Meet the First Step Recovery Staff

Our staff brings a caring heart, professional qualifications, and years of experience to the battle against addiction.

Our staff includes trained addiction counseling professionals, many of whom are also licensed professional clinical counselors with experience working in the mental health field. In addition, our on-staff registered nurses and a consulting Clinical Nurse Specialist in Adult Psychiatry help with referrals related to physical and psychiatric disorders. Our family therapist helps family members and significant others deal with issues related to loving an addicted person.

Gail Nelson

Program Director

Gail Nelson is director of The Village’s First Step Recovery. Her role is to promote First Step’s addiction recovery services, assure quality programming and customer service, and hire, train and supervise professional staff. Gail is a Licensed Professional Counselor. She earned her Master of Education and Counseling from North Dakota State University, and was in private practice for 10 years. She is specializes in couples therapy and treatment for depression and anxiety.

Judy German

Office Manager

Judy has worked at First Step Recovery since 2005. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University-Long Beach. She has over 35 years of experience in office administration. As office manager, Judy is responsible for scheduling intakes, accounts payable and receivable, and numerous other duties that help with the operation of the agency.

Patti L. Senn, MS/LPC/LAC

Clinical Supervisor/Primary Counselor

Patti has worked at First Step Recovery since 2003. She received a Master’s Degree in Community Counseling from Minnesota State University-Moorhead in 1999. She has worked in the addiction field since 2002. In addition to facilitating primary treatment, Patti is also responsible for the supervision and training of clinical staff. Patti is the President of the Fargo Addiction Counseling Training Consortium and is a past member of the ND Board of Addiction Counseling Examiners.

Tonya Sorenson, MS/LAC

Licensed Addiction Counselor

Tonya has been working in the field of substance use since 1997. She has worked in residential, halfway house, inpatient, and outpatient settings through The Gables and Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, and Prairie St. John’s in Fargo, ND. Her experience ranges from clinical work, along with administrative experience. She is part of numerous committees and board memberships to help support her profession. She says, “The work we do as addiction counselors is a blessing, and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to be part of so many individual journeys. “

Becky Elbert, MSN, CNS

Clinical Nurse Specialist

Becky Elbert is a Clinical Nurse Specialist with First Step Recovery. She received her Master’s degree as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Adult Mental Health from the University of North Dakota. She has extensive experience working in the psychiatry department at a local hospital prior to joining The Village. She has been with The Village since 2013 and moved her practice to the First Step Recovery offices in 2016. She assesses and treats patients for a variety of mental health issues. She also provides Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) for patients involved in outpatient chemical dependency programming.

Mary Jo Hansen, M.Ed/LPC/LAC

Licensed Addiction Counselor/Licensed Professional Counselor

Mary Jo has worked at First Step Recovery since 2012. She received a Master’s Degree in Counseling from North Dakota State University in 1986. She has worked with adults and adolescents in inpatient and outpatient programs. She currently provides educational lectures, program development, and facilitation of individual and group therapy for patients and their families.

Carrie Simonson, RN

Registered Nurse

Carrie joined the First Step Recovery team in July 2015. She has been in the nursing field for over 20 years. Her prior work experience includes being the Nurse Coordinator for Child and Adolescent Maltreatment Services at a local hospital. Carrie’s primary duties at First Step Recovery include providing nursing services for the Intensive, Outpatient Treatment Program, facilitating educational lectures, and overseeing the drug screening process. She is also the nurse liaison for the Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) at The Village. In this role, Carrie helps coordinate care for all patients treated for substance use disorders and mental health issues through the CNS.

Adam Priebnow, BA/LAC

Licensed Addiction Counselor

Adam is a primary counselor in the Intensive Outpatient Treatment Program. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota-Moorhead, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. In addition to being the IOP group facilitator, he also sees patients on an individual basis, provides educational lectures, and completes chemical dependency evaluations. His work experience also includes being a house supervisor at a residential treatment facility.

Paul Schumm, LAC

Licensed Addiction Counselor

Paul graduated with a degree in Social Work from MSUM in 2015. He says this was done at age 43 with a bit of trepidation on his part, making a commitment to four years of college. He was interested in the field of addiction from both personal and observational perspectives. Paul interned for his degree in Social Work at a residential treatment facility in the area, and that experience cemented his decision to become an addiction counselor. Through the Fargo consortium Paul spent a rotation training with First Step Recovery and says he could not pass up the opportunity of joining the team. “Each day I am challenged to learn and grow in this field through contact with a seasoned staff of experts,” he says. “As the mission of The Village states, I believe that through services we can improve the quality of life for individuals and families by empowering change through the freedom of choice, especially the freedom from the grips of addiction.”

Kristie Spooner, LAC/LSW

Licensed Addiction Counselor

Kristie attended the University of Mary in Bismarck, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in social work with a minor in addiction studies. She obtained her license for addiction counseling. She now works at First Step Recovery with those who struggle with addiction and family members over 18 who have a loved one with addiction.

Peggy Stenehjem-Titus, M.Ed/LAC/LPCC

Licensed Addiction Counselor

Peggy has worked at First Step Recovery since 2001 and has been a Licensed Addiction Counselor since 1991. Her primary responsibility is to provide chemical dependency consult services for a local hospital. She is responsible for making recommendations and coordinating referrals for individuals in the hospital setting. She also oversees the chemical dependency consult liaison service for a local medical facility.


Chemical Dependency Consult Liaison

In addition to serving as a chemical dependency liaison at a local hospital system through First Step, Jennifer is the Intensive Outpatient Program supervisor and therapist for The Village Family Service Center and teaches substance abuse classes to University of North Dakota psychiatric residents. She has been a provider in all levels of behavioral health provided in the state, including corrections, adults, adolescents, and families, and began working in the behavioral health field more than 25 years ago as a therapeutic foster parent. She is a master addiction counselor and a licensed mental health counselor, and serves on various boards of directors and committees, including the Mayors’ Blue Ribbon Commission on Addiction.

Leah Flaskerud, BSN/RN

Registered Nurse

Leah graduated from NDSCS with an Associate in Practical Nursing and then later went back to earn her BSN at NDSU. Her previous work experience includes Long-Term Care and Family Practice nursing. She also worked as a House Supervisor for a local residential treatment facility for women and children. Her practicum for school was shared between an Inpatient Behavioral Health Unit and a Medical Detox facility. Leah says she has always had a great compassion for patients with behavioral health challenges, especially when they have a co-occurring substance abuse problem. “It’s very rewarding to be an advocate for this population and be a part of their journey to recovery,” Leah says.

In Memoriam: Michael Kaspari


Michael Kaspari co-founded First Step Recovery with Susan Stenehjem-Brown in 2000. He had a passion for helping people battle against addiction and touched so many lives. Mike unexpectedly passed away in April 2017 after suffering an injury in a fall at his home. He is deeply missed. Learn more about Mike and the legacy he left behind.