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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 14 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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Sofia 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: sofiaf@safeplaceforyouth.org

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Rachel Pedowitz

Director of Housing Advocacy

From her experiences in nonprofit administration, healthcare, and foster youth services, Rachel has come to believe that the key to a healthy society and a stable economic future is the empowerment of today’s young people, requiring community- wide dedication to education, prevention, and programs that promote emotional wellbeing. Having held both clinical and administrative roles, Rachel understands the importance of carefully designing programs with the end user’s experience at the center, which she is excited to apply to the rollout of the Youth Coordinated Entry System for SPY and its regional partners. Since moving to Los Angeles, Rachel has worked with Chrysalis, St. Anne’s, Public Counsel, Green Dot Public Schools, and the Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic and feels incredibly grateful to have learned from the rich wisdom held at those agencies. Rachel holds a Bachelor of Arts in Public Health and Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley and a Master in Business Administration, Master in Social Work from the University of Southern California.

Contact: rpedowitz@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. 
Contact: jeaninee@safeplaceforyouth.org
 

 

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Rob Hanna

Outreach and Engagement Case 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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Amanda Orzoco

Outreach and Engagement Case Manager

Amanda has experience working with children who have developmental disorders, such as Autism. Although she loved working with children, she wanted to gain more experience working with youth. She interned at a short-term crisis intervention program for adolescents and worked in a group home for pregnant youth. She started interning at SPY in early December 2014 and now works as a Outreach and Engagement Case Manager. Amanda graduated with a degree in Psychology & Social Behaviors and in Criminology, Law & Society from the University of California, Irvine in 2014.

Contact: amandao@safeplaceforyouth.org

 

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Rebecca McGuire

Pregnant & Parenting Case Manager

Rebecca McGuire, LCSW, has volunteered for many years with at risk youth in different capacities.  She has volunteered with physically and mentally disabled youth in summer camp; she has volunteered for Special Olympics and Make a Wish Foundation.   Rebecca has volunteered in schools helping youth and families connect, where connection was lacking. Rebecca decided to pursue a Master's Degree in Clinical Social Work, allowing her the freedom to work more in depth with at risk youth.  Rebecca has a passion for working with young women who are pregnant, desiring to support them through the pregnancy and prepare them to bring their child into a healthy and loving environment.  She also cares deeply about preparing fathers- to- be for their new life experience of being an involved nurturing parent.  Rebecca has facilitated parenting groups for over 3 years and is passionate about providing information about the significance of secure attachment in the first 5 years of life, and how that attachment influences a child's entire life. 

Contact: rebeccam@safeplaceforyouth.org

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Ben Perkins

Case 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 the Intake Coordinator at SPY, he introduces new clients to the wide range of services and support SPY offers and connects them to the appropriate programs and staff members who can help them meet their needs and goals.  Ben ensures each client knows that we are here to help them pave their own road to success.

Contact: benp@safeplaceforyouth.org

 

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Michelle DiBattiste

Operations & Volunteer 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.  As Operations and Volunteer Manager she works with the community by on boarding volunteers, coordinating partnership schedules and facilitating the programmatic staff.  Responsible for front-desk operations during Drop-In, she also has had 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 Coordinator

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 Associate

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 Development Associate 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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 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.