Skip to main content
NewsPN-3 Leaders

Announcing The 2024 Prenatal-to-3 Leaders Fellows



Rockwood is proud to announce our 2024 Prenatal-to-3 Leaders Fellowship cohort in partnership with the Pritzker Children’s Initiative. Leaders working in the prenatal to age three field play an integral role in maintaining the overall health and wellness of our young children, families, and communities. The work that these public and private sector leaders do at the national, state, and local level on issues related to childcare, family support services, healthcare and economic security, is moving us all toward a healthier, more equitable future. Rockwood is honored to offer this transformative fellowship to build a strong, supportive national network of emergent and established leaders across sectors.

Please join us in welcoming and congratulating the Prenatal-to-3 Leaders Fellows!

Abra Nungasuk Patkotak | Co-Director, Alaska Native Birthworkers Community

Abra is Iñupiaq from Utqiagvik, Alaska. She has held many roles, including managing the Pre-maternal home for Utqiagvik and surrounding communities. Abra currently resides in Dgheyey Kaq’, also known as Anchorage, on Dena’ina land. She is an Indigenous Full-Spectrum Birthworker, Doula, and Co-Creator and Co-Director of the Alaska Native Birthworkers Community, a role through which she advances reproductive justice while serving Indigenous birthing people. She is currently a student midwife with the Cedar Medicine School of Midwifery. In 2010, Abra was trained as a doula, and in 2023, she received her Bachelor of Social Work degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Abra is a 2023 Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples Healing & Leadership Fellow. She serves as a Committee Member with the State of Alaska Maternal & Child Death Review. In this role, she brings knowledge of Alaska Native culture as well as lived experience with rural healthcare and rural emergency response systems. In all that she does, Abra’s overarching goal is to create safer spaces for all pregnant and parenting people, whether through systems and policy change or direct support.

Amber Pendergraph-Leak | Executive Director, BirthMatters

Amber is the Executive Director at BirthMatters in Spartanburg and has been a doula for over eleven years. She is a Spartanburg native and has accomplished many levels of expertise in her field – she is a certified birth doula with DONA International, a Certified Lactation Counselor, a Medical Assistant, a certified Community Health Worker and an ambassador of the SC CHW. Amber is a great representation of the CHW model and she continues to elevate in her role.  In 2010 Amber completed the community-based doula training with BirthMatters. She openly shares how this training changed her life. Upon graduating from this training, she accepted a position as one of the first BirthMatters community doulas. It didn’t take long for her to figure out that this was her passion and purpose. Amber has attended over 300 births and is a leader within her community. She started off as a community-based doula, later became Lead doula and now she is the Executive Director. Amber mission is to uplift her community one birth at a time through advocacy, empowerment and education. She is striving for birth justice and equity to optimize maternal health.

Angela Gressem | Director of Hello Baby Priority, Healthy Start, Inc.

Angela has dedicated the last 25 years of her career to working alongside families with young children and is an experienced program director with expertise in the development, implementation and evaluation of home and community-based initiatives. She has extensive experience working in partnership with community agencies and broader systems to decrease child abuse and neglect.  A native of the Pittsburgh area, Angela currently serves as the Director of Hello Baby with Healthy Start Inc. and works directly with county leaders to ensure that families with complex needs have access to basic needs support, resources and tangible good as they adjust to life with a new baby. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, listening to live music, and spending time with her family and friends. As an ordained reverend, mentor, content creator and budding entrepreneur, Angela has a passion for helping people “know their worth” and reach their fullest potential.

Aza Nedhari | Executive Director, Mamatoto Village Inc

Aza brings 20 years of experience in community organizing, reproductive justice, and program development. She is a mother, licensed Certified Professional Midwife, Licensed Family Therapist, and the Co-founding Executive Director of Mamatoto Village. Aza is a fiercely dedicated woman who believes that by promoting a framework of justice, the reduction of barriers that impede optimal maternal and child health begins to dissipate, giving rise to healthy individuals, families, and communities. Aza is pursuing her Doctorate in Human Services with a concentration in Organizational Leadership and Management. She has an eye toward the sustainability of Black-led organizations and cultivating innovative perinatal care delivery and workforce development models.

Cindy La | Director of Children and Youth Services, Chinese American Service League

Cindy is CASL’s Director of Children and Youth Services. Most recently, she served as Executive Director of Education for a non-profit organization in which she helped expand programming in early childhood, youth services and adult education on the north side of Chicago. Cindy was successful in implementing and creating an Early Childhood Education Career Bridge program and integrating best practices in a public charter school to include home-based services with childcare programs up to 8th grade. She has dedicated more than 19 years in education and has worked as a program director; practiced behavioral play therapy with school age children; supported families through family engagement initiatives; and served in Chicago Public Schools Child Parent Centers. Cindy holds a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in child development, with infancy specialization.

