school in North Carolina, at Montreat College working on her prerequisites. Then she moved to Georgia and attended Georgia Southern University (where her focus was recreational therapy and subsequently took a job at Meadowbrook – now The Sheperd Center as a summer internship). Finally, she relocated to Florida, ending at Gulf Coast State College, earning her Associate of Arts degree.
In 1997, Adrienne graduated from Florida State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. She began a job as the Social Services Director of Glen Cove Nursing Pavilion, which was a 120 bed facility with an Alzheimers / Dementia Unit. 1998, she met her husband on a blind date and in 1999, she relocated to Tallahassee, Florida where she was hired as a Case Manager for the Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Program of HealthSouth, and married her husband.
As of 2005, she returned to Panama City, and was able to transition into a Case Management role at HealthSouth; being the only Social Worker hired for the position. In 2008, Adrienne became a Senior Case Manager, and by 2011, she was promoted to Director of Case Management at Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital.
Adrienne started working with Angel House Bereavement Center in 2015, as a student intern, after attending a meaningful educational seminar (about Grief and Loss, Caregiver Support, Symptom changes and Diagnosis management when a person may require Rehabilitation or Hospice) offered by Denise Montford LCSW and Christina Cassani and determining this was the focus she wanted to continue to pursue. In 2018, she obtained a Master’s of Science degree in Counseling and Psychology; however, Hurricane Michael put a delay on further work at the hospital and the bereavement center. By 2020, Adrienne was able to return to support the Directors, as a Registered Mental Health Counseling Intern, working with youth and adults in one on one counseling sessions. She has received specific education with regards to trauma-informed counseling and she is currently pursuing her Certification as a Grief Counseling Specialist.
Adrienne is married and has one son. She enjoys traveling, photography, music, and art of any kind. In years past, she has volunteered for Camp Lurecrest, in Lake Lure, North Carolina. Adrienne was member of the Second Chance of NW Florida’s board from 1997 to 1999 under the direction of Dr. Clell Warriner and Ginger Worley, LCSW. She has provided volunteer support to The Alzheimer’s Association, The Empty Bowl Project, Klothes for Kids, fundraising for The Panama City Pregnancy Center and is a current member of the Panama City Community Adult Protective Taskforce and the American Mental Health Counselors Association.
“I joined Angel House in 2015, during my internship at Troy University; providing support to an Ongoing Group of Angel Wing members who were stitched together by the bond of friendship, from shared grief experiences. These specific interactions I will always be glad to have been an active participant. While Hurricane Michael was a setback for the facility (and personally), we were able to meet and provide counseling support to those who came through our doors. Angel House provides a calm, supportive environment, clients can know they will come in and be able to share their grief story receiving empathy along the way. The Directors and Board have been so supportive of my role. The knowledge and we are placing in the community, helping those manage their grief journey is a goal I continue to strive for. I feel my role as a Social Worker and Grief Counselor has afforded me the tools to provide gifts of service to others in need, regardless of the environment.”
Where Grieving Hearts Heal
Barbara H. Wells was born and raised in Alabama. She graduated from Auburn University with a B.S. in Home Economics, Family and Child Development specialty and a M.S. from Troy University in Counseling and Guidance. Most of Barbara’s career was with the State of Georgia, Department of Human Resources, Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) in Atlanta, Georgia. Barbara began employment as a Disability Adjudicator with the Disability Adjudication Section (DAS) in 1973. She then moved into management with DAS and spent several years at DRS headquarters as a Special Projects Manager and IT Liaison. Barbara retired in 2001 as an Operations Manager with DAS and is a Certified Public Manager. She is married to Bob Wells and has 7 stepchildren, 10 grandchildren, 7 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild. Bob is also a volunteer for Angel House Bereavement Center. In addition to Barbara’s volunteering with Angel House Bereavement Center, she also volunteers with Coast Guard Auxiliary and Christian Motorcyclists. In her spare time, she enjoys boating, motorcycling, traveling, gardening and spending time with friends and family.
Barbara has a very personal reason for her commitment to Angel House Bereavement Center, “When my previous husband, Jim Vagenas, passed away, bereavement counseling meant the world to me. Angel House is a valuable resource for those facing grief and loss and I want it to be available to others in our community.”
Michael Cassani was born in Honolulu Hawaii and raised in Brockton Massachusetts and South Windsor Connecticut. Michael’s educational background is in Fire Science and he spent his career as a Firefighter, U.S. Air Force, Retired Captain of the Panama City Fire Department. Michael is certified in fire investigations and hazardous materials, technician level. He has also received a Meritorious Service Award from the Panama City Fire Department. Michael is widowed with two daughters Mahala Thogode and Sydney Wallace-Cassani. He also has one granddaughter, Ariana Thogode. Along with being a Board Member, Michael volunteers his talents with Angel House by maintaining our social media presence and as a photographer.
Michael’s connection to Angel House BCI is deeply personal. “My wife, Christina Cassani was a founding member of Angel House. After she passed away, volunteering was one way to help me heal and process grief. Last year, I was honored to be asked to serve on the Board of Directors.”
Gail Little, Board Member, Secretary
Denise Smith Baril, LCSW, CGCS
Certified Grief Counseling Specialist
Director of Children and Adolescent Services
Janice P. Chavers was born and raised in the Panhandle of Florida. She graduated from Bay High School right here in Panama City. Janice began her career as a secretary with the School Board of Bay and Washington counties. Her family opened a retail furniture store, The Furniture Mart, where she was the bookkeeper. Janice then worked for many years as an Administrative Assistant for a Bereavement Specialist at a local hospice which led to her current position of Office Manager for Angel House Bereavement Center. Janice is married to Gerald M. Chavers, Jr. and their family includes one daughter, Melissa (Missy) C. McCoy and son-in-law Mark McCoy. Janice is also a proud grandmother to Parker, Carter and Cooper McCoy. In her spare time, Janice enjoys crafting, camping fishing and spending time with her grandsons.
