2014 Presenter Bios


Jena Akard
Jena Akard has over 10 years of educational experience serving in various capacities in the Phoenix area. She is a National Board Certified Teacher in Early and Middle Childhood Literacy: Reading and Language Arts, and she is a graduate of the prestigious RODEL Aspiring Principal Initiative. In the public school system, she served as a K-1 grade teacher, Reading Specialist, Instructional Coach, Writing Coach, Curriculum Specialist and an Assistant Principal. Currently, she is a member of the Teacher Solution Team for the AZK12 Center. 

Josh Allen
Josh Allen is Chief Operations Officer and Chief Financial Officer of First Things First. Throughout his career, he has served in a variety of senior leadership roles and has extensive experience in finance, public policy, evaluation and project management. As a partner in the Brecon Group, Josh supported Arizona foundations and nonprofits with particular emphasis on policy agendas and organizational development. He also participated in and spearheaded several projects focused specifically on children birth to five and the early care and education community in geographies across Arizona. He previously served in a number of senior administrative positions at Northern Arizona University, including Legislative Liaison, Director of Alumni and Constituents Relations, University Budget Director and Interim Vice President for Administration. He also formerly served as Vice Chair of the First Things First Coconino County Regional Council. Josh earned a Bachelor of Science degree in political science with a minor in business economics and mathematics and a Master of Public Administration degree from Northern Arizona University. He is a registered member of the Cherokee Nation.

Liz Barker Alvarez
Liz Barker Alvarez is Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs at First Things First. In this role, Liz assists with strategic planning of all FTF communications and is chiefly responsible for crafting messages about early childhood that resonate with Arizonans. Liz ensures consistency in how those messages are communicated across all FTF channels, including research publications, marketing/outreach materials, and news releases. Liz oversees FTF’s earned media efforts and is the primary media spokesperson for FTF. She also advises the Board and FTF Executive Team on sensitive communication matters. Prior to joining FTF, Liz held the lead communications role at the Department of Economic Security, Children’s Action Alliance (a statewide child advocacy organization), and the Isaac School District. Liz also spent several years as a newspaper reporter in California and Arizona, garnering several awards for reporting and writing. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Arizona.

Gary Arnold
Gary Arnold is the Senior Regional Director for the West Region of First Things First. This area includes the Cocopah Tribe, Yuma, Colorado River Indian Tribes, La Paz/Mohave and Hualapai Tribe Regional Partnership Councils. Gary has over thirty years of experience in social services and child welfare in the private and public sector. Immediately prior to joining First Things First in June 2009 he served as the Program Manager for the DES Division of Children, Youth and Families (CPS) in Northern Arizona. In this capacity, he was responsible for child welfare and protective services for Coconino, Yavapai, Navajo, Apache and Northwest Mohave County. He is the coordinator of this session.

Melissa Avant
Melissa Avant is the Cochise Regional Director for the Arizona Early Childhood Health and Development Board, First Things First. As the Regional Director, Melissa focuses on the operations of the Cochise Regional Partnership Council, which involves: directing all administrative and program activities of the Cochise Region, supporting the regional council with roles and responsibilities and promotes the vision and work of First Things First. Mrs. Avant holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration.

Deirdre Avery
Deirdre (DeeDee) Avery, MS, MPH is an Evaluation Specialist in the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth & Families. DeeDee is an Arizona native who has nearly 20 years of experience in program evaluation and public health research, ten years of which was spent at the University of Arizona, and has extensive experience conducting qualitative and quantitative evaluation and research. Her work has involved multiple content areas, including cancer, tobacco, early childhood development, domestic violence, mental health and women’s health, and has taken place in private, government and academic settings. Ms. Avery holds an MS degree in Life-span Developmental Psychology from the University of Georgia at Athens and an MPH degree in Community Health Practice from the University of Arizona.


Christine Bach
Christine joined the FTF QA team in January 2014. She comes with a background in behavioral health, including her time as a case manager with The Southwest Network for children with high needs, working with Arizona’s children since 2009. She has partnered closely and collaboratively with families and institutions, such as Child Protective Services, Juvenile Corrections, Developmental Disabilities, and Arizona Educational systems. Christine has a degree in Family Social Sciences from the University of Minnesota and has previously gained experience working with children with disabilities as a direct care provider and serving families involved with the court system. Prior to coming to FTF, Christine held the position of QA Coordinator with The Southwest Network, overseeing the implementation of quality and compliance measures for those serving children.

Don Bartlette
For more than 40 years, public speaker and Native American activist Dr. Don Bartlette has been sharing the story of his experiences as a Chippewa Indian child with speech and other disabilities growing up in an environment of poverty, family and school violence, juvenile delinquency, homelessness, child abuse, racism and alcoholism; and how one person in his community helped him to overcome these childhood disadvantages and survive in a multi-cultural world. His professional career includes more than 20 years as a social worker, counselor, educator, consultant and advocate for minority persons, victims of child abuse, survivors of

LaToya Beatty

Salma Bhalla
Salma Bhalla, Ph.D. is a psychologist with thirty plus years of experience. She has specialized in working with children and families in her private practice and in various clinical settings. She has consulted with teachers, pediatricians, and mental health professionals. She has also directed a children’s prevention program. She believes in preventing and correcting children’s behaviors and emotional problems as soon as they arise. She has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is the author of two parenting books. Cues & Clues to Children’s Behaviors – A Guide to Raising a Happy Well-Adjusted Child and Stress in Children: Causes, Prevention & Intervention. Her website is www.ChildBehaviorCues.com

Susan Blackburn
Susan Blackburn is an Assistant Program Manager at the Child Abuse Hotline of the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS). Ms. Blackburn has worked in child welfare for seventeen years, fourteen of which have been in Arizona. In addition to her current role, Ms. Blackburn's experience has consisted of prevention services, investigations, front-line Hotline duties, reunification and permanency case management, supervision, Family Group Decision Making, and program development for statewide In- Home services and Arizona Families F.I.R.S.T. (Families in Recovery Succeeding Together). Ms. Blackburn has a Bachelor of Social Work from San Jose State University and a Master of Social Work from Arizona State University. Ms. Blackburn also completed the Arizona State University Certified Public Manager Program.

Liz Blanchard
Liz Blanchard has been working in the field of Early Childhood since 2001 after graduating with her Bachelor’s Degree in Linguistics from Arizona State University. She worked with Easter Seals Arizona as a developmental specialist, providing home and center-based support to teachers and to families of children with disabilities. She received specialized training in working with children with autism and provided technical support around autism spectrum disorders to teachers in Head Start classrooms. In 2007 she came to work for Southwest Human Development, continuing her work with families of children with special developmental needs. In 2009 she took a position as an assessor with the Quality First Assessment and in 2010 accepted a position as a Supervisor and Statewide Trainer providing support around assessment to coaches and assessors statewide.

Lisa Blyth
Lisa has a 15-year history working with youth and families. For the first decade of her career she worked as a mental health therapist specializing in high needs, high risk children and adolescents. For the past several years she has been able to combine her skills in providing direct services with her passion for prevention. Working at First Things First has allowed Lisa to align her personal and professional goals in ensuring the health and safety of our youngest citizens, and participate in raising awareness about the incredible return on investment when we all contribute to the care of children.

Victoria Bray
Victoria Bray serves as the First Things First Community Outreach Coordinator in the Southwest Maricopa region. She uses traditional and innovative outreach tactics -- such as public speaking and emerging and traditional media relations -- to ensure all stakeholders become informed and engaged in the importance of early childhood development and health. Victoria brings a wealth of experience in print and broadcast journalism to her region.

Jessica Brisson
Jessica Brisson is the Regional Director with the First Things First Pima North Regional Partnership Council. Prior to joining First Things First in 2008 and serving as the Regional Director for the Central Pima region, Jessica’s career focused on advocating for young children, families and early childhood professionals through diverse positions proudly held with the Vail Unified School District, Child and Family Resources, Child Protective Services and Aviva Children’s Services. Jessica is the former President of the Southern Arizona Association for the Education of Young Children and previously served on several early childhood and community boards, councils and committees. Most importantly, Jessica prides herself on being a third generation early childhood professional, carrying on the legacy of her Grandmother and Mother. Jessica holds a Master’s Degree in Education from Northern Arizona University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Arizona.

Susan Brutschy
Ms. Brutschy is the co-founder and President of Applied Survey Research, a non-profit community research organization. She is an experienced sociologist and has spearheaded the development and implementation of hundreds of social research projects over the course of her 30-year career. She is an expert in community assessments, program evaluation and strategic planning. She specializes in the use of Results Based Accountability (RBA) to link program performance to community results.


Bill Callahan
Bill Callahan is the Project Manager for the Program Development Team for the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS). Mr. Callahan has twenty-nine years of experience in the judicial branch of government as a counselor, mediator, administrator, and manager. He has worked for the State of Connecticut Judicial Department, the Maricopa County Conciliation Court, and the Maricopa County Juvenile Court. He was the Program Manager of the Arizona Supreme Court Foster Care Review Board from 2006 until 2012. Mr. Callahan has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Work from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. and a Master of Social Work from New York University.

