Matt Rosen is Executive Director of Foster Youth in Action, a national nonprofit that is building a movement of youth leaders and their allies to transform foster care policies and the lives they impact. Matt brings more than 16 years of leadership and management experience in community youth development and youth civic engagement. Most recently, Matt served as Vice President of Programs for the San Francisco-based Youth Leadership Institute, leading the organization’s efforts to deepen its work in youth organizing and youth-led policy advocacy. Matt is an experienced program designer and trainer, as well as the author of several publications, toolkits, and curricula in the areas of youth development, youth philanthropy, and youth-led policy advocacy. He attained a Masters in Social Work and Urban Planning from the University of Michigan and started his career in housing and community development in Detroit. When he’s not raising money, writing emails, or talking on the phone, he likes to spend time with his family and friends and take an occasional bike ride.
Director of Programs
Anna Gennari is Foster Youth in Action’s Director of Programs. Before joining FYA, Anna served as Project Manager with New Mexico Child Advocacy Networks, a Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative site. There she implemented a highly successful youth advocacy network, supporting foster youth organizers to build their membership base, win legislative victories, and build coalitions with allied organizations. Anna shares FYA’s strong commitment to social justice and racial equity and brings a rich toolbox of skills and expertise as a trainer, popular educator, curriculum writer, program developer, and capacity builder. At the foundation of her work is a passion built from her personal experience navigating group homes and managed-care facilities in the juvenile justice system, a journey which catalyzed her unwavering commitment to improving the systems that support young people. Anna provides leadership across many of FYA’s program strategies, including our learning community and capacity building work, as well as the scope and impact of our national youth advocacy conference.
Benjamin Muhammad is Foster Youth in Action’s new Leaders United Organizer. Before joining FYA, he served as a founding member and Project Coordinator for Fostering Advocacy Change and Empowerment (FACE), a foster youth-led adult supported project, working to change the face of foster care in New York. Benjamin is also a former FosterClub All Star, where he served as a national and international advocate. Ben is most excited to partner and work alongside youth and young adults from over 20 states.
Jonathan Doherty is FYA’s Communications Associate and is thrilled to be a part of this national effort to support foster youth. With a diverse background in radio, television, marketing, and consulting, he helped lead an award-winning communications team at the Second Harvest Food Bank headquartered in Silicon Valley. Passionate about children’s rights and social justice, he has worked with low-income youth in Orlando’s inner city neighborhoods, trained as legal aid support for abandoned, abused, and neglected youth, and has managed educational funding initiatives in every U.S. state plus the District of Columbia. He is honored to be a part of the team and looks forward to helping ensure that every single foster youth in America has their voice heard.
Janet Knipe has been passionate about and involved in issues related to young people in foster care for the past 30 years. After she received her M.S. in Clinical-Community Psychology, she became a social worker for a private foster family agency in northern California, where she learned first-hand the importance of selecting and training foster parents and making sure youth had placements that were meeting their needs. She took those insights into her role as a trainer with the Child Welfare Institute and then into her work at a time when the Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting training curricula was gaining traction around the country. She then became the program director for the Contra Costa County Independent Living Skills Program, where she came to further appreciate the serious and pervasive challenges facing foster youth even with the best programs to support them. In 1994, Janet became executive director of California Youth Connection (CYC) because of her desire to equip and empower foster youth to lead and advocate for their own interests. After 14 years at CYC, Janet became executive director of Foster Youth in Action (FYA, originally named the National Foster Youth Action Network) in 2009. Her goal was to bring the successful models of youth development and advocacy to other local and state organizations. Janet retired from Foster Youth in Action in 2014 but continues to serve the organization in a consulting capacity.
Shari F. Shink established the Children’s Legal Clinic in 1985 which became the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center, transforming the lives of over 15,000 children. Shink has made significant, enduring contributions through legislative reforms, program innovations, standards/training, and establishing a model office for addressing child abuse. Legislative reforms she promoted include: speedy trial for abused/neglected children; reinforcing psychological attachments for children who resided for years with foster parents; and the Child Protection Ombudsman. Shink has introduced program innovations including Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, the Prevention Partnership Program that keeps children out of foster care, and Dandelion, a therapeutic gardening program. She initiated the development of standards for lawyers representing children which later led to the creation of Colorado Supreme Court mandates requiring that attorneys meet their child clients, appear in court fully prepared, and remain knowledgeable about the needs and best interests of their clients. Shink has impacted the national approach to child advocacy through hundreds of publications and speaking engagements in numerous states and many foreign countries. She has co-chaired the Children’s Rights Litigation Committee of the American Bar Association. Shink has received numerous awards including ABA Child Advocate of the Year (2001), the National Lewis Hine Award for service to children and youth (2004), and named as national Life Fellow of the American Bar Foundation (2013).
