Foster Kinship was established as a 501(c)(3) organization in 2011 by Alison Caliendo. As a foster/adoptive parent, she has the desire to help the 33,000 children living with relative caregivers in Nevada, also known as kinship care. Foster Kinship was founded with a mission to “strengthen the kinship caregivers’ capacity to provide safe, permanent, and nurturing homes for children.”
Nationally recognized, Foster Kinship is the only non-profit organization in Nevada exclusively serving kinship children and families. Since its inception, Foster Kinship has proudly served over 0,000 children and 3,000 kinship families across Southern Nevada. Responding to the various changes and challenges facing kinship families, Foster Kinship has grown significantly in size, scope, and breadth, including staff with over 35 years of combined experience working with kinship families and children.
Alison Caliendo, Ph.D., Founder and Executive Director
Ms. Caliendo has long been passionate about at-risk populations and family systems issues and opportunities. In 2009 Alison moved to Las Vegas, Nevada and began working in mental health care for children in foster care. While working with the foster families, she discovered the high number of kinship caregivers and their need for increased support. Upon further research, she realized that an astonishing number of children in Clark County were being raised by relatives, both formally and informally. She founded Foster Kinship to provide much-needed resources and peer-to-peer support for the dedicated individuals working tirelessly to raise their relative’s children, keeping these children both connected to family and safe from harm.
Alison holds a Ph.D. in Public Affairs from UNLV where she focused her research on how state child weflare policy contributes to the formation of kinship families. She received her Master’s Degree in Organizational Systems Renewal (OSR) from Seattle University, where she specialized in family systems and systemic trauma and healing, organizational consulting and group facilitation. She holds an HR Masters Certificate from Villanova University. She graduated with honors with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Chicago. Alison is a certified TIPS-MAPP instructor, Nationally Certified Chid Passenger Safety Technician, and has completed a certificate in Grandfamilies Leadership. She also on the board of the National Kinship Alliance. She can be reached at Ali@FosterKinship.org.
Nani Garrett, BSHS, Kinship Navigator Program Manager
Nani Garrett holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Human Services with a concentration is management and is completing a Masters Degree in Professional Counseling. She completed her internship with the Department of Family Services and the Parenting Project. She is passionate about helping children and families in the community to connect with the necessary resources that will better their situation. Nani is also a notary public and has completed a certificate in Grandfamilies Leadership. She can be reached at Nani@fosterkinship.org.
Sandy Vargas, Program Support Manager
Sandy is a fictive kin caregiver and she personally understands the legal and finanical facing informal kinship families. Sandy is no stranger to kinship; her parents took care of her cousin during her adolescent years and to this day Sandy considers her as close as a sister.
Since 2016, Sandy has been providing bilingual case mangement services to Spanish speaking kinship families. Her passion to help Spanish kinship families stems from growing up advocating for her family from a young age. Sandy has over 20 years of experience in customer service and is a notary public, Nationally certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, CPR/First Aid/AED instructor,and has completed a certificate in Grandfamilies Leadership. Sandy also provides administrative and financial oversight for the organization. Sandy can be reached at Sandy@FosterKinship.org.
Leah Dods, MSW, Child Welfare Program Manager
Leah has been with Foster Kinship since 2016. Starting as an intern, she fell in love with the mission of Foster Kinship because it aligned with her life story. Leah was born when her mother was 15 years old. Her mother, still a child herself, relied on her parents to help raise Leah and for the first few years Leah lived in her grandparents home while her mom was supported into a self-sufficient adult. When Leah was a teen, her mother became a kinship caregiver and took in Leah's cousin. Leah's lived experience comes from a young child in a grandparent headed household and as a biological child in home that took in relatives.
Leah Dods has a Masters in Social Work and a Bachelor's degree in Human Services with a focus in children and families. She has professional experience in child welfare, hospice care and substance abuse treatment. Leah is a certified First Aid/CPR/AED instructor and has completed a certificate in Grandfamilies Leadership. She can be reached at Leah@FosterKinship.org.
