Meet the Commissioners
Maria Brenes, Executive Director, InnerCity Struggle
Maria began her activism over twenty-five years ago as a high school student living along the U.S./Mexico border during a time when state legislation was proposed that criminalized immigrant families and youth. This hostile environment resulted in Maria and her fellow Latinx schoolmates being removed from their schools. Despite the discrimination she faced, she completed her studies and later earned degrees from UC Berkeley and Harvard University. The experience taught her the importance of lifting up her voice through collective action to ensure disadvantaged students have access to a quality education.
Maria has organized for educational justice through various campaigns and initiatives. Since 2002, as a leader of InnerCity Struggle, she has spearheaded an expansion of the influence of students and community residents in decision-making about Los Angeles' public schools, mobilizing thousands of Latinx parents and students in the Eastside of Los Angeles.
Maria's work with InnerCity Struggle has resulted in a wide range of improvements within Eastside schools as well as schools throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District. In the last few years, Maria's leadership has helped win several breakthrough victories; new schools for the Eastside, a district-wide policy focused on preparing all students for college, increased funds for high-need schools, smaller learning environments in Eastside high schools and an expansion of school-based health services. After years of demanding that all students be prepared for college, the tide is changing. Graduation rates in the Eastside are rising and more students are informed about what is needed to succeed.
Over the last decade, InnerCity Struggle has educated and mobilized thousands of Eastside voters ensuring greater civic participation and community action.
Maria's leadership also resulted in the construction of the organization's new permanent home now serving as a Youth and Community Center for the Eastside.
Maria was recognized as a Grassroots Leader to Watch by the Liberty Hill Foundation and has received various other leadership awards, including from the newspaper La Opinion, UC Berkeley's Chicano/Latino Alumni Association of Southern California and the Latina Lawyers Association. In 2015, she was appointed as a Commissioner for the Commission for Children and Families by Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis. In 2018, Maria was recognized with the Woman of the Year Award by the LA County Commission for Women. She was recently elected as a Community Trustee for the Board of Directors of the Hill-Snowdon Foundation, a national social justice fund. Maria is also a proud mom of two children that attend an LAUSD elementary school.
Appointed to the Commission in 2015 by Supervisor Solis, Wendy has played an integral role in the life of The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, becoming President and CEO in 2008 after working for the Foundation in increasing levels of responsibility for more than 20 years. The Parsons Foundation is a quiet leader in philanthropy, investing about $20 million annually in local nonprofits. She was a founding staff member of the children’s nonprofit Crystal Stairs and headed the Los Angeles Child Care and Development Council. She was on the founding board of the Broad Stage, has served on the board of The Trusteeship, and was a Senior Fellow at the UCLA Luskin School, where she received a master’s in urban planning. She currently serves on two government commissions: Volunteer California (appointed by Governor Brown in 2016) and the County Commission for Children and Families. She also serves on the California advisory board of the Milken Institute. In January 2014, Wendy was elected board chair of Southern California Grantmakers, a regional association of more than 300 individual philanthropists, and private, independent, operating and community foundations as well as grantmaking nonprofits and government grantmakers. SCG is a leadership hub for members to connect with each other, improve their grantmaking and amplify their independent efforts through collaborative work. Wendy is a frequent speaker at local and national meetings in philanthropy.
Steven Zimmer - Commissioner bio pending
Charity Chandler-Cole, MPA
Charity Chandler-Cole is a mother, wife, motivational speaker and social justice advocate for issues ranging from Criminal Justice and Foster Care, to Human Trafficking. As an advocate, Charity has served on several boards and committees that have helped to influence and impact social structures, policies and systems that have negatively and disproportionately impacted and oppressed vulnerable communities and people such as; Chairwoman of the Board of Directors for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), an organization that empowers formerly and currently incarcerated people to thrive by providing a support network, comprehensive services, and opportunities to advocate for policy change; Vice Chair of Fostering Change Network, a global consulting organization of child welfare specialists, policy analysts, strategic planning professionals, certified, trauma-informed trainers, community outreach specialists and resource development specialists that lead the effort to improving child welfare policy and programming by integrating the alumni “voice” of foster care and adoptee alumni experience into every aspect of its work; Member of the Juvenile Justice Standing Committee, a sub-committee of the Board of State and Community Corrections that was formed to assist in fulfilling the statutory requirements in relation to a wide range of juvenile justice issues that fall within the purview of the BSCC; Prop 47 Executive Steering Committee, which guided the process for awarding the majority of the state’s Proposition 47 savings to help rehabilitate and provide resources to those coming out of prison; and lastly, President of the Black Los Angeles Young Democrats, a political action committee dedicated to activating and empowering young Black/African American leaders to engage in the democratic process through education, advocacy and activism in order to strengthen our influence in politics and policies that affect our lives.