Janice supports and volunteers for Angel House Bereavement Center because “I believe grief and loss counseling is very much needed in our community. The counseling and skills given to our clients truly prepares them to live in a new normal.”
Dana Paramore Dunnigan was born and grew up in Ozark, Alabama but has lived in Panama City since 1985 so she feels like a native. Dana has had her Real Estate Broker’s license since 1991. She and her husband, Dennis Dunnigan started their own Real Estate firm and ran it for 21 years. Now, Dana and Dennis have scaled back on the company and work for their daughter Ashley at her firm, so that they can better serve their customers and clients. Dana is a Certified Residential Broker and Certified Residential Specialist. She was awarded Broker of the Year among all Bay County Realtors three times in the past 25 years. Dana has been married to her soulmate, friend and business partner Dennis for over 20 years. They even got married during Hurricane Georges! Scaling back on their company has enabled Dana and Dennis to raise their niece, Jade, who lost her father (Dana’s brother) in a very traumatic experience when she was three years old. They are now in the process of officially adopting her! Dana and Dennis also have three other children, Ashley, Michael, and Timothy. In addition to volunteering for Angel House, Dana works with pre-school children at her church, First United Methodist of Panama City.
Dana “I lost my brother, Woody, 12 years ago, and it was very traumatic for our entire family. My mom and I started attending grief counseling shortly after that, and it probably saved both our lives. We worked with the counselor, Christina Coates Cassani, for years, and followed her when she and her co-workers started Angel House. They have been such a life changer for me, my mom, husband, and niece, and I know and have seen firsthand how much they do for others and our community. They truly can help you change your circumstances. They also know firsthand what it’s like to suffer life-changing loss. I am thankful for the opportunity to give back in little ways to this organization and Denise and her team that has done so much for me.”
Bereavement Center Inc.
Barbara H Wells, Board Member,
Robbie Fuller was born and raised in Panama City and St. Andrew Florida. He graduated from Bay High School and went to Sea School three times. Robbie grew up on and around boats in the Gulf of Mexico all his life. He’s been involved with fishing boats, Harbour pilots and Tugboats. Robbie also worked in offshore oil fields. Robbie is a USCG Master Mariner and has four USCG Letters of Commendations for Lifesaving/Vessel, Saving/Search & Rescue, Non-Emergency Search and Towing to Safety. He is married to Susan Fuller who is also a volunteer for Angel House Bereavement Center. They have two sons Bobby and Brandon and three daughters Cristina, Cara and Dina. In addition to his volunteer hours with Angel House Bereavement Center, Robbie enjoys fishing and spending time with his grandkids.
Robbie is devoted to Angel House Bereavement Center for personal reasons. “Angel House is very near and dear to Susan and me due to losing our former spouses. And, also losing my parents and other family members and friends.”
Website and Social Media Coordinator
Vanessa Pogue Serio,
Volunteer and Media Coordinator
Denise Smith Baril was born and raised in Bossier City, Louisiana. She has lived in Panama City, Florida since 2001. Denise earned an Applied Science Degree from Gulf Coast State College in Early Childhood Education and Care as well as an Associate Degree of Arts. She earned a Bachelor of Social Work (2018) and a Master of Social Work (2020) from Florida State University. Denise is licensed as a Registered Clinical Social Worker Intern in the State of Florida. Denise began her career teaching preschool at First United Methodist Church in Panama City. She has worked as a paraprofessional at Bay Haven Charter Academy. Most recently, her career has been with Anchorage Children’s home as a Street Outreach Supervisor and then transitioning into a Case Manager for the Transitional Living Program and Maternity Transitional Living Programs. Currently, Denise is in an internship with Angel House Bereavement Center for her Master of Social Work. Denise holds a Notary Public Commission. She is also a certified Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED instructor. Denise was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa in 2016, Phi Alpha Social Work Honor Society in 2017, Garnet Key Society in 2018 (honor/leadership society FSU-PC) where she earned the Garnet and Gold Scholar in 2018. Denise was awarded the NASW BSW Student of the Year in 2018 and was also awarded the very high honor of being FSU Humanitarian of the Year in 2018 for the College of Social Work in Tallahassee. Denise has been married to Mike Baril for 29 years and their family includes two daughters, Bethany and Chloe, a son-in-law, Chris and a grandson Bradley. Their family also includes 4 dogs – Bo, Coco, Lulu and Handsome and 3 cats- Simon, Spooky and Quinn. In addition to volunteering with Angel House, Denise has been very active for many years helping people without homes find food and resources in the area.
Denise wanted to be a part of Angel House Bereavement Center because “Angel House provides a safe place for people to come share and process through the losses of life. There is no judgment in this organization just acceptance and assistance. There is help for anyone needing help not just those with insurance or money. Everyone experiences loss in life. Hurricane Michael dealt everyone in the area a huge loss and Angel House has been there to help everyone…It is the only non-profit in the area providing such services and I am so thankful for Angel House, the board, the staff, and the volunteers.”
Denise Sowell Montford, LCSW, CCTP President and Executive Director
Vice-Chairman and Head of Ways and Means