Beau RaRa (they/them), Youth Restorative Justice Initiative Lead, Legal Rights Center (chair)
Deborah Ryan, Buyer (she/her), Target (secretary)
Rosymar Hjermstad (she/her), MPA, Dual Enrollment Coordinator–K12 Initiatives, Minnesota State and Community Technical College (treasurer)
Aliya White (she/her), Truth Shepard, Aliya White Consulting
Nina Brown (she/her), Marketing Executive, Saatchi & Saatchi X
Cresston Gackle (he/him), Principal at Cresston Law LLC and Assistant Public Defender
Marika Reese (she/her), Executive Director, Ubuntu Cares
K. Adam, Principal Consultant, Umoja Collective
Iris Castro, Loan Originator Assistant, Cherry Creek Mortgage
Kelly Drummer, President and CEO, MIGIZI
Danielle Grant, President and CEO, AchieveMpls
Steven G. Thomas, President and CEO, The Next Frontier
Founder and Executive Director Jacqueline White
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 young people in need of housing choose to live with trained community volunteers who provide 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’d never met before was extremely difficult. It also often resulted in arrangements between white professionals and BIPOC youth, who make up the majority of youth facing 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. She earned a B.A. cum laude from Yale and an M.F.A. from Antioch University-Los Angeles. 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 an extra in Dear White People, or her best gig ever as a bonus grandma!
Chosen Family Justice Director Helina Haile
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.
Helina champions chosen family arrangements as a racially equitable alternative to extractive approaches to youth homelessness. However, stabilizing chosen family arrangements with hosts who are home owners is generally easier than stabilizing arrangements with renters, who are sometimes even jeopardizing their own housing because hosting a young person they care about can violate the guest policy of their lease. As Director of Chosen Family Justice, Helina advocates for policies that consider the unique position of renter hosts, who are predominately BIPOC due to historically racist housing policy. She is passionate about her work because it helps keep youth in community with those who love and care for them by resourcing these caring connections!
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.
Helina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She looks forward to discussing the transformative work of legal advocacy for chosen family arrangements. She’d also be happy to share with you her love of yoga, holistic healing, and travel!
Head of Operations, Michael Giovanis
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 the 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 email@example.com for any operational matters. He’d also be happy to share with you his love of cooking, jazz, volunteering.
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.