Marjorie Menestres has dedicated most of her career to the family support movement, and has served as SAFEchild’s executive director since 1993. Since joining the agency in its infancy, Marjorie has built the organization into a powerful force for a variety of family-support programs, all aimed at preventing child abuse in Wake County. She has served on the boards of Mission House for Women and Triangle Family Services, and has been active on the United Way Family Issues Team, the Hispanic Equity Advisory Team, the Child Fatality Protection Team, and the Supervised Visitation Center Advisory Board.
Marjorie earned her Bachelor of Arts in education and her master’s in rehabilitation counseling from the University of Florida. She also holds a master’s in education from NCSU and a certificate in non-profit management from Duke University. She was inducted into the YWCA Academy of Women in 2003 and received the Lichtin Family Award for Service in 2004. After so many years, Marjorie finds the challenges of SAFEchild’s mission still fresh. “There is still so much more to do,” she says. Marjorie was recognized as the News & Observer’s Tar Heel of the Week on April 6, 2013.
Ginna Bustle joined SAFEchild in 2000. As with so many SAFEchild staff members, she came to the organization as a volunteer and stayed. As the Nurturing Program coordinator and SAFEchild’s volunteer contact, Ginna works with families, children, and volunteers to coordinate the agency’s 12-week family education programs. The mother of three children, Ginna earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from Boston University. Prior to coming to Raleigh, she worked with Child Protective Services in Boston and as an in-home therapist with Family Preservation. Ginna enjoys breaking down the barriers that exist when new families join the program.
Cristin DeRonja draws on her diverse roles with SAFEchild, impressive credentials, and dynamic personality as the Director of the SAFEchild Advocacy Center. As the mother of four, she certainly has personal experiences that fuel her passion of working with families. Cristin formerly utilized her skills and expertise through working one on one with parents as a new mother mentor for SAFEchild’s Welcome Baby program and by drawing upon her family systems training as a program facilitator for several SAFEchild parenting groups, including the Nurturing Program and PLUS. “The more members of a family you touch, the bigger impact you have,” Cristin believes. Presenting the Funny Tummy Feelings program is one of her most treasured SAFEchild roles. While firmly believing that adults are primarily responsible for protecting children, she says “teaching children how to keep their bodies safe by establishing clear personal boundaries is one of the most important lessons we can teach our children.”
A Raleigh native, Cristin received her undergraduate degree in education and psychology from Vanderbilt University and her Master’s in Education and Counseling at NCSU. Cristin values her connections with professionals from multiple disciplines (physicians, district attorney’s office prosecutors, law enforcement detectives, social workers, mental health clinicians, and school personnel) who collaborate to support parents and children who need SAFEchild Advocacy Center services. “Our Multidisciplinary Team is dramatic proof that a small group of people banding together on behalf of children and families can and do make an incredible and life changing difference,” she says.
PLUS program coordinator Ginger Espino has been a member of the staff and a volunteer since 1998, working with Funny Tummy Feelings, the MENS program, various support groups, and the speakers’ bureau. A former mental health therapist practicing individual and family therapy in South Carolina and more recently in Raleigh, Ginger has two children. She earned her BA in psychology from Wake Forest University and her master’s in social work at the University of South Carolina. The families she works with at SAFEchild have enriched her life, according to Ginger. “Seeing them overcome adversity, meet obstacles with a smile, and be willing to try new ideas is thrilling every time,” she says. “We parents are all so different, but there are universal truths in parenting and our children the same in so many ways.”
Erika Gray joined SAFEchild in September of 2007. She provides staff support, answers the phones, and greets our guests. When a new family comes to SAFEchild, Erika helps to make sure they get to the appropriate programs that are the best fit for them. Prior to coming to Raleigh, Erika was a project manager for Booz Allen and Hamilton in Washington, DC, where she was involved on the administrative side of projects for senior Department of Defense and U.S. Intelligence agency clients. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in history from Radford University. “The SAFEchild mission and the passion of the staff, board of directors, and volunteers is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” she says. “I feel fortunate to work with such a caring group of people who work so hard to put the well-being of children first.”
Valerie Holland is the Child and Family Advocate for the SAFEchild Advocacy Center. She moved to Raleigh from Columbus, Ohio, where she worked as an Adoptions & Licensing Specialist. She has been in the Social Work field since 1992. Valerie earned her BS in Counselors Education from South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, South Carolina. “What I love most about SAFEchild is working with parents and children together in ways to make a positive difference in their lives.”
Pilar Jennings brings many talents as well as a variety of SAFEchild experiences to the position of Funny Tummy coordinator. Before undertaking the job, Pilar Jennings shared her talents as a Funny Tummy Feelings presenter for many years. And, when her son was born, Pilar enjoyed the support she received as a Welcome Baby and BABY program participant. Pilar has a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from Marquette University and earned an MBA from the University of San Francisco. In addition to volunteer work, Pilar was employed by IBM for 21 years. “IBM allowed me to achieve certain professional and financial goals, but my volunteer work is what fed my soul,” says Pilar. “When I came to SAFEchild as a volunteer, I knew I had found my niche – I love working with the children, educating and empowering them to trust their instincts.” Pilar and her husband have lived in Raleigh since 1989. They have one son.
Sara joined SAFEchild as the Child Abuse Evaluation Specialist for the SAFEchild Advocacy Center. Sara has an undergraduate degree in child development and family studies from UNC Chapel Hill, a master’s in education from Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a master’s in social work from UNC Chapel Hill. Sara’s first career was in early intervention. She taught three years as an early childhood special education teacher and worked as an early intervention service coordinator for one year. Prior to joining, SAFEchild, Sara interned and then worked for Wake County Human Services for four years, serving as a CPS assessor, an after-hours worker, and a foster care worker.
Michelle Putterman joined SAFEchild in 1995 as program coordinator for Welcome Baby, which pairs experienced moms with first-time moms for a year of in-home visits and special sharing time. She earned her Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and her Bachelor of Science in nursing from Cornell University. Michelle is also the mother of four children. Her work with Welcome Baby never pales, according to Michelle, because “there is always a new story – someone you connect with, a volunteer who inspires you, a staff member who supports you.”
SAFEchild’s office manager is the glue that holds the agency together. Since 1996, Linda Raynor has been able to satisfy her creative and analytical sides by doing whatever needs to be done to make the agency run smoothly. Prior to coming to Raleigh, Linda was office manager for Evergreen Legal Services in Seattle. She moved to be near her family and loves the variety the office manger position offers. “I like knowing we are doing something good for people,” she says. “The kids are great.”
As the coordinator for Crianza Con Carino, Gemimah Rodriguez works in all corners of the county to reach Hispanic/Latino families and bring them the support they need. She earned her bachelor’s degree in economics and business administration from Havana University in Cuba and holds a master’s in theology and counseling from Costa Rica University. Since coming to the United States in 1992, Gemimah has worked extensively in substance abuse assessment and treatment. In 1999, she joined the staff of SAFEchild. “I help my families understand why they are how they are,” she says. “And I help them know they can change.”
Stacey Sullivan came to SAFEchild in 1997 as coordinator of the MENS program – Men Engaged in Nurturing Strategies. She works with fathers who have been convicted of domestic violence and are returning to their families. A licensed clinical social worker, Stacey has a degree in psychology from Furman University and a master’s in social work from UNC-CH. Prior to joining SAFEchild, she was a family therapist for eight years. She has three children. “Parenting is a huge challenge for all of us,” she says. “I teach other parents to be better parents – and always learn something myself!”