Donna Cooper, Executive Director
Donna is the Executive Director of Children First, the Greater Philadelphia region’s leading child advocacy organization that influences elected officials by combining useful research, practical solution-oriented policy recommendations with the mobilization of citizens who advance the organization’s work on behalf of children. Prior to Children First, Cooper was a senior fellow at respected national think tank, the Center for American Progress, where she led the Center’s research on early childhood education, public infrastructure and was a contributing researcher to the Center’s work to reduce the incidence of poverty. Cooper served as the Secretary of Policy and Planning for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from 2003–2010 where she was responsible for the state’s education, public supports, environmental and health care policy. While in that position, Cooper led the development of the state’s Cover All Kids program which expanded access to affordable health care to nearly every child in the state. Cooper also led the seven year effort to boost funding for public education that increased K-12 funding by over $2 billion and designed the state’s groundbreaking school funding formula which was enacted in 2008. In that position, she also helped launched the state’s model approach to investments in early childhood education and increased funding to make college affordable for low income and working class students while creating one of the nation’s best systems to ensure that community college students can easily transfer credits to four year colleges. Cooper was the founding Executive Director of Good Schools a grassroots organizing campaign that successfully pushed public education to the top issue in the 2002 race for Governor. Cooper also served as the City of Philadelphia’s Deputy Mayor of Policy and Planning from 1999–2002 where she designed and led the Greater Philadelphia Works Program, one of the nation’s largest and most successful efforts to help single mothers on welfare achieve self-sufficiency. Cooper has a Master’s degree in Government Administration from the University of Pennsylvania, Fels Center of Government, and a Master’s degree in Intercultural Management from the School for International Training. Reach Donna at 215-563-5848 ext. 30 or donnac at childrenfirstpa dot org.
Judy Adamson, Chief Financial Officer
Judy joined Children First in 2014, bringing over 40 years of financial and non-profit administrative management experience to the organization. Judy has an impressive track record of developing and guiding financial systems for organizations experiencing growth or contraction, especially in times of leadership transition. All of her work stems from a place of commitment to bettering the lives of Philadelphia citizens (and strengthening the institutions that serve them), especially those whose lives are disadvantaged by poverty. In addition to financial management, she assists PCCY with development management and modernizing administrative systems. Judy has an MBA from Temple University in General and Strategic Management. She was the CFO/Managing Director for Research for Action for 22 years. She works as a financial consultant with a range of non-profit organizations, including Philadelphia Young Playwrights, Community Education Center, Friends of the Free Library, and SOWN. Reach Judy at judya at childrenfirstpa dot org.
Stephanie Blake, Ed.D., Early Childhood Racial Equity Coordinator
Having worked in early childhood education for over fifteen years, Stephanie Blake is a seasoned professional. Throughout her career, she has worked in a wide variety of childcare programs, providing consulting, technical assistance, and training in diverse, cultural, and socioeconomic settings. Her previous roles included working with Pre-k Counts and Head Start programs with the PA Keys. Stephanie is a workforce fellow at Philadelphia’s Office of Children and Families, part of Temple University’s Diversifying Early Education Leadership Fellowship program. She teaches early childhood courses at Harcum College as an adjunct professor. Additionally, she is an adjunct faculty member at Rowan University and Arcadia University serving as a supervisor for pre-service teachers. Stephanie earned a Doctor of Education in Education Leadership at Gratz College along with a Master of Education with a focus in early childhood education. In her dissertation, Stephanie describes how diversity initiatives should be used to enhance the representation of African American Women in early childhood leadership positions. Additionally, she holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration and a Bachelor’s degree from Arcadia University. Reach Stephanie at 215-563-5848 ext. 32 or stephanieb at childrenfirstpa dot org.
