I enjoy working on the UFC Board because the Members are incredibly talented and committed. I also am wowed by the capable and dedicated staff, and inspired every day by the kids of UFC! I love spending time with my family – husband John and two daughters, Hattie and Eva; I have minor obsessions with my dogs, travel, crossword puzzles, and reading. I have a major obsession with Hamilton! The Musical. Who knew I’d take to hip-hop in my 50s!
Board & Staff
United Friends' widely diverse team of staff and board members are qualified, caring people who connect with the youth and maintain the highest quality service levels.
- Jaye Toellner RogovinCo-ChairView BioPreston BrooksCo-ChairView Bio
Partner, Cox, Castle & Nicholson
Green Advisory Council, California League of Conservation Voters
Board of Directors, GreenWish
National Brownfields Association
National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP)
California Building Industry Association (CBIA)
Judicial Law Clerk to the Honorable Alicemarie H. Stotler of the United States District Court, Central District of CaliforniaRob FriedmanVice ChairView Bio
Entertainment Media Executive
One of my passions is bridging the entertainment and nonprofit worlds; I founded two programs at Lionsgate, Lionshares and Impact Day, which allow employees to give back and connect more deeply with their communities. In my off time, you can find me engaged in any number of outdoor sports, skiing and fishing in Sun Valley and scuba diving any chance I get. I’ve been diving since I was 18 and have logged over 80 excursions.Demonte “Tray” ThompsonSecretaryView Bio
Born and raised in Compton, California, Demonte “Tray” Thompson is one of 12 siblings. As a foster youth, Tray found his education to be a safe haven from the trouble in his family and community. Tray earned his B.S. in Finance from Cal State Northridge, where he served as the founding president for the Black Male Initiative organization that aimed to improve black males’ academic, social, and career success.
With a passion for money management, Tray started his career within CSUN’s Financial Aid Department, where he grew the Financial Literacy Program and presented to hundreds of his fellow Matadors about credit reports, loans, and budgeting. A er his stint at CSUN, Tray secured the position of Regional Marketing Associate at AIG. Staying active at AIG, he is the active President of the Los Angeles Young Professionals employee resource group, providing networking, volunteering, and community outreach events to members.
Mr. Thompson continues to support organizations and causes that give black men, foster youth, and members of his community the opportunity and inspiration to seek a higher education. Currently, he sits on the board of directors for Cal State Northridge’s Alumni Association. Tray has goals to obtain his MBA and take a larger stage to advocate for foster youth and first generation college students.Wendy GreuelTreasurerView Bio
A working mom and lifelong Angeleno, Wendy attended LA public schools and graduated from UCLA. Wendy started her career in public service working for her mentor, former Mayor Tom Bradley, where for ten years she worked on a wide range of public policy issues including child care, senior care homelessness, housing, public health and education. While in Mayor Bradley’s office, Wendy was a leader in the creation of LA’s BEST, a nationally recognized after school program that provides a safe and supervised environment for children after school, and helped found the city’s first childcare center. Wendy’s commitment to affordable housing led her to Washington D.C., where she served in President Clinton’s administration as the Deputy Director of the Interagency Council on Homelessness and later as the Southern California Regional Director at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In 1997, Wendy transitioned into the private sector, working for five years in the film industry as an executive at DreamWorks SKG. She provided strategic guidance in their civic and philanthropic efforts in the Los Angeles Region. In 2002, Wendy was elected to the Los Angeles City Council and quickly developed an impressive record of accomplishment by creating jobs, preserving open space and reducing traffic congestion. In 2009, Wendy was elected City Controller, becoming only the second woman in LA’s history elected to citywide office. As Controller, she brought a laser focus to examining government finances ensuring our taxpayer dollars were spent efficiently and she brought greater transparency to government. In 2013, Wendy was engaged by the Orange County Discovery Science Center to help open their new facility, Discovery Cube LA, in the San Fernando Valley. She is providing strategic advice on Board development, fundraising and civic engagement for Discovery Cube L.A. In addition, in 2016, Wendy was appointed as an Executive in Residence and Strategic Advisor at the California State University Northridge Nazarian College of Business and Economics. She currently serves as Vice-Chair of the LAHSA Commission working on homeless issues, as Co-Chair of the LAUSD Task Force, as a member of the Women And Girls Initiative Governing Council, and on the boards of Emily’s List, Emerge CA, East Valley YMCA, Oakwood School, Discovery Cube L.A., Planned Parenthood Advocacy Project, CAUSE, ABODE, Pico Union Project, Homeland Security Advisory Council, and on the L.A. Kings Business Advisory Board. Wendy and her husband Dean are the proud parents of Thomas, who is a high school freshman.Tremale BergerPast ChairView Bio
Project Manager, DPR Construction
Co-Founder, Gentlemen’s Agenda FoundationAida Berduo BerryView Bio
Aida Berry’s professional career expands over two decades. She joined Metro Los Angeles in late 2018 and is currently the Senior Manager of Civil Rights Programs (Title VI) in the Office of Civil Rights. She previously served as the Regulatory Compliance and Civil Rights Officer for Long Beach Transit and Interim Regional Civil Rights Officer and Program Analyst for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Office of Civil Rights overseeing the compliance of federal civil rights programs; the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program, the Title VI Program (including Environmental Justice), Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Program and American with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance as well as employee cultural awareness for the agency. Aida serves on the National Board of Latinos In Transit, a non-profit organization that advocates for Latinos in the transit industry and is a Board Member of United Friends o the Children, an organization that advocates and serves foster youth in Los Angeles County. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from California State University Dominguez Hills and a Master of Public Administration (MPA) from Texas State University -San Marcos.Carolyn BlackwoodView Bio
Carolyn Blackwood is President and Chief Content Officer of New Line Cinema, a division of Warner Bros. Entertainment. In addition to playing a lead role in the strategic direction for the division, Blackwood oversees the company’s operations, with hands-on involvement in all production, business and legal matters. Blackwood also serves as the liaison with the marketing, distribution, home entertainment, interactive, consumer products and cable and SVOD sales divisions of Warner Bros. on behalf of all New Line films. In recent years, her duties have expanded to encompass leadership of film acquisitions and managerial oversight of Warner Bros.
