Who We Are

Ellen Dalton – Founder & CEO

Ellen Dalton has more than 30 years of experience in the humanEllen pic services and mental health fields as a senior administrator for Eliot Community Human Services (a large, Massachusetts based, non-profit). Ellen has a bachelor’s degree from Colgate University and a master’s degree in Social Education from Boston University.

Most importantly, Ellen has gained experience and expertise in the area of youth suicide through the tragic and untimely death of her daughter, Nan. Ellen had nowhere to turn and she and her family were confronted with the stigma surrounding depression and suicide. She is working to transform her pain into finding answers and addressing gaps in the mental health system, gaps that had allowed Nan to slip through.

Realizing that most people are unwilling or unable to talk about suicide, she launched a campaign to open up the conversation and advocate for those whose voices rarely rise above a whisper. Telling the story of her family and Nan on WBUR and Chronicle, Ellen realized how prevalent depression and suicide were throughout families and communities. Using the unrelenting “what ifs” that consumed her daily quest to understand, Ellen established The NAN Project to bring awareness to schools, and hope to young people struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide. She has become a well-respected advocate for those grappling with the darkness of suicide.

Ellen is the proud mother of four children, and currently resides on the North Shore of Massachusetts.


Jake Cavanaugh – Executive Director

Jake Cavanaugh is Nan’s older brother and the co-founder of The NAN Project. Jake and Ellen started brainstorming ideas about how to promote mental health awareness way back in mid-2015, and officially launched The NAN Project at the start of 2016. Nowadays, Jake is the Executive Director of the The NAN Project, heading up much of the outreach and training, with the help of an amazing, ever-growing team. His daily activities revolve around connecting with schools around Massachusetts, providing professional development workshops, recruiting Peer Mentors, presenting to students, and everything in between.

Jake graduated from Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School in 2000, where Nan also attended. Upon graduating from the University of Miami, with a double major in Political Science and International Studies in 2004, Jake went to work on a presidential political campaign in Florida. Jake moved to China in 2005, where he soon met his wife and adopted a mangy street dog named Marley. He spent nearly 10 years living in the tiny metropolis of Suzhou just outside of Shanghai, working at a boutique market research firm. Jake returned to Massachusetts in 2015 and now resides in Beverly with his wife, Marley, and their newest family member, a Golden Retriever named Jasper.

Lizzie MacLellan – Senior Peer Coordinator

Diagnosed with an anxiety disorder during her most turbulent year of high school, Lizzie MacLellan sees a lot of herself in many of the young adults she meets while working for The Nan Project. Whether she is presenting her own story or helping others to do the same, Lizzie strives to destigmatize mental health and empower those like her to use their lived experience to make a difference in their own lives and in their communities.

She graduated with honors from the University of Massachusetts Boston with a bachelors of science in Psychology, with a minor in Human Rights. The combination of these two fields has led to an understanding of mental health that is person focused, evidence based, and considerate of intersectional identities. 

In her free time, you can probably find Lizzie visiting her family in Wareham, Massachusetts,  or at home in Somerville.


Donna Kausek – Clinical Director

Donna Kausek, LMHC, is a seasoned professional in the field of mental health counseling, community-based clinical services and mental health and domestic violence training, with over 25 years of experience. Ms. Kausek has served as the Program Director of the Mobile Crisis Intervention Program at Eliot Community Human Services where she supervised emergency, mobile, psychiatric evaluations and dispositions of children under 21 years old. Ms. Kausek has previous experience with Partners HealthCare, where she performed as the Employee Assistance Program Domestic Violence Specialist where she developed educational and training programs for health care providers responding to victims of domestic violence and/or sexual assault. She currently serves as the Clinical Director of The Nan Project at Eliot Community Human Services, where she offers support to peer mentors and provides a variety of mental health trainings for teachers, staff, and community stakeholders. In her free time, Donna enjoys walking the beach, reading mysteries and watching the Red Sox, as well as spending time with her family in their home north of Boston.

Elli Peltola – Peer Coordinator

Elli started off at The NAN Project back in 2017, starting off as a Peer Mentor. She has since worked her way up to the position of Peer Coordinator, a leadership role where she helps train, schedule and support The NAN Project’s young adults. Since middle school, Elli has strived to support her classmates with mental challenges, interned as a tutor for students with special needs and served as a counselor at Girl’s Inc. in Lowell.

Elli now uses her own lived experience to promote mental health awareness throughout Massachusetts, telling her own story of struggle and resiliency, providing encouragement to young people with her hopeful journey to recovery.  She is excited to work with The NAN Project because she can participate with the rest of the team to offer means, skills and hope to overcome challenges that are so common among high school students today.

Elli likes to spend her free time with friends. She loves to be outdoors, whether it be sitting on the beach listening to the waves crashing, or taking a long walk through the woods. Elli also enjoys doing art. Lately she’s been into pour painting, a type of abstract art the makes the canvas look like it has a marble effect on it. Elli currently resides in Woburn, MA with her emotional support animal, Jasper. He is a 2 year old cat with lots of energy, making him perfect for Elli.

Shilpa Thirukkovalur – Peer Coordinator

Shilpa Thirukkovalur joined The NAN Project as a Peer Coordinator in March 2020 after graduating from UMass Boston in 2019 with a double major in Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies. As someone who deals with mental health challenges, Shilpa has experienced firsthand the cultural stigma that surrounds being open about mental health and understands the importance of having access to support. Being a part of TNP’s team has allowed her the opportunity to listen and learn from the lived experiences of other Peer Mentors, and share with young adults what she wished she knew in high school about mental health: it’s okay to ask for help when you are struggling.  

Shilpa came on board at a period of transition with The NAN Project pivoting to provide mental health education programming virtually. Some of her main responsibilities have been to develop short videos, webinars, and other virtual resources around topics like coping skills, social isolation, and how to identify warning signs and risk factors for suicide in young adults.  

Before this period of COVID-19, you could find Shilpa exploring Boston, visiting museums, especially the Museum of Fine Arts, or reading in a cafe. Now, she spends her time going on Facetime walks with her sister, making her own cold brew coffee, and writing letters to her loved ones. She currently resides in Somerville, MA, with her cat, Marlowe Raju.

If you need help and want to talk to someone, call:

Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-TALK (8255)

For the Crisis Text Line, text “Listen” to 741-741

For the Samaritans, Call or Text (877)870-4673

For immediate crisis evaluation call the Emergency Services Program / Mobile Crisis Intervention at 1-877-382-1609 & enter your zip code; you will get the phone number of the closest ESP/MCI that serves you.

If you are in immediate danger, please call 911



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