Conference Workshop Presenters

2017 Adoption and foster care conference

Exploring the Impact of Foster Care, Adoption and Kinship Care on Identity

The Coalition’s 28th Annual New York State Foster Care and Adoption Conference will be held on Thursday, May 11 – Saturday, May 13, 2017  at the Albany Marriott in Albany, New York


Tom Andriola advocates for adoptee rights through his writing, and shares his personal experiences about being adopted, including his successful, independent search for both biological parents. His work can be found on adoption.com and The Good Men Project or visit his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/adoptionstoriesandissues.

Suzanne Bachner (Playwright/Director) is an award-winning playwright and director and adoptee. The Good Adoptee, Suzanne’s new play starring Anna Bridgforth, premiered in the United Solo Theatre Festival and won awards for Best Autobiographical Script and Best Actress. Her hit play, CIRCLE, ran for five months Off Broadway, had a Sold Out 4-Month International tour and was called “ingenious” by The New York Times. Suzanne holds an MFA from the Actors Studio Drama School at the New School University. www.JMTCTheatre.com

Barbara Benedict has been the Executive Director for CASA: Advocates for Children of New York State (CASANYS) for the last year. Previously, she was the Interim Coordinator for 4 years. She was a Volunteer Supervisor for CASA of Rochester Monroe County for 6 years where she directed the Life Book Project working with Children’s Division of the Department of Human Services. She began the Onondaga CASA program in Syracuse, New York and was the director for 10 years.

Bob Brader (Dramaturg) is an award-winning actor, writer and monologist. Spitting In The Face Of The Devil, Bob’s acclaimed solo show, toured all over the US and Canada and has won 6 Best of Fest Awards. His new monologue, Smoker, had its world premiere at Theatre Row as part of the United Solo, where it won the Best Autobiographical Show Award. He is a member of SAG-AFTRA, the Dramatists Guild and the United Solo Academywww.BobBrader.com

Anna Bridgforth (Performer) is an award-winning actress of stage and screen and a Virginia native who has lived in NYC for over 10 years. In addition to film, television and theater, Anna works as a burlesque performer and MC in venues all over NYC. Anna starred in her first solo show, Suzanne Bachner’s The Good Adoptee, which premiered as one of 150 shows in the United Solo Theatre Festival and for which she won the Best Actress Award.  www.AnnaBridgforth.com

Margaret A. Burt has been an attorney specializing in child welfare issues for 34 years and has represented agencies, birth parents, foster parents and children. She provides legal training all over the country and is active in NYS legislation affecting the child welfare system.

Jonathan C. Bush, CASAC has been a professional in the field of foster, adoption, birth parent and post adoption services for almost 20 years. He has worked for Global Village therapeutic foster care as a youth counselor, Hillside Foster Care as a post adoption worker, Erie County Department of Social Services case worker and Families Child Advocacy Network as family support specialist.

Kathleen Crissey, MS, LMHC is the Director of Adoption/Ohio Program Director for Adoption S.T.A.R., Inc.  Kathleen has been working in the field of adoption for over 15 years.  She is the mother of 4 children adopted from China.  Kathleen has provided adoption related services to all members of the adoption triad and is responsible for supervision and oversight for adoptive and expectant/birth parent services at the agency.  Kathleen is a Licensed Mental Health Practitioner who has worked with children, adolescents and adults for mental health services. 

Sheilah Davidson’s passion for raising awareness and support for families impacted by childhood trauma developed from personal experience. Her beautiful, funny, athletic daughter, despite the fact that she was adopted from birth, has significant attachment and trauma issues. Sixteen years and many, many failed interventions later, she finally found support and healing strategies via the Attachment and Trauma Network. She joined their board in November of 2014 and serves as Membership Director and Fundraising Consultant. Sheilah received her Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from San Jose State University and has spent over 30 years as an activist. She loves to develop and advocate for grassroots-informed solutions to societal challenges

April Dinwoodie is a nationally recognized thought leader on adoption and foster care. As Chief Executive of the Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI), April is committed to improving laws, policies and practices through sound research, education and advocacy. As a trans-racially adopted person, April shares her experiences at workshops and conferences to help potential adoptive parents and professionals understand both the beauty and complexity of adopting children of another race.