Emmy ODwyer | CEO, Advancing Communities for Equity

Emmy, a second generation American, has worked in the field of education for over 20 years as a teacher, early childhood and K-12 administrator, nonprofit executive director, and state government strategist. She is an entrepreneurial founder whose career encompasses a broad scope of expertise: from grassroots organizations and pilots to statewide policies, programs, and quality improvements. Emmy’s career in early childhood began when she opened the first new early learning center in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina wiped out 80% of programs. The decentralized, underfunded, and undervalued nature of early care inspired her advocacy and later work at the Louisiana Department of Education. In 2021, Emmy founded Advancing Communities for Equity to help expand equitable access to high quality early childhood opportunities.  Emmy has a particular interest in removing barriers for Latiné families, and building culturally responsive systems.

Estefany Angeles | Founder, Birth A Mi Manera

Estefany is deeply committed to community empowerment and improving birth outcomes, particularly for BIPOC individuals. In addition to her work as a birthkeeper and educator, she is actively involved in community initiatives aimed at addressing disparities in maternal health. Estefany’s dedication extends to training new bilingual doulas, ensuring that culturally competent and linguistically accessible support is available to all families. Recognizing the importance of representation and inclusivity in birth support, Estefany prioritizes the recruitment and training of doulas from diverse backgrounds. Through her efforts, she seeks to create a network of community-based doulas who understand the unique needs and experiences of BIPOC individuals and are equipped to provide compassionate care. By combining her expertise as a birthkeeper/doula with her passion for community advocacy, Estefany is working tirelessly to empower BIPOC families, promote positive birth experiences, and contribute to lasting improvements in maternal health outcomes within marginalized communities. In 2022, Estefany founded Birth A Mi Manera, a visionary endeavor serving as a sanctuary for childbirth education and doula services. This business is the culmination of Estefany’s passion for providing personalized support to families embarking on the transformative journey of pregnancy and childbirth. From childbirth education to doula support, every aspect of Birth A Mi Manera is designed to foster a sense of security, warmth, and enlightenment for aspiring and new parents.

Esther Nguyen | Policy Analyst, First 5 Los Angeles

Esther is an advocate for young children and their families, rooted in her lived experiences as a first-generation daughter of Vietnamese refugee immigrants. As policy analyst at First 5 Los Angeles, the largest funder of early childhood in California, she represents the organization in several critical spaces working to close opportunity gaps for historically marginalized communities. This includes LA County’s Guaranteed Income Coordinating Council and the statewide Dual Language Learners Master Plan Advocates and Whole Child Equity Partnership. Additionally, she tracks, analyzes, and recommends organizational positions on state policy proposals and supports government affairs work by directly educating and advocating to policymakers on the importance of early childhood development. Esther is proud to be the first in her family to pursue higher education having studied anthropology at University of California Los Angeles and earned her Master of Social Work and Graduate Certificate in Public Policy from University of Southern California.

Fabiola Dimas | Associate Vice President, Early Childhood Programs, Nebraska Children and Families Foundation

Fabiola is an Associate Vice President of Early Childhood Programs for the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation. She provides technical assistance to centers and home visitation programs that serve prenatal moms, infants, and toddlers throughout Nebraska. Fabiola was born and raised in Aguascalientes, Mexico, and moved to the United States in 2000. She graduated from Doane University in 2015, receiving extensive Early Childhood training. Fabiola  is currently enrolled in the Master’s in Leadership program at Doane University and is expected to graduate in December of 2024. She is a Bilingual Circle of Security Facilitator, FAN mentor, Infant Massage Instructor, and Breastfeeding Counselor. Fabiola has been involved with multiple community projects, working as a voting advocate with the Appleseed Program, serving on the Board of Crete Public Library, and participating in Nebraska’s Early Childhood Workforce Commission. Over the years, she has had the opportunity to work closely with at-risk families and children, strengthening advocacy and creating strong community partnerships. Fabiola is passionate about early childhood education and believe that all children in Nebraska should have the same opportunities to achieve their full potential for equitable and inclusive education.

Khadija Lewis Khan | Executive Director, Beautiful Beginnings Child Care Center

Khadija is a force in the field of early childhood education, dedicated to providing children with a strong foundation in environments that celebrate diversity. As the Founding Executive Director of Beautiful Beginnings Child Care Center in Providence, Rhode Island, Khadija has spearheaded the growth of the center, spanning two sites and impacting the lives of over 2,000 children over the last 25 years. Her passion for equitable access to high-quality learning environments has driven her to advocate fervently for increased funding and policy change for early education at the state and national levels. Khadija serves on the Governor’s Early Learning Council and as the Vice President of  RIAEYC. She is on the Steering Committee of Right from the Start – a legislative campaign created to “ensure all Rhode Island babies and young children, regardless of zip code, race, ethnicity, and family income get off to the right start in life.”

