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Ali Caliendo

Ali Caliendo, PhD 

Founder & Executive Director

Dr. 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.

Ali holds a Ph.D. in Public Affairs from UNLV where she focused her research on how state child welfare 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
Sandy Vargas Progams Support Manager Spanish Speaking Family Advocate

Sandy Vargas, BS

Director of Program Support

Sandy is a fictive kin caregiver and she personally understands the legal and financial 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 management 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 her Bachelors of Science in Sociology, 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 provides program, administrative and financial support for the organization. Sandy can be reached at
Leah Dods, MSW Child Welfare Program Manager Formal Kinship Family Advocate

Leah Dods, MSW

Director of Programs

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. 

Leah directs all of Foster Kinship's family programming. She can be reached at
Nani Garrett, BSHS Kinship Navigator Program Manager Private Kinship Family Advocate

Nani Leffall, MS, CPC-Intern

Family Advocate Supervisor

Nani Garrett holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Human Services with a concentration is management and completed a Masters Degree in Professional Counseling. She completed her internships with the Department of Family Services and the Parenting Project. 

She joined Foster Kinship in 2015 and 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. 

Nani manages the in-home kinship navigator program for formal kinship families in Clark County, NV.  She can be reached at

Sasha Ritchie, LMSW

Enhanced Navigator Services Manager

Sasha started at Foster Kinship as an intern in 2017. She has her Bachelor's in Human Services with a focus on Child and Family Therapy and her Master's in Social Work specializing in clinical social work. She is passionate about helping children and families who seek support and resources. Her background consists of working in education, healthcare, and adoption recruitment.

During a tough period, Sasha's aunt needed assistance caring for her two children. Sasha's mother never hesitated to care for sister's children and traveled to their city to ensure that the children were safe, cared for, and remained in a familiar environment. She took care of them for two years. Sasha still thinks of them as her two siblings, rather then ‘ just cousins’. She enjoys, reading, improving her cooking skills, and getting lost in music. 

Sasha manages the enhanced services for the kinship navigator program including the  child welfare training program, the kinship training institute, and child and  youth programming.  Sasha can be reached at

Paula Ramirez, BA, CADAC

Family Advocate Supervisor

Paula began her journey with Foster Kinship in 2021 as an intern and became an official member of the team in 2022. Paula holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a minor in counseling with an emphasis in addiction treatment. She is also a Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor in Nevada and has worked in the addictions field since 2018. Currently, Paula is working on her Master’s of Social Work degree in order to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

As a Family Advocate, Paula is passionate about empowering families on their journeys toward improved well-being. She understands how important the family system is and is eager to support caregivers with accomplishing their personal goals and the Navigator program for informal families. She specializes in working with kinship families who are a preventative resources for children who come to the attention of the child welfare system in Clark County, NV, as well as for private kinship families. She can be reached at

Rose Eshe, MFS

Northern Nevada Program Manager

Rose is a Nevada transplant from California. She was a social worker who worked in Family Reunification/Family Maintenance and was a Recruitment and Support for Foster Caregivers worker. Rose helped launch the Birth Parent/Foster Parent Partnership in Sonoma County alongside a birth parent and foster parent. Her mother had her at a young age and her grandmother helped raise her. Her mother is currently a kinship caregiver. Kinship is very important to her as she believes children should be cared for by family when it's safe to do so.

Rose works out of Foster Kinship's Reno office and manages the Northern Nevada Program including case management, training, and support. She enjoys exploring Nevada with her husband and three dogs. She can be reached at
Gus Mota Kinship Navigator Intake Coordinator

Gus Mota

Operations 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 bilingual Family Advocate as well as a trainer in the Child Welfare Training Program, certified First Aid/CPR/AED instructor, and a nationally certified child passenger safety technician. A the "swiss-army knife" of the office, he keeps operations running smoothly. He is the 2019 Marcie O'Donnell Excellence Award recipient. He can be reached at

Monica Avila, BSW

Child and Youth Program Manager

Monica is a Las Vegas native. She has always wanted to work with children so in high school she attended East Tech Academy to focus on early childhood education. Through East Tech Academy, she received internship opportunities which led to many experiences within childcare centers both in-home and center based. 

Monica graduated from College of Southern Nevada with her Associates of Arts in 2020 and graduated with her BSW from UNLV's School of Social Work in 2022. She would like to become a clinical social worker and become a therapist for children.

Monica brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to our programs. At Foster Kinship she works with both children and caregivers as a childcare specialist and program support specialist.

Michelle Rupe, BS

TBRI Practitioner

Michelle Rupe is a passionate child welfare professional who has been advocating for foster youth since she graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology in 2012. Michelle moved from Colorado in December of 2019 to be closer to her family who also live in Las Vegas.

