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New regional council members share expertise and passion

Welcome new regional council members

A new batch of volunteers have joined First Things First ready to collaborate with others who share a passion for early childhood issues and want to make an impact for the babies, toddlers and preschoolers in their community.

There are 36 new regional partnership council members joining the more than 250 dedicated community members across Arizona who serve on 28 FTF regional partnership councils.

“Each regional council member represents a different facet of expertise and passion,” said FTF’s Chief Regional Officer K Vilay. “They bring an understanding of how important early childhood is and why it’s important for their community. They’re the voice and reflection from each of their respective perspectives in their community.”

Volunteering on a regional council is a unique, high-level leadership opportunity to make a positive impact on children and families. Regional council members, who are selected through a competitive application process, either live or work in the community they are chosen to serve.

Each council is made up of 11 members who help define priorities for the local services and support for young children and their families. They represent the following areas:

  • Business person
  • Child care provider
  • Early childhood educator
  • Faith community representative
  • Health services provider
  • Parent of a child 5 or younger
  • Philanthropy representative
  • Public school administrator
  • Tribal representative
  • Other (at-large seat)

By collaborating with other dedicated volunteers, they provide opportunities for young children to get a strong start in life. The new regional council members include Andy Wannemacher, who was appointed to the FTF Northwest Maricopa Regional Council as a public school administrator. He is the superintendent of the Aguila Elementary School District.

They also include Elizabeth Bierer, who will represent the health services provider on the FTF Navajo/Apache Regional Council. Bierer is a practicing family medicine physician and is the chief of staff at Summit Regional Hospital.

“As a mother, wife and physician I see how critical it is to have solid early childhood development,” Bierer said. “This takes form in the home, in the patient’s ‘medical’ home as well as the schools, child care and preschool programs. It is important that as a community we have active involvement from all of these areas to be effective in raising our children to be successful in life.”

Also, Kayla Van Cleve is a new business owner of Grace In Progress in Globe. Her business provides life coaching, brain training and emotional education. Van Cleve said she is interested in serving on the FTF Gila Regional Council as a way of continuing to provide assurance to children and families in the Gila region. She is a former school counselor and a mother of two. She said she believes that every child, birth to age 5, and their families should receive the support, services and skills they need to be the best versions of themselves. This can only be accomplished by the “village” mentality, where a community comes together to surround a family with love and support.

“In terms of volunteerism, regional council members are working at a high level, where in some regions, they’re responsible for millions of dollars,” Vilay said. “They come to the table ready to roll up their sleeves. They’re having the discussions, reaching out to staff and doing the work.”

In 2017, Harvard University recognized FTF’s innovative governance model. The statewide First Things First Board and regional partnership councils in local communities share the responsibility of ensuring that early childhood funds are invested in strategies that will result in improved education and health outcomes for young children. This tiered governance structure ensures that Arizona’s early childhood development and health funds are invested in strategies that improve outcomes for young children statewide, while honoring local needs and priorities.

The award named FTF as one of the Top 25 Innovations in American Government as part of a national awards competition that celebrates creative, solution-oriented governing.

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“The camaraderie that develops is the other piece that’s amazing to see,” Vilay said.  “It’s a cool mix, because we tell volunteers that you don’t have to be an expert in early childhood, but everyone is sharing their perspective of what they hear and see in the community and it turns into high-level thinking and work. They become our connectors with others in the community.”

The new regional council members who began their four-year term in July are listed below. For a full list of all regional council members for each region, please visit each region’s page:


  Cochise | Cocopah Tribe | East MaricopaGila | Hualapai Tribe |
Navajo Nation | Navajo/Apache | Northwest Maricopa |
Pascua Yaqui Tribe | Phoenix North | Phoenix South | Pima North |
PinalSan Carlos ApacheSoutheast Maricopa | Southwest Maricopa |
Tohono O’odham Nation | Yuma |


Elisa Castro, Child Care Provider

Castro is a preschool teacher for the Douglas Unified School District. She is a member of the Douglas Education Partnership Council, which is currently developing the Early Learning Indicator Progress Meter. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Arizona State University and a master’s degree in early childhood studies with a specialization in administration, management and leadership from Walden University. She is also an AZ Steps Expulsion Prevention trainer for the Easterseals Blake Foundation. “Early learning is a vital and extremely important stage in life where our little humans reach monumental milestones that will stay in their brains as core memories and core learning,” Castro said. “Children rise to the expectation of their environment. It is our responsibility to have nurturing expectations for them to rise.”

