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MN ADOPT STAFF

Get to know the MN ADOPT team!

The MN ADOPT team consists of a small group of deeply committed professionals who have a passion and dedication to supporting and advocating for all those touched by adoption, foster and kinship care and the workers/community members who intersect with this population.

As a group of diverse individuals, we work very hard as a team to create an organization that respects, honors and celebrates our team, provides needed support to all those touched by adoption, foster and kinship care, and takes great pride in being a respected leader in the Minnesota community!

To contact an individual below please go to our Contact Us page.

Administrative Staff:

Rachel Walstad (she/her), Executive Director

Rachel joined the MN ADOPT organization as Executive Director in July of 2014. With 15+ years of experience in the field of adoption, Rachel brings deep understanding of adoption and has worked across all types of adoption, both in direct service and leadership roles, including: Pregnancy Counseling; Post-Adoption Support; International; Domestic Infant; and Foster Care Adoption.

“Growing up, there were important people in my life that were touched by adoption in different ways. Through these experiences I developed an interest and passion to support those connected to adoption.”

“What gives me the most energy about being at MN ADOPT is our ability to work collaboratively with the broader adoption community. It is through this collaboration that we are going to truly be able to make a difference for Minnesota children and families!”

Mary Bruce (she/her), Accountant

Mary joined the MN ADOPT team as the Accountant in October 2020.  Mary has worked for charitable nonprofits of all sizes for the last 20 years. Prior to working at MN ADOPT, she spent five years specializing in grant accounting for nonprofits.

“I enjoy working with program managers to support them in their work with families. I want to use my skills to contribute to the mission of MN ADOPT and make Minnesota adoptive and foster families stronger than ever.”

Jolie Ritchie (she/her), IT Manager

Jolie brought her technology and team building skills to the MN ADOPT team in 2005. Jolie oversees all crucial IT info structure, including all office IT, the MN ADOPT website, State Adoption Exchange database and ongoing tech development.

“I am able to challenge my creative side on both the MN ADOPT website and with the upgrades we make on the SAE. Both of these help to further our reach to adoptive families and the social workers finding families for our Minnesota foster kids.”

Jackie Brovold (she/her), Communications & Marketing Coordinator

Jackie joined the MN ADOPT team in July 2018 as the Education Outreach Coordinator.  In 2019, her role has expanded to the Communications & Marketing Coordinator.  She began her career in adoption in 2008, bringing years of experience in support and adoption related work with her previous role at Children’s Home & Lutheran Social Service of MN.

“I enjoy being creative and using that skill to bring awareness to our communities of our work and our commitment to having Zero Kids Waiting in Minnesota.”

MN ADOPT Zero Kids Waiting Program:

Cathy Stang (she/her), Zero Kids Waiting Program Manager

Since 2008 Cathy has shared her skills, dedication and commitment to helping all those touched by adoption. As a Licensed Social Worker, and an adopted person, she knows firsthand about some of the complexities that go along with adoption. She feels that both her professional and personal knowledge are a great fit for the various supportive services that MN ADOPT provides!

“I am hopeful that one day there will be Zero Kids Waiting for permanency and am dedicated to doing whatever I can to help that become a reality!”

Julie Hart (she/her), State Adoption Exchange Coordinator, Metro area

Having worked as a social worker in the adoption community off and on since 1999, Julie was well aware of the MN ADOPT organization before starting as the MN ADOPT Adoption Information Specialist in 2014.

Julie has played an active role in the Minnesota adoption community professionally and personally in various roles and capacities over the years. She has known and worked with birthparents, many adopted persons and adoptive families, as well as adoption workers and experts. Julie is a Licensed Independent Social Worker in the state of Minnesota.

“What inspires me about working in adoption is the resilience I continue to see!”

Margo Kurth (she/her), State Adoption Exchange Coordinator, Metro area

Margo joined the MN ADOPT team in September of 2018, after more than 18 years as an elementary school teacher. She brings great enthusiasm and passion to her role as SAE Coordinator for the metro area. Margo was drawn to a career in the adoption field as a result of her experience with adoption through foster care. 

