Bill Adams serves as Vice President of the Washington Elementary School District Governing Board and Maricopa County Co-Director of the ASBA Board of Directors. He has been active on several parent and school advisory groups in his district. Adams is owner of Ryan Austin & Associates, a full service consulting/brokerage agency specializing in employee benefits. Adams is a former member of the First Things First North Phoenix Regional Partnership Council, where he and his fellow regional council members were responsible for collecting information on the strengths and needs of their community; prioritizing the specific needs of children from birth through age 5; planning how to address those needs; choosing who to partner and collaborate with to ensure success for the children in their area; and, making funding decisions necessary to carry out their plan. Adams served on the Board of Directors for WESTMARC and is currently a member of their Education and Healthcare Committees.
As an Instructional Technologist for the Center for Teaching and Learning at Mesa Community College, Helice Agria develops creative and innovate learning experiences for professional development opportunities focused on teaching excellence and the integration of technology to support 21st Century education. For the past 16 years, Helice has worked in higher education in a variety of roles in both student and academic affairs, including direct instruction as an Adjunct Faculty Member and Technology Training. This wide foundational knowledge provides her with holistic understanding of the college environment and the needs of its diverse workforce and student body. In her role for the CTL Helice provides professional development for both faculty and staff in the areas of educational and workplace technology. She is also a Canvas Administrator for the college and LMS Core Committee Chair for the district.
Courtney has her Masters in Recreation Management and a double major for my Bachelors in Recreation Management and Corporate Recreation from Northwest Missouri State University in January 2007. Having worked at Benevilla since February 2007, she started out as an Activity Therapist, then became the Director of Life Enrichment and is now Senior Director of Enrichment. Working with seniors is a passion, and building relationships with the families and members is a highlight of her work. Her own young children are very active in intergenerational activities at Benevilla.
Beth Alsen is an Instructional Designer at Mesa Community College. Beth has 22 years of classroom experience teaching at the secondary and community college level. She has taught ESL to English Language Learners (monolingual to advanced levels), first and second year Spanish, Honors U.S. history, Sheltered U.S. and world history. During her secondary education teaching experience, Beth served as ELL Coordinator and ELL Department Chair, and her SEI program was ranked 2nd in the state of Arizona. Beth's professional experience also includes serving as a K-12 SEI trainer as well as a content and curriculum developer across disciplines for K-20 educators. Currently, Beth teaches Introduction to Serving English Language Learners and the Art of Storytelling. She also works in the Center for Teaching and Learning on special projects focused on training faculty to enhance delivery and instruction for face-to-face, hybrid and online courses through best practices.
Ben has had an extensive government affairs and legislative advocacy career. Ben most recently served as the Congressional Relations Manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department representing the Game and Fish Commission. Previously Ben served as the Legislative Liaison for the Arizona State Land Department managing their government relations and public affairs. Ben began his career at the Arizona State House of Representatives as staff to Members of the State House. Ben received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Political Science with a focus in American Public Policy from Arizona State University in Tempe. Ben currently serves as the Sr. Director of Government Affairs at First Things First.
Martha Anderson is the Director of Operations for the Food Friends Foundation. She received her B.A. and M.Arch from the University of Colorado. Through her early work and advocacy for designing livable communities to encourage a healthy, thriving populous, she began consulting with the Food Friends Foundation and ultimately became their Director of Operations. Martha plays an integral role in the Foundation by overseeing sales, marketing, client adoption and client sustainability.
Melissa Avant is a member of the Sierra Vista Unified School District Governing Board. As an active community volunteer, she dedicates extensive time and energy to organizations within and outside the school district. Avant holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a Master’s degree in Public Administration. She is involved at all levels of the community and currently works as the Regional Director of the Cochise Regional Partnership Council within First Things First. She is familiar with multimillion-dollar budgets and grant implementation and management, is an advocate for public education, and believes the role of public education is to provide the best education possible for all students while preparing them for work, vocational or technical training, or college. At First Things First, Avant is responsible for the overall management of the Cochise Regional Partnership Council. She is also responsible for coordinating with parents, community leaders, local, state and federal government officials, private entities and faith-based groups to improve the quality of and access to early childhood development programs that effectively prepare children to start school healthy and ready to succeed.
Deirdre (DeeDee) Avery
Deirdre (DeeDee) Avery, MS, MPH, is an Evaluation Specialist in the University of Arizona’s Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences. She is an Arizona native who has nearly 20 years of experience in program evaluation and public health research, and has extensive experience conducting qualitative and quantitative evaluation and research, with a particular emphasis on health disparities and community-based participatory research. Her work—which has taken place in private, government and academic settings—has involved cancer, tobacco, early childhood development, domestic violence, mental health and women’s health. She has considerable experience conducting needs assessments for community-based programs, and has been involved in needs and assets work for both tribal and county-based First Things First Regional Partnership Councils since 2010. 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 is Quality Assurance Specialist for Family Support and Literacy at First Things First. Christine has been involved with the Arizona behavioral health system since 2009, starting with her time as a children's high needs case manager with The Southwest Network. She has worked closely and collaboratively with families and institutions such as Child Protective Services, Juvenile Corrections, Developmental Disabilities, and Educational systems. Christine has a degree in Family Social Sciences from the University of Minnesota, and has gained hands-on experience supervising family visits and working closely with children with disabilities as a direct care provider. Over the last year and a half as a Quality Assurance Coordinator with Southwest Network, Christine supervised the implementation of quality and compliance measures for her agency through data collection and supervision of case managers, team leads, and clinical care directors.
Daffodil Baez, MPH, MBA is Executive Vice President & Chief Operations Officer at Bayless Healthcare. She oversees global business operations and implementation of growth strategies and processes. Her background includes healthcare and financial analysis in the commercial health insurance payer arena and practice management in the Phoenix area. She is an active board member of the Arizona chapter of the American College of Healthcare Executives and the school board for Maricopa Village School on the Pima-Gila River Indian Community. Daffodil received her BA in Psychology from Rice University, Master’s in Public Health from Columbia University in New York City, and her Master’s in Business Administration from Arizona State University.
Mark Becker is the Associate Director for Eight, AZ Public Television - Education Outreach. Mark conducts educator professional development throughout the state of Arizona. He specializes in technology integration, adult learning theory and professional development models. Mark has also worked on statewide grants specializing in coaching and mentoring. Prior to this, Mark was a public school educator and administrator for over 13 years where he taught elementary, was involved with professional development and where he helped to lead two different elementary schools. Mark is now the Director of the Arizona Early Childhood Workforce Registry.
Jessica Begay is a member of the Navajo tribe and has been working with Native American children and families in the Phoenix area for the past ten years. Jessica has a Master's degree in Social Work with a specialization in Planning, Administration and Community Practice. Jessica currently oversees the Family Services department and Home Visiting program for a tribal Head Start/Early Head Start center. Jessica has been involved in the site-wide implementation of a social-emotional framework at her program from the beginning stages. She helps to oversee long-term planning and data collection for the project.
Kavita Bernstein has worked in the arena of children’s health for over twelve years. With the majority of her time spent working within the behavioral health field in Arizona, Kavita has worked directly with children and families in community based, outpatient and urgent care settings. Kavita has built her experience in utilization management, wraparound/Child and Family Team coaching and consulting, supervision of case management, training, quality assurance/management, contract management and program/business development. In her role as Program Specialist for Children’s Health at First Things First, Kavita works with grantees in areas including but not limited to children’s oral health, nutrition/obesity, care coordination and developmental and sensory screening. Kavita earned dual Bachelor degrees in Psychology and Mass Communications from University of Michigan – Ann Arbor.
Mary Ann Biermeier
Mary Ann is the Director of Professional Development at Pinnacle Presbyterian Preschool and directs the INSPIRE Early Childhood Leadership Series. She began her teaching career in education with Pinnacle in 2000 after a career in software design and development. She has served on the executive board of All-Star Kids Tutoring, an Arizona non-profit providing volunteer tutors that mentor children in grades 2 and 3 who are struggling with literacy and reading fluency. She is also former board chair of Communities In Schools, an Arizona non-profit providing community resources within schools to help young people successfully learn, stay in school and prepare for life. Mary Ann Biermeier is a Master’s degree candidate in Early Childhood Education at Northern Arizona University.
Lisa started her career as child and family therapist nearly 20 years ago working specifically with foster children and their families. Early in her career she was introduced to the work of Bruce Perry, Daniel Seigel and Holly Van Gulden where her interest in early child development, brain development and the importance of healthy attachment laid a foundation for an ever growing commitment to promoting the health and safety of young children. She has worked in for-profit and non-profit settings in the capacity of therapist, consultant, parent educator, administrator, trainer and early childhood advocate. Now at First Things First, she is happy to direct her personal and professional passions to support the work in ensuring children arrive at school healthy and ready to succeed.
Jenni Brasington has over 20 years of experience working in schools to engage families in their children’s education. She is currently Director of Family and Community Engagement for Acelero Learning. Jenni has assisted states, school districts and community organizations build capacity for sustainable family engagement programs. Previously, she served as an elementary school counselor, dean of students and early childhood specialist. She holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in school counseling.
Linda Brault directs several statewide training projects in collaboration with the Child Development Division of the California Department of Education. Linda is the Lead on the CA CSEFEL Teaching Pyramid Project. Linda has also been an instructor in Child Development at several community colleges. Prior to directing projects, Linda was an early childhood special education teacher for more than 20 years. Linda is active in many professional organizations. Linda is passionate about inclusion of children with special needs into child care settings, in part because she is the parent of children with special needs. Linda has published articles and books on challenging behavior, best practices, inclusion, transition and parenting experiences.
