Our board

Denise Burry

Executive Director

Prior to founding Forward Paths with the other board members, Denise Burry was a certified Guardian Ad Litem with the 5th Circuit, State of Florida for 5 years advocating for the best interests of the children she represented. She also ran the Angel Tree Program at Morrison United Methodist for the past eleven years. Each year this program aided more than seventy families which included more than 200 children. She is the mother of eight children, two of whom were internationally adopted. Denise and her husband, James Burry, Jr., have hosted five international exchange students from 4 different countries. James and Denise own an independent retail pharmacy, Burry’s Pharmacy, in Leesburg, Florida. Denise Burry has also been involved in the community as an active member of PEO, Altrusa International of Lake County, and a PTO/SAC member of Leesburg High School, Carver Middle School, and Beverly Shores Elementary. Denise Burry graduated from Lake Sumter Community College and attended the University of Florida’s College of Engineering School.

Jacob Bonynge

Vice President and founding member

Jacob is a native to Lake County, born and raised in Leesburg, Florida. As one of eight children, he is a strong believer in the “It takes a village…” mentality. While attending the University of Florida, he developed a passion for helping others as he volunteered with the Arts in Medicine program at Shands Children’s Hospital. Jacob is currently a Realtor with Keller Williams in Orlando, where he remains active with other non-profit organizations. When he isn’t working or volunteering, Jacob spends most of his free time traveling, learning about different cultures and meeting wonderful people.

Joanie Smalley

Treasurer and founding member

She is a proud graduate of Georgia Southern University with a Bachelors of Business Administration in Finance. At Georgia Southern University, she became a sister of Alpha Omicron Pi and was a Southern Lady- hostess to football recruits and their families. After college she moved back to her hometown of Leesburg and opened Magnolia Physical Therapy with her father. She married her high school sweetheart and has two amazing sons. She has always been involved in their schools. She was PTP president and Chairman of the Panda Classic Golf and Gala for two years. She is also a member of Altrusa of Lake County where She is currently Vice President which Chairs the Annual Bunco Fundraiser. She is the incoming President of Altrusa International of Lake County, Inc. She has also been involved in the Leesburg Partnership. She is the Promotions Chair which oversees many events in Leesburg. She volunteers at St. James Episcopal Church Bazaar where her family are all members of the church. Joanie enjoys working with people and looks forward to helping the young people in the Forward Paths organization.

Courtney Ponds


Courtney has a genuine love for people and a strong desire to give back to those less fortunate. These are the two things that propel her forward. She is a University of Central Florida graduate with a B.S. in Psychology. Her biggest passion is volunteerism. She believes that giving back is what makes the world go ‘round. While attending college, she volunteered in the Emergency Room of Leesburg Regional Medical Center, and devoted many hours to Nathaniel's Hope, an organization for supporting families with special needs children, sharing hope with grieving families. Courtney is still an active volunteer with Nathaniel’s Hope. In addition to her love of volunteering, Courtney is an avid reader, and loves reading out of doors. She prefers reading whilst floating around in a kayak with the added beauty of a view of the mountains. Beautiful words are her inspiration. "Be the change you wish to see in the world." --Mahatma Ghandi

Joelle Aboytes

Director and founding member

Joelle is a Florida licensed attorney, who obtained a JD/MBA from Stetson College of Law.  She holds a B.S. in Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  Joelle began her law career as a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Orange County Bar Association, where she worked in the Guardian Ad Litem and domestic violence divisions.  Joelle began her tenure with the State of Florida Department of Children and Families in 2004 in Children’s Legal Services.  The opportunity to make a difference in government systems is what drives Joelle in the community position that she is currently in.

Julie Grimes

Director and founding member

She believes the only way to make the world a better place is to pass on good to the next generation. She is passionate about helping the youth of today find happiness and develop an eagerness about life, learning, and passing goodness onto others. That is what moves her. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida, with a B.S. degree in Liberal Arts. She began her career in television and print advertising, and later became a high school science and math teacher. Now she volunteers her time tutoring students. In addition to Forward Paths, she dedicates her time to the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Kiwanis, youth sports, and the local food bank.

Lakesha Griffin

Director and founding member

Lakesha aged out of Florida's foster care system in 2014. When she is not working, studying, or relaxing with friends she enjoys latch hooking and reading Urban Mysteries. Her dream is to operate a group home for children with disabilities. Lakesha provides invaluable insight to the obstacles faced by youth aging out of foster care and shares her story in hopes of inspiring change.

Sharon Wooten

Director and a founding member

She is a native Floridian and 1980 graduate of the University of Florida with a degree in Psychology. She and her husband, Richard, have raised their four children in Lake County. Sharon has worked in the fields of medicine and education. She was a stay-at-home mom while her children were young, and for the last seven years, she has worked as a realtor with ERA Tom Grizzard. Community is very important to Sharon. She is a member and Past President of Altrusa, a member of P.E.O., has volunteered many hours at the 1st Baptist Church of Leesburg Pregnancy Care Center, and Community Medical Care facility. In addition, Sharon dedicated many volunteer hours at her children’s schools.