She earned the title of a TBRI Practitioner in November of 2020 from the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development through Texas Christian University. Since this time, she is very passionate about TBRI (Trust-Based Relational Intervention) and believes that this is the change that is needed in the child welfare system as well as other systems in our communities.

Michelle works with families at the Kinship Training Institute and in the Child and Youth Program. She manages support groups and nurture groups to better connect caregivers with their children. She also looks forward to helping families better understand trauma and how this affects brain development. She can be reached at
Berenice Blas Child Welfare Trainier

Berenice Blas

Family Advocate

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 resources 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 has experience as a 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 through the roller coaster journey of kinship and foster care. She can be reached at

Jen Walsh, MSW

Family Advocate

Jen holds a Bachelor’s from Nevada State College in Psychology with minors in Criminal Justice and Counseling and is completed her Masters in Social Work at UNR.

Growing up, Jen watched as her maternal grandparents took in one of her cousins when her aunt passed away and the father could not take care of them. She watched as her grandparents struggled due to not having any resources to help them out during the unexpected and traumatic time. She glad to be able to see and work with an agency that is out there to help kinship families.

Jen first started with Foster Kinship as an intern in 2020 and officially joined the team in 2021. During her internship at Foster Kinship, Jen was able to experience the amazing work that Foster Kinship does in working with the families and helping assess them with getting the resources they need. Jen has found working with the families awarding and worthwhile that she came back to Foster Kinship to continue her experience as a full time Family Advocate specializing in connecting new caregivers of children in foster care to critical resources. She can be reached at

Shanice Edwards, LSW

Family Advocate

Shanice is a seasoned social worker with experience working with homeless youth, foster youth, and kinship youth. She also has a background in community organizing, legislative advocacy, and has a passion for the helping profession. 

Shanice was raised with the support of her kinship village and counts that community support as the foundation that led to her success today. 

Shanice has a vision of partnering to work to improve outcomes for children and kinship families, and advocates for systems changes that will improve the lives of all people. She can be reached at 

Leslie Alvarez, BA

Family Advocate

Leslie is the oldest of three girls and was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She graduated with her Bachelors degree in Human Development and a minor in Child Development in 2019 from California State University, Long Beach. She made a life changing decision and moved to Las Vegas in 2020.

She was raised by a single mother since the age of seven. Growing up she saw first hand how the language barrier was affecting the community she lived in. She helped her mother through the troublesome applications for government assistance and translated important letters for aunts and uncles at a very young age.

Leslie’s goal is to obtain her Masters and put her knowledge and experience into helping those that are not able to help themselves and give them a voice to succeed. She can be reached at
Emily Morales Kinship Navigator Intake Coordinator

Emily Morales

Family Advocate

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

Kaya Calinsky

Family Advocate

Born in California, Kaya graduated high school in Las Vegas. Kaya has a half brother who was unable to live with his parents and her mother raised him for a number of years.

Kaya has a passion for working with children. And is a perfect fit for our child care program. Kaya has experience working with kids from all walks of life. She has experience babysitting children and working with them at Las Vegas Indoor Soccer.

Kaya loves connecting with the children and youth that come into Foster Kinship. She also enjoys creating new activities to work on a variety developmental skills that increase their social and emotional learning.

Audrey Tarrant

Kinship Training Institute

Born in Texas, Audrey and her family moved to Las Vegas when she was 11 years old. Her parents had been licensed foster parents since 2007, and by this time had adopted a baby boy. After moving, they made the decision to reopen their license in Nevada, and have since adopted two more children. After being exposed to the realm of foster care from such a young age, she matured into a young woman who is passionate about child welfare and improving the lives of vulnerable children.

Working as a Family Advocate, she is able to support families in assessing what resources they have access to, and how we can support them in attaining services. As a Certified Car Seat Technician, Audrey is also able to provide car seat safety training to caregivers with young children. In her future aspirations, Audrey hopes to continue to support children and families in any way she can.

