News

2020 Annual Report: Family Resiliency in Action

A MESSAGE FROM OUR EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

The year of 2020 brought with it many new and unexpected challenges that impacted our families and our staff. From an unprecedented pandemic to a national reckoning with systemic racial inequity, we found ourselves in a position where we had to be creative to meet our community’s increased needs for support while also adapting all our usual strategies and techniques to work at a safe distance. It has been a difficult time, but the VCR team managed to maintain all our initiatives at the standard we expect from ourselves. We even managed to achieve some new levels of success. 

Throughout the transition to virtual work, our team remained committed to promoting the well-being of children and families. Like all organizations this year,
VCR has had to think innovatively about the best way to continue serving our community at a safe distance. This was especially challenging because so much of our work is built around face-to-face engagement within communities. The VCR team adapted our usual methods for virtual spaces. We started calling all our families, checking on them, connecting them to resources, and engaging them in virtual Parent Cafés. We realized that by calling all our families, listening to their concerns, and adapting our longstanding engagement models, we could provide them with much-needed support in otherwise isolating times. Our parent engagement work now includes offering Parent Advisory Councils, Parent Support Network, Parent Cafés, and Community Cafés completely virtually. These Cafés offer an avenue for parents and community members to connect in a safe way, while actively working to strengthen their families and community.

Download our full 2020 Annual Report here.

Carmenlita (Carmen) Montgomery
Family Support Partner: System of Care
Biography

Carmenlita joined VCR is 2022 as a Family Support Partner (FSP) for the System of Care (SOC). She is passionate about empowering others and giving back to her community, helping families and children navigate their everyday life. She brings her own lived experience, work experience, and educational experience to her role as an FSP where she compassionately walks alongside families, providing peer support as they connect to and navigate mental health services.

Outside of VCR Carmenlita enjoys mentoring and tutoring children, being a mother and a nana. She also enjoys decorating, cooking, and traveling with family and friends.

Sam Blue
Family Engagement Specialist: PACT-STL
Biography

Sam joined VCR in 2013 as a MO Project LAUNCH team member and is now serving as a Family Engagement Specialist with Parents & Children Together St. Louis (PACT-STL). He helps connect families to resources and opportunities, and to think strategically about how they can strengthen their family. Sam leads the Parent Cafes and is a certified trainer.

Outside of VCR Sam enjoys being in nature, gardening, building connections with others, and spending time with his family.

Sanaria Sulaiman, MA
Executive Director
Biography

Sanaria became Executive Director of Vision for Children at Risk in 2018, leading VCR’s efforts to promote the well-being of children, youth, and families. She joined Vision for Children at Risk in 2013 as director of Project LAUNCH, a federally funded program to improve young child wellness in north St. Louis. The success of Project LAUNCH allowed VCR to secure three new federal grants, all aimed at supporting families. In addition to managing the day-to-day operations of VCR and overseeing the federal grants, Sanaria also serves on the board of Kids Win Missouri.

Outside of work at VCR, Sanaria loves to travel around the world with her two beautiful children to learn about different cultures, learn different languages, and try new food.

Jawana Hammonds, MSW​
System of Care Project Director
Biography

Jawana first connected with VCR through the Project LAUNCH initiative as a council member and joined the staff team in 2020. As the System of Care Project Director, she oversees the collaborative network of organizations, agencies, and families committed to a family-driven and youth-guided approach to providing care for children and youth with mental health challenges. The System of Care is working to ensure children and youth can thrive by getting the total support they need to become physically and emotionally healthy at home, in school, and in their communities. 

Outside of VCR Jawana enjoys listening to music and fashion design. 

Anita Blagajcevic, MSW
Compliance Coordinator
Biography

Anita first connected with VCR by utilizing the CMSL Data Book, finding the data impactful and helpful. Anita later joined the VCR team in 2018 to focus on improving access to and coordination of early childhood screenings. She now serves as VCR’s Compliance Coordinator, helping manage the applications, data, and reporting for our federal and local grants.

Outside of VCR Anita enjoys spending time with her husband and family. If she’s not doing that, you can find her watching reality TV and pretending she’s viewing it through an anthropological lens.

