Staff

Jennifer L. Braun, Esq.

President & CEO

Jennifer L. Braun is the is the President and CEO of the Alliance for Children’s Rights, dedicated to promoting the rights and well-being of children and young adults in our child welfare systems.  Jen formerly was the Alliance’s Legal Director, overseeing our broad array of cases and programs, and representing the Alliance in the community. She has supported expanding the Alliance’s pro bono partners’ representation of young adults in consumer cases, as well as their representation of families in benefits cases for children adopted through foster care. Before joining the Alliance, Jen was an Assistant U.S. Trustee in the U.S. Department of Justice, where she supervised the prevention of financial and consumer abuses in the bankruptcy system. Earlier, she was a supervising attorney at Bet Tzedek Legal Services, assisting indigent Los Angeles County residents, after beginning her legal career in private practice, litigating employment rights cases. Ms. Braun holds a B.A. from Pomona College, a M.A. in English from the University of Chicago, and a J.D. from the University of California at Berkeley School of Law.

Danilo Garcia

Chief Financial Officer

Danilo joined the Alliance for Children’s Rights in 2018 as Chief Financial Officer. Danilo oversees operations, risk management, strategic planning, and the overall financial viability of the agency. In addition, he is involved in enhancing the organizational processes and infrastructure to allow for growth and increase future sustainability. Prior to joining the Alliance, Danilo served as finance director for A Place Called Home, where he managed, coordinated and supervised all financial functions in a period of intense and continuous growth. With a passion for helping the most vulnerable, Danilo has a track record of volunteer participation in various initiatives. He currently serves on the board of Nonprofit Insurance Alliance of California. Danilo holds a BS in Business Administration (Finance emphasis) and minor in Economics from CalState LA and an MBA (Finance emphasis) from CalPoly, Pomona.

Lara Holtzman, Esq.

Vice President, Legal & Program Services

Lara joined the Alliance as a staff attorney in 1998 and has since assumed the role of Managing Attorney.  During her tenure, she helped expand the organization to include programs such as Health Care, Legal Guardianship and Public Benefits.

Lara is a graduate of the State University of New York, Buffalo, with a JD and a MS in Public Policy focusing on children and family services.  Prior to joining the Alliance, Lara worked as a children’s attorney for the Children’s Law Center and as a Research Attorney for three consecutive presiding judges of the Los Angeles Juvenile Court.

Angie Schwartz, Esq.

Vice President, Policy and Advocacy

Angie Schwartz is Vice President, Policy and Advocacy, working to improve the well-being of children living in poverty and those placed in foster care or at risk of dependency. Angie has been instrumental in shaping California’s child welfare system, spearheading key reforms including the extension of foster care to age 21; revamping foster care to be fully inclusive of kinship families; overhauling the state’s foster care rate system to be based on a child’s needs; and improving access to disability benefits for young people in foster care.  She is a trusted advisor to state and local agencies on state and federal funding strategies, an expert on thoughtful implementation of child welfare reforms, and a leading voice in advocating for relative caregivers. Angie has served as lead and co-counsel in impact cases aimed at securing appropriate benefits and supports for vulnerable children and families.  She is the author of many articles exploring the intersection of child welfare, poverty, and safety net programs.  Angie graduated Magna Cum Laude from American University, and earned a  J.D. with distinction from Stanford Law School.

Cathy Yacoub, Esq.

Pro Bono Director

Cathy received her JD from Georgetown Law Center and her BA in communications studies and political science from UCLA. Prior to joining the Alliance, Cathy worked with a non-profit foundation and also spent several years recruiting attorneys and managing summer programs at a large national firm. She has a background in environmental litigation and interned with the Federal Communications Commission while in law school.


Education Program

Jill Rowland, Esq.