Corrie Brinley, MSW is an Assistant Research Social Scientist with the Southwest Institute for Research on Women (SIROW) at the University of Arizona. She joined SIROW in 2005 and has worked on a variety of projects that strive to support and promote the health of women and youth experiencing poverty, homelessness, violence, incarceration and substance involvement. Corrie has a passion for implementing community-based participatory action research as a tool for social support and social justice. Corrie currently works with the Pascua Yaqui Tribe’s Sewa Uusim team as the Evaluation Coordinator for their SAMHSA-CMHS projects that promote community health and provide supportive services to children, youth and their families. Additionally, Corrie works on Arizona’s State Youth Treatment (SYT) project, which is a statewide effort to expand access to evidence-based practices in systems of care for adolescents and transitional-aged youth experiencing substance abuse and/or co-occurring mental health problems.
Mr. Brown is currently a preschool teacher on the Navajo Reservation. He teaches students ages 3 to 5 years who have disabilities, as well as typical students. Mr. Brown has taught in a variety of special educational settings throughout the state of Arizona from preschool through twelfth grade, ranging from inclusion to pull out to self-contained to multiple disabilities and severe sensory impairment classes. Having orthopedic disabilities himself, Mr. Brown has been able to relate to and teach students with similar disabilities throughout his career.
Diana Brown has been a professional educator since 1988. She holds a bachelor's degree from Arizona State University and a Master's degree from Northern Arizona University. Diana taught grades 1-6 for 24 years and is now a consultant providing workshops and consultation in the area of social emotional intelligence for parents and teachers throughout the state of Arizona. She is currently contracted with the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community in their early childhood Early Head Start and Head Start center.
Ms. Camu is the Assistant Director of the Fowler Head Start Program. She is the also a former Head Start student and a Head Start teacher. Mrs. Camu has a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Ottawa State University.
Amber Carroll, MT-BC, is a Board-Certified music therapist working for Higher Octave Healing, a non-profit music therapy company based out of Tempe. Her caseload consists primarily of developmentally delayed children, early intervention and adolescents. She has a passion for fostering early childhood development, and enjoys leading mommy and me groups to facilitate interaction and learning within the family. She uses individualized music interventions to help autistic children and adolescents improve their communication skills, cognitive skills, motor movement, attention span and other goal areas to help promote a higher quality of life.
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 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 is Director of Affiliations and Program Support at Parents as Teachers National Center. 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. She has presented extensively at local, regional, state and national conferences.
Laurie Clark received her BA in Dental Hygiene from Carroll College in 1983. She has worked as a Clinical Supervisor/Dental Hygienist in a busy Pediatric Dental Practice for 13 years. Gaining expertise in the area of children’s dentistry she became aware of the importance of expanded dental services for underserved children. She joined Maricopa County Department of Public Health sealant program 1999 and pursued her passion for public health. In her current position with Dignity Health, Chandler Regional Medical Center’s Early Childhood Oral Health Program she continues to build community partnerships through networking and professional presentations, and serves as a resource for dental information and needs.
Terri Clark was appointed the Arizona Literacy Director for the State of Arizona in June 2012. As Arizona’s Literacy Director, Ms. Clark is responsible for working 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. She leads Read On Arizona, a public/private partnership of agencies, philanthropic organizations and community stakeholders committed to creating an effective continuum of supports to improve language and literacy outcomes for Arizona’s children from birth through age 8. Ms. Clark previously served as Executive Director of Bring Me A Book, a statewide early children’s literacy organization dedicated to strengthening language and emerging literacy skills of California’s under-served children, and as Executive Director of the Literacy Network of Greater Los Angeles. Ms. Clark graduated with honors from Brown University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Literature and Society.
Bethany Cone is Communications Coordinator for First Things First. A Virginia native, she completed her B.A. at Arizona State University in the Hugh Downs School of Communications with a focus on marketing. Bethany previously worked in advertising as an account executive at Park&Co in Phoenix and, on the east coast, at Edelmann Scott, Inc., developing and implementing strategic marketing plans for multiple clients. She has been with First Things First for nearly one year and was excited to transition to the client-side of marketing to apply her specialized skills to an organization with a meaningful mission.
Anna Cruz is a Research Associate with Harder+Company Community Research, a research and evaluation firm based in California. She has over seven years of experience in research and evaluation. She has extensive experience with developmental evaluation and participatory research methods. At Harder+Company, she has focused on the development and implementation of culturally appropriate quantitative and qualitative research methods, including ethnographic approaches, focus groups, interviews, intercept-surveys, asset mapping, and participatory video/photography. Anna oversees and manages the evaluation of large-scale multi-site projects throughout Los Angeles County, San Diego County and Arizona. She holds a Master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Oregon.
With support from First Things First, Debbie Curley developed the Family Resource Program at the University of Arizona (UA) Cooperative Extension Santa Cruz County. This program operates in three sites through subcontracts with local school districts. They offer ten core classes to approximately 140 clients per month. Debbie recently became the Area Assistant Agent for Family, Consumer & Health Sciences at UA Cooperative Extension Pima County where she hopes to offer Family Resource Center core classes in a variety of settings. She has a Master’s Degree in Public Health with a concentration in Maternal and Child Health from the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. She has nearly 20 years of experience in nonprofits from grantmaking to grantwriting and program administration.
Laurie Versace Dagostino
Laurie Versace Dagostino is the TUSD Preschool Coordinator. She has worked in elementary and early childhood education for 26 years. Her experiences include classroom teaching grades PreK-8, working as a reading interventionist for K-1 students, new teacher mentor, coordinator of the Title I HOTS Program, and a project specialist with TUSD Title I/Department of Federal Grants. In her current position, she works with Make Way For Books implementing a parent-child literacy program, coach preschool teachers and design and deliver relevant professional development. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education and a Master of Arts in Education Curriculum and Instruction, and is an Arizona Master Teacher designee.
John Daws is a Research Scientist in the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Arizona. He received his doctorate in quantitative psychology from the University of Illinois in 1993. His research involved exploratory data analysis. For more than ten years, he taught at New York University and Columbia University, covering a variety of graduate and undergraduate statistics and methodology courses. Before and after his academic career, he worked as an evaluator in a community mental health center, in a nutrition education program, in a child psychiatric center, and for an HIV-AIDS health planning group. A resident of Arizona since 2005, Dr. Daws has taken a particular interest in research and evaluation for health and education programs. His work has dealt with such topics as the Arizona Health Survey, geographical information systems, health-insurance coverage, childhood dental health, tobacco-tax evasion, and smoking among LGBT youth and adults.
Mr. Roy T. Dawson, a founder and coordinator of the Faith Opportunity Zone, attended elementary and high school in South Phoenix, Arizona. He began his professional career with the Los Angeles City Human Relations Bureau, serving on matters of race and equity. He also served as Executive Director of the Institute for Child Advocacy in Los Angeles. For his work in Los Angeles, he was awarded the coveted Bethune Award. Mr. Dawson was twice elected president of the Rockford, Illinois Branch of the NAACP. He is a retired aerospace executive with worldwide experience in Executive Leadership, Organizational Development and Global Diversity. Mr. Dawson has an MBA from Pepperdine University and certificates of Executive and Advanced Leadership from the American Graduate School of International Management, Glendale Arizona; The Fuqua School of Business, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina; and, the Darden Graduate School of Business, University of Virginia, Vevey Switzerland.
Enriqueta Di Santo
Enriqueta “Queta” Di Santo holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the international recognized “Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México”, UNAM. She currently works as the Center Coordinator for the Washington Resource and Information Center (WRIC), funded through First Things First. WRIC provides information and referral services to families of the 32 schools in the Washington School District, as well as to children and families living in the surrounding communities. Queta also teaches classes and conduct workshops on the importance of early childhood education. For the last four years she has been able to maintain many partnerships such as with Southwest Human Development, provider of the Raising a Reader program at different schools. Queta’s previous experience while working at Valle del Sol also includes opening resource centers at other school districts in Phoenix.
Jennifer Argyros is Program Director for the Family Resource Center (FRC) Program at UA Cooperative Extension Santa Cruz County. For five years, she served as the Site Coordinator of the Rio Rico FRC where she taught classes, supervised staff and developed systems to run the Center that were replicated in the two partner centers. Above and beyond her role at the Rio Rico FRC, Jennifer contributed greatly to Program fidelity by helping create policies and class lesson plans. Prior to that Jennifer coordinated Parent Relations at Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District #35. From these experiences, she brings a deep understanding of what families need to be ready for school and how school districts and the community can help. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Behavioral Health.
Ann Lynn DiDomenico
Ms. DiDomenico is an early literacy specialist. She has facilitated programs for children from 0-5 years of age and their parents for the Scottsdale Public Library System and assisted with the coordination and administration of programs. Ms. DiDomenico worked as an elementary school teacher for fifth and sixth grades before making the move to early childhood. She has worked as a children’s program director, a preschool director, a childcare center evaluator for the Department of Education, and as a Quality First coach.
Darcy Dixon, M.S. has worked for the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension for over 30 years. She is currently the County Extension Director in Santa Cruz County and has been an Extension Area Agent in Family, Health and Consumer Sciences in both Pinal and Santa Cruz Counties. Most of the partnerships and collaborative projects include school districts, child care providers and other community agencies, etc. Her primary areas of programming include community resource development, child care provider training, parenting skills training, early care and education, including brain development, and nutrition education. Throughout her career with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Darcy has successfully funded many community projects through grants and contracts from external funding sources, in excess of $10,000,000.
Violeta Domínguez obtained a Master’s degree in Latin American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Her academic work focused on border and immigrant health issues and on gender studies. She has been a key member of the Needs and Assets team at the University of Arizona since 2010, working very closely with Tribal partners and leading the qualitative data group. Ms. Domínguez has experience conducting qualitative research (in both English and Spanish) on public health and other social issues. She has gathered data through face-to-face interviews, focus groups, ethnographic observation and participatory observation with a variety of vulnerable populations including ethnic minorities (Hispanics/Latinos and American Indians), low-income residents, immigrant workers, and others such as veterans and health care providers. She works with community-based program providers to develop data collection materials that are culturally appropriate for the populations served and that meet the evaluation requirements set by funding agencies.
Terry Doolan is Director for Early Childhood Education with the Arizona Department of Education. Terry has been with the department for over seven years. Prior to joining the ADE, Terry worked at Maricopa County Head Start as a teacher, mentor and Education Coordinator. Terry has also served as the chairperson of the EVIT Advisory Committee for Early Childhood Education.