Stephanie Castillo-Leon
Stephanie Castillo-Leon received a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from the University of Arizona in 2009. Stephanie has several years of experience working with children of varying levels and diverse abilities – in traditional academic settings and home visitation programs. Since 2011, she has worked for Child & Family Resources as an Early Education Specialist for the Arizona Infant Toddler Institute and Project BEST (Believing in Education through Support & Training). Stephanie works across the state of Arizona providing professional development workshops to child care providers focusing on infant/toddler development using the PITC (Program for Infant Toddler Care) curriculum. Stephanie is a fully certified trainer for PITC, is a certified CLASS assessor, and has experience coaching child care teachers using research based skills and strategies from PITC, Powerful Interactions, Mind in the Making, Systems Thinking, and more.

Kerry Caverly
Kerry Caverly is Director of Affiliations and Program Support at Parents as Teachers National Office. She has been involved in early childhood education as an infant/toddler teacher, parent educator, and program developer for the last 25 years. At the national office, Kerry has been a national trainer, curriculum developer, and program manager. Kerry currently oversees a team that works with Parents as Teachers affiliates across the country around model implementation and program quality.

Laurie Clark
Laurie Clark received her BA in Dental Hygiene from Carroll College in 1983. She worked for 13 years as a Clinical Supervisor/Dental Hygienist in a busy Pediatric Dental Practice, with 2 Dentists and an office staff of 15. In 1999 she transitioned to a Public Health setting and worked for the Sealant program with the Arizona Office of Oral Health. Her 9 years of practice in this setting provided her with an appreciation for the importance of expanding dental services for children with non-traditional delivery systems in the community. Through her position as faculty member at the Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health, Laurie joined the Early Childhood Oral Health Program at Chandler Regional Medical Center, a First Things First grantee. She currently works to build community partnerships between dental and medical providers and provides oral screenings, fluoride varnish and education to children and families in community locations.

Terri Clark
As Arizona’s Literacy Director, Ms. Clark works in partnership with the Arizona Department of Education, Arizona Head Start Collaboration Office, First Things First, and other local philanthropic partners to lead statewide efforts in early literacy. Ms. Clark leads Read On Arizona, a public/private partnership of agencies, philanthropic organizations, and community stakeholders committed to effective continuum of supports to improve language and literacy outcomes for Arizona’s children from birth through age eight. Prior to assuming her position, Ms. Clark ran a statewide early literacy organization called Bring Me A Book that was headquartered in Northern California. And her previous tenure as Executive Director of the Literacy Network of Greater Los Angeles, a coalition of over 250 literacy providers, was an excellent training ground for developing intentional effective literacy interventions and building a seamless delivery system serving over 500,000 literacy learners.

Christine Clouse
Christine Clouse, M.A., Valley of the Sun United Way’s Senior Director of Scholarships, has more than 25 years of experience in the social service and higher education fields. She has been the Director of Social Services at Christian Family Care Agency, the Executive Director at West Valley Child Crisis Center, and most recently, prior to going to United Way, the Director of Development and University Relations at Midwestern University. Ms. Clouse holds a Bachelor of Science in Family Studies/Child Development from Arizona State University and a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Studies from Biola University in California. She has served on numerous nonprofit, government, and higher education boards, and was named an Honorary Commander at Luke Air Force Base in 2012. Ms. Clouse is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Certified Fund Raising Executive.

Rhonda Coates
Rhonda Coates is the Arizona Department of Child Safety's (DCS) Program Development Manager. The Program Development Team is responsible for the oversight of program and practice development to create long-term sustainable change that will transform Arizona's child welfare system. Ms. Coates has served the families of Arizona since 1995 in many capacities, from a Child Protective Services investigator and supervisor to an Assistant Program Manager at the Child Abuse Hotline. Additionally, Ms. Coates has worked in policy development as a Title IV-E Program Specialist. Ms. Coates received her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Central Michigan University and her Master's Degree in Education from Northern Arizona University. Ms. Coates also completed the Arizona State University Certified Public Manager Program.

Lisa Colling
Dr. Lisa Colling is an Evaluation Specialist in the Research and Evaluation Unit at First Things First. She holds a Ph.D. in Human Development, Learning and Culture from the University of British Columbia, Canada. In her role at First Things First, she is responsible for the development, design, review and project oversight of system-wide research and evaluation studies. She plays a direct and/or facilitative role in the analysis, interpretation, synthesis, reporting and dissemination of research and evaluation data and information to support high-quality, informed decision making in advancing the mission and vision of First Things First.

Dianna Contreras
Dianna Contreras is the manager of the Birth Defects Monitoring Program with the Arizona Department of Health Services. She came to this program with experience in public, private, and community health. This, coupled with personal and professional experience with high risk pregnancies, and graduate education in health promotion, provides an excellent foundation for her present-day work. Dianna’s current role includes birth defect surveillance, family assistance and referrals, and birth defect prevention efforts. Dianna actively participates in several professional organizations aimed at improving birth outcomes, including the National Birth Defects Prevention Network and the Arizona Statewide Task Force on Preventing Prenatal Exposure to Alcohol and Other Drugs.

Amy Corriveau
Ms. Corriveau is the Deputy Associate Superintendent for Early Childhood Education at the Arizona Department of Education, and Director for the Head Start State Collaboration Office at the Arizona Department of Education. She is currently a member of the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in the State Department of Education, a member of the Early Childhood Development and Health Board as part of the First Things First Initiative as well as a member of the Head Start Association.

Tracy Cruickshank
Tracy Cruickshank is a Master Social Worker with a broad range of experience that includes working with organizations in the private, nonprofit, and public sectors. She has worked as a strategic planner for private companies, in addition to serving as the as a director of several domestic violence and homeless organizations in Arizona. She has been a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for abused and neglected children as well as a volunteer dog trainer at animal welfare organizations. Currently, Tracy is the policy manager at Maricopa County Department of Public Health where she oversees the Healthy Arizona Worksite Program to help employers create worksites that support healthy employees and businesses. Tracy holds a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Economics from Colgate University, a Master of Public and Private Management (MBA) from the Yale School of Management, and a Master of Social Work (MSW) from Arizona State University.


Kate Dobler-Allen
Kate Dobler-Allen, Regional Director for the Navajo/Apache Regional Partnership Council, earned her Bachelors of Science Degree from the University of Arizona in 1994 majoring in Family and Consumer Resources with an Emphasis in Child Development, with a minor in Sociology. Kate has long been involved in early childhood; prior to her work with First Things First, Kate was a Service Coordinator for the Arizona Early Intervention Program and Coordinator of the Southern Navajo County Partnership for Early Childhood Linkages.

Terry Doolan
Terry Doolan is Director for Early Childhood Education with the Arizona Department of Education. Terry has been with the department for six and a half years. Prior to joining the ADE, Terry worked at Maricopa County Head Start for 14 years as a teacher, mentor and Education Coordinator. Terry serves as the chairperson of the EVIT Advisory Committee for Early Childhood Education. She also serves on the First Things First Early Learning Advisory Committee.

Kathleen Dowler
Kathleen Dowler is Director of Community Integration for Dignity Health East Valley Arizona. Since 2006, Kathleen has transformed the mission of Dignity Health beyond the hospital doors and into the community through development of collaborative governance and outreach services focused on the broader community as well as the underserved. Programs developed under Kathleen’s leadership include Lactation Services, Community Education, Center for Diabetes Management, and the immunization program. Grant funded programs include First Things First Oral Health Program, Dignity Health Children’s Dental Clinic, and Building Blocks for Children hearing and vision screening program. Mrs. Dowler has leveraged limited resources to expand access to care and improve health for many children. Recent awards include 2009 March of Dimes Nurse of the Year, 2010 Arizona Business Magazine Healthcare Administrator of the Year.

Secily Downes
As an Education Program Specialist with OELAS, Secily Meza Downes assists districts with the implementation of the SEI Program Models, by conducting ELD trainings and providing technical assistance to districts. Her professional experience includes serving as a primary classroom teacher, mentor teacher, reading interventionist, leadership team member, district trainer, and Federal Programs Coordinator.


Rachel Egboro
Rachel Egboro is a community organizer dedicated to changing communities by way of education, collaboration and strong relationships. She currently serves as a Parent Awareness and Community Outreach Coordinator in First Things First’s Phoenix regions. After receiving her degree in English from the University of Arizona, she moved to Guadalajara, Mexico and spent two years directing outreach efforts for a faith-based college group. Prior to joining First Things First, she conducted community outreach and early literacy workshops for the Raising A Reader program. Now Rachel raises awareness about early childhood development and health to help get kids ready for school and set for life.

