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ZERO TO THREE Welcomes 2020-22 Fellowship Class

16 early childhood leaders worldwide to engage in 18-month transformative leadership experience.

Washington, October 7, 2020 – ZERO TO THREE, the leading nonprofit dedicated to ensuring all babies and toddlers have a strong start in life, today proudly announced its 2020-22 Fellowship Class, welcoming 16 global leaders to the premier leadership development program in the early childhood field. The Fellows are a vibrant and diverse cohort of leaders committed to advancing equitable and positive change in programs, systems, and policies affecting the health and well-being of babies, young children, and families.

The program empowers Fellows to be “change makers” in transforming programs, systems, and policies that impact the lives of infants, toddlers, and their families. Over the past three decades, more than 300 national and international leaders have completed the fellowship and become members of the esteemed Academy of ZERO TO THREE Fellows alumni network.

“We are delighted to welcome such a remarkable group of leaders to the ZERO TO THREE family, and we’re excited to see what they bring to the journey ahead,” stated Matthew Melmed, Executive Director at ZERO TO THREE. “This is a truly remarkable class that understands the importance of centering babies, toddlers, and their families at the heart of their efforts. We welcome them with open arms and we look forward to working with them in the years to come.”

This year’s class of Fellows come from three countries and 11 states plus Washington, DC, and cover nearly every aspect of early childhood development. Throughout their 18-month program, the Fellows will have a robust experience and establish deep, substantive relationships that will be professionally and personally transformative.

The 2020-22 Fellowship Class includes:

Sajeda Atari, Jordan – Sajeda is a Child Protection and Early Childhood Development (ECD) Specialist for UNICEF, living in Jordan. She leads UNICEF’s nationwide Parenting Support Programs and supports UNICEF’S parenting agenda on a regional level. Sajeda’s work at UNICEF requires her to work closely with government officials and serve a pivotal role in improving ECD services and coordination at the national level. She is committed to strengthening systems, delivering support services, and improving access to quality early detection and early intervention for young children, particularly those with disabilities.


Jessica Beach, North Carolina – Jessica uses her expertise in Tribal Engagement to work with Community and Tribal partners to build awareness of Medicaid transformation in North Carolina. She leads the WellCare NC Healthy Nations Program, which focuses on increasing positive health outcomes for Medicaid beneficiaries through culturally responsive and competent approaches to managed care. Jessica’s passion is working collaboratively with partners whose work does not often intersect with her own to create innovative approaches that support all infants and toddlers in reaching their full potential.


Shannon Bekman, Colorado – Shannon is a licensed clinical psychologist and the Director of Right Start for Colorado, a SAMHSA-funded initiative aimed at expanding Colorado’s infant and early mental health workforce and clinical services. Shannon developed IECMH programming for the Mental Health Center of Denver and brought to the city much needed clinical services for children ages 0-5 and their caregivers, with an emphasis on the amelioration of trauma. As a front-line professional in a large, urban community mental health clinic whose mission it is to serve under-resourced, low-income, culturally diverse young children and families who are overburdened by chronic stressors, Shannon recognizes her commitment as a white, cis-gendered, highly educated woman to work to counteract social injustice where she can.


Jazmyn Covington, Maryland – Jazmyn is Program Director ofHome Visiting at Family League of Baltimore and provides programmatic support to the Healthy Families America (HFA) programs in Baltimore City, which is an evidence-based model that promotes child well-being and prevents abuse and neglect through home visiting services that strive to empower families and communities. She is a leader in the B’more for Healthy Babies (BHB) Equity Workgroup, which works to ensure every expectant family can have a thriving baby and ultimately child, despite race, neighborhood, or socioeconomic status. Jazmyn is deeply committed to the advancement of racially and culturally responsive maternal and child health solutions, which can transform the health of not only the infants and toddlers of today, but of entire future generations of Black and Brown people.


Sadie Funk, Texas – Sadie is CEO of First3Years, a state-wide nonprofit in Texas working to advance the healthy development of infants, toddlers, and their families. First3Years’ programming focuses on building a specialized infant toddler workforce, driving innovation to improve outcomes for maltreated children and their families, family and community engagement, and aligning infant toddler systems of care. Sadie deeply values collaboration and engagement, which grew out of her professional “coming of age” in the jungle of Ecuador while serving in the Peace Corps. There, nothing happens without a relationship and the collective culture is to lean on one another for support and guidance.


Jeffrey Holzberg, Arizona – Jeffrey is a community pediatrician, early childhood advocate, and co-founder of First Three in Douglas, Arizona, a small rural town adjacent to the border with Mexico. His practice, Chiricahua Community Health Centers, Inc. (CCHCI), is the county’s only federally funded community health center. First Three is an initiative that brings the neuroscience of early childhood development into the lives of families with newborns, partnering with parents through a novel curriculum during traditional well visits in the first three years of life. Jeffrey believes pediatric medical clinics are uniquely situated to address health and developmental issues of those most vulnerable and is passionate about community health programs that meet families at their doorstep.


Kalani Makanui, California – As Director of Psychology Training, Kalani is committed to providing Doctoral Psychology Interns with a comprehensive pre-doctoral internship experience in a community mental health setting. Alongside training activities, Kalani is also involved in developing programs to support the agency’s mission and strategic goals of bringing trauma-informed, evidence-based early childhood mental health and assessment services to at-risk communities. Kalani is deeply committed to working within community systems of care, in the service of creating long-lasting and sustainable system changes that benefit young children and their families.


