You could say that Wendoly Abrego’s passion for working with communities was somehow in her blood. Wendoly can remember sitting with her father and hearing him tell stories of how he travelled his home country, El Salvador, teaching families in rural villages how to farm. She marveled at the kindness of the individuals her father met while on these missions and she felt so proud of him. In her current role as Programs Director for the non-profit organization Creciendo Unidos/Growing Together, Wendoly follows in her father’s footsteps working to help strengthen, unify and support healthy family relationships. In the last two years, she was involved in managing the implementation of the Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Initiative programs and its supporting components; ESL, Computer Classes, Micro-Enterprise/Job Development, Finance etc. In her position, Wendoly works in conjunction with the ED to develop program strategies and plans for the growth and sustainability of the organization. She also aids in providing supervision, training and support for staff to effectively implement programs and ensure program objectives are met for completing required reporting.
Wendoly earned her Bachelor’s in Architecture from the University of Arizona in Tucson in 2007. She believes her educational background and prior work experience as Program Manager for Phoenix Revitalization Corporation were instrumental in informing the community work she is currently involved in. As an architecture major she learned to think outside the box, to be creative and to think critically and systematically about problems and situations in order to find the best possible solution. Her prior work experience in community development and the revitalization of an area taught her to navigate different political, socio-economic and cultural arenas and it is those same skills that she now utilizes when establishing and maintaining relationships with partners and collaborators that can support her organization’s mission. With seven years’ experience in community development and non-profit management Wendoly has acquired the ability to look at things from a wide lens but simultaneously focus on the details.
Human Service Specialist
Maryland Department of Human Resources
Shomare Braxton is a devoted father and a lifelong resident of Baltimore, Maryland. His life’s mission is to help bring hope and opportunity to all of the communities and residents of Baltimore City. Shomare has worked toward achieving this goal through his 15-year tenure with the Department of Human Resources (DHR). During this time, he primarily worked with Baltimore City’s Department of Social Service Temporary Cash Assistance Work Program Unit helping some of the most vulnerable citizens of Baltimore City in obtaining self-sufficiency. While working at BCDSS his duties included assessing and assisting clients with the removal of barriers to employment, developing partnership with local business to provide work experience and employment opportunities and managing several different contracts with training providers.
Braxton’s life work not only demonstrates his unwavering commitment to breaking the cycle of poverty in Baltimore city, but also his investment to make an impact on a state and national level. The tenacity of his diligence and results driven performance can be seen in his role as the Workforce Development Coordinator/Youth Liaison within DHR’s Bureau of Workforce Development. Within the Bureau, he is responsible for workforce development programs oversight including supporting six Local Departments of Social Services (LDSS). Braxton supports the implementation and operation of Welfare to Work Programs (TANF, Non-Custodial Parent, and SNAP Employment & Training) which comprise an annual State budget over $22 million and serves thousands of participants each year. He has taken a hands on approach by providing technical assistance for the design, implementation, operation, and evaluation of local departments' Welfare to Work Programs. Additionally, Braxton analyzes, evaluates, monitors and coordinates for local departments' Family Investment Program monthly performance and annual plans to ensure compliance with Federal and State work participation requirements, appropriate allocations and expenditures, and specific program components and procedures that promote full engagement to move program participants to employment and economic self-sufficiency.
During his spare time, Shomare is an active member of the Striving to Empower People for Success Board. This is a statewide work experience initiative program for Temporary Cash Assistance customers whose mission is to inspire, nurture, and provide training in office development for future employment. He also participates in a multitude of educational and organized sports activities with his children.
Shomare graduated from Baltimore City Community College with an Associates of Arts degree in General Studies, and is currently in his final year as a Political Science Major at University of Maryland University College.