Education Program Director

Jill is an expert in every area of education impacting foster youth, including early intervention, special education, general education, school discipline, and interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. Jill’s vision has grown the Alliance’s Education Program in response to the needs of our clients: from pioneering legal representation for early intervention services to addressing the unique trauma-related education needs of foster youth. Her collaborative approach led to the creation of the Foster Youth Education Toolkit and its Court Companion, the training of thousands of school district and foster/probation system personnel (including social workers, probation officers, attorneys, and judges), and improved foster youth policies put into practice in multiple school districts. Jill is passionate about providing foster and probation youth with an equitable education, so they can succeed in college, work, and life. She earned her JD at UCLA School of Law, specializing in Critical Race Studies. She majored in Communications and Sociology at UC Santa Barbara.

Sam Paneno, Esq.

Associate Director

Sam received his JD from UC Davis, where he also obtained a BS in Psychology. Sam suffered a college football injury that almost took his life and left him permanently physically disabled. His positive outlook during this time surprisingly garnered the attention of national media and organizations, leading to several distinguished awards. Ultimately, Sam’s injury served as the catalyst for joining his passion for social justice with the desire to assist disabled children. Prior to joining the Alliance, Sam ran a private special education practice and spent a year as a school district attorney.

Alaina Moonves-Leb, Esq.

Senior Staff Attorney, Statewide Education Rights

Alaina holds a JD from New York University where she was president of the High School Law Institute, and advocated for families navigating the New York education and dependency systems. In 2011 she joined the Alliance as an Equal Justice Works Fellow to dismantle the school to prison pipeline for foster youth. In this role she directly advocated for youth, worked within the schools and juvenile courts, and led the development of and trained on key policy efforts and legislation. At the conclusion of her fellowship, Alaina became a staff attorney, and continued this work. Prior to law school, she taught special education for two years, earned an MA in teaching through the Teach for America Program, and was honored nationally as their special education teacher of the year.

Elana Zada, Esq.

Staff Attorney

Elana holds a BA in Political Science and a minor in Business Administration from California State University, Chico. She received her JD from Southwestern Law School. During law school, she was an intern at the Children’s Rights Clinic. This experience sparked her interest in not only advocating on behalf of underprivileged families, but also advocating for the educational rights of children with special needs.

Karen Martinez

Staff Advocate

Karen holds a BA in Political Science and International Relations from USC and a JD from UC Hastings College of the Law. She worked at the Alliance for four years as a Legal Assistant and then as Education Coordinator before moving to the Bay Area to pursue her JD. Before returning to the Alliance she had the opportunity to assist youth, tenants, and refugees gain access to our legal system through the various public interest internships and clinics she participated in as a law student. She is happy to return to the Alliance and continue her career in public interest by advocating for the education rights of foster youth in Los Angeles County.

Cindy Espinoza-Rodas

Special Education Advocate

Cindy serves as the Special Education Advocate in the Education Department. She graduated from California State University, Fullerton with a double major in Criminal Justice and Political Science. She then completed a Paralegal Certificate Program from the University of San Diego. Before joining the Alliance, Cindy interned at the Public Law Center in Santa Ana, the College Legal Clinic in Fullerton, and at the California State Attorney General’s Office.

Erin Black

Advocate and Trainer

Erin holds a BA in International Development and a minor in Public Affairs from UCLA. Prior to joining the Alliance, she worked as a Wraparound Support Counselor with Seneca Family of Agencies, providing mental health counseling, behavioral intervention, and case management services to foster and probation youth. Previously, Erin has worked in development at KIPP LA Schools and provided social services to the homeless population through San Francisco City Impact. She is committed to advancing educational equity for foster and probation youth through a combination of direct service and policy advocacy.

Amanda Burckhardt

Legal Assistant

Amanda graduated from Occidental College with a BA in Politics. Before joining the Alliance, she worked at Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project assisting unaccompanied minors and their sponsors with resources and potential visa options. Previously, Amanda worked in Minnesota state and regional government and facilitated professional and leadership development training to college students from underrepresented backgrounds. At the Alliance, she assists with special education advocacy and is dedicated to helping foster and probation youth receive an equitable education.


Benefits Program

Adam Cherensky, Esq.