Theatre Ventures, the live stage play division of Warner Bros. Entertainment.
Blackwood joined New Line Cinema in 1999 as a production attorney and rose through the ranks to Senior Vice President of Business Affairs. Later, as Executive Vice President of Business Affairs and Co-Productions, she specialized in film acquisitions, co-productions and co-financing ventures. In 2005, she played a key role in the launch of Picturehouse, New Line’s joint-venture specialty label with HBO, and spearheaded Picturehouse’s business and legal affairs team. Over the next 10 years, Blackwood’s role at New Line expanded to Executive Vice President of Strategy and Operations before being named President, Operations & Content Strategy in 2015.
Blackwood oversaw production on all three films in The Hobbit Trilogy, for which she served as executive producer. She played a critical role in working with the New Zealand government and continued to serve as chief liaison with the New Zealand government for the length of the production. With the contributions of Blackwood’s ongoing cross-divisional involvement and leadership in safeguarding the brand, The Hobbit Trilogy has become one of the most successful film franchises in history.
Prior to joining New Line Cinema, Blackwood served as a business affairs and legal executive for independent production and sales company MDP Worldwide. She is a graduate of Fordham University, where she studied American Studies and Fine Arts, and earned a law degree at Pepperdine University.John CampisiView Bio
Agent, Creative Artists Agency
UFC holds a special place in my heart, as I was at Nancy Daly’s kitchen table as a 12-year old boy when UFC was created. Having been an agent at CAA for the past 25 years, it was my relationship with Nancy’s son, Bobby, that officially brought be back into the UFC family. A native of Los Angeles, I currently live in Santa Monica with my son, Sam.Robert A. Daly, Jr.View Bio
Founding Member, the Junior Committee for the Stephen D Hassenfeld Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood DisordersMitchell Evall, Esq.View Bio
Partner, Venable LLP
I have had the privilege of being involved with UFC for over twenty-five years, and throughout that time, I have always been humbled by the caring and gifted group of people at UFC who have devoted themselves to the plight of foster youth, and I have consistently been amazed by the resilience and strength of the youth we strive to serve.Giselle FernándezView Bio
Since the start of her career, 6-time Emmy award winning journalist Giselle Fernandez has been known for her cutting-edge reporting in hot spots throughout the world and interviewing prominent global and local leaders. Today, this veteran anchor, two-time winner of the LA Press Club’s Journalist of the Year, showcases her talent each morning on “Your Morning” on Spectrum News 1, helping Southern Californians get all the information they need to start their day, and on the Emmy Award-winning weekly series “L.A. Stories with Giselle Fernandez” and Podcast “LA Stories Unfiltered,” highlighting people who shape lives and create an impact throughout the community.
Fernandez is best known for her award-winning journalism with leading U.S. broadcast news organizations, CBS and NBC News, where she covered major international news stories and events. Among her numerous posts, Fernandez hosted NBC’s weekend edition of the “Today Show” and was the first Latina to anchor her own Sunday edition of the “NBC Nightly News.” She also handled special and foreign assignments for the NBC network. Her on-the-ground coverage of international news stories from the Gulf War, US Invasions of Haiti and Panama, Somalia and Bosnian Wars, Hurricane Andrew and the 1993 World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings. She garnered much attention for her insightful interviews with global leaders like Fidel Castro, Henry Kissinger, Presidents William Clinton and George H.W. Bush, Vice-President Albert Gore and U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, earning this news veteran five Emmy Awards.
Giselle has held many titles throughout her career. Aside from anchor and journalist for NBC, CBS, the History Channel and History Channel International, she is also an author and philanthropist as well as president, director and producer of her own production and strategic messaging companies. She is the recipient of numerous honors and awards in the fields of journalism and philanthropy. Out of Giselle’s portfolio as a reporter, a notable moment was the rare interview she did with Fidel Castro. She is also incredibly proud of her documentary film titled, “Our Story,” which raised awareness of the healthcare crisis facing low income children in the Latin community.
When Giselle is not at the anchor desk you can catch her spending time with her daughter, hiking with her dogs, enjoying music and the power of the arts. She is actively engaged in philanthropic pursuits with City Year Los Angeles and The Grammy Museum and is a passionate collector of Latin art.David FisherView Bio
Chairman Emeritus, Capital Group International, Inc.
Trustee Emeritus, J. Paul Getty Trust
Board of Trustees, Alliance for College Ready Public Schools, Alternative Living for the Aging, California Institute for the Arts, Lowe Institute, and Harvard-Westlake School
Advisory Board Member, UCLA School of Public Policy, International Monetary Fund Retirement Plan and Monetary Authority of SingaporeMarianna FisherView Bio
Chairperson, Westside Children’s CenterDerric J. JohnsonView Bio
He serves as a member of the senior administrative team at Crossroads and is founding director of the Equity & Justice Institute.
Under his leadership, the Institute oversees social justice advocacy and equity education on campus, in collaboration with School and community stakeholders, to make an impact on local, national and global issues.
Prior to this position, Derric was senior deputy of public safety and justice for the Office of Los Angeles County Board Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. During his tenure, Derric’s numerous legislative achievements include: establishing the Civilian Oversight Commission of the Sheriff’s Department to increase transparency and policing accountability and to decrease officer-involved shootings; leading the efforts to reform the largest probation department in the United States; advancing policy initiatives to improve deficiencies in cultural competency and systemic implicit biases; instituting the Fair Chance Ordinance for LA County that would eliminate restrictions on employment opportunities based solely on criminal convictions; and attaining a $30 million increase in state allocations for court-appointed dependency counsel to improve protections for foster youth in California. He also procured $5 million from the state’s Juvenile Justice and Crime Prevention funds to support restorative justice and community-based programs to divert youth from the juvenile justice system.
