Parent Advisory Council

FRIENDS has established a Parent Advisory Council to provide useful overall program direction and guidance to the activities of the National Center. Committee members share their experience and expertise in child abuse prevention and family strengthening through their active participation in FRIENDS workgroups and the annual Grantee’s meeting, development/review of FRIENDS written materials, and by providing resource center staff with consultation and advice.

Region 1
  • Jo Modeste (CT)
  • Joe Whitmore (ME)
Region 2
  • Michael Cupeles (NJ)
  • David Armstrong (NJ)
  • Melba Marcela Henao, PAC Alumni (NJ)
Region 3
  • Elizabeth Reddick (DC)
  • Eliza Cooper, PAC Alumni (MD)
  • Stephanie Eckhart, PAC Alumni (MD)
Region 4
  • Eileen Graham (GA)
  • Anntoinette Johnson (TN)
  • Vadonna Williams, PAC Mentor (AL)
  • Bruce Bynum, PAC Alumni (SC)
  • Sam Bowman Fuhrmann, PAC Alumni  (NC)
  • Valerie Lebanion, PAC Alumni (KY)
  • Beth Stodghill, PAC Alumni (TN)
Region 5
  • Joanne Hodgeman, PAC Alumni (MN)
  • Brook Hoffbauer, PAC Alumni (MN)
  • Anthony Queen, PAC Alumni (MI)
Region 6
  • Paula Bibbs-Samuels (TX)
  • Raven Sigure, PAC Alumni (LA)
Region 7
  • Ashley Schmit (NE)
  • Thalia Wilson (NE)
  • Sam Blue, PAC Alumni (MO)
  • Jessica Diel, PAC Alumni (MO)
Region 8
Region 9
  • Melissa Zimmerman, PAC Mentor (AZ)
  • Art Hernandez, PAC Alumni (CA)
Region 10
  • Ashley Cox (WA)
  • Matthew Porter (OR)
  • Heather Stenson, PAC Mentor (WA)
  • Jill Gentry, PAC Alumni (OR)
  • Fatima Gonzalez-Galindo, PAC Alumni (WA)
  • Dawn Patzer, PAC Alumni (WA)

Members of the team include:

David Armstrong

David Armstrong (NJ) is married to his high school sweetheart and has two adult daughters, a twelve-year-old and a twenty-year-old grandson, (legal guardian) who was diagnosed with special health care needs at an early age. David volunteers with Parent Partner on the Essex County/NJ state Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems COIIN team to support systems in becoming more father-friendly.  He is a state and national trainer, serves as a parent liaison, and strives to educate, empower, engage, and encourage parents to take an active role in their children’s development and well-being. He is a certified, trained facilitator for National Fatherhood Initative’s 24/7 Dads, and Fathering in 15™, and is also trained in parent cafés.  David collaborates with other family leaders across the country to bring families together to increase their collective voices and advocate for policies and educational research that promote the well-being of young children and their families regardless of race, religion, or socioeconomic status.  David continually looks for more ways to expand his leadership capacity to engage, educate, and empower fathers and grandfathers to become more involved in the well-being of their children’s/grandchildren’s life, starting from when they are born or even prenatally, so those children can experience better outcomes and reach their full potential.

Paula Bibbs-Samuels

Paula Bibbs-Samuels (TX) has over 20 years of parent leadership experience which includes serving as a commissioner for the Texas Children’s Commission for two terms, a parent liaison for the Texas Parent Collaboration Council, and Region 1 Parent Liaison. Paula is currently working with Texas PEI and Thriving Families, Safer Children Phase II to help bring attention to and eradicate racial inequities within systems. Paula, a Licensed Professional Counselor, continues to work in parent leadership efforts within birth, foster, and kinship families.  Paula is a mother of 7 as a result of a blended family, and a former kinship placement.

Paula has been an exciting, engaging, and truth talking public speaker for over twenty years.  In this capacity she has created an atmosphere to learn and find comfortableness with being uncomfortable.

Paula participates on several workgroups and committees addressing racial disparities, disparate representation and treatment, prevention methods, and improving practice and procedure to make lives better for children and families.

