Introducing Our Exemplary Advocate Cohort

Introducing Our Exemplary Advocate Cohort

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Christine Woody

Christine was born and raised in Florissant, MO. She has always lived in the St. Louis area and was the fifth generation to get married at her family’s church. She went to Saint Louis University for her undergraduate degree and after graduation she became a full-time volunteer with the Vincentians, a catholic order of priests. During that year, she worked at St. Vincent DePaul Church in Soulard and it was there that she was first exposed to policy work and social work. After that year, Christine went back to Saint Louis University to get her Master of Social Work degree and did a summer internship at MASW, now Empower Missouri. After obtaining her MSW, Christine worked at the Guardian Angel Settlement Association in South St. Louis City as a case manager. Since 2006, Christine has worked at Empower Missouri on hunger and criminal justice issues. Working at Empower Missouri allows Christine to pursue her passion for social justice work as well as maintaining good work life balance to be able to spend quality time with her husband Paul and their two sons, Brendan and Alexander.

Sarah Owsley

Sarah Owsley is a data lover from Kansas City, Missouri. She started her career in operations and logistics but yearned to do more good in the world. Sarah returned to school to earn her master’s in social work from the University of Kansas. Learning about oppression and structural racism from some of the best grassroots organizers in Kansas City, she knows the power of people standing up to institutions. She currently uses her special skillset for Empower Missouri.  As Policy and Advocacy Director, Sarah helps coordinate campaigns on criminal justice reform and expansion and protection of the social safety net. Passionate about housing as a human right, she leads Empower Missouri’s statewide affordable housing coalition.



Brishaun Hamilton

Brishaun is a Champaign, Illinois native who is passionate about breaking the cycle of poverty. After receiving her Bachelor’s in Family Relations from Illinois State University, Brishaun served as a Case and Program Manager. She worked closely with the region’s marginalized and most vulnerable populations in this role. She points to the moment where she unexpectedly shared a testimony on the importance of maintaining the city’s transportation services in front of state representatives and city council members, which sparked her interest in and commitment to policy advocacy. Motivated by her newfound desire to understand how elected officials affect the lives of everyday people, she pursued a Master’s in Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis. She created a concentration in social policy and economic inequality and held internships with a local municipality and Missouri House of Representatives. Today Brishaun is the Youth At the Center Policy Advocacy Catalyst at Forward Through Ferguson, which allows her to build relationships with parents, youth, and educators and ensure their voices and experiences are the center of systems change.


Jamie Rodriguez

Jamie Rodriguez is an attorney from Joplin, Missouri. Shortly after law school graduation, her hometown was devastated by a tornado. She returned home to help with response and recovery as an Equal Justice Works Legal Fellow, representing low-income individuals impacted by the disaster. The experience showed her how legal representation is an essential tool for people in crisis, whether the crisis is an F5 tornado or merely living every day in poverty. She now works at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri helping low-income Missourians gain access to healthcare and essential nutritional supports like food stamps. In addition to direct client representation, she engages in both administrative advocacy and litigation.


Lucas Caldwell-McMillan

Lucas Caldwell-McMillan is an attorney from Haslett, Michigan. While in law school, he worked on poverty law issues for patients at a community health center in Ypsilanti, Michigan. This inspired Lucas to pursue work in a medical-legal partnership with MetroHealth, a safety-net hospital in Cleveland, and the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland after law school. In 2009, Lucas moved to St. Louis to start a partnership at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri  with Cardinal Glennon, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, and Grace Hill Health Centers. Now working as the Managing Attorney of the Health & Welfare Programs at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, he continues to work on addressing health inequities and representing low-income individuals. Lucas believes that law is generally used as a tool of oppression but can still be used for good in partnership with the community.