Benefits Program Director

Adam holds a BA in History from Williams College and a JD from UCLA School of Law. Before joining the Alliance, Adam practiced commercial and securities litigation at Paul Hastings LLP, and civil rights disability access litigation at Metz & Harrison, LLP. In 2011, Adam received Public Counsel’s President’s Award for his pro bono work with Public Counsel’s CARES (Connecting Angelenos to Resources and Essential Services) project.

Rachel Stein, Esq.

Senior Staff Attorney

Rachel holds a JD from the University of Michigan Law School and a MSW from the University of Michigan School of Social Work. She holds a BA from Swarthmore College. Before joining the Alliance, Rachel worked in the Children’s Rights Project at Public Counsel, where she represented caregivers in dependency adoption proceedings and in their efforts to obtain additional benefits and services for their children from LA County. Rachel also has experience representing transition age youth in the areas of housing, education, and family law. Prior to her child advocacy work, Rachel practiced employment litigation first at Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP and then at Fox Group Legal.

MacKenna Wenzl

Legal Assistant

MacKenna holds a BA in Sociology from Occidental College in Los Angeles. While at Oxy, MacKenna conducted research on the impact of the 2016 Pasadena Minimum Wage Ordinance, as well as on the implementation through statute of Restorative Justice practices across the U.S.  MacKenna joined the Benefits program at the Alliance in July 2018. Before joining the Alliance, MacKenna worked as a private math tutor and volunteered as a tutor with the Violence Intervention Program in Los Angeles. MacKenna speaks Spanish.

Nirvana Mendez

Legal Assistant

Nirvana holds a BA in Sociology and a minor in Chicano/a studies from the University of California, Los Angeles. Nirvana joined the Alliance as a volunteer in 2019 and joined the staff a few months after. Prior to joining the Alliance, she mentored youth through the Alliance Mentoring Program, and as a Student Advisor. Nirvana was also an Assistant Organizer at the UCLA Luskin School of Affairs.

Jacqueline Peña

Legal Assistant

Jacqueline is a recent graduate from California State University, Long Beach. She received a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Chicano and Latino/a Studies. Her choice of study has instilled in her a deep desire to become an agent of change. Her passion-fueled goal is to positively affect social change and justice in the greater community. Jacqueline is honored to be an advocate for underserved communities through her work at the Alliance for Children’s rights. When she isn’t working, you’ll find Jacqueline practicing yoga, spending time with her dog, and enjoying a good Netflix binge.


Healthcare Program

Barbara Facher, MSW

Social Worker

Barbara joined the Alliance in 2001 as our Health Care Social Worker.  She works collaboratively with the Department of Children and Family Services to improve services and outcomes for pregnant and parenting teens living in foster care and to reduce the intergenerational cycle of entry into the child welfare system.  Barbara holds a BA from the University of California, Berkeley and a MSW from San Francisco State University.

Shiré Wortham, MSW

Social Worker

Shiré graduated from Mount St. Mary’s College with a BA in Medical Sociology. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Southern California. Prior to joining the Alliance, Shiré interned with Children’s Law Center’s Collaborative firm as a case manager for the CARE unit. She hopes to use her experience working with transitional age foster youth and promoting collaboration across multidisciplinary teams to improve services and outcomes.

Sherry Rendel, RN, BSN, PHN

Public Health Nurse

Sherry joined the Alliance’s Healthcare Program in 2005. Her previous work includes ten years with the Department of Children and Family Services as a public health nurse.


Foster Care Adoptions Program

Cynthia Billey, Esq.

Program Director

Cynthia joined the Alliance in 2001 as the Adoptions Program Director. She has been a leader in the success of National Adoption Day and was part of a litigation team that won a lawsuit to protect the benefits of adopted children with developmental disabilities. Cynthia earned her BA from UCLA and is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law.

Anderson Stone

Legal Assistant


Legal Guardianship Program

Juan Guzman, Esq.