Alicia D. Hall, M. Ed., LPC, NCC
Behavioral Health Coordinator: Project LAUNCH
Biography

Alicia joined VCR’s team in 2020, already familiar with and connected to VCR’s collaborative efforts and MO Project LAUNCH (2012). As the Project LAUNCH Behavioral Health Coordinator, Alicia drives our work integrating behavioral health into primary care health and early care and education. She works to increase and integrate the use of screening tools and mental health consultation for children’s well-being.

Outside of VCR Alicia enjoys anything outdoors in the sun with a special appreciation for the Caribbean. She loves eating and trying new restaurants, travel, sand in her feet, water, and blue skies. Alicia also enjoys spending time with family and her grandchildren that keep her young.

Liz Hoester
Data & Research Coordinator
Biography

Liz, a VCR team member since 2007, coordinates the overall data and research functions for the agency. This includes production of the Children of Metropolitan St. Louis Data Book (CMSL) as well as community assessments and special reports on key policy issues for community organizations and collaborative groups. She also provides customized child well-being focused data to various entities including local foundations, legislators, and numerous community initiatives and organizations. These data are used in everything from securing grants to informing funding and policy decisions. 

Outside of VCR Liz enjoys exploring her neighborhood by foot and the city by bike.

Isaac McBride, MS
Education Coordinator: Project LAUNCH
Biography

Isaac connected with VCR because of our prevention work with children and families. Having worked on the intervention side previously, he truly sees the importance and impact of prevention and early intervention. Isaac joined the team in 2020 as our Education Coordinator with Project LAUNCH. He collaborates with school and community partners to strengthen families, promote early childhood screening and education, and support educators in meeting the needs of families.

Outside of VCR Isaac enjoys being outside with his significant other and dog, jiu jitsu, reading, and playing games with his brother. Isaac also loves to cook and bake and has some pretty great skills thanks to his mother. He is notorious for modifying the recipe every time.

Breann (Bree) Schubert, MSW
Communications Coordinator
Biography

Bree joined VCR in 2015 as the Project LAUNCH Activities Coordinator. Since that time, Bree’s role has shifted, but she remains dedicated and motivated by the mission of VCR. She now serves as VCR’s Communication Coordinator and loves being able to help share the story of VCR (alongside all of our awesome partners and families) working toward child well-being.

Outside of VCR Bree and her family can be found playing ultimate frisbee, hiking, and learning and advocating alongside their church family.

Ruth Ehresman, MSW
Interim PACT-STL Director
Biography

Ruth was a VCR Board member before fully joining the VCR family in 2013. She started out coordinating the Family and Community Partnership (now known as St. Louis Child Abuse and Neglect Network), served as the VCR Advocacy Coordinator for many years, served as the Interim PACT-STL Director, and now continues to support VCR as a consultant.

Outside of VCR Ruth enjoys reading, playing the piano and flute, playing tennis, and spoiling her dog.

Mia Daugherty
Family Support Partner: System of Care
Biography

Mia was first introduced to VCR when a friend invited her to a Community Café. She had heard the cafés were impactful and looks back now to say that it truly was life changing! She sees a real opportunity for positive change by the way these cafés center the conversations of change around community voice.

At the end of 2019 Mia joined the VCR family. She now serves as a Family Support Partner for the System of Care, bringing life experience, a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, energy, and passion to supporting families navigating behavioral health needs.

Outside of VCR you might find Mia and her daughter roller skating and also embracing all the wonderful and exciting events in the St. Louis area.

Alexis Williams
Family Support Partner: System of Care
Biography

Alexis first joined the VCR family in 2022 as a practicum student. She enjoyed working with the team, serving families, and believed in the mission so deeply that she joined the team afterwards. Alexis serves as a Family Support Partner (FSP) for the System of Care (SOC), walking alongside families that have a child or children with a Serious Emotional Disturbance (SED), mental health concern, or behavioral health concern.

Outside of VCR Alexis enjoys cooking/baking, hiking, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.

Katina (Tina) Johnson
Family Engagement Specialist: PACT-STL​
Biography

Katina joined VCR in 2019 excited and motivated to help families, parents, and children by sharing her life experiences, prior work experience, and her education. She serves as a Family Engagement Specialist through PACT-STL, which involves connecting with families throughout the community to reduce entry into foster care. She helps connect families to the resources that can help families be their best version of themselves.