East Point, Georgia
With 30 years of experience in Community and Agency Counseling, Eddrena Clark has additional knowledge in program and youth development; individual, group and couples counseling; support group facilitation; domestic violence and crisis intervention. She was awarded the opportunity to be a member of the annual High Potential Diverse Leaders (HPDL) class of 2014. This experience afforded her training, coaching, access, networking opportunities, support systems and interaction with nonprofit leaders that enhanced her leadership skills. Eddrena is using the tools learned and best and practices taught to become a more effective Program Manager. She has had experience working with battered women and their children as well as working in the school system as a Guidance Counselor for grades pre-kindergarten through fifth.
During her eight year tenure at Future Foundation, a nonprofit organization that caters to youth and their parents in the South Futon counties of metro Atlanta, she has managed one of the largest core programs of the agency, RealTalk ATL. While supervising seven staffers, youth interns and volunteers, Eddrena is responsible for program development, staff supervision, budget management, partnership enhancement, data collection and evaluation. RealTalk gives teens a safe place at school to discuss those difficult conversations that aren't always easy to talk about: dating, relationships and sex. We have serviced more than 7,000 teens with our healthy relationship curriculum and serviced more than 800 parents with our parenting, relationship and job readiness curriculum. Eddrena has served in the capacity of chairperson for the agency's Wellness Program and Stakeholder Appreciation; she has also coordinated special agency events such as the Back to School Rally, the Thanksgiving Dinner, the Red Event, Safe Prom, and Black Marriage Day. She's especially proud of the RealTalk Ambassadors program, where she and her team train their students to be the agency's mouth piece and teach their peers about healthy relationships. Eddrena's goal is to support and positively shape teens into responsible adults.
Eddrena is a native of Chicago, Illinois...the Windy City and her family continues to reside in Chicago. She is the eldest of three. She attended Tougaloo College and Jackson State University in Mississippi where she earned a Bachelor of Art degree in Psychology/Mental Health and Master of Science degree in Guidance and Counseling. She married her college sweetheart of 28 years, Edward M. Clark and they have two amazing children, Quinten (23) and Lindsey (19) Clark. She co-labors with her husband in their church's couple’s ministry and she is the Women's Ministry leader. Recently, Eddrena and a colleague established a monthly support group for incarcerated loved ones in metro Atlanta.
Avis s a program developer and entrepreneur with the ability to connect with people. Avis is passionate about adding value in the lives of couples, youth and singles and the community at large but especially in the African American community in which she lives.
Avis received a B.A. in Human Services from The University of Toledo. She has worked in the social service arena for over 25 years in the areas of domestic violence, drug addiction, housing and homelessness in the area of Healthy Relationships for 10 years. She has facilitated healthy relationship curriculum with her husband Michael for over 9 years. She is versed in data collection and program outcome and achievements. Avis has traveled to a diverse array of venues speaking on subjects such as fathers and domestic violence, recruitment and retention of African-Americans, Co-Parenting and outcome results in programs. Avis’ interactive presentation skills engage the audience and encourage active participation by all.
Avis was Program Coordinator for an OFA grant funded healthy marriage program for 5 years (2006-2011) and Program Director for 3 years for OFA grant funded healthy marriage program (2011-2015). In October 2015, Avis joined Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo dba Pathway as Director of Family Supportive Services where she serves as Program Director of the OFA funded Brothers United Fatherhood Program.
Avis is a Program Director, Certified Survival Skills Facilitator and Grant Writer with skills in program development and implementation as well as grant compliance.
In January 2015 Avis and her husband Michael began Just Us Files, LLC. Avis is currently Chief Operating Officer of their relationship coaching business that serves couples (one on one mentorship and group), singles, youth and specializing in blended family life issues. Avis and her husband Michael are the couples’s ministry leader of Two of Us Couples Ministry at First Church of God under the direction of Bishop Robert Culp. Her motto is: Change A Father, Change A Family, Create A Future.
She is the wife of Michael Allen Files (13 years) and they have four children and one grandson.
