Michelle is Senior Director of FosterEd. She brings more than 20 years of experience in the non-profit and philanthropy sectors, as well as substantial expertise in child welfare and education. Most recently, she served as the Associate Director of Child Welfare with the Stuart Foundation, where she led a major initiative to improve education outcomes for foster youth across California. Her life’s work has been focused on helping young people realize the vastness of their potential and supporting systems change efforts that put the needs of youth at the center of policies and practices. Michelle’s professional experiences span a broad spectrum: as an artist, stage director, fundraiser, community activist, strategic planner, and program director — all the while as a passionate advocate for young people and families. Her superpower is finding out what is uniquely awesome about people. She lives in San Francisco with her amazing husband Cliff and step-son Theo, and holds a B.A. from Macalester College in Minnesota.
Program Support Team
Rachel Velcoff Hults is an attorney and Deputy Director of Programs for NCYL’s FosterEd initiative, focused on improving the educational experiences and outcomes of system-involved youth. She previously served as FosterEd’s Chief Operating Officer and as Project Manager for FosterEd’s demonstration program in Santa Cruz County, California. Prior to joining NCYL, Rachel worked at Bay Area Legal Aid in Oakland, where she represented youth and families on public benefits, health access, and education access issues. Previously, she was a litigation associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP in Washington, D.C. Rachel received her B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 2005 and her J.D. from Stanford Law School in 2008.
Casey is an attorney and Director of Implementation. Previously, he was the Director of FosterEd California and Project Manager for FosterEd Santa Cruz County, where he led FosterEd’s efforts to improve the education outcomes of the county’s foster youth and to embed our model into Santa Cruz County’s public agencies. In 2006, Casey received an M.S.W. from the University of Wisconsin Madison and began his work as a child welfare social worker. He returned to school in 2009 to pursue a dual degree in law and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Casey clerked at NCYL in the summer of 2010 and graduated with his J.D./M.P.P. in May 2013.
Atasi Uppal is an attorney on NCYL’s Juvenile Justice and FosterEd teams. She leads program and policy advocacy to improve the education outcomes of youth in the juvenile justice system, and much of this advocacy aims to support youth who are living in the community and supervised by Probation. Atasi also provides training and support to off-site FosterEd staff, who provide direct services to system-involved youth, and she assists with juvenile justice-focused litigation. Prior to joining NCYL, Atasi was a Trial Attorney at the Committee for Public Counsel Services in Massachusetts, where she represented low-income children and parents in state custody, termination of parental rights and status offense cases. Atasi received her B.S. in Brain, Behavior and Cognitive Science and her J.D. from the University of Michigan. At Michigan Law, Atasi was an Executive Editor for the Michigan Journal of Race & Law and worked at legal services organizations focused on child welfare, special education and juvenile justice.
Andrew Moffett is the Project Manager for Data and Technology for NCYL’s FosterEd Initiative. He will continue to enhance and expand on our student support data system, EdTeamConnect (ETC). Prior to joining NCYL’s FosterEd Team, Andrew has worked on large-scale youth-centered initiatives in New York City and the Bay Area. Andrew is also an AmeriCorps – Volunteer In Service To America (VISTA) alumni and actively engages in various volunteer initiatives that promote and advance his passions for the expansion of access to quality supports for disadvantaged children, families and community members.
Taylor Chambers joined NCYL in June 2017 and supports the FosterEd team. She graduated with a B.A. in Political Science and minor in History with a thematic focus on gender from Stanford University in 2016. Originally from Sacramento, CA she has volunteered with various direct service organizations that support women, children and families in Northern California. Most recently, she served students with high needs at a Boston elementary school as an AmeriCorps member and ultimately hopes to pursue a legal career to better advocate on behalf of vulnerable children.