Billie Enz
Dr. Billie Enz was the founding director for Educare Arizona and a professor emeritus in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University where she taught courses in emergent literacy and helped to develop the online master’s in early childhood education. Upon her retirement, Dr. Enz had served as an administrator in the college for twenty years as Director of Field Experiences, Division Director for Curriculum and Instruction, and as Associate Dean for Teacher Education. Currently, she is a educational consultant for Grand Canyon University and New Directions Institute. Dr Enz is the past president of the Family Literacy and the Literacy Development in Young Children a special interest group for the International Reading Association. She is also a member of the Commission of Early Literacy for the International Reading Association. She currently serves as a Board member for Gompers Habilitation Center.

Steve Erwin
Steve Erwin has spent 38 years working in a variety of capacities to promote, educate and advocate for young children and their families. His work experience has includes being a Family Childcare provider, Private Center owner/director, Head Start Education/Disability Coordinator, Peer Reviewer for Head Start Monitoring Reviews, Early Childhood Education Consultant, Part-time Faculty at CSU, Chico and Assistant Director for the Associated Students Child Development Lab at CSU, Chico. He has a BA in Child Development as well as additional course work in Special Education. Erwin currently works for Kaplan Early Learning Company.

Connie Espinoza
Connie Espinoza has over 20 years of experience working with young children. She has worked in many facets of the Early Childhood field including: Recreation Aide for Tucson Parks and Recreation’s KIDCo Program, Docent and Early Education Specialist at the Tucson Children’s Museum, Family Educator with Early Head Start as well as in center and home-based child care. Connie has worked with Child & Family Resources, Inc. for 10 years and in that time has served as Early Education Specialist and Program Director for Arizona Infant Toddler Institute. She is a fully certified in both the Program for Infant and Toddler Care and Beginning Together. Connie earned a Masters Degree in Education from Northern Arizona University in 2009. Connie has served on the SAzAEYC Board and is currently serving on the South Pima Regional Partnership Council.


Ida Rose Florez
Ida Rose Florez specializes in state-level early childhood systems development. A member of WestEd’s Center for Child and Family Studies, Florez directs First 5 California’s Early Education Effectiveness Exchange (E4) Academy, which provides training and technical assistance to 38 counties across California participating in First 5 CA’s Child Signature Program. She was recently elected Vice President of the Governing Board of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Prior to joining WestEd, Florez was Senior Director, Strategic Initiatives at First Things First, where she oversaw Arizona’s early childhood professional development system-building effort. Florez also served as the primary psychometric consultant to the Arizona Department of Education and ECDH regarding kindergarten entry assessment, early childhood formative assessment, and school readiness. As a Nationally Certified School Psychologist, Florez has extensive experience providing expert consultation regarding young children’s development and education. Her work has been published in journals and other publications. Florez received a PhD in educational psychology from the University of Arizona where she also completed a doctoral certificate in early childhood education and a minor in early childhood assessment.

Merilee Fowler
Merilee Fowler is currently the Executive Director of two nonprofit agencies MATFORCE, the Yavapai County Substance Abuse Coalition and Community Counts. Merilee is proud of the accomplishments that she has helped MATForce achieve, including being awarded the 2013 Got Outcomes Coalition of the Year Award from CADCA, Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America. Community Counts administers programs that solve community problems through collaboration. Programs of Community Counts include the Parenting Education Coalition, Yavapai Reentry Project, Yavapai County AmeriCorps Project, and Our Prescott Valley Community Gardens. As the Director of these agencies Merilee has worked to oversee parenting education to over 1000 parents each year. Merilee has served two years on the Board of Directors for Arizonans for Prevention and a member of the SAPCA, Substance Abuse Prevention Committee of Arizona.

Joe Fu
Joe serves as the Director of Health Policy at Children's Action Alliance. His portfolio focuses on improving health coverage for children in Arizona. Prior to CAA, Joe served as a Strategic Information Officer at the US Department of State’s flagship global HIV/AIDS program called PEPFAR. An Arizona native, Joe holds a Masters in Public Health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School.


Annapurna Ganesh
Annapurna Ganesh, earned her M. Ed. in Elementary Education and Ph.D in Curriculum & Instruction from Arizona State University with a concentration in Early Childhood Education. She has experience working with young children birth - 3 and teaching kindergarten and first grade. Over the last ten years Annapurna has been teaching higher education. She currently serves as a faculty member and the Director of the Early Care & Education Program at Mesa Community College.

Pradeep Gidwani
Pradeep Gidwani, MD, MPH is the Director of Projects at the American Academy of Pediatrics, California Chapter 3, San Diego and Imperial Counties (AAP-CA3) which provides Countywide Coordination and Support for First 5 San Diego’s Healthy Development Services and its Home Visiting Program, First 5 First Steps. He teaches at San Diego State University in their Department of Child and Family Development and is a Past President of AAP-CA3. Dr. Gidwani completed a Pediatric Health Services Research fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital and earned a Master’s in Public Health degree at Harvard. He completed his residency at Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, OH. He received his Doctor of Medicine degree from George Washington University. Prior to medical school, he worked for the National Commission to Prevent Infant Mortality in Washington, DC and for the Centers for Disease Control. He received his BA in Anthropology from Northwestern University.

Marjaneh Gilpatrick
Dr. Marjaneh Gilpatrick is Executive Director of Educational Outreach and Chair of the Master’s in Education in TESOL for College of Education. Additionally, she is the counselor for GCU's Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education as well as GCU's Future Educators' Association (FEA). Dr. Gilpatrick oversees Lopes for Literacy which is the College's service outreach initiative. Additionally, she facilitates professional development webinars and faculty meetings for the COE's online Faculty. Her research interests revolve around diversity, literacy and educational leadership. She has fulfilled a variety of roles as an educator for over 20 years: Preschool teacher and administrator, ESL teacher, Reading Department Chair, Instructional Specialist and Assistant Dean.

Stephanie Golden
Stephanie Golden, M.Ed. is First Things First’s Professional Development System Specialist. In this role she is leading and advancing the work of professional development system-building at the statewide level. Stephanie has a rich background and experience in the education field. With a successful career as a classroom teacher, she was recruited to serve as the State Supervisor for Education and Training and Service-Learning at the Arizona Department of Education (ADE). While at ADE she led the redesign of the Career and Technical Education Early Childhood Education program and was co-founder of the Arizona Summit on Volunteerism and Service-Learning.

Jonathon Gonzales
Jonathon is the current State Director of the Arizona Head Start Association (AHSA). He works with his board to ensure AHSA strengthens member agencies and partners who enhance the lives of young children and families by serving as the unified voice of the diverse Head Start/Early Head Start community through advocacy, collaboration and education. Previously, he served in the capacity as the inaugural Regional Director with the South Phoenix Regional Partnership Council with First Things First. He led his council through a needs and assets, strategic and funding plan process that required consistent re-evaluation to ensure the meeting of organizational benchmarks. In the past, he worked as the Director of Community Outreach with Children's Action Alliance and Prevention Specialist with Maricopa County Tobacco Education and Prevention Program.  

Barb Gordon
Barb holds a M.A. in Early Childhood Education and a B.A. in Human Services. With over 30 years of experience in the early childhood field, Barb has knowledge of center and home based child care programs, leadership and business management skills, as well as team building and professional development skill building knowledge. She has taught early childhood classes at both the community college and university level and continues to stay involved in the early childhood field in many capacities. As a Program Manager with the Association for Supportive Child Care (ASCC), Barb currently oversees the Arizona Self-Study Project and the Quality First Coaching and Assessment Teams at ASCC. She is a certified True Colors® Facilitator.

Harvey Grady
40 years of experience in resource development for children and families in the fields of delinquency prevention, family services, health, behavioral health, poverty, and hunger relief. Author of Arizona Youth Atlas, Arizona Child and Youth Services Directory, Improving Family Communications, Early Childhood Success in Prescott Valley, Verde Valley Youth Development Plan, Ending Child Hunger in Yavapai County, Access to School Meals in Yavapai County, SNAP Participation in Yavapai County. Founder and Board Chair of Yavapai Food Council, founder of Child Hunger Alliance, board member of Northern Arizona Behavioral Health Authority, member of DES Hunger Advisory Council, founder of Yavapai County Food Plan, member of Yavapai County Community Health Services health plan committee.

Samantha Green
Ms. Green has led many community-based participatory research efforts focusing on quality of life including a number of First Things First Needs and Assets Reports. She prioritizes the integration of quantitative and qualitative data, and subjective and objective measures. She is dedicated to the recognition and inclusion of minority and marginalized populations. Ms. Green has a Master's degree in Social Anthropology from the London School of Economics and a Bachelor's degree in Anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Jennifer Griffin
Jennifer Griffin is the Outreach Coordinator for the Care1st Avondale Resource and Housing Center. She has over 14 years of experience working with families with children under age 5. Jennifer brings expertise in child development, parenting, children with special needs, advocating on behalf of families, and case management. Jennifer holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Services.

Sarah Griffiths
Sarah Griffiths MFA is a Senior Partner of Wholonomy Consulting llc. She brings strengths based approaches to change to her work with funders, nonprofits, schools and government agencies. She helps create processes and conditions for supporting change, and blends knowledge of brain research, coaching and best practices in systems change with whole system methods, such as Appreciative Inquiry, World Café and Open Space Technology.