Trista Miller, BS

Kinship Training Institute

Bio: Trista Miller is a passionate child welfare professional who has been advocating for foster youth since 2009 when she was in foster care herself and experiencing her 5th placement at an Emergency Shelter. Before reaching the age of 18, she had already helped establish and participated in various youth advocacy groups in the Austin, TX area. Since aging out she has gone on to achieve her Bachelors. in Criminal Justice from Texas State University, where she focused on researching outcomes of youth who were impacted by both the foster care and juvenile justice systems. Trista has experience in creating legislative committees, drafting legislation, and advocating for youth and families at a local, state, and national level. After being raised in a fictive kin placement and fighting to stay in that placement during her time in care, Trista is excited to help other kinship families navigate the child welfare system to keep children from entering the formal foster care system. She can be reached at
Michelle Pulido Kinship Navigator Intake Coordinator

Michelle Pulido

Kinship Training Institute

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

Aine Monaghan

Childcare Specialist

Born in Colorado, Aine graduated high school in Las Vegas. Her family began fostering three kids in 2018 and later adopted them in 2019. They went on to foster and adopt a 6-year-old boy in 2021. Currently, Aine’s family is still a foster resource.

She is passionate about children and youth and is working towards going to college to further her education. Aine has years of experience working with and babysitting children, as she volunteered with Canyon Ridge Christian Church’s childcare program and helped her parents care for her younger siblings.

Aine is a huge advocate for youths’ mental health and pushes to empower children while they navigate their lives. Aine can be reached at

Jaquie Chagolla

Childcare Specialist

Born in California, Jaquie graduated high school in Las Vegas in 2021. Jaquie’s child care experience begins with helping take care of her younger cousins and brother while their parents were working.

Jaquie has always had an interest in working with kids. She loves interacting and playing with children. Child care has always been a passion of hers. She brings her vibrant and energetic personality into the classroom to form healthy connections with kiddos in kinship care.

Jaquie started her Journey with Foster Kinship early in 2022. She has shown an enormous amount of growth since then by supporting Riley & Friends Nurture Group & Kinship Kids Support group. Jaquie is excited to grow with Foster Kinship and our Child Care Program. Jaquie can be reached at

Andrea Avila

Childcare Specialist

Andrea was born and raised in Las Vegas by her mother, but her older brother was very involved during her childhood. She graduated from Mojave high school in 2021. After graduation, she began working with children as a nanny. She has always had a passion for working with kids. Andrea's does an amazing job at creating special connections, feeling of safety, and empowering kids to use their voice.  Andrea can be reached at
Michele Howser PhD Foster Kinship Board of Directors

Michele Howser, PhD, NCC

Board of Directors- 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 Foster Kinship Board of Directors

Jordan Castro, MS, CPA

Board of Directors- 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.
Nancy Myster Foster Kinship Board of Directors

Nancy Myster, MEd

Board of Directors- Secretary

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.
Kechia English Foster Kinship Board of Directors

Kechia English, MA

Board of Directors

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.

Patricia Farley

Board of Directors

Joe DiRaffaele

Board of Directors

Bob Ruble Board of Directors

Bob Ruble

Board of Directors

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. He also founded and runs OC Kinship, a caregiver support organization in Orange County, CA.
Dan Maier

Daniel Maier

Board of Directors

Dan is a former kinship foster parent and now a legal guardian. He is a Roman Catholic deacon with the Diocese of Las Vegas. He dedicates his time to Nevadans for the Common Good and is a board member of its affiliate, NCG Coalition for Public Life. Dan is also an active Realtor in Sothern Nevada. He has a wife, Carol, four children and seven grandchildren.

In 2018, Dan retired from a career in executive management, primarily in benefits management and then later as an executive at Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada.

In his career, he was known to be a strong leader with a driving belief in collaboration within the management team and among all organization associates. He is to this day highly motivated to establish and achieve organizational goals with a passion for service and a drive for continual improvement. He was respected by all associates, earning trust and credibility by dealing honestly and ethically, and by following through on commitments to clients, co-workers, organization leadership and external collaborative enterprises and is still called upon for guidance in challenging situations.

Dan is optimistic, with a positive attitude in adverse situations, demonstrating flexibility, creativity, imagination and resilience when faced with multiple demands, shifting priorities, ambiguity and rapid change.

Dr. Katherine Unthank

Dr. Katherine Unthank,

Board of Directors

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 the University of Phoenix for over 10 years, most recently as Chair of Social & Behavioral Sciences, Las Vegas Campus. 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 (new 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.

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. 
Michelle McGuire Foster Kinship Board of Directors

Michelle McGuire, PhD

Board of Directors

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.
Marcie ODonnell Foster Kinship Board of Directors

Marcie O'Donnell, MA

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 an 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. 

A dedicated volunteer, Marcie writes grants for Foster Kinship.  Her commitment to the organization lead to the establishment of the Marcie O'Donnell Excellence Award in 2017, which is given to a staff member annually who exhibits an equal commitment to families. She can be reached at

Terry and Ali Caliendo Foster Kinship Board of Directors

Terry Caliendo, BS

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 Foster Kinship's volunteer IT specialist. Terry can be reached at
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