When Charity is not advocating for the rights of marginalized and vulnerable communities in her spare time, like most people, Charity works full-time as the National Director of Contracts Administration for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the worlds’ number one AIDS healthcare provider and advocate and is the founder and CEO of Transformative Management Solutions LLC, a company that provides specialized management and consulting services to public, non-profit and for-profit organizations.
Having harshly experienced both the juvenile justice and foster care systems, Charity works passionately to address the issues and challenges plaguing our communities, women and youth; and uses her powerful story of redemption and triumph to inspire people under the mantra, “If Charity can do it, then so can I.” Charity believes strongly in changing the narrative and outcomes surrounding system impacted individuals and uses her many platforms to engage, educate, develop and empower people from all walks of life to be change agents, visionaries, and successful agents of society, regardless of their upbringing or past.
Zaid Gayle serves as the Executive Director of Peace4Kids and oversees an ambitious organizational growth plan, with the intended impact of helping youth in foster care cultivate their strengths and transition successfully into adulthood. Having been involved in community leadership and program development for over 20 years, he co-founded Peace4Kids to promote peaceful conflict resolution among youth in South Los Angeles in honor of his mother’s foster care experience and her life as an educator. He has trained youth, caregivers, social workers and educators throughout the country and internationally to address the issues facing youth aging out of foster care.
In addition to his direct service work, Zaid leads a team of researchers that are deeply committed to leading a youth-initiated effort called “Changing the Narrative”. This multi-year project seeks to identify and redress implicit biases that exist toward youth and alumni of foster care – in the media and in the education and social service sectors. This work has led to various article publications and conference presentations. It has also informed the design of a curriculum that helps educators address implicit bias in school communities to improve the outcomes for youth in foster care and those impacted by childhood trauma.
Zaid has served on various coalitions and advisory boards to help advance policy that supports the needs of system involved youth. Representing the 2nd Supervisorial District, He was appointed to the Los Angeles County Commission on Children and Families in December of 2019. He has advised local policy makers, testified in Sacramento and met with federal law makers to inform legislation, all with the intent of educating the public on the unique culture of foster care and to improve services. He has also received numerous awards and nominations for his leadership, innovative programming, and transformational results.
Franco Vega began his career in employment services 26 years ago teaching ‘Rites of Passage’ to transition-age foster youth (TAY) with the Department of Children & Family Services. From providing case management and supervision for 5-12-year-olds to creating a Job Development Component for the Youth Opportunity Movement in Watts and Boyle Heights with the Community Development Department for the City of Los Angeles, funded by the Department of Labor, Franco has years of experience working with struggling foster youth, which helped him recognize that it was time to develop a program that combines mental health services and job readiness training for TAY foster youth in Los Angeles County. Franco also created an employment center on Skid Row at the Midnight Mission working with recovering addicts and the homeless population.
Working with struggling foster youth felt like the perfect match for The RightWay Foundation and Franco. Like many of the youth he now serves, Franco Vega had a traumatic upbringing. Franco suffered a great deal of mental/physical abuse and neglect from the one person who should have protected him the most, his mother. Franco’s dad, who was a good father, died of a terrible disease, alcoholism. Five years later Franco’s mother passed away of cancer. At the age of 15, he was now in and out of juvenile hall and remained on probation until the age of 18 years old. He bounced around to more than ten different schools and graduated from a continuation high school before enlisting in the U.S. Army. He received an honorable discharge in 1995. In 2000, he crossed the stage from California State University of Dominguez Hills with a degree in Human Services and has been hard at work with projects related to job development for underserved communities.