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, and Center for Diabetes Management, and the immunization program. Grant funded programs include Early Childhood 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.
Alison Dragonetti holds a Bachelor’s degree in English linguistics from Arizona State University, and a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from San José State University. As a member of the Early Literacy Outreach Team at Phoenix Public Library, she runs early literacy-enhanced story time programs, a variety of parent workshops, and Brain Time sessions at libraries and community locations throughout north Phoenix. Over the last couple of years, she has become increasingly involved in creating developmentally appropriate technology-based programs for children, and training about technology use with children for librarians, parents and caregivers.
Erin Eccleston is the Vice President of Outreach and Mobilization for Expect More Arizona a statewide, non-partisan, education advocacy organization. Erin manages the organization’s community engagement strategy across the state, leads a team of regional community mobilizers, and convenes community leaders to advance a shared vision for a world-class education in Arizona. She has been in this role for over a year and has more than a decade of outreach and community mobilizing experience with non-profits across the country.
Leah Eckley, LMSW, is a Senior Program Manager for Smart Support, at Southwest Human Development. Leah started with Smart Support as and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant at Easter Seals Blake Foundation and then was promoted to supervisor. Prior to her work with Smart Support, Leah worked at Child & Family Resources as a developmental specialist/service coordinator with their early intervention program and later as the director of the Child Care Resource and Referral Program. Leah started out in the field as a family child care provider and then worked in several centers as an infant/toddler teacher and also as a school age coordinator. Leah earned a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Alaska and Master of Social Work from Arizona State University. She also earned an Infant/Toddler Mental Health Clinical Certificate from the Harris Institute at SWHD.
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.
Connie Espinoza has over 20 years of experience working with young children. She began her working in the field of early care and education at the Tucson Children’s Museum as an Education Specialist. She worked in various positions in the field including as a DES Certified Family Child Care Provider, EHS Family Educator and Teacher’s Assistant with TUSD. She has worked at Child & Family Resources, Inc. with the Arizona Infant Toddler Institute for over ten years. She is a fully certified in both the Program for Infant and Toddler Care (PITC) and Beginning Together. Connie earned a Master’s Degree in Education from Northern Arizona University in 2009.
Silvia Esqueda is a bilingual/bicultural, licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and has worked with families and Promotoras Comunitarias for more than 20 years. Presently, Silvia Esqueda is a national trainer and consultant for Abriendo Puertas and the Department of Mental Health Services. Silvia Esqueda was the director for Hathaway Family Resource Center, adjunct professor for Pacific Oaks, and writer of health topics that have been incorporated into Promotoras Comunitarias’ curriculums. An immigrant from Mexico, she graduated from California State University Los Angeles with a Bachelor Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling, a Master’s Degree and a Marriage and Family Therapist license.
Enrique Feldman is an artist, educator and thought leader in early childhood professional development. He is the founder and director of education of the Global Learning Foundation (formerly the F.A.M.E. Foundation) and the author of “Living Like a Child” (Redleaf Press), which helps early childhood educators, caregivers and parents to see life from a child’s perspective and provide environments that promote creativity, growth and learning. Enrique’s initiatives have been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts, and he has presented numerous keynotes for organizations such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC), as well as local workshops for fathers, parents, cultural awareness and community building. A Grammy-nominated composer and artist, Enrique is a former professor of music and education at the University of Arizona and the University of Wisconsin.
Karen Felty received her BS in Dental Hygiene from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1989. In 24 years of private practice as a dental hygienist, she has gained expertise in the fields of General, Periodontal, and Pediatric Dentistry. She has been an active member of the American Dental Hygiene Association and has led the East Valley, Arizona chapter as president. She currently works for Dignity Health, Chandler Regional Medical Center in the Early Childhood Oral Health Program. With her comprehensive knowledge of dentistry and community needs she leads the program’s pregnant women protocol, researches and writes the quarterly newsletter, and coordinates quarterly staff professional training, Professional presentations to Dentist and Pediatric physicians as well as providing oral screenings, fluoride varnish and education to children and families.
Chuck Fitzgerald leads the Governor’s Office of Faith and Community Partnerships for the State of Arizona. The mission of the Office is to develop, implement and refine strategies for encouraging, enabling and supporting the community in service to those who rely on Arizona’s safety net. The Office provides oversight for many of the Faith-Based & Community Initiatives in Arizona, including: Governor Brewer’s Council on Faith and Community Partnerships, Arizona’s Community Network Teams, the Arizona Council on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, the CommunityConnect and onPurpose e-newsletters, and the CommunityImpact Leadership Academy.
Riley Frei is the Superintendent of the Bullhead City Elementary School District and the Colorado River Union High School District and the father of five young daughters. His background in education includes experience working as a teacher, principal and coach in the public school system. He serves on the Boards of the Western Arizona Regional Medical Center and the Bullhead Regional Economic Development Authority and is a Scoutmaster in the Boy Scouts of America. He is an active member of the Bullhead City Rotary Club. Mr. Frei received his bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education at Southern Utah University, his Master’s degree in Teaching from Grand Canyon University and an M.Ed. in K-12 Administration from The University of Nevada Las Vegas. Frei has been a member of the First Things First La Paz/Mohave Regional Partnership Council since 2008, and he previously served as Chair and Vice Chair of the First Things First La Paz/Mohave Regional Partnership Council. He and his fellow regional council members are responsible for collecting information on the strengths and needs of the region; prioritizing the specific needs of children from birth through age 5; planning how to address those needs; choosing who to partner with to ensure success for children; and, making funding decisions necessary to carry out their plan.
Ernestina Fuentes has had the privilege of serving young children in poverty for over 40 years. She has a doctorate from Harvard University in Teaching, Curriculum and Learning Environments. She has had a multitude of roles in education including: teacher, curriculum developer, staff developer, training, consultant, university professor and administrator. Currently she has founded a non-profit providing a preschool, teacher training and parent support. The curriculum development is focused on integrating best practices and research from the literature on children in poverty to support them in reaching their potential.
Rosanna believes in creating opportunities and prosperity by supporting and encouraging public education and economic development efforts. She is a champion for protecting Arizona’s unique environment and protecting our most vulnerable. She is serving her second term as an Arizona State Representative for Legislative District 2, and is a past council member of the Town of Sahuarita. Rosanna is known for her work with the local business community, school boards and major business partners to bring together successful opportunities for growth and education. She is most proud of her participation in programs that involve working with children. Rosanna serves on the Friends of the Green Valley Library, the Southeast Arizona Advisory Board of the Chicanos Por La Causa, and the Advisory Council of the Green Valley Salvation Army. She is a former member of the First Things First South Pima Regional Partnership Council.
Annapurna Ganesh began her career as an early childhood educator with teaching preschool, kindergarten and first grade for eight years. Annapurna has a B.A. degree from India in Psychology and a M.Ed in Elementary Education with emphasis in Early Childhood Education from Arizona State University. After completing her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with a specialization in Early Childhood Education from Arizona State University she moved into the realm of higher education. In the field of higher education Annapurna has taught at Arizona State University and the University of Houston. Currently, she is a faculty member of the Education Studies Department and Director of the Early Care and Education Program at Mesa Community College where she teaches early childhood education courses. Annapurna has experience teaching hybrid, online and web-enhanced face-to-face courses and includes various technology tools in her courses to enhance teaching and learning.
Stephanie Garza graduated from New Mexico State University in 2005 with a Bachelor of Science of Arts degree in Education and an emphasis in Early Childhood. With more than ten years of teaching, her success was encouraged by many great teachers at NMSU School for Young Children. Using the Reggio Emilia approach Stephanie began taking the tools to learn the flexible ways of working with toddlers and eventually kindergarten. After five years of teaching at a public school, Stephanie went back to NMSU to pursue her Master's degree in Literacy, Language and Culture and again work at the NMSU School for Young Children as a lead teacher. She now teaches at Harvest Preparatory Academy in an SEI Kindergarten setting in San Luis, AZ and is exploring the use of exploratory learning by integrating Science and Art into a well-structured English Immersion Program.
Cathy Gaudio is currently the Literacy Coordinator for the Youth and Education office at the City of Phoenix. She supervises a staff of 90 volunteers and eight site coordinators. Cathy works closely with school principals and other community partners, and is responsible for coordinating and overseeing all activities for the early literacy tutoring program. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Fine Arts/Communications from Arizona State University.
Chelsea has a diverse background. Since 2012, she has worked as a Child and Family Therapist at Casa De Los Niño’s Great Beginnings program. Great Beginnings is an infant and early childhood mental health clinic that provides assessment and treatment services for young children birth – 5 years who have been victims of child abuse and neglect or exposed to family violence. Prior to her work in Infant Mental Health, Chelsea worked with children 4-18 as a Child and Family therapist, as an employment consultant for refugees, crisis advocate in the LGBTQ community, Social Work Intern at TMC Hospice and provided respite and habilitation services to individuals with developmental disabilities. Chelsea is passionate about her work as an Infant Metal Health Therapist and hopes to continue to assist the community and caregivers with increasing their ability to meet the emotional needs of young children.
Joanne Samuel Goldblum serves as executive director of National Diaper Bank Network (NDBN), the nonprofit organization she founded in 2011. Under Joanne’s leadership, NDBN has embarked on a mission of uniting and building the capacity of diaper banks throughout the United States, with a shared mission of addressing and eliminating diaper need, a devastating yet hidden consequence of poverty that affects 5.3 million babies age three or younger living in poor or low-income families. To date, NDBN has distributed more than 60 million diapers through its network of more than 230 diaper banks, thereby helping to keep babies clean, dry, and healthy. Joanne is an expert on child poverty issues and the leading voice on diaper need. She is also the founder and president of The Diaper Bank, formerly the New Haven Diaper Bank, the largest diaper bank organization in the nation, which distributes 2.6 million free diapers per year to needy families through a network of social service agencies, churches and educational institutions in New Haven, Hartford and Bridgeport, Conn. In 2007, Joanne received prestigious accolades for her work, including being named a Robert Wood Johnson Community Health Leader. Joanne worked as a clinical faculty member at Yale Child Study Family Support Service from1998-2005. She served as vice president of New Haven’s Homeless Commission from 2004-2010. For the past six years Joanne has been the co-chair of the Connecticut Parents with Cognitive Limitations Workgroup. She is also a current board member at Edith B. Jackson Childcare Center and the Foote School, and serves on New Haven’s Early Childhood Council. Joanne pens a monthly column for Huffington Post. Joanne earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from New York University and her Master of Social Work from Hunter College School of Social Work.
