Regional Director, OhioKAN
Jo Simonsen brought three decades of experience creating social and systems change in the field of violence against women to her role at Kinnect. Prior to joining Kinnect, the last decade of her career was focused on children involved with the child welfare system because of domestic violence. Jo observed that kinship caregivers, predominantly grandparents, often become the primary caregivers for children who have lost their parents due to domestic violence. Recognizing that kinship care is at the crossroads of systems, policy, and social change in child welfare, Jo believed she had a lot to contribute to OhioKAN.
As the director of OhioKAN Region 2, Jo has found her work with the regional advisory council (RAC) and their community outreach to families rewarding. Collaborating with her coach and coordinator, she has gained insights from kinship caregivers navigating support services, including legal matters.
“In region 2, we were exploring our requests for legal help. We worked with RAC members and listened to caregivers. Our navigators elevated to us that there was a range of legal needs that we would not have realized. For instance, we never thought about what to do when they can’t find a biological parent; they need investigators. Older caregivers may have to make new decisions and revise wills at their expense,” Jo explained. “It was much more complex than just custody.”
The findings about legal needs in region 2 were mirrored in other regions. As the OhioKAN team paused to evaluate the range of needs and brainstormed about how to situate more resources in the region, they realized there were resources that could help even though they were temporary.
This led to a partnership with the Ohio Justice Bus and Justice Mobile called the OhioKAN Legal Bus Tour. Two summers in a row, legal buses traveled around Ohio, providing legal professionals to assist caregivers with advice about legal concerns that might arise from kinship or adoption. The Legal Bus tour visited 29 counties, served over 136 families, and assisted with concerns including custody and guardianship, changes in wills or estate planning, legal paperwork support, or any other shifting circumstances that resulted from taking children into their homes.
“It was not comprehensive, but it was a great start while we figure out how to do larger systemic work,” Jo explained.
Another aspect of her work that Jo has found meaningful is partnering with the education system.
Jo and Region 2 Coordinator Cha’Noah Powell are also working with Miami University’s School-Based Center of Excellence on Prevention and Early Intervention to produce a guide for schools on working with kinship families. The goals of the guide include making schools more kinship-friendly places and illustrating how significant they are to the success of kinship families.
“What we’ve learned from kinship and adoptive families is that there is a great need and opportunity to help schools learn as we are learning. We expect the manual to be the beginning of a partnership to better serve them.”
Program Manager, Kinnect to Family (YCPRT and CCR)
Bashia Price joined Kinnect in 2022 as the Statewide Facilitator for the Youth Permanency Roundtables Program (YCPRT). She already had a strong foundation in youth development.
“Working with young people is all I’ve ever done. It’s the sweet spot for me and comes naturally,” she said. “Working in college access, school systems and summer camps prepared me for this.”
Becoming the first YCPRT facilitator interested Bashia because it was a combination of direct service to youth and program coordination. She coordinates the new Statewide Facilitator Pilot which allows select counties to work with a Kinnect facilitator. This allows smaller counties to take advantage of the program.
To be eligible for YCPRT, youth must be 12 years or older and have been in foster care for one year or longer. When a youth from a pilot county is referred to the program, Bashia gets to work setting up the initial Permanency Roundtable (PRT) meeting where staff review the youth’s history and brainstorm ideas and approaches. Then, Bashia schedules the first YCPRT meeting within 30 days and begins working on Youth Prep, preparing the young person for the meeting. She asks who the important people in their lives are and encourages them to invite them to the meeting. Bashia does Youth Prep before each meeting.
The first YCPRT meeting begins with the Strengths Bombardment, where the people in attendance share the youth’s strengths and positive qualities. These are collected and the youth leaves with the results. Then, the meeting turns to sharing the ideas that came out of the PRT and getting the youth’s perspective on them.
“The youth are direct, and they know what they want. They just need the confidence to share it with other people in the room,” Bashia shared.
They develop an action plan, which varies for each person. They may look at a genogram (an extended family tree) if the young person has one or try to get one if they do not. They may look at services like 23 and Me. Whatever they decide, everyone on the team works on the action plan. Before the youth leaves, they schedule the next meeting within 90 days. Meetings continue until the youth makes lasting connections and achieves permanency.