Demetry Simonton, At-Large

Simonton is a parent of two boys, ages 5 and 8, and feels confident his life experiences have prepared him to be a contributing member of the regional council. He is the president of sales and marketing for Northern Computing, where he develops strategic sales, marketing and branding campaigns. He is active in the region and has served on numerous boards and advisory committees. He is also a member of the Douglas Education Partnership Council and the Sierra Vista Education Partnership Council. Simonton believes that strong families are the foundation for everything we want to achieve as a country. “The children that we produce/raise are the ultimate measurements of our society,” Simonton said. “It is our duty to cultivate communities that support the needs of the development of every child regardless of race, creed, gender or any other factor. That is how we put first things first.”

Cocopah Tribe

Diana Navarro, At-Large

Navarro is the director of the Cocopah Vocational Training Center for the Cocopah Indian Tribe. Navarro was a member of the 19 Tribal Nations Workforce Development Board from 2017 to 2021. Navarro strives to support collaborative efforts, and has a special interest in creating opportunities for children’s healthy development through physical activities.

East Maricopa

Delanyo Smith, Child Care Provider

Smith is the executive director of early learning for the Valley of the Sun YMCA, where he oversees the site operation of early childhood programs throughout Maricopa County. He has been in the early childhood field for over 23 years, holding various positions including center director, training manager and Quality First coach. Smith brings a wealth of experience working within the early childhood system of several states including Arizona, Georgia and South Carolina.


Kayla Van Cleve, Business

Van Cleve is a business owner of Grace In Progress located in Globe. Her business provides coaching and brain training, emotional education and life coaching. She has a master’s degree in psychology from Grand Canyon University and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Arizona State University. Van Cleve is interested in serving on the regional council as a way of continuing to provide assurance to children and families in the Gila region. She is a former school counselor and a mother of two. She is well aware of the importance of early childhood development and health. She believes that every child, birth to age 5 and their families, should receive the support, services and skills they need to be the best versions of themselves. This can only be accomplished by the “village” mentality, where a community comes together to surround a family with love and support.

Adrea Ricke, At-Large

Ricke is currently the grant project coordinator for the Gila County Library District, where she reinforces the importance of early literacy, forms partnerships with various community stakeholders, and promotes the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program. She has a master’s degree in library science from the University of North Texas and a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Northern Arizona University. She was the 2020 FTF Gila Champion for Young Children recipient and continues to be a strong advocate for the birth to age 5 population. Ricke is interested in serving on the regional council because she would like to make a meaningful difference in her community. She knows the difference early childhood development makes first-hand. She believes that all of Arizona’s children deserve adults campaigning for early education. Community collaboration is key to sharing resources and maximizing impact when many organizations are working towards a common goal.

Pam Trobaugh, Child Care Provider

Trobaugh is the site manager for the Miami Head Start. She is responsible for assisting with daily classroom operations within a preschool program serving children ages 18 months to 5 years old. She supervises center staff and is involved in all aspects of hiring, training and mentoring staff in all required areas. She has an associate degree in early childhood education from Eastern Arizona College. She is a member of the Gila Early Childhood Collaborative and also a participant in the Gila County Community Health Advisory Group, working on the Community Health Improvement Plan. Trobaugh ran a licensed home child care for 16 years and then found her true passion when she went to work for Head Start. She loves being able to show parents how important the early years are and that they are their child’s first and most impactful teacher. She wants all of Arizona’s children to experience success once they hit kindergarten.

