About Us

Donna Gargett
Founding Executive Director


Donna Gargett holds a Bachelor's degree in Psychology and has worked in the human service field since 2002. She is a published poet, artist and is currently working in the hurricane recovery division for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. She has served as a State Leader for Decoding Dyslexia from 2016-2020.

Donna has wide-ranging experience in and around the employment and disability sectors such as direct care, supported employment, job development/coaching, mental health/ developmental disabilities, case management, supported services in learning disabilities.

Donna, dyslexic herself, started advocating when her daughter, Bella, was diagnosed with Dyslexia in 2015. Later her other daughter, Ava, was diagnosed with ADHD and showed early warning signs for Dyslexia in 2016. She understands the road her children had in front of them and she wanted to provide the best services for not only them, but everyone struggling to receive services. It is that combined work and personal experience that drives her passion for the nonprofit, Blank Canvas Awareness Art, inc.

Donna has given powerful presentations about her experience with dyslexia to change the narrative for our children. Donna is passionate about helping both children and adults because so many people go undiagnosed. In her personal story, she talks about how she didn’t understand her dyslexia until she joined her daughter’s on their journey. Also, her receiving a late diagnosis at age 22 greatly impact her schooling, and wants children to have all the tools they need to be successful. Donna drives the mission of educating the public in an empathic manner to leave an impression on those that experience BCAA. She loves that she has created a fun way to educate the public and hopes to bring unity among the dyslexia community worldwide.

To contact her to schedule a discovery call or presentation please email her at donna.gargettbcaa@gmail.com.

Mariah Smith
Blank Canvas Awareness Art- Secretary

Mariah Smith

Mariah Smith holds a Bachelor of Science in Public Health Studies from the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) and a Master of Health Sciences from Western Carolina University. Mariah has been in the public health field since 2016, beginning her career at UNCW. She currently serves as Vaccine Education Coordinator for the Immunization Branch of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Mariah has a personal connection with learning disabilities. Her family has a history of learning disabilities, such as Dyslexia. Mariah had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder while in undergraduate school, and her son has recently been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Before COVID-19 came about, she withdrew her children from public school to homeschool them, due to the fact that her son was struggling so much academically. However, she realizes that not everyone has this luxury. Mariah understands the difficulties of having a child with a learning disability and the sometimes grueling process of trying to get a child the help that they need.

She is thankful to have the opportunity to serve on the board of BCAA and hopes to help make a difference in the community.

Kirk Paulson
Communication & Marketing Director

Kirk Paulson

Kirk Paulson was born in Long Beach, California. He moved around quite a bit in his early childhood and lived in Washington, Oregon, California, Georgia and Ohio. Since he was no stranger to traveling and adapting to various cultures, he decided to expand his horizons and join the United States Marine Corps.

Kirk spent almost 14 years on active duty, deploying to the Middle East, Australia and Japan. Most of his experiences were exciting and offered him the ability to lead others while learning about himself. Kirk also experienced deployments to combat zones and experienced situations that were straining; like many Marines and soldiers, he found healing through programs provided on base such as art therapy, paddle boarding and yoga.

During his time in the art therapy group at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, he was a part of a Wounded Warrior Art Exhibit located at the Naval Hospital and this further piqued his interest in art. Upon his honorable completion of active duty service he found peace again with art — through his experience with art therapy and furthering his education with the goal of becoming an art therapist.

Kirk received an Associates of Arts at Coastal Community College in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and a Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art; with a minor in Psychology at University of North Carolina —Wilmington (UNCW). Kirk concentrated on oil painting, photography and graphic design.

While attending UNCW, his artwork was featured in an exhibit “Invisible Wounds of War” Project at the Wilmington Art Council.

While continuing to heal from combat-post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, Kirk finds peace creating art using various mediums; he hopes to continue his academic journey through social activism and hopes to provide opportunities to help those in community through art therapy.