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HELP Specialist Staff

Heather Van Brunt M. Ed., LSW, (she/her) (HELP Program Manager):

Heather has a M.Ed. in Counseling from North Dakota State University, a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Minnesota State University – Moorhead and is a Licensed Social Worker (LSW #10393).  She graduated from the Permanency and Adoption Competency Certificate (PACC) program through the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare at the University of Minnesota and completed the National Adoption Competency Child Welfare Training Initiative through the Institute for Innovation & Implementation at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work.

Heather’s social work career began in 1993.  Over the years her work has primarily been within the adoption community yet also included five years spent living, teaching and traveling abroad.  Before coming to the HELP Program in 2013, her work encompassed supporting first/birth parents and adoptive parents with grief, loss and open adoption relationships as well as educating and supporting parents adopting children and teens with experiences in foster care. At MN ADOPT, she is proud to be on a strong team that continues the development of foundational support services that help Minnesota’s adoptive, foster and kinship families access all that they need to thrive.

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

Andrea Brubaker MSW, LISW, (she/her)(HELP Program Specialist):

Andrea is a Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW #24922) and holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Minnesota. During her time at the latter institution she was a Fellow in the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disorders program through which she worked with professionals in neurology, educational psychology, genetics, nursing, and social work to improve child welfare programs in Minnesota. Her work there earned her a certificate in Disability Policy and Services. During her studies, she also served as the Permanency and Adoption Intern at the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare (CASCW).

Andrea is certified in Permanency and Adoption Competency (PACC) through the University of Minnesota and has co-trained that curriculum. She is also Trained in Adoption Competency (TAC) through the Center for Adoption Support and Education. 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.

Before joining the MN ADOPT team Andrea served in a St. Paul Public Schools special education classroom, performed child welfare program evaluations for the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare, and provided therapeutic services at a day treatment center. Andrea is passionate about social and racial justice issues in adoption and foster care.

“I am truly honored to be a part of the lives of families, and am enlivened by people’s capacity for kindness and compassion during challenging times.”

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

Gail earned both her B.A. in English Literature and her M.A. in Teaching English at Bethel University. She has used her training and experience as an educator within the adoption community both as a parent educator and co-leading workshops on adoption-related issues. Gail has continued her education through extensive ongoing training in attachment, trauma and adoption, including her completion in 2018 of the National Adoption Competency Mental Health Training Initiative through the Institute for Innovation & Implementation at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work and in 2019 earning the Permanency and Adoption Competency Certificate from the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare at the University of Minnesota.

Gail joined the HELP Program in March of 2018 with a long history of advocating for children and childhood. She has a number of direct professional experiences with those touched by adoption and out-of-home placement which contribute to her tapestry of skills, most recently as a long-time employee at Ampersand Families as a Permanency Specialist. From 2000 to 2014 she was a court appointed Guardian ad Litem for Ramsey County and she spent years as a member of the administrative team of Southside Family Nurturing Center, a family-focused program for the prevention of child abuse and neglect.

Her advocacy work has focused on: the prevention of child abuse and neglect, seeking family-focused solutions, older youth adoption, and providing education and support to parents around the issues of childhood trauma, grief, and 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, foster, and kinship families is that childhood can be claimed and reclaimed for children and teens whose lives have been impacted by trauma, grief, and loss.”

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

Danielle is a Licensed Graduate Social Worker LGSW #29308. In 2009 she earned two bachelor’s degrees from Eastern Washington University with a BA in Sociology, a BA in Child Studies and is an AmeriCorps alumni. In 2020 she received her Master’s in Social Work from California State University, East Bay where she was a Title IV-E child welfare scholar. She has completed both the mental health and child welfare tracks for the National Adoption Competency Mental Health Training (NTI) through the Institute for Innovation & Implementation at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work and the Permanency and Adoption Competency Certificate from the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare at the University of Minnesota.

Since 2010, Danielle has had the opportunity to serve kinship families, domestic violence survivors, foster and adopted youth, pregnant and parenting youth, and those who are homeless. She has worked in Washington DC, California, Washington state and Minnesota and has experience at private agencies, educational settings and in child welfare. Her work has focused on family preservation, improving family stability, supporting healthy grieving, those who have been affected by child abuse and helping youth reach their goals and full potential.

“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”.

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

Amy earned her Bachelor’s of Social Work degree from Minnesota State University Moorhead, and her Master’s of Social Work degree from the University of North Dakota and is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW #24031).   Amy has completed extensive, ongoing trainings related to foster care, adoption, kinship, trauma, including the Child Welfare Certification Program through the University of North Dakota as well as the National Adoption Competency Mental Health Training (NTI) through the Institute for Innovation & Implementation at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work.

Amy joined the HELP Program in July of 2021 and brings many years of experience working in foster care/adoption agencies and chemical dependency residential settings in North Dakota and Minnesota. Amy brings with her knowledge regarding the child welfare systems, advocacy for foster care/adoption/kinship youth and families, parent education, understanding of trauma histories, and mental health diagnoses. She is passionate about advocacy, family preservation, assisting in finding resources for families and youth, especially in rural areas, as well as macro level issues and barriers in adoption and foster care systems.

“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.”

brittani lamb

Brittani Lamb, MSW, LGSW (she/her) (HELP Program Specialist):

Brittani has a Master of Social Work from Augsburg University and B.A. in Social Work from St. Olaf College. In addition, she completed the Permanency and Adoption Competency Certificate from the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare at the University of Minnesota. In her master’s program, Brittani focused on administration, public policy, and research and was a Fellow in the Leadership Education in Adolescent Health program, an interdisciplinary training program of the University of Minnesota Medical School where she later served as part time faculty. She is a Licensed Graduate Social Worker in Minnesota (#25378).

Brittani joined the HELP Program team in January 2022 after over five years as a child focused adoption recruiter. In her previous role, Brittani focused on identifying and supporting connections to relatives and kin for youth in foster care and encouraged adoption within a child’s network of relationships. Prior to working as a social worker, Brittani served as an AmeriCorps Promise Fellow in Minneapolis and lived in South Africa for a service learning year. Outside of her role at MN ADOPT, Brittani participates in policy and diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism committees related to her experience supporting young people.

“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!”

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.

Before MN ADOPT, JT wasn’t too experienced with adoptive, foster and kinship families, other than having one internationally adopted cousin. He has since learned so much from his wise and compassionate colleagues, and in 2021 he completed the National Adoption Competency Mental Health Training Initiative through the Institute for Innovation & Implementation at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work. Outside of work (and within!), JT is an advocate for LGBTQ+ and disabled communities and individuals.

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!

HELP Post Adoption Navigator (PAN):

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

Christina earned a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Criminal Justice from Hamline University. She has also received ongoing and extensive training in a variety of issues related to child welfare and adoption, including the National Adoption Competency Child Welfare Training Initiative through the Institute for Innovation and Implementation at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

Christina’s experience working in child welfare and adoption dates back to 2004, where she served as a volunteer Guardian ad Litem for Ramsey County. From 2006 to 2017, she filled a variety of roles with the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC). She went on to work as a Permanency Specialist for Ampersand Families, and most recently as the Family and Drop-In Case Manager at Oasis for Youth. She also volunteered as a Sexual Violence Crisis Advocate with Ramsey County for 12 years.

Since 2008, Christina has worked outside of her professional roles to use her lived experiences as an adopted person, parent, and professional to help educate, support, and advocate for families, children, and adults who have experienced 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.”

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