Raquel Gutierrez
Raquel Gutierrez, Associate Director, Community Innovation and Development, St. Luke’s Health Initiatives (SLHI). She is responsible for envisioning, developing, and facilitating the implementation of efforts that build the capacity of community stakeholders to effectively work along the policy continuum. Raquel has worked in the social sector for 25 years as nonprofit line staff, management, and consultant. She holds a Ph.D. from Antioch University in Leadership and Change.


Brett Haupt
Brett Haupt is entering his second year with First Things First. He serves as the Parent Awareness and Community Outreach Coordinator for the Pinal Region and joined the agency after a spending time at the Arizona Department of Education as their newsletter editor. He has a strong background in journalism, a thirst to meet people from different walks of life and exceptional experience reporting on U.S. – Mexico border related issues and tribal affairs. Brett is a graduate of the University of Arizona School of Journalism and is a staunch advocate for freedom of press and ethical journalistic enterprise. Additionally, he has volunteered parts of each summer for the past 17 years at his hometown church camp in Utah, counseling, supporting and entertaining children all of ages.

Sara Hunn
Sara Hunn is a Project Specialist for the Arizona Department of Child Safety's (DCS) Program Development Team. Ms. Hunn has worked in child welfare for 10 years in various capacities, including case management, investigations, supervision and the Arizona Child Abuse Hotline. Prior to her time with DCS, Ms. Hunn worked as a PS-MAPP trainer for Foster Care licensing, and as a parent aide. Ms. Hunn has a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology with a concentration in criminology from the State University of New York at Cortland.


Roopa Iyer
Dr. Roopa V. Iyer is the Senior Director of Research and Evaluation at First Things First. Dr. Iyer also is the designated data analyst for FTF Quality First program. She has 15 years of experience working in early childhood research and data. Prior to joining First Things First, Dr. Iyer was an adjunct faculty member at Arizona State University, Department of Psychology. She has served as a research consultant for New Direction Institute of Infant Brain Development. Dr. Iyer completed her postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute of Human Development, University of California, at Berkeley. She received her Ph.D. in Lifespan Developmental Psychology from Arizona State University.


Amber Jones
Amber has several years of leadership and experience in the early childhood field. She has worked in center-based child care as a teacher, closer, floor manager, executive administrative assistant, and director. Amber is currently employed at Child & Family Resources as an Educator and Coordinator through Project BEST, a Community of Practice that focuses on optimal early learning for infants and toddlers. Amber has a Bachelor’s Degree in Family and Consumer Sciences, majoring in Family Child Science. In addition, Amber earned certification as an instructor for the nationally recognized program, Program For Infant Toddler Care.


Naomi Karp
Naomi Karp is the Director of Early Childhood Professional Development at United Way of Tucson and Southern AZ. She served in the U.S. Department of Education for 20 years, 10 of which were as the director of the Early Childhood Research Office. She funded studies documenting relationships between classroom and teacher quality and children’s outcomes. She has written book chapters, journal articles, and reports for educators, families and policy makers. Naomi is a former special education teacher. She is past president of the AzAEYC and served on the NAEYC Board. Naomi has received several awards and honors, including an Honorary Doctorate and the Alumni Achievement Award from the University of AZ. She received the AZ Department of Education’s Early Childhood Education Leadership Award and the Board Award from the SAz AEYC. Naomi is past chairperson of the Advisory Boards for the University of AZ’s College of Education and Pima Community College.

Michelle Katona
Michelle Katona’s career has focused on system building for children and families within local and state government. Michelle is currently the Chief Regional Officer for First Things First, responsible for the oversight and administration of the 28 eleven-member regional partnership councils. Originally from Cleveland, Michelle began her career with the Cuyahoga County Board of Commissioners with the Family and Children First Council, focusing on building and strengthening cross-system partnerships between public agencies and school districts to improve access to services and supports for children and families. She served as Director of the Cuyahoga County’s early childhood initiative, Invest in Children, a public/private partnership between the Board of Commissioners and over 80 community service providers, the philanthropic community, business, education and local and state government. She also served on Governor Strickland’s transition team for early childhood, Ohio’s School Readiness Solutions Group of the State Board of Education, and Groundwork, a coalition to promote state investments and policies that address the needs of Ohio's youngest children. While in Ohio, Michelle was also an adjunct professor for the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Case Western Reserve University, where she received her Master of Science in Social Administration.  

Aimee Kempton
Aimee Kempton is the Pinal Regional Director for the Arizona Early Childhood Health and Development Board, First Things First. As the Regional Director, Aimee focuses on the operations of the Pinal Regional Partnership Council, which involves: directing all administrative and program activities of the Pinal Region, supporting the Regional Council with roles and responsibilities and promotes the vision and work of First Things First in the region. Aimee holds her Bachelor in Business Administration with a minor in Accounting from Arizona State University and is currently pursuing her Master of Public Administration from University of Arizona.

Holly King
Holly is the founder of King TLC and Empowered Educators, a professional development resource for teachers and school administrators. She holds a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education, an early childhood mental health specialization, and is working on her PhD in Leadership and Change. Her unique views on the value of childhood and working effectively with children and youth have inspired parents, teachers and other adults to increase the quality of their interactions with the children in their lives. Holly has trained over 1500 people as a college instructor and professional trainer, with 12 years of experience. Holly enjoys incorporating her own love of learning and personal development into her work, and brings success principles into every aspect of training and coaching. She believes that having caring adults who know how to meet their own needs can better meet the needs of children.

Tovah Klein
Tovah P. Klein, Ph.D. is Director of Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and psychology professor at Barnard College, Columbia University. She holds a BA from University of Michigan and Ph.D. in Psychology from Duke University. She is author of How Toddlers Thrive: What parents can do today for children ages 2 to 5 to plant the seeds of lifelong success (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 2014). Her research explores early development and parenting, including work and family conflict; children’s play and emotional processing; sleep and separation; and child trauma. She is author of dozens of research articles and conference presentations. She writes for and is frequently quoted in the media. She consults worldwide to programs for young children including NYC, Japan and Africa. She was a developmental advisor to Sesame Street, is on the advisory boards of Room to Grow, Ubuntu Education Fund, Rwanda Educational Assistance Project, PerDev, and LearnNow.org.

Patsy Kraeger
Patsy Kraeger is the Senior Director for Strategic Initiatives at First Things First in Arizona. First Things First is voter-created, statewide organization that funds early education and health programs that help prepare kids for success in kindergarten. Prior to joining the agency, she worked in the Governor’s Office. Patsy received her PhD in Public Administration from the School of Public Affairs at Arizona State University. She has worked in the public, nonprofit and private sectors. Patsy has published articles on topics relating to public-private partnerships, organizational behavior and management for public and nonprofit entities. She has presented at national and international conferences in these areas as well. She is also an adjunct faculty member at the ASU School of Public Affairs. She is a member of the Arizona Grantmaker Forum and sits on its evaluation steering committee.

Michelle Kuamoo
Dr. Michelle Kuamoo is the Director of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg - KCAA Preschools of Hawaii Center for Early Education and Development (CEED), the first professional development center dedicated to early educators in Hawaii. She has had over 20 years of professional experience working in all levels of education as a classroom teacher (PreK and 2nd Grade), trainer (PreK - 12), administrator (PreK), researcher, and adjunct faculty (ECE and Elementary) at the local, state, regional, and national levels. Presently, Dr. Kuamoo provides professional development in best practices to early educators related to data driven decision making, curriculum and child assessment, program quality, and leadership.


Sam Leyvas
As First Things First's Chief Executive Officer, Sam oversees both the day-to-day operations of FTF as well as the agency's coordination with policymakers, state department heads, providers and community stakeholders. Sam and the FTF staff work to ensure a strategic and system-oriented approach to ensuring that children start kindergarten healthy and ready to succeed. Sam holds an MBA from the University of Arizona's Eller College of Management and a BSEd in political science from Northern Arizona University.

Brooke Loiland
Brooke Loiland joined the First Things First Quality Assurance team in August 2013, and is currently the Quality Assurance Specialist for Children’s Health. She comes with a background in behavioral health, including her time as a Supervisor for High Need Case Managers with Southwest Network. She has experience with infant mental health practice, juvenile justice, out-of-home placement, crisis intervention, child welfare, infant adoption, and special rehabilitation. Prior to coming to FTF, Brooke was hired as a contract employee through the Cradle to Crayons Program to facilitate on-going communication among stakeholders. This included Court and public/private agencies, which provide services and support to the birth-three population. Brooke earned her BA through The University of Arizona in Interdisciplinary Studies with an Emphasis in Communication, Business Culture, and Special Rehabilitation.

Carol Lopinski

Carol Lopinski, MSW, LCSW ACSW, has been the Director of Family Support at the Child Crisis Center (CCC) for 29 years. Carol has been a leader in developing and implementing child abuse prevention and family support programs in the East Valley. In 1996, under Carol’s supervision, CCC launched the developed East Valley Family Resource Center which has grown from five to 40 free family support programs and serves 1000 families annually. Most recently in 2009, Carol developed My Child’s Ready, a FTF home visitation Alliance in the SE Maricopa Region, which includes central intake, marketing, and shared training efforts.