Beth Dougherty, Health Projects Coordinator
Beth is the Health Projects Coordinator, working as a member of the Health Team. Prior to Children First, Beth worked from 2016 to 2019 for the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Education Community Schools initiative as the Community School Coordinator at Southwark School, where she coordinated community partners and worked with staff from various City agencies and departments to provide programming for students, families and community members. Prior to joining the Community Schools initiative, Beth worked as a lawyer representing nonprofit organizations and at Temple University as the University Policy Office Coordinator and the Legal Compliance Specialist for the Office of Development and Alumni Affairs. She received her J.D. from the Temple University Beasley School of Law. Reach Beth at 215-563-5848 ext. 21 or bethd at childrenfirstpa dot org.
Molly Dougherty, Grants Officer
Molly is the Grants Officer. Prior to Children First, Molly led three small contemporary arts organizations— the Galleries at Moore College of Art + Design, the Foundation for Self-Taught American Artists, and the Philadelphia Art Alliance. Since 2011, she has served as a grant writer, business and development consultant, and volunteer on a range of visual arts projects, documentary films, and television commercials at such diverse organizations as the Philadelphia History Museum, Arthur Ross Gallery, online magazine Next City, and MD Anderson Cooper Cancer Center. Most recently, at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, Dougherty implemented new initiatives: spearheading their rebranding effort, completing the design and installation of a long delayed elementary school playground, and launching a series of special events to promote the school’s 200th Anniversary. Reach Molly at 215-563-5848 ext. 20 or mollyd at childrenfirstpa dot org.
Laurie Dow, Vulnerable Youth Policy Director
Laurie Dow is a committed public servant dedicated to the protection and well-being of children and families. After clerking in the Dependency Division of the Family Court of the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, Laurie Joined the Child Welfare Unit of the Law Department of Philadelphia, where she rose through the ranks to become a Divisional Deputy City Solicitor. Laurie specialized in aggravated abuse and neglect cases and served on the multi-disciplinary Act 33 Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Team. Prior to joining Children First, Laurie was a Director of Quality Assurance and Corporate Compliance for a children and youth residential care provider. Laurie has continued to be a resource to the child welfare community, through her training on issues related to child welfare, abuse, and neglect. Laurie holds a Juris Doctor and a Masters of Law degree in Transnational Law from Temple University Beasley School of Law. Reach Laurie at 215-563-5848 ext. 28 or lauried at childrenfirstpa dot org.
Caroline Estey King, Major Gifts Director
Caroline brings to Children First over 20 years of practical, hands-on experience in Philadelphia’s non-profit community with special expertise in strategic planning, capital campaigns, government relations and individual major gift fundraising. Caroline’s particular areas of expertise include major donor and volunteer relations, membership and annual fund campaigns, board management and training, strategic planning, government relations and development communications. Caroline has coordinated numerous annual funds, special gift initiatives, and capital campaigns and has planned and implemented both large and small special events. Caroline has served for the past several years as an independent consultant working with different non-profit organizations on initiatives ranging from multi-million dollar capital campaigns to public art initiatives to image building strategies. Reach Caroline at 215-563-5848 ext. 31 or carolinek at childrenfirstpa dot org.
Steven Fynes, Administrative Director
Steven’s work focuses on maintaining IT infrastructure and office environment including the Every Action database, Office 365 administration, keeping the website up-to-date along with network, workstation and mobile devices. He routinely assists all of program directors on special projects, troubleshooting issues, and lending a hand when needed. Design and layout for all of PCCY’s reports and policy briefs also fall under Steven. As the primary coordinator for Children First’s major events, Steven works with staff and volunteers, outside vendors and venues on rallies in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, the annual “Celebration of the Public Citizen for Children and Youth” and our gaming/technology event, “STEMCraft.” Steven is a member of the Development Team focusing on individual and corporate fundraising and serves as the staff liaison to Children First’s boards and advisory councils. Prior to joining PCCY in 1995, Steven worked as an Administrative Director for Friends of Philadelphia Parks. Reach Steven at 215-563-5848 ext. 11 stevenf at childrenfirstpa dot org.