Matthew Crespin, Parent

Crespin is the parent of a 2-year-old son and is learning just how important a role parents play in their children’s lives. He is also a State Farm agent in the Payson area for the past eight years and is involved in the community. He was a board member for the Friends of Payson Parks and Recreation from 2016-2019. Crespin said that First Things First is interesting to him because of his similar goal of helping community kids as much as possible. Through his business, he has always focused most of his local marketing and networking efforts on ways to support the community, especially kids. His vision is to help make a bigger impact in any way he can to help young kids develop and be ready for their future. He believes to make that happen we need to work with other like-minded individuals and organizations.

Hualapai Tribe

Jane Baumbach, At-Large

Baumbach is currently the dean of students for Peach Springs Unified School District. She has extensive experience as a librarian for school districts and the Town of Wickenburg and is passionate about early literacy. Baumbach also has experience in special education and developmental services. Prior to relocating to Peach Springs, Baumbach was a member of the Northwest Maricopa Regional Partnership Council for four years. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a library media specialist certification from the University of Missouri. Baumbach expressed a desire to increase early literacy support and incorporate opportunities for children to learn the Hualapai language and supporting bilingual language development in the region.

Navajo Nation

Valerie Tsosie, Philanthropy

Tsosie operates the So’ Tsoh Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. “The So’ Tsoh Foundation offers comprehensive programs, specialty services, resources and support to address general wellness,” Tsosie said. “We utilize an integrated Diné approach that takes into consideration the body, mind and spirit connection. I came home to serve my community and improve the lives of my people, providing impact and positive change,” Tsosie said. “The elders have the knowledge, and we need that to feed to the younger population to have them well-rounded, functional, strong community members with culture and knowledge of the outside world and a strong foundation of who they are and where they come from.”

Shannon Goodsell, Public School Administrator

Goodsell is the superintendent of the Window Rock Unified School District, managing all school district activities, curriculum and finances. Additionally, he has taken on a lead role as chair of the Navajo and Apache Counties’ School Superintendents. “Early childhood development is vital to the success of school-age children,” Goodsell said. “Ensuring that early childhood development is emphasized and secured ensures graduates. I am willing to serve to help our community grow and prosper.”

Candi Running Bear, Faith Community Representative

Running Bear is the activities coordinator of her church and is part-time faculty with Northern Arizona University as a project coordinator. In her role, she assists with questionnaire revisions on REDcap, collects data to prepare for research initiation, assists with the development study materials, records meeting minutes, assists with focus group/interview recruitment and suggests ways to incorporate the Navajo culture into the manual. As part-time faculty, she’s also revised existing syllabi for the new semester, revised existing syllabi to accommodate for COVID-19 restrictions, graded assignments, provided feedback on completed discussions and assignments, instructed students using an online setting, utilized blackboard to share assignments and assessments, updated students on assignments and assessments, communicated with students via email and acted as an expert analyst and advisor in special education due process laws, rules, policies and procedures to undergraduate and graduate students in the special education teacher preparation program. Running Bear is Navajo and lives on the Navajo Nation in St. Michaels, Arizona. She is a doctoral candidate at Northern Arizona University and was the recipient of the 2021 AzAEYC student scholarship. “I am interested in serving on a First Things First regional partnership council because I feel I have a great deal to contribute to the council,” Running Bear said. “I am currently a doctoral candidate at Northern Arizona University in the Curriculum and Instruction program with a focus on early childhood special education of culturally and linguistically diverse children. I have conducted research to benefit the learning of Navajo children with disabilities. I also have nearly 13 years of experience as an early childhood special educator in public schools on and off the Navajo Nation. My passion in life is to improve the education of young children on tribal lands which can close the academic success gap that exists between students of the majority population and Native American students.”



Karli Hueston, Child Care Provider

Hueston operates a licensed, home-based child care program with her husband. She previously worked with Ehmke’s Childhaven in Show Low. “In 2012, I got my first preschool job at Ehmke’s Childhaven in Show Low and I fell in love!” Hueston said. “I worked as an assistant and then lead 2-year-old teacher and was completely connected with the early childhood education field and wanted to do everything I could to learn more and do more for my job and community. I had a 2-year-old at the time so I applied everything I was learning to my family, as well. I am close to completing my bachelor’s degree in early childhood behavioral sciences. I started my in-home child care center back in 2018 and became officially licensed in August 2021. My husband and I want to get more involved with early childhood programs to be more involved with the community and maybe one day open a bigger center to better serve the families of the White Mountains. We bought our home in Pinetop-Lakeside specifically because we love this area and want to help build the family community of Pinetop-Lakeside. We are more than willing to get involved, we just need to get out there and see what we can do as a family, business owners and early childcare providers.”