One challenge Bashia faced in her role was that she did not have a background in child welfare. Understanding the process and its many acronyms was an adjustment. But her experience and outlook helped her overcome that.
“I always believe in youth voice,” she explained, “Understanding the power of their voice even if they are not an adult yet. Giving them a platform and listening to what they have to say.”
“Young people are awesome,” she concluded. “I love getting to know them, building rapport during Youth Prep, and seeing how they are growing and changing during the process. They are really learning that this is their meeting, that what they say has value, and I am able to support them.”
Regional Coordinator, OhioKAN
Derrick Beitzel had a background working with families and youth when he saw the job posting for an OhioKAN navigator with the Village Network and he knew right away he wanted to apply.
Derrick worked as a program administrator for a respite care agency at the time. At the same time, he was serving as a respite provider on the side. He spent shorter times with youth but saw firsthand the difference his support was making in their lives. This led him to become a legal guardian and eventually adoptive father to three children.
“Going through it myself, I realized how little there is out there to guide families,” he explained. “I knew that support was needed for kinship and adoptive families…I wanted to work with and serve those families.”
While Derrick loved serving families, he soon realized that he would excel in a formal role with OhioKAN. This led him to become the regional coordinator for region eight, where he has been able to have a significant impact.
“I problem-solve on a regular basis and provide behind-the-scenes support,” he said. “I am always looking at data to see how we can serve families better and making sure we are giving the program our due diligence,” he stated.
Derrick partnered with Deb Knaup, the regional director, to identify a new navigator site that would serve their 13-county region well. He is excited to partner with the Area Agency on Aging Region 9. Derrick is glad he joined the OhioKAN team.
“I never worked for a program that cares so much about the work they do for families while at the same time caring for employees themselves. I could sense that early on as a navigator and I knew I wanted to work for OhioKAN.”
Statewide Program Trainer, Youth Navigator Network
Roxana Bell joined Kinnect in 2019 as part of the OhioKAN team, about six months after completing her master’s degree at Case Western Reserve University. She had direct service experience with young people at Frontline Service, and she was excited to bring her lived experience as an adopted person to OhioKAN.
Roxana was excited for the chance to be part of something new and different, something Ohio had not seen before.
“At the beginning, we did not know what OhioKAN would be,” she explained. “We had sent a proposal to the state and didn’t know what would happen. There was a lot of exciting energy around that.”
During that time, Roxana also had the chance to directly serve young people through the Affirm Me program. She used her direct service experience to serve two young people who identified as members of the LGBTQ+ community who both had complicated family situations. Roxana was able to facilitate family time for one youth to keep their connections strong and was able to support the other youth in the college planning process and to build connections with their biological siblings for the next phase of their life.
“It really was profound what a difference one positive adult made for a young person,” she said of the Affirm Me work.
For her first three years at Kinnect, Roxana served as the Statewide Coordinator. Over time, she wanted to move into a more forward-facing role.
“I wanted to make use of my strengths, which are connecting to people, sharing information, and communicating,” she explained.
Roxana transitioned into a Statewide Program Trainer role and is primary trainer for the Youth Navigator Network and a training support for the OhioKAN program.
“It really plays to all the things I do well. I love to present things to people and hopefully to illuminate things they haven’t seen before.”
Roxana's proudest work from her time at Kinnect has been designing the Youth Navigator Network training from scratch in collaboration with Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
“What moves me the most is that the training has had a ripple effect. When navigators are talking to a young person, they are doing it in a way that the young person has not experienced before and I feel proud that I have been part of it,” she concluded.
Coach, Kinnect to Family
Donikea Austin started her career in a residential setting at Bellefaire working with youth with behavioral health needs and then youth on the autism spectrum. From there, her work life was a series of stairsteps leading her to Kinnect. Realizing that she wanted to work in an environment that helped children and families before they reached residential care, she took her skills to Beech Brook, where she provided case management to children and families at home and in the community. In that role, she encountered many young people who were cared for by grandparents that were struggling with their behavior.
“This was less about the grandparents’ skills and more about what happened to them,” she explained. “I started looking at places that worked with those families.”
That’s when Donikea first became aware of Waiting Child Fund, Kinnect’s predecessor, from training.