Jennifer Carter Dochler

Jennifer Carter Dochler is originally from Houston, Texas but now lives in central Missouri. She got her start in domestic and sexual violence work as a campus organizer at the University of Texas in Austin. She knew she ultimately wanted a job where she got paid to be a feminist. She began at the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (MOCADSV) in 2003, and now serves as the Public Policy Director. She knows if you can succeed at systems change, you can potentially help thousands of people. This belief is embodied by the MOCADSV motto: “We change laws. We change lives.”

Matthew Huffman

Matthew Huffman is a public health advocate and enthusiast from northeast Arkansas, but after 13 years, he now considers Missouri home. Matthew has a degree in Media and Cultural Studies with a minor in Sociology from the University of Missouri-Columbia. While in college, Matthew worked at the MU Women’s Center, developing outreach programming on sexual and reproductive health. Now, he works as the Chief Public Affairs Officer at Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (MOCADSV). Matthew is passionate about the mission of MOCADSV and even turned down his Peace Corps placement 7 years ago to begin working at the Coalition.

Jessica Seitz

Jessica Seitz is a self-described political junkie since birth. Her lifelong passion for politics led her from her hometown of Oklahoma City to Waltham, MA to study political science at Brandeis University. Jessica started her career in state-level advocacy on the East Coast before realizing her dream of working in Washington, D.C. as a federal lobbyist for children’s issues. In her time there she served on the government relations teams of the National PTA and YMCA of the USA. In 2017, Jessica and her husband made the move to Missouri, bringing them closer to family and Jessica back to state-level advocacy work. Jessica now serves as the Executive Director for Missouri KidsFirst, the state’s leading voice on issues of child abuse and neglect. What really drives Jessica is being an effective advocate for children, the Child Advocacy Center members she represents, and the incredible work they do every day on the front lines to help children. When not testifying at a hearing or monitoring legislation, she has a love of baseball and museums, and, now residing in St. Louis, Missouri with her husband Ryan, she enjoys Cardinal baseball (and still rooting for her favorite Washington Nationals).


Meg Boyko

Meg Bokyo, is an O’Fallon, Illinois native who is deeply passionate about ensuring a healthy community where all of our children can live out their dreams. She holds a Bachelor’s of Arts from Truman State University where she studied business administration, marketing and psychology before going to New York University to earn a Master’s of Arts in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. Since graduating and moving back to the Midwest, Meg has worked on programs statewide at the March of Dimes, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and the Teen Pregnancy & Prevention Partnership to support health and wellness for all Missourians. Meg has been active in the community as a Steering Committee Member of ThreadSTL, an Advisory Committee member of The Right Time Initiative, and a Cabinet Member with FLOURISH St. Louis, an infant mortality reduction initiative. In her current role, she serves as the Training and Education Program Manager at Missouri KidsFirst. This work is especially gratifying to Meg, because it allows her to support the professionals who are taking care of children and families impacted by abuse.


Iva Eggert-Shepherd

Iva Eggert-Shepherd was born and raised in a very rural area in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. Iva was raised by a family of helpers who passed down their morals and values to Iva. Iva was determined to break the poverty cycle and prove to those that said, “you won’t succeed” wrong. Iva applied her Bachelor of Social Work and Criminal Justice to her role at the Family Support Division for seventeen years before moving on to the Health Care Collaborative and ultimately the Missouri Primary Care Association (MPCA). Iva currently serves as the Outreach Program Manager at MPCA where her primary role includes working one-on-one with frontline staff in their healthcare clinics to better understand Medicaid and Medicare. Beyond her work, Iva loves to quilt, sing at her church, and is a proficient bowler racking up a 298 as her highest score. Iva believes that “every person has the right to have the best quality and most affordable healthcare available.”