Ofelia is the Public Information Officer for First Things First. Ofelia helps create and implement the organization’s communication efforts across Arizona. She oversees development of FTF print communications and writes and edits editorial content for a variety of publications and digital platforms. Prior to joining FTF, Ofelia handled public relations and publications at Coconino Community College in Flagstaff. She began her career as a reporter with The Arizona Republic, where she spent almost a decade covering education, public safety, police, fire and other municipal issues. Her work has also appeared in publications including: USA Today, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Oregonian.
Joelle Greene is a Senior Research Associate with Harder+Company Community Research, a research and evaluation firm based in California. She is a highly skilled evaluator with more than 15 years of experience in the academic and nonprofit sectors. Her evaluation work has focused on everything from early childhood and senior health, to violence prevention programs serving at-risk youth. Joelle is also adept in quantitative analysis and has expertise in advanced statistical approaches to data modeling. At Harder+Company, Joelle directs the evaluation for First 5 San Bernardino. Joelle holds a PhD in Cognitive Psychology from Claremont Graduate University.
Epifanio “Pete” Guerrero is the Education Director of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and currently holds the school administrator seat on the First Things First Pascua Yaqui Tribe Regional Partnership Council. Prior to his position as with the tribe, he held various positions with the Tucson Unified School District in the Teenage Parent Program, Alternative Education and Dropout Prevention. Because of his work in these positions, he understands the importance of early childhood and believes that more focus is needed on the younger formative years. Pete believes that the work of organizations such as First Things First will enable children to become successful, contributing members of their communities.
Kathleen Hayes is a former faculty member of Bank Street College and currently the editor of several publications for families, published in English and Spanish: Highlights, High Five Bilingüe and Hello. She co-authored a parenting program currently used in more than 30 countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Jennifer Hernandez is the First Things First Community Outreach Coordinator in the Yavapai region. Jennifer has accumulated over 12 years of experience in advocating for families and children and collaborating with community partners across the state to raise awareness and inspire action around critical education issues. She has served as a Community Mobilizer for Expect More Arizona, has served on the Board of Directors for the Northern Arizona Book Festival, the Coconino Coalition for Children and Youth and is a former Chair for the Alliance of Children’s Early Success. A graduate of ASU, Jennifer’s commitment to the Northern Arizona community has been acknowledged with both a Coconino Coalition for Children and Youth Caring for Children award and a National Public Service Recognition award.
Natalia Hoffman serves as the Family Literacy Program Manager at Make Way for Books. She holds a Master of Arts in Information Resources and Library Science along with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Art History from the University of Arizona. Natalia has extensive experience in developing school readiness-driven family literacy curriculum featuring interactive, engaging activities for diverse communities. She is a native Tucsonan who is committed to sharing her love of books with families in our community. Natalia is passionate about providing families with literacy-rich experiences and empowering parents to help their children read and succeed.
Kresta currently serves as the Director of Children and Youth Services at UMOM New Day Centers, the largest provider for families experiencing homelessness. On any given night, 126 families are sheltered and provided wrap-around services. A portion of those services meet the needs of the children and youth that live there. From a Nationally Accredited and licensed Child Development Center, to specialized programming for youth, to community centers that offer after school support at multiple sites, Kresta is focused on ensuring all children experiencing homelessness will be able to envision and plan for a life beyond the shelter. Having worked with children and families for over 20 years, Kresta is passionate about unlocking these dreams. She passionately works to help every child (and their parents) know their worth, so they can embrace the possibility of the impossible. Kresta also serves on the South Regional Council for First Things First of Arizona, the early childhood committee for NAEHCY (National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth), and on the DES Child Care Advisory Committee.
Roopa Iyer is the Senior Director of Research and Evaluation at First Things First (FTF), processing and disseminating data for decision-making for continuous program improvement that impacts strategic system outcomes for young children and their families in Arizona. She has more than 15 years of experience in early childhood developmental research and continues to focus on building a comprehensive early childhood integrated data system. Roopa has managed several state and federal funded studies related to young children’s school readiness, and she played a lead role in the development of FTF’s Research and Evaluation Plan.
Elizabeth Jacobs has been an adjunct and full-time professor of Psychology at Glendale Community College since 1982. She recently retired after 24 years of full-time teaching and was awarded the status of Faculty Emeritus by the Maricopa District upon her retirement. She continues to teach Human Development and Statistics classes at Glendale and Paradise Valley community colleges. Elizabeth has served on the Arizona Foster Care Review Board for over 15 years, was a foster child for five years, and is an adoptive parent. She is a national presenter on the topic of attachment for a variety of foster care groups including CASAs, judges, attorneys, and multi-disciplinary groups. This talk combines her many years of experience on Arizona’s Foster Care Review Board, as well as the results of her research into the challenges faced by foster children as they try to form relationships with adults in the Foster Care System.
Dr. Jennifer Jacobson is a professor of Sociology at Yavapai College. She earned her doctorate in Sociology from Arizona State University in 2008. Her research focused on the experiences men have when training to become kindergarten through third grade teachers.
Over the course of 25 years, Kathryn Jacoby has worked in non-profit child care programs as a teacher and a director. In 2002 she served as the education specialist with the county Head Start program in Pennsylvania. Ms. Jacoby participated on two state advisory groups related to Pennsylvania’s Quality Rating and Improvement System. In 2009 she joined Easter Seals Blake Foundation in Tucson as a Quality First coach and became coach supervisor in 2012. She has been a presenter at the SAzAEYC annual conference and for the Regional Head Start conference in Pennsylvania. She graduated from Southern Connecticut State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Early Childhood Education.
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, ten 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 SAzAEYC. Naomi is past Chairperson of the Advisory Boards for the University of Arizona’s College of Education and Pima Community College.
Ann Kaskel, Pediatric RN, BSN, often draws inspiration from her 20-year career as pediatric nurse and enjoys developing and implementing trainings for the early care population. Ann has experience working for several valley hospitals, as a school nurse, and as a child care health consultant for Maricopa County and former statewide Child Care Health Consultation coordinator for First Things First. Ann attended Grand Canyon University for her Bachelors in Nursing and is a graduate of the National Training Institute, Child Care Health Consultant trainer program, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Ms. Knutsen has a unique perspective on education systems building. She holds a JD, has worked as a researcher, and has also worked for Chicago Public Schools. She has worked as a coach for the Alaskan Native and American Indian Head Start population and has also worked as a CLASS trainer.
Montessori International School was founded in 1982 in Gilbert, Arizona by Ms. Therese Kestner, B.A.; M.Ed. Therese received her AMI Montessori training from birth to age 6; Bachelor of Arts degree from Arizona State University; Master of Arts in early childhood education from ASU; Arizona state teaching certificate for elementary education and learning disability. Ms. Kestner is filled with passion and has devoted her life to making a difference in children’s lives for the past 40 years. Therese is the director of Montessori International School and is also in charge of the infant/toddler program.
Dr. Judy Krysik is Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at ASU. Her research interests include the prevention of child maltreatment among infants and toddlers, the efficacy of specialized court programs directed at young children removed for reasons of child maltreatment, and the practice of child protective services. She works extensively with state entities to better understand issues of child maltreatment and how to address them. She has developed child safety prevention programming that is utilized in schools and preschools across the nation. Currently she is working on the evaluation of an evidence based program known as Safe Baby Court Teams. She leads the Advanced Child Welfare Training Academy as well as the Citizen Review Panel Program, which convenes groups of citizens across the state to examine and make recommendations for the improvement of child welfare practice and policy.
Kelly Kulsrud is director of reading proficiency at Strategies for Children where she guides a statewide campaign to ensure that children in Massachusetts become proficient readers by the end of third grade. She leads the nation's first Learning Network of communities: the Massachusetts Third Grade Reading Proficiency Learning Network, comprised of five founding communities who are home to more than 100,000 children, birth to age 9. In collaboration with Dr. Nonie Lesaux, communities engage in an unprecedented community-level birth through age 8 analysis and strategic planning process to advance reading proficiency rates and ensure access to high-quality early education. Kulsrud also currently serves on the nine-member Massachusetts Early Literacy Expert Panel, established by the legislation An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency and is charged with developing new state policies and policy-based initiatives to support early literacy development. Prior to joining SFC, Kulsrud earned her Ed.M. at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, with a concentration in language, literacy and literacy coaching. At HGSE, she was awarded the graduate school’s Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award. She also holds extensive teaching experience, as a second grade teacher in Washington, D.C. public schools and as a middle school math teacher in Los Angeles. Ms. Kulsrud has also worked with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University and facilitated professional development institutes across Massachusetts on adolescent literacy. Kelly graduated magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College.
Travis Le Duc
Travis J. Le Duc started his professional career as a solider in the Medical and Aviation Corps of the U.S. Army. Throughout his service he had the opportunity to deploy and serve overseas supporting medical, humanitarian, diplomatic and combat missions. At the commencement of his military career, Mr. Le Duc returned to Arizona and completed a B.S. in Commerce with honors. He went on to work for Smith Barney and Citigroup during both the stock market and mortgage crashes. These experiences lead him to his current position as the Director of the Tohono O’odham Nation Regional Partnership Council of First Things First. Over the last six years Mr. Le Duc has built and maintains strong working relationships with the Tohono O'odham Nation Regional Partnership Council members, community leadership, community organizations and the Tohono O'odham Nation governmental agencies.