Kalman Mannis
Veteran K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) educator. Currently serving as: the STEAM Education Specialist and Instructional Coach for the Sequoia Charter Schools (Pre-K-12); STEAM Education Specialist for Arizona School Transformation Group (PK-12 education consultation group); Director Northern Arizona Science and Engineering Fair & Collaborator on the Arizona State Science and Engineering Fair; State Certified Common Core Standards Trainer; State Coordinator Project WILD and Growing Up Wild; Coordinator White Mountain Wildlife and Science Festival; Partner Coordinator Whiteriver Innovation Nation Fair; Chair FTF Navajo Apache Regional Council; Member Arizona Association of Environmental Educators, Member Arizona and National Science Teachers Association; Member International Society of Technology Educators.

Virginia Maya
Virginia Maya has worked in the Early Care and Education field for over 20 years. During this time, she has held different positions and worked in various settings that include Head Start, Early Head Start, private, non-profit and corporate child care settings. In 2007, Virginia began working with the Association for Supportive Child Care as a Specialist in the Niños en Mi Casa program and worked with Family Child Care Providers. She became a Program Coordinator with the Quality First Assessment Program in January of 2009. Virginia received her Bachelors of Interdisciplinary Studies Degree in Child and Family Development and Educational Psychology from Arizona State University.

Jane McCarty
Jane McCarty has 30 years of experience in early development and education and is currently a Client Implementation Manager at Teachstone. McCarty has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Virginia and has always worked with children who struggle to be successful and the adults with whom they interact. McCarty has consulted in Head Start, public and private preschool, early intervention and childcare programs. She has also taught at the graduate level and supervised student teachers.

Elizabeth McNamee
Elizabeth H. McNamee is Director, Community Innovation and Development for St. Luke’s Health Initiatives. She Elizabeth previously served in senior executive positions in the public and the private health care sector in Texas and Arizona. She currently serves on the Boards of Directors for Health Care Excel, the College of Nursing at Grand Canyon University and Mountain Park Health Center. Elizabeth holds a B.A. degree from Trinity University, a MPH from the University of Texas, School of Public Health, and is a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives.

Cynthia Melde
Cynthia Melde has 11 years of experience working in the non-profit and public sectors implementing public health programs to prevent childhood obesity. Her previous work at the Arizona Department of Health Services focused on policy, systems, and environmental change strategies to increase access to healthy food and opportunities for families to be physically active in their community. Cynthia has her Bachelor of Arts in Ethics from Scripps College and her Master in Human Nutrition from Arizona State University. She is currently the Regional Director for Southeast Maricopa at First Things First.

Cheryl Milford
Cheryl is a school psychologist who has spent the last 30 years as a Psychologist in Neonatal Intensive Care Units in Oklahoma, California and most recently in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is a Licensed Educational Psychologist in California. Cheryl has experience in teaching at the graduate level in the Infant Mental Health Program at Chatham University. She is a member of the World Association for Infant Mental Health, the Pennsylvania Association for Infant Mental Health, and The Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Cheryl has published in several neonatal journals and has a chapter in Developmental Care for Newborns and Infants (McGrath and Kenner, 2010). Her research has included NICU design, Preterm Feeding Instruments and collaboration with physicians on AZT trials, neuroimaging, developmental care in the NICU and caring for parents and families in the NICU.

Pamela Morris
Pam Morris, ECE Director, holds a BS in Psychology and a MSEd in Early Childhood Education from Binghamton University in New York. For over 20 years, she has been an early childhood educator in both public and private settings across the United States. As the Director of the Early Childhood Learning Center at the East Valley JCC, she works with nearly 30 staff and over 120 children from ages 6 weeks through Pre-Kindergarten. Weekly, she creates email blasts to over 2000 people about the center and local events. In addition, Pam writes an educational blog and promotes play-based learning in it and through Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook. Early Childhood Ed is her calling and marketing it is her passion!

Angela Mussi
Angela Mussi leads the community outreach, awareness and engagement efforts of First Things First. This includes coordinating and overseeing the work of a team of parent awareness and community outreach coordinators stationed in regional offices across Arizona. Angela was part of the launch of FTF’s community outreach efforts and previously served as a community outreach coordinator in two metro-Phoenix regions. Prior to joining FTF, Angela began her career as a newspaper reporter covering education, Latino issues and local municipalities. She most recently worked as a freelance writer for the Arizona Republic and other regional publications and non-profit organizations.

Jolene Mutchler
Jolene has been working in early childhood education for nearly twenty years with experiences as a special education teacher, early interventionist, parent coach and professional development provider at local colleges. She began working on the Micro Community Connection Model in 2007 after studying quantum physics and introduced the theory to the community in 2012. Jolene considers herself a systems thinking engineer intent on merging complex social and economic systems into a sustainable system that eliminates poverty in one generation.


Christina Nigrelli
Christina Nigrelli is the Senior Director of Programs for ZERO TO THREE Western office. Prior to joining ZTT, Ms. Nigrelli worked in Higher Education as Early Childhood Education Faculty at California State University, Long Beach and Saddleback College, Mission Viejo, CA. She has over twenty years of experience in Early Childhood beginning her career as an Infant and Toddler Specialist for a privately funded child care program in Irvine, CA. Ms. Nigrelli has extensive experience in local and statewide workforce development. As Senior Director of Programs, Ms. Nigrelli has helped to oversee the cross sector core competencies project and communities of practice work. Ms. Nigrelli received a B.A. in Child Development and Family Studies as well as an M.A. in Early Childhood Education from California State University, Long Beach.

James O’Neil
Dr. O’Neil is a board-certified pediatric ophthalmologist and children’s eye surgeon who has treated childhood vision disorders for two decades. All too often, Dr. O’Neil has personally encountered children with silent vision disorders that were diagnosed late resulting in academic challenges, increased treatment costs, and even permanent blindness. Having established Arizona’s first telemedicine screening program for Retinopathy of Prematurity (a blinding eye condition) to provide remote eye examinations of premature infants via the Internet, Dr. O'Neil recognized that technology could revolutionize the way we identify silent vision disorders in school children. Dr. O’Neil subsequently formed VisionQuest 20/20, an Arizona nonprofit, to raise awareness about children’s vision disorders and promote the use of 21st century technology to advance children’s vision health through accurate, standardized, cost-effective preventive vision screenings.

Cassandra O’Neill
Cassandra O’Neill MA is a Senior Partner of Wholonomy Consulting llc. She works with funders, government agencies, nonprofits, and community members to identify shared goals, build collective leadership, and increase organizational effectiveness. She has been a consultant since 2000, and has worked with over 150 organizations in Arizona and nationally. Prior to becoming a consultant she worked for two state government agencies, two national associations, a social service agency, and Rutgers University.


Bronwyn Paes
Bronwyn Paes is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with 30 years experience working with high-risk adolescents and their families. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Oklahoma. Currently she oversees the Adolescent Pregnancy and Parenting Program Tempe Union High School District She coordinates community services for pregnant and parenting students, provides individual counseling, crisis intervention, case management, program development, and is a liaison between school and Early Head Start on campus and between school and home.

Francisco Padilla

Francisco Padilla is Regional Director of the Santa Cruz Regional Partnership Council of First Things First. Francisco is a 2004 graduate of the University of Arizona, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with Minors in Spanish and Portuguese. Before joining First Things First in 2012, he served as Parent Relations Coordinator for Rio Rico High School. Prior to Rio Rico High School, he was employed by Golden Eagle Distributors, Inc. in Tucson where he held several positions in the company’s Marketing department during his seven years there. In addition to being Regional Director in the Santa Cruz Region of First Things First, Francisco is a member of the Knights of Columbus Council No. 14583, serves on the Board of Directors for the Friends of SCVUSD No. 35 Foundation, is Treasurer of the Nogales Lions Club and is Junior Varsity coach of Boys’ Basketball at Rio Rico High School.

Cynthia Pardo
Cynthia Pardo is the First Things First Community Outreach Coordinator for the Coconino region. Cynthia has extensive experience in grassroots community outreach efforts with non-profit organizations, local government and public campaigns. Her expertise includes reaching diverse audiences, including tribal communities, in innovative ways. Cynthia has an Associate’s degree from Coconino Community College and a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in Sustainability, Community and Biocultural Diversity from Northern Arizona University.

Karen Peifer
Dr. Karen Peifer is the Senior Director of Children’s Health for First Things First. She has been working with FTF since 2011-brings over 25 years’ experience working in maternal and child health program development, evaluation and research. She came from the University of Colorado, College of Nursing where she taught research methodology, inter-disciplinary policy advocacy. Her research included using community based participatory research methods to translate research findings into community settings.

