HELP Specialist Staff
Heather Van Brunt M. Ed., LSW (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 (HELP Program Specialist):
Andrea 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.
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 (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.
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-centered 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 families is that childhood can be claimed and reclaimed for children and teens whose lives have been impacted by trauma, grief, and loss.”
Kelly Heagle, MA, LMFT, RPT (HELP Specialist):
Kelly has a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy and a Play Therapy Certification from St. Mary’s University. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT #2458) and a Registered Play Therapist. In addition to extensive post-graduate training in trauma and attachment, she has completed the National Adoption Competency Child Welfare Training Initiative through the Institute for Innovation & Implementation at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work.
Kelly has worked with adoptive, foster and kinship families in a variety of ways over the past decade including providing therapy services to families by adoption. She has extensive experience in trauma informed care as well as understanding the many systems that interact with adoptive families. She has worked in day treatment, school and community settings and has provided outpatient therapy. She is also an adoptive parent.
“Adoption holds a special place in my life and I understand intently the complexities and joys that make up adoptive families. I am passionate about listening well to families and their needs and connecting them to resources that will have meaningful impact for them and their children.”
Danielle Lewis, MSW (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 the National Adoption Competency Mental Health Training (NTI) through the Institute for Innovation & Implementation at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work.
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”.
Christina Romo (HELP Program: 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.”