“They were always spoken about in terms of collaboration,” she said.
The next stairstep in Donikea’s work was at Adoption Network Cleveland where she worked collaboratively with kinship, foster and adoptive youth to identify their needs. Donikea operated support groups and youth programs and also developed a program to help youth aging out of foster care reconnect with family. Donikea also became aware of OhioKAN at Adoption Network Cleveland, as they are a site partner that hosts OhioKAN navigators.
From there, Donikea joined Kinnect as a Kinnect to Family Coach.
“I look at the coach as a bridge between sites and our program. Our role is to support the model while understanding sites and barriers they have,” she explained. “I am that stitch that mends those two together. Kinnect expectations may not mesh with agency procedures. I connect those to create a seamless process.”
“The most rewarding part is to hear specialists speak so deeply about families they work with. They speak as if they really know them. They know that grandma is in Florida for a family reunion, so the child can’t visit now. That’s not possible with a typical caseload.”
Along with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Child and Family Studies, Donikea is trained in the fundamentals of mediation and advanced mediation from the Cleveland Mediation Center.
“Throughout work, one training that was most useful was mediation,” she said.
In her free time, Donikea enjoys traveling and spending time with her nephew.
Regional Director, OhioKAN
Deb Knaup came to Kinnect holding a rich background working with children and families. Deb’s career began working in the healthcare field while she earned her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education with a reading endorsement from Ohio University. After completing her degree, she served as a substitute teacher. During the summer, she was the head camp counselor at a YMCA camp. There were not a lot of teaching positions open in her area, and a friend recommended she explore working at Muskingum County Children Services. Deb joined their intake unit, where she spent several years.
Program Manager, Kinnect to Family (YCPRT and CCR)
Katherine (Kat) Mueller came to Kinnect with a background in community-based health. After starting her career teaching recent immigrants at a charter school for students in Albuquerque, Kat moved into public health in northern New Mexico. She lived in New Mexico for eight years, collaborating with county and tribal health councils, including youth, to mobilize communities for health.
“I love partnering with communities, who are experts in their own needs,” she explained.
Working for the state of New Mexico, she coached 10-12 county and tribal health councils, taking a systems approach to community health improvement. Priorities identified by the communities included substance use, obesity, teen births, health care access, violence prevention, and family resiliency.
Kat moved to Chicago, where her work continued to focus on communities. At Communities in Schools, she helped students stay in school and achieve their goals. At the University of Chicago, she partnered with Asian health coalitions to deliver training and chronic disease prevention programs. Kat’s skills eventually took her to Prevent Blindness, where she spent five years educating communities about vision and eye health.
Managing the Youth-Centered Permanency Roundtables (YCPRT) program, in particular, interested Kat because it was a continuation of her previous work with young people.
“Being involved gives me the opportunity to support youth in connecting with family, kin and community,” she said. “Youth deserve a sense of belonging. No matter your age, a sense of belonging and unconditional acceptance are things everyone deserves.”
Kat also enjoys implementing pilot programs, like the new YCPRT Statewide Facilitator model. In this model, select counties work with a Kinnect facilitator who plans and executes the meetings. Kat also manages implementation of Kinnect’s Congregate Care Reduction pilot.
“Working on a pilot program is exciting. You are putting pieces together, learning, and building off others who are content experts,” she reflected.
Now that the pilots are underway, Kat is focused on the road ahead. “How do we maintain momentum? We believe in this work. We want to make current partners and new partners feel supported to do it.”
Operations Manager, Kinnect
When Shawna Borkoski read about an opening at OhioKAN in the summer of 2020, she was drawn to the job as a continuation of work she had done previously. Shawna brought her twelve years of experience serving others in the nonprofit space to Kinnect. She began her career as an outreach coordinator with the Head Start program and served as a kinship navigator early in her career.
She spent nearly six years as a senior market manager for the American Cancer Society and over two years directing marketing and development at the United Way of Portage County. She also served as board secretary for an adoption agency. Serving kinship and adoptive families has always been near and dear to her heart.
Shawna joined OhioKAN as a regional coordinator but her organizational skills and her dedication to details led her to transition into the contract and performance coordinator role.