Ruth Peralta
Ruth O. Peralta, B.A Psychology, has over 7 years of experience in the early childhood field. She has worked in center-based child care centers as a teacher and has been employed with Child & Family Resources for almost two years as an administrative assistant for the Arizona Infant Toddler Institute (AITI). Ruth has earned certification for Modules I and II from the program for Infant and Toddler Care (PITC) and is working toward completing certification in Modules III and IV to become a fully certified PITC Trainer.

Ina Perez
Ina Perez serves as the Tribal Data Partnership Coordinator in Tribal Affairs for First Things First (FTF). In her role, Ina coordinates with tribal authorities, external partners and regional staff to request and obtain data permissions for data usage and collaboration in tribal communities. She also provides technical assistance when establishing partnerships with external agencies, governments and tribal communities in locating and obtaining existing data. In addition, she provides oversight of security, reporting and communication requirements as agreed in data permissions, tribal Institutional Review Board (IRB) approvals or other authorizing processes for data usage and collaboration with tribal governments. Ina also works with the Senior Director of Tribal Affairs and regional FTF staff to update regional councils and tribal authorities regularly on the status of data.  Ina is an enrolled member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. She received a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University and is currently enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Phoenix.

Anthony Perkins
Dr. Anthony J. Perkins holds a doctoral degree in educational leadership, is a First Things First Hualapai Regional Council member, and current school superintendent. His past experiences include teaching Leadership and Research classes for Northern Arizona University, mentoring school principals and student teachers, and is a former school director of early childhood education. His Dissertation is titled, Breaking the Hispanic Dilemma: Familial Factors that Contribute to Academically Successful Hispanic Students.

Mary Permoda
Mary Permoda, North East Maricopa Regional Council member, has served in ministry in the Diocese of Phoenix since 1985. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Masters in Theology from the University of San Francisco, CA. Currently she is the Director of Pastoral Activities at St. Patrick Catholic Community. She has served as Director of Catechetical Ministry, Youth Ministry, Adult Formation/RCIA, Director of Pastoral Activities, Pastoral Associate and Parish Administrator. In addition, she is adjunct faculty for Grand Canyon University and Facilitator for Loyola University.

Ashley Piper
Ashley Piper is the Resource Center Coordinator for the Care1st Avondale Resource and Housing Center. Ashley is an Arizona native and graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in Social Work. She has served in the non-profit and social services arena for nearly 15 years as a Case Manager, Client Advocate, Volunteer Coordinator and Social Worker. Ashley has worked with domestic violence, at-risk teens, and most recently as a Coordinator in an Intergenerational Early Childhood Center.

Sheila Polk
An Arizona native and 1982 graduate of Arizona State University Law School, Sheila Polk began her career as a law clerk at the Arizona Supreme Court for Justice Jack D.H. Hays. Elected in November of 2000, Sheila Polk is the first female to hold the office of Yavapai County Attorney; she is currently serving her 3rd 4-year term. As County Attorney, Ms. Polk manages a staff of 100 employees, with both criminal and civil duties, and an annual budget of 7 million dollars. Ms. Polk’s other leadership roles include: Chair of the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys Advisory Council from 2011 to present; Member of the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission from 2012 to present; President of the Arizona County Attorneys and Sheriffs Association from 2010 to 2011; Board of Directors of the Arizona Association of Counties from 2010 to 2011 and Vice President and Board of Directors of Prevent Child Abuse from 2009 to present.

Dan Puglisi
As Senior Director of Marketing and Brand Advancement, Dan serves as chief advisor to First Things First in the areas of marketing, social media and digital content and oversees the development and implementation of the FTF brand. He came to First Things First from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, where he served as marketing officer and was responsible for developing publications, advertising and digital content to promote SVCF’s products, services and brand. He previously served as content director at Conspiracy Media Group, a San Francisco-based agency specializing in social media marketing programs, and was a marketing, media and communications consultant for clients in the nonprofit and private sectors, including the Smithsonian Institution and Discovery Communications. He started his career in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles and has extensive experience in the development of feature films, television, animation, documentaries and digital content.


Mona Qafisheh
Mona Qafisheh joined the First Things First Quality Assurance team in June 2012 and currently serves as the Quality Assurance Manager. In her role, she collaborates with grant and community partners to conduct programmatic site visits including the development and follow up of action plans to support continuous quality improvement. Mona’s prior experience includes working directly with young children, families, and teachers in early education settings for more than a decade including three years as a center director. She also has extensive experience in professional development curriculum creation and delivery with a focus on gender development in young children as well as leadership development. Mona earned a Master of Education degree in Early Childhood Education from Northern Arizona University.


Tammara Ragsdale
Tammara Ragsdale is the Director of Professional Development in the Office of English Language Acquisition Services at ADE. She supports districts by conducting trainings and providing a variety of technical assistance to districts related to ELL programs. She has taught in elementary and middle school as well as college level working with adult English language learners. Her administrative work includes Director of Curriculum/Federal Programs and Title III Consortium Specialist.

Amy Ramos
Presenter 1 is a research associate with a community-based research and evaluation firm in California. As a scientist, she brings a unique perspective to the panel with her experience conducting community based health research with vulnerable populations while maintaining rigorous research designs. She will share how the use of standardized tools and innovative methods of analysis have led to cutting-edge discoveries in measuring developmental gains in children with mild to moderate developmental delays. She will showcase how the evaluators from different disciplines can collaborate to create a paradigm shift that results in community empowerment and the ability to design promising practices that will help improve public and non-profit programs and their services.

Kimberly Richards
Kimberly Richards is the Program Coordinator for the Maricopa County First Teeth First, a First Things First funded program that provides oral health screenings, fluoride varnish and education to children under the age of six and provides basic oral screenings and education to pregnant women. Kimberly started with the Office of Oral Health, Maricopa County Department of Public Health in August 2011. Kimberly graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelors of Interdisciplinary Studies in Communications and Political Science. She is currently the MOLAR coalition Legislative Workgroup Chair. Her passion is helping children and following public policy initiatives that address oral health issues related to children and the underserved.

Shulamit Ritblatt
Dr. Ritblatt, Professor and Chair of the CFD at SDSU, received her Ph.D. in Child & Family Development and M.S. in Clinical Child Psychology. Her expertise is socio-emotional development and learning, parenting, and early mental health. She worked with the community to create 3 family resource centers in low-income neighborhoods to provide early intervention/prevention services. She served as an evaluator & consultant to First 5 Healthy Development Services. She developed the Early Childhood Socio-Emotional, Behavior Regulation Intervention Specialist Certificate Program at SDSU to prepare early childhood professionals to support behavior & emotion regulation. Dr. Ritblatt is the founder of delibrainy and created the Circle of Education®, a Music-Based Social Emotional Learning Readiness, Academic Development, & Active Parenting Program for Young Children & “In The Circle” Behavioral Health Program. The company provides parenting & behavior support services (funded by First 5).

Angie Rodgers
Angie Rodgers is President & CEO of the Association of Arizona Food Banks (AAFB). Rodgers brings more than 15 years’ experience in public policy research and advocacy focusing on human services. Prior to joining AAFB, Rodgers served in various capacities for the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES), improving child and family welfare services through advocacy and policy initiatives, community-based partnerships, interagency coordination, and grant application and administration. Rodgers was Governor Napolitano’s Human Services Policy Advisor serving as the liaison between the Governor and DES and the Department of Juvenile Corrections. In this role, she was instrumental in development of high-level child and family welfare services policy and budget negotiation for nearly $750 million in state resources. Additionally, she directed the state task force on the Earned Income Tax Credit, which lifted thousands of Arizonans out of poverty. Rodgers worked previously in health policy at Children’s Action Alliance, where she facilitated Healthy Children Arizona, a professional discussion group for public health issues, and authored and implemented a statewide $1.2 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She earned her Master’s Degree in Social Work at Arizona State University and Bachelor’s Degrees in Criminology and Sociology from the University of Kansas.

Katie Romero
Katie Romero has worked for Southwest Human Development since 2001 providing services both in home and center environments. She worked as a developmental specialist providing support services to classroom teachers and to families of children with special developmental needs. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Northern Arizona University. In 2009, she accepted a position as the Program Manager for Quality First Assessment and has worked since that time to support consistent statewide assessment services.


Ginger Sandweg
Ginger Sandweg is FTF’s Senior Director for Early Learning. She previously served as FTF’s Quality First Director, providing leadership to four grantees and four sub-grantees to provide coaching, assessment and scholarships to over 800 early care and education programs across the state of Arizona. An Arizona native, Ginger’s career path has included time as a preschool intern, preschool teacher, preschool administrator and college instructor. She has worked in a non-profit, college and university based and Head Start programs in Arizona, California and Utah. Ginger holds a Bachelor's degree in psychology and child development and a Master's degree in family, human and consumer sciences (child development).