Aside from running the Foundation like a family, Franco has a family of his own, raising four beautiful children (27 years, 22 years, 13 years, and 5 years), and finds time to coach little league baseball and sit on several boards. Franco and The RightWay Foundation provide support in a family atmosphere and are building new foundations the right way, one foster youth at a time.
Gale Caswell awoke to a life of service in her freshman year at college when she volunteered to be a counselor at Uni Camp, UCLA’s camp for inner-city, blind, and diabetic youth. The ten days she spent with her unit of twelve girls from the city, and the subsequent years of counseling blind and diabetic children has shaped her place in the service community. With a degree in English from UCLA, Gale has been a life-long educator, with experience in kindergarten through twelfth grade. Her passion for theatre led her to explore the variety of ways in which the study of acting, directing, and playmaking can uplift and inspire.
Gale serves on the board of directors of The California Educational Theatre Association and is the liaison to The California Association of Teachers of English. She is the adjudication coordinator for the CETA High School Festival, which annually serves more than 70 high schools.
Gale was named an outstanding senior at UCLA and was a 2001 Los Angeles County Teacher of the year. In 2018, she was awarded the prestigious Medallion by the California Educational Theatre Association.
Dr. Jacquelyn McCroskey
Jacquelyn McCroskey, the John Milner Professor of Child Welfare and Co-Director of the Children’s Data Network at the USC School of Social Work, focuses on structure, financing and performance improvement in and across the child welfare, juvenile justice and early care and education (ECE) systems in Los Angeles County. Recent scholarly interests include prevention of child maltreatment, improving access to ECE services for at-risk families, and cross-system collaboration. Dr. McCroskey was appointed to the Los Angeles County Commission on Children and Families in January 2016, representing the 3rd Supervisorial District. She has served on the Policy Roundtable for Child Care and Development since its inception in 2001. In 2003, the California Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers named her the California Social Worker of the Year.
Dr. Wendy B. Smith
Appointed to the Commission in 2015 by Supervisor Shelia Kuehl, Wendy Smith is Distinguished Continuing Scholar in Child Welfare at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. Previously, she served as associate dean of curriculum planning and assessment, guiding the School’s reaccreditation process. As an associate clinical professor, she taught classes on theory and practice with children and families, and on social work practice with transition-age youth. She was a faculty fellow at the university’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and has expertise in mentoring in the area of classroom and virtual instruction.
Smith is active in community organizations, serving on the boards of Venice Family Clinic, where she chaired the behavioral health and child development committee, and of the National Foster Youth Institute. She is a volunteer advocate with Human Rights Watch, working on juvenile justice issues and serving on the advisory committee of its Children’s Rights Division. Previous board affiliations include United Friends of the Children and the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.
A licensed clinical social worker, Smith is the author of Youth Leaving Foster Care: A Developmental, Relationship-Based Approach to Practice (Oxford University Press, 2011), which integrates multidisciplinary research to provide a new approach to working with youth who have been in the foster care system. The book gives a comprehensive overview of the challenges foster care youth face and how their developmental paths affect their needs as they leave the system. Smith’s bio-psycho-social perspective can guide programs, policies and services that will help youth to transition successfully into adult lives. Her relationship-based approach emphasizes understanding attachment experiences and disruptions, as well as the impact of unresolved trauma and loss.
Tiffany Boyd is a former client of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. She spent 10 years in care and has spent the following 10 years since then traveling and advocating for reform of the child welfare system. She is a resident of Long Beach California, where she provides care for her schizophrenic mother and a full-time Public Administration major at California State University Dominguez Hills projected to graduate with her bachelor’s degree May 2018. She was appointed as a Commissioner on the Citizens Oversight Committee for Proposition HHH. She is working on starting her own non-profit organization geared towards training and mobilizing emancipated and post-transition age foster youth to assist youth who are still in care and transition age foster youth navigate the system successfully.