Melissa Lempke is Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Expect More Arizona, a statewide nonpartisan advocacy organization working to build a movement of Arizonans in support of world-class education for all students. It has been 13 years since Melissa relocated to Arizona from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As a seasoned communications and community outreach professional, Melissa has a diverse work history, including positions with the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, Governor Napolitano’s Office for Children, Youth and Families, Banner Health Foundation and Valley of the Sun United Way. Melissa was a proud member of the fourth class of fellows of the Flinn-Brown Civic Leadership Academy, a program designed by The Arizona Center for Civic Leadership to help expand the cadre of future state leaders with the knowledge, skills, and commitment to address Arizona’s long-term issues. She earned her BA in Speech and Public Relations from the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater.
Nonie K. Lesaux
Nonie K. Lesaux is the Juliana W. and William Foss Thompson Professor of Education and Society, Harvard Graduate School of Education. She leads a research program that focuses on promoting the language and literacy skills of today’s children and youth from diverse linguistic, cultural and economic backgrounds. The practical applications of this work are featured in numerous publications, including, Making Assessment Matter: Using Test Results to Differentiate Reading Instruction, a guide for instructional leaders, and Cultivating Knowledge, Building Language, an instructional guide for educators serving English language learners. She is the author of a widely circulated state literacy report, “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success,” that forms the basis for a Third Grade Reading Proficiency bill passed in Massachusetts. The legislation established an Early Literacy Expert Panel, which Lesaux co-chairs, charged with developing new policies and policy-based initiatives in a number of domains that influence children’s early literacy development. Lesaux also directs a project focused on building capacity in the early education workforce and works across the country with teams of district and state leaders, center directors, administrators, and teachers focused on strengthening their Pre-K to 3 initiatives. Lesaux has served on a number of federal committees, including the U.S. Department of Education’s Reading First Advisory Committee and most recently, the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council’s Committee on the Science of Children Birth to Age 8. She is a recipient of the William T. Grant Scholars Award and of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor given by the United States government to young professionals beginning their independent research careers. A native of Canada, Lesaux earned her doctorate in educational psychology and special education from the University of British Columbia.
Joy Leveen is the First Things First Community Outreach Coordinator in the East Maricopa region. Joy has ten years of experience in program development, administration, counseling, development, and children and youth services. Joy spent extensive time engaging teen parents, a notoriously hard to reach population, and sharing the mission of First Things First with community members, donors, and the media to cultivate a community dedicated to young children. Joy holds a Master of Arts Degree in Cross Cultural Studies and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Social Science.
Brittany Lewis, MT-BC, is a Board-Certified music therapist working for Higher Octave Healing. Brittany primarily works with children and teens with disabilities in-home and at the Higher Octave Healing clinic, and has a passion for early intervention music therapy for children with special needs. She leads multiple parent-tot groups that foster early childhood development through music. In addition to being a board certified music therapist, Brittany has received habilitation and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) training during over six years of work with young children with disabilities in the Valley.
Sam Leyvas is the chief executive officer of First Things First. First Things First is one of the critical partners in creating a family-centered, comprehensive and high-quality early childhood system that supports the development, health and early education of all Arizona's children birth through age 5. Sam brings more than 15 years public and private sector experience to his leadership role with the organization. As CEO, he is responsible for guiding the organization’s long term strategic direction, building strong community partnerships and advancing strategies that result in improved education and health outcomes for Arizona’s youngest children. Sam holds an MBA from The University of Arizona - Eller College of Management and is a graduate of the NAU College of Education.
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. Through the behavioral health field, she has pursued her passion in supporting and assessing infants in regards to behavioral and developmental needs. 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 ongoing communication among stakeholders. This included court and public/private agencies, which provide services and support to the birth to 3 population. Brooke earned her BA through The University of Arizona in Interdisciplinary Studies with an emphasis in Communication, Business Culture and Special Rehabilitation.
Claire Louge, M.Ed. is the Training and Outreach Manager with Prevent Child Abuse Arizona, a statewide non-profit organization that works to shift the public conversation so that prevention is the priority. Claire obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Human Development from Cornell University in 2009, and her Masters in Human Relations from Northern Arizona University in 2014. She serves as Vice-President of the Friends of the Family Enrichment Center, a high-quality early education center on Yavapai College campus in Prescott, AZ. Prior to her work with Prevent Child Abuse Arizona, Claire worked as the Community Outreach Coordinator with the Yavapai Regional Partnership Council of First Things First.
Kelly Lubeck is Health Project Specialist at First Things First. Kelly has had 19 years leadership experience working with diverse populations in health program development and management; creation, planning and delivery of training workshops; qualitative and quantitative research and evaluation; orientation and supervision of community health workers. She is the Project Specialist for the ECCS grant and is fluent in Spanish.
Amy Lucero has recently graduated with a BA in Film and Television Production with a Minor in Communication from the University of Arizona. She is currently working as a Research Technician on project LAUNCH, which works in partnership with the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Southern Arizona. Amy completes assessments with Pascua Yaqui children and their caregivers who are enrolled in the Ili Uusim Hiapsi (Little Children’s Hearts) Program. These assessments occur every six months and help to evaluate social and emotional health and wellness, as well as children’s development and academic readiness.
Kelly Lundin has extensive experience with children in poverty. She taught children in Tucson barrios, Haitian neighborhoods in Boston and farms in Oregon. Her Masters in Arts at the University of Southern California was in Teaching Diverse Learners with a specialty in English Language Learners. She has a unique talent for interacting with children to develop their creativity and communication skills. In addition she has presented in many conferences, most recently at Harvard, where she shared her research on the selection of effective teachers for children of color. In addition she has studied and developed a gift for creating nurturing, naturalistic enticing learning environments for young children. Currently she is a Learning Environments Consultant at Herencia Guadalupana Lab Schools.
Erin in a Child and Family Therapist with the Great Beginnings Program for Casa de los Niños. Great Beginnings is an infant and early childhood mental health clinic that provides assessment and treatment services for young children birth to 5 years. Erin works primarily with young children who have been victims of child abuse and neglect or exposed to family violence, their biological parents and their caregivers. Prior to her work at Great Beginnings, Erin worked with PAXIS Institute on school-based intervention of PAX Good Behavior Game. PAX GBG is recognized by NHREPP as an evidenced-based practice to teach children to self-regulate, to work together for common goals, and to focus on a positive future they co-create with others. Erin has also worked as a teacher through Teach for America and has developed and implemented community and private programs for children, youth and families.
Juan Marquez serves as a First Things First Community Outreach Coordinator for the Northwest Maricopa region. An extensive background in grassroots outreach has allowed Juan to successfully build a robust network of collaborative relationships with school districts, community and civic organizations throughout the region. He also has extensive experience working directly with parents and families to provide them with the tools and information necessary to promote their children’s development and school readiness. Juan graduated from Ottawa University with a degree in Elementary Education and has also worked for the Benevilla Family Resource Center and for the Glendale Elementary and Dysart Unified school districts in various capacities, from an instructional assistant to classroom teacher. He has a passion for working with families and children and for grassroots engagement that allows him to connect with the communities he serves.
Dr. Samantha Martin is a Senior Research Analyst with Wellington Consulting Group, Ltd. She leads the project evaluation for Arizona’s Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) grant. Dr. Martin works closely with the home visiting programs providing MIECHV-funded services to train home visitors on the MIECHV-data collection tools and to enhance their understanding of data collection and the data reported to the federal agencies funding the MIECHV grant. She assisted in the development of the MIECHV Benchmark Plan and submits the Benchmark data to the federal agencies funding MIECHV. She received her PhD in Anthropology from Southern Methodist University.
Amy M. Maschue is a certified speech-language pathologist (SLP) in Phoenix, Arizona since 1998. She has worked as a clinician and supervisor in several settings, including, early intervention, daycare, home-based intervention, center-based programs, schools, and via telepractice. Amy evaluates and provides therapy for children ages 0-18 in individual and group sessions with a variety of speech and language impairments, including, autism spectrum disorder, general speech and/or language delay, Down’s Syndrome, apraxia of speech, stuttering, voice, at-risk populations, etc. She specializes in helping children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other communication difficulties become effective communicators by teaching families how to use the real, engaging dialogues that happen during daily routines to provide a language-rich environment to notice and practice conversational language skills.
Alison is the Vice President of Operations of Partners in Development Foundation and has been the Project Director of Tutu and Me Traveling Preschool for five years. Alison's background in business management and finance has been beneficial to growing the organization and assisting in the replication of the Tutu and Me model via the YMCA of the USA and other organizations.
Deanna Matthews is the Child Care Health Consultant Program Manager and a certified CCHC. She has six years of experience working as a CCHC in the state of North Carolina and brings her expertise to Arizona's program. She works collaboratively with the other CCHC's around the state.
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.
Kathe McGrath is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Arizona Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences. Kathe received her B.A. in Psychology in 1980 and her M.S. in Speech and Language Sciences in 1987 from the University of Arizona. Prior to becoming a Speech and Language Pathologist, Kathe was a preschool teacher at the Cerebral Palsy Foundation. Since graduating with her masters’ degree, Kathe has worked in the Tucson community in a variety of settings. Her areas of interest and expertise include early intervention and family focused therapy, autism and language development. Kathe is a Hanen® Certified therapist. Kathe is a founding Board member of the Technology Access Center of Tucson (TACT) and a member of the Board of the Tucson Alliance for Autism (TAFA).
Scott McGrath has been the Supervisor for the Research and Evaluation and Community Engagement units of First 5 San Bernardino, also known as the Children and Families Commission for San Bernardino, since 2010. He is tasked with overseeing a team that collects, tracks and analyzes data trends to inform Commission decisions regarding funding with regard to demographics, agency capacity, community needs and availability of services. Currently, First 5 San Bernardino contracts with over fifty agencies to provide services to children 0-5 and their families. Scott also ensures that contractors are compliant with the terms of their contracts and are producing the outcomes sought by the Commission. Prior to his arrival at First 5, Scott had worked in various roles with children living in or exiting from the child welfare system, most recently with Casey Family Programs in Los Angeles County.