Sarah Ocampo-Schlesinger
Sarah Ocampo-Schlesinger is the Program Coordinator of the Arizona Kith and Kin Project and the Child Care Injury Prevention Program at the Association for Supportive Child Care (ASCC). ASCC is a non-profit action organization dedicated to improving the quality of child care for children throughout the state of Arizona. Sarah has been in the role of Coordinator for the Arizona Kith and Kin Project since 2000. The Arizona Kith and Kin Project targets Family, Friend and Neighbor child care providers in an effort to improve the quality of child care provided by this population. Sarah has played a role in developing and implementing a program that is delivering training, support, health and safety and early childhood materials throughout three (3) counties and includes partnerships with many community agencies and services in diverse cultural communities.

Lauren Schroeder
Lauren Schroeder joined the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits in August 2013 as the Capacity Building Coordinator for an innovative statewide initiative supported by First Things First. In addition to having a masters of public health from the University of Arizona, Lauren has ten years of experience leading and supporting local and global community initiatives by providing technical assistance in: program development, evaluation design and implementation, strategic planning, grant writing, community based participatory research methods, and coalition building for collective impact. Having served four years in the US Peace Corps and two years in AmeriCorps she is passionately committed to public service and working with nonprofits, government entities and communities to improve and grow their efforts.

Karen Sell
Karen Sell is the Bureau Chief for the Arizona Department of Health Bureau of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Prevention. She manages the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (SNAP) and the Empower Program standards for child care centers.

Meena Shahi
Meena Shahi has worked in government at various capacities throughout her 20 year career in research and analysis. Prior to joining First Things First, she has worked in NIHS funded research at The University of Texas at Austin, and as the evaluation manager at the Arizona Department of Health Services. Meena holds a dual Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Psychology and a Master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Houston. Meena has worked at First Things First since 2008 as the Program Evaluation Specialist/Analyst. She provides leadership and training to more than 100 funded grantees on over 40 plus funded strategy programs across the state of Arizona. A large part of her expertise is in providing guidance and training to FTF staff to support respective regional partnership councils on health and early learning strategy data requirements and reports.

Eva Marie Shivers
Dr. Eva Marie Shivers is the Director of the Institute for Child Development Research & Social Change, a non-profit research firm at the Indigo Cultural Center located in Phoenix. This center focuses on exploring families’ culturally-adaptive responses to poverty. Dr. Shivers has served as Principal Investigator on numerous child care research studies that involve participatory-based research with community agencies and diverse communities. Dr. Shivers’ research interests include: child care work force and professional development; provider-child attachment; early childhood mental health; and other issues involving race, culture and family sensitive care. Dr. Shivers has authored numerous publications about Family, Friend and Neighbor child care, and frequently presents findings throughout the country. For the past thirteen years, Dr. Shivers has provided child care policy consultation on Family, Friend and Neighbor issues to national, state and local government agencies and administrators.

Stephanie Small
Stephanie Small serves as the Family Services Manager for the City of Avondale (Arizona). She has overseen a wide range of community development initiatives to include human services, housing, small business empowerment, neighborhood revitalization, and has administered capacity-building initiatives such as Community University and P.L.A.N.N. Ms. Small has administered numerous federal grant programs to include, Weed and Seed, NSP, CDBG and CSBG. Having overseen resource centers in four states with an array of services and programs, Ms. Small has a unique perspective of this area. Holding a Bachelor of Science from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA, Stephanie’s nineteen years of public administration experience spans the fields of law enforcement, code compliance, zoning administration, human services and community development. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Administration.

Raymond Smith
Raymond Smith is the Director of Human Resources for First Things First. He has over 18 years of experience in the organization development and human resources arena. He spent the 10 ½ years with Gannett newspapers directing one of their newspaper’s human resources department, designing leadership training and conducting organizational assessment. Prior to that, he was with Starbucks as Manager of Partner Development in their Seattle corporate offices. He has an undergraduate degree in Economics, a Masters in Organization Development and has conducted doctoral research in organization development.

Jill Stamm
Dr. Jill Stamm is the co-founder of New Directions Institute for Infant Brain Development (NDI), now a member of Arizona’s Children Association family of agencies, and an associate clinical professor at Arizona State University. Dr. Stamm’s Ph.D. is in Learning and Instructional Technology. She is an author and a national and international speaker on early brain development and later school achievement. Currently, she serves on the Governor’s Advisory Council for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and is a member of the National Advisory Panel of the Learning & the Brain Conference. In the past she has served on the Governor’s Advisory Council for Head Start in Arizona, Arizona Community Foundation Early Care and Education Advisory Committee, Arizona Science Center’s National Advisory Council on Brain Development, City of Phoenix Task Force on Early Childhood, and Greater Phoenix Leadership P-20 Education Reform Board.

Christine Stein
Dr. Christine Stein has helped develop and evaluate health and wellness programs for children and families throughout her 20+ year career in public health, including in the areas of nutrition, physical activity, breastfeeding promotion, and mental health. Dr. Stein has advanced degrees in public health and social policy. She is currently a Research and Evaluation Analyst at First Things First.

Lynette Stonefeld
Lynette Stonefeld holds two Masters Degrees in Counseling and Public Administration. She has been a Licensed Professional Counselor for more than 20 years. She has developed more than ten family resource centers during the past twelve years. Her experience in family support includes program development, implementation, and evaluation for a variety of programs in Washington, Wisconsin, Arizona, and South Korea. Ms. Stonefeld has presented at numerous conferences including the America’s Promise National Summit is Washington D.C., the Administration for Children & Families Conference in Houston, and the Arizonan’s for Prevention Conference in Phoenix. She has also taught parenting education classes at ASU and authored three successful applications which named Tempe as one of the Best 100 Communities for Young People.

Fred Summerfelt
Fred Summerfelt is an Associate Professor at Northern Arizona University and teaches full-time in the Dental Hygiene Department. Fred practices dental hygiene part-time and often works in remote areas of Arizona as an Affiliated Practice Dental Hygienist. Fred earned an A.A.S. in Dental Hygiene, a B.S. in Dental Hygiene and Business Management, and an M.Ed. in Adult Education while attending the University of Alaska Anchorage. Fred has built an international reputation as a teledentistry innovator and educator and has published his work with teledentistry in the Journal of Dental Education. Fred has presented his work with teledentistry at numerous oral health conferences within Arizona, nationally at the American Dental Educators' Conference, and internationally at the Royal Society of Medicine's London E-health and Telemed Conference.

Jodi Swanson
Jodi Swanson earned her Ph.D. in Family and Human Development, with an emphasis in advanced quantitative statistics, from Arizona State University (ASU). Currently an Assistant Research Professor in ASU’s Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, her research focuses on investigating how parents and teachers influence young children’s social-emotional and academic developmental competence, and especially development of self-regulation. She is among the executive leadership faculty steering The Kindergarten Project, which aims to integrate multi-disciplinary, multi-collaborator rigorous research focused on understanding the roots of early school adjustment, ecology, performance, and engagement with the voices of educators, families, and communities toward developing evidence-based practices and supports for families, educators, and policymakers that instill children’s long-term love of learning and academic success.


Kara Tanoue
Kara Tanoue is a data specialist in the Francis McClelland Institute for Children, Youth, and Families. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies and a minor in Geography. Before joining the Institute, Kara worked in intrastate conflict research and educational outreach in the Tucson refugee community. Kara has a strong background in geographic information systems (GIS) and geospatial modeling and analysis, and she possesses a strong interest in expanding use of GIS as part of quantitative social science research and program evaluation. Her research interests include the use of GIS and geospatial modeling to guide community resource allocation for public health and development.

John Taylor
John Taylor serves as the First Things First Community Outreach Coordinator in the Southeast Maricopa region. John’s expertise is in effectively employing the principles of grassroots engagement with new communications platforms, including social media. John, a graduate of Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs and graduate student at the Ken Blanchard College of Business at Grand Canyon University, has worked with grassroots organizations and governments engaging the public and advocating for accountability, equality and social justice. He currently serves on the board of directors of several local non-profit organizations in the areas of education, income, health and housing.

Kim Thomas
Kim Thomas, MA is a Project Director who works at the San Diego and Imperial County Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP-CA3). She received her Master of Arts in Nonprofit Leadership and Management from the University of San Diego and her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from San Diego State University with a certificate from the Applied Social Research Program. Kim directs the First 5 First Steps home visiting project, an initiative that launched the Healthy Families America model in 2013. She continues to provide leadership to the First 5 San Diego Healthy Development Services, a program that provides developmental and behavioral services to children with mild to moderate concerns. Prior to joining the AAP-CA3, Kim worked for the Council of Community Clinics, coordinating disease and quality management programs at Community Health Centers. Her expertise is in program planning and implementation, collaboration building, program evaluation, and quality improvement.

Neil Tift
Neil Tift is the Father Involvement Program Director for the Child Crisis Center in Mesa Arizona. Prior to this, Neil was Director of Operations for the Native American Fatherhood and Families Association. Neil has served as director of training for three national fatherhood organizations in Washington DC and Mesa Arizona. Prior to that, Neil was the founding Director of the Fathers’ Resource Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For 29 years, Neil was adjunct faculty at six universities, teaching ethics, family studies and psychology. Neil is a fatherhood trainer, parent educator, men’s therapist and  family mediator.