Kiara Cruz | Senior Research Analyst, Reproductive Health Impact

Kiara is dedicated to merging her expertise in public health research and advocacy to drive meaningful change in reproductive health equity. With a Master of Public Health in Maternal and Child Health from Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, Kiara employs an interdisciplinary approach, blending community engagement, evidence-based practices, and trauma-and-resilience-informed systems to advance health outcomes, particularly within Black and Brown communities. In her role as a Senior Research Analyst at Reproductive Health Impact, Kiara leads the charge in cultivating initiatives centered on promoting respectful maternity care and enhancing patient-reported experience measures, forging vital partnerships with community stakeholders. Simultaneously, she pursues her doctoral studies in Maternal and Child Health, further deepening her understanding of the complex dynamics influencing birth outcomes. While Kiara’s professional passion lies in birth equity, her devotion transcends her career. Above all, she cherishes her role as a mother to her daughter, Katalina, who remains her world and greatest love.

LeCole White | Manager of Public Health Programs, Arkansas Children’s

LeCole, a mother, advocate for children and families, and licensed master social worker in Arkansas. She brings over a decade of hands-on experience catering to children and families in diverse human service domains including early childhood public health, home visiting, and educational programs. Known for leading innovative approaches, she champions evidence-based early childhood initiatives across the state. LeCole’s dedication to vulnerable demographics is evident through her provision of serving children with special needs, protective services, spanning trauma therapy, prevention services, and crisis intervention for public school students. Beyond her professional commitments, LeCole extends her advocacy as a board member of local nonprofit organizations, including the transit system. She is passionate about serving her community and contributes to many volunteer initiatives. LeCole holds a Master of Social Work from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and a Master of Science in Early Childhood Special Education from Harding University.

Lee Johnson III | Founder/Principal, Senior Fellow, Early Childhood, Early Quest Strategies

Lee, Ph.D., CHES®, is the founder and principal of Early Quest Strategies™, a consultancy dedicated to enhancing early childhood mental health outcomes through strategic, policy, and leadership advising. With early childhood education and public health degrees from The University of Alabama and a CHES® certification, Johnson blends over a decade of lived experience and expertise in early childhood. Formerly, as Vice President of Policy at the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI), he co-led the development of the Eight Essential Outcomes for Black Child Development framework. As a Senior Policy Analyst at ZERO TO THREE (ZTT), he focused on clinical workforce development for infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH) and increasing federal funding for IECMH. While director of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, he led the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program and guided First 5 Alabama®, supporting the mental health workforce.

Maria Montoya | Senior Strategist, Early Childhood Investment Corporation

Maria considers her main roles as a mother, advocate, and community builder. Previously a journalist, she focused on reporting on children and family-related issues for various publications like USA Today and the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Maria was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team at the Times-Picayune for their coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Her deep community connections led her to shift from journalism to the Recovery School District, where she served as the Director of Enrollment and Family Services. Maria played a key role in establishing a unified enrollment system for all publicly funded programs in Orleans Parish. In 2015, Maria moved to Detroit, Michigan, taking on roles as a director and consultant at state and national levels. She assisted cities, counties, and non-profits in creating integrated application and communication systems to improve access to early learning, K-12, and afterschool programs. In 2021, Maria completed a Master’s in Education Administration from Grand Valley State University (GVSU). In Michigan, Maria has been a strong advocate for families, helping them understand and navigate child care and K-12 options, and highlighting the challenges that disadvantaged families face in accessing quality educational opportunities. Maria’s involvement extends beyond work as she holds the position of board president at 826Michigan and Nuestra Voz | Our Voice. Additionally, she serves as the vice president of the Michigan Educational Choice Center’s school board.

Patrick Gamble | Early Learning Policy Administrator, Franklin County Board of Commissioners

Patrick Gamble, hailing from Columbus, Ohio, is a passionate advocate for equitable early learning development. With a familial background in education, he is deeply committed to ensuring that every family in Franklin County has access to culturally responsive, high-quality early learning opportunities for prosperous futures. As the Policy Administrator at the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, Patrick directs strategic initiatives aimed at fostering accessible early learning experiences. Spearheading the impactful $40.2 million Franklin County RISE initiative, he further extends his influence by aligning an additional $20 million in community partnerships focused on prenatal and education goals. Patrick also brings his expertise to the forefront of policy discussions as a designee on the Early Childhood Advisory Council. With previous experience disrupting social determinants of health in urban communities, particularly in maternal and infant vitality, Patrick’s multifaceted approach to community empowerment underscores his dedication to social justice and economic development. Additionally, as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and serving on the board for Maroon Arts Group, where he advocates for the advancement of Black art and artists in Central Ohio, Patrick’s dedication to community empowerment continues to shine through.