“Navigating and experiencing the process of adoption through foster care, firsthand, encouraged me to find a way to support the adoption and foster care community. I’m happy to be a piece of the puzzle that helps bring MN children and families together.” 

Kim Sacay (she/her), Recruitment Coordinator

Kim joined MN ADOPT in October 2018 in the role of State Adoption Exchange Recruitment Coordinator. Kim brings a variety of business and grass roots marketing experience to her role.

She is passionate about making a difference in our community and motivated to raise public awareness and engage others about the need for foster and adoptive families in our state.

“I am inspired everyday by the dedicated people making a difference in the lives of children, I am honored to be part of this community. “

Kim Young (she/her), Foster Care & Kinship Specialist

Kim Young joined MN ADOPT in February of 2019 as the Foster Care & Kinship Specialist.  She has worked with children and families throughout her entire career, with her most recent experience as an Adoption Worker and Foster Care Licensor with a private agency.  She is excited to continue to support families in this new role.

“I continue to be energized and humbled to be a part of the process of adoption and foster care. Every child deserves emotional and physical safety.  I am committed to continue looking for homes for these children, in the hopes that one day, there will in fact be Zero Kids Waiting.”

Sarah Clarke (she/her), State Adoption Exchange Coordinator, Southern Minnesota

Sarah Clarke joined MN ADOPT in August of 2020.  She has worked with children and families in various facets over the years.  Her experience includes working in Adoption and Child Welfare at a county agency and working at a local nonprofit Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault agency.  In her years of experience working with children and families of Southern Minnesota she has seen a great need for additional services and supports.  Sarah is excited to be part of MN ADOPT’s growth in outlying areas of the state.

“I look forward to continuing to advocate for the children and families of Southern Minnesota in this new role and to be a resource in providing permanency for Minnesota Waiting Kids.”

Hayley Wiesman (she/her), Adoption Information Specialist

Hayley joined the MN ADOPT team in November of 2020 as the Adoption Information Specialist. She came to the organization after working as an adoption home study worker, foster care licensor and child specific recruiter at a private agency. Prior to that, she worked in Wisconsin as a Special Needs Adoption Worker and a Birth-3 Service Coordinator. Hayley has personally seen the difference that adoption can make in someone’s life and is excited to continue working in the field in a new role.

“I love to see how resilient kids can be, and how strong families are. Adoption isn’t always pretty, but it’s always worth it.”

Jessica Miller (she/her), State Adoption Exchange Narrative Specialist

Jessica joined the MN ADOPT team as an Education Coordinator in 2020. As a foster and adoptive parent, Jessica brings both experience and passion to our organization. She understands the unique challenges that foster and adoptive parents face and she is personally invested in creating opportunities for support, growth, and education. Originally from NE, Jessica received her B.A. from St. Cloud State University and now calls MN home. Jessica has held a variety of titles including: County Eligibility Worker, Parent Educator, and her personal favorite – mom.

“Every child needs love, an opportunity to be their best self, and a constant reminder that they are not facing this world alone. And so do their caregivers.”

Brë McMullen (she/her), ZKW Program Analyst

Joined MN ADOPT in September 2022 as a Program Analyst.  Brë has been working in the human services field for 7 years serving children and families in the areas of: mental health, social work (child protection & adoption), and foster care licensing.  She is a Quality Parenting Initiative (QPI) Champion of Minnesota as well as a board member for Foster Together MN.  Brë has a passion for empowering families, fostering collective connections, and implementing intentional mindful practices.  She believes that by supporting professionals, they in turn can feel more equipped in their support of others- Optimistically resulting in the nurturing and preservation of families.

“We have an innate need for connection- it’s a vital aspect of our existence.  I believe that meaningful connections are deeply nurtured through the act of shared story and collective vulnerability.  As humans, we are as unique as our life experiences.  The act of opening the door for others to build relationship with us, in turn, creates limitless opportunities to grow in our compassion, understanding and love.  I think authentic relationships such as this, are necessary to the foundation of cultivating support for and with others.”

MN ADOPT Education Program:

Stephanie Regnier (she/her), Education Program Manager

Stephanie joined MN ADOPT in May of 2016 as the Education Program Manager & Coordinator. Stephanie brings a vast amount of experience and knowledge to her role and has played a vital role in expanding the MN ADOPT Education Program!