Curriculum & Resource Development Consultant
Kristina Gelardi is a curriculum and resource development consultant with Foster Youth in Action. For ten years Kristina has been a mentor to a youth who grew up in foster care. It was through this experience that she decided to integrate her previous work in youth development and child welfare policy advocacy. She began working as a Policy Coordinator at California Youth Connection (CYC), providing CYC members with training and support to advance their local and state policy goals and enhance their leadership skills. In this role, she created curriculum, trained youth and adults, and helped create CYC’s policy intern program. Kristina has since had several consulting jobs engaging foster youth, policy makers, and child welfare staff and administrators to increase opportunities for youth involvement in systemic change. Currently, Kristina is a PhD student at the University of California, Davis, examining how life stress influences adolescent brain development and consequently brain activation. She hopes to integrate this research into child welfare by training practitioners to better meet the needs of youth in care by understanding the biological effects of stress on development, as well as the significant opportunities for resilience.
Training and Program Team
Jayette Hightower was a member, and also was president, of the California Youth Connection from 2000 to 2006. As a member, she participated in the organization on many levels. For several years, she has worked with many organizations interested in improving the lives of youth in foster care nationwide, from nonprofits to universities. Jayette was a mentor to foster youth from 2000 to 2006, then transferred to the position of Independent Living Program Coordinator from 2004 to 2006. She recently became one of the newest trainers with Foster Youth in Action, and is thrilled to be part of a national movement. Her experiences in the foster care system have inspired her to give back to the youth currently in foster care and to do what she can to improve the system. She also participated on many training projects, such as the Y.O.U.T.H. Training Project, that empower youth and influence social work practice nationally. A graduate of California State University Fullerton with a degree in Communicative Disorders and Rochester Institute of Technology with a master’s of science in Secondary Education of the Deaf, she currently works as a teacher of the Deaf in Austin, TX.
Tonya Hightower is an original member of the training team. She was introduced to youth empowerment and advocacy work as a member of the California Youth Connection in 2000. For over a decade, she has worked with many organizations interested in improving the lives of youth in foster care. She has been able to witness firsthand how the power and drive of the Foster Youth Movement can improve and change systems, therein changing the lives of individuals and ideologies through Administrative and Legislative change. A southern California resident, she currently works as a Continuing Action Insurance examiner. In addition she is a mentor at the Orangewood Children’s Foundation. Tonya holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from California Polytechnic University.
Board of Directors
Emily Dulcan, Board Chair, is a digital communications strategist. She is currently the Director of Digital Engagement at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to curing cystic fibrosis and providing all people with the disease the opportunity to lead full, productive lives. She joined the Foundation in late 2015 after serving for three years as Digital Director at the Peace Corps. After working with nonprofits in Washington D.C. and Mexico, in 2006 Emily earned a master’s degree in cross-cultural journalism from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri, Columbia, and parlayed her love of words into a career in strategic communications.
Jamie Wang, Treasurer, is a community volunteer whose primary focus for the past 15 years has been improving educational and life outcomes for under-served youth. To that end, she has served on multiple nonprofit boards and advisory committees and counseled several Executive Directors. Currently she is an active member of five volunteer committees in addition to the Foster Youth in Action board. In 2009, as a member of SV2’s Social Safety Net Grant Committee, Jamie voted to provide seed money for the creation of Foster Youth in Action, excited by the vision of having a national network of organizations like California Youth Connection.
Pamela Heisler, Secretary, is past director of Programs and Partnerships at the Children’s Trust Fund of Oregon. She has 12 years of experience advocating for foster care reform and has spoken across the country about her experiences living in foster care and aging out. Pamela earned her BA in Spanish and Business Administration from the University of Oregon, and a Masters of Public Administration and Nonprofit Management from Portland State University. In 2014, she completed the Leadership Institute for State-Based Advocates, a competitive 18-month program established by the Annie E. Casey Foundation to build a field of leaders that can truly turn the curve for kids across the country. In 2008, Pamela founded the Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC), a program that unites current and former foster youth to improve the system through their own brand of advocacy, activism, and leadership.
Katharine Cahn, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Practice and Executive Director of the Center for Improvement of Child and Family Services at the School of Social Work at Portland State University. Her work is dedicated to the reform of child serving systems with an emphasis on social justice, race equity, leadership, cross-systems collaboration, and implementation of change across systems. In addition to hosting Oregon’s Child Welfare Partnership, her center hosts a System of Care training institute, a child welfare / family support research team, and the Leadership Academy for Middle Managers, a component of the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute. She has been an ally and strong supporter of youth voice and parent voice in child welfare both in Oregon and nationally.