Mecklenburg County Child Support Enforcement
Charlotte, North Carolina
Kelly R. Little is a Program Supervisor for Mecklenburg County Child Support Enforcement. Mr. Little leads an Intake Locate team and is responsible for co-leading the following department initiatives; Responsible Fatherhood and Moms as a Gateway. He is uniquely positioned to assist fathers and families in addressing challenges and barriers that prevent them from being a part of their children’s life, this is accomplished through multiple interventions that empower and educate fathers on Child Support law. His exceptional leadership and family focused approach to serving fathers and families have been transformational in shifting the paradigm of Child Support service delivery in North Carolina. The approach utilized by his agency has galvanized support and credibility within a previously skeptical community.
Mr. Little’s passion for this work is a direct result of an absent father in his life. The village approach drives him daily. This is why he serves on various committees that focus on fatherhood education, workforce development, strengthening families, inspiring youth, and advocating for catalyzing change/dismantling racism. He is a leader in a Charlotte’s movement to elevate fatherhood and educate the community around Child Support and fathers’ rights. He frequently presents at state and local conferences, on the importance of collaboration, fathers, and “Mom as Gateway, not Gatekeeper” a National Fatherhood Initiative curriculum.
Kelly is a 25 year veteran of the US Army/Army National Guard. He has served honorably in numerous wars and is a decorated service member who was medically retired in 2013, as a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer. He completed his career as a Senior Instructor at the NC Military Academy in Ft. Bragg, NC.
Since working for Mecklenburg County, some of his goals have been achieved; however, he is committed to developing others, changing the perception of child support and helping Mecklenburg County Child Support become recognized as one of the pre-eminent programs in the nation around collaboration and strengthening families through holistic service delivery.
Mr. Little’s diverse background includes consulting with at risk youth, empowering fathers, educating mothers, collaborating with practitioners, and laser-focused commitment to transformational service delivery for children and families!
Kelly has over 19 years of public administration experience in both state and local government. He completed his Master’s in Business Administration with a concentration in Government. Presently he is pursuing a dual masters degree in Leadership with a focus on Human Resources.
New York, NY
Derek received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Forensic Psychology
with Magna Cum Laude honors from John Jay College of Criminal
Justice. Upon graduation, Derek began his career path in becoming a
Case Manager at a fatherhood initiative program in the Bronx
(Friends 2 Fathers) in 2003, working with fragile families and
underserved non-custodial fathers with a focus on responsible
parenting and actively increasing their level of engagement/support in their children’s lives. Through his
dedication, drive and determination, he eventually became the Program Director of F2F, in addition to
working with community based organizations and public agencies in the Bronx to improve the quality and
delivery of services/assistance to noncustodial fathers, coupled with creating awareness on the insurgence
of responsible fatherhood programs designed to assist low income families in NYC neighborhoods.
During his career, Derek was recruited to work with the Strong Fathers, Stronger Families Program at STRIVE
in 2013 as the Program Coordinator in East Harlem. He has been working tirelessly for the last 12 years
throughout NYC’s five boroughs focusing on responsible fatherhood, healthy relationships, and economic
stability with an emphasis on breaking poverty cycles related to fatherless single parent households. Since
2007, Derek has been an alumni of the Family Development Training and Credentialing Program (FDC), which
is a major New York State initiative that provides front line workers/supervisors with the skills and
competencies to effectively empower families to capitalize on their strengths and set attainable goals. His
commitment towards personal development encouraged Derek to return to Lehman College in 2014 to
pursue a second Bachelor’s degree in Nursing where he is tentatively scheduled to graduate in 2017. For
the last 8 years, Derek has also been a certified facilitator in the Duluth Model in providing domestic abuse
intervention classes for men who batter, in an effort to end violence for all women.