Molly McGavock, Parent

McGavock is the parent of two young children. McGavock was previously employed at the MAMA Mentorship Project in Pinetop. In this role, she developed the program, advertised locally, hired and trained employees, recruited moms and mentors, provided individualized case management, built relationships with community partners, started developing a children’s curriculum, wrote a monthly newsletter and coordinated graduation ceremonies. “In running this project I’ve realized there is a great need for early childhood education to be brought into the light for those living in poverty,” McGavock said. “Whether it’s generational or situational poverty, parents living in the tyranny of the moment has an extremely negative impact on children, especially those ages 5 and under. I want to continue to promote community collaboration and bring the importance of early childhood education to the parents and children in our community. Not only to those who don’t have easy access, but to all children in the state of Arizona. My vision for all of Arizona’s children is to have a bright future and to be ready to go to kindergarten with confidence, social, emotional skills and knowing the importance of early childhood literacy. There is an African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child. The challenge is, what does it take to create a village? Community partners coming together to collaborate and put our children, their well-being and their education first are what will continue to make Arizona and the United States great. Children are our future. We need to invest now to ensure tomorrow.”

Elizabeth Bierer, Health Services Provider

Bierer is a practicing family medicine physician. She is currently chief of staff at Summit Regional Hospital and serves on many committees within Summit. Bierer graduated from Blue Ridge High School and continued her education at the University of Arizona, where she received a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Bierer spent a year in South Carolina with AmeriCorp VISTA assisting Commune-i-Care, a not-for-profit organization, helping the medically underserved population of the state. After her year with AmericCorp VISTA, Bierer began her studies at the UA College of Medicine. Bierer is Board Certified by the American Board of Family Medicine. “As a mother, wife and physician I see how critical it is to have solid early childhood development,” Bierer said. “This takes form in the home, in the patient’s ‘medical’ home as well as the schools, child care and preschool programs. It is important that as a community we have active involvement from all of these areas to be effective in raising our children to be successful in life.”

Northwest Maricopa

Katia Jones, Parent

Jones lives and works in the region. She is the director of donor engagement for the Women’s Foundation for the State of Arizona and also serves as chief consulting officer for the Sibyl Strategy Group. She has served for over 20 years in Arizona’s nonprofit sector either as an employee, board member or volunteer. She holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology as well as a Master of Business Administration. Jones’ goal in serving on the regional council is to be proactive in areas that can help make children’s futures better.

Ashley Worrell, Early Childhood Educator

Worrell is the Director of KidZone for the Peoria Unified School District, where she coordinates community education programs and provides professional development to staff to ensure that they have the skills and experience necessary to provide high quality care for their students. Her previous work experience included work as a Quality First coach, Head Start lead teacher and adjunct faculty member at Glendale Community College. Worrell holds a Bachelor of Science in elementary education and a master’s degree in educational leadership.

Andy Wannemacher, Public School Administrator

Wannemacher lives and works in the region. He is the superintendent of the Aguila Elementary School District where he organizes programs, directs staff and oversees the activities and budget of the district. Wannemacher has over 20 years of experience working in this school district, which is in the rural part of the Northwest Maricopa region. In addition to his role as superintendent, he also serves as the athletic director, training and mentoring student-athletes. Wannemacher holds several degrees including a doctorate in educational leadership.