Derric was appointed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to represent the Second District as a commissioner for the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission; he was recently elected vice president. The 15-member commission is engaged in research and education for the purposes of reducing prejudice based on sex, age, race, religion, national origin or personal handicap and fostering civil peace and intergroup understanding among various communities within the jurisdiction.
He serves as a board member for Brilliant Corners, a nonprofit supportive housing agency providing for individuals with developmental disabilities and other special needs in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County, including individuals transitioning from homelessness and institutional settings and homeless veterans. In addition, Derric is an executive council member of the Children’s Defense Fund California, a historic child advocacy organization chartered to ensure that every child is lifted out of poverty, protected from abuse/neglect and given access to health care, quality education and a moral foundation. Derric is also on the alumni board of his alma mater, Pitzer College.
Recently Derric became a Board member for the MLK Health and Wellness Community Development Corporation, which was created to facilitate the revitalization of the MLK Medical Campus in South Los Angeles. MLK CDC’s development strategies support community health and wellness education, resource access and opportunities specific to the needs of underserved populations in South LA.
As a National Urban Fellow, Derric earned his secondary master’s in public administration from Baruch College-City University of New York, completed a master’s in business management from Azusa Pacific University and earned his bachelor’s from Pitzer College.Bridget Gless KellerView Bio
Bridget Gless Keller, a jewelry designer, philanthropist, and fifth-generation Angelena, has spent the better part of the last decade volunteering at the Children’s Institute (CII), which brings early childhood education, therapy services, family support groups, youth activities, and crisis relief—in 2020 it provided food, laptops, and more—to its more than 30,000 clients.
As Chair of the Frank Gehry designed campus in Watts, she spearheaded the funding and development of a new campus for the organization. Construction broke ground on January 30, 2020, of the new 20,000 square foot state-of-the-art community facility in Watts. She delivered it with construction on schedule and $2.3 million dollars underbudget. This new 20-million-dollar facility will provide holistic, integrated services for at-risk children, youth and families. It is expected to serve approximately 2,000 low-income individuals annually, with programs and services focused on mental health, early care and education, youth development, and family support services.
Bridget is also involved in The CHIPS, The Colleagues, and The Diadames, women-run organizations that support various charities for children in Los Angeles. She is a twenty year member of USC’s Board of Counselors for the Libraries. She and her husband, Paul, divide their time between Los Angeles and Oceanside, CA.Jarred KennedyView Bio
Jarred Kennedy is the Chief Operating Officer at Wave. Previously, he was the co-head of Global esports at Riot Games. Jarred started his career at McKinsey & Company where he created strategies for consumer, technology, and media companies in the US and Europe. Since then, he has held several entrepreneurial positions across a range of businesses, including Encompass Digital Media, where he played a key role in scaling Encompass from a US-based startup into a global technology services company, and most recently Riot’s global merchandise business, which he launched. Jarred is a married father of 3, a lifelong gamer, and a huge LA Lakers fan. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College, and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.Laura Jane KessnerView Bio
Laura Jane Kessner currently serves as the Director for Central Operations for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. In that role, she supervises line operations in the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, including the Mental Health Division,
Pre-Filing Diversion Program and half of the Bureau of Branch and Area Operations, Region I. She is the chair of the Misdemeanor Steering Committee and has led the effort to reimagine misdemeanor prosecution for Los Angeles County. As a member of the District Attorney’s Office for over twenty-seven years, Laura Jane specialized in the prosecution of sex crimes and has responded to habeas corpus petitions and appeals in both state and federal courts. Laura Jane has improved office efficiency through technology, expanded the use of electronic subpoenas and helped create an electronic document repository and filing system.
Laura Jane graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Kentucky with a B.A. in History. She received her J.D. from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and was a member of the Loyola Law Review.
Laura Jane is currently a member of the Board of Governors for the Women Lawyers of Los Angeles, serving as co-chair for the Career Development and Life Balance Committee. She is active in the Los Angeles County Bar Association (LACBA), serving on the State Appellate Judicial Evaluation Committee and in that role, has led committees vetting prospective Court of Appeal justices. She is a member of LACBA’s President’s Advisory Committee on Women in the Legal Profession (PAC) and has contributed to PAC’s Oral History Project, documenting stories of gender bias from prominent women in the legal profession.
In addition to her legal work, Laura Jane has been active in the community. She is the chair of the Governance and Nominating Committee for the United Friends of the Children, a nonprofit providing housing and educational opportunities for local foster youth. Laura Jane is a lifetime member of the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles and started two Girl Scout troops consisting of 30 girls. She is a member of the Girl Scout Gold Award Committee and interviews and mentors prospective Gold Award applicants. Laura Jane previously served for two years as Co-President for the Marlborough School Parents’ Association, serving on the Equity, Education and Enrollment Committee and as an ex officio member of the Board of Trustees. She is also a sustaining member of the Junior League of Los Angeles and helped draft a new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan that was adopted by the organization.