Colleen McShea is a master leveled speech pathologist who specializes in oro-facial myology, feeding therapy and social pragmatics. She co-founded HIPJOBS helping to bridge a gap between graduating from high school and finding employment for individuals with disabilities. She is a co-owner with Catie Sondrol of Milemarkers Therapy, which is a pediatric therapy company serving Mohave and LaPaz counties.
Vincent Medina is the Director of the Fowler Head Start Program. He is a former Head Start student and Head Start Teacher. In addition, Mr. Medina is also an adjunct faculty member in the Child and Family Studies Department at Glendale Community College. Mr. Medina has a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and is completing a second Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Arizona State University.
Megan Miks, MPH is the manager of the Community Oral Health Programs at Chandler Regional Medical Center where she oversees operations of the Children’s Dental Clinic and the Early Childhood Oral Health Program. Megan received her BS in Marketing from Colorado State University and MPH from Walden University. Megan has worked in the Community Integration Department at Chandler Regional Medical Center since 2005. In her role as Community Oral Health Manager, Megan has led her team of nurses, dental hygienists and educators to improve access to early childhood dental services in the East Valley through community-based oral health prevention services and a school-based clinic. Megan serves on the Dignity Health Community Grants Committee, Maricopa County Oral Health Leaders, Advocates and Resources (MOLAR) Coalition Board of Directors, East Valley Children’s Dental Council, and Head Start Health Services Advisory Committee.
Lisa Minette, LBSW is the Director at Benevilla’s Lucy Anne’s Place Life Enrichment Program. Lisa is a licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker. Lisa brings a wide range of experience from working in the field of adoptions, in long term care facilities, outreach positions and life enrichment programming. Lisa has been the director of Lucy Anne’s Place for the past two years and enjoys working with the members and their families. Lisa enjoys her involvement in the intergenerational programming between Lucy Anne’s elders and the children at Wirtzies.
Angela leads the community outreach, awareness and engagement efforts of First Things First, which includes coordinating and overseeing the work of Parent Awareness and Community Outreach Coordinators stationed in regional offices across Arizona. Angela was part of the launch of 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 as well as writing for non-profit organizations.
Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and practices primary care pediatrics at a community health center working with underserved populations. In addition, Dr. Navsaria is the director of advocacy training for the pediatric residency, serves as the faculty advisor for the Pediatric Interest Group, and is the director of the MD-MPH program at the University of Wisconsin. He is the founder and director of the Pediatric Early Literacy Projects at the University of Wisconsin and is also the founding medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin. Dr. Navsaria’s undergraduate education was at Boston University, majoring in Biology and English Literature. He completed a Master’s in Public Health at Boston University and Physician Assistant training at The George Washington University in the District of Columbia. He practiced as a pediatric physician assistant in East Central Illinois before attending medical school at the University of Illinois in Urbana. During his time there, he also completed a master’s degree in library and information science at the University of Illinois, focusing on children’s librarianship. He then completed his residency in pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics.
Karen Nemeth is an author, consultant and advocate focusing on high quality early childhood education for dual language learners. She has published many books and articles on this topic, and is a writer and consulting editor for NAEYC, chair of the Early Childhood SIG for the National Association for Bilingual Education, on the Steering Committee for the Elementary Education Interest Section for International TESOL, and a frequent presenter. She has a BA in Psychology from WPU and an M.Ed. in Learning, Cognition and Development from Rutgers.
Isabel Orellana is a substitute teacher at Harvest Preparatory Academy. Teaching Kindergarten to 8th grade, she is a versatile teacher with a love for the classroom. She has an AAS in Pharmacy Technology and an AA in Healthcare.
Rudy J. Ortiz
Rudy J. Ortiz is a proud Head Start Alumni who has over 17 years of experience in early childhood education and early childhood leadership. Rudy has his Masters in the Art of Teaching/Early Childhood Education and is currently in the Certified Public Management program at Arizona State University. Once a preschool teacher, he was the first preschool teacher to receive the honor of Teacher of the Year for the entire San Diego Unified School District. He’s currently the First Things First Yuma Regional Director and is passionately committed to supporting, enhancing and ensuring the early childhood system is a top priority in Yuma.
Leona Pannabecker is a Licensed Master of Social Work and has worked professionally with children and families for almost 20 years. For eight years, Leona was a preschool teacher working with children from infants to 5 years old. Since receiving her MSW at ASU, Leona has been a Mental Health consultant for Head Start in Denver, a child and family therapist, and most recently has been with Child-Parent Centers as a Mental Health Specialist for over five years. She has a passion for new research on brain development and connecting current research to practices that support social and emotional development.
Cynthia Pardo is the First Things First Community Outreach Coordinator in 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.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a Family and Human Development emphasis at Arizona State University, Ashley began working with families involved with the child welfare system. As a Certified Parenting Strategies Trainer, Ashley trained foster and adoptive parents throughout Arizona, and also developed a team of trainers located in Casa Grande, Yuma, Lake Havasu, and Prescott. When working with Head Start programs in Pinal and Gila counties, Ashley coordinated community partnership building in early childhood throughout central Arizona. Ashley served in the role of Regional Director for First Things First for almost seven years before being promoted to her current position as Senior Director for First Things First’s West Regional Area. Ashley holds a Certificate in Public Management from Arizona State University and is currently completing a graduate program to obtain a Master’s Degree in Negotiation, Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding from California State University.
Dr. Karen Peifer is the Senior Director of Children’s Health First Things First. Dr. Peifer has been with First Things First for over 3 years and brings her 25 years of experience working in research, evaluation and program development in maternal child health. Karen holds a masters and doctoral degrees in public health from the University of California, Berkeley and has participated in multiple state and national advisory committees related to maternal child health. Currently she is a section councilor for the MCH section of the American Public Health Association. She is widely published in journals focused on mental health service use, maternal and child health practices and health policy. She is also a volunteer Court Appointed Child Advocate in California and Arizona.
Peggy Peixoto obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies with an emphasis in Education and specialization in Child Development and her Master’s in Education. She has worked with and for children for almost 20 years in both preschools and elementary schools, in child welfare as a licensing and adoption specialist, developed and managed programs for post adoption support services, managed a center to support foster parents, and as a Supervisor for Head Start. She is currently the Early Education Collaborative Coordinator for Maricopa County Cradle to Crayons Child Welfare Center where she is the project director of a federal grant working to build an infrastructure to link young children in foster care with quality early education. She sits on the Healthy Families AZ Advisory Board, Adverse Childhood Experiences Consortium, Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Coalition, Crossover Youth Information Sharing Committee and the Maricopa County Educational Service Agency Youth Transition Advisory Council.
Veronica Peña is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with expertise in culturally relevant and culturally sensitive engagement. Stories, teachings, and ethnic specific programming are central to her professional practice. As a trainer and facilitator, Ms. Peña has an in-depth appreciation for interventions that seek inclusion and reflect community voices. She is biliterate, well versed in social, spiritual and emotional health. Her work experience is diverse and involves adults in facilitated dialogue and leadership opportunities. Currently, Ms. Peña is project coordinator for the Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors – Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC) Partnership, an Arizona statewide initiative that promotes family engagement and school readiness. She convenes local partners to participate in Abriendo Puertas training institutes.
Dr. Anthony J. Perkins is the First Things First Hualapai Regional Council member chair and the school superintendent for the Peach Springs Unified School District. He presents at many workshops and conferences throughout the year to contribute to academia and has been an educational leader for more than two decades. His experience includes teaching educational leadership and research classes for Northern Arizona University, as well as mentoring school principals and student teachers. He is a former school director of early childhood education. He holds a doctoral degree in educational leadership. His dissertation is titled, Breaking the Hispanic Dilemma: Familial Factors that Contribute to Academically Successful Hispanic Students.
Rose Phillips, MA, is a Senior Program Manager at Southwest Human Development in Phoenix. As a member of the administrative home leadership team, she helped to develop, and currently co-manages, Smart Support, First Thing’s First Arizona’s Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation System. She also serves as faculty for the Harris Infant & Early Childhood Mental Health Training Institute at Southwest. Rose has taught child development courses as adjunct faculty at American Public University Systems and is a graduate advisor at Prescott College. Prior to coming to SWHD in 2009, she provided counseling families and young children struggling with a wide-variety of behavioral health concerns. Rose specialized in counseling high-risk clients, including children who experienced abuse and neglect, and those involved in the foster care system.
Dianette Placido holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Arizona and a Master of Arts from Northern Arizona University. She serves as the Neighborhood School Readiness Project Coordinator. This unique, early literacy systems building project saturates neighborhoods with early literacy programming and awareness, creating communities that empower children and families for success. What Dianette loves most about her role at Make Way for Books is the opportunity to draw from her background in family engagement within the public education system and marrying it with her love and enthusiasm for books and reading.
Toni Porter is a principal in Early Care and Education Consulting. Formerly a Senior Researcher in Innovation, Research and Policy at Bank Street College of Education, she has conducted a wide variety of research projects that focus on issues related to early childhood quality. She served as the principal investigator on the OPRE-funded Supporting Quality in Home-based Child Care Project that focused on strategies for improving quality in family child care and family, friend and neighbor care, and has conducted several studies of the effectiveness of these strategies. Porter is the lead investigator on the Tutu and Me longitudinal study, and led earlier research on the initiative. Her current research focus is family engagement in early care and education programs.
Megan Pratt is a postdoctoral research fellow in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University. She received her Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Sciences from Oregon State University. Megan is a member of The Kindergarten Project. Her research focuses on how early care and education and family contexts relate to children’s school readiness, with an emphasis on self-regulation skills. She is also interested in how early care and education programs and policies support vulnerable children and families, including those involved in the Child Welfare system.
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. He previously served as content director at Conspiracy Media Group in San Francisco 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 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.
Julia Barwell is the Education Coordinator for Arts Integration Solutions. In her 35 years as an educator, she has worked with students and teachers from pre-k to 12, bringing strategies in arts integration into the classroom. Her passion for the arts comes from her experiences as a musician, classroom teacher and teacher trainer at both the UofA and NAU. Her current project brings artists and pre-k teachers together to use art-based teaching strategies with young children as they develop self-regulation and pre-literacy skills.