Anntesha Chesterton, Kinship Family Outreach Program Manager
Anntesha Chesterton was raised by her grandparents in a loving kinship placement. When she was a teenager she was again placed in foster care and matured out on her 18th birthday. As an adult, Anntesha has tirelessly worked towards improved quality of care for fostered youth. She assisted in the creation of the DREAMR Grant, implemented to assist in the prevention of teen pregnancy within the foster youth community, as well as assist pregnant and parenting youth. Living what she believes, Anntesha became kinship placement for her sister's four children on top of having three children of her own. She had been raising 7 children for a year and a half until reunification took place. Anntesha is extremely passionate about engaging in the national dialogue on kinship care, and is Nevada's GRANDadvocate for Generations United. Anntesha is a certified First Aid/CPR/AED instructor and Nationally Certified child passenger safety technican and has completed a certificate in Grandfamilies Leadership. Anntesha can be reached at Anntesha@FosterKinship.org.
Michelle Pulido, Intake Coordinator, Trainer, and Childcare Specialist
During her childhood, Michelle was raised by her grandparents and believes the love and respect that she has with her grandparents to this day is due to that important kinship bond. Michelle was also a fictive kin sibling during her teenage years to her best friend, who lived with her for two years.Michelle started with Foster Kinship in 2016 and is an intake coordinator for the Kinship Navigator Program, a certified First Aid/CPR/AED instructor, nationally certified child passenger safety technician, and also works in the childcare program. Michelle was the recipient of the prestigious Marcie O’Donnell Excellence Award in 2018. Michelle can be reached at Michelle@fosterkinship.org.
Emily Morales, Intake Coordinator
A native of Las Vegas, Emily holds an Associates Degree from the College of Southern Nevada. As a young widow and single mother of five beautiful, unique children, Emily is very passionate when it comes to helping families surviving and thriving through the process of grief. She lost her husband too early in 2016 and continues to navigate through life's challenges with her children. Her professional background is in Human Resources and Office Management. Emily has a gift of seeking resources within our community and loves to self-care with scrapbooking and crafts. She can be reached at Emily@FosterKinship.org.
Berenice Blas, Child Welfare Facilitator
Berenice was born in Mexico and moved to Los Angeles at age 9. Berenice and her wife moved to Las Vegas in 2008 hoping to one day be a foster family. Their foster license was approved in 2011 and in 2012 Berenice became a DACA recipient. Berenice and her family were foster parents for five years, supporting birth parents and helping them reunify with their children. Her family also helped children transition into kinship homes and adoptive placements. In March 2016 they became forever parents to one amazing, smart, and handsome boy and in September 2016 he became a big brother.
Berenice's passion for kinship caregivers comes from working with the DFS Foster Parent Champion Program where she advocated for foster and kinship families, providing resoruces and support during their open cases. In 2018 she became a part of the Foster Kinship family as a facilitator of the child welfare training for kinship families becoming licensed. Berenice also currently works with Clark County Social Services- Keeping Families Together program to help birth parents secure housing and become self-sufficient in order to reunify with their children. Berenice is very passionate about children and families and loves supporting families throught the roller coster journey of kinship and foster care. She can be reached at Berenice@FosterKinship.org.
Gus Mota, Trainer and Childcare Specialist
Gus has been in Las Vegas for the past 12 years. Since the age of 16, he has lived in a kinship arrangement with his older brother. Gus has been working at Peggy's Attic, the clothing closet for children in protective custody, since 2012 and loves serving the foster and kinship families who he meets every day.
At Foster Kinship, Gus is a trainer in the Child Welfare Training Program as a certified First Aid/CPR/AED instructor and a nationally certified child passenger safety technician. He is also a childcare specialist and is adored by the children he works with. He is the 2019 Marcie O'Donnell Excellence Award recipient. He can be reached at Gus@FosterKinship.org.
Nadine Garcia, BA, Childcare Specialist
Nadine has a B.A. in Early Childhood Education and associates degree child development and liberal studies. She has spent 13 years teaching early childhood education. Her experience includes working at an inclusive childcare center that cared for children with ADD, ADHS, PTSD, Autism, Down Syndrome, and neuro-typical developing children. Nadine brings her expertise teaching children with additional needs to the Foster Kinship childcare program.Nadine was raised in Los Angeles, CA with 3 biological and 1 adopted sibling, and has experience with kinship care in her extended family. When she is not teaching, she loves being with her husband, daughter, and 3 dogs at the river. She can be reached at Nadine@FosterKinship.org.