Guardianship Program Manager, Legal Guardianship and Benefits Programs

Juan holds a BA from University of California, Santa Barbara in Political Science and a JD from Thomas Jefferson School of Law.  Before returning to the Alliance, where he held post as a Legal Assistant in the Benefits Program, he worked with minors in removal proceedings and served as a judicial extern at the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

Rocio Garcia

Legal Assistant

For the past 3 ½ years, Rocio has worked at the Children’s Institute, first as a family service worker and most recently as a family and community partnership specialist. Before that, Rocio was a family resource associate at Para Los Ninos. Rocio earned her B.A. in History from UCLA, and is also a fluent Spanish speaker.


Programs for Transition-Age Youth

Vincent D'Averso

Mentor Program Director

Vincent is a graduate of UCLA and has 24 years experience working with foster and probation youth. Prior to joining the Alliance, he worked at the Community College Foundation where he managed programs for foster youth ages 14-21. Since joining the Alliance in 2006 he has developed and managed our Mentor Program for transition-age youth. Vinny formerly served on the American Indian Commission.

Robert Argomaniz

Executive Assistant to VP, Legal & Program Services

Prior to joining the Alliance in 2011, Robert spent 16 years as an advocate with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA). There, he served in the Government Benefit and Community Economic Development Units. At the Alliance, Robert provides legal assistance in the SSI cases for older foster youth who are disabled and at risk of aging out of the system without necessary benefits and services in place.

Cheyenne Rogers

Legal Assistant

Cheyenne received her BA in Political Science and Public Policy from the University of California, Riverside. Prior to joining the Alliance, she worked with the UCR Guardian Scholars Program and was a facilitator for the Y.O.U.T.H. Training Project. As an LA native, Cheyenne is excited to be able to advocate and give back to her community.


Opportunity Youth Collaborative

Lauri Collier

OYC Director

Lauri Collier is the director of the LA Opportunity Youth Collaborative, which is a community of organizations working in concert to ensure that every youth is served in a holistic way with a coherent array of complementary and coordinated services.  The OYC builds bridges between more than 50 public agencies, service organizations, educational institutions and employers to better connect youth with education, jobs and opportunity.  Lauri has over 20 years of experience working with vulnerable populations, and her expertise is working with child-welfare programs serving transition age youth.  Previously, as vice-president of housing and operations at St. Anne’s, she worked in collaboration with DCFS Youth Development Services to bring the Transitional Housing Plus (THP+) funding stream into Los Angeles County in partnership with DCFS and licensed one of the first Transitional Housing Plus Foster Care (THP+FC) housing programs in Los Angeles County. She also served as the director of the Los Angeles Transition Age Youth Collaborative, which developed an evidence-based, trauma informed, work-force development curriculum in collaboration with Columbia University School of Social Work’s Workplace Center.  She expanded the reach of work readiness curriculum by and partnering with over 15 community-based organizations, and the curriculum is currently being embedded into the public workforce system.

Melisa Montano-Ochoa

OYC Program Manager

Melisa Montano-Ochoa is a graduate of California State University, Fullerton with a B.A. and M.A. in Spanish Literature and Linguistics. She possess a varied skillset that includes experience working with at-risk youth, McKinney Vento students and the use of Restorative Practices to heal and build community. Her background and interest in the field of education began during her time at CSUF through her extracurricular leadership involvement within several organizations. Melisa has worked in other non-profits like OC Human Relations, based in Orange County, where she was able to positively impact school climate at various school sites throughout the county. She is passionate about social justice and empowering youth reach their potential.

Joshua Garza

Outreach and Engagement Fellow

Joshua is a student at California State University of Long Beach, obtaining his BA in Communications with a minor in Law. He previously worked at a nonprofit in Long Beach that specialized in low income housing across the U.S for seniors, families and persons with disabilities. He hopes to use his current role at the Alliance to inspire youth and build lasting relationships within the OYC community and more.


Policy

Kristin Power

Government Relations Director

Kristin has a successful track record of developing and communicating winning government relations strategies on a variety of issue areas as a legislative and regulatory advocate in Sacramento and other state capitols across the West. She holds a MA in education and a BA in political science from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo where she has served as an active member of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences Dean’s Advisory Council since 2000.