Kytrell Terry

Kytrell Marie Terry, originally from Albany, New York, attended college at Lincoln University of Missouri to study social work. Upon graduating from Lincoln University, Kytrell began her work with the Affordable Care Act at a local health center. Kytrell worked there for a couple years before finding her passion in serving the families at the Missouri Department of Social Services as a Children’s Service Worker, helping parents and caretakers overcome barriers to success, reunifying families, and giving children permanency and a sense of stability. Kytrell is inspired by the non-profit work of the health centers that she works with and strives to continue to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves and root for the underdog. Kytrell is proud to be in her current position at MPCA as the Outreach and Enrollment Coordinator to support resources, programs, and policies that assure access to health care at the federal, state, and local levels.

Dina van der Zalm

Dina van der Zalm, originally from Greer, South Carolina, chose to go to college at New York University to study psychology and Italian. After studying in Florence, Italy and graduating, Dina joined the Peace Corps and spent two years teaching English in northwest China. When Dina returned to the US, she went to graduate school at the University of Missouri-Columbia and obtained two Master’s degrees in Social Work and Public Health. Dina joined MRCC in 2016 as the health care organizer, where her work focused on the intersection of mental, physical, and environmental health and social and economic justice. She currently serves as the Community Engagement Director, overseeing healthcare and other programming, as well as leading fundraising efforts. Dina is constantly inspired by the resilience of individuals, despite the challenges they experience, and people’s willingness to stand up for what they believe in and need, especially in small towns where there is no such thing as anonymity. Dina wakes up in the morning to cat snuggles and a fire in her belly for teaching people how to hold their leaders accountable and build enough power to create sustainable changes for themselves and their communities.

Rhonda Perry

Rhonda Perry is a 5th generation Missouri farmer originally from Chillicothe, MO who has called Howard County home for 29 years. Watching her family and other local farmers stand up for their livelihood during the farm foreclosure crisis in the 80’s inspired her to dedicate her career to amplifying the voices of rural farmers and communities. After receiving her degree in Psychology, she joined Missouri Rural Crisis Center, where she serves as the Executive Director. In her role, she manages staff, directs on the ground programs and initiatives, and drives their state policy advocacy. Rhonda is especially passionate about the organization’s environmental justice work, sustainable farming and food programs, and emerging projects that are bringing rural and urban youth together around agriculture and healthy food. As a cattle farmer herself, she loves to ensure that the statewide advocacy of MRCC is grounded in the everyday experiences and voices of rural families. Rhonda believes that rural Missourians must be a big part of the solution to make our state even better, stronger, and healthier.

Sarah Ritter

Sarah Ritter grew up in Hutchinson, Kansas with a strong sense of fairness and justice instilled from her family. She moved to St. Louis to pursue her Master of Social Work (MSW) and fell in love with the city. Previously, she worked with an organization that empowers working women as advocates and storytellers. Her experience helped prepare her for her current role as Manager of Public Policy at Operation Food Search. Outside of work, Sarah enjoys hiking, trying new restaurants, and a warm cup of tea.

Trina Ragain

Trina Ragain hails from a small-town south of Chicago. She obtained a Master’s in Public Health from the University of Illinois and spent the first ten years of her career providing technical assistance and evaluation services to community substance abuse prevention programs geared toward adolescents. After more than a decade of being one-step removed, Trina decided it was time to try her hand at program work herself. This led her to St. Louis where she became the Director of Program Services & Government Affairs for the March of Dimes’ Missouri Chapter. As she led a multi-year plan aimed at reducing the state’s preterm birth rate, Trina realized that program sustainability requires policy change. Trina is now the Chief Innovation Officer at Operation Food Search, a leading organization in Missouri focused on ending child hunger and family food insecurity. In her current leadership role at OFS she keeps her dual focus on programs and policy: “Good programs inform good policy, and vice versa. You cannot have one without the other.”

Aimee Wehmeier

Aimee Wehmeier grew up in St. Charles, MO with a belief she could change the world. While attending the University of Missouri, she found a shared sense of culture and empowerment and, for the first time, didn’t feel ashamed of her disability. After advocating at the state level about her personal experiences, she realized the power of her voice. Currently Aimee is the President of Paraquad, one of the first grass roots Centers for Independent Living in the United States. To this day, Aimee believes that by working together and standing up for what you believe in, we can create meaningful policy change and make the world a better place.