Suddenly Crosby, BS, Childcare Specialist
Suddenly holds a Bachelor of Science in Technical Management with a concentration in Small Business & Entrepreneurship. She was the kinship caregiver of her second cousin who was in foster care for 912 days and officially, adopted in August, 2014. Suddenly understand the opportunities and challenges of relative licensure placement process from both personal experience and after working for the Clark County Foster Parent Champion Team (FPC). She also understands how important, although sometimes difficult, it is to maintain positive relationships with both families for the benefit of the children.
Suddenly has been working with children in the Child Welfare Training Program since 2016 and is especially passionate about supporting children with additional needs. She can be reached at Suddenly@FosterKinship.org.
Dr. Michele Howser, Ph.D., NCC, Board President
Dr. Howser is an Instructor of Applied Psychology for the College of Southern Nevada. At CSN she serves on several committees related to assessment and mentoring. She also is a professor in the College of Humanities and Sciences for the University of Phoenix. Michele is the Board President for Foster Kinship. Research interests relate to kinship as Dr. Howser completed her dissertation on grandmothers raising grandchildren. As a practitioner, her experience is in developing and administering programs for at-risk children, and providing family preservation services to the community. Michele is a former foster parent, and is an adoptive parent. She is a member of the National Organization for Human Services, and is a National Board Certified Counselor (NCC).
Jordan Castro, M.S. CPA, Treasurer
Jordan is a CPA with PricewaterhouseCoopers. In 2015 he obtained his BSBA in Accounting, and in 2016 he obtained his Master of Science in Accounting. While working at PwC, Jordan has serviced a variety of clients, including governmental and not-for-profit entities. He obtained his CPA license with the Nevada State Board of Accountancy in September of 2018.
Tina Morgan, MEd., Secretary
For over 20 years, Tina has been building homes in Nevada as a residential homebuilder. She holds two contractor’s licenses, a BA degree in Psychology, and a Master’s degree in Special Education. Tina has experience with at-risk children from her six years of teaching within the Clark County School District. In addition to her experience as a certified contractor and licensed teacher, she has experience in event planning and business management. Tina is very passionate about helping our families.
Julie Wilson, M.A., L.M.H.C.A., Director
Julie is a licensed mental health counselor in private practice. Masters of arts in psychotherapy from Seattle University. S.U.’s existential-phenomenological therapeutic psychology program combines academic rigor with practical experience. Undergraduate work (B.A.) at Washington State University in communications. Julie works Extensively with at-risk populations and is committed to ensuring vulnerable children receive the best chance at health, stability, and happiness.
Kechia English, M.A., Director
Kechia English is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who is in private practice and does contract therapy work here in southern Nevada. She is a retired Child Welfare Manager with over 30 years working with children and families at the Department of Family Services. During her time in child welfare Kechia served as a coach and mentor to line and supervisory staff; worked in the areas of Child Protective Services, Foster Care, In Home Case Management, Clinical Services and Team Decision Making; and was a supporter of staff development and appreciation. As a believer in education, Kechia teaches in the College of Humanities and Sciences for the University of Phoenix. As a Board Member for Foster Kinship, Kechia looks forward to bringing her child welfare experience to the table in an effort to continue making a positive difference in the lives of children and families. Kechia is a member of AAMFT and is a lifelong family advocate.
Sandra Ocampo, L.C.S.W., Director
A native of Las Vegas, Sandra holds a Masters of Social Work from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Sandra wrote her Master's thesis on kinship care and has also worked with kinship families as a client specialist for Foster Kinship. She is passionate about providing services to families and youth who have faced hardship and trauma. During her free time she enjoys spending time with her family and friends. Her hobbies include crafting and home renovation projects.
Bob Ruble, Director
Bob has been a relative caregiver for his niece since she was 7 years old. Now that she is an adult, Bob uses his experience to help other kinship families navigate the difficult waters of kinship care. He is the President of the National Kinship Alliance for Children, on the board of the National Foster Parent Association, and is a Generations United GRAND member.