In her spare time, Laura Jane enjoys practicing yoga, reading books and spending time with her husband, children and cats, and dreams of becoming fluent in French.Denny Luria, Ph.DView Bio
I am a psychologist focused on helping girls and women develop their own voices and a stronger sense of self. I am proud to be part of UFC because we provide the relationships necessary to help our girls (and boys) do just that – grow into sturdy, resilient young adults.Richard Merkin, M.D.View Bio
Founder + CEO, Heritage Provider Network
Founder, Los Angeles Jewish Symphony
Board of Trustees, California Institute Of Technology
Board of Directors, The Alliance for College-Ready Public SchoolsDinesh MoorjaniView Bio
Dinesh Moorjani is a technology executive, CEO and investor. He is a Managing Director and head of the Los Angeles office for Comcast Ventures. Dinesh was the founder & CEO of Hatch Labs, where he co-founded numerous mobile enterprise software and consumer companies from the ground up. Dinesh co-founded Tinder in 2012. He has held leadership roles at IAC/ InterActiveCorp and Samsung Electronics in the US & Asia. He co-founded Saffronart, a Sequoia Capital-backed global fine art marketplace and auction house, where he continues to serve on the board. Dinesh is an active faculty member and adjunct professor at both UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and USC Annenberg. He sits on the advisory boards for Harvard’s California Research Center and Northwestern University’s Farley Center for Entrepreneurship. Dinesh is an advisor to American Express, Assurant, and Warburg Pincus, the global private equity firm. He serves as an independent board director at numerous companies, including Alight. Dinesh earned his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Northwestern University and his MBA from Harvard.Ande RosenblumView Bio
Board Member, University of Southern California School of Social Work
Member, EveryChild FoundationErin Mulcahy SteinView Bio
Partner, SDS NexGen Partners LP
Board Member, Maria Shriver’s Women’s Nation
Advisory Committee, Equality NowWilliam Temko, Esq.View Bio
Partner, Munger Tolles & Olson LLP
Co-Chair, California Committee South of Human Rights WatchKathy VanderzielView Bio
Kathleen Vanderziel is currently Senior Vice President, Senior Counsel for The Capital Group Companies, Inc., home of the American Funds family of mutual funds. She specializes in employment law and litigation management. She also works on a variety of other matters including privacy, intellectual property, contract review and review of marketing materials for compliance with FINRA and SEC regulations.
Prior to joining Capital Group, Ms. Vanderziel was Assistant General Counsel for Dole Food Company, Inc., where she was the sole employment lawyer for Dole and its various U.S. divisions as well as division general counsel for Dole Fresh Flowers, at the time one of the largest importers of fresh cut flowers in the United States. Prior to Dole, Ms. Vanderziel was a labor and employment associate at the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Los Angeles, where she had extensive employment litigation experience, including jury trials in Los Angeles and Orange County Superior Courts.
Ms. Vanderziel graduated with distinction from the University of California at Berkeley with a bachelor of arts degree in rhetoric and received her law degree, magna cum laude and Order of the Coif from Boston College Law School. After graduation, she clerked for Ruggero J. Aldisert, senior United States Circuit Court Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
From 2008 to 2022, Ms. Vanderziel served as a member of the Board of Directors for Children’s Institute Inc., a nonprofit organization working to transform the lives of children exposed to adversity and poverty in Los Angeles. During her tenure on the Board, she served as Vice Chairman as well as chairing multiple committees including Early Childhood Services and the Audit Committee.Clare YorkisonView Bio
Certified Public Accountant
- Matt StriekerChief Executive OfficerView Bio
Matt is the Chief Executive Officer at United Friends of the Children (UFC). Established in 1979, UFC is one of the most successful and admired organizations serving foster youth in Los Angeles. A perceptive leader and proven strategist, Matt is known for his ability to guide people and organizations toward imagining and realizing the highest fulfillment of their shared purpose and mission. He brings strong financial stewardship, business acumen, and operational oversight to his leadership and has a successful track record of positioning organizations for long-term sustainability and growth.
At UFC, Matt worked closely with the Board and senior staff on a strategic plan that established and is now delivering on, a new collective vision for the organization’s future as an innovator and leader in youth development services for children in foster care. To ensure United Friends’ sustainability, he also successfully led an organizational restructure that included strengthening UFC’s financial and revenue functions, programmatic service model, and the Board’s governance policies and practices.
Previously, Matt led the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice. Initially a community legal aid in East L.A., Matt collaborated with the Board and senior staff to successfully reimagine the organization as a statewide leader in legal services for immigrant survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. As Executive Director, Matt built an enterprising and vibrant organization, launching new practice areas, service innovations, cross-sector partnerships, and advocacy efforts that expanded legal protections and services for survivors in Los Angeles and California.
Earlier in his career, Matt served as the Deputy Director of the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, which is the nation’s leading research center on sexual orientation and gender identity. Serving as a senior strategist, operational lead, and connector, Matt built out multiple internal functions, helped fund and launch new research initiatives and education programs, and collaborated with external partners and stakeholders to integrate the Institute’s research into national and international policy debates during a period of unprecedented and rapid progress on LGBT issues.
As a consultant, Matt has also advised a variety of nonprofits, including think tanks, community clinics, and youth services organizations on board development, program design, and external relations strategies.
Throughout his career, Matt has been dedicated to issues of equity and justice. As a nonprofit leader, he has been instrumental in helping translate organizations’ commitment to equity into meaningful, sustainable change in how they lead and serve. He began his career as a civil rights advocate, working as a staff attorney at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and a research associate at the Institute on Race & Poverty at the University of Minnesota Law School. In these roles, he litigated in the areas of education, employment, and voting rights and conducted research and policy advocacy in support of housing and immigration reform.
When he’s not at work, Matt spends nearly all of his free time with his children and family. When he gets the chance, he loves to read, hike and is a closet classical musician.Angela Carter-Blackshear, MSWChief Operating OfficerView Bio
Angela Blackshear currently serves as the Chief Operating Officer at United Friends of the Children. She is responsible for oversight of the administrative, programmatic, evaluative, and HR functions within the organization. Angela joined United Friends in (2017) serving as the Senior Director of Housing where she was responsible for the operational success and development of the Transitional Housing Program (THP) for former foster youth, ages 18-24, experiencing homelessness. Working within the field of human services and nonprofits for nearly two decades, Angela has extensive executive leadership experience in the sector with a record of success in strategically aligning organizational goals with programmatic outcomes. Throughout her career, she has worked with a myriad of vulnerable populations including at-risk youth, transitional-age youth, gang intervention/prevention, human trafficking, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, mental health and has spent the last decade serving individuals experiencing homelessness.
