Our Team

Black Mountain Academy is a small boarding school for boys that feels like home and is specifically designed to support the individualized needs of students with learning differences and social and executive function deficits. We teach our students transferable skills in the areas of emotional regulation, executive function, and daily living with a dynamic, comprehensive approach that enriches the learning experience.

Meet our team

We are a team of accredited, licensed, and highly trained therapists, mentors, and teachers. At Black Mountain Academy, we lovingly provide our students with a homelike environment that fosters learning, development, and growth. Our primary goal at Black Mountain Academy is to utilize a strengths-based approach as we assist students in learning to become more effective, healthy, and functional in their everyday life.

Our boarding school for boys maintains a true 4:1 student to staff ratio to ensure that each young man in our program can receive proper attention, care, and specialized treatment for challenges associated with Level 1 Autism and other learning differences.

Brandon Moffitt MA, LPC


Brandon Moffitt has over 10 years of experience as a therapist with adolescents and their families in residential settings and wilderness therapy. During his tenure in wilderness, he developed and ran a very successful program providing treatment for boys with high functioning autism, learning deficits, and social difficulty.

Prior to becoming a therapist, Brandon spent time as a math and science teacher in the public schools and a guide on adventure trips for adolescents. He loves being a dad, backpacking, fly fishing, woodworking, and cooking. He is excited to bring engaging college preparatory education and intentional and integrated therapy to clients and their families.

Aspiro is excited to partner with Brandon to expand the exceptional care we provide to clients with Level 1 Autism in our Vantage Point and Daniels Academy programs.

Carla Shorts, MA, LPC

Admissions Director

Carla grew up in South Carolina, spending much of her childhood playing outside. Carla received her Master’s degree in Clinical Counseling from Johns Hopkins University where she trained extensively alongside many of the leaders in the field researching pediatric brain development and social development.

Prior to joining the team at Black Mountain Academy, Carla worked as a therapist in a wide variety of clinical settings over the past decade, including inpatient psychiatric hospitals, private practice, and therapeutic boarding school. For the past 5 years, Carla has worked as a wilderness therapist specializing in boys with learning disabilities, ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and other neurodevelopmental concerns.

Outside of work, Carla can usually be found trying a new cupcake recipe, diving into a good book, or exploring the North Carolina backcountry with her Boykin Spaniel, Margot. Carla also loves sports and cheering on the Clemson Tigers and Baltimore Orioles.

Sarah Shoemaker


Sarah Shoemaker has teaching and school administrative experience in a variety of settings all having one thing in common: the well-being of the whole child. The social/emotional competencies and self-awareness of individual students is philosophically central to the methods Sarah employs. Prior to Black Mountain Academy, Sarah worked for a public charter school in Asheville, North Carolina, and helped to innovate and incorporate a lasting school-wide character education initiative. Prior to that, Sarah worked for Talisman Academy in Hendersonville, NC, with students on the Autism Spectrum. With experience in inquiry-based learning, Sarah designs units of study that both uplift the individual's curiosity and connects students to the global and local community, therefore enhancing interest and citizenry. 

Sarah first studied Environmental Sciences and Sustainable Agriculture at Penn State University, later bringing that love of our natural world to students as a science teacher, while also earning a Master's in Education in Special Education from Temple University. In 2013, Sarah earned a Post-Master's degree in School Administration from Western Carolina University. Sarah is currently enrolled in the Mindful Schools Yearlong program and enjoys exploring a deep interest in the positive potential of introducing mindful and sensory awareness techniques to young people. 

In her free time, Sarah enjoys reading, getting outside, farmers markets, an active mindfulness practice of her own, and doing all of the above with her young son Rowan.

Michelle McCoy, SPHR


Michelle is very excited to join Black Mountain Academy as Operations and Administration Director. Michelle began working in Behavioral Health programs seven years ago as a Wilderness Field Guide where she witnessed the power of every individual to grow and change. She has spent the past five years working in the areas of human resources, finance, and operations. She has successfully helped facilitate the acquisition of two, three-year CARF accreditations.

Michelle holds a MFA in Theatre from Louisiana State University. She also holds a certificate as a Senior Professional in Human Resources from the HR Certification Institute.

In her spare time, Michelle can be found enjoying the beautiful mountains with her amazing husband and son.

Aaron McGinley, M.A. CMHC, LPCA


Aaron has been working with adolescents and families for more than 15 years and specializes in helping teens with Autism. Aaron has worked in a variety of settings including private residential schools, public schools, community-based programs, and intensive family therapy.

During his time in graduate school, Aaron received one of the Nation's top scores on his board exams. Aaron has also published an article in a national journal and gives frequent presentations to families, therapists, and teachers about video game addictions.

In all that he does, Aaron employs an approach that integrates his strong belief in the importance of trust and community in supporting those on the Autism spectrum. When Aaron is not working with clients, he enjoys hiking the mountains of Western North Carolina with his wife and two children.

Jim Johnston, MA, LMFT


Jim brings over 15 years of experience providing clinical care to adolescents and their families in multiple settings including private practice, community-based interventions, therapeutic wilderness programs, and as a primary therapist at two boarding schools. Jim’s professional passion is to help clients develop a sense of resiliency, self-efficacy, and resourcefulness at school, home, and in the community. Jim brings experience, warmth, and commitment to our students as he joins the clinical team at Black Mountain Academy. He has extensive experience working with families and individual with autism. As a parent of a child with autism, Jim has a special interest in assisting individuals and families in navigating the challenges autism presents as well as capitalizing on the strengths our students inherently possess. In his free time, Jim enjoys time with his family, fly fishing, camping, and travel.