Tiffany is a member of the National Foster Youth Institute’s Leadership Corps (NFYI), has participated on the Alliance for Children’s Rights Youth Council, and was a member of California Youth Connection (CYC). Tiffany spent the summer of 2017 working on Capitol Hill as a summer intern for Senator Kamala Harris as part of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Internship program. While on the Hill she lobbied for foster care reform, wrote and published a policy report regarding quality of care for system involved youth, and presented her policy recommendations in briefings to several members of Congress and the White House Domestic Policy Council.
Bill has served as the CEO of Covenant House California (CHC), since 2014. Committed to doing more to deal with the crisis of youth homelessness in CA, in that time, Covenant House has grown from a site in Los Angeles and Oakland, to now four sites between LA County and Alameda County, with new sites in development in Berkeley, Orange County, and Los Angeles County, as well as site expansion projects in Oakland and Hollywood. Covenant House now serves close to 4,000 youth experiencing homelessness, each year in CA.
With just about 25 years of child welfare and homeless services experience, Bill’s passion for working with youth, came from his parents, who have been foster parents for 30+ years and who adopted 8 of his 11 siblings through the child welfare system. Bill began his career in social work doing street outreach, residential care and behavioral modification therapy in Chicago, Illinois, in the mid-1990s. He subsequently spent 13 years with the L.A. County Department of Child and Family Services, as a Children’s Social Worker, Supervising Children’s Social Worker, Assistant Regional Administrator, and finally, as the agency’s South County Regional Administrator. In 2010, Bill left to become the Executive Director at Olive Crest, Los Angeles, and was subsequently appointed as ED of Olive Crest’s Southern California operations in 2012; providing mental health and family support services, as well as foster care, adoption and residential care, in LA, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego Counties.
Bill has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Finance from Taylor University, a Masters of Social Work from Loyola University, and has served as an adjunct professor in USC’s Graduate School of Social Work since 2012. When he’s not leading Covenant House CA’s movement to end youth homelessness in CA, you will find Bill spending time with his lovely wife, chasing after his two young sons in Long Beach, CA, and rooting on any sports team from his hometown of Philadelphia!
Eli Romero has over ten years of direct experience in the fields of economic and workforce development, and child welfare. In 2017, Eli launched Listo, a consultancy specializing in strategic planning, fund development, project management, program development, and training on equity and inclusion. Listo's portfolio includes the coordination of the City of Long Beach's Strategic Plan for Youth Emerging Adults, implementation of a Living Cities small business grant, and in collaboration with Pacific Gateway and Kaiser Permanente, the convening and management of the Long Beach Youth Services Network, and with the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Harbor Performance Partnership Collaborative. He also provides technical assistance to pre-apprenticeship grantees based in Alaska and Texas through his work with Performance Excellence Partners. Prior to launching Listo, Eli worked on the development of career pathways and work-based learning activities with Los Angeles Unified, and Downey Unified, and led regional efforts with the Child Welfare Initiative to streamline workforce services for youth in and exiting the foster care system. In 2011, Eli successfully led the implementation of a coordinated youth reentry model for the City of Long Beach in partnership with Long Beach Unified and the LA County Probation Office.
Eli holds a Master's degree in Public Policy and Administration from Long Beach State University, is a member of Marathon Petroleum's Community Advisory Committee, Pacific Gateway's Youth Development Committee, and has presented for numerous organizations including the U.S. Department of Labor, California Workforce Association, and the National Association of Workforce Boards. He grew up in the Los Angeles Harbor region and is an ardent supporter of trans youth, and is in solidarity with the movement for Black lives.
Shimica Gaskins is the Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund–California (CDF-CA), a state chapter of the national child advocacy organization founded by Marian Wright Edelman. CDF-CA believes that California’s long-term prosperity depends upon all children having the opportunity to thrive and succeed; the organization champions programs and policies that ensure a level playing field for the most vulnerable children and youth in the state – focusing in particular on expanding opportunities for youth to grow up in safe neighborhoods, access comprehensive health care coverage, and be educated in positive learning environments.