Sara Acevedo | Public Health Educator, Austin Public Health

Sara, a devoted sole parent and Licensed Master Social Worker with over 15 years of experience, specializes in supporting families with newborns. With a background spanning four countries, she prioritizes equitable access and community involvement in decision-making processes. Drawing from her undergraduate experiences in Sweden, Sara applies insights into population-level policies to her work, notably in Austin where she played a pivotal role in developing a language access plan for a newborn family support program. Currently pursuing her clinical licensure, she focuses on perinatal mental health. Sara holds a Bachelor’s in sociology from the University of Puerto Rico and a Master of Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin. To keep pace with her soccer-playing stars, Sara has reluctantly embraced the challenge of training as a half-marathoner. For fun, she enjoys strolls, independent cinema, and indulges in delightful meals that don’t require her to cook.

Taushona Moon | Certified Medical Assistant and Perinatal Outreach Worker, Kimaw Medical Center

Taushona is from the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation in Northern California. Taushona became involved in the Prenatal-to-3 world once her job assigned her to work on a grant called the American Indian Maternal Support Services Program (AIMSS). She works with perinatal women and their children by going to their homes to visit and provider services and support. Taushona helps connect them to all of the resources that they qualify for and/or need. She is also a part of a group (Better Birthing Team at St. Joseph Hospital) to create better birthing outcomes for native communities at the hospital. She also has two young children of her own which helps her connect to her clients and gives her the drive to help them. Taushona is now a certified Doula and lactation educator, and is constantly looking and going to trainings to help better serve her clients. Her main focus is to incorporate her native culture back into the homes of pregnant women and children to live healthy. She has been trained by other indigenous birthworkers, learning the local language and arts and inviting her clients to come with her to learn as well. Taushona is also an advocate at her local preschool and is a part of the policy council board to review and create policies to better serve her community and kids.

Tonya Bibbs | Senior Research Associate, James Bell Associates

Tonya is committed to a future where families have what they need to flourish. As a Senior Research Associate at James Bell Associates, she applies her deep expertise in social work and child development to lead evaluations and capacity-building efforts in child welfare and family development. Her methodology integrates Black critical theory with community-engaged social science, underpinning her research and evaluations with a strong commitment to social justice. Previously, as an Associate Professor of Social Work at the Erikson Institute, her scholarship focused on improving the well-being of Black children and promoting racial equity in early childhood systems. Her work included evaluations of the Quality Rating Improvement System and the Illinois Early Learning Council. Beyond academia, Tonya led statewide infant and early childhood mental health initiatives and designed home-based child care professional development. In her personal time, Tonya enjoys time with family and friends, traveling, power yoga, and rowing.

Winifred Smith-Jenkins | Director of Early Learning for Policy and Advocacy, Advocates for Children of New Jersey

Winifred joined ACNJ in 2023 as the Director of Early Learning Policy and Advocacy, bringing over twenty years of extensive experience managing three family-owned child care programs in Northern New Jersey. At ACNJ, she leverages her profound knowledge in child care and early learning, adept management skills, disaster preparedness, and community service. Before her current role, Winifred actively participated in ACNJ’s advocacy, offering testimony, engaging in webinars, and liaising with public officials to champion early learning policies statewide. As the policy team leader, she collaborates with stakeholders to fulfill ACNJ’s mission—making quality, affordable early learning accessible to every family. Her community service record is notable, with contributions to various committees and volunteer roles, including serving as a licensed foster parent and certified emergency medical technician. Winifred’s educational background includes a BS in Biology, an MS in Health Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education.

Yui Iwase | Associate Grants Administrator, Voices for Healthy Kids

Yui is the Associate Grants Administrator with Voices for Healthy Kids and she also supports the work of the National Collaborative for Infants and Toddlers. Yui works on grant administration for state, local, and tribal policy campaign grants and leads the innovation and equity workgroup grants. She uses her experience as a first generation immigrant, her work in refugee resettlement direct services, and food systems work to inform process development and funding strategies. Yui loves connecting the dots and developing processes to ensure systems are equitable and accessible. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Masters in Public Health and resides in Texas. In her free time, she enjoys being outdoors and birding wherever she is.

Rockwood Community Call

Cecily Rose Engelhart

Life Coach and Speaker

July 25 | 12 PT / 3 ET