Prior to joining United Friends, Angela led the affiliate chapter of Back on My Feet as the Executive Director. Under her leadership, the organization became a viable community partner in serving veterans, women, and children experiencing homelessness in the Greater Atlanta Area. She then went on to serve as the Director of Residential and Case Management at Covenant House of GA, where she led the successful implementation of the Youth Coordinated Entry System framework with the emergency shelter and transitional housing programs, serving young adults (18-24 yrs.). Angela holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Southern California (USC) and a Bachelor’s degree in Speech Communications from California State University, Northridge (CSUN).Rafe PerryConsulting Chief Finance OfficerJasmine Griffis-AvilezDirector of HousingView Bio
Jasmine Griffis-Avilez joined United Friends of the Children in 2018 and became the Director of Housing in 2020. She oversees Pathways housing program direct practice work and property management. Previously, she held the positions of Community Manager (supporting East and South Los Angeles program residents and advocacy counselors) and Impact Manager (supporting intake, aftercare services and property management). Before joining United Friends of the Children, she was the Program Supervisor at the Child Care Resource Center and the Foster Family and Adoption Supervisor for Children’s Way, California Institute of Health and Social Services. She holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology, master’s degree in human services and is currently pursuing her doctorate in human services (specialization in leadership and organizational management). Ms. Griffis-Avilez’s professional career includes nealry 15 years’ experience working within the nonprofit sector.Nesli MarinAssistant Director of OperationsCarla PalmerDirector of DevelopmentView Bio
In 2003, Carla Palmer started her journey with United Friends of the Children as a Career Counselor in the Pathways Housing Program. In that role, she supported emancipated homeless foster youth with career guidance, education planning, and job placement support. Skilled in external relationship building and management, Carla was promoted to Career Development Manager where she and her team provided career and education support, extensive work readiness training, job placement, internship opportunities, and life skills workshops to Pathways residents.
In 2017, Carla transitioned to UFC’s Development Team as Manager of Corporate and Community Engagement where she identified, developed, and maintained relationships in the corporate community that provided financial, in-kind, and volunteer support to UFC’s foster youth.
In Fall 2020, Carla accepted the role of Assistant Director of Development and in 2021 she was promoted to Director of Development. She oversees the design and execution of the agency’s event fundraising, individual giving, corporate engagement strategies, brand, and celebrity partnerships, along with NextGen Board support. She also supports the organization’s daily communication and marketing efforts.
Prior to joining United Friends of the Children, Carla worked in Student Affairs in UCLA’s Chemistry and Biochemistry Ph.D. division where she advised Ph.D. students on university policies and degree requirements, supported the university’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion admission and retention efforts, and served as the liaison for major corporations’ job and internship recruitment.
Carla holds a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, is a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, and member of the UC Berkeley Alumni Association. She is a mom, fitness enthusiast, world traveler, and lover of great food and wine.Eric Shamp, MBADirector of Institutional GivingView Bio
Eric is the Director of Institutional Giving at United Friends of the Children. He joined United Friends as a counselor and manager in the Education department in 2012. After working directly with youth and managing a team of counselors, he transitioned to the Development team as the Grants and Foundation Relations Manager – an opportunity to raise awareness and private funding for UFC’s programs. Eric now directs and manages United Friends’ private foundation grants and numerous public contracts.
Before joining United Friends, Eric spent his career as a counselor and manager in youth residential facilities in Orange County. He has a deep dedication to improving the life outcomes of children in the child welfare system.
Eric earned a bachelor’s degree from Azusa Pacific University (Biblical Studies/Youth Ministry) and a Masters of Business Administration (Non-profit Management) degree from Hope International University. He is a foster-adopt parent of four and enjoys exploring the outdoors with his wife and children.Francisco ZamudioDirector of EducationView Bio
Francisco is the Director for Education at United Friends of the Children. Francisco is a first-generation college graduate and his experiences as a college student has shaped his passion for working in education. Francisco joined United Friends as a Program Manager in January of 2017. As a program manager he worked with a dedicated group of college counselors through a program restructure that strengthened United Friends’ ability to provide support and opportunities for youth attending college.
Before joining United Friends, Francisco spent over a decade working as a Student Affairs professional at universities on both the west and east coast (UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, and Rutgers University).
As a university staff member Francisco dedicated his energies to supporting programs for first generation college students and enhancing new student orientation and family programs for incoming college students.
Francisco is a proud graduate of UC Santa Barbara (B.A. in Political Science) and the University of Southern California (Master’s Degree in Post-Secondary Education and Student Affairs). He is native Angeleno having grown up in both East L.A. and the San Fernando Valley. He also has a deep love for his adopted home of New Jersey.Eda AcevedoOperations CoordinatorView Bio
I have been the receptionist at United Friends since February 2015 and am fortunate to be able to welcome our youth. Often they come in with a frown, but with time I see them walk back in with so much excitement and confidence as their goals are met and exceeded!Jessica Aceves, MSWCollege CounselorView Bio
“My name is Jessica Aceves, and I am excited to be taking on the role of College Counselor with UFC. I graduated from CSUN with my Master’s Degree in Social Work and my Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Studies and Civic and Community Engagement. I’ve always been driven to make a difference in the world and hope to continue to pave the way for future generations of youth to feel empowered to create the future they envision with the support they deserve. I have had the opportunity to work with youth of all backgrounds in multiple school settings and have learned so much about what it means to show up for others and hold space for their unique experiences. I really enjoy working with youth and helping them navigate their future and explore their potential. I am also a huge advocate for mental health, wellness, and collective healing. I also enjoy cooking, baking, doing Pilates, and spending time with my dog, Coco.”Ra-Neesha AllenAdvocacy CounselorView Bio
Ra-Neesha is excited to be a part of the United Friends of the Children team. She truly enjoys working in the social services field and has a strong passion for helping individuals achieve their goals. She received her Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees from the “best” HBCU-Grambling State University and is a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. Her professional philosophy comes from an Oprah Winfrey quote ‘anything you can imagine, you can create’ and ‘I imagine a world where housing is considered as a human right.’
