Kallie Benes | Chief Executive Officer
Kallie brings her passion for educating and engaging youth, their caregivers, and their communities to First3Years as the organization’s CEO. Kallie has had the opportunity to nurture her passion and grow professionally through her 17+ years in education and family engagement. Her diverse background includes serving as the head of the Library Services Department for the Houston Independent School District and the manager of Youth Services for the Houston Public Library system. Her non-profit experience comes from her time serving as an exhibit educator and program manager at the Children’s Museum of Houston. Kallie’s career began serving young children as a PK teacher and elementary librarian in HISD. She graduated from Widener University, in Philadelphia, PA, with a Bachelor’s in Early Childhood and Elementary Education. She also holds a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Sciences from the University of North Texas. This extensive repertoire of experience has led her to First3Years with the vision to combine the best aspects of the non-profit, city government, and educational fields to increase the efficacy and impact of our organization.
Kallie grew up in Reading, PA, then moved to Houston in 2005, where she currently resides with her husband, two children, and pets.
Ashley Borthick, MS, IMH-E® | Chief Operating Officer
As Chief Operating Officer, Ashley is charged with growing the impact of First3Years’ objective to build a specialized zero to three workforce, as well as leading efforts for effective operations for First3Years. With over a decade of experience in direct service to infants, toddlers, and their families, Ashley brings a unique skill set and a fresh perspective to her role. Ashley has been an integral part in developing and executing new programming for First3Years and has played a key role in expanding First3Years at an organizational level.
Ashley received her BS in Psychology with a minor in Accounting from Southern Nazarene University in 2010. She also holds a Master’s degree in Human Development and Early Childhood Disorders from the University of Texas at Dallas, 2013. Her passion for working in the early childhood field stems from her belief that all children are gifted and act as “little scientists” in their world. Thus, children deserve to discover their new world in the context of a caring, responsive and nurturing environment. Ashley believes that “all children should have access to quality education and the opportunities to connect with loving and supporting caregivers. First3Years works tirelessly to advocate and educate on behalf of our tiniest citizens. To be a part of this team is an honor, and I aim to continue their driving mission.”
Jyrah Knight | Director of Professional and Parent Education
Jyrah Knight is a graduate of Texas Woman’s University where she received her Master’s degree in Family Studies and Bachelor’s degree in Child Development. Jyrah’s work with children and families has been one of her greatest accomplishments thus far. She takes a family centered approach in all her work. Jyrah formerly worked as an Early Intervention Specialist for ECI, where she learned the true meaning of influencing a child’s microsystem, how to reach all families no matter their cultural background, how to help families navigate crisis and engaging exercises to encourage the development of young children. She is also an advocate for Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) which she believes plays a great role in infