CloseKnit began in 2014 as the Minnesota Host Home Network, a special project of the Minnesota Council of Child Caring Agencies Foundation (now AspireMN). We changed our name to CloseKnit in 2019.
Deputy Director, Charlie Barba-Cook (she/her)
Throughout her life, “chosen family” has always been a major relationship focal point for Charlie. Having spent much of her adolescence couch-hopping, many of her closest caring and consistent relationships came through informal hosting arrangements. Because she knows first hand the toll houselessness can take on both a youth and their hosts, Charlie is passionate about the mission of CloseKnit: to change system narratives that are currently preventing investment in chosen family arrangements in a way that alleviates racial disparities in housing throughout the process.
Charlie’s passion for uplifting underserved and underrepresented communities spans many fields. For nearly 20 years, Charlie worked in the field of disability. She has also been a community organizer for decades and across many cities. Some of her projects include founding multiple organizations, coordinating safety planning, organizing protests, vigils, and other community events in LGBTQ communities and in collaboration with community mutual aid groups focused on uplifting the Black Lives Matter movement. She is also the co-founder and owner of the Minnesota Minx women’s football team which aims to elevate women’s sports and increase accessibility to female and minority gender athletes.
Charlie can be reached at email@example.com. She’d also be happy to share with you her love of playing football, cooking spicy dishes, and adventuring in the winter!
Communications Coordinator, Bethany Bobo (she/her)
Bethany is a digital communications content and strategy specialist from Olive Branch, Mississippi with marketing and communications experience in non- and for-profit settings. She holds a degree in English (minor in Music Performance) from Carleton College and has been creating digital communications content, strategy, and copy for over four years. Her passions lie in organically connecting local communities with local resources and making beautiful things along the way.
Head of Operations, Michael Giovanis (he/his)
Michael has lived experience as an opportunity youth who has dealt with housing instability and has navigated many different cultural and socioeconomic contexts as a result. He has a passion for changing the way our direct service and governmental agencies address youth homelessness–particularly opportunity youth who are facing housing instability. He believes that chosen family arrangements, wraparound services, and working to end systemic racism are vital to ending youth homelessness.
Michael has managerial and administrative experience in the logistics industry and a record of success in getting initiatives off the ground and flourishing. As Head of Operations, he is focused on creating a culture and operational infrastructure that enables the CloseKnit team to engage in our vital system change work.
Michael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for any operational matters. He’d also be happy to share with you his love of cooking, jazz, and volunteering.
Chosen Family Justice Director, B. Rosas (they/them)
B. Rosas was born and raised in South Minneapolis, where they learned the importance of community and acts of mutual aid at an early age. Community care is at the center of their family’s dynamic, in times of need they show up for each other with the skills or resources needed. Growing up they never felt alone, or felt like there was no one there to lend support, which they hope to pass along to youth facing homelessness. As the new CFJ Director they have very big shoes to fill and a lot to learn from their previous work with Renters’ rights movement in the Twin Cities.
From 2020-2021 they, and other renters, championed the first rent control policy in Minnesota, even with the state’s current ban on such policies. They believe that our communities hold the most power when it comes to policy. Law and policy being more community driven is B’s biggest goal in life, as they believe the key to true equity is giving our marginalized communities the resources and knowledge to advocate for themselves. They are excited to bring an organizer mindset into our CFJ work, where they hope to learn and grow with the communities we are trying to serve in our work.
In their free time B loves to learn about fashion history, attempts plant realism art, and do their best to keep their cat out of trouble.
Founder and Executive Director Jacqueline White (she/her)
Jacqueline’s passion for championing permanent connections for youth facing homelessness is rooted in her personal experience as a host in a “stranger-match” or “program-match” host home program, in which a young person in need of housing chooses to live with a trained community volunteer who provides a room in their home and a caring presence.
Although her original vision for CloseKnit was to help other communities start host home programs like the one in which had participated, she came to see that finding people willing to open their home to a young traumatized person they didn’t already know was extremely difficult. It also often resulted in arrangements between white professionals and BIPOC youth, who make up the majority of youth who face homelessness. At the same time, she came to recognize that many adults host young people they already know who would otherwise face homelessness. However, these adults, who are often BIPOC, are often overlooked and under-resourced. Given that youth homelessness is a population-level crisis, Jacqueline pivoted to catalyzing system change to invest in and help stabilize these natural support arrangements–an inexpensive upstream solution that has the potential for widespread impact.