Outside of VCR Katina enjoys spending time with her four boys, expressing their spiritual beliefs, and networking and meeting new people from all walks of life.

Connie Rigas
Family Support Partner: System of Care
Biography

Connie joined VCR in 2020 as a Family Support Partner for the System of Care (SOC). She brings professional training to her work, as well as personal experiences from raising her daughter. She walks alongside families in their journey navigating behavioral health and social emotional supports for their child(ren).

Outside of VCR Connie enjoys reading, planting flowers and herbs, and spending time with her family and friends.

Shelnise Ellis, MSW
Project Coordinator: System of Care
Biography

Shelnise joined the VCR family in 2020 and serves as the Project Coordinator/Lead Family Coordinator for the System of Care. She has spent most of her career working with children and adolescents around mental health and is passionate about serving her community, empowering others to live better lives. She works alongside organizations, families and caregivers, and the community committed to strengthening the systems of support. Shelnise also supports the Family Support Partners walking alongside families who are connecting to and navigating mental health services.

Outside of VCR Shelnise enjoys spending time with her family and friends traveling and exploring new journeys.

Yolanda West, MM
PACT-STL Director
Biography

Yolanda first engaged with VCR as a board member of COCAN (now STLCANN) in 2012. She went on to serve as the Board Co-Chair of STLCANN before joining the VCR team in 2021 as the PACT-STL Director. Yolanda now oversees the work of Parents and Children Together St. Louis (PACT-STL), a federally funded initiative through the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF). She is leading this initiative focused on developing, implementing, and evaluating strategies that prevent child maltreatment, reduce entry into the public child welfare system, and enhance overall well-being outcomes of children and families.  

Outside of VCR Yolanda enjoys spending time with her family and God, reading, listening to music, and watching TV.  

Integrated Family Treatment

Integrated Family Treatment is a multi-generational approach to mental health care. The client is the family unit, not only the child or adult separately. The goal is to improve family relationships, functioning, and well-being. Evidence-based mental health services and trauma focused treatment will be provided by Places for People and Children’s Advocacy Services of Greater St. Louis.

Family Support Partners

Family Support Partners (FSPs) provide peer support to families as they connect to and navigate mental health services. The FSPs have lived experience as a parent or family member of a child with a serious emotional disorder, as well as a deep connection to the communities in the St. Louis Promise Zone. FSPs are certified by the Missouri Dept. of Mental Health and employed by Vision for Children at Risk.

A person with a Serious Emotional Disorder (SED)

An individual with a diagnosable mental, behavioral or emotional disorder that interferes with or limits daily functioning.

Tyree Thomas
Family Engagement Specialist: PACT-STL
Biography

Tyree originally connected with VCR in 2015 when he attended his first Parent Café. He stayed connected and officially joined the VCR family in 2022 as a Family Engagement Specialist for PACT-STL. He serves as a family mentor and assists families with understanding their rights and helping them navigate the child serving systems. He works alongside families that have either been hot-lined already or are at risk of being hot-lined.

Outside of VCR Tyree enjoys spending time with his family, watching movies, and listening to music.

Jamila Valentine
Family Engagement Specialist: Project LAUNCH
Biography

Jamila first engaged with VCR when she attended a Parent Café Training Institute. After this experience she went on to become an active Project LAUNCH parent leader and gained experience hosting Parent Cafés at Clay Academy of Exploration and Civics. She officially joined the VCR family in 2022 as a Family Engagement Specialist for Project LAUNCH, walking alongside parents and caregivers, connecting them to helpful resources and supporting them as they strengthen their family.

Outside of VCR Jamila enjoys attending family friendly events with her children, along with all the adventures, laughter, and joy that comes with being a parent of multiple children under age 8.

Nathan Ivy, MA
Project LAUNCH Director
Biography

Nathan joined the VCR team in 2020 to lead Project LAUNCH, a federal initiative that promotes the well-being of young children in St. Louis City. His connections to VCR started many years prior to this. Nathan first engaged with VCR back in the 90’s when he served as a Social Services Manager. The strategies he used with students and their parents were developed from the Kids Count Data Book. Nathan also had the unique opportunity to have VCR’s former Executive Director and founder, Richard Patton, as his mentor in Graduate School.

Outside of VCR Nathan enjoys dining out, giving back through mentorship opportunities, relaxing, and worshipping God.