“I was interested in moving to the state level, having the opportunity to be challenged and working through new material,” she said. “I enjoy the challenge of setting up new things. I love processes.”
In the contracts and performance coordinator role, Shawna executed contracts with site partners and monitored their scope of work and progress, from both the program and financial sides. She interfaced with the statewide advisory council and processed flex fund requests as well as trained new staff and navigators. She also had an opportunity to work on standard operating procedures (SOPs) for Kinnect.
Recently, Shawna transitioned to the operations manager role with Kinnect where she will focus on the design and implementation of operational infrastructure, including overseeing contracts, administrative staff, and technology.
“I am most excited to have processes and procedures people can refer to. I am able to work more across the organization than I was in the last role,” she reflected. “I like to know how it all fits together.”
In her home life, Shawna currently serves on the board of trustees for the Rotary Club of Ravenna, the city where she resides with her husband Aaron, and dog Lucy. For fun, Shawna and Aaron share the hobby of winemaking.
Family Search and Engagement Trainer, Kinnect to Family
Rick Dencer joined Kinnect in 2018 with a background in child and adolescent mental health. He served children diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illness for nine years in Tennessee as a frontline case manager and a supervisor. After returning to Ohio to be closer to family, he transitioned to supervising child support efforts with a county agency. While that was important work, he felt something was missing. He stumbled upon a job posting for a regional coach at Kinnect and immediately, it seemed like a more rewarding type of work for him.
“It seemed like the place I was meant to be,” he said.
Rick began as a regional coach working with the Northeast Ohio counties that were implementing the Kinnect to Family Program (then 30 Days to Family®). At that time, all agencies implementing the program needed to travel to St. Louis for model training from the Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition, the purveyor of the model. Eventually, Rick audited the training and began hosting training for staff here in Ohio. He also began presenting more at conferences. This led to Rick becoming Kinnect’s Statewide Family Search and Engagement trainer in 2022.
At first, Rick was not sure about moving into the training space.
“Kinnect to Family is a model that is extremely special. I love everything about it,” he said.
But then Rick imagined what the role could be.
“This was a way to reach a much broader audience, with the possibility of affecting more practice,” he explained. “In this role, I have trained people across the system from caseworkers to directors. Anyone can do family search and engagement, even if it isn’t to the extent that Kinnect to Family specialists do.”
“My hope is for the information to be shared and to trickle down to the experience of families…for a culture shift away from foster care first to data-informed decision-making. Research shows us children do better with family.”
Moving into the training area has also allowed Rick to grow professionally. He has developed additional trainings, in collaboration with his Kinnect to Family colleagues. He submitted a proposal on engaging fathers to the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). Not only was his proposal accepted, but he was also asked to join the CWLA Fatherhood Advisory Committee and now serves as the co-chair of the member subcommittee. He will also be training at the Family Focused Treatment Association Conference in Columbus this July.
The thing Rick loves the most about training is the long-term potential for positive change, in child welfare and across society.
“They take this with them wherever they go.”
Regional Coach, OhioKAN
Lisa Remy first joined OhioKAN as a navigator in Region 10 in southern Ohio. She had a background in case management working with youth experiencing homelessness at Sojourners Care Network. Lisa helped youth transition into paid housing and guided them toward independence, helping with life skills that would enable them to be self-sufficient and successful. A lot of the youth she worked with had transitioned out of foster care or had child welfare experience. Lisa enjoyed working with families and keeping them together, especially as some of the young people she worked with became parents.
While working at Sojourners Care Network, she heard about OhioKAN. The mission resonated with her, and she wanted to be a part of it, so she applied for an opening. She joined OhioKAN as a navigator in the fall of 2020. In 2021, Lisa joined Kinnect as a regional coordinator where she focused on administrative support. Then, she was promoted to the role of the regional coach where she works with her region’s navigators daily to ensure they are supported in all areas and that families are being served to the fidelity of the program.
“I have seen OhioKAN grow and evolve, and it has been satisfying,” she said. “That has been a high point for me, feeling like I have a part in that.”
As a coach, Lisa has been able to tap into her previous experience as a navigator and her case management background. Helping navigators grow and develop has been rewarding to her, and she has grown in her role as well.
