Board of Directors


Rick Adams began his career as a financial advisor with Wheat First Securities in 1989 remaining with the firm for twenty-five years. During his time there, the company carried six different brand names, the last being Wells Fargo Advisors. He spent much of his career as a Senior Vice-President, Investment Officer eventually leaving Wells as a Managing Partner.

Rick earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After graduation, he spent one year studying market economics at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. It was here while learning to apply the principles of macroeconomics to stock analysis that he developed his passion for finance. Throughout his career Rick has continued to hone his skills by taking classes in mathematics, statistics, finance, and accounting.

In May 2015, Rick along with business partner Eric Chetwood left Wells Fargo Advisors to form Adams Chetwood Wealth Management Group. Today, Rick focuses on delivering customized investment planning strategies for high-net-worth individuals, families and institutions.

In August 2017, Rick earned his Masters of Finance degree from Northeastern University where he further developed his analytical and financial management skills.

In 1987, Rick married Jane Woodson Adams. The couple have four adult children residing in North Carolina, Colorado, and Louisiana. Rick is committed to helping his community prosper. He serves on the Board of Trustees for Durham Technical Community College and chairs Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. He is also an elder at Restoration Church here in Durham.

Rick carries a passion for young people in this area, currently serving on the local board for Young Life. He has also served as a member of the Board of Trustees of Trinity School and the Agapé Corner School, which serves at-risk, inner city youth. For ten years he was on the Board of Directors of Pregnancy Support Services in Durham.


Rita and her husband, Darrell, lead the family business in Thomasville, North Carolina—A.M. Haire Manufacturing & Service Corporation. Rita is CFO/Controller of their truck manufacturing company which employs about 125 people. With a background in educational leadership, instructional technology integration, literacy, and the business of private schooling, Rita continues to look for ways to impact the world of education, while now working in the private sector.

While earning her doctorate degree in Educational Leadership from the UNC-Greensboro, Rita’s dissertation examined the dynamics in our state education establishment and political structure to identify the conditions by which school choice initiatives might be successful in North Carolina. Entitled, “The Policies, Politics, and Players in the North Carolina Parental School Choice Voucher Debate:  Why Wisconsin Said Yes, But North Carolina Says No,” the 2010 study can be found in its entirety at NC DOCKS at

For several years, Rita worked in Davidson County Schools as a middle school math teacher, 5th grade teacher, and in administration before joining High Point Christian Academy in 2008. From 2008 to 2013, she worked as Principal at HPCA, and in 2013 Rita assumed the role of the Director of Advancement. As of June 1, 2016, Rita became employed in the family business she and her husband own, where her two grown sons also work.

Rita and her husband, Darrell, have three grown children and enjoy traveling, having visited Israel, Italy, and other countries, as well as much of the United States. Rita also enjoys reading and playing the piano.


John serves in PNC Bank’s Community Development Banking Group as Vice President and Relationship Manager for the states of North and South Carolina. He is responsible for identifying lending and investment opportunities around economic development, affordable housing, community revitalization, and stabilization. In his career, he has held roles in retail, commercial, and investment areas of banking.

John has served and continues to serve on the boards of various organizations in the Triangle area. Along with his wife Deborah, they’ve owned and operated Bryson Christian Montessori Schools, Inc. for the past 32 years in Durham, NC. They have four adult children and eight grandchildren.

John is a graduate of North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, NC.


Lesa Howard graduated from Meredith College in 1982 with a degree in Business Administration with Psychology and from UNC-Greensboro in 1984 with an MBA in Marketing.

Lesa has been involved with educational choice over 12 years. This involvement began when she was the Grant Director of the A. E. Finley Foundation in Raleigh, NC. Her passion for the school choice movement also stems from having children who attended nontraditional schools and seeing the benefit of matching their needs with educational options. Additionally, she has seen the power of educational choice within friend’s families and families she has met through being involved with PEFNC.

Lesa serves as a board member with several other nonprofit and civic organizations that offer life- and job-readiness skills that build easily on educational choice success, and even assist those who did not have educational opportunity prior to finishing K-12 school. Her goal by serving on the PEFNC board is to give other families the same educational opportunities that her family enjoyed.


Joe Young graduated from the University of Chicago with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1962, a Master of Science in 1963, and a Doctor of Jurisprudence (JD) in 1966. He practiced law in Chicago for 3 1/2 years before moving to North Carolina, where he has practiced business law since 1972, owning and managing his own firm since 1983.

In his law practice, Mr. Young has helped dozens of clients establish and grow successful businesses in many difficult fields, providing legal and business guidance as needed. In addition to his law practice, Mr. Young has formed and helped run a number of other successful business ventures, including two real estate partnerships and a corrugating starch sales company. He is part owner and manager of a beer and wine distributing company, which he joined over 30 years ago and helped to grow into a $90+ million entity.

Mr. Young serves, or has served, on the Board of Directors of several non-profit entities, including Arthritis Services, Community Health Services, Presbyterian (now Novant) Hospital Ethics Committee, the Bioethics Resource Group, and Unity Classical Charter School, as well as Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. He has been a lifelong supporter of classical education and for giving parents and their children better choices in education.