Dr Rick Meeves


  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
  • PhD, Marriage and Family Therapy, Brigham Young University
  • BS, University of Nebraska

Professional Experience
  • Practicing therapist since 1997
  • Vice President and National Director of Clinical Quality, CRC Health Group
  • Founder, Outback Therapeutic Expeditions (2001)
  • Primary Therapist, Second Nature Wilderness Programs
  • Clinical Director, Aspen Achievement Academy and Aspen Ranch

Josh Watson, LCSW


  • Masters in Social Work from the University of Georgia
  • Bachelors Degree in Psychology and Business Administration from Gardner-Webb University
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the State of Utah
  • Trained/experienced in CBT, Family Systems therapy, Adlerian therapy, Strengths-based therapy, Crisis and Risk Assessment
Also specializes in: crisis de-escalation / anxiety resolution / frustration tolerance / verbal de-escalation / CBT/DBT / interpersonal relationships Josh has over 12 years of experience working with adolescents, young adults, and their families. As an original member of the Aspiro Leadership Team, Josh has performed many duties including a Clinical Wilderness Therapist, Clinical Supervision, and is currently Aspiro’s Admissions Director.

Fielding Russell

Residential Coach

Born in the land of bullet trains and pocket monsters, Fielding grew up hiking in the mountains west of Tokyo. He moved to southern Appalachia as a teen, trading subway routes for backwoods gravel roads. He studied Global Development at Appalachian State University before beginning a career in wilderness therapy in 2014. Building on the wealth of experience gained living side-by-side with his students in the Pisgah National Forest, Fielding is excited for the opportunities and challenges life at Black Mountain Academy holds in store for him. When not on the job, he can be found planning his next globetrotting adventure between writing chapters in one of his many in-progress novels.

Bailey Holman

Residential Coach

Bailey is excited to join Black Mountain Academy as a Residential Coach, bringing with her more than three years of experience working with adolescents in a wilderness therapy environment. As a wilderness guide, she worked primarily with adolescent males on the autism spectrum, and those struggling with social difficulties and learning differences. Her focus is on providing students with support, structure, and the skills-based mentorship while helping to create a socially nurturing environment aimed toward confidence and success.

Bailey holds a BA in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a certified Wilderness First Responder.

In her free time, Bailey enjoys exploring the outdoors, traveling, reading, and cooking.

Laura Eshelman, MSW

Residential Coach

Laura joins the Black Mountain Academy team as a Residential Coach. She grew up in a diverse community in Durham, NC, and has called Asheville, NC home since 2003. Laura earned her BA in mass communication from UNCA and has since obtained two master’s degrees in criminal justice and social work, respectively from UC Denver (2013) and Western Carolina University (2016). She also skipped her most recent graduation ceremony to continue being a student in Rishikesh, India, where she obtained 200-hour yoga teacher certification. Laura finds fulfillment in learning from people from all walks of life and background experiences; she has worked/volunteered with and on behalf of populations with powerful stories including older adults, LGBTQIA+ youth, and many survivors of adverse life experiences.

In her leisure time, Laura can often be found twisting and sweating in a yoga studio, exploring trails new and familiar in the Blue Ridge Mountains, cavorting about town with friends, and finding truth in books.

Brennan Garrison

Residential Coach

Brennan is a North Carolina native who left his home state for the first time to serve for 15 years in the United States Air Force. Along the way he held many different duty positions all over the world and developed a love for other cultures. This led Brennan to studying anthropology at UNCC where he specialized in the anthropology of race and archaeology. After a few odd twist and turns he found himself operating as a wilderness field guide, where he first discovered his love for working with children on the spectrum. It’s this passion which has brought him to Black Mountain Academy.

Brennan may or may not also be a superhero. Rumors persist but nothing has been confirmed.

Frank Byrne

Residential Coach

Growing up in an economically disadvantaged town in rural western Maryland instilled in Frank a desire to understand how institutions impact the lives of individuals and communities. That drive lead him to pursue a career which often felt like a rough and tumble crash course on political campaigns, public policy, civic engagement, and media. He likes to refer to himself a 'recovering politician' - although he suspects he will continue to engage with public service throughout his life.

When he was 11 years old, Frank discovered his passion for the outdoors while hiking Guadalupe Peak - an 8,751 ft. mountain in west Texas. His first summer job was guiding whitewater rafting trips, and he has often returned to the wild places of the world in search of adventure and serenity. Frank recently developed a passion for rock climbing, and can often be found at the local climbing gym or taking road trips to nearby crags.

Frank recently wrapped up two and a half years as a wilderness field instructor, during which he found joy in backpacking to great views and unraveling the mysteries of the universe with students on the autism spectrum. That experience lead him directly to joining the team at Black Mountain Academy, where he is looking forward to finding applications for his diversity of passions and interests in service of his students.

Rob Coronado

Residential Coach

Rob has been helping people overcome personal obstacles through his work in the behavioral health field for two years. He has an overflowing heart to help others and make a lasting positive impact on their lives. Rob approaches life with an unyielding thirst for knowledge and big adventure, and an eagerness to understand social interactions. Rob brings his personal joy and passion to his work. Rob looks forward to knowing and encouraging each of the students at Black Mountain Academy.

Zack Paben

Residential Coach

Zack is Founder and CEO of More Heart Than Scars, a non-profit that utilizes high adventure to empower individuals to transcend their challenges together. He has a B.A. in Psychology and started his career with Outward Bound. He has been a Qualified Mental Health Professional with youth and adults since 2003. He has dedicated his life to the service of others and has used his passion for outdoor activities as an avenue to connect with people and help them reach their maximum potential. He is excited to join forces with Black Mountain Academy where he sees a common commitment to obtain excellence without sacrificing compassion.

Lyle Mitchell

Residential Coach

Bio coming soon!

Contact Us Today to Begin the Admissions Process

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