Kim Lackey

Kim Lackey was born and raised in St. Louis before heading to Columbia to attend the University of Missouri for her undergraduate and law degrees. While in law school, Kim realized she wanted to work in the civil rights realm, specifically disability rights, after learning about the Employment Discrimination Act in one of her classes. Kim’s first job out of law school was at Paraquad and has worked at the organization ever since. She credits the fact that over half of Paraquad’s staff are people with disabilities which has made her personally more comfortable and accepting of her own disability.  Kim even met her husband at Paraquad, and they now reside in Downtown St. Louis. Kim, in her current role as Senior Director of Programs, oversees four programs: Public Policy, Consumer Directed Services, Independent living, and Compliance.  Kim has the passion, personally and professionally, to move public policy forward and believes deeply in engaging the grassroots and grass tops of those who can help make change happen.


Heather Marriott

If you want to get to know Heather, ask her about her favorite tabletop game or her latest camping trip! Heather Marriott is a born and raised Columbian who has lived in several different parts of town. When she started working at a downtown restaurant, she quickly realized that the expense of owning a car plus the hassle of parking just didn’t make sense. She sold her car and began biking and using public transit to get where she needed to go. When she saw a job opening posted on Local Motion’s Facebook page, she knew this was an organization she wanted to be involved in. Heather came on board to help run Local Motion’s programs and events, and her skill at developing community relationships made the position her own and has broadened the influence of Local Motion around the Columbia community. Heather wants to help more people understand that transportation access is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty.

Lawrence Simonson

Lawrence Simonson is a wingtips-wearing, cargo bike-riding, rad dad from Columbia, Missouri. He grew up as a military brat in small towns all over but dreamed of one day living in a big city and riding his bike to work. His first job out of college required a 40-minute drive that was a drain on his finances and his quality of life. He quit. This experience focused his attention on how transportation options affect our opportunities, and how many people are ignored and held back when having to own and drive a car is the only option. He felt compelled to do something. He took a temporary position with Local Motion and 10 years later he is Chief Executive Officer, advocating for walking, biking, and transit solutions to meet people’s everyday transportation needs. And he’s living his dream of riding bikes to school and work with his kids. Lawrence believes that when a transportation system serves the needs of the most vulnerable people in a community, it works best for everyone.


Alaina Smith

Alaina Smith grew up in NJ and MA before heading west to study public health and gender studies at Washington University in St. Louis. For several years, she facilitated a Batterer Intervention Program for domestic violence perpetrators and supported survivors in civil court, opening her eyes to the web of structural barriers that impede community health and healing. Alaina pivoted to health insurance counseling during the rollout of the Affordable Care Act and her work with uninsured families lit Alaina’s commitment to policy change that centers people impacted by health inequity. Since joining in 2014, Alaina now serves as the Director of Policy and Advocacy at Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri. She leads a team across Missouri and southwest Illinois to build people power, move legislation, and influence elections at every level. Alaina works toward the bold future we’ll win when people come together for justice in all walks of life.

Angie Postal

Angie Postal is a lifelong Missourian who believes that grassroots organizing and advocacy can shape a future for our state where everyone has the freedom to make decisions about their health and the resources to access the care they need to thrive. Angie’s organizing career started at NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, where she built action teams of community volunteers that organized and advocated for reproductive and sexual rights across the state. After five years as a grassroots organizer, Angie returned to school to earn a Master’s in Public Policy Administration from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Angie currently serves as the Vice President of Education, Policy, and Community Engagement for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri. She brings together teams that build power to make real improvements in people’s lives through grassroots organizing, sexual health education, and community outreach. Outside of work, Angie uses her organizing and youth development skills as a Scout Leader for Navigators Chapter 33.