Jennifer Mitchell, Utah – Jennifer is Senior Director, Clinical Strategy and Innovation at The Children’s Center, a non-profit mental health agency serving children birth to six years. She holds an Adjunct Faculty position in the University of Utah’s School of Medicine and is co-Investigator on a research pilot focused on fostering an occupational environment of compassion and wellbeing with mental health paraprofessionals. Her current focus is supporting interdisciplinary professionals working with young children and families and supporting alignment across early childhood systems. Jennifer’s broad diversity of personal and professional experiences help her think flexibly, build meaningful relationships, and strengthen impact.


Naya Patterson, Washington, DC – Naya is a Family Program Coordinator at Generation Hope, a nonprofit organization reducing poverty one family at a time by providing mentoring, resources, and services to help D.C. area teen parents become college graduates and help their children enter kindergarten at higher levels of school readiness. Naya’s passion for equity in education and the well-being of children and families continues to lead her in her life’s journey and career. Her work has long involved youth, families, and education. As a first-generation college graduate and a child of a teen mother, Naya connects deeply with the families she serves. Naya is dedicated to filling in the gaps and dismantling barriers to high-quality early education and opportunities for infants and their families.


Alison D. Peak, Tennessee – Alison collaborates with partners across Tennessee to advance an Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health workforce development initiative, Tennessee First Five Training Institute (TFFTI), that works to prepare agencies and their clinical staff to provide evidence based IMH services across the state. Alison is passionate about working with families with children who are adopted, children who have histories of early trauma, and families with infants and toddlers. Having grown-up deep in the Appalachian Mountains with limited resources, different cultural norms, and inter-generational poverty, Alison’s perspective on identifying ways to make services accessible is unique.


Elizabeth Philaja, North Dakota – As Director of the North Dakota Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program within Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota, Elizabeth strives to ensure those she supervises and mentors are supported in their learning and growth, that their collaborative work is trauma-informed and equitable, and through everything, that children and families are kept front and center. A descendant of the White Earth Nation, and with a childhood defined by adversity, Elizabeth is driven by a desire to help families develop the tools to heal from trauma. In addition, Elizabeth is a doula providing support to pregnant people who have experienced previous sexual trauma, using the perinatal period to transform their self-beliefs and build self-efficacy.


Morgan Forrester Ray, North Carolina– Morgan is Director of the NC Initiative for Young Children’s Social-Emotional Health, a multi-year initiative with the aim to strengthen and expand the state’s early childhood mental health system while the state is undergoing Medicaid transformation to managed care. Her vision is of an early childhood mental health system that is effectively coordinated across sectors to meet the needs of North Carolina’s young children and their families. Morgan affirms that as a white person, she is deeply committed to disrupting inequities and has worked to center equity and racial justice in the fabric of her work.


Shin Yee Tan, Indiana – Shin Yee is an Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant at The SOURCE, a System-of-Care for Elkhart County, Indiana. As the first Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant for the county, Shin Yee developed the early childhood mental health program from conception to its present capacity of expanding to cohort learning collaboratives. With a deep understanding that each caregiver is the attachment figure for a child, Shin Yee upholds family voices in all her clinical and leadership work. Her mission is to utilize caregivers’ voices in creating family and system changes and ultimately build a resilient community.


Julia Wessel, Maryland – Julia provides clinical services to children birth through age 12 and their families with an attachment-based, trauma-informed orientation. She is a registered Circle of Security Parenting facilitator, a Child Parent Psychotherapy (CPP) provider, and Director of the Child Placement Consultation Team, a forensic evaluation team providing parent capacity and placement evaluations for Child Welfare Services and local courts. For Julia, the power of long-term, trusting relationships is critical to her clinical work and is influenced by her family legacy. Both her grandmothers fled Nazi Germany as Jewish refugees in early adolescence and relied on social justice missions in order adjust to life in America and reconnect with parents and siblings from whom they had been separated.


Jimena Vallejos, Paraguay – As Southern-Cone Director for IMAGO Global Grassroots, Jimena engages with non-profit organizations that work in Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE) to help them scale up their program and policy impact, particularly around children living in poverty. Additionally, Jimena supports the Government of Paraguay in the development of an ECD implementation strategy called “Kunn’u,” which seeks to strengthen government services by improving coordination across sectors and ensuring that all basic services of health, education, and protection can reach children at the right time.


Muhammed Zeshan, New Jersey – Muhammad is a child psychiatrist in New Jersey, where he teaches residents, medical students, pediatricians, and other healthcare professionals throughout the state about parenting, trauma, and infant, early childhood, and adolescent mental health. After growing up in a small town in Pakistan and graduating from Nishtar Medical School, Muhammad worked with health professionals in his hometown, striving to improve perceptions of mental illness and psychiatry. Muhammed’s interest in parenting and understanding children’s behavior started during high school when he tried to encourage parents in his neighborhood to send their kids to school instead of sending them to work.

Learn more about the ZERO TO THREE fellowship program and see biographies of each selected fellow at zerotothree.org/fellows.


ZERO TO THREE works to ensure all babies and toddlers benefit from the family and community connections critical to their well-being and development. Since 1977, the organization has advanced the proven power of nurturing relationships by transforming the science of early childhood into helpful resources, practical tools and responsive policies for millions of parents, professionals and policymakers. For more information, and to learn how to become a ZERO TO THREE member, please visit zerotothree.orgfacebook.com/zerotothree, or follow @zerotothree on Twitter.


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