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Alison Hurst

Executive Director & Founder

After moving to California from London in 2001, Alison witnessed the homeless youth epidemic in Los Angeles and decided to get involved with addressing the issue. A resident of the Westside, she began by making care packages at home with her family and handing them out with other volunteers on the Venice Boardwalk.  In 2011, she worked with a dedicated group of community members to open a Drop-In Center in Venice, and from there, Safe Place for Youth (SPY) was founded. Five years later, under Alison's leadership as Executive Director, SPY volunteers have been joined by a team of 28 dedicated staff, and the organization is regarded as the lead agency for homeless and at-risk youth in West Los Angeles. Besides sitting on the board of The Westside Coalition and a chair of The Los Angeles Coalition to End Youth Homelessness, Alison still finds time to just sit and talk with our homeless young people and let them know that they are valued. 

Contact: alison@safeplaceforyouth.org

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Rachel Stich

Deputy Director, Development and Administration

Rachel joins Safe Place for Youth with over ten years of non profit experience. Prior to her role as Deputy Director at SPY, she spent three years as Events & Communications Director at Los Angeles Waterkeeper, and worked at United Way of Greater Los Angeles before that. Born and raised in Los Angeles, and a resident of Venice for the past nine years, Rachel feels passionate about homeless and human rights issues. She recently spent time volunteering with local organization Chrysalis, participating in their Women's Empowerment Program, and has volunteered with other homeless organizations throughout Los Angeles for the past several years. Rachel holds a BA in Communications, with an emphasis in Public Relations, and a minor in Sociology from San Diego State University. She is also a member of the Venice Chamber of Commerce.

Contact: rachels@safeplaceforyouth.org

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Sophia Frontino

Director of Programs

After earning her Bachelors in Social Work from San Francisco State University, Sophia, a native Angeleno, began her career by engaging in direct service with SED girls at the Maryvale Residential Treatment Center. She then moved to New York City to work with the Ali Forney Center, the nation’s largest and most comprehensive service provider for LGBTQ homeless youth, for over nine years in a variety of roles with the most recent being their Senior Director of Transitional Housing Programs. She now returns to Los Angeles to continue her work in non-profit management with an emphasis on program development while maintaining a social justice lens. She holds a Masters in Social Work from Columbia University and enjoys volunteering in her spare time.

Contact: sophiaf@safeplaceforyouth.org

 

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Jeanine Espejo-Watkins

Senior Case Manager


Born and raised in Los Angeles, Jeanine began working with youth after graduating with her Bachelors in Psychology from California State University, Los Angeles in 2009. She worked with youth and young adults with eating disorders and youth with substance abuse issues in residential treatment programs. In 2010, she moved up north to Santa Cruz County and began working with a local non profit. There she spent a total of 6 years with them.The first 3 years she worked with adults who had severe mental health issues by supporting them out in the community and assisting them in managing their social security benefits. Missing working with youth, she changed departments to work with current and former system involved youth at a drop in center and in a transitional housing program. In 2013 she decided to pursue her Masters in Social Work at California State University, Monterey Bay. While in school, she continued working in the transitional housing program while also interning as a medical social work intern at Hospice of Santa Cruz County and at Dominican Hospital. After graduating with her Masters in Social Work in May 2016, Jeanine decided to move back to her native Los Angeles to use the skills she acquired in Santa Cruz and give back to her community. 
 

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Rob Hanna

Outreach Project Manager

Rob has worked with at-risk youth for over 15 years. Making an impact in young people’s lives, helping them turn negative situations into positives, and realizing their self-worth has been his primary motivation in working with youth.  His career with at-risk youth started with Seneca Center in San Leandro, CA, where he gained experience in crisis intervention working with emotionally disturbed children. From there he went on to work with the Community Counseling and Education Center – including affiliations with California Youth Authority – working with youth involved in gang activity. He found his passion in addressing gang violence, gun violence, and drug and alcohol abuse. From there he developed a curriculum to teach administrators and youth on dealing with issues associated with gang violence and at-risk behavior. Rob’s work has included providing group counseling and training with Young Visionaries Youth Leadership Academy, Youth Build Charter School, the San Bernardino County Probation Department, and the Foster and Kinship Care Education (FKCE) program at Citrus College. He enjoys his work at SPY working with homeless youth, and also teaches part-time at the FKCE programs of Los Angeles City College and West Los Angeles Community College.  Rob received training and certification in mediation, counseling, and training through the Omega Institute in San Francisco, Cal State San Bernardino, and University of Southern California.