“At first, it was a learning curve because this is my first leadership role. I had to learn more about leadership and supervision styles, learn what aligns with my navigators’ needs and OhioKAN needs.”
One high point from her work at OhioKAN stands out to Lisa. When she was a navigator, a woman called for assistance with a challenge that was hard to discuss. Before they ended the call, she thanked Lisa for turning something that was hard to talk about into a pleasant conversation.
“Families call us, and we want them to feel welcome and accepted,” she said. “We want to create an environment of trust. I often tell people that if someone calls for a five-gallon bucket of green crayons, we will do our best to find it.”
“This is my favorite job and my favorite workplace,” she concluded. “It’s amazing to me all the great minds that work here, wanting to help children.”
Regional Coach, Kinnect to Family
Nolan Hensel joined the Kinnect staff four years ago. At the time, he was working as a community hub director at a public school. He was meeting families, engaging community partners, assessing strengths, and looking for barriers. In that role, Nolan brought a medical clinic to the school as well as a mobile food pantry, tax prep programs, and a GED program.
“When you lift up parents and the community, you will naturally lift up kids,” he explained.
All of those skills would go on to serve Nolan well at Kinnect. When he interviewed for the job of regional coach, he fell in love with Kinnect’s mission. Nolan started with Kinnect to Family (then 30 Days to Family ™ Ohio) in the Northwest region at the same time counties were joining the program. That allowed Nolan to onboard along with the county agencies and get to know the lay of the land.
Nolan takes the title of a coach to heart, having coached his children in a variety of activities. He takes that experience to his work with specialists. He looks at the specific skills of each person and uses his expertise in the program model to support them.
“I enable, equip, and encourage specialists to do the on-the-ground work,” he explained.
Nolan has a great deal of continuity in the counties he serves, and through his coaching, specialists often support each other across county lines. A specialist in one county may express a challenge and receive solutions from peers in another county.
“Watch your team play hard and encourage each other” is how Nolan describes it.
The other part of his job Nolan loves is his coworkers, particularly the Kinnect to Family coaches.
“My fellow coaches keep me going every day,” he said. “They keep me grounded. It’s difficult to bridge the relationship remotely but we’ve been intentional about keeping focused on it. We recognize each other’s strengths and share responsibilities.”
Nolan summarized his work at Kinnect this way: “Where I am right now is where I am supposed to be in this moment.”
Statewide Trainer, OhioKAN
Teresa Scrimenti brings a rich and diverse work history to Kinnect as the OhioKAN statewide program trainer. While she did not have previous experience focusing on training, her previous work with diverse audiences prepared her for the role.
Teresa previously worked in disability services, serving as a job coach for Linking Employment, Abilities, and Potential (LEAP). She also taught life skills classes for adults with developmental disabilities as well as art classes.
She left the Northeast Ohio area for a couple of years and when she returned, she became a personal chef and taught cooking classes before joining Kinnect.
At Kinnect, Teresa handles the onboarding for OhioKAN staff, navigators, and site supervisors. Training topics range from culture and values to customer service to technical training like the Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS). All OhioKAN staff go through the same training as navigators.
“Navigators interface directly with families every day. It’s important that everyone knows what this involves,” she said.
OhioKAN also has specific training for each role (regional director, coach, and regional coordinator). Teresa is also involved in supplemental organization-wide training like Equity 101 and 102, and Sexual Orientation Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) 101 and 102. Teresa’s favorite activity in training is “unjargoning.”
“When you start a new job, it can feel like you have to learn a new language. We think about what these words mean and how we explain them,“ she said.
“Everyone has had the experience of not knowing the jargon, whether it is at the doctor’s office or at the auto mechanic. It makes sense if you are inside that work, but it can set up a power dynamic which is not what we want to do with families,” she explained.
In all her job experiences, Teresa has tailored her approach to the needs of the learner or program. She loves that creativity and variety.
“Every day I love being able to look at my calendar and see what kind of day it is. It might be training or a deep dive into a project,” she mused. “I have been able to be creative in this role and to grow in ways that are meaningful to me in a way that I haven’t in other places…Kinnect has been a place for me to grow both professionally and personally.”
Office Coordinator, Kinnect
Jane Doherty has always been in the helping professions. While working in a nursing home in Maryland, she realized she was comfortable working with that population. That led her to get a degree in Gerontology from the California University of Pennsylvania. She served as a volunteer coordinator for a home visiting program for the county agency on aging in Maryland.
She also worked at the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program at Lutheran Metro Ministries. And along the way, she worked at an adult daycare center where she did everything from planning activities to driving the van. Jane’s diverse work history led her to become a flexible person who wears many hats.
To balance a home and work life with her own young children at home, Jane shifted to providing administrative aid to nonprofits.
“I needed a job with fewer demands,” she explained. “I like support services because I like helping people be organized and making sure things run smoothly.”
Jane served as a program assistant for adult group homes and an administrative assistant for Chaplin Partnership. Before joining Kinnect, Jane served as the HR assistant and facilities liaison for Linking Employment, Abilities and Potential (LEAP), a program that supports persons with disabilities. Kinnect is Jane’s first experience in the child-serving world. She started as a regional coordinator for OhioKAN before joining the operations side of Kinnect. Jane has seen a lot of changes since she began her work at Kinnect but she doesn’t mind.
“The responsibilities change but the vision is consistent,” she remarked.
Jane’s favorite thing about Kinnect is her co-workers. “Working with good people makes a difference,” she said. “People that I enjoy and appreciate the work they are doing.”
Program Manager, Youth Navigator Network
Arlene Jones can be quiet when you meet her, but when she does speak, her words are action oriented. Arlene’s lived experience with the housing and child welfare systems led to her dedication to improving both.
“I am always looking for the next step forward and the next step up,” she said.
Arlene has been persistent about opening doors for those with lived experience.
“Boards of trustees, Children’s Trust Fund…I did not want anyone making decisions without someone at the table who could bring that realness to it.”
Arlene has a wealth of experience, all aimed at supporting young people and ensuring that their voices are heard, and they have a seat at the table when decisions are made about them. Arlene was a founding member of the Overcoming Hurdles in Ohio Youth Advisory Board (OHIO YAB), a statewide organization dedicated to being the knowledgeable statewide voice that influences policies and practices that impact youth who have or will experience out-of-home care. She was the foster youth advisor at the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, providing support to bring OHIO YAB to fruition.
Arlene also served as Youth Initiative Specialist with the Coalition on Homelessness & Housing in Ohio, where she worked with young people in Southeast Ohio to identify housing needs and barriers to achieving them in conjunction with child welfare. Along the way, Arlene also served as a children services caseworker and community health worker. Before joining Kinnect as the program manager for the Youth Navigator Network, Arlene most recently served as the urban church ambassador for Careportal, meeting with churches to let them know how to serve their communities through the organization. Arlene also serves as a Senior Family consultant for Capacity Building Center for States, supporting states outside Ohio in building capacity for their federal Performance Improvement Plans as part of their Child and Family Services Review.
What keeps Arlene motivated is not her own lived experience.
“The thing that keeps me going in any role I take is that this is not about me, this is about the young person in care right now. What do they need?”
“The goal is to make the system today better for the youth of tomorrow, and better than it was yesterday.”
Kinnect to Family Coach, SW
Lorie Bricker has been involved in human services in several ways. She served for over five years as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA). After a long hiatus during which she worked in another field and started a family, Lorie went back to college to complete her degree in Sociology and Criminology which led her to become a victim advocate with the Riverside Police Department. In that position, along with working with victims and police officers and conducting domestic violence training, she managed the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant.
Eventually, she felt it was time to return to working with children and families. She took her skills to the Miami County Board of Developmental Disabilities where she served as the housing coordinator. All along, she still followed VOCA funding that she oversaw at the Riverside Police Department with interest. When she saw Kinnect was a recipient of VOCA funding for the Kinnect to Family Program (then called 30 Days to Family), she thought she should find out what it was about. The mission spoke to Lorie because she believes in families.
“Families work. They are like fingerprints…they are unique, with ebb and flow, ridges and swirls...I try to step back and appreciate the uniqueness of each family and I try to empower professionals to value family, to take time to find strengths, and not just focus on the reason for children services involvement. There is always a strength; you have to be willing to look for it.”