Pete is the Senior Advisor of FosterEd Arizona. He has worked in juvenile justice, child welfare, and behavioral health in Tucson, Arizona for over 30 years. Pete is a Licensed Professional Counselor who has worked in direct services in institutional, residential and community settings as well as administration. He has supervised both foster care and therapeutic foster care programs. Pete served for eight years in the Arizona House of Representatives, including five years as Chairman of the Human Services Committee. In 2003 he founded the Arizona Children’s Caucus, a bipartisan caucus in the legislature promoting children’s issues and received numerous state and national awards. Pete served for one year as Chairman of the Human Services Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures and served two years on the Legislative Working Group of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. Pete received his B.A. from Colorado College and his M.Ed. from the University of Arizona.
Molly Dunn is the Director of FosterEd Arizona. Deeply influenced by her own early experience as a foster child, Molly has dedicated her career to improving the education outcomes of system-involved youth. As a direct services provider, with Legal Services for Children and the San Francisco Public Defenders’ Office, Molly advocated on behalf of hundreds of youth in special education and school discipline matters. As a clinical instructor at Stanford and Loyola law schools and as a supervisor with Legal Advocates for Children and Youth, she has mentored and guided other advocates to serve system-involved youth. As a policy advocate with the Alliance for Children’s Rights, Molly sought to remove systemic barriers and secure much-needed resources to help youth in foster care achieve success in school and in life. Molly holds a B.A. from Macalester College and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.
Andrea is Senior Education Liaison with FosterEd Arizona. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Arizona in 2007. She went on to receive her graduate degree in education from American University in Washington, D.C. where she was a teacher for six years. Andrea has worked with and mentored children of all ages and has deep roots in the Tucson community. The fact that she is bilingual and bicultural has assisted her in bridging gaps within the communities where she has worked. Her understanding of the achievement gap in education and her desire to see an end to it, has led her to a position as a FosterEd Education Liaison.
Dr. Christy Wagner is the Director of Youth Center Engagement for FosterEd: Arizona. She has worked in education field for over 20 years. Christy is a Licensed Administrator and Educator who has served the early childhood, K-12 and postsecondary communities. She has an expertise in the areas of special education, gifted education, and with English language learners. Christy is a member of the National Governors Association Early Care and Education Committee. As a licensed foster care provider and adoptive parent Christy is passionate about advocating for youth and their educational rights. Christy received her B.A., M. Ed., and Ed. D from Northern Arizona University.
Julia (Julee) is an Education Liaison with FosterEd Arizona. She holds an undergraduate degree in family studies from the University of Arizona. She began her career over two decades ago working with delinquent juveniles and their families through the juvenile court, providing case management services to improve educational and delinquent outcomes. She then moved on to provide in-home services to families who had been referred to Child Protective Services. Working with families in their homes gave her a real life understanding of the challenges underprivileged families face day to day. Prior to joining NCYL, she worked in foster care, educating, licensing and supporting foster families to meet the needs of the foster children in their homes. Julee speaks Spanish, providing her the ability to work with Spanish-speaking families, and she also has knowledge of American Sign Language.
Jennifer is an Education Liaison with FosterEd Arizona. She graduated from The University of Arizona with a B.S. in Family Studies and Human Development. Her interest in child welfare began when she interned with Child Protective Services and continued to develop through her work at Casa de los Ninos children’s shelter. In 2003, Jennifer began her service in the United States Peace Corps in the Pacific country of Vanuatu as a Youth Development Volunteer, working with youth in rural communities to develop programs around gender advocacy, sexual and reproductive health, and education. She remained in Vanuatu after her service, working at a local NGO as Research Manager and Youth Center Manager for 8 years before returning to Tucson. Jennifer’s 18 years of experience in multi-cultural settings working with at-risk children and youth has given her insight in working with children in the foster care system and the unique challenges they face.
Arayah is the Volunteer Coordinator for FosterEd Arizona. Arayah comes from a family of educators and is passionate about youth advocacy and educational rights. Arayah attended Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC and graduated in 2013 with a B.A. in Political Science and Global Studies. She returned to her hometown of Tucson, AZ, after 5 years in North Carolina working with volunteers in political campaigns and organizations devoted to LGBT marriage equality in the South. A consistent and devoted volunteer since age 11, Arayah has long been committed to helping others help! She is a firm believer in giving to the community as a way of growing and succeeding as a person.
Minsun Park Meeker is Director of FosterEd California. She brings extensive experience in child welfare program and policy development, implementation, and evaluation. As Outcomes and Evaluation Manager at United Friends of the Children (UFC), an education and housing provider for current and former foster youth in Los Angeles County, she led the organization’s implementation of a framework to better track and evaluate program data and outcomes. Before her time at UFC, Minsun served as the Senior Policy Director for the Child Welfare Initiative (CWI), where she partnered with public and private child welfare agencies to improve housing, employment, mental health, and transition programs and policies for current and former foster youth. Prior to joining CWI, Minsun worked as a Fiscal and Policy Analyst at the California Legislative Analyst’s Office and was responsible for evaluating the fiscal and programmatic impact of legislative and gubernatorial child welfare and labor proposals. She has also worked for the University of Southern California’s Center on Educational Governance; the Los Angeles Commission for Children, Youth, and Families; and Union Station Homeless Services. Minsun holds an M.P.P. from the University of Southern California, and a B.S. in Economics and a B.A. in International Studies and German from the University of Pennsylvania.
Angela Vázquez brings to her work a passion for ensuring equity for vulnerable youth from birth through young adulthood, especially as life opportunities are impacted by trauma and instability. She has worked with young women living in a group home and organized young adults with mental illness as a graduate student for two years, giving her a practical and community-driven perspective to policy and systems work. A summer at Los Angeles Universal Preschool highlighted the importance of reaching vulnerable kids early — a commitment that she continued at Advancement Project as a Policy Analyst for several years, convening statewide early care and education stakeholders, and simultaneously facilitating policy development and implementation discussions for very young children in foster care in Los Angeles County. Most recently, she led Advancement Project’s partners on the Coalition for Educational Equity for Foster Youth in support of Los Angeles Unified School District’s investments and efforts to serve students in foster care. Angela currently serves as Board Co-Chair of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network — Los Angeles where she hopes to build the next generation of social justice leaders in LA. Angela received her MSW concentrating in Community Organizing, Planning, and Administration from the University of Southern California after graduating cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a BA in Psychology.
Laila Fahimuddin joined NCYL’s FosterEd team in 2017 where she manages new demonstration sites implementing FosterEd’s practice model, and leverages the lessons learned on the ground for statewide policy change. Prior to joining FosterEd, Laila worked as a research analyst with SRI International’s Center for Education Policy, where she focused on college and career readiness, school funding, social-emotional learning, and public agency partnerships. While at SRI, she managed a federally funded evaluation of a middle school social-emotional program, working in close collaboration with district and school partners. Before her time at SRI, Laila was an organizer with the ACLU of Northern California, where she served as the lead organizer on school-to-prison-pipeline advocacy, including the successful passage of AB 420, eliminating “willful defiance” suspensions for grades K-3. She also led local efforts in a dozen districts across the state to implement the Local Control Funding Formula by training parents, students and community members on core elements of the policy, and building community capacity to participate in local decision making committees. Additionally, she led campaigns related to student free speech, racial profiling by law enforcement, and she created the ACLU of California’s youth activist development program, Engage California. Laila’s passion for youth justice stems from her formative experiences as a student organizer, and a deep-seated belief that impacted communities hold the knowledge and power to build a more just future, and her role is to facilitate making that a reality. Laila graduated cum laude from the University of California, Los Angeles with a B.A. in International Development Studies in 2010.