Paula expresses that the work she does for families is her passion.  Helping others is her drive.


Ashley Cox

Ashley Cox (WA) is a single mom to a beautiful 2-year-old and is a long-time advocate for children and families. Ashley began her advocacy journey as a youth leader working as a Senate Page at the state Capitol in Washington, testifying on behalf of children’s health care, access to dental care and breakfast after the bell. After Ashley became a mother, she realized how many more challenges families faced finding affordable childcare and accessing resources for mental health, especially around Post-Partum Depression. Through her experience growing up as the 6th sibling of a blended and host foster family, Ashley has identified the need for systems’ improvement. Now, as a mother, Ashley doesn’t want her daughter to have to navigate the situations that create high ACES scores and she involves herself in advocacy efforts to support healthy families. Ashley advocated for access to healthy meals in her small rural community by getting a local meat shop to accept SNAP benefits and recently was selected to attend the Anti-Hunger Summit in Washington DC. Ashley is a Washington State Parent Ambassador Alumni, a full-time student, and continues to be an advocate for protecting children in any way, shape, or form.

Michael Cupeles

Michael Cupeles (NJ) is a champion of early childhood education, paternity, family, and community.  Michael focuses on Fatherhood and is Nationally Certified through F&FCA and NFI. As an ordained minister and chaplain, his passion is to stand up for human rights. Michael is the coordinator of the men’s initiative at Gateway Community Action Partnership Early Head Start & Head Start and Chairman of the AmeriCorps Seniors Foster Grandparents Advisory Committee.  He serves on school boards and is a board member of the New Jersey Local Selective Service System Region 1, and a member of the New Jersey Department of Children & Family, Office of Family Voice Fatherhood Engagement Committee acting as a Liaison to the New Jersey Head Start Association.  Michael is also the VP/Chief Strategy Planning and Development Officer for Latino X Radio, a non-profit in New Jersey. His heart and passion is to see community grow as we walk together through the human experience that we like to call life.

Eileen Graham

Eileen Graham (GA) is the Founder of Egraham & Associates a Consulting and Parent advocacy partnership. Eileen formed Egraham & Associates September 2020 as a partnership, created to work in collaboration with local, state and federal leaders. Intended to provide consultations, workshop/coaching sessions and parent advocacy. She has been sharing her knowledge and expertise with business executives, city officials, politicians, and influential community leaders in the Rochester, NY and Greater Atlanta areas for over 20 years. Ms. Graham is currently serving on the Parent Advisory Council with FRIENDS National Center for Community Based Child Abuse Prevention. Ms. Graham is also a Middle School Educator and continues to serve as a trustworthy parent leader and advisor. She is dedicated to using her influence and voice to impact communities. Eileen has a Bachelor’s in Arts in Psychology and working towards a Master of Arts in Teaching from Brenau University.

Anntionette Johnson

Anntionette Johnson (TN) is a native Memphian, parent to six, grandparent of one. She recently retired and will start to devote more time advocating for foster parents, children, and the voiceless community. Anntionette has been a foster parent for nineteen years and serves as a trainer for potential foster to adopt parents. She currently serves as Co-chairperson for Nurture the Next and is a Parent Leader.

Jo Modeste

Jo Modeste (CT) is a graduate of the Parent Leadership Training Institute and a Parent Ambassador at the Alliance for Bloomfield’s Children in Connecticut. She has over 10 years of experience working with parents, families, and individuals as an agent of support and guidance. She has additional expertise in areas of lactation consultation, health literacy, and contract negotiation.

Jo is the co-founder of Align and Elevate, a self-care initiative that presents workshops on Boundary Intelligence and Cultural Responsiveness to burnout. She is especially sensitive to the needs of parents and caregivers, and encourages this population to prioritize having healthy boundaries, a sustainable self-care plan, and preventing burnout. Jo is also passionate about elevating the standard of business messaging, and serves as an editing, writing, and branding analyst at Jo Modeste Consulting, LLC.