Dr. Kristen Ray has worked in a variety of roles as a healthcare practitioner, including counselor, clinical director, adjunct faculty, and mental health consultant. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Doctor of Behavioral Health. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Arizona and earned her Master’s in Counseling and Doctorate of Behavioral Health at Arizona State University. Dr. Ray has worked with children and adults individually, in groups and with their families. Her areas of experience include integrated behavioral health, public health, trauma, abuse and women’s issues.
Angela has been teaching in early childhood settings for 11 years, with experience ranging from birth to age 8. She received a BA in Psychology from Arizona State University as well as a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction-Elementary Education. She is currently working toward a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education and Language, Literacy and Culture at New Mexico State University.
Kimberly Rimbey, Ph.D., has served Arizona’s children and educators for nearly 30 years as a preschool and elementary teacher, instructional coach, math leader, consultant, and Chief Learning Officer. Her expertise in early childhood education and mathematics benefits educators and their students across the country. As a kindergarten teacher, she found that many of the numeracy skills her students lacked could have been addressed in the early years of their lives. Kim’s message regarding early numeracy development as a parallel to early literacy is a must for parents and those working with young children.
Kim has served in many leadership capacities, including membership on the first First Things First Regional Council for Northwest Maricopa County, President of the Arizona Association of Teachers of Mathematics, and presenter at dozens of national conferences. Kim holds degrees from multiple Arizona universities, including a Ph.D. from ASU, M.Ed. degrees from ASU and NAU, and a B.S. from Grand Canyon University.
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. Katie 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. Currently, Katie is the Assistant Director in the Training Department providing oversight for both assessment and coaching components of Quality First at Southwest Human Development.
Bill Rosenberg is currently the Head Start Manager for Ili Uusim Mahtawapo-Pascua Yaqui Head Start. Prior to this role, he was the Director of Ha:san Preparatory and Leadership School, a high school designed for Tohono O’odham youth and Native students interested in a college preparatory curriculum. Bill also has classroom teaching experience at all age levels, as well as administrative experience as an assistant principal and principal. Bill currently holds the child care provider seat on the First Things First Pascua Yaqui Tribe Regional Partnership Council. He brings expertise in early childhood development, program services, management, board leadership, volunteer management and fundraising. He is an active member of the Native Education Alliance, a group devoted to improving education for Native American students. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Renewable Natural resources and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Northern Arizona University.
Dr. Salerno is a pediatrician at Bayless Healthcare. He has 14+ years of practice experience in solo and group practices. He has worked in mental health administration for nine years and is an enthusiastic teacher, having taught at many levels from early intervention to community college and in a variety of learning settings in between. He has served as the Co-Chair of Quality Improvement at a large multi-specialty medical group as well as Clinical Director and Recovery Services administrator with Recovery Innovations.
Aaliyah A. Samuel, EdD is Senior Director of Family Support and Literacy at First Things First. Dr. Samuel is working with state leaders to enhance Arizona’s literacy campaign to improve reading achievement in the state. She has facilitated trainings in her current position and as an elementary principal on professional development topics relevant to early childhood education and importance of literacy. She began as a classroom teacher, was promoted as an elementary site-based administrator, and is now a statewide administrator for early childhood programs. Her doctoral research was on increasing the awareness and supporting parents in literacy efforts at home.
Ginger Sandweg is a native Arizonan. Her career at First Things First started in 2010 working in Quality First and is currently the Senior Director of Early Learning. She earned Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology and Human Development as well as a Master’s Degree in Family, Human, and Consumer Sciences. She has worked in a variety of early care and education settings, including non-profit, college/university based, and Head Start. She has also worked in multiple capacities such as intern, Lead Teacher, Director/Administrator, Professional Development Instructor, and has been an adjunct instructor at the local community college for the past 10 years. She is most interested in ensuring that children participating in early care and education are supported in ways that honor them as an individual while at the same time provided with opportunities that ensure they are ready for the rigor of our education system.
Gwen A Shawley is the Director at Wirtzie’s Preschool and Child Development Center. Gwen is involved with the planning and implementation of the intergenerational program they have on site. Gwen holds a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from Grand Canyon University. Gwen has a wide range of experience from working in the classrooms, training teachers, assessing programs and directing nationally accredited programs.
Dana Sherman serves as a Community Outreach Director for First Things First. Dana earned her Masters and Doctorate degrees from Duke University. Her doctorate work focused on strategies for leading innovation and change in organizations. Along with outreach and engagement experience, Dana has experience supporting executives’ efforts to lead change in organizations.
Eva Marie Shivers
Eva Marie Shivers, J.D., Ph.D. is the director of the Institute for Child Development Research & Social Change, a non-profit action research firm at the Indigo Cultural Center, which focuses on the developmental niche of child care to explore the evolution of frameworks for understanding families’ culturally adaptive responses to poverty, systemic racism and historical marginalization. She has served as Principal Investigator on many child care studies that involve collaborating with community agencies, state departments and national organizations. She is currently the principal investigator for BUILD’s Equity Project funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Dr. Shivers was formerly a faculty member in the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh. She received her Ph.D. from UCLA’s Department of Education, Psychological Studies in Education. Dr. Shivers also holds a law degree from Howard University School of Law and a BA in English Literature from Arizona State University. Dr. Shivers, a Zero to Three Leadership Fellow (Class 2005) also served as faculty in the Harris Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Training Institute at Southwest Human Development for the past 5 years. For the past fifteen years, Dr. Shivers has also provided child care policy consultation to national, state and local government agencies and administrators.
Tiffany Simon has been an active participant in the early Education field for almost ten years, working in many different capacities with every age from birth to 14 years. She started in Alabama as a special education aide, and after receiving her Master’s degree from the University of Arizona, moved exclusively in the direction of bettering the lives and education of the birth to 5 population. Tiffany is excited to continue her journey in making a difference in the ECE field as Early Education Specialist for the Arizona Infant Toddler Institute by providing riveting professional development sessions throughout the state of Arizona.
Kendra Smiley is the Literacy Program Manager for Raising A Reader and Reach Out and Read at Southwest Human Development. She earned her Masters of Arts in Elementary Education from the University of Phoenix and brings ten years of first-hand experience working with children and families to her current position. Her experience includes teaching 3 and 4 year olds at Christ Church School for two years, as well as teaching children ages 4 to 5 at All Saints’ Episcopal Day School. She also has experience as a Quality First Assessor. In this role, Kendra conducted ECERS (Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale), ITERS (Infant Toddler Environment Rating Scale), and CLAS (Classroom Assessment Scale) assessments in early child care settings throughout Arizona, providing unbiased feedback to improve the quality of services for children in child care. Most recently, Kendra has been providing professional development workshops for child care teachers and directors.
Sandy Smith currently works as an Administrative Assistant supporting the First Things First Hualapai Tribe and La Paz/Mohave regions. In her role, she coordinates with regional council members, grantees and service providers to improve the quality of and access to early childhood programs that effectively prepare children to start school healthy and ready to succeed. Sandy played a major role in collecting information from childcare providers to determine the strengths and needs of the La Paz/Mohave region. This information enabled the regional council to prioritize the specific needs of children birth through age 5; plan how to address those needs; and make strategic decisions. Sandy received her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration at California State University, and her Master’s degree in Administration from Northern Arizona University. She is an active community volunteer, offering her spare time to help foster children and military veterans.
Catie Sondrol is a mastered level occupational therapist who specializes in sensory processing disorders, feeding therapy, and school-based therapy. She serves on the Mohave/LaPaz county Regional Partnership board as the Health Services representative. She is a co-owner with Colleen McShea of Milemarkers Therapy.
Dr. Spencer is a board certified behavior analyst, an early childhood special educator, and language intervention and assessment researcher. She has worked with children with disabilities and children who are culturally linguistically diverse, their teachers, and their families for 15 years. She currently serves as the Research Director at the Institute for Human Development and is a Research Associate Professor in Educational Psychology at Northern Arizona University. She mentors undergraduate and graduate students through interdisciplinary research projects and collaborates with school-based educators to serve the needs of local students. Dr. Spencer’s current research involves the development and validation of language and literacy assessment instruments, a tiered narrative intervention program, dual language interventions, and social communication interventions for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). She writes extensively on evidence-based practice and promotes interdisciplinary, collaborative relationships among clinicians, educators, and researchers.
Kara Haberstock Tanoue is a Research Specialist in the Francis McClelland Institute for Children, Youth, and Families, which is part of the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Arizona. 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 knowledge of publicly available data and experience in the use of data systems in the state of Arizona support her research interest in the use of GIS and geospatial modeling to guide community resource allocation for public health and development.
Michelle Taylor is Assistant Research Professor at the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University. She received her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her primary research interests include examining contextual and relational influences on young children’s social competence with peers. In particular, her work focuses on better understanding the relationship between teacher-child interactions and peer engagement within early schooling environments. She is also especially interested in finding ways to translate research into practice through professional development and intervention efforts.
Penny Allee Taylor
Penny serves as the Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy for the Valley of the Sun United Way. Over the past two years Penny lead the public policy efforts on behalf of VSUW at the federal, state and local levels and has developed plans and strategies to address issues around youth and children, hunger and homelessness, and financial stability for individuals and families. These strategies include building community coalitions that include non-profits, businesses, community and civic organizations and their leaders to address community needs in the Valley. Prior to joining Valley of the Sun United Way, Penny served in the Corporate Public Affairs Department of Southwest Gas Corporation for 20 years managing issues at the Arizona State Legislature, the Governor’s Office, state agencies, and also worked with Arizona cities, towns and counties and the federal delegation on behalf of Southwest Gas. Penny has engaged in a variety of issues over the past 27 years, with an emphasis in business, environment and tax issues. Penny graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science and has attended the University of Phoenix in pursuit of a Masters in Organizational Management.