Contact: robh@safeplaceforyouth.org

 



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Ben Perkins

Health and Wellness Program Manager

 Ben’s excited to be working with SPY and contribute to the community he grew up in. He graduated from the University of Colorado where he studied Anthropology and Ethnic Studies. To better serve the youth population, Ben strives to understand the different factors and obstacles that affect individuals and their communities.  As Case Manager at SPY, Ben works with the members to identify their goals and make the necessary steps in reaching them. His current focus is on housing and working with members who want to begin the journey out of homelessness. In addition, Ben is working with SPY's Outdoor Program to provide mindfulness and healing in natural outdoor environments. He ensures each member that we are here to help them pave their own road to success. 

Contact: benp@safeplaceforyouth.org

 

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Michelle DiBattiste

Drop-In Manager

Michelle is extremely excited to have joined the SPY team after graduating from Occidental College, where she studied Critical Theory and Social Justice.  Harboring a passion to make sustainable impact for individuals while affecting a larger system of inequality, she believes SPY’s mission to provide a trauma-informed caring connection to homeless youth is vital to making Los Angeles a home to all those living in it. Responsible for front-desk operations during Drop-In, she has the joy of meeting every youth SPY serves and getting to know their unique expression of generosity, sincerity and resiliency. The positive energy and thoughtfulness that circulates between staff, youth, and volunteers at SPY keeps her motivated and excited to come to work.

Contact: michelled@safeplaceforyouth.org

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Sarah Boehmke

Healing Arts Program Manager

Inspired by a belief in the incredible and healing power of art, Sarah has spent her professional career melding together the creation of art and working in human services. Originally from the east coast, she has lived in the Venice area on and off since 2009. Sarah has worked in the arts creating and producing workshops, art shows, and arts programming for over 10 years. In addition, her experience working as a teacher, case manager, program manager, in administration, sitting on 2 non-profit boards and volunteering at many different homeless services organizations, including Gramercy Housing Group, PATH, Art Walk Inc. and Survivors’ Truths, have provided the experience and proof in the healing and community building power of arts programming on underserved communities. Bringing these passions together, Sarah creates and facilitates the programming for SPY's Healing Arts Program. Sarah has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Media Arts, with a minor in Art History from Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford in Connecticut and is a Certified Social Emotional Arts Facilitator through UCLA’s Arts and Healing Program. 

contact: sarahb@safeplaceforyouth.org

 

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Cody Metzger

Development Officer

Cody could not be more excited to be working at SPY. She began her non-profit career as an intern at Venice Family Clinic, assisting in the planning and execution of their core fundraising events. Most recently, she worked as the Event Coordinator for the Westside Coalition For Housing and Hunger Health, for their 21st Annual Lawn Bowl-A-Thon Fundraiser. Cody has always felt a strong passion for serving the most vulnerable members of our society, and she looks forward to bringing this passion to SPY in this position. She holds a BA in Drama Studies from San Francisco State University and hopes to obtain her Masters in Public Administration in the very near future.

contact: codym@safeplaceforyouth.org

 

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Gary Tyler

Outreach and Engagement Support Worker

contact: garyt@safeplaceforyouth.org

 

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Sheila Siegel

Staff Clinical Supervisor

Sheila Siegel is a licensed clinical social worker and a clinical psychologist. After working 20 years as the school psychologist at Harvard Westlake, she retired and began volunteering with Free the Slaves going all over the world teaching NGO staff about trauma informed care. She began working at SPY in February of 2017. For her it is a return to her roots as she did street gang work in Boston while she was in graduate school, followed by work in a family social service agency and a school for pregnant teens.  Sheila has lived in Venice for the past 7 years. She is delighted to be at SPY and no longer retired.

 

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Mel Kim

Education and Employment Program Manager

Mel holds an M.A in Applied Linguistics from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and revels in diversity, in all its many forms. She has worked on education and employment with transition-age youth from many different walks of life first in Detroit, Honolulu, and now Los Angeles. Throughout these experiences, she has been continually impressed by their enthusiasm, creativity, and desire for growth and change.  Inspired by the belief that everyone should have the opportunity to learn and work in a way that is meaningful to them, Mel strives to facilitate opportunities for SPY members to develop their personal and professional development in the community of West LA.