She is at peace when having raw and emotionally risky discussions, many of which revolve around protected classes, honoring personal boundaries, and living in the absence of pretense.

Matthew Porter

Matthew Porter (OR) is a married father of 4 children. As a parent having experienced the child welfare system firsthand, Matthew has found his calling as a parent mentor for Morrison Child & Family Services. By utilizing the tools he’s acquired, Matthew uses his own experience to help other fathers of color advocate for themselves and navigate the child welfare system. Matthew is a member of the Parent’s Advisory Council (PAC) through Morrison along with being on the Father’s Advisory Board (FAB). Matthew’s passion has been to add a father’s perspective and voice to different branches of Department of Human Services in Multnomah County, OR. Matthew is also a Certified Recovery Mentor will soon be as certified as a Family Support Specialist. Matthew is motivated by supporting families that have children with varying needs and giving hope to parents who are struggling. Matthew and his family live in Beaverton, Or.

Elizabeth Reddick

Elizabeth Reddick (Washington, DC) is a military veteran, mother of five, and Disability Rights Advocate. She is the Youth Work Group Leader of the Family and Youth Committee of the DC Coordinating Council of School Behavioral Health, where she focuses on amplifying youth voices. As a member of DC’s Protection & Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI) Advisory Council, Ms. Reddick strives to hold agencies responsible for providing equitable systems of care while creating inclusive and safe spaces. She is also a Parents Amplifying Voices in Education (PAVE) Ward 7 PLE Board Member. Ms. Reddick is trained in trauma-informed care and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). As a Peer Support person, she believes in sharing lived experiences, reducing stigma, and fostering an environment where self-care includes mental and behavioral health resources.

Ashley Schmit

Ashley Schmit (NE) is a mother of five who resides in Lincoln, Nebraska. When it comes to working as a parent leader, Ashley describes having a zealous heart for any work that brings partners together to have conversations about the promotion of family and child well-being. She is especially interested in partnerships that result in solution creation, positive change, and community innovation that directly affect those most impacted by disparities related to poverty, racial, and social injustice. Since 2017, she has served as a Parent Leader, Lived Prevention Support and Experience Expert, member of the Local Community Action Partnership Executive Board, Chair and Parent Representative on the Local Head Start Program Policy Council and Nebraska Community Response Panels as well as roles on various Nebraska steering committees. Ashley has a Nursing Degree and practiced Nursing for approximately 10 years.

Heather Stenson

Heather Stenson (WA) is a former Social Services Manager, Montana SafeCare Trainer, home visitor and a National Trainer and Facilitator of Montana Circle of Parents. Heather raised two beautiful sons, Zach and Ryan. Heather learned the hard way that raising children isn’t easy, especially when your child has special health care needs and live in an area with limited access to specialists.

Heather started working as a SafeCare home visitor in 2014 where she found her voice and peer support. Heather used her ability to start a support group to help other families in her community parenting children with special health care needs or mental health conditions. Heather, in partnership with the Montana Children’s Special Health Services, created Montana Circle of Parents. Heather has an Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and has received extensive training in areas that support child abuse and neglect prevention. Heather is a certified Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) trainer and sits on boards and committees throughout the state.

Heather often says that she has a “fire in her belly” to advocate for individuals who can’t advocate for themselves. In 2018, Heather received funding from Montana Children’s Special Healthcare Services to become a Circle of Parents (CoP) Trainer and train new CoP groups all around the state of Montana. She has since started thirteen new CoP support groups that support families with children who have special health care needs and mental health conditions, grandparents raising grandchildren, parents in recovery, foster families, and postpartum mental health. In 2019 she and a colleague were recognized with Montana’s Pinwheels for Prevention Award in 2019 for helping families.

Heather enjoys learning new things, meeting new people with the same passions and goals, and loves being out in nature, and spending quality time with her family. Heather was nominated for the PAC by the Montana Children’s Trust Fund.

Joe Whitmore

Joe Whitmore (ME) is a proud father and member of the Penquis Prevention Council ParentLeadership team. Joe is a member of Maine’s Prevention Mindset Institute team, as well as other local, State and National efforts to support families to prevent child abuse. Joe is also a facilitator in the Nurturing Fathers program.