Pascua Yaqui Tribe

Rosie Gutierrez, Child Care Provider

For over 33 years, Gutierrez has served the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, working with the child care services program, which is part of the social services department. As child care supervisor, Gutierrez administers the tribe’s Child Care Development funds, which include supporting families in need of care, working with early care and education providers on the reservation and ensuring young children have access to quality care. Currently, Gutierrez serves on a team representing Pascua Yaqui Tribe staff and community that is charged with developing and constructing an early learning program on the reservation, which is expected to soon break ground and open in 2023. With her long-standing career with the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, she brings a wealth of experience and knowledge that includes some higher education coursework and professional development in early childhood education, health and development. As a parent of five children and a grandmother to three, Gutierrez recognizes the importance of parents as the most important and influential in a child’s life. Gutierrez said her vision is, “for our youngest members is to have a love of learning and success in life.”

Phoenix North

Claire Todd, Parent

Todd is a parent of two children under 5 years of age. She lives and works in the region. She is a financial consultant for American Family Insurance. Todd has a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and sciences.

Phoenix South

Carolyn Wilmer, At-Large

Wilmer is a retired health specialist from the City of Phoenix Head Start Birth to Five Program. Carolyn has a master’s degree in public health administration and a Master’s of Science in pathology. She has over 26 years of experience in early childhood health, and over 20 years of experience managing early childhood health and safety projects, including preventive health practices, early childhood screening and intervention, and health and safety in the early childhood learning environment.

Lenny Reel, Child Care Provider

Reel is the preschool director at Neighborhood Ministries. Reel has a bachelor’s degree in public management and an associate degree in early childhood education and administration. Reel has over 17 years of experience in early childhood education.

Sakina Pasha, Health Services Provider

Pasha is the senior manager for Value-Based Care at Blue Cross Blue Shield. Sakina holds a master’s degree in health care delivery, a Bachelor of Arts in neuroscience and behavior with cellular concentration, and a Six Sigma Black Belt Certification. She has over nine years of experience in population health management, clinical operations, and policy consulting. She has led continuous process and quality improvement that provides effective solutions to reduce the burden on care teams, increase collaboration, and eliminate wasteful practices. She works on improving quality and access to care in the south Phoenix community by partnering with the providers and community leaders.

 Jennifer Ibanez, Parent

Ibanez is a mother of four, including a child under age 5. She lives and works in the region. She is an AzEIP coordinator with Aetna/Mercy Care. Ibanez has an associate degree in business administration. She has over 10 years of experience in healthcare management and case management.

Pima North

Celina Robles, Child Care Provider

Since 2017, Robles has served as the Title I Preschool Program coordinator with Tucson Unified School District. She manages 53 inclusive preschool classrooms, including classrooms that are enrolled in Quality First and part of the Pima County early learning expansion efforts of the Pima County Early Education Program Scholarships. Over 1,600 families with young children have access to attend half-day or full-day preschool programs. Robles manages multiple budgets, supervises office staff and coaches, hires certified teachers and teacher assistants, assures compliance with state regulations and supports the meeting of quality standards through Quality First. Previously, she served in other key positions within the district, which included curriculum service providers, supporting early educators with implementing best teaching practices aligned with an inclusionary philosophy. She was also a kindergarten teacher. In addition to her work with Tucson Unified School District, Robles has held diverse positions in the early childhood field. She was a Quality First Coach and Quality First Team Lead with the Easterseals Blake Foundation and a former preschool teacher with Nogales Unified School District. She has a master’s degree in early childhood education and a bachelor’s degree in education. Celina remarks that her interest in serving on the regional council is “to work collaboratively with other professionals,” to support high-quality early learning by building a strong early childhood workforce. She hopes to see and help build a stronger professional development system and pathway for early childhood professionals.