Shirlee Howe, Education Coordinator for Montgomery and Delaware Counties
Shirlee’s focus is to engage stakeholders in suburban counties to join the conversation of equitably funding area schools and encourage the expansion of high quality pre-k. Prior to joining Children First in 2015, Shirlee managed the Child and Adult Care Food Program, serving family and group day care home providers throughout the Philadelphia region. She began her career in early childhood education with CCIS-North. Her work there included enrolling subsidy eligible children in the Child Care Matters initiative. She holds a Master of Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice. Reach Shirlee at 215-563-5848 ext. 34 or shirleeh at childrenfirstpa dot org.
Maggie King, Health Advocacy Associate
Returning to Children First after interning as a high school student, Maggie is eager to get back to work where her love of policy began. Maggie spent the last four years earning her bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College, while pursuing opportunities at the Public Defender Association of Philadelphia and advocating for substance free/recovery services on her college campus. Maggie’s focus on Children First Health Policy Team is on our statewide coalition to end childhood lead poisoning in Pennsylvania. Maggie will graduate from The University of Pennsylvania School of Social Practice and Policy with a masters in social policy in 2023. Reach Maggie at 215-563-5848 ext. 35 or maggiek at childrenfirstpa dot org.
Amy J. Kobeta, Communications Director
Amy brings more than 25 years of experience in advocacy communications and organizing. She specializes in designing communications materials that are easy to use, understand and share. From 2007 to 2015, Amy was the Vice President of Children’s Action Alliance, Arizona’s leading child advocacy organization, where she managed traditional and social media, website and publication design, and advocacy materials. She also ran the Children’s Action Alliance Leadership Academy, which taught communications and lobbying skills to emerging leaders. For eight years, Amy served on the Phoenix Union High School Governing Board, providing citizen oversight of district’s policies and $26 million annual budget, and authorizing programs and policies to improve the performance of approximately 27,000 students and 3,000 staff. She has a Master of Public Administration degree from New York University/University College London, and moved to East Kensington in October 2020. Reach Amy at 215-563-5848 ext. 23 or amyk at childrenfirstpa dot org.
Kyle McMillen, Early Childhood Education Civic Engagement Coordinator
In his role as the Early Childhood Education Civic Engagement Coordinator, Kyle brings his expertise in education and political campaigns to Children First to ensure that the needs of children are represented in future policy. Kyle began his career in education in his home state of Michigan, where he spent time as a substitute teacher and after-school program coordinator. During that time he also began his work in community organizing and electoral politics, where he was a political team member for the successful U.S. Senate campaign of Gary Peters of Michigan along with work as a campus organizer for NextGen Climate Action. Kyle then moved to California to obtain a master’s degree in Education from the University of California, Riverside to broaden his expertise in education policy and advocacy. While there, he also continued his campaign work acting as a field organizer for a successful voter registration drive leading into the 2016 election cycle. The dual passions of education and political organizing led to his most recent role as an Outreach Director with the non-profit Educators for Excellence, where Kyle organized teachers in South Los Angeles to fight for a more equitable school system. Reach Kyle at 215-563-5848 ext. 16 or kylem at childrenfirstpa dot org.
Kathy S. Miller, Associate Director of Health Policy
Kathy leads Children First’s behavioral health advocacy. Her research is focused on strategies for improving children’s access to preventive and traditional behavioral health treatment, exploring the role of school-based services as an effective point of entry. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Registered Play Therapist Supervisor (RPT-S), and certified in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). Prior to joining Children First, Kathy has worked in a variety of public and private sectors in direct clinical practice, managed care, and other administrative settings. Her last role was at the nationally accredited Child Advocacy Center (CAC) in Philadelphia, working with stakeholders to promote access to evidence-based, trauma-focused treatment for trauma-impacted children in Philadelphia. She also convened a group of community partners tasked with designing and implementing a comprehensive, community-based child sexual abuse prevention initiative in an effort to reduce child sexual abuse incidence and recurrence in Philadelphia. Reach Kathy at 215-563-5848 ext. 26 or kathym at childrenfirstpa dot org.
