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, President, 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 the early 2000’s, 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. After two years at Fenton Communications, the nation’s largest public-interest communications firm, Emily served as communications director for Emanuel Pleitez’s 2009 campaign for Congress in Los Angeles. She subsequently spent three years wrangling press and managing online communications for Organizing for America/Obama for America in California and Colorado.
Nancy Cannon-O’Connell, Ph.D., Vice President, is the founder and Principal of Cannon Collaborations, where she provides executive coach and consulting. She brings over twenty years of management experience to her role on the Foster Youth in Action Board. She has held the position of vice president for strategic development in two national health care firms and has consulted extensively on issues such as management responses to accelerated market changes, leadership development in times of organizational change, and product development strategies to meet shifting customer demands. She has completed management consulting engagements in both the public and private sectors. Her work has taken her into Chevron and Ford Motor Company, Merck, Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Harte-Hanks as well as technology firms such as IBM, Agilent /Philips Medical Systems, Cisco, and IDX Systems; MCOs such as Wellpoint, United Healthcare, Cigna; and insurers such as CNA Insurance and Great West. Her client work has spanned Venezuela, parts of Europe and South Africa.
Jamie Wang, Treasurer, is a community volunteer whose primary focus for the past 15 years has been improving educational and life outcomes for underserved 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. Also, at the request of the boards and executive directors, she is in the process of establishing new advisory councils for two additional nonprofits. 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. Since then, she has been a loyal donor and has actively followed the organization’s evolution. She is very excited to be joining the board at such an exciting time. In her spare time, Jamie enjoys travelling, knitting, and spending time with her husband and three adult children.
Katharine Cahn, Secretary, is Assistant Professor at the School of Social Work at Portland State University, and Executive Director and Assistant Dean of Continuing Education and Training Center for Improvement of Child and Family Services. Katharine has written and speaks nationally on her studies in child welfare. Her experience includes implementation of a system of care in child welfare with a focus on taking an innovative practice up to scale; using research and program evaluation to promote a child welfare system for improved outcomes; family and community engagement; leadership development; and multi-disciplinary collaboration. She works with state and tribal child welfare agencies, courts, and community partners to promote an integrated system of care that protects children, keeps families together, and engages community, faith, and cultural partners in systems planning. Katharine received a B.A. from Reed College, an MSW from University of Washington, and a Ph.D. from Portland State.
Michael Futrell Simelton, M.S., MBA, was born to an unprepared teenage mother, in the small impoverished town of Cairo, Illinois. Due to numerous unfortunate factors, he and his siblings were reared in emotional turmoil and instability. Through an unwavering faith in God and the placement of positive and influential individuals in key moments in his life, Michael was able to overcome adversity and climb to new heights. In 2000, he graduated the Valedictorian of his class, and believes education is an intricate part in being successful and achieving one’s dream. His speech to his class inspired all to not be a victim of circumstance but be a victor over it. In 2003, Michael began speaking to youth about overcoming peer pressure and focusing on career development. Michael is a motivational speaker, speaking to troubled children in the foster care system and other organizations. He is currently writing several books around youth development and improvements of the Foster Care system as well designing tools to help with preparation for life. Michael holds and a Masters degree in Manufacturing Systems from SIUC (2007) and MBA from McKendree University (2011) He is currently employed at Exelon Corporation – Located in Chicago, Il. Michael is currently on leave of absence from the board. We look forward to welcoming him back.
Pamela Heisler is currently the Director of Programs and Partnerships at the Children’s Trust Fund of Oregon. She manages the foundation’s grant making in addition to developing the organizations capacity to advocate at the state and federal levels for programs and policies that strengthen families and protect children from abuse and neglect. 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. OFYC uses a proven model of civic engagement and youth empowerment and has a 100% success rate: 6 bills in five legislative sessions. Pamela lives in Milwaukie, Oregon with her husband.
Michael Piraino has been active in domestic and international child advocacy since 1977, primarily in the areas of child poverty, maltreatment, and foster care. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Allegheny College, a law degree from Cornell Law School, and a master’s degree from Oxford University. He has served as pro bono legal counsel for children in foster care and in juvenile delinquency cases, taught law at John Marshall Law School in Chicago, served as planned giving director, college counsel, and executive assistant to the president at Allegheny College, and as an Associate Research Scientist at the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University. 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. As a result of his service to children, Michael Piraino has received a variety of awards, including the New York Decade of the Child award, the National Association of Social Workers Westchester Citizen of the Year award, and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges President’s award. The Friend of Children Award was jointly presented to him and to all CASA/GAL volunteers by the North American Council on Adoptable Children. Most recently, Mr. Piraino was selected for inclusion in The Non Profit Times Non Profit Leaders of Power & Influence Top 50 in 2013 and 2014. He currently serves as a board member for Independent Sector.
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. Wells graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with undergraduate degrees in Psychology, History and Political Science with certification to teach secondary education. In 2004, he also earned a Masters of Arts in Counseling Psychology. 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. Wells has been a mentor to San Diego foster youth since 1999 and was involved with Just in Time from its inception through a connection to JIT co-founder, Jeanette Day. Through the years, he helped raise public awareness for the organization through high visibility projects at KGTV, joined the Board of Just in Time in 2009, and became the first full-time Executive Director in 2010.