Contact: mkim@safeplaceforyouth.org

 

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 Melissa Gonzalez

Education and Employment Specialist

Melissa has been with SPY for nearly 5 years, first as a volunteer, then as an intern, and now officially on staff. She is a native of Los Angeles and doesn't plan on living anywhere else.  She completed her undergraduate degree at California State University Dominguez Hills studying Criminal Justice and plans on furthering her education in mental health. Melissa has always enjoyed SPY's protective and welcoming environment as well as how SPY has provides a place for youth to decompress and encourages self care. She believes in always trying to make the best of situations and make people laugh - this often means herself. A few more fun facts about Melissa: she likes to find inventive ways to use coffee filters and fidget spinners, she has a subconscious fear of birthday cakes and balloons because she thinks they are filled with poisonous gas like in the old Batman TV show!

 

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Ely Sepulveda

Youth CES Regional Coordinator

Ely’s background in administration and passion to deliver high quality and systematically efficient service of any kind has prepared him for his role at SPY. He is excited to work as part of the vibrant, resourceful, and capable team at SPY. Having extensive writing and administrative experience, including government liaising, project management, grant writing and reporting, quality assurance, and more, Ely applies his drive to run smooth and efficient operations in everything he does. His previous experience with the chronically homeless adult population in Los Angeles led him to a deeper curiosity about youth and their experiences; a curiosity he hopes to simultaneously satiate and further develop. Originally from the east coast, Ely holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the City University of New York, Hunter College.

 

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Fatine Ait-Haddou

Volunteer Coordinator- AmeriCorps VISTA Program

Fatine just recently graduated from the University at Buffalo in Buffalo, New York. She holds a BA in Political Science with a concentration in International Politics and a minor in French. She is extremely excited to be working at SPY as an AmeriCorps VISTA working as the Volunteer Coordinator! She has experience working as a Volunteer Management Intern at a Refugee Resettlement Service called Journey’s End in Buffalo. She has also interned in Paris, France working with a diverse group of homeless youth at a site called Les Grands Voisins which is part of a bigger organization called Aurore Association. After her year as an AmeriCorps VISTA she hopes to continue her education by getting her masters and then furthering her work at non-profit organizations.

 

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Allie Haber

Youth CES Matcher

Allie migrated south to Los Angeles from Massachusetts, where she attended University of Massachusetts Amherst for her Bachelor's degree in Social Thought and Political Economy as well as her Master's degree in Public Policy. Along with research experience in youth-centered psychology and international public health, she was driven to continue her work with the homeless community after interning at the Western Mass Network to End Homelessness.  Allie believes SPY's devotion to youth empowerment and agency is essential to successfully providing support and upholding social justice. She is endlessly motivated by the dynamic, brilliant people who come through SPY's doors as both youth and staff.

Contact: allieh@safeplaceforyouth.org

 

 

 

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Erika Herod

YCES Peer Navigatior

Erika is thrilled to join the Safe Place for Youth team as the Youth Coordinated Entry System Peer Navigator. Erika has been a member at SPY for a little over a year and has participated in education/employment, case management as well as the arts and healing programs. Erika has a passion for helping others. In her new role, Erika hopes to help homeless youth find housing and provide them with anything they need to make them feel safe again. Erika’s background as a formerly homeless youth and as an ongoing youth advocate nationally and locally makes her an excellent fit for this role. Erika loves volunteering and speaking to groups of people about the common issues faced by homeless youth. Erika is excited to learn more about what the position has in store and the great things that will come out of this experience.

 

 

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Ron Harris

Drop-In Case Manager Intern

Ron’s passions for social justice lead him to SPY, through a VISTA service called the Episcopal Urban Intern Program.   Ron earned a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from Florida Agriculture & Mechanical University.    As a former Mental Health Associate at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, Ron gained experience working with at- risk youth.  He is excited to join an amazing, hardworking, compassionate team at SPY as a drop-in case manager intern.  After his year of service, he plans to partner with SPY as an advocate for at-risk youth experiencing homelessness.

Contact: ronaldh@safeplaceforyouth.org

 

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Crystal Mitchell

Housing Case Manager

Crystal joins SPY with previous Rapid Rehousing Case Management experience where she worked with a SPY-partnered agency to directly find and secure housing for several SPY members. Having spent time in several culturally vast communities, including less affluent parts of Detroit, she has gained an understanding and appreciation for the resourcefulness and resiliency that many individuals of the homeless population possess. She is thrilled to be part of an organization that serves homeless youth in such an impactful and life changing way.