Fun fact: Ra-Neesha loves Grey’s Anatomy.Guadalupe AriasProgram Manager, Scholars Program (Antelope Valley)Michael Brooks, M.Ed.Assistant Manager, Scholars ProgramView Bio
Growing up in New England, I studied Psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. Upon moving to Southern California, I served as a Correctional Deputy Probation Officer at East Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility and understand the power and opportunity education brings to youth. I began serving foster youth at a level 14 group home and was drawn to UFC because of its relationship based model. As part of the UFC family I couldn’t be happier and in my spare time I enjoy listening to music and going to the beach. I’m inspired by creative, passionate individuals who live life to the fullest.Essie Calderon, M.A.Program Manager, Scholars ProgramView Bio
I’ve been with UFC for a little over two years and absolutely love and believe in the work we all do. When I’m not working I enjoy taking my dog Max to the beach, hiking, and The Grove!Tracey CalderonSenior Development ManagerView Bio
With passion, Tracey has dedicated her time and efforts to working closely with underserved communities, including populations in homelessness, prison, migrants, and refugees. Her life-transformative experiences in India, Haiti, and Mexico City drove her to earn a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology from Bryn Mawr College. Believing in United Friends’ vital mission, Tracey is committed to advancing United Friends’ work with LA County foster youth. Tracey enjoys the quiet of early mornings, the scenery of long runs, and the element of scrumptious surprise when tasting different cuisines.Danielle CameronOutreach + Assessment Coordinator, Housing ProgramCassandre Castanon, M.L.I.S.Community Impact CoordinatorView Bio
I’ve worked for United Friends for 6+ years and have a bachelors in History/Political Science and a Masters in Library and Information Science. I am a history nerd and make sure to incorporate that into any vacation I take. I love books and spend my time spoiling my nieces and nephew.Gildardo DavalosOnsite Maintenance TechnicianMonica DearingProgram Manager, Scholars ProgramStacey GallaherSr. People + Operations CoordinatorView Bio
I am enjoying working for an organization that supports such an amazing cause. I can relate to the foster youth in that I was adopted, probably for different reasons, but nonetheless, I received the love and support from individuals who cared for me deeply. I’m Central American (from Belize), so I have been blessed with the exposure to different cultures and to people from different walks of life, so I can appreciate diversity.Vanessa Garcia-PedrozaProgram Support Coordinator, Housing ProgramView Bio
“Hello. My name is Vanessa Garcia – Pedroza and I am looking forward to working and collaborating with the United Friends of the Children team as a Program Support Coordinator. I was born in Tijuana, Mexico and immigrated to the US when I was 3 years old. I graduated from University of California, Irvine with a degree in Public Health Policy in 2016. I have lived and worked as a foreign English Teacher in South Korea for about 3 years and 8 months. I am fluent in Spanish and English and know elementary level Korean (TOPIK Level 2). I have worked with the homeless population, elementary students, high school students and college students. Through my various work experiences, I have come to realize that I enjoy working with the high school and college population and my goal is to earn my masters and work in Higher Education. I enjoy reading non-fiction, baking, listening to music and cooking new recipes I find online. If I’m not working, you can find me at the gym weightlifting or at a cute coffee shop. I am a strong advocate of Korean skincare and makeup and wearing sunscreen. I look forward to getting to know everyone.”Jose GodoySystems Design & Evaluation CoordinatorAustin HaleAssistant Property ManagerView Bio
I’m married with 4 kids and my family is the center of my life. I pride myself on being a present and loving husband and father. I have over 10 years of experience in facility maintenance, and I believe communication is key. My goal is to always be on the same page with my team because it makes everyone’s job easier and less stressful knowing that we are willing to sacrifice for each other and can count on one another in times of need. I have a B.A. in Business Administration from S.N.H.U. I love to play basketball and watch the NBA and I am a life-long Lakers fan. Also, in my spare time I like to write raps expressing my feelings about life in general. That’s me in a nutshell.Rigoberto HerreraLive-In Onsite Maintenance TechnicianView Bio
I was born in Guatemala in 1960 and came to the United States in 1989. I received a work permit in 1990 and became a resident in 2007. I am the father of two children and the husband of a loving wife. My inspiration for life is my father, who has shown me the world and taught me how to live in it. Everything I know today started with him. I am a carpenter, plumber and electrician. I have 17 years of experience in apartment complexes to corporate buildings. I have also been gardening for 2 years. I am great with my hands and pay close attention to detail. Plumbing is what I am good at with over 7 years of experience. I find the work satisfying, a sense of accomplishment. I am very passionate about my work and perfection is my goal.Tanya HooperLive-In Property Housing CoordinatorView Bio
“I have been working since I was 16 years old and so naturally, I have had many jobs. However, of all the jobs I have had, I enjoyed those where I interacted with others; I really love working with people; my experience while attending cosmetology school really made me realize what I wanted do in life and a great part of that includes helping people and mentoring young women. Outside of working, I love traveling and meeting new people with whom I can share different experiences.”Yesenia IbarraCollege Counselor (Antelope Valley)View Bio
My name is Yesenia Ibarra, and I am grateful to have this opportunity to work with foster youth with UFC as the AV College Counselor. I first attended Los Angeles Pierce Community College where I received my A.A. in STEM. I transferred to California Lutheran University (CLU) where I obtained my B.S. in Biology. I was a pre-medical student and took a gap year when I started to work with Upward Bound. I learned that working with first-generation and/or low-income students felt rewarding. Therefore, I decided to obtain my Master’s Degree in Counseling from CLU to learn how to provide better services to students. Later, I started working with GEAR UP to help services students in my community, the San Fernando Valley. I love spending time with my family and my fur baby Bartholomew. I love re-watching Friends, Disney movies, and I am a huge Wisin Y Yandel fan.Porscha JohnsonCollege Counselor, Scholars ProgramView Bio
I am extremely passionate about social work! However, it can be a stressful career field. An ideal social work agent must possess skills in engaging in strength-based practice. As a social work agent at UFC, in the role of a College Counselor, it is pivotal that I see things from scholar and caregiver perspectives in order to empower them and truly understand their feelings. Consequently, the fact that I have an opportunity to empower and build close relationships with clients, led me to a fulfilling career at UFC. Two fun facts about me: I secretly love singing out loud when I think nobody is around. Also, I am in love with nature and I have a massive interest in human behavior.Roshonda JohnsonAdvocacy CounselorJoe Jones, MFTISr. Community Health Manager, Housing ProgramView Bio
I have been employed at United Friends since February 2012. I am blessed to work with such great young people and a terrific team/staff. I am married and I have a 16 year old son. I enjoy bowling and listening to jazz music. I am passionate about basketball and have been a coach for over seven years! I also enjoy spending time with family and friends and taking Caribbean vacations.Stacy KimProgram Support CoordinatorView Bio