Shea Bradford is a speech-language pathologist based in the Lake Norman area of North Carolina. She earned her Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Elementary Education from Clemson University in 1997, and then went on to earn a Masters of Speech Pathology (MSP) degree from the University of South Carolina in 1999.  Along with her postgraduate degree, she earned a specialty certificate in working with traumatic brain injury.

Throughout her career, Shea has worked with pediatric to geriatric populations in a variety of settings including acute care, home health, skilled nursing facilities, and public schools. Currently, Shea works with Speech Discovery For Kids, a division of Lake Norman Children’s Therapy, where she works with pediatric and school aged children with varying speech/language needs.

Shea’s professional and personal certifications and affiliations include an ASHA Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology, North Carolina State Speech Pathology License, Registered MBSImP Clinician, Sir Walter Cabinet Treasurer, and Delta Delta Delta Foundation Scholarship Committee Member.

Shea lives in Cornelius, North Carolina with her husband, John, and their four children. Her husband John is currently serving his second term as the Representative for District 98 in the North Carolina General Assembly. Shea’s children attend the public charter school, Community School of Davidson, in Davidson, North Carolina. In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling with her family, and Clemson football. Go Tigers!


Senator Joel Ford is a former legislator that served three, two-year terms in the North Carolina Senate.  He represented the citizens of Charlotte, NC and Mecklenburg County that reside in the 38th Senate District.

Joel currently works for Partners Risk Strategies, LLC  - a commercial insurance intermediary, as the Senior Vice President of Sales and Operations.  He began his professional career with Waste Management of Atlanta, GA and later launched his own waste management services company in Charlotte.  An entrepreneur at heart, Joel has owned several other businesses including a restaurant, barbershop and salon.

As a Legislator Senator Ford sponsored and championed numerous pieces of legislation: Passed “Raise the Age” to prevent children in NC from being charged as adults; Help to secure pay raises for CMS teachers; Secured $600,000 for CW Williams Healthcare Center; Supported funding for Historical Black Colleges and Universities; Reformed police body camera laws for accountability and transparency.

As former Chairman of the Charlotte Housing Authority, Ford championed multiple initiatives: Helped to secure $750K from CHA  and the state of North Carolina to launch and operate Renaissance West Initiative, established to revitalize the former Boulevard Homes public housing site into a vibrant village called The Renaissance; Formed partnerships to eradicate homelessness, notably with the Salvation Army, Moore Place and McCreesh Place; Helped create the Center for Employment Services.

Among his many accomplishments, Joel has served the community by serving in the following areas: Mecklenburg County Democratic Party (Chair from 2008-2011); Renaissance West Community Initiative - Former Member of the Board of Directors; Stratford-Richardson YMCA – Former Member of the Board of Directors; Council for Children’s Rights - Former Member of the Board of Directors and Volunteer Child Custody Advocate; North Carolina A&T State University – Current Member of the Board of Visitors

Joel Ford graduated from North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University in 1992.  He has been married to Deborah L. Ford for eighteen years and they have a beautiful teenage daughter, Noelle.


Marilyn Avila comes to the PEFNC Board with a strong history of public service, having served five terms as a member of the North Carolina House from 2007 to 2017 and as Deputy Majority Leader from 2015 to 2016. She is a former small business owner, finance manager at the John Locke Foundation, and chairwoman of the Wake County Republican Party.

In the legislature, Marilyn was a champion of expanding school choice options for all North Carolinians—and especially working-class and minority families and those with children with special needs. She co-sponsored legislation creating the Children with Disabilities Scholarship Grant in 2013, and she voted to lift the cap on charter schools and create the Opportunity Scholarship Program. During her time in the legislature, Marilyn also worked on foster care and adoption issues in North Carolina.

Among other committees, Marilyn chaired the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, Commerce and Job Development Subcommittee on Science and Technology, and the Unemployment Fraud Task Force. She also served on the Education Committee, Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, and the House Select Committee on Education Reform.

Marilyn and her husband, Alex, have been married for 46 years and have two grown children. Their son, David, is an attorney in NYC and daughter, Katherine, is the mother of the four smartest, most talented grandsons ever born.


Phil Strach is a trial lawyer who regularly represents management in labor/employment law and related matters.  A significant area of Phil’s representation of employers and management includes advising clients on covenants not to compete and litigating claims involving restrictive covenants, trade secrets, and other business-related litigation.  Phil also regularly defends management and employers in employment discrimination cases and counsels management on how to prevent or reduce the risk of these lawsuits.

Phil has been repeatedly recognized by peer review publications such as the Legal Elite*Super Lawyers*, and Best Lawyers* as a superlative lawyer in the area of employment law.

Phil graduated summa cum laude with a BA from Campbell University.  He received a Masters in Public Administration from UNC-Chapel Hill and a law degree, with honors, from UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law.

Phil is active in his community having served in officer and Board roles on numerous local and regional nonprofit organizations.