 

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Savanna Lamb

Administrative Associate

Savanna has an extensive background in administration and is excited to transition from the corporate world into the non-profit sector. Savanna received her Bachelor’s degree in Television and Film and after spending a few years in the entertainment industry she decided she fit best where she could help people. Savanna previously worked with a social services program called K9 Connection through OPCC/The People Concern which pairs homeless dogs with at risk youth. In her free time, she volunteers as a women's recovery small group leader.

 

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Carina Dominguez

Pregnant & Parenting Case Manager

Carina grew up in the city of Chicago where she was first introduced to her work with reproductive justice. As a teen, Carina began organizing with other young women of color as a peer educator to provide pregnancy prevention and STD information in schools and community centers, where it was unheard of. This was her motive to earning a degree of Public Health from the University of Tampa. Today she continues her work with reproductive justice by being a Doula, breastfeeding counselor, and an advocate for young families. Carina strives to live in a world where parenting, child labor, and the autonomy of our bodies is not a privilege, but a human right.

 

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Mike Faiola

Drop In Case Manager

Mike has been working with youth in the Los Angeles area for over ten years. He has experience as a residential counselor at the Los Angeles Youth Network and is currently head teaching artist for the Young Storytellers Foundation at Venice High School. Mike considers it a privilege to work with the population that SPY serves, and he is humbled by the passionate and capable staff he now works alongside. Establishing trust and non-judgmental relationships with the youth is his foremost concern. His hopes are to embolden and inspire SPY's clients to identify and pursue the lives that they wish to lead. Lastly, Mike would like to thank the SPY staff and its youth for making him feel welcome and valued in their collective endeavour to create positive change in the community.

 

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Becky Avila

Grants Manager

A native of the westside, Becky returns to LA after having spent 6 years in the U.K where she earned a doctorate in American Studies with an emphasis in Latinx educational politics. Having grown up in the Mar Vista Gardens Housing Projects, Becky is sensitive and familiar with how poverty, and unstable living environments, can affect mental and emotional well-being and access to essential resources. As such, she is emboldened with a passion to drive social change for members in her community. She began her career in the non-profit sector at the Mar Vista Family Center, where she spent two years serving as the Director of After School Programs. In this role she worked closely with youth seeking educational and leadership opportunities. Ever determined to give back to the community that raised her, Becky also serves as the Area E Director for the Del Rey Neighborhood Council.

Contact: beckya@safeplaceforyouth.org

 

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Micah Linton

Health and Wellness Counselor

Micah is a humanitarian that understands it takes individual action to improve the welfare of society. Micah has a Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, GA. He received a Graduate Degree in Transpersonal Psychology from Sofia University in Palo Alto, CA and a Doctorate Degree in Clinical Psychology from Ryokan College in Los Angeles, CA. After a lengthy career in the entertainment industry creating Triple-A video games for major studios, Micah focused his attention on research into the mental and emotional processes of creativity and cultural development. As a long-time Venice resident, Micah began working with transitional aged youth at SPY through UCLA’s Creative Minds Project in 2014. As a psychologist specializing in trauma, Micah incorporates expressive right-brain based modalities on a one to one basis and in creative expression groups aimed to empower, foster psychological growth, and promote well-being.

 

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Michelle DeWinter

Health and Wellness Case Manager

After finishing Med School, Michelle worked as a doctor for three and a half years in emergency psychiatry.  She simultaneously taught medical classes. In her spare time, she is studying Advanced Studies in Management and hopes to finish her second master soon. In July '17 she moved to LA from The Netherlands and started volunteering at SPY soon after. As soon as she received her work permit, she applied for a job and is now happy to be part of SPY's fantastic and empowering staff! What she enjoys most about SPY is the inspiring and positive vibe.

 

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Development and Communications Manager

Vanessa comes to SPY with a passion for social justice and profession in fundraising and communications. She has roots in Southern Oregon and a Bachelor of Arts in Peace Studies with an emphasis in Public Policy and minors in Environmental Studies and German from Chapman University. Previous to her work with SPY, Vanessa worked as the Director of Development and Marketing at Disciples Seminary Foundation and the Administrator of Thad’s Church, where she found her passion for solving homelessness facilitating a program called Laundry Love. She is over the moon having the opportunity to make solving youth homelessness her every day at SPY.

Contact: vanessag@safeplaceforyouth.org