Heidi Elizondo Hultquist, Philanthropy

As senior director of development with Tucson Medical Center Foundation, Hultquist is responsible for maintaining and growing relationships with prospects and donors in addition to growing the major gifts pipeline, which represents gifts of $10,000 or more and closing gifts of over $100,000. In addition, Hultquist oversees grants and corporate and foundation relations and works in partnership with hospital staff, nurses and doctors to raise funds for needs and programs with an emphasis on growing pediatrics and cardiology. She also develops strategies for solicitation and stewardship of six-figure gifts and is actively engaged in negotiating $1,000,0000+ as well as involved in developing a mini- capital campaign for cardiology. Tucson Medical Center Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Tucson Medical Center Health Care, a non-profit and locally governed community hospital committed to serving communities that are underserved and meeting the unmet health needs of the Tucson and southern Arizona community. Previously, Hultquist held various positions within the non-profit sector that reflected both philanthropy and early childhood, serving as the development officer and the director of Early Childhood Professional Development with the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona. She has a master’s degree in public administration with an emphasis on non-profit management and finance, a Bachelor of Science in public management and a fundraising and sustainable financial management certificate. “Very early in my career, I found a passion for supporting and strengthening my community,” Hultquist said. “Particularly, I believe all children deserve a high-quality education regardless of their zip code. Over the past eight years, I have served the Tucson community through various roles in the non-profit sector and have seen amazing work being done to make life better for children and their families. Today, as a mother to a one-year-old daughter, my drive to support this community and our youngest is even stronger.”


Jason Clark, Business

Clark is employed by Pinal Gila Community Child Services as the education manager, where he is part of the executive management staff. He supervises staff, monitors, and plans and assures quality program policy and procedures. He also carries out employee performance evaluations in accordance with personnel policies. Clark holds a Master of Science in education: early childhood studies, administration, management and leadership from Walden University and a Bachelor of Arts in child development with a minor in psychology from Siena Heights University. He is a previous member of the FTF Pinal Regional Council serving in the tribal representative category. He recently worked for the Arizona Department of Education as the Director of Early Childhood Education. Clark has made early childhood care and education his lifelong work. He has a collection of experiences and education in public, private, tribal and faith-based settings at both a program and state level. He shared the most important reason he would like to serve is because he works and lives in Pinal County and feels like he could greatly contribute to the well-being of the children in these communities.

Jessica Morehead, Parent

Morehead is employed by Child and Family Resources as a community engagement specialist. She works specifically with the Child Care Resource and Referral program, helping promote quality child care. She is the mother of three children, one who is 3 years old and keeps her very busy. Morehead earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from the University of Phoenix. She is the Vice Chair of the Casa Grande Alliance and a former member of the Early Childhood Alliance in Kern County, California. “I have served in early education for the last 12 years,” Morehead said. “I love helping children learn and grow daily and love learning new ways to do this. I recently realized I have that same passion for helping families. I hope that by becoming a member I can learn more about my community and the ways that I can help support families and early education.”

San Carlos Apache

Tristan Kitch, Philanthropy

Kitch works in the community and has a passion for helping all people have access to healthy food that will impact all areas of their lives. He is the Native American programs coordinator for the Arizona Food Bank Network. Part of his work is tracking funding sources for indigenous food sovereignty work and supporting the agency in coordinating large donations, purchasing and transporting food to communities in need. He has a bachelor’s degree in public policy studies from the University of Chicago. Kitch has a great desire to increase partnerships in the region and wants to help create new ideas that will help support young children and their families. His parents dedicated so much to him as a young child, he understands the importance this can make in a child’s life and he is committed to be involved in the community and connected to kids so they have what they need to be healthy and prepare themselves for success.

Southeast Maricopa

Mariko Whelan, At-Large

Whelan is currently employed as the Early Learning, Youth and Teen coordinator for the Scottsdale Public Library where she designs and develops program curriculum and coordinates the work of library staff to implement programs across the library system. Her previous experience includes serving as an adjunct faculty member at Northern Arizona University and as an Early Childhood Program Specialist at the Arizona Department of Education. Whelan holds a Ph.D. in early childhood education, a master’s degree in educational leadership and a Bachelor of Arts in education.

Lisa Cartwright-Harris, At-Large

Cartwright-Harris is currently employed by the City of Mesa as an education coordinator where she is responsible for the implementation of education-based strategies within the City of Mesa, Mesa Public schools and community partners. Previously, she served as the college and career specialist within the Mesa Public School system. Cartwright-Harris holds an associate degree in criminal justice. She has extensive experience serving on various boards including the Mesa Public School Foundation, the Arizona Department of Education Post-Secondary Committee and several others.