Heather Dominguez is the Project Coordinator for the Foster and Adoption Training Project at the Center for Development of Human Services Institute for Community Health Promotion. Originating in the late 1980s, the project continues to be a major initiative in the field of child welfare, having grown to encompass a range of training offerings reflecting the varied needs of the populace it serves.

Jelani Freeman grew up in a series of inner-city neighborhoods in Rochester, N.Y. At age 8, he entered the Foster care system in Washington, DC. after being abandoned by his mother. He had never met his incarcerated father and saw little of his three siblings. He experienced life as a Foster care child, but he continued to rise through the challenges. After high school, Freeman attended SUNY Buffalo then earned a master’s in history from American University. In 2010, he graduated from the Howard University School of Law. He has spent his career working in government, starting with a Senate internship for Hillary Clinton in 2003. Jelani is known for his moving speech at the Democratic National Convention on July 26th, 2016. Currently, he is appellate attorney for department of Veterans Affairs and an advocate for kids at risk. 

Zachary Fried is Adoption STAR’s Client Relations & Compliance Manager. Zack has been working in the field of adoption for 8 years, and is an adoptee. Zachary provides support to prospective adoptive parents along their adoption journey, is responsible for supervision of compliance and administrative operations at the agency. Zack also leads an A.C.E. (Adoptee Circle of Experience), which is a support group for adult adoptees.

Stephanie Garde joined the world of early-childhood trauma in 1999 with the adoption of her oldest son from state foster care. In 2009, Stephanie started her journey with Adoption and Trauma Network as Membership Director. Since then, she has worked in all areas of ATN. She works on the technology that allows ATN continue to provide support, education, and advocacy for families raising children with trauma and attachment issues. Stephanie holds a BA in Marine Affairs from the University of Rhode Island and a JD from Vermont Law School. Prior to ATN, Stephanie worked in legal services, representing disabled and destitute clients for no cost.

Anne Heffron is an adult adoptee who taught writing at San Jose State for almost twenty years before retiring to work full-time on co-writing the script for Phantom Halo that won both best feature and best screenplay at the 2015 New York International Film Festival. She recently published my memoir “You Don’t Look Adopted” . She teaches private writing workshops, “Write or Die”, where people, adoptees in particular, are challenged to speak their truths and find.

Renee Hettich is the mother of four internationally adopted children. She earned a Master of Social Work degree from Marywood University and also holds a Master’s Degree in Audiology and a Bachelor’s Degree in Speech/Language Pathology. Since 2005, she has been a licensed master social worker in the field of adoption working with families formed through domestic and inter-country adoption. She has published articles in Adoption Today and is the author of the book “My Kids Know More Than Me! 15 Life Lessons from Foster and Adopted Children” which will be released in February 2017. Renee is a Family Support Specialist with the Coalition’s AGAPE Program serving the Southern Tier Finger Lakes region.

Richard Heyl de Ortiz joined the Coalition team in January 2015, but he is not new to the adoption and foster care field.  Richard is the former Executive Director of Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA) in Ulster County. He is also a member of the board of directors of CASA of New York State.  Prior to his work with CASA, Richard was the Executive Director of the Youth Resource Development Corporation in Poughkeepsie.  Other work experience includes leadership positions with the American Civil Liberties Union, the YWCA, Head Start and Philadelphia’s William Way Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Community Center.  Richard, who is a Public Scholar with Humanities New York, is also an adoptive father.  He and his husband Anthony live in New Paltz.

Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, writes from Denver at LavenderLuz.com. She is author of “The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole,” on required reading lists at adoption agencies around the country. She has written for Adoptive Families and Pathway 2 Family magazines, and speaks around the country about what parents can do to heal the split between biology and biography.

Annie Jacobs is a birth mother with a 6-year-old son. She is in a fully open adoption with her son’s family. Beyond just living in the world of adoption, she has looked to connect to others in the adoption community through writing about adoption for articles and the soon to be released anthology “It’s Not About You”. She has also participated in several events included speaking at an event through Donaldson Adoption Institute and at the Adoption Initiative Conference this past year. When not focused on adoption, Annie lives and works in New York City where she works as a production manager in New York theatres.