Stephanie began her professional career in adoption in 1999. She quickly became passionate about working alongside individuals and families who are making an amazing difference in children’s lives. Stephanie spent several years in direct service, working both as an Adoption Worker and later a Program Manager for the MN’s Waiting Children Program at Lutheran Social Service.

“I enjoy helping adoptive families and professionals by bringing them education and new perspectives. Adoption is unique and complicated for each person, and I love that MN ADOPT can offer these workshops to assist with practical ideas to help in parenting”

Kayla Olson (she/her), Education Outreach Coordinator

Kayla joined the MN ADOPT team in March of 2022 as the Education Outreach Coordinator. Kayla has worked with children and families throughout her career as an elementary school teacher. Her favorite part of teaching was advocating for her students and being part of each child’s village. She is excited to bring her skills gained through her teaching career to MN ADOPT and to support the Education Program through marketing and outreach.

“Everyone deserves a loving family to come home to where they feel cared for, supported, and accepted. I’m honored to be part of such an amazing community of people and to play a role in strengthening families in all seasons of life along their journeys. I look forward to reaching more foster and adoptive families through my outreach efforts.”

Kris Horman (she/her), Education Coordinator

Kris Horman has joined our team as the Education Coordinator for Greater Minnesota out of Duluth. Although Kris started her new role in June of 2022, she has been partnering with MN ADOPT for the last 7-years at a private agency. During this time, Kris has helped numerous families navigate the matching, placement, and finalization process to find permanency for 60 youth. She was also the PPAI program manager. She is looking forward to continuing to support families in her new role.

“Education is so important to our daily lives, no matter our age.  We should always be learning from ourselves and others.  As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” 

Suni Zmich (she/her), Education Coordinator

Suni (pronounced “Sunny”) joined MN ADOPT in August 2022 as an Education Coordinator. In 2020, she retired from an Accounting/Finance career to write a book about adoption. From her perspective as an adoptee, she interviewed people from all sides of the adoption triad, compiling 34 stories in her book Through the Lens of Ourselves. After an enlightening immersion into the adoption arena through research and live interviews, Suni learned that fully understanding the adoption experience requires consideration of all sides of the adoption triad – adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents. She is passionate about helping others understand the adoption experience through her role at MN ADOPT.

“I believe we can heal from adoption trauma – but only if we closely examine our past as well as the struggles of other people who are intrinsically connected to us. We are not alone in our experiences.”

MN ADOPT HELP Program:

Heather Van Brunt (she/her), HELP Program Manager

Heather joined the MN ADOPT HELP Program team in the summer of 2013 and has been fundamental in creating a successful, innovative program. With ~20 years of experience in the field of adoption, Heather brings a passion, dedication and deep understanding of adoption to her work. She has worked across many types of adoption in direct service roles, including: Pregnancy Counseling; Domestic Infant; Foster Care Adoption; and Post-Adoption Support.

“I have a deep respect for the beautiful and difficult layers for all who are touched by the adoption process. Children and families deserve specialized support throughout the different chapters of their experiences.”

To learn more about Heather’s professional background, please visit.

Andrea Brubaker (she/her), HELP Program Specialist

Andrea joined the MN ADOPT HELP Program team in the fall of 2015 and has been fundamental in creating a successful, innovative program. She is an adopted person dedicated to helping families navigate the complex layers of adoption that permeate throughout the individual and family lifecycle. In 2022 Andrea received the Outstanding Service Partner Award from the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare for her contributions to child welfare practice in the state of MN.

“I am immensely humbled by the individual capacity for growth, empathy, and compassion even during the darkest times, and am honored to be welcomed into the lives of children and families to help them along their journey.”

To learn more about Andrea’s professional background, please visit.

Gail Garner Swenson (she/her), HELP Program Specialist

Gail joined the MN ADOPT HELP Program team in March of 2018 and thoughtfully and creatively contributes to the program as it continues to evolve. With both her long history of child advocacy and her work in the field of older youth adoption, she is dedicated to providing support to adoptive, kinship and foster families who are dealing with the complex issues of childhood trauma, grief, and disrupted attachment.