Colleen McCauley, Health Policy Director
Colleen’s research leads the conversation in southeastern Pennsylvania and Harrisburg on children’s access to health care and health insurance issues. Her work on child health focuses on researching and advocating for improved access to health care, particularly among uninsured, undocumented families in Philadelphia and suburbs. Prior to joining Children First in 2001, Colleen was a nurse and former Assistant Director of the Abbottsford Community Health Center in Philadelphia. McCauley holds a Master’s degree in Public Health from Temple University. Reach Colleen at 215-563-5848 ext. 33 or colleenm at childrenfirstpa dot org.
Mai Miksic, Early Childhood Education Policy Director
Mai leads the early childhood advocacy, including coordinating and working with the state-wide coalition for child care Start Strong PA. She holds a bachelor’s degree in social welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree in social work from the Columbia University. Prior to joining Children First, Mai was the senior research analyst at the Day Care Council of New York (DCCNY), where her research advocated for early childhood programs across New York City. Mai’s research has focused on evaluating an early childhood career ladder program, determining the cost of pay parity for early childhood educators from community-based organizations, and advocating for community-based early childhood programs in New York City’s Housing Authority (NYCHA) buildings. Other previous research examined the effects of No Child Left Behind on children of immigrants and the black-white achievement gap. She comes from an immigrant family and attended Head Start as a child. Her mother was also a family child care provider. She lives in Havertown, PA with her husband and two young children. Reach Mai at 215-563-5848 ext. 18 or maim at childrenfirstpa dot org.
Mildred Mendez, Health Insurance Enroller (Spanish)
Mildred came out of retirement to help parents obtain medical insurance for their children. Mildred was first recruited as a volunteer and then joining the staff as a part time-worker to assist Spanish-speaking families apply for medical insurance through Medicaid or CHIP. Prior to joining Children First, Mildred worked with the First Judicial District of Philadelphia for 31 years, first with the adult Probation Department in a variety of administrative positions and then transferred over to the Juvenile Division, Dependency Unit where she worked as a Court Rep. In her previous positions Mildred served as interpreter on several occasions. Mildred is a graduate of Jules E Mastbaum Area Vocational Technical High School. Reach Mildred at 215-563-5848 ext. 27 or mildredm at childrenfirstpa dot org.
Dan O’Brien, Education Coordinator for Bucks County
Dan was born and raised in Levittown, PA, where he currently resides with his family. Dan was a teacher until 2018 when he decided to leave the classroom. Inspired by his students, Dan then entered politics and government to help change a broken education system and fight for the most vulnerable. Following his teaching career, Dan was the Campaign Coordinator for a state senate race in Bucks County. Immediately prior to coming to Children First, he was the Director for Local Government Relations for a current Bucks County state senator. Dan’s work includes advocating for expanded access to affordable child care and to ensure Pennsylvania does its part to provide a high quality education for all children. Reach Dan at 215-630-9592 or dano at childrenfirstpa dot org.
Anjanette Perry, Child HealthWatch HelpLine Coordinator
Anjanette’s focus is to help parents of uninsured and underinsured children apply for health insurance through Medicaid or CHIP. Prior to joining Children First, Anjanette worked with Child Care Information Services (CCIS) for over 15 years helping low-income families apply for subsidized childcare. Her first position was with CCIS West/Southwest as a Resource and Referral Specialist helping parents complete subsidy applications, provide available resource and referrals and attend community outreach events. Through Anjanette’s hard work and dedication she also held the position of Senior Resource and Referral Specialist and Parent Services Manager. Anjanette also worked at CCIS Northwest as a TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) Eligibility Specialist where she reviewed, analyzed, and processed intakes and applications based on the PA Dept. of Public Welfare eligibility requirements. Anjanette has an Associate of Arts Degree in Human Services Management from the University of Phoenix. Reach Anjanette at 215-563-5848 ext. 17 or anjanettep at childrenfirstpa dot org.