Dr. Katherine Unthank, Director
Dr. Katherine (Kitty) Unthank is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in Nevada and Colorado and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Indiana. She has served University of Phoenix for over 10 years, most recently as Chair of Social & Behavioral Sciences, Las Vegas Campus. She is currently Senior Manager of Regulatory & Compliance for all Master’s in counseling programs. She is a Past-President and current Executive Director of the Nevada Counseling Association. She served on the Nevada State Board of Examiners for Marriage & Family Therapists and Clinical professional Counselors from 2009-2014. She is also in private-practice. She earned her PhD from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (now Sofia University) in Palo Alto, CA. Her dissertation received recognition from the American Psychological Association (APA) as runner-up for the Sidney M. Jourard research award and from The Center for the Sacred Feminine, with a Scholarship Merit Award. She was invited to present her work at three national conferences:
- “Shame on You”: Exploring the Deep Structure of Posttrauma Survival, American Psychological Association Convention, San Francisco, CA.
- Suicide: A Window into the Deep Structure of Posttrauma Survival. 13th International Violence & Trauma Conference, San Diego, CA
- Introducing the Deep Structure of Trauma Survival: A New Paradigm for Trauma Informed Care. The National Center for Trauma-Informed Care Dare to Transform Conference, Washington, D.C.
She is the author of Riding Wild Horses Home, which was nominated for Non-Fiction Book of the Year by the American Library Association. Dr. Unthank has worked in the Mental Health field since completing her Masters in Counseling and Counselor Education from Indiana University - Bloomington in 1986.
Dr. Michelle McGuire, Director
Dr. Michelle McGuire is a Nevada Licensed Psychologist. She has a diverse background working with a number of different populations, including developmental and intellectual disabilities, serious mental illness, and chemical dependency, and providing individual, group, couples and family therapy to children through the elderly. She is the Clinical Director of Creative Behavioral Connections providing neuropsychological testing and oversight of treatment services for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders. She teaches for the University of Phoenix in the Master’s in Counseling Program and is the Lead Faculty Area Chair for the Psychology program. She is the CEO/Director of Psychological Services of Creative Behavioral Connections.
Nancy Myster, M.ED., Director
Nancy Myster is a teacher at Alexander Dawson School in Las Vegas. Formerly she worked at Clark County School District and has a long history of working with and advocating for children. Nancy earned a Bachelors of Arts from Western Washington University in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
When she first came to Nevada after college she began working at Child Haven which made her passionate about learning more about and advocating for Nevada’s most vulnerable children. Nancy served 10+ rewarding years as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) advocating for youth in family court. After which, she spent over 6 years on the CASA Foundation board, three of which she served as President: instrumental in building community relationships and awareness, volunteer recruitment, as well as coordinating events for children in foster care. During her work with foster children, she began to understand the complexity of family systems and the great importance of maintaining and supporting family and kinship connections for youth. In her free-time, she enjoys being with her daughter Grace and her dog Murphy.
Martha O'Donnell, M.A., Key Volunteer
Martha O’Donnell holds a Bachelor of Music Education from Wheaton College Conservatory with a piano performance concentration and voice minor, and a Master’s degree from Illinois Northern University in choral conducting. She spent the first five months of her life in foster care, was raised in a loving adoptive home, and has strong passion and commitment to Foster Kinship’s mission of helping individuals raise their relative’s children, to help keep home in the family. Marcie also writes grants for Foster Kinship. She can be reached at Marcie@fosterkinship.org.
Terry Caliendo, Key Volunteer
Terry Caliendo graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. He has been an internet entrepreneur for over 10 years, specializing in internet presence management as the owner and president of Dedicated Managers. Caring deeply about Southern Nevada's issues, especially when it comes to the lack of support and resources for children and their guardians who are providing kinship care, Terry wanted to help give back to the community and subsequently helped his wife form the charity, Foster Kinship, which addresses those needs. Terry is also Foster Kinship's volunteer IT specialist. Terry can be reached at Terry@fosterkinship.org.