Skip to main content

Announcing The 2024 Richard Atlas Early Childhood Leadership Initiative Fellows

By May 8, 2024May 23rd, 2024No Comments


Rockwood is proud to announce our 2024 cohort of the Richard Atlas Early Childhood Leadership Initiative in partnership with the Atlas Family Foundation. This is the second year of an initiative that was created to prioritize the leadership development of early and mid-career leaders in the early childhood field. The initiative will bring together 24 leaders from across Los Angeles County that work across the field in health, mental health and trauma fields in nonprofit and public sector spaces, community-based organizations, childcare providers, county agencies, and other related spaces. We gather these leaders with the purpose of increasing their individual leadership effectiveness and providing an opportunity for relationship building across the field.

The 2024 Richard Atlas Early Childhood Leadership Initiative Leaders are: 


Amy Chiu | Early Childhood Educator & Consultant

Amy has been an early childhood educator for over 16 years, honing her teaching practice in programs that are play-based, community-based, and nature-based. Her professional journey has included work in non-profits, employer-sponsored childcare, and independent schools. Her previous roles as classroom teacher, project manager of an educational products company, and school director have equipped Amy with valuable skills and insight into the recommended practices in early education, with a focus on helping children to develop 21st century skills. She consults with schools to provide professional development, presents at industry conferences, and continues to teach young children to stay on the path of practice and evolution. This fall, she will begin teaching child development classes at a community college. She blogs on ECE topics through her website: She is also on LinkedIn where she creates content to spread the message of empowered learning for our youngest citizens.


Anya Mazariegos | Associate Center Director, Long Beach Day Nursery

Anya has been in ECE for more than 10 years and loves working with children. She is currently an Associate Center Director at Long Beach Day Nursery, West Branch.




Andrea Sanchez | Occupational Therapist (OTR/L), Nurture Collective

Andrea received her Doctorate of Occupational Therapy from Boston University. Andrea loves working with children and families and has always envisioned working in pediatrics. She has a passion for advocacy and improving the health of all people and their communities. Her interests include feeding, infant development, and maternal-infant mental health.



Ann Isbell | Program Officer, First 5 Los Angeles

Ann, PhD, is a passionate practice and systems change maker working to create partnerships and networks of care to ensure the families with young children are able to access high-quality resources and services when they need them. In her current role as Program Officer at First 5 LA on the Health Systems Team, she is working on strategies to transform early identification and intervention services. This includes partnering with stakeholders across diverse service sectors to ensure there are coordinated and comprehensive supports and services for young children and their families.


Bianca Ciebrant | Program Director, The Blind Children’s Center

Bianca is the Program Director at The Blind Children’s Center in Los Angeles. She holds a BA in Child Development and an MA in Special Education, focusing on children with visual impairments. She has held various roles in the field of Child Development for over 25 years, from the classroom to administration.



Cecilia Carrillo | Director, Growing Place Marine Park

Cecilia is the Campus Director of a childcare program in Santa Monica. She has engaged in ECE learning and teaching for over 20 years, working with children from infancy to 17 years. Cecilia is passionate, committed, and vocal about access to high quality learning to people of diverse backgrounds and statuses. She is excited to learn how to be a leader that is reflective and compassionate with educators with a community of like-minded people.



Crystal Taria Williams-Dottin | Director of Family Supports, Children’s Institute, Inc.

Crystal is on a mission to educate, enrich, encourage, and empower with a wealth of social work and early childhood education experience. As the Director of Family Supports with Children’s Institute, Inc., she leads a compassionate team of professionals, who provide resources and service coordination for Early Head Start and Head Start families. In keeping with her mission, she is also an author, professor, and avid reader who enjoys spending time with family and traveling when time permits.



Dulce Flores | Project Coordinator II, Eastern LA Family Resource Center

Dulce is the mother of a teenager girl who is Autistic. She has a passion for teaching, which lets her get involved in the child development field. Dulce was a preschool teacher for 15 years and then decided to make a switch to providing Early Intervention Service to children with developmental delay. After her daughter got diagnosed with autism I decided to get involved in learning about different services. Now, Dulce works as a Project Coordinator at the Eastern Los Angeles Family resource center. In her current role, she provides support services to families and children by connecting families to community resources and collaborating with other professionals to provide and trained on comprehensive support. Dulce’s goal is to make an impact in people, so we could continue to make a change to better our systems.


Faith Cardenas | Director, Child Development Services, Wayfinder Family Services

With nearly 24 years of dedicated experience in child development, Faith has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to making a positive impact on the lives of children and families. Armed with a Master’s in Education, a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice, and an AA in Child Development, she began her journey as a para-educator and has steadily ascended to the role of a director. Faith’s passion for nurturing the growth and well-being of children has been a driving force throughout her career, showcasing her dedication to fostering positive environments and supporting developmental milestones. “The smile I put on your child’s face today, will last a lifetime.” – Faith Cardenas


Faith E Saunders | Executive Director, Hoover Intergenerational Care

Nurturing children to become the best they can be is Faith’s first and foremost concern. Enhancing literacy and learning in early childhood education is something she enjoys doing daily. Faith’s undergraduate degrees are in early childhood education and business.  Her graduate degrees are in business administration and education.



Gaby Acosta | Early Childhood Program Specialist, Long Beach Department of Health & Human Services

Although Gaby is originally from Guatemala, she considers herself a Long Beach native.  She is proud to share that she is a direct product of Long Beach’s education system, having attended school from Kindergarten through graduate level studies. As an educator for children and adult learners, early learning enthusiast, and advocate, Gaby finds joy and inspiration in connecting with others who also believe in the sanctity of the early childhood period of human growth and development across the human lifespan.  In the spirit of children and families, she aims to serve our communities.