In addition to the work Joe does with the Prevention Council, he enjoys being a positive part of the community by helping other parents achieve their potential as parents and individuals. Joe uses his voice as a parent to help improve the lives of parents and children and serves on state and national committees. Joe also works with child protective service organizations, providing his perspective experience to new case managers. Joe has over 20 years experience supporting families at the grassroots level and 2 years professionally. He is a strong advocate stepping forward to embrace being nurturing, supportive, and loving fathers.

Vadonna Williams

Vadonna Williams (AL) is a devoted mother of two sons and a wife to husband Leonard since 1997. She is a dedicated advocate for children and families in Tuscaloosa and throughout Alabama. She has nearly 20 years of parent leadership experience which includes her role as a Parent Leadership Coordinator, Peer Leader, and Facilitator of parenting classes. In addition, she has held the position of Director of the Parenting Dept. with Tuscaloosa’s One Place. Vadonna has been very fortunate to have been appointed, by the Governor of Alabama, to currently serve on the Board of Directors for the Alabama Partnership for Children as the Parent Representative. She also is a founding member of their Family Advisory Committee.  In addition, she served as a Steering Committee member of both the National Early Childhood Family Network and the Alabama Parent Advisory Council and was nominated for the FRIENDS PAC by Alabama Partnership for Children.


Thalia Wilson

Thalia Wilson (NE) is the proud mother of one son and a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa tribes. She has 10 years’ experience in the child & adolescent advocacy fields, including five years in a a parent leadership role. Thalia’s leadership journey began when she became involved in the parent group at her son’s Head Start program. She was elected as the secretary of this group and then served as parent representative on the policy council. Thalia then proceeded to serve two years as the parent representative and 2 years as a community representative on the policy council. Thalia’s participation as a representative introduced her to the inaugural cohort of the Nebraska Parent Ambassador program. She was selected as  aParent Ambassador for a year and is currently serving her second year as an alumnus. Thalia was then chosen for the National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement committee and the Parent Nation committee. Thalia’s professional career has centered on child and adolescent advocacy. She was a school counselor, family and youth advocate, child protection case manager, and child protection family developer and is currently working for a sexual violence prevention program with children in grades K-12 on a Native American Reservation in South Dakota. Thalia continues to work for the betterment of children, especially Native American and rural children.

Melissa Zimmerman

Melissa Zimmerman (AZ) lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her daughter, Taylor, and her fiancé.  She is a dedicated family advocate in her community.  She was previously involved with the Department of Child Safety (DCS) formally Child Protective Services and was able to successfully navigate the child welfare system and behavioral health systems to reunite with her daughter.  She advocates for the parents that she works with to be their voice in advocating for their families. She also advocates for parents and foster parents to have a shared parenting relationship while their children are in care.  She shares her experience with potential foster parents and adoptive parents.

Today, Melissa has nine years of sobriety and is a Care Coordinator for Terros Health with the Families F.I.R.S.T (Families In Recovery Succeeding Together) program helping families reunite with their children.  She uses her life experiences to forge a deep connection with parents bringing them her own life experience to help guide them to success.  Her knowledge is crucial in helping individuals and families navigate the complicated public health and child protection system in Arizona by having a voice to advocate for themselves.  Melissa currently holds a Masters Degree in Criminal Justice and is a Certified Peer Support that includes Forensic Peer Support as well.  She is currently studying for her Masters in Social Work. She is a part of the Parent Advisory Collaborative for Arizona and is currently a part of the Birth Foster Parent Partnership (BFPP) and the Birth Parent National Network (BPNN). Melissa is also a part of the statewide S.E.N.S.E training for Arizona.  Melissa was nominated for the PAC by the Arizona Department of Child Safety.

We and selected third parties use cookies or similar technologies for technical purposes and, with your consent, for other purposes. You can consent to the use of such technologies by using the “Accept” button, by closing this notice, by scrolling this page, by interacting with any link or button outside of this notice or by continuing to browse otherwise.