Lisa D. Maynard, LMSW. As her attached resume indicates, Ms. Maynard is an adoption specialist with more than twenty-five years of working with families and children in the child welfare arena. She is presently director of Adoption Services at Hillside Children’s Center, co-director of the Adoption Center of Upstate New York, and a Senior Consultant with the National Center on Adoption and Permanency. Ms. Maynard has a private clinical practice, providing psychotherapy and case consultation. She is a frequent presenter at local, state, and national conferences.

Ruth G. McRoy, MSW, Ph.D. In September 2009, Ruth G. McRoy became the first holder of the Donahue and DiFelice Endowed Professorship at Boston College Graduate School of Social Work. Prior to joining the Boston College faculty, McRoy was a member of the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work faculty for 25 years and held the Ruby Lee Piester Centennial Professorship. McRoy has published over 100 articles and 12 books. Her latest book will be released in early 2016: Fong, R. & McRoy, R. (Eds.) (In Press). Transracial and Intercountry Adoptions: Culturally Sensitive Guidance for Professionals. New York: Columbia University Press.

Pat O’Brien is a nationally recognized trainer and consultant on foster care and adoption issues and the former Executive Director and Co-Founder of You Gotta Believe!, a New York City agency specializing in placing teens and pre-teens into legally or morally adoptive homes. Pat, who is an adoptive father, has worked for over 25 years to provide permanent parents for teens and young adults in foster care before they age out of care.  Pat resides in Coney Island.    

Susan Harris O’Connor, MSW is a national solo performance artist of her book The Harris Narratives: An Introspective Study of a Transracial Adoptee. Since 1996 her narratives have been featured over 100 times at places such as the Harvard Medical School conference series, Smith College Summer Lecture series, Yale Law, MA DMH, MA DYS, MA/ NH/RI/CT DCFs, NAACP and Starbucks Coffee. She is published by the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, The An-­‐‑Ya Project and British Journal, Adoption and Fostering where her racial identity theory for transracially adopted persons is featured. In 2014, she received the Outstanding Practitioner in Adoption Award from St. John’s University.

Tomasine Oliphant obtained her Bachelor’s in Community Health Education and Master’s in Social Work from Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York. She has experience in serving children in foster care, advocating for at-risk youth, and helping families access services from Long Island to Texas and since 2015, in the Hudson Valley. Tomasine herself was raised in kinship care and has a deep understanding of the complex needs that children and families face following adoption and guardianship. She is extremely passionate about providing trauma-informed care and utilizing creative arts as therapeutic intervention for youth. She resides in Kingston. 

Michael Olivieri was raised by a single mother with drug and alcohol addictions for the first 9 years of his life. He entered foster care at 10 years of age and bounced between 10 different foster homes during the next 3.5 years while being misunderstood, misdiagnosed and mistaken as a kid with behavioral issues. Despite the abandonment, rejection, disappointment and loss experienced, he found reason to be one of the less than 2% to break out of the cycle.

Kimberly Paglino is a New Jersey born and raised adopted person. After receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Loyola University, she went on to earn a Master’s degree in Social Work from Monmouth University.  She has prior served as an Instructor at Monmouth University, teaching in areas of Social Welfare Policy & Services and Human Rights and Social Justice. Since 2007, Kimberly has been an advocate with the New Jersey Coalition for Adoption Reform and Education (NJ CARE) and has testified for adoptee’s rights. She is currently the Program Director at the Donaldson Adoption institute.

Zara Phillips is an adopted person and activist in reunion. She is the author of ‘Mother Me’, director of ‘Roots Unknown”, co-writer with Darryl MacDaniels of ‘I’m Legit’, and actor/playwright of “Beneath My Fathers Sky’.  Zara has spoken on the topic of adoption, motherhood and addiction to the mental health profession and the adoption community for the last 25 years. She has had articles in various magazines and contributed to adoption related books. See more at www.everythingzara.org

Brooke Randolph, LMHC, is a therapist, wife, and parent (adoptive, step, one-time kinship, and even grand). She is also a private practice counselor in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is the author of The Bully Book: A Workbook for Kids Coping with Bullies (2016), a contributing author to Adoption Therapy: Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post-Adoption Issues (2014), and the organizing editor for the soon to be published It’s Not About You: Understanding Adoptee Search, Reunion, & Open Adoption. She was a founding member of MLJ Adoptions, Inc. She has presented at numerous conferences and workshops throughout North America on a variety of topics.