Kawena is an Education Liaison with FosterEd California. Prior to joining the FosterEd team, Kawena worked for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) as a Children’s Social Worker (CSW) for nearly 7 years. During her last two and a half years with DCFS, Kawena worked in the Foster Youth Education Program. She provided services to youth in high school, creating individualized education case plans and providing advocacy for the youth to access services to ensure positive education outcomes. Kawena also spent time as a substitute teacher while transitioning from her work as a CSW. Kawena earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Psychology, and hopes to use her education and experience working with foster youth to ensure the education needs of foster youth are being met on the local level, and make efforts for change when necessary on a larger scale.
Kim is the Project Manager for FosterEd Santa Cruz County, where she works to ensure foster children and youth are supported by an educational champion and strengthened by an education team. Kim served as an Education Liaison for close to three years before transitioning into the Project Manager role in November 2015. She holds an undergraduate degree in human development from the University of California, San Diego, with a minor in Spanish literature, and a master’s degree in education and a teaching credential from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has several years’ experience as an elementary school teacher, and has also been a tutor, coach, and mentor for at-risk high school students. Kim is fluent in Spanish, enabling her to serve both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking families.
Erika is an Education Liaison with FosterEd Santa Cruz County. Erika earned her B.S. in Sociology from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2007. Previously, she worked at the Live Oak Family Resource Center as a Community Support Specialist and then as a Family and Youth Advocate. As a Family Advocate, she provided families with case management services to strengthen the well-being of the entire family. As a Youth Advocate, she worked with youth on probation, connecting them with appropriate resources to fulfill the terms of their probation. Erika is a native Spanish speaker, enabling her to serve both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking families.
Megan is an Education Liaison with FosterEd Santa Cruz County. She holds an undergraduate degree in Sociology and Anthropology from Albion College and earned her Master’s Degree from Santa Clara University in Counseling Psychology, with an emphasis in Correctional Psychology. Megan has several years of experience working with foster youth and youth on probation in Santa Cruz County, and has worked with various county and nonprofit service providers in serving these youth.
Norma is an Education Liaison with FosterEd Santa Cruz County. Norma has dedicated most of her career to working in the non-profit world to address poverty and injustice issues. She has worked with individuals and families to help them become self-sufficient by providing case management, direct services, advocacy, and referrals. She is driven to serve her community by her wonderful family and the amazing support and resources she has also received by her community. She has two amazing children and received her Masters in Social Work at San Jose State University.
Tiffany M. Smith is an Education Liaison with FosterEd Santa Cruz County. Tiffany graduated from Lincoln Memorial University with a Bachelors of Social Work and the University of Southern California with a Masters of Social Work. Her background has been working with at-risk populations such as homeless youth, foster youth, low-income families, and first generation college students. Tiffany also served as an Americorps Member two terms: one at Clinch Powel RC&D Council and one in the Student Support Services Department of the Santa Cruz County Office of Education. Tiffany’s experience working with foster youth includes serving as a foster care review board member for two years evaluating foster cases and providing suggestions to the court, mentoring aged-out foster youth entering into college, providing backpacks and school supplies to foster youth K-12 in Santa Cruz County through coordinating the “Write-Start Backpack Project” and partnering with United Way of Santa Cruz’s “Stuff the Bus,” and creating/coordinating “Project Rudolf”—serving our most homeless and struggling foster youth.
FosterEd New Mexico
Grace is an attorney and the Director of FosterEd New Mexico. Before coming to FosterEd, Grace worked at Pegasus Legal Services for Children in Albuquerque, NM where she acted as guardian ad litem and youth attorney to children and youth in foster care, represented youth in emancipation cases, and worked with homeless and runaway youth on a variety of issues. Grace is also active in policy and legislative work related to children and youth throughout New Mexico. Grace is certified as a Child Welfare Law Specialist by the National Association of Counsel for Children. She received her J.D. from Harvard Law School and was admitted to the New Mexico Bar in 2008.
