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.
Rachel Walstad, 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!”
Julie Madden, Accountant
Julie joined the MN ADOPT team as the organization’s Accountant in 2008. Julie completed a Child Psych/Social Welfare degree followed by several years working directly with children with severe disabilities. After that experience, she made the decision to return to college to pursue a degree in Accounting.
Prior to working for MN ADOPT, Julie was the Financial Manager for: a Co-op grocery store; a group of Pediatric Surgeons; and as the Bookkeeper/Sr. Systems Coordinator for a Community Clinic.
“Working at MN ADOPT allows me to combine my dual interests in finance and child welfare. Outside my work with MN ADOPT, I schedule substitute teachers for a school and am self-employed as Madden Accounting/Tax Service preparing individual taxes as well as financial statements for several small non-profits. I keep busy!”
Jolie Ritchie, IT & Website Specialist
Jolie brought her technology and team building skills to the MN ADOPT team in 2005. Starting initially as a temporary employee to assist with a large project identifying adoption-focused resources across the state, her role became permanent and has expanded over the years to oversee all crucial IT info structure and ongoing tech development. Jolie’s skills are a crucial component to MN ADOPT’s online success!
“I enjoy challenging my creative side on both the MN ADOPT website and with the upgrades we make on the State Adoption Exchange. Both of these help to further our reach to adoptive families and the social workers finding families for our Minnesota foster kids.”
MN ADOPT Zero Kids Waiting Program:
Cathy Stang, State Adoption Exchange 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, Adoption Information Specialist
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!”
Wendylee Raun, Recruitment Coordinator
Wendylee began her tenure at MN ADOPT in 2001 as the Post-Adoption Training Coordinator. Over the years her role has evolved. Currently she brings her skills to her role with the State Adoption Exchange team, focusing on recruitment and advocacy for youth in foster care moving toward adoption. As MN ADOPT’s longest standing team-member, she brings a vast amount of knowledge, experience and wisdom to the MN ADOPT team and Minnesota adoption community as a whole!
“Throughout my time at MN ADOPT, no matter my position, my drive has been to educate professionals in many arenas on adoption related topics. Through helping families be the best they can be, we help children heal. Seeing the miraculous effect a safe and loving home has on children who have experienced trauma makes the challenges more than worthwhile. Many Minnesota children need families. Whatever I can do to facilitate that is what I strive to accomplish.”
“My husband and I adopted our daughter from Hennepin County foster care in 1984. She was five years old at the time and had been in many foster care placements. At that time there was no training for adoptive parents, so we struggled mightily to meet her needs. When she was a teen I entered graduate school and as part of my program began volunteering at an adoption agency. This volunteer option in the special needs adoption program led to career path that continues to this day. Helping children and families have the best experience of adoption is my life’s work!”
MN ADOPT Education Program:
Stephanie Regnier, 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”
Janet Hammer, Education Coordinator
Having joined the team in the Fall of 2005, Janet has been an integral part of the MN ADOPT team ever since! Janet brings a variety of business experience and creative thinking that assists in her role. She enjoys coming up with ideas and thoughts outside of the box and is energized by the passion that her teammates bring to the work and her ability to directly help others.
“I love that my extensive and varied background comes full circle to be able to help others. It’s wonderful to work with such an incredible group of people who all share the same passion.”
MN ADOPT HELP Program:
Emily Alewine, HELP Program Manager
Emily joined MN ADOPT in April of 2013 and has loved it since day one! She brings an energy to her work as a MN ADOPT team member, in the role of HELP Program Manager, through her varying personal and professional experiences with supporting those touched by adoption, attachment disruptions and early trauma.
“I have experiences with adoption that sparked my interest in this area early on, both personally and professionally. I am energized not only by being part of a great organization that works hard to support an often misunderstood, marginalized population, but also by being able to help families, individuals and workers make meaning of their experiences and strengthening family relationships, all while defining a different future!”
To learn more about Emily’s professional background, please visit.
Heather Van Brunt, HELP Program Specialist
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 skilled support throughout the different chapters of their experiences.”
To learn more about Heather’s professional background, please visit.
Andrea Brubaker, 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.
Andrea completed her Bachelor of Arts at University of Wisconsin – Madison, and has a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Minnesota. She is also a graduate of the Permanency & Adoption Competency Certificate Program (PACC) offered through the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare at the University of Minnesota.
“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, HELP Program Specialist
Gail joined the MN ADOPT HELP Program team in March of 2018 and is eager to contribute to their creative energy as the team continues to grow and innovate their highly successful program. 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 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 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.