Kymberlii Tenario comes from a business background, having graduated with a B.S. in Business Management. Ms. Tenario worked in business and accounting before arriving at her current position as a Business Analyst for the Tohono O’odham Nation Legislative Council and Vice Chair of the Tohono O’odham Nation Regional Partnership Council. Ms. Tenario passion for early childhood education and health comes from her family, community involvement and work supporting the Tohono O’odham Nation’s early care, education and health programs. She sees the vast need for services on the Tohono O’odham Nation that are not provided and that often go unrecognized. She understands the challenges presented to a population that is spread widely, which increases the difficulty of providing services. Ms. Tenario strongly believes that the learning process should start in the home, but understands the importance of quality child care settings in which learning can occur.
Neil Tift is the Father Involvement Program Director for the Child Crisis Center in Mesa. He served as Director of Training for three national fatherhood organizations in Washington DC and Mesa Arizona since 1998. He was the founding director of the Fathers Resource Center in Minneapolis from 1990 to 1998. For over 20 years, Neil was Adjunct Professor of Family Studies at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul Minnesota, teaching ethics, child psychology, and human service administration. He also taught at St. Mary’s University and Century College in Minnesota and currently teaches at Chandler Gilbert Community College. Neil has contributed chapters for six books and written numerous articles on fatherhood and related issues. Neil earned an M.A. in Counseling Psychology and is a fatherhood trainer, parent educator, college instructor and men’s therapist.
Nancy Tolman attended Mesa Community College Registered Nurse Program in 1998 and received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Grand Canyon University in 2008. She has worked as a staff and charge nurse at Chandler Regional Medical Center. Nancy started teaching childbirth classes in the community in Spanish and English. She discovered a love for public health teaching these classes and soon Nancy became involved in other areas of community health education at Chandler Regional Medical Center. She has been a vaccine coordinator for the Arizona State Vaccine for Children Program, a Childbirth Educator, Breast Health Educator and an Educator for New Parent Classes. Currently, Nancy is a Certified Diabetes Educator and an Early Childhood Oral Health Screener and Educator.
Sussette Torres has been in the field of Early Education for nine years in many different capacities. She currently is Coordinator for the Tohono O’odham Community of Practice, where she supports educators by providing professional development opportunities as well as assisting them in their degree completion. Sussette graduated in 2007 with an Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from Pima Community College. She is currently enrolled at the Northern Arizona University to complete a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. Sussette’s passion is building awareness and providing support to educators in creating environments that support learning for all children regardless of their abilities or background.
Vincent Torres is a passionate registered dental hygienist with years of experience in the clinical, educator and administrative roles. He received his Bachelors in Health Science at the University of New Mexico and Masters in Healthcare Innovation at Arizona State University. Currently, he is promoting dental public health as the Program Supervisor for Maricopa County Office of Oral Health.
Adrienne Z. Udarbe, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian and Director at Pinnacle Prevention, where she leads healthy eating and active living services for individuals, communities and educational systems, as well as for healthcare and public health partners. In this capacity she leads implementation of innovative approaches to improve access and opportunity to lifestyle-enriched living, particularly in the areas of informing healthy eating and active living policies and practices. As a Registered Dietitian by practice and serving as the Arizona Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Public Policy Coordinator, Adrienne brings unique expertise to equitable approaches advancing opportunities for wellbeing for all individuals and families.
Tim Valencia is currently the Youth and Education Director with the City of Phoenix City Manager’s Office. He works closely with the Mayor, City Council, city management, education institutions and businesses in ensuring city resources are aligned to improve student outcomes along the education pipeline from preschool through college/career. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Elementary Education from Arizona State University and a Masters Community Counseling Degree in from University Phoenix.
Lauren van Huisstede
Lauren van Huisstede is a doctoral student in Family and Human Development at Arizona State University. She received her MS in Psychology at Arizona State University’s West Campus in 2013. Her previous experience includes working as a facilitator for an evidence-based parent education program and research in cognitive processing and stress, parent-child relationships, and emotion regulation. Her research interests include emotion development, self-regulation, parenting and school readiness in young children.
Alicia Vink is a PhD student at Walden University in the K-12 Leadership program. She has an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction and B.A. in Early Childhood Education. For the past nine years she has enjoyed a variety of roles in early childhood education including preschool teacher, kindergarten teacher and president of a local chapter of the MOMS Club, an international organization.
Jenny Volpe is executive director of Make Way for Books-the Early Literacy Resource Center for Southern Arizona, a local nonprofit that has served more than 200,000 children, parents and educators in the past 16 years. Jenny is passionate about helping children gain access to quality educational opportunities and believes in the power of literacy to change lives. In her work with Make Way for Books for the past five years, she has dedicated her time working to ensure that children in our community have access to early literacy services, are prepared to succeed the moment they step into the classroom, and have the chance to realize their fullest potential. Jenny holds a bachelor of arts in literature and education from the University of Chicago and a master’s in education from The Johns Hopkins University. Believing in education as a means to achieve social change, Jenny began her educational career as a Teach for America teacher and taught elementary school for five years before entering the educational publishing world and nonprofit sectors. Jenny has spent considerable time traveling and volunteering in countries throughout Asia and Europe working with children and families in a variety of educational settings. In her role as executive director of Make Way for Books, Jenny is proud to lead a dedicated staff working to ensure that Tucson is a place where all children can succeed in school and in life.
Sandi Walters has worked with children with disabilities and other special needs and their families in a variety of settings including family child care, center-based child care, early intervention programs and community-based recreational programs. Sandi currently provides training and technical assistance for inclusive practice throughout California. She provides training on the topics of Belonging, Inclusion, Challenging Behavior, Assessment/Evaluation and Social/Emotional Development for child care programs and child development professionals. Her M.A degree in Child and Family Counseling and her M.S. Degree in Human/Child Development & Early Intervention support the work she does to support families, children and professionals.
Angela Ward is the MIECHV specialist for Parents as Teachers and provides technical assistance to PAT programs in Arizona and Utah. She has been involved with Parents as Teachers as a home visitor, supervisor and program director. Most recently she was with the MIECHV project in Utah. Angela’s passion is increasing the quality of home visits for better family outcomes.
Nancy-Jean Welker is the vice-president of the Bowie Unified School District Governing Board and a member of the First Things First Regional Partnership Council. At First Things First, she and her fellow regional council members are responsible for collecting information on the strengths and needs of their community; prioritizing the specific needs of children from birth through age 5; planning how to address those needs; choosing who to partner and collaborate with to ensure success for the children in their area; and, making funding decisions necessary to carry out their plan.
As the Senior Manager of Tribal Affiliations for Parents as Teachers, Willeen Whipple provides program support to seventy Parents as Teachers programs serving over 3,000 families in American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities. She brings extensive experience working with Tribal governments. She is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Nation of Montana and is also from the Sicangu Lakota Oyate or Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. Prior to PAT, Whipple served as the co-project administrator for a tribal non-profit under a cooperative agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture. Willeen spent her early career in the airline industry, serving as a flight attendant for TWA and American Airlines. Whipple holds a master’s degree in social work from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in human resource management from Webster University and a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from Maryville University in Missouri.
Anna White is the Program Manager for the Early Literacy Outreach Team at Phoenix Public Library. She has presented hundreds of early literacy story times and workshops to parents and caregivers under a grant funded by First Things First. She is currently a mentor in the Arizona State Library Early Literacy Mentoring Program. Anna works extensively with community organizations in North Phoenix to promote early literacy and help parents prepare their children for school. She has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Sociology from Arizona State University and is currently pursuing her M.B.A. at Grand Canyon University.
Bonnie Williams, M.A., is the Early Care and Education (ECE) Prevention Manager for ADHS/BNPA. She is the state coordinator for Empower PLUS+, which assists child care centers to increase physical activity, reduce screen time, improve nutrition practices, support breastfeeding and engage families. She is active in the Arizona Association for the Education of Young Children (AzAEYC/NAEYC) and the Division for Early Childhood (DEC), Council for Exceptional Children. Bonnie has a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education and a Master of Arts in Special Education and Rehabilitation/Early Childhood emphasis. Bonnie has worked in ECE for 30 years as a preschool teacher, center director, college instructor and administrator with Head Start and Early Intervention (AzEIP). Bonnie never tires of learning about young children and finds ADHS refreshing, where she works amongst new colleagues, yet continues her connections with the ECE community.
Nichole Wilson is a psychology professor at Yavapai College. She earned her Master’s degree in Psychology from Iowa State University in 2007. Her research at Iowa State focused on the autonomic nervous system’s response during facial recognition tasks. Since then, she has taken on an interest in brain-based teaching techniques.
Liz Winkelman 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.
Karen Woodhouse is the Chief Program Officer at First Things First. Her work shaping policy and programs at First Things First represents the culmination of a 25-year career working on behalf of families, young children and their teachers. Throughout her career, she has worked with other state and national organizations to enhance and improve quality in early childhood systems. Recent collaborative initiatives include the Arizona School Readiness Indicators, Arizona Early Learning Standards, Early Childhood Teacher Certification and initial development of the Arizona Quality Improvement Rating System for early childhood settings. Prior to joining First Things First, Karen worked with the Arizona Department of Education, as Deputy Associate Superintendent for Early Childhood, and administered statewide programs for preschool through grade 3, full‐day kindergarten, and family literacy. She has a master’s degree from the University of Arizona and completed post‐graduate coursework at Arizona State University.
Prior to joining First Things First as the Regional Director for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe Regional Council, Tiburcia Yocupicio-Chambers had the opportunity to work with different agencies within the State of Sonora and Mexican Federal governments, Pima Community College, and non-profit organizations in both countries (México and the United States). She has experience coordinating, monitoring and administering community projects. She was the founder/director of the Indigenous Radio Station XEETCH “The Voice of the Three Rivers” in Etchojoa, Sonora; this radio station promotes indigenous languages and cultures and broadcasts in Yaqui, Mayo, Guarijío and Spanish. She also has experience promoting the organization and training of Latino and Indian communities. Tiburcia is a member of the Mayo Indian Tribe from Sonora, México. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Sciences from the University of Sonora and a Master of Arts in Language, Reading and Culture from the University of Arizona.