Amy is Chief Education Liaison for the Lea County, New Mexico demonstration project. Prior to joining the FosterEd team, Amy worked for the Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) as an In-Home Services Clinician for three years. She provided services to monitor child safety and to prevent youth from coming into state custody. Previously, Amy was a supervisor at a non-profit agency in Roswell, New Mexico. She oversaw the implementation of grants, ensured program fidelity, and managed a staff of seven. Amy received her B.A. in Community Health from New Mexico State University in 2002. In 2012, she received her MSW from New Mexico Highlands University. Amy lives in Lovington with her husband John and two children.
Melaina directs FosterEd Indiana, which now operates statewide as a publicly funded program of the Indiana Department of Child Services. Melaina is dedicated to ensuring the educational stability and success of DCS involved youth. Prior to bringing her enthusiasm for education to DCS, she taught first, second and third grade, as well as, a split classroom of second and third graders. She has been inducted into Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education and the Golden Key International Honor Society. Her Bachelor of Arts degree is from Purdue. She received her Master’s in Education with specializations in both Child Development and Family and Community Services from Ashford in 2013. She was originally hired as one of the Northeast Liaisons in 2012 and has since been promoted to the Education Services Director in September 2014.
Sabrina Ellison has nine years of public education teaching experience in both inner city and rural settings. After receiving her Bachelors in Elementary Education, Sabrina spent seven years teaching in the inner city schools of Houston, Texas (2000-2007). Upon moving back to Indiana in 2007, Sabrina became a proud mother while pursuing her Master’s Degree in Special Education. Sabrina received her graduate degree in 2009, and taught Developmental/Special Needs Preschool and Severe Disabilities. Sabrina received both her Bachelor’s Degree and her Master’s Degree from Indiana State University.
Steven Takacs has been an educator for ten years. He graduated from the University of Indianapolis in 2004 with a BA in Journalism and English. He is a licensed secondary English teacher who is also bilingual (Spanish). He has taught English and English as a Second Language in the United States and Mexico as well as undergraduate courses in Philosophy. In 2010, Steven completed his MA in Philosophy at IUPUI. In his free time, Steven enjoys reading, being outdoors, fishing, hunting and being with his family and friends.
Jay McGee has a passion for the benefits of alternative education classrooms. Jay taught secondary social studies for seven years at an alternative school in Colorado and at Munster High School in Indiana. He then returned to Indiana University Bloomington to attain his principal and superintendent licenses and to earn his M.A. in School Administration and Ed.D. in Education Leadership. Jay has a wide variety of experience in K-12 education, having served as a principal in traditional schools, charter schools, an alternative school, and at Burris Laboratory School on the campus of Ball State University. He has presented at state and national conferences on topics in alternative education and laboratory schools.
Jeri Gibson has been a Special Education teacher for eighteen years in elementary schools throughout Indianapolis and nearby cities. After serving many children in Special Education classrooms, mostly emotionally handicapped, she worked with foster children in various agencies including DCS. She recently transferred from being a Family Case Manager to an Education Liaison where she can share her expertise of both education and DCS with the entire team. Jeri received her Bachelor’s degree in Education from MacMurray College.
Verne McCue has been a Special Education teacher for ten years. He has worked in both public and private education. Mr. McCue is also a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) in Grant County. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University and his Master’s Degree from Ball State University.
Jason Rivich has been working with children with behavioral and special needs for eight years. After receiving his Bachelor’s of Science from Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne, Jason began his career in education in Warsaw Community Schools where he taught Adult Basic Education/GED preparation classes and elementary physical education to students with severe emotional disabilities. Because of his vast experience working with both adult and adolescents, he is eager to work to build educational champions for youth who have suffered through traumatic events. Outside of the office, he coaches Little League, YMCA youth basketball, and volunteers with the Boy Scouts.
Travis Stahl has a special gift of working with children in alternative education settings. Although, he completed college with the best intentions of being a social studies teacher, he quickly found himself working as the director of an alternative school and in a detention center, not only teaching social studies but also math, English, science and electives. Travis received his degree from Indiana Purdue University Fort Wayne. He is married with two beautiful daughters.