Brenda Tomlin
Brenda Tomlin, MSW, ACSW has 30 years' experience providing permanency, prevention and intervention services that support children and families. In 2008, Brenda accepted a position with Arizona’s FTF program as the Regional Coordinator for N. Phoenix where she guided the community council to determine funding for services that supported school readiness and healthy development. In 2010, Brenda joined Southwest Human Development in the Head Start and Early Head Start program. She served as the Senior Program Manager for School Readiness and supervised Early Learning Mentor coaches and Mental Health Consultants. Brenda’s teams helped assure teachers demonstrated the best skills to support social-emotional development, while learning and utilizing research-based teaching practices that positively impact child learning outcomes. As Program Manager for QFA, Brenda creates professional development support to Technical Assistant providers in the Arizona’s Quality First System.

Memarie Tsosie
Memarie Tsosie serves as a First Things First Community Outreach Coordinator in the Navajo Nation region. She uses traditional and innovative outreach tactics -- such as public speaking and emerging and traditional media relations -- to ensure all stakeholders become informed and engaged. Memarie is adept at using social media to reach diverse populations. Memarie, a graduate of Northern Arizona University, has spent most of her professional life involved in grassroots efforts on Navajo Nation and Arizona.


Diane Umstead
Diane has been working on behalf of children for 35 years. Her collaborative leadership style has advanced child outcomes in 3 different state systems (MD, AZ and NC). She is the former Sr. Director of Community Outreach at First Things First and currently serves as Community Development Director for Smart Start in NC.


Lillian Valmidiano
Lillian Lim Valmidiano, MPH, a Certified Health Education Specialist, is a Project Director at the American Academy of Pediatrics, California Chapter 3. Lillian has over 16 years of program management and evaluation experience, including her work to develop and implement a comprehensive developmental and behavioral system of care for young children. She was the Associate Director of Education and Programs at the American Lung Association of San Diego where she managed an asthma initiative for children. In her role at the Center for Child Health Outcomes at Children’s Hospital, San Diego, Lillian co-authored a chapter in the book, Child Health Services Research: Applications, Innovations, and Insights. Lillian’s direct service experience includes providing tobacco prevention and cessation services for youth and technical assistance to community organizations. Lillian holds her Master’s Degree of Public Health from San Diego State University.

K. Vilay
K. Vilay has been with FTF since 2007. She currently serves as the Senior Director of Regional Operations. In this role, she is the statewide agency representative in the regional division responsible for systems planning, program implementation, establishing and implementing effective policies and practices related to the operations of the Regional Partnership Councils, each consisting of volunteer members. Ms. Vilay has over 20 years of experience in the field of early childhood development and health. Much of her focus has been on family support and literacy issues including early screening, identification and interventions for infants and toddlers with developmental delay, disabilities and special health care needs and parent education.


Michele Walsh
Dr. Michele Walsh is an Associate Research Professor at the University of Arizona Norton School, affiliated with the Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth & Families. She is an evaluation researcher with considerable experience in community-based participatory research, who has conducted a number of needs and assets reports for multiple tribal and county-based First Things First Regional Partnership Councils. Dr. Walsh received her BA in psychology and philosophy from Claremont McKenna College, California; her MA in psychology and philosophy from The Queen’s College, Oxford University, England; and her PhD in Program Evaluation and Research Methods (minor in Developmental Psychology), from the University of Arizona. She has been a visiting professor at the University of Mannheim where she taught courses in program evaluation and applied social measurement, and was a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University.

Linda Weinberg
Linda Weinberg, MBA, MSW, LCSW Prevention Administrator, Cenpatico of Arizona Linda Weinberg received her Bachelor and Master in Social Work degrees from the Arizona State University and a Master in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix.Her MSW specialization was rural social work and was a recipient of a National Institute for Health grant for specialization in rural social work and multicultural community mental health planning.Ms. Weinberg is the Prevention Administrator for Cenpatico of Arizona.

Mary Wennersten
Mary Wennersten, M.Ed. is the Director of K-3 Literacy for the Arizona Department of Education in the High Academic Standards for Students Division/ K-12 Standards. She is also on the Board of Directors for the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) as the chair of Branch Development Relations Committee. Mary has spent the last 10 years providing both technical assistance and professional development to administrators, teachers and paraprofessionals in the areas of assessment, reading instruction and intervention, data analysis, coaching and instructional leadership. Mary has over 28 years in public education as a general education teacher, a cross-categorical resource teacher (K-12), inclusion specialist, and professional development trainer.

Bonnie Williams
Bonnie began working with the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) in May, 2013 as the Early Care and Education (ECE) Prevention Manager. In practical terms, she coordinates a grant funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)through Nemours that the Bureau of Nutrition and Physical Activity (BNPA) has branded ‘Empower PLUS+’ to align with the Empower Standards.

Stephanie Willis
Stephanie Willis, MSW, MPA, First Things First Senior Program Specialist for Family Support and Literacy Stephanie has served in several systems of care for children and families including: child welfare, behavioral health, developmental disabilities, education, juvenile probation and family support. In her current role as Program Specialist, she is the content expert and works to develop programs, policies, and standards implemented statewide that support families and caregivers as they parent young children. Stephanie has master’s degrees in Social Work and Public Administration from Arizona State University. Stephanie is licensed as a Licensed Master Social Worker.

Paula Wolfe
Paula Wolfe started her career in education as a high school English teacher in her native Canada. She later earned her Phd and was named Outstanding Graduate from the College of Education, Arizona State University in 1999. Since that time she has taught at several universities including: UCLA, New Mexico State and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has won several awards for teaching (Donald C. Rousch award for Excellence in Teaching, the National Association of Summer Schools Award for Innovative Curriculum), and research (Center for Applied Linguistics Tucker Fellowship, Washington, D.C.). She has published over twenty articles and book chapters. She has published two co-authored books, So Much to Say: Adolescents, Bilingualism and ESL in the Secondary School (Teachers College Press) and Marketing Fear in America’s Public Schools (Lawrence Erlbaum).

Pita Wolford
Pita Wolford has been with Valley of the Sun United Way since 2011 and currently serves as the Project Manager for the Quality First Scholarships program. In this role, Ms. Wolford regularly visits with Child Care Scholarship providers throughout the state, facilitates fiscal and programmatic monitoring, conducts provider training, and oversees provider focus groups to enhance program delivery. Ms. Wolford is bilingual (Spanish/English) and is able to effectively communicate with all providers and other stakeholders. She has three years of full-time experience working directly with child care providers around the state and is in the process of completing a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology at Arizona State University. Ms. Wolford has more than eight years of experience across various industries, most recently in Accounts Payable at Acme Aerospace, prior to coming to VSUW.

Karen Woodhouse
Karen’s leadership in shaping policy and programs as Chief Program Officer at First Things First is indicative of the past 25 years she has worked on behalf of young children and their families. Throughout her career, Karen has worked with other state and national organizations to promote quality in early childhood programs. She has led recent early childhood system collaborative initiatives that include School Readiness Indicators and the Arizona Early Learning Standards, and has been integral in the initial development of many First Things First programs. Prior to joining First Things First, Karen was Deputy Associate Superintendent for Early Childhood at the Arizona Department of Education. She has a master’s degree from the University of Arizona and completed postā€graduate coursework at Arizona State University.


Tiburcia Yocupicio-Chambers
Tiburcia is the regional director of the First Things First Pascua Yaqui Tribe Regional Partnership Council. Prior to joining FTF, Tiburcia had the opportunity to work with different agencies within the State of Sonora and Mexican Federal governments and non- profit organizations in both countries (México and the United States). She was the founder/director of the Indigenous Radio Station XEETCH “The Voice of the Three Rivers” in Etchojoa, Sonora, which promotes indigenous languages and cultures and broadcasts in Yaqui, Mayo, Guarijío and Spanish. She also has experience organizing cultural events and promoting the organization and training of Indian communities in issues such as education, health, economic, social, environmental, indigenous and women’s rights, cultural preservation, human and civil rights, community development and early childhood development. Tiburcia is a member of the Mayo Indian Tribe from Sonora, México. She has a B.A in Communication Sciences from the University of Sonora and a Master of Arts in Language, Reading and Culture from the University of Arizona.


Lauren Zbyszinski
Lauren currently works as a Program Specialist and Professional Development Coordinator in the Early Childhood division at the Arizona Department of Education. Her background includes teaching preschool, kindergarten, and first grade. Her research interests include the Arizona Early Learning Standards and College and Career Ready Standards, with a special focus on the Social Emotional standard and development in the preschool and kindergarten years.

Laura Zeleznak
Laura Zeleznak holds a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education. Her endorsements include Structure English Immersion, English as a Second Language and Reading Specialist. Laura’s professional experience includes teaching in primary grades in low socioeconomic schools, as well as training K-12 teachers in Shanghai China on ESL strategies. As an Education Program Specialist for OELAS she reviews Title III grants, monitors districts for state and federal compliance and provides professional development.