Staff & Consultant Team
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.
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.
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- 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 non-profits to universities. Jayette was a mentor to foster youth from 2000- 2006, then transferred to the position of Independent Living Program Coordinator from 2004-2006. She recently become one of the newest trainers with Foster Youth in Action, and is thrilled to apart 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 has been able to witness, firsthand, how the power and drive of the Foster Youth Movement can improve/change systems, the lives of individuals and ideologies through Administrative and Legislative change. 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 baccalaureate of arts 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. 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 has been able to witness, firsthand, how the power and drive of the Foster Youth Movement can change systems for the better. The Movement has already had positive effects 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 in Business Administration from California Polytechnic University.
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 maintain 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).
Johnny Madrid has been involved in foster care advocacy for 18 years. He began as a youth member of California Youth Connection where he was involved across a spectrum of roles including the Advisory Board, Legislative Committee, and the Youth Empowerment Training Project. While in CYC he facilitated dozens of focus groups with peer foster youth, gave speeches across the country, lobbied legislatures, and trained over 150 social workers. While a student at Stanford University, he wrote his honors thesis on higher education and founded the Stanford Foster Care College Project. He is a recipient of the Truman Scholarship and was featured as one of Newsweek’s “15 Students You Don’t Know But Will.” After graduating college, Johnny joined the securities division at Goldman Sachs and has pursued a career in finance for over 10 years.