Jake Carmi is a long-time youth leader with Iowa’s Achieving Maximum Potential (AMP) a statewide, foster youth-led organization with dozens of state legislative advocacy successes. Jacob is also a Young Fellow with the Jim Casey Opportunities Initiative and a Foster Club All-Star.
Sarah Bess Hudson is lead Facilitator at MAAC (Multi-Agency Alliance for Children) dedicated to hearing the “ME” in the voices of Georgia’s foster youth. She has a special focus on EmpowerMEnt, a statewide youth leadership development and advocacy initiative (utilizing youth-adult partnership) for current/former foster youth between ages 14-26+. After earning her Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from Georgia State University with a focus in Community Partnerships and Consensus Organizing, Sarah Bess began working alongside youth self-advocates as an adult supporter (in various capacities) on issues impacting youth and young adults in the foster care system for over a decade.
Brianne Nagamine is currently attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work. In May 2017, she will receive her Bachelors degree in social work. She will be entering into the social work masters program in the upcoming Fall. She is a former foster youth from the state of Hawai’i who spent four years in the foster care system. Throughout her time in the foster care system, she got involved with the Hawaii Foster Youth Coalition taking on multiple leadership roles. Hawaii Foster Youth Coalition is one of Foster Youth in Action’s youth-led partners. Brianne has represented her organization serving on the Foster Youth in Action’s Leaders United council for two years. She has dedicated over seven years advocating for child welfare reform in her home state and nationally. Brianne participated in the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute internship program for the summer 2015 is currently a Young Adult Consultant for the Children’s Bureau.
Noah Nash is a young former foster youth and LA native. Noah studied Recording Arts Technology at Loyola Marymount University, before pursuing a doctorate in Education Leadership at Mills College. His research interests, including foster youth-advocacy, STEM education, and Afrofuturism, speak to a belief in community, alternatives, and imagination as tools for empowerment and change. Noah has also served as a peer trainer The Youth Training Project, an initiative of California Youth Connection (which is also FYA’s founding partner).
Michael Piraino has been active in domestic and international child advocacy since 1977, primarily in the areas of child poverty, maltreatment, and foster care. Mr. Piraino recently retired from his position as Chief Executive Officer of the National CASA Association, after 21 years of service, and is now the Senior Advisor to The Justice Project, which focuses on educational, economic, environmental and social justice issues. He currently serves as a board member for Independent Sector.
Melissa Rock joined ACY’s team as the Child Welfare Director in August 2010. As the Child Welfare Director she works with the statewide child welfare administrators and stakeholders to improve the experience of children and families involved with the abuse and neglect system. In June 2012, Melissa was appointed to the Department of Human Resources’ Alternative Response (AR) Advisory Council, to oversee Maryland’s implementation of AR and made a co-chair of the AR Evaluation Workgroup.
Steven Shaw has been advocating for the child welfare system for the last eight years on every level. He currently works at Hilton Americas Houston in the hopes of eventually owning his own hotel while continuing to fight for foster youth and alumni. Steven is the president and co-founder of Voices for Change, a group primarily composed of young adults who aged out of the Texas foster care system who are dedicated to advocacy and improving the experience of youth in the foster care system. Steven himself was in the Texas foster care system for 15 years. Steven has been privileged to speak in front of Congress and White House officials on numerous issues dealing with foster care. He played a key role in advocating for an ombudsman bill position in Texas, dedicated solely to children and youth in foster care. He has also participated in numerous panels and presentations that have increased awareness about foster care among community and state level stakeholders. Steven’s experiences taught him valuable lessons including the importance of education and respect for others. These are some of the values he uses to guide and support those children and youth still in the foster care system. He strives to show them even if the road is tough they still can survive.
Don Wells is Executive Director of Just In Time for Foster Youth, a volunteer-driven nonprofit that provides transitioning foster youth, ages 18-26, with opportunities for self-sufficiency through emergency support, essential resources, and caring personal guidance at critical junctures on their path to independence.. During his career, he has been a teacher, editorial cartoonist, award winning writer, producer and animator, including a 1979 Peabody Award and thirteen local St. Louis Emmy awards. Wells was also a Senior Marketing Writer-Producer for Walt Disney World, a Supervising Producer at Paramount Television and Director of News and Creative Services for two television stations, including KGTV San Diego.