Honoring VCR’s History and Champions for Children

We are thrilled to be celebrating our 30th anniversary this year and had a wonderful time at our recent community celebration! Staff, families, board members, and partners all convened outside the Deaconess Center for Child Well-Being to commemorate 30 years and honor key champions for children. We were even honored by having the Office of the Mayor offer a proclamation for August 30th as Vision for Children at Risk Day.
The day brought with it high temperatures, but this did not deter attendees from gathering to enjoy food, music, and good company. A local band rocked the crowd – encouraging folks to get up on that dance floor while children buzzed around the kids’ activities available in the courtyard.
Inside, a presentation streamed giving both a snapshot of VCR’s history and an opportunity for attendees to get out of the heat for a few minutes. Executive Director Sanaria Sulaiman spoke of the importance of fostering leadership – both in the community and among staff by sharing the impact VCR had on her own life both personally and professionally. Board President Bryan Berry emphasized the need to build off the work already accomplished by VCR and our former Executive Director Rich Patton gave a touching speech about the journey and dedication that has gotten us to where we are today.
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Shelnise Ellis
Program Coordinator: System of Care

Shelnise joined the VCR family in 2020 and serves as the System of Care Intake Specialist. She works alongside organizations providing behavioral health services to children, families and caregivers, and the community to help encourage a smooth intake process.

Outside of VCR Shelnise is completing her Master’s in Social Work degree. She enjoys spending time with her family doing art projects, dancing, cooking, and swimming.

Isaac McBride, MS
Education Coordinator: Project LAUNCH

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.

Sanaria Sulaiman, MA
Executive Director

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​
Director of Family Support Services

Jawana first connected with VCR through the Project LAUNCH initiative as a council member and joined the staff team in 2020. As the Director of Family Support Services, she oversees our team of Family Support Partners walking alongside parents and families who are connecting to and navigating mental health services. Jawana also works to build and strengthen our collaborative partnerships to best support these families and strengthen the systems of support.

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

Kate Kasper, JD
PACT-STL Project Director

Kate joined VCR officially in 2020 after several years of being a strong partner in the work. She 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). Kate 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 you might find Kate enjoying dance infused exercise such as Zumba and Buti Yoga, or you might find her cheering on her son playing hockey.

Anita Blagajcevic, MSW
Compliance Coordinator

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

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

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.

Breann (Bree) Schubert, MSW
Communications Coordinator

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.

April Young
Family Engagement Specialist: Project LAUNCH

April was first introduced to VCR as a parent engaging in Parent Cafés. She joined the VCR family in 2020, connecting and building relationships with parents and caregivers of children 0-8 years old in St. Louis City. April is a Family Engagement Specialist with Project LAUNCH, walking alongside parents and caregivers, connecting them to helpful resources and supporting them as they strengthen their family.

Outside of VCR April enjoys being crafty, doing hair and nails, and having family time with her daughters.

Ruth Ehresman
Interim PACT-STL Director

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, and is now serving as our Interim PACT-STL Director. Ruth 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 Ruth enjoys reading, playing the piano and flute, playing tennis, and spoiling her dog.

Sam Blue
Family Engagement Specialist: Project LAUNCH

Sam joined VCR in 2013 as a MO Project LAUNCH team member and is now serving as a Lead Family Engagement Specialist with St. Louis Project LAUNCH. 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.

Mia Daugherty
Family Support Partner: System of Care

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.

Gabriel (Gabe) Desince
Family Engagement Specialist: PACT-STL

Gabriel joined VCR at the end of 2019 as a Family Engagement Specialist with PACT-STL. He is passionate about connecting with families and ensuring they have access to the resources that support their wellness.

Outside of VCR Gabriel is known as a published author (he loves writing and performing poetry), enjoys cooking and photography, serves his community by teaching the older generation how to use technology, and is a huge music and movie buff.

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

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

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.

Kayia Shelton
Family Engagement Specialist: PACT-STL

Kayia was invited to join the very first Parent Café that Project LAUNCH hosted. She was so moved by what she saw and experienced that she began to volunteer with Project LAUNCH and became trained to serve as a café host.

Then in 2019, Kayia officially joined the VCR family. She now serves as a Family Engagement Specialist to reach out and engage with parents and children in order to reduce entry into the foster care system. She works hard to ensure she can connect families to appropriate resources through warm handoffs.

Outside of VCR Kayia can be found enjoying time with her family!

Nathan Ivy, MA
Project LAUNCH Director

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.