In 2015, Derek was selected to participate in the Human Resources Administration (HRA) Office of Child
Support Enforcement’s (OCSE) 2016 Community Partners Work Group that is designed to give
representatives from community based organizations, government agencies, and other organizations that
provide services to NYC families an opportunity to provide input on service delivery strategies, and to
network with peers in the process. In addition, Derek is actively involved in The Manhattan Fatherhood
Coalition that promotes community partnerships by "Promoting Responsible Fatherhood Initiatives". The
Manhattan Fatherhood Community Collaboration are independent, community-based organizations,
Schools, City, State and Federal Agencies that continue to provide resources for families in crisis, helping
parents achieve health, economic, and educational goals they identify for their children and their family.
The Network for Economic Opportunity
New Orleans, Louisiana
Michael J. Ruffin serves as Project Manager for the Network for Economic Opportunity (The Network); an initiative of the City of New Orleans. In this capacity, Michael works directly with Departmental Directors, the City’s Civil Service department, the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans (SWBNO) and local employers to assess their workforce needs and connect job seekers to available employment opportunities with the City of New Orleans. Additionally, Michael played a vital role establishing the newest STRIVE International affiliate, STRIVE New Orleans, an intensive job readiness training program that connects disadvantaged job seekers in New Orleans to career pathway opportunities. Also, he manages logistics for the Network’s events, represents the Network at workforce development meetings and provides additional support for special projects originating from the executive office.
In May 2012, he began working in local government as Program Coordinator, leading the City’s Saving Our Sons: SOS NOLA Initiative. The model for this program is to provide safe recreational opportunities in crime hot spots for young men through the game of basketball. Mentorship and educational support are key components of the initiative. Now known as NOLA FOR LIFE: Midnight Basketball this program has reached over 6,000 participants and 2,700 spectators.
In January 2013, Michael was promoted to serve as Special Assistant to the Mayor. He prepared briefings for the Mayor, provided staff support at internal and external engagements, managed event logistics and supported special projects originating from the executive office. Also, he was the City’s representative for the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday celebration. This annual event attracts over 1,000 participants through a variety of programs and service projects. He held this position until August 2014.
Born and raised in New Orleans, his personal mission is to “build and sustain economic wealth for the urban community; more importantly, to serve as a role-model for fatherless sons.” He holds a B.S. in Accounting from Xavier University of Louisiana and an MBA from the University of New Orleans (UNO). His hobbies include reading leadership books and playing basketball.
Family Involvement Specialist
Metro Nashville Public Schools
Robert Taylor was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up in Prince Georges County, Maryland, a predominately African American suburb of Washington, D.C. This is where he gained valuable life experience that helped to develop his passion for serving his community as well as his personal understanding of urban issues.
Mr. Taylor is currently a Family Involvement Specialist in Nashville, TN with the Metro Nashville Public School (MNPS) system which serves over 85,000 students. Mr. Taylor was also the Program Manager for the New Life Program, a comprehensive Fatherhood program at the Metro Public Health Department (MPHD) of Nashville Davison County. The New Life Program was funded by a $4.5 million Federal grant charged with serving 500 fathers and their families per year from 2010 through 2013.
Mr. Taylor is a graduate of Fisk University in Nashville, TN (2000) with a degree in Biology. He later earned his Master of Public Administration degree from Bowie State University in Bowie, Maryland (2006). Mr. Taylor has worked in various areas of the public health field for over 15 years. He has coordinated the MPHD and MNPS car seat programs as a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician. He also worked as the Smoke Free Nashville Coalition Coordinator and as the Male Involvement Coordinator for the Music City Healthy Start program. He even worked as a food inspector for 3 years.
Robert is a devoted husband and father of seven who is passionate about providing fathers with the tools and support necessary to be the fathers that their children so desperately need. Robert volunteers his time every month to provide a new fathers workshop in partnership with Babies R Us.