Before joining the CDF-CA, Gaskins worked in law and public policy specializing in legislative, regulatory, and policy issues associated with criminal justice reform and children’s rights. She formerly served as the Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) where she worked to develop and implement innovative policy initiatives in areas such as criminal justice reform and issues affecting children with incarcerated parents.
Prior to joining the DOJ, Gaskins was in private practice at Covington & Burling LLP where she managed complex civil litigation. She clerked for the Honorable Roger L. Gregory on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and the Honorable Victoria A. Roberts on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
Over the course of her legal career, Gaskins has worked to find ways to generate change in underserved communities. She has provided hundreds of pro bono hours representing indigent clients, worked as an advocate for children and kinship caregivers at the Children’s Law Center in Washington, D.C., and served on an advocates’ board for people affected by homelessness and poverty.
Additional, she has taught as an adjunct professor at the Catholic University of America and the Charles Hamilton Houston Preparatory Law School Institute, and has published law review articles on sentencing laws, child welfare, and voting rights. Gaskins serves as a mentor to many law students and young lawyers. In 2016, she was honored with the National Bar Association’s “40 Under 40 Best Advocates” Award.
Born in Lake City, South Carolina, Gaskins earned her Bachelor of Arts cum laude in philosophy from the Catholic University of America and her Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center. Most recently, she served as the Director of Policy and Outreach for The Fair and Just Prosecution Project—a program supporting newly elected prosecutors committed to innovative criminal justice reform policies.
In her spare time, Gaskins enjoys reading various genres of fiction and baking homemade treats for her family. She has also completed two breast cancer walks—one 60 miles, the other 39 miles. Gaskins lives in Altadena, California with her husband, James Perez, Esq. and their two children.
Dr. Jeanette Mann
Appointed to the Commission in 2018 by Supervisor Barger, Dr. Jeanette Mann’s adult life has been devoted to serving children and young people. Jeanette’s journey is solidly rooted in education. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Missouri, Columbia, with three degrees in English. Upon completing her doctorate, she accepted a faculty position at Northern Illinois University. While there, she spent a year as a Rockefeller Fellow, receiving extensive training and experience in ways to diversify predominately white universities. In 1976, she was appointed Special Assistant to the President for Equity and Diversity at California State University, Northridge, where she worked to diversify the faculty by revising campus policies on recruitment, tenure and promotion. She also developed national models for preventing and resolving allegations of sexual and racial harassment and discrimination.
Jeanette was the first woman elected to the Board of Trustees of Pasadena City College, serving eight terms, including six as Board President. In 2005, she was elected to the Board of Directors of California Community College Trustees Association, serving ten years, two as President. In addition, she was President of the Community College League of California and represented locally-elected trustees on the California Community Colleges Student Success Task Force.
As co-founder and Chair/Co-Chair of the Foster Care Project (FCP), a ministry of All Saints Church, Jeanette has enhanced the lives of foster, homeless, transitional, and incarcerated children and youth. Using a model of recruiting volunteers for programs and services through local agencies, FCP has established partnerships with 37 agencies serving at-risk children and youth. Each year FCP recruits upwards of 140 volunteers to serve as mentors, tutors, special friends, or personal shoppers to more than 1000 young people. Through the Birthday Club and Angel Tree Program, FCP also provides birthday and Christmas gifts to another 1000+ children in foster care. In 2016, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors identified FCP’s family reunification program, Family Connect, as a model for the County. In 2016, working closely with community organizations, social service agencies, parents of foster children and youth, and staff at Pasadena City College, FCP’s Public Policy Committee petitioned the Board of Education of Pasadena United School District to establish a Foster Youth Advisory Council. This Council gives parents and guardians of children and youth in foster care a voice in their children’s education. Jeanette also has advocated for fundamental changes in the foster care system. Much of her effort has addressed the challenges faced by youth transitioning out of foster care. She advocated for extending the age that youth in foster care could receive services from 18 to 21, for density bonuses in housing for transitional-aged youth, and for providing services and support for transitional-aged youth in public colleges and universities.