“My name is Stacy Kim and I am excited to join UFC as a Program Support Coordinator. I am a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts where I received a Bachelors of Science in Criminal Justice, Psychology and Sociology. Prior to my employment at UFC, I worked at Massachusetts Children’s Alliance helping children who have endured traumatic experiences. I’m passionate about helping youths find their voice and empowering them to rewrite their future. After being away for 6 years, I’m happy to be back in LA where I love to visit cafes, explore the city, crochet, and paint!”Jamila Russ – Leander, MSW, LCSWSr. Community Manager, Housing ProgramView Bio
I’ve been a part of the UFC family since February 2015 and continue to enjoy the work with the population we serve. Every day, I am inspired by my coworkers’ creativity, intuitiveness and genuine care in all aspects of the job. The continued team work is irreplaceable. In my free time, I enjoy my quiet time and improving my health through weight training, cardio and boot camps.Cameron MartinAdvocacy CounselorView Bio
“Hello, I’m Cameron Martin, and I’m excited to join UFC as an Advocacy Counselor. I was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles. I graduated from California State University, East Bay, with a degree in Criminal Justice Administration. I also have a dual master’s degree in Counseling and Forensic Psychology with a certification in Trauma-Informed Treatment from Holy Names University. I have worked in the mental health field for the past four years. I enjoy building meaningful relationships with youth and providing tools for them to be successful in different capacities. I love playing video games, watching Lakers games, and engaging in other self-soothing activities. I have started going to the gym, practicing meditation, and spending time with family and friends for self-care activities.”Garry MatthewsCommunity Manager, Housing ProgramQueana MckillianIntake + Outreach ManagerView Bio
My name is Queana Mckillian. I attended Fresno State for my BA and Cal State LA to pursue my masters in social work. I have worked within the homeless population and housing for the majority of my social work career. I enjoy connecting with others and helping in any way I can. My professional philosophy is lead by example and my personal philosophy is always showing up as my best self.
Interest: I enjoy living a healthy active life, so I workout often and build a community around health.Diana MelendezCollege Counselor (Antelope Valley)View Bio
Here is a quick snippet about Diana: She completed her bachelor’s degree at Cal State University Northridge in Communicative Disorders. Soon after she graduated, she started a job in mental health and have been working with mental health youth and DCFS involved families for 4+ years. She is excited to work for UFC and continue providing support to at-risk youth who many times are in need of guidance. Some interests of hers are that she enjoy outdoors activities like camping, snowboarding (and yes, she does fall A LOT) and she loves Disney!Maria MendozaCollege Counselor, Scholars ProgramView Bio
As a counselor, I enjoy learning about the future aspirations, discussing college selection, and ultimately working as a team to measure whether we are reaching our goals. My role at United Friends allows me to be a part of a scholar’s academic and personal journey, and I feel honored to reflect and affirm all their strengths. In my free time, I continue to support the work of my local community center, serve as an active alumna of my fraternity, watch the Dodgers, and enjoy fun dates with my creative and loving niece.Julio MunguiaCollege Counselor, Scholars ProgramNorbert NegreaCommunity Impact Manager, Scholars ProgramMiguel OaksIntake + Outreach Coordinator, Housing ProgramHannah Olade, M.A.College Counselor, Scholars ProgramView Bio
I have been with United Friends of the Children since 2006 and I continue to be inspired by our mission and vision to empower foster youth. What makes me tick is seeing others discover their passion, walk in their purpose, and create meaningful, impactful lives. I believe every person regardless of circumstances has something great to contribute to society. My goal is to help them develop their talents and become confident as well as successful in who they are as individuals. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, writing, creating, learning new things, arts and crafts, DIY projects, and following current employment and educational trends.Dawn Omori, MS, PPSCollege Counselor, Scholars ProgramView Bio
Gardena native and Bruin alum! I am passionate about youth and educational advocacy, and I’m inspired daily by the resilience and strength of our United Friends scholars. I enjoy watching the NBA, baking and spending time with my partner and our sweet pup.Stefanie OreaAdvocacy Counselor, Housing ProgramMackenzie Orr, MPHCommunity Manager, Housing ProgramView Bio
“Hello! My name is Mackenzie Orr, and I am thrilled to being joining UFC as a Community Manager. I have a passion for working with underserved populations and have been working in the non-profit sector professionally for over 5 years and volunteering with local non-profits for over a decade. In 2019, I graduated from University of California, Riverside with a Bachelor of Arts in English and graduated from California Baptist University in 2021 with a Master of Public Health (MPH). I am a devoted dog mom to my two furry babies: a three-year-old Boxer named Joey and an almost two-year old Rottweiler named Opie. My fiancé and I are planning a November wedding and we are in the process of moving to LA (although we currently live in Temecula). In my free time, I love spending time with my pups, eating all the delicious food, and boxing!”Peter PweeInformation Systems (IT) CoordinatorView Bio
“Hi, my name is Peter Pwee. I focus on providing a robust information technology environment to support both internal operations and client services. My background in technology allows me to provide solutions to improve the current process or taking on new project initiatives. My previous leadership roles while serving on various committees related to diversity and inclusion and mentoring initiatives allow me with a deep appreciation for the services and programs provided at UFC. I truly enjoy reading the success stories from the graduates and the great impact that the team at UFC has had on their lives. I am excited to be part of the team in continuing the mission at UFC. During my free time, I enjoy watching live sports and spending quality time with my family. A visit to a new dining experience is always a fun time.”Fred PayoAdvocacy Counselor, Pathways ProgramJoi PinneyCollege Counselor (Antelope Valley)View Bio
My name is Joi Pinney and I am eager to start my journey with UFC, as a College Counselor. I have always been passionate about being of service, especially when it comes to children and youth. My passion has led me to pursue an undergraduate degree in Sociology from Cal State Northridge in 2007. Since that time, I’ve worked with children, youth and even adults in various capacities. I was an instructional assistant for Westside Union School District for a year. I worked in a Special Day Class, with children who have disabilities Moderate to Severe), as well as in a 3rd and 4th grade combination class. I later worked with the Department of Children and Family services for 5 years, as a Children’s social worker. This was my most challenging role, but I obtained the most growth in this position. My last position, was with NLACRC, as a Consumer Services Coordinator. In that role, I worked with adults with developmental disabilities (Mild to Severe). This position really strengthened my advocacy skills, gave me a lot of insight with regards to mental health and allowed me to better build community connections.