Social Justice Director
Montgomery County Collaboration Council
Elijah Wheeler serves as the Social Justice Director at the Montgomery County (MD.) Collaboration Council. In his role, he is charged with ensuring the fair and equitable treatment of people of color who interact with various systems and agencies. He has worked on a number of issues including reducing disproportionate minority contact for youth of color who come into contact with the juvenile justice system and reducing the school to prison pipeline. He is originally from Cleveland, Ohio where he spent years teaching youth in an alternative education school setting. He has years of experience working as a grassroots organizer and community advocate. Elijah also currently serves in the role as coordinator for Montgomery County's My Brother's Keeper initiative. He is a National Juvenile Justice Network YJLI Fellow Alumni and is honored to be a part of the PLI Academy.
Director of Advocacy and Outreach
Connections to Success
St. Louis, Missouri
In serving as Director of Advocacy & Outreach at Connections to Success for the past eight years, Napoleon Williams III has successfully designed, implemented, facilitated, and managed job readiness and responsible parenting programs; secured and maintained partnerships with the faith community, businesses, social service providers, criminal justice institutions, and fellow nonprofit agencies, and served in numerous local and regional consortiums aimed at addressing social issues.
Napoleon earned a BS in Urban Studies from Harris-Stowe State University and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He plans to utilize his research to better inform the field of social services for the purpose of increasing economic independence for low-income families.
Mr. Williams III was certified as an Offender Workforce Development Specialist by the National Institute of Corrections in 2009. In 2011, he joined the National Career Development Association and currently serves as a representative for Missouri reentry service providers. Napoleon has served as Project Manager for several Missouri Department of Corrections Community Reentry grants and currently serves as a Community Partnerships Liaison to the St. Louis City Division of Corrections, and represents Connections to Success in the 6th District Community Police and Community Support Association, and the College Hill Collaborative.
As reentry and child support policy adviser to several state legislators and as a subcommittee member at the St. Louis Alliance for Reentry, Napoleon serves as an advocate for criminal justice and family support reforms that strengthen families and the economy without compromising public safety. Most recently, Napoleon presented on Responsible Fatherhood and Child Support reform at the International Fatherhood Conference in Philadelphia. Under Napoleon’s direction, Connections to Success’ advocacy efforts have garnered national attention and support.
Napoleon is a 2015 graduate of FOCUS® Leadership St. Louis. Between facilitating responsible parenting classes, engaging residents in the community, and building relationships with partners, Mr. Williams III enjoys visiting Jefferson City and Capitol Hill informing state and federal law makers of the most pressing challenges facing the families Connections serves in Missouri, Kansas, and Illinois.
Director of ReEntry Automotive
Vehicles for Change
Prison reentry is a topic that many people are not familiar with because it simply has not touched their lives. However, Nikki Zaahir has had a passion for this industry and worked faithfully to further the opportunities for ex-convicts for almost ten years. Formerly, a government employee, this Maryland native has spent a good portion of her occupational life in managerial positions.
Noted for her exceptional organizational and planning skills, Nakkia obtained some of those stripes as a Quality Management Officer for the National Security Agency (NSA) from 1996 to 1998. Her management experience extends to her work as a former Corporate Representative Department Manager at America Works from 2006 to 2015. In this position she began working with ex-offenders as well as welfare-to-work clientele to facilitate their transferable life skills and assist them in maintaining employment.
After interviewing with Vehicles for Change (VFC) for another position in July of 2014, Nakkia— a mother of three—so impressed VFC’s President Martin Schwartz, that he decided to hire her to head up the automotive garage slated to open the following year. True to his word, he hired Ms. Zaahir as the Director of Reentry Automotive Internship Opportunities at Vehicles for Change the following January, where she took on the challenge of building the organization’s new auto repair shop, Full Circle Service Center, from the ground up.
Even though the field of auto-mechanics was unfamiliar, Nakkia still dove in and seized the opportunity to make sure the shop was completely up to OSHA and MOSH safety requirements, all while fielding applications for the first group of Full Circle interns that would represent the six-month automotive prison reentry internship program. A motivational leader in her own right, Ms. Zaahir uses her high level of oral, written and interpersonal communications skills to advocate for matters concerning prison reentry.