Grisel Morales | Project Director, Partners for Children South Los Angeles

Grisel has dedicated her life to working with families and children in the South Los Angeles community and possesses deep experience in early childhood education and social service programs. As Project Director, Grisel oversees the Early Childhood System of Care and works closely with PCSLA’s Partners to ensure that families get the support services they need. She has also been instrumental in the development and implementation of the agency’s data management and tracking system, which has resulted in improved data collection and usage by PCSLA Partners. What motivates Grisel every day is her belief that children thrive when they feel safe and loved. When she’s not working, Grisel enjoys reading and spending time with her family and fur babies.


Kathryn Hodges | Public Health Research Associate, Los Angeles Best Babies Network

Kathryn works at LA Best Babies Network coordinating support and technical assistance for Home Visiting programs funded by First 5 LA is and serves as a co-lead for the Advocacy Workgroup in the LA County Perinatal and Early Childhood Home Visitation Consortium.  After getting a B.A. in Church History in Chicago she began advocacy work at a Postpartum Depression Foundation. She then coordinated a Health Equity grant in Pittsburgh, PA for the Family and Child Health Department, supporting local strategic efforts to reduce racial inequities in maternal and infant health outcomes. Kathryn is a Certified Postpartum Doula, a huge fan of midwifery, and a dedicated learner looking for ways to align efforts and create momentum toward affordable and well-paid child care, paid family leave and full-spectrum, person-centered reproductive health care. Her passion is normalizing the need for parent support and cultivating abundant access to it.


Kraichelle Porter | Associate Director of Residential Programs, Harvest Home

A native Angeleno, for the past 10 years Kraichelle has been working with families and in residential care facilities. Kraichelle is passionate about providing individualized, person-centered care that acknowledges individuals’ unique strengths and gifts and reflecting the love of Christ in her daily work. Kraichelle has a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara.



Laura Benavente | Program Director of Early Childhood, Providence Saint John’s Early Childhood Directions Program

Laura, M. Ed. has led ECE programs and for over 22 years, encouraging, supporting, guiding, motivating early childhood educators and families with young children has been her professional objective. Laura continues to support the evolutionary changes in the field of early education.



Lorena Rodriguez | Managing Director Early Education, Para Los Niños

Lorena is Managing Director of Early Education at Para Los Ninos. She has 25+ years in the field of education serving children, families and communities.



Manuel Ramos | QRIS Program Advisor, Connections for Children

As a Program Supervisor at Connections for Children, Manuel advocates for early education and community empowerment, striving to ensure every child has access to quality learning experiences. As a former preschool educator for seven years, and a professional development coach for six, he brings a wealth of firsthand experience and expertise in the field of early childhood education. In his free time, he enjoys running along Manhattan Beach and has recently taken up painting as a new hobby.


Maria Lozano | Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Birthworkers of Color Collective

Maria is a first-gen Chicana LCSW from Ventura County. One of her passions is supporting and helping children and their families thrive.




Meyli Martinez | Assistant Director, Los Angeles Education Partnership

Meyli, M.S. Assistant Director of Early Childhood & Family Engagement department, has been at Los Angeles Education Partnership since 2019. She has 10+ years of experience working in an Early Childhood setting. In 2019 she received a Family Development Credential (FDC) from the University of Connecticut and completed the Head Start Management Fellows Program at UCLA. She got her master’s degree in general counseling in Psychology at Mount Saint Mary’s University in 2023. She is dedicated to strengthening family development and by building strong relationships with parents, schools, and communities. She collaborates with community agencies to bring support, resources, and awareness to families.


Monique Howard | Home Visitor, Vista Village

Monique is an Early Childhood Specialist/home visitor at Vista Village in Los Angeles. She is on a mission to provide low-income families with skill sets and knowledge in child development, so they can advocate for their children as they navigate through the education system and through life. Monique likes to look at life as the glass is half full and each bump in the road is a hurdle to be proud you jumped over. Her pride and joy is her 10-year-old daughter who keeps her busy and on her toes. Monique loves to hike and sleep when her little’s schedule permits.


Nakeya Fields | Licenced Clinical Social Worker/Executive Director, Therapeutic Play Foundation

Nakeya is a renowned American mental health clinician, advocate, author, and speaker. Her passion for health equity in black, Hispanic, low-income, and vulnerable communities is evidenced by her unique approach to treating trauma-related behaviors through specialized play therapy. Fields is the founder of Therapeutic Play Foundation, southern California’s leading community-based behavioral health organization serving the unique mental health needs of underserved and vulnerable children, youth, and adults. She is also the founder of Innovative Wellness Consultants which is dedicated to empowering individuals to achieve their happiest selves through a comprehensive range of mental and physical health services, including medication management, acupuncture for chronic pain, yoga, sound healing, expressive arts, and gardening.


Sara Beckley | Parent Coach/Concierge, Jewish Family Services Los Angeles

Sara is a Parent Coach with JFSLA’s Raising Baby Program. She’s been working with infants, toddlers and their families for over ten years. Sara is passionate about providing education to parents, teachers and anyone who spends time with young children about the importance of their first five years of life.



Yvonne Castro-Joseph | Professional Development Manager, Child Care Alliance of Los Angeles

Yvonne is the QSLA Professional Development Manager at the Child Care Alliance of Los Angeles. She holds a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Pacific Oaks College. Working with children has had an indelible impact on her throughout her professional career and has touched every professional endeavor she has had since. Yvonne is a specialist in the areas of trauma and its effects on the development of children and has provided workshops and training to early care and education professionals and family-care providers on a wide variety of child development subject matters. She is passionate about advocating for children and families.

Rockwood Community Call

Cecily Rose Engelhart

Life Coach and Speaker

July 25 | 12 PT / 3 ET