Jim Elliott Founder & President
Now founder and president of Diveheart, Jim Elliott was once a volunteer guide for blind downhill skiers. After years of being inspired by the impact that skiing had on individuals with disabilities, Jim—also a passionate scuba diver—decided that scuba diving would be the perfect candidate to replicate this tremendous, positive experience.
In 1996, Jim left his career in the media industry—working with Chicago Tribune, WGN Radio and CLTV News—to become a full-time volunteer and teach individuals with disabilities how to scuba dive. Five years later, in 2001, he founded Diveheart, a volunteer-driven organization focused on building confidence and independence in disabled children, adults and veterans through scuba diving.
Jim, who has been diving since 1976, is also a scuba instructor with PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) and an H.S.A. (Handicapped Scuba Associatioin) & SDI Instructor Trainer.
Jim’s efforts have been widely recognized by the Illinois Skin and Scuba Council—receiving the “Humanitarian of the Year” award in 2005—and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago—receiving the “Community Award” in all of 2005 through 2007.
Ron Rispoli – Vice President
Ron has worked with individuals with disabilities for the past 15 years, 12 of which have been at the Illinois Center for Rehabilitation and Education-Roosevelt in Chicago. For most of his career, Ron has been a recreation therapist, educating and introducing young adults with severe physical disabilities to adaptive leisure activities, including scuba diving.
Ron has been a volunteer with Diveheart for more than nine years and has been a member of the Diveheart board since 2009. He has worked on various committees, including the volunteer and marketing committees, and currently he chairs the Diveheart golf outing. Ron lives in the suburbs of Chicago and has two children.
William “Bill” Bogdon – Treasurer
Bill Bogdan serves as the disability liaison to Illinois Secretary of State, Jesse White, and is responsible for the coordination, development, and implementation of programs and services for persons with disabilities for the office. He also works on legislative issues impacting persons with disabilities, and addresses accessibility issues in driver service facilities and buildings operated by the office.
Bill was appointed Chairman of the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities (ICDD) by Governor Pat Quinn in 2010. ICDD works on a wide range of programs to help improve the opportunities for people with developmental disabilities in our state including education, employment, transportation, community living, and health care. In addition, Bill serves on the Illinois Elevator Safety Advisory Board, and is immediate past president of the Spinal Cord Injury Association of Illinois. He is president of Diveheart’s Hall of Fame for Divers with Disabilities.
Bill was named the DePaul University School for New Learning 2001 recipient of the Arthur Weinberg Social Activist Award for a video he produced entitled Exercising Your Rights Through Advocacy. He was also the recipient of an Award for Excellence.
Sharon Kustka – Secretary
Sharon Kutska, who is a PADI Divemaster, has been a dedicated volunteer with Diveheart since 2009. In 2012 Diveheart honored Sharon with the Lockwood Leadership Award for her hard work and dedication in helping forward the Diveheart mission. She joined the Diveheart board of directors in 2013.
Sharon is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and is a district manager for Aramark in the greater Chicago area. Prior to that, Sharon was a senior regional facilities/project manager for The Gap.
Kerry Gruson is a Harvard University graduate and former New York Times and Miami Times reporter and an editor for Boston Phoenix. Kerry began working with Diveheart shortly after its inception in 2001 and joined the board of directors in 2014. Kerry is certified through Diveheart as an adaptive diver and is an advocate for adaptive scuba.
Kerry has been on the boards of many non-profit organizations including Marine Industry Cares Foundation and Shake A Leg Miami. She is considered a world-class sailboat racer and now competes in triathlons.
Michael “Mike” Kaufman
Mike Kaufman is a veteran trial attorney, practicing in the South Florida area for the past 32 years. His legal career has exclusively dealt with representing individuals suffering with disabilities as a result of the wrongful conduct of others.
Mike has been a diver since he was 12. His passion and love for the aquatic world has driven him to extensively explore the coral reef systems of Florida and throughout the world. His recreational scuba interests include underwater photography, spearfishing, night diving, wreck diving and underwater exploration. He is a rated PADI instructor, HSA instructor, EFR instructor and a USCG licensed captain.
In 2007, Mike was inspired by Diveheart’s work, and felt it was time to combine his underwater passions with his interest to serve those with disabilities.
Since that time, Mike has volunteered many hours into facilitating programs and events consistent with the Diveheart mission, including the recently created dive program at Shake-a-Leg, Miami. He was a founding member of Dive Bar, a scuba club consisting of lawyers promoting, among other things, philanthropic programs like Diveheart.
Mike is a Diveheart ambassador serving the South Florida region where he lives with his family.
Mike Hamel was looking for an organization that helped people with disabilities get in the water and experience scuba diving. While at the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) annual wholesale show, he met Jim Elliot at the Diveheart booth. Three weeks later, he was on his first Diveheart trip to Cozumel, obtaining his HSA instructor certification. The rest is history.
Being a NAUI instructor and diving since 1971, his passion to share with others, the thrill of breathing underwater has never faded. As an avid photographer and videographer, Mike continues to shoot and edit videos for Diveheart both above and below the water.
Mike graduated St. Michael’s College, cum laude, then Tufts University School of Dental Medicine for both his DMD and post graduate prosthodontic residency. Having been in private practice for 34 years, he continues to be involved with the NH Dental Society for which he now serves as Chairman of the Peer Review Committee, Manchester Component.