John Sobraske,  MA, Clinical Psychology, LMHC, LMFT, is an adopted person, stepparent of adopted children and an adoption psychotherapist in private practice living in Rochester. He regularly provides training and consultation on foster care and adoption. His research interests related to adoption include anthropology, media and mythology and the application of natural medicine and body-mind methods of healing

Andrew Solomon, Ph.D., is a writer and lecturer on politics, culture and psychology, a Professor of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University Medical Center, and President of PEN American Center. Solomon’s most recent book Far and Away: Reporting from the Brink of Change (Scribner, 2016) collects his writings about places undergoing political, cultural, and spiritual shifts and follows up on the heels of the best-selling Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity (Scribner, 2012). Far From the Tree tells the stories of families raising exceptional children who not only learn to deal with their challenges, but also find profound meaning in doing so.  Far from the Tree has received multiple awards and was chosen as one of the New York Times Ten Best Books of 2012.  Solomon lives with his husband, John Habich Solomon, and son, George Solomon, in New York and London.

Kim E. Stevens, M.Ed. is a program director at the North American Council on Adoptable Children. In this role, Kim oversees advocacy efforts on a federal and state policy agenda, capacity building for caregiver support/advocacy organizations, and manages communications and messaging. With 26 years of experience, Kim has provided training and consultation on child welfare issues, foster care, adoption, youth permanency, trauma and recovery, and race and identity issues both nationally and internationally.    

Rebecca Tillou was adopted when she was one month old and raised by an amazing family. She started searching for her birth family in 2012 after giving birth to her second son. After a year of utilizing free online search databases she found her birth mom in an online yearbook. The years following that discovery led to friendships with birth family members and finally knowing her birth mom and how she had coped with her life. Rebecca was also diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome 2. She has been married for 12 with 2 sons and an adopted beagle, named Noah.          

Gerard Wallace is the director of the NYS Kinship Navigator Gerard Wallace, Esq. and public service professor at the U. of Albany School of Social Welfare. From 1999 to 2005, he was director of Hunter Colleges’ Grandparent Caregiver Law Center. From 2005 to 2010 he was the project consultant for the AARP Kincare Project.  He is co-chair of the NYS KinCare Coalition, a member of the Child Welfare League of America’s Policy Commission, and past director of the National Committee of Grandparents for Children’s Rights.  He is the author of numerous papers and reports on kinship law and policy.          

LaTasha C. Watts is an Award Winning Child Advocate, Speaker, and Author of “I’m Not Broken Just A Little Twisted.” She spent her entire childhood in the foster care system; living in a variety of foster homes, until eventually “aging out” of the foster care system at the age 18. Currently she has over 15 years’ experience in working with youth, families and professionals in a variety of settings. She is the founder and Executive Director of The Purple Project, a support and resource network dedicated to assisting foster children with maintaining stability and successfully transition out of foster care. For more, please see www.latashacwatts.com.       

Melanie Woodley is currently working with NYS OCFS in the Bureau of Youth Development after several years as a Youth Counselor in DJJOY, curriculum development and training in Crisis Intervention in the public schools and private agencies, a public high school teacher, and a Residential worker and classroom teacher for at-risk teen-age boys. She has been an educator in some capacity for her entire career, and continues to enjoy opportunities to teach and share with youth and their families.

You Gotta Believe exists to deliver on the promise made to youth in foster care: that they will leave with a family. You Gotta Believe is one of a precious few organizations in the U.S and the only organization in the New York City Metro area that limits its practice to finding permanent parents and families for young adults, teens, and pre-teens in the foster care system.  Nobody Ages Out (NAO) is a YGB-led movement to ensure that every young person in foster care will have a family long before they reach the dreaded age of 21 when they “age out” of care and are, in essence, left without family or any support.

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