A white woman, Jacqueline has been a volunteer racial justice facilitator with the YWCA and is the former editor of Assets magazine published by Search Institute, the international research pioneers on positive youth development and youth resiliency. Contact her at email@example.com to discuss partnering to champion the transformational power of chosen family hosting arrangements. She’s also happy to share her survival strategies for Minnesota winters, her role as a movie extra in Dear White People, or her best gig ever as a bonus grandma!
Cresston Gackle (he/him) Principal, Cresston Law LLC and Assistant Public Defender
Cresston Gackle (he/him/his) is a youth advocate in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Through his public defense and solo practice work, Cresston advocates as an attorney for youths and their families in child protection and delinquency court cases. Cresston is originally from Iowa and moved to Minnesota to pursue undergraduate and legal education at the University of Minnesota. Cresston is an active member of the bar association (association of lawyers in Minnesota) advocating for youths, racial justice, and reform. In his free time, Cresston enjoys reading about youth law, playing modern board games with friends, and going to the many fairs and festivals held during Minnesota summers.
Beau RaRa (they/them), Board Chair Youth Restorative Justice Initiative Lead, Legal Rights Center
Equal parts learner and educator, Beau believes that youth are the experts of their own lives and feels immense reverence for the various roles they have gotten to play in the lives of youth. Their background is in positive youth development in after school programs. Beau spent their first two years as a lawyer at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and the Disability Law Center representing unhoused youth and youth with disabilities on cases ranging from eviction to emancipation to disability-related proceedings in schools or related to county benefits. As an advocate for systems change, Beau could not be more thrilled about their role as Youth Restorative Justice Initiative Lead at the Legal Rights Center.
Aliya White (she/her) Impact Director, Education for the Frey Foundation
Aliya was drawn to the work at CloseKnit because of its mission. She is committed to thinking differently to address inequities for basic rights for people of color. While acknowledging the power and honoring the resourcefulness of disenfranchised communities, she found a cohort of like-minded activists on the Board of CloseKnit.
Her professional background in business, consumer research and currently, nonprofit funding, contributed to her ability to dig into issues from multiple stakeholder perspectives, format hypothesis, plan strategically and implement actions that make a difference for organizations.
She is a cheerful paper crafter, an avid reader and a serious movie preview watcher.
Nina Brown (she/her), Marketing Manager, Independent Natural Food Retailers Association
Rosymar Hjermstad (she/her), MPA, Dual Enrollment Coordinator–K12 Initiatives, Minnesota State and Community Technical College (treasurer)
Marika Reese (she/her), Executive Director, Ubuntu Cares
Deborah Ryan (she/her), Buyer, Target (secretary)
Founding Director of Chosen Family Justice, Helina Haile (she/her)
Through her immigration journey from Ethiopia to Minnesota, Helina learned that home is not a place but found in the relationships with loved ones, whether blood or chosen. As a peace builder, she views law and policy as a transformative tool for individual and communal healing especially for BIPOC communities.
Her professional path has been informed by her Peace Corps service in Rwanda and her domestic work in racial equity, legal health advocacy, and trauma healing. She holds a B.A. in Political Science and International Studies and an M.A in Global Affairs with a concentration in International Peace Studies. Helina brings her experience, both personal and professional, to the work of developing tools and policies to bolster natural supports and chosen family arrangements.
Chosen Family Hosting Coach, Brenda Pritchard
Brenda Pritchard helped develop CloseKnit’s chosen family hosting model as a case coach at two Minnesota drop-in centers for youth facing homelessness, HOPE 4 Youth in Anoka and Open Doors for Youth in Elk River. Previously, she worked for 18 years as a child protection social worker. She has two grown children and lives with her husband in the small town of Big Lake, where she breeds English golden retrievers and makes crafts to sell at craft shows.
K. Adam, Principal Consultant, Umoja Collective