Through the Lens - Meet the Speakers
Jim Theofelis (he/him) has been serving the children, youth, and families of Washington state in a variety of roles for over 40 years. Jim founded the Mockingbird Society with three youth advocates in 2000, knowing that the voices of young people with lived experience held the power to transform systems and lives. Jim’s leadership grew the Mockingbird Society into a nationally accredited organization serving hundreds of thousands of young people and families worldwide. He has been instrumental in advocating for the passage of multiple pieces of legislation focused on transforming foster care and ending youth homelessness across Washington state.
Deonate Cruz (they/them) has been a dedicated advocate and service provider for youth and young adults experiencing homelessness and foster care for over 9 years. Deonate was a Mockingbird Network Representative and was in one of the first Mockingbird Families™. Deonate’s continued advocacy for legislative change and systemic reform has benefitted youth and young adults across Washington state. His dedication and unique perspective on Mockingbird’s work exemplifies the power of lived experience.
Ariel Metekingi (he/him) is a Program Manager and Caregiver with Te Roopu Awhina ki Porirua, an organization founded by members of the Maori Womens League, dedicated to providing integrated and holistic services for Maori families and children in New Zealand’s Wellington region. Te Roopu Awhina ki Porirua decided to incorporate MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ as they felt it reflected the values of the Maori community – those of extended family support and development of community-based solutions. Te Roopu Awhina ki Porirua is launching MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ to address the disproportionate numbers of Maori youth involved in juvenile justice and child welfare systems.
Fernando Clara (he/him), MSW, is Director of Practice Innovation at The Mockingbird Society overseeing the implementation of Mockingbird Family globally. Under Fernando’s leadership, MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ Fernando has over 20 years of practice and policy experience in child welfare. He has assisted numerous agencies evaluate their social service programs and implement evidence-informed practices. He is also a research lecturer at the University of Washington’s School of Social Work.
Esther Taylor (she/her ) is a Strategic Communications major in her final year at Walla Walla University, and a Leadership Team Member for Mockingbird’s Tacoma Chapter. Esther’s experience in foster care drives her to advocate for improved policies and practices in the child welfare system. She is passionate about social justice and plans to use her communication skills to bring issues of inequity, racism and systemic injustice to light. Esther’s dedication to transforming the systems that impact her peers exemplifies the power of youth voice.
Annie Blackledge (she/her) is driven by a life-long commitment to advocate for young people and their families. She has dedicated her career to creating meaningful change in education and child welfare, with a particular focus on young people with systems involvement. Annie is an alumnus of the New York foster care system. Because of this experience, Annie’s role as Executive Director lives into the value of putting those with lived experience at the center of the Mockingbird Society’s work. Under Annie’s leadership, the Mockingbird Society has ended the jailing of youth for non-criminal offenses, increased access to education and has expanded the reach of MOCKINGIBRD FAMILY™.