Traci Larrison is a licensed Clinical Social Worker and a licensed School Social Worker. She was employed at Brownsburg Community School Corporation for 12 years and enjoyed working with children of all ages. Her passion is empowering youth to be successful in their education and life. Her experience working in schools allows her to truly understand the complications that occur with schools and children involved with DCS. Traci received her BSW from Illinois State and her MSW from Indiana University.
Anita Johnson has fervor that is quite evident in the field of education. Before being hired as an Education Liaison with DCS, she taught middle/high school English in the Gary and Merrillville Community School Corporations for approximately 15 years. Anita received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Journalism/English Education from Indiana State University. After graduating from Indiana State, Anita returned to her hometown of Gary, Indiana to teach. “I felt a need to return to my hometown and teach because Gary had given me a strong educational foundation that has helped me become the person I am today.” In 2012, she received her Masters of Arts Degree in Adult Education from the University of Phoenix. She has been a member of several educational organizations, such as PBIS, PTA, and the Gary Reading Council. She believes the best gifts we can give to our youth are knowledge and character. Anita is married and the mother of three beautiful daughters.
Jeffrey Neumann is originally from LaPorte County Indiana and a graduate of New Prairie High School in the heart of the “snow zone.” Jeff is a former public school educator in the state with 8 years in the classroom and 22 years as an Elementary Principal. He has been an educator in many parts of Indiana including Kentland, Renssealer, Warsaw, and now Greenwood. Jeff states “I share the excitement of the core team of EL’s and believe the position of Educational Liaison is yet another world class intervention offering assistance to the children, and all citizens of Indiana, working with very talented DCS staff to bring the best educational opportunities to the most fragile of Indiana’s young people.” Jeff received his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from Indiana University. He received his Administration Certification from Purdue University.
Kelly Hargett taught for 9 years as a Special Education teacher in the private school setting. After leaving the classroom, she began working for the Department of Child Services in 2010 as a Family Case Manager in Scott County, Indiana. Kelly also worked seven years as Eligibility Caseworker Supervisor for the Division of Family and Children in the 1990s. Her diverse background in both the educational setting, as well as, the social services setting helps Kelly understand the difficulties that children in DCS care face, both academically and culturally. Kelly received her Bachelor’s of Science in Elementary Education with a Kindergarten Endorsement and her Master’s of Science in Elementary Education from Indiana University Southeast. Kelly and her husband, David, are the proud parents of daughters Caitlin, Paige, and Mallory.
Naomi Koeplin has taught high school and middle school Language Arts in rural northwest Alaska and also Louisville, Kentucky. Naomi received her BA in English Education from Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana in 2008, and her M.Ed. in Elementary Education from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona in 2012. While earning her master’s degree, she also attained endorsements in Early Childhood Education and Structured English Immersion and taught in elementary and preschool classrooms. She moved to Bloomington, Indiana and joined the Education Services program with DCS in 2012. Naomi embraces the incredible potential that being an Education Liaison affords to influence educational success for youth in DCS care. Naomi will be pursuing the Master of Social Work program at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis beginning in the Summer 2015 term.
Lisa Kost is a veteran communicator and teacher. Early in Lisa’s career she worked with communities throughout southern and central Indiana as a news anchor, and news director. Lisa became a leader as a teacher in making writing across the curriculum a priority, which improved the skills of Indiana and Kentucky students. Lisa taught in public and private schools, teaching students of various backgrounds, ethnicities, interests, and beliefs. She directed theatre productions, developed the children’s traveling theatre, sponsored school newspapers and speech teams. Lisa was part of the National Writer’s Workshop; facilitating communication across academic lines and disciplines. Lisa brings with her a love of learning, a passion for students, and an ability to listen, communicate and respond. She is a graduate of the University of Evansville with majors in Theatre Arts and Communication and Speech, with a minor in English and Writing. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree at Oakland City University.