Shanti Ezrine

Legal Assistant

Shanti graduated from the University of California, Davis and holds a BA in Political Science-Public Service and Communication. Before joining the Alliance, he interned at Environment California and the Steinberg Institute working on environmental and mental health policy.


Client Intake

Yolanda McFarlane

Intake and Database Manager

Yolanda joined the Alliance in 2006 to manage our client intake process.  She came to the Alliance from Bet Tzedek Legal Services where she worked in Human Resources. She is a graduate of Scripps College.

Michelle Garcia

Data Entry Clerk

Michelle earned her degree as a paralegal. She started working with the Alliance in 2014 as a volunteer and joined the staff in 2017. Prior to joining the Alliance she worked in the private sector.


Volunteer Program

Cathy Yacoub, Esq.

Pro Bono Director

Cathy received her JD from Georgetown Law Center and her BA in communications studies and political science from UCLA. Prior to joining the Alliance, Cathy worked with a non-profit foundation and also spent several years recruiting attorneys and managing summer programs at a large national firm. She has a background in environmental litigation and interned with the Federal Communications Commission while in law school.

Yaari Sanderson

Volunteer Outreach Coordinator

Yaari is a native of Los Angeles and a graduate of Barnard College with a BA in History. Prior to joining the Alliance, Yaari worked at various non-profits and museums in Los Angeles and New York City. She continues to support her community as a youth tutor and animal rights advocate.


Development

Franci Levine-Grater

Grants Manager

Franci joined the Alliance in 2018 as Grants Manager. She is an experienced fundraiser and has served as staff, consultant or board member for a variety of nonprofits. Franci holds a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from Brooklyn College-CUNY; she has always sought to put her love of language to use in support of organizations with a social justice mission. She lives with her family in Pasadena.

Maranda Easton

Grant Writer

Maranda holds a BA in Social Work from Gordon College. Before coming to the Alliance, she worked in a Juvenile Court to evaluate and implement programs aimed at helping youth involved in both the court and foster care systems.

Stephanie Lopez

Events and Major Gifts Manager

Stephanie has been working with transitioning foster youth for the past nine years, beginning as an Outreach Advisor for the Community College Foundation. She joined the Alliance in 2010. Being a former foster youth herself, she brings great insight and empathy to her work with transition-age youth.

Denise Binder

Database Coordinator

Denise has been with the Alliance since 2013 and is the Donor Database Coordinator. She was introduced to the non-profit world in 2006 by way of Mahan & Nash, a public relations firm. Denise is responsible for maintaining the Alliance’s fundraising database by providing quality assurance and enforcing organizational database standards, while also providing guidance and training to all internal users. With more than 20 years of institutional knowledge, Denise brings her experiences in accounting for PR and nonprofit agencies, higher education, military/civilian logistics, entertainment/advertising and the U.S. Army’s Berlin Command Financial Management Division to the table, making her a vital part of our team.

Scotty Pruitt

Development Assistant

Scotty is a graduate of Occidental College with a BA in History and a minor in American Studies. Before joining the Alliance, he spent four years working in Occidental’s fundraising department as the manager of the call center. Scotty plans to use his experience in fundraising to help advocate for equity for youth in Los Angeles.


Alliance of Moms

Kerry Buzzell

Alliance of Moms Director

Kerry possesses a unique professional history that includes a connection to youth in Los Angeles and a strong marketing background focused on LA women and moms. After earning a B.A. in Psychology and an M.A. in Education, Kerry began her career as an LAUSD teacher. She then moved on to marketing and business development work with lululemon and Sweaty Betty. Kerry is excited to lead Alliance of Moms forward by combining her passion for improving the lives of young women and children with her talent for branding, social media campaigns, and event planning.

Eva Townsend

AOM Development Assistant

Eva was born and raised in Berkeley, CA. While earning her B.A. in Spanish and Public Health from Occidental College, she interned with several non-profit organizations which encouraged her to pursue a career helping others. Eva is excited to work with the Alliance of Moms community, and to advocate for equity for young people in foster care.