“I am motivated by my belief that childhood is a treasure, a foundational birthright to our human experience. My hope in providing skilled support to adoptive, kinship and foster families is that childhood can be claimed and reclaimed for children and teens whose lives have been impacted by trauma, grief, and loss.”

To learn more about Gail’s professional background, please visit.

Danielle Lewis Starr (she/her), HELP Program Specialist

Danielle joined the MN ADOPT HELP Program in August of 2020. Since 2010 she has experience at private agencies, educational settings and in child welfare. She has a BA in Sociology, a BA in Child Studies, a Master’s in Social Work and has completed both the mental health and child welfare tracks for the National Adoption Competency Mental Health Training (NTI) and the Permanency and Adoption Competency Certificate from the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare at the University of Minnesota.

“I believe that family can be central for healing and every child, no matter what, deserves to understand how that love can feel. I want to help families with providing essential support they need to feel confident in their role and remove as many barriers as I can”.

To learn more about Danielle’s professional background, please visit.

Amy Turgeon, LICSW, (she/her), HELP Program Specialist

Amy joined the HELP Program in July of 2021 and brings a strong passion for supporting children and families and reducing barriers as they move through the intricate layers of adoption and permanency. Amy brings many years of experience and knowledge working in foster care and adoption systems and is dedicated to providing education, resources, and skilled support to families.

“I have had the opportunities and honor to be a part of adoption journeys from the beginning to finalization day and am motivated to help before, during, and after that day. My hope is to be able to provide skilled support and alleviate barriers for families as they continue down the journey of the ever-changing stages.”

To learn more about Amy’s professional background, please visit.

brittani lamb

Brittani Lamb (she/her), HELP Program Specialist

Brittani joined the MN ADOPT HELP team in January 2022. She brings over five years of experience in foster care adoption as a child focused adoption recruiter, and many more working with teens with a focus on creating and supporting caring adult relationships. She is passionate about supporting children and their families and working to create systems in which all young people can reach their fullest potential.

“I believe all young people should have positive, supportive, and caring adults in their lives. In this role I hope to provide the support parents, caregivers, and professionals need to be able to create the environment their children need to thrive. It takes a village!”

To learn more about Brittani’s professional background, please visit.

Christina Romo (she/her), HELP Program: Post-Adoption Navigator

Christina joined MN ADOPT in August of 2020 and brings a strong passion for supporting and honoring children and families as they navigate the realities and complexities of adoption and permanency. She is an adopted person with experience working in a variety of roles within child welfare, adoption, and other sectors of social services that have enabled her to develop a deep understanding of the complex needs of children and families who have experienced foster care and adoption.

“I have witnessed the magic that can happen when children and parents feel seen, understood, embraced, and supported by a community that shares similar lived experiences and where they can feel safe to be who they are, share about the joys and challenges of adoption, and know that they are not alone. I believe in the power of post-adoption services and supports and the endless ways in which these resources can help parents better understand and support the needs of their children and family as a whole throughout their adoption journeys.”

To learn more about Christina’s professional background, please visit.

JT Pinther (he/him), HELP Program Coordinator

JT earned his English: Creative Writing degree from Augsburg University and has since used his writing skills to dabble in the journalism, nonprofit, and corporate worlds. He started at MN ADOPT in July 2020 and intends to not leave any time soon! He has the privilege of working with the HELP and PAN Programs with HELP therapist network coordination, billing/funding support, and many behind-the-scenes things that come with these initiatives.

Adoptive, foster, or kinship family’s human experiences and challenges do not necessarily disappear as soon as any official/legal processes are complete. Loss and grief may surface even years down the road. I feel honored to work for an organization that supports families before, during, and after a family transitions. There is a path to healing when and if challenges arise!

To learn more about JT’s professional background, please visit.

SEARCH:

Christine Heimann, (she/her), Post Adoption Search Specialist

Christine joined MN ADOPT in January 2022 as the Post Adoption Search Specialist. She brings several years of experience working in the field of Post Adoption and is dedicated to supporting adopted persons, adoptive families, and birth/first families discover and connect with information regarding to adoption and relinquishment. She is excited to bring her personal and professional experience to support the MN ADOPT community.

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