I feel that all of my jobs have led me to UFC and ultimately back to working with children and youth. I feel encouraged knowing that I will be instrumental in helping provide this population with direction and helping them establish goals for their future. Youth have so much untapped potential and the right person can help bring that out. When I am not working, I enjoy traveling, going to concert/ live events, trying new restaurants and spending time with my friends and family.Erik RollinsAdvocacy CounselorView Bio
Erik graduated from the Regionally Accredited Temple University with a Masters of Education Degree, in Counseling Psychology. During his career he has had the opportunity to provide mental health services to students in the Niagara Falls region, New Jersey public schools as well as other community based wraparound services in the Greater Philadelphia area. He has worked closely with families, appointed legal guardians, and other support teams to provide optimal care to those on his caseload. Erik has also worked across multiple populations (ID, Psychosis, individualized care programs, Homeless, LGBTQ+, etc.), and with children with various diagnoses (ADHD, spina bifida, autism, epilepsy, sickle cell anemia, cerebral palsy, etc.). In addition, he has served as one of the lead clinicians at an after school partial/wellness program providing mental health, crisis prevention, and other case management services.
Erik utilized a client-centered approach to therapy and believed in tailoring the modality of therapy to best fit client needs, whether that be utilizing mindfulness, spiritual, creative, structural or a more cognitive behavior emphasis. He believes in a collaborative, and transparent approach to therapy and work from a physiological and foundational conscious lens. Erik has many unique talents and interests and enjoys dance/movement, music, film, poetic, literary and other artistic arts. Furthermore, he enjoys nature and traveling and domestic/foreign foods.David SandovalLive-In Onsite Maintenance TechnicianView Bio
I’m David Sandoval and I’m a father of one baby girl named Cataleya. I also have a baby boy pending (coming soon)! I recently became engaged to my future wife, Susy. It’s been an exciting year. I enjoy making and developing Sounds / Music (11+yrs of experience). I’ve found music to be very therapeutic, almost like a source of channeling my mind and spirit through music; it’s expressive and personal. Music isn’t the only thing I’m passionate about. I have 5+ years of skilled experience in carpentry, plumbing, and electrical. While maintaining apartment buildings, I have handled light carpentry, electrical, and plumbing work, including emergencies and resolved on going issues to building (exterior/interior). I’m happy to say that I have received positive comments from residents and managers for my due diligence and work ethic. Overall, I’m proud to say, ‘I’m a part of this team and would like to make a difference for everyone on this team, including residents.Michael SansoneExecutive Assistant and Board LiaisonView Bio
“I was born in Los Angeles on July 16, 1987. I grew up in Southern California, specifically in a small city called Diamond Bar. I went to college in San Francisco and lived in Honolulu, Hawaii for close to 8 years after graduating. In Hawaii, my professional career began in politics with the Honolulu City Council and then the Hawaii State Senate. Some of my hobbies include writing short stories or short screenplays, playing in a flag football league with my friends, and hiking. In my spare time, I am almost always with my family or trying to discover the next good show to binge with my girlfriend. I am extremely close to my three nieces (ages 13, 11, and 6) and two nephews (both age 3). If you like Marvel Comics, we can be friends. But if you like DC Comics, then we can really kick it.”Isaiah StarrSr. Advocacy CounselorView Bio
Isaiah has a social services background; he has occupied the position(s) of a therapeutic behavioral specialist, mental health case-manager, housing coordinator, social worker and clinical intern/counselor. Isaiah has a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from University California-Irvine, along with a Master’s degree in Counseling from Concordia University-Irvine. His professional philosophy is that ‘life isn’t fast food, it takes time and preparation to make something great!’ Fun fact: he likes to draw in pen, on large canvas.
Isaiah strongly believes that drawing can be a powerful resource to help individuals who have experienced a significant loss work through the associated emotions and life changes.Stephanie StriegelSenior Development CoordinatorView Bio
Stephanie Striegel is a veteran in film and television development and production. She has a deep understanding of story-telling across multiple platforms and has worked tirelessly to raise funds for independent filmmaking. Three years ago she had the life-changing opportunity to be a foster parent and through that experience her connection to foster youth blossomed. UFC has given her a chance to give back to the foster youth of Los Angeles, every day, through fund-raising, grant writing and connecting with allies and partners who are also passionate about supporting foster youth in Los Angeles.