Administrative

Kathy Brubaker

Director of Administration

Kathy has worked at the Alliance for 18 years and loves watching the services that we offer our children and caregivers expand over the years. A Los Angeles native, she is proud to serve her local community.

Debbie Cohen

Controller

Debbie joined the Alliance for Children’s Rights team as Controller in September 2017. For over 35 years Debbie supported a wide variety of not-for-profit organizations as a consultant until her decision to settle down at the Alliance for Children’s Rights, which has been one of her clients for over 20 years. Debbie is excited to step into a position in which she can be an active part of the Alliance’s continued growth.

Theresa Hernandez

Administrative Coordinator

A Los Angeles native, Theresa has spent most of her life working in non-profit legal service agencies. Prior to joining the Alliance in 2011, she was a paralegal, Intake Manager and Volunteer Coordinator at Bet Tzedek Legal Services. She has a passion for helping others and focuses her talents on supporting the administrative needs of the Alliance staff. Theresa is currently earning her Human Resources Certificate through UCLA’s Extension program.

Ashley Zometa

Administrative Assistant

Ashley is currently working on obtaining her degree in social work at Cal State LA. Prior to coming to the Alliance she worked with children in behavioral health.

Fernanda Anaya

Executive Assistant to President & CEO

Fernanda joined the Alliance in 2018. She is excited to be part of a mission-driven organization. Prior to the Alliance she worked in the corporate sector.


Scotty Pruitt
Development AssistantJennifer L. Braun, Esq.
Executive DirectorDanilo Garcia
Chief Financial Officer

Lara Holtzman, Esq.
Managing Attorney

Angie Shwartz, Esq.
Vice President of Policy and Advocacy

Cathy Yacoub, Esq.
Pro Bono Director

Education Program
Jill Rowland, Esq.
Education Program Director

Sam Paneno, Esq.
Associate Director

Alaina Moonves-Leb, Esq.
Senior Staff Attorney, Statewide Education Rights

Eugene Yoo
Staff Attorney

Cindy Rodas
Special Education Advocate

Marisol Dominguez
Legal Assistant

Melisa Montano
OYC Coordinator

Adam Cherensky, Esq.
Benefits Program Director

Barbara Facher, MSW
Social Worker

Shiré Wortham, MSW
Social Worker

Sherry Rendel, RN, BSN, PHN
Public Health Nurse

Julieta Ordonez
Guardianship & Healthcare Program Assistant

Cynthia Billey, Esq.
Program Director

Anderson Stone
Legal Assistant

Juan Guzman, Esq.
Staff Attorney, Legal Guardianship and Benefits Programs

Vincent D’Averso
Mentor Program Director

Stephanie Lopez
Special Projects Manager

Nisha Kashyap, Esq.
Staff Attorney

Robert Argomaniz
SSI Legal Assistant

Mitsu Klines
Legal Assistant

Lauri Collier
Opportunity Youth Collaborative Director

Angie Schwartz, Esq.
Vice President of Policy and Advocacy

Kristin Power
Government Relations Director

Elise Weinberg, Esq.
Policy Attorney

Shanti Ezrine
Legal Assistant

Yolanda McFarlane
Intake and Database Manager

Michelle Garcia
Data Entry Clerk

Cathy Yacoub, Esq.
Pro Bono Director

Kerry Buzzell
Alliance of Moms Director

Denise Binder
Database Coordinator

Maranda Easton
Alliance of Moms Administrative Assistant

Kathy Brubaker
Director of Administration

Debbie Cohen
Controller

Theresa Hernandez
Administrative Coordinator

Ashley Zometa
Receptionist & Administrative Assistant

Mandy Nelson
Chief Development Officer

Ignacia Lolas Ojeda
Legal Assistant

Rocio Garcia
Legal Assistant

Fernanda Anaya
Executive Assistant

Yaari Sanderson
Volunteer Outreach Coordinator

Joshua Garza
OYC Outreach and Engagement Fellow

Erin Black
Advocate and Trainer

Franci Levine-Grater
Grants Manager

Cheyenne Rogers
Legal Assistant