Southwest Maricopa

Nubia Garcia-Shinagawa, At-Large

Garcia-Shinagawa is a grants administrator with the Coalition to End Domestic Violence. Garcia-Shinagawa previously served as a senior planning and research analyst at the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections and as a program specialist with the Arizona Supreme Court. She holds a master’s and a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Sandra Brown, Faith Community Representative

Brown currently serves as an Associate Pastor at the Arizona Vineyard Church where her main responsibilities include community outreach and pastoral care. In her work, Brown partners with nonprofit organizations and religious organizations to help meet the needs of families in the community. Brown’s prior work experiences were working as a preschool teacher and director for more than five years and as an in-home child care provider for over 10 years.

Tohono O’odham Nation

Tara Chico-Jarillo, Parent

Chico-Jarillo is a new member to the FTF Tohono O’odham Nation Regional Council, transitioning from the FTF Pima North Regional Partnership Council. Chico-Jarillo is a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation and has a young child, age 4. She works in the region, serving as the Director of Health and Human Services with the Tohono O’odham Chico-Jarillo has a Doctor of Public Health, a Master of Public Health focused on maternal and child health and a Bachelor of Science in family studies and human development. Previously, Chico-Jarillo was the program coordinator at the Department of Health Promotion Sciences at the University of Arizona where she oversaw the administrative operations of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Prevention Program. She has held multiple positions also through the University of Arizona including the Center for Indigenous Environmental Health Research; the Mountain West Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center and the American Indian Resilience through the Department of Health Promotion Sciences. She also served as a dissemination specialist for the Programmatic Assistance for Tribal Home Visiting through Zero to Three. She has served as a child welfare senior specialist through the Tohono O’odham Nation Child Welfare Division. “My vision for Arizona’s children is that all children are provided equal access to a high-quality early childhood system that helps them succeed in life,” Chico-Jarillo said. “Throughout my professional and personal experiences, I have learned the value of community collaboration and the positive changes these collaborations can make in the communities they serve. Therefore, I believe that community collaboration plays an essential role in providing access to a high-quality early childhood system.”

Mariena Mendez, Child Care Provider

Since 2017, Mendez has served as the family and community specialist with the Tohono O’odham Nation’s Head Start. In this role, she connects families and young children enrolled in Head Start to a variety of resources and supports; supports staff and parents with communication and collaboration to support strong bridges between home and school; strengthens community relationships with local resource providers and assesses and advocates for the needs of Tohono O’odham Nation families. In addition, Mendez supports the Policy Council, a parent-driven governing body focused on strengthening Head Start programming and experiences. Mendez is passionate about her work with Head Start. Her inspiration grew from personal experience when her children attended Head Start. As a parent of two children, she recognizes the important education and knowledge she gained while her family engaged in Head Start services and brings this inspiration to her daily work with families and young children currently participating in the program. Previously, Mendez worked for almost a decade with the Tohono O’odham Nation Child Welfare Department, supporting the operations and safety of children living in the group home housed on the Tohono O’odham Nation. In this role, she supported the daily care of children from birth to 18 years of age; ensured their education and health needs were met and transported children to and from activities and appointments. Mendez is a graduate of Tohono O’odham Community College. She has two degrees, an Associate of Arts in social work and an Associate of Arts in early childhood education. Mendez said she is excited to serve on the regional council and desires to focus on being an advocate. “We need more voices to help our little ones,” she said. “We should invest more into creating benefits that can help assist in their educational goals. The well-being of families is the start to helping our children, and by creating a more cohesive collaboration of resources, it can create a more optimal outcome.”


Lizette Esparza, At-Large

Esparza is the superintendent of the Gadsden School District in Yuma County. Prior to becoming superintendent, Esparza was a teacher, preschool director and principal. Esparza works collaboratively with district leaders to ensure best practices, management and support systems are in place in order to support all district employees. Esparza has 20 years of experience in education and is well aware that early childhood education is crucial to a child’s development.

Ofelia Gonzalez is a public information officer at First Things First. You can reach her at​

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