In 2008, Jeanette was honored as “Woman of the Year” for the 21st District by State Senator Jack Scott. In 2010, she received the Arts and Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award in recognition of her professional accomplishments from the University of Missouri, Columbia. In 2012, she received the Pasadena NAACP’s President Award for improving the quality of life in the community. Upon her retirement from the Board of Trustees at Pasadena City College in 2015, she was honored by the College through the designation of the Jeanette Mann Foster Youth Center. Jeanette has three adult children and three grandchildren. Her late husband Dr. Kenneth Mann was employed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a Senior Scientist.
Lou Moore is the Executive Director of FosterAll, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the recruitment and support of foster families. For the past six years, Ms. Moore has established and grown its Foster Care Program with more than 250 faith partners across LA County. She implemented a database to analyze and study the results of FosterAll’s recruitment efforts and the multitude of activities that FosterAll’s faith partners provide for fostering families and youth living in residential facilities. Ms. Moore also collaborated with Hilary Swank and her Hilaroo Foundation to create an annual summer camp for foster youth with rescue dogs. Moore is a long-time member of FosterAll’s founding faith community partner, Westwood Presbyterian Church. Moore started her work in the Los Angeles County foster care system in 2000 when she and her husband served as resource and later adoptive parents. Throughout her career, Moore has built programs, enhanced donor development and leveraged community and government relationships. Having majored in Children’s Theater in college, Ms. Moore has always had a passion for serving children.
Prior to joining FosterAll, Moore was the founding Executive Director of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. She established the structure and operations for the nonprofit organization, led a $72 million Capital Campaign with a dedicated Board of Directors, oversaw the preservation and adaptation of the historic Beverly Hills Post Office into a state-of-the art performing arts center, and opened the complex to great acclaim in 2013. She developed and implemented the vision, a strategic plan, development campaign, and planned the artistic program for the first season in 2014.
Prior to The Wallis, Moore was the founding Managing Director of the Geffen Playhouse, launching the first LORT B resident professional theater company on L.A.’s Westside. Moore was instrumental in the formulation and implementation of the corporate structure, financial plan, marketing strategies, fundraising plan, and overall management for the theater. She researched and worked closely with UCLA to define the relationship between the university and the theater in an affiliation agreement. Under Moore’s six-year leadership, the theater’s budget grew from $400,000 to $5 million. She managed the theater’s first subscription campaign, which generated 10,000 subscribers in its first season.
Prior to moving to Los Angeles, Moore served as Executive Director of the Plaza Theater in Dallas where she presented and produced over 20 productions. In addition, Moore founded and was President of the New York based ELM Video Theater, which represented the most prestigious theaters in the country for television.
While in New York, Moore created and served as the Director of Management Services for Theater Communications Group (TCG), the national service organization for theaters in the United States. She coordinated and chaired the first National Computer Conference for the Arts in the country. In addition, Moore developed and chaired the first Development Conference for major theaters with budgets over $1 million. She also computerized ten years of financial data on 141 theaters for TCG and the Ford Foundation, which continues to be used today as the source of data for TCG’s annual fiscal survey.
Moore also served as the Managing Director of the Dallas Shakespeare Festival for five years. She received her MFA in Arts Administration from Southern Methodist University and a BA in Theatre from Florida State University.
Tamara N. Hunter, DSW
Tamara Hunter has worked to improve the lives of the most vulnerable among us for more than 15 years. In 2015, she became the Executive Director of the Commission for Children and Families, which serves as an advisory body to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on matters involving at-risk and systems-involved children, youth, and families, and works to strengthen the County’s continuum of care for this population.
Dr. Hunter, a macro-practitioner, has extensive experience in child welfare and public administration; having managed programs, administered internal operations, and led cross-sector collaborative teams. She has published and presented on these topics, taught courses on social welfare policy, and is a Network for Social Work Management Policy Fellow.
She holds a doctorate in social work from the University of Southern California.