Inella Ray, Director of Parent Advocacy & Engagement
Inella is the Director of Parent Advocacy & Engagement at Children First, where she works with parents across Southeastern Pennsylvania to help inform policy recommendations that center the children of Pennsylvania. As a Philadelphia native and a proud product of the Philadelphia School District, Inella understands the power of what happens when we invest in tomorrow’s generation – today. This understanding has led her to build a career around protecting the potential of those most vulnerable amongst us – children – through advocacy and service. Prior to Children First, Inella served as the Director of School Operations at KIPP Lanning Square Middle School in Camden NJ, where she oversaw all operational and non-instructional functions so that the instructional team could focus on driving student achievement. Prior to being a school administrator, Inella held positions across the educational space ranging from out of school time programming to teacher recruitment to youth development within Afterschool All-Stars, KIPPNJ, Snider Hockey, Teach for America, and Upward Bound! Inella holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Temple University’s Fox School of Business, where she majored in Economics. In her spare time, Inella enjoys biking, reading, traveling and presently lives in West Philadelphia with her partner! Reach Inella at 215-563-5848 ext. 15 or inellar at childrenfirstpa dot org.
Jon Shanfelder, Child Policy Research Associate
In his role as a Child Policy Research Associate, Jon helps inform policy recommendations through the collection and analysis of data. Before joining Children First, he worked as a Research Assistant with the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, interned for the PLBC at the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and interned for (you guessed it) Children First. Jon earned his Bachelor’s degree from Penn State and his Master’s degree in Social Policy from the University of Pennsylvania. Reach Jon at 215-563-5848 ext. 13 or jons at childrenfirstpa dot org.
Tomea A. Sippio-Smith, K-12 Education Policy Director
Born in Los Angeles, California and raised in Miami, Florida, Tomea has dedicated her career to service. As a newly licensed Florida attorney, she started a practice representing clients in civil matters. Subsequently, as an attorney for the state of Florida, she handled dependency proceedings for children who had been abused, abandoned or neglected. Most recently, she represented the Agency for Persons with Disabilities in fair hearings for service authorizations, eligibility and crisis determinations. Her work as a former substitute teacher, adjunct professor and legal intern for a School Board Attorney’s Office, fostered her commitment to equity in education. She holds a Master’s degree in Education Policy from the University of Pennsylvania and Juris Doctor degree from the University of Florida. Currently, she lives outside of Philadelphia with her two children. Reach Tomea at 215-563-5848 ext. 36 or tomeas at childrenfirstpa dot org.
Gail Smith, Finance and Human Resources Administrator
For over 25 years of Children First’s growth and development, Gail has been responsible for day-to-day operations ensuring human resources, payroll and accounting functions operate efficiently. Prior to joining Children First, Gail worked with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia where she served in various administrative support capacities. She’s a graduate of West Catholic High School for Girls and is a native of Philadelphia. Reach Gail at 215-563-5848 ext. 24 or gails at pccychildrenfirstpa dot org.
ML Wernecke, Director, PA Charter School Performance Center
ML has over 30 years of policy experience with government and nonprofit organizations, advancing ambitious, practical, evidence-based solutions that improve governance, performance and fair allocation and utilization of tax dollars to meet the needs of citizens. In a senior policy position in the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office, ML led the development of a historic $100 million package of education and workforce improvements that were enacted and implemented statewide. In her most recent position as the Director of Policy at Benefits Data Trust, ML crafted highly targeted new policies that were adopted in six states, benefiting over 500,000 low income family members. ML’s tenure as a senior team member of the Pennsylvania Governor Office and Chief of Staff for the Maryland Department of Human Resources affords her a unique and tested understanding of how to advance public sector reforms that align governance, financing and accountability to support sound delivery of high quality government services effecting children and families. ML began her career at Wharton Econometrics where she was part of the forecasting team on the international side of the company. She also directed Penn’s Cartographic Modeling Lab, an early innovator in online mapping to help solve urban and social problems. ML graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Pennsylvania and earned a graduate degree from the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. ML’s expertise includes highly technical legislative and regulatory review and budget analysis, preparing persuasive testimony and reports, crafting sound policy, and overseeing implementation – all skills that will now be put to use to improve Pennsylvania’s education sector with a special focus on the charter school system. Reach ML at 215-563-5848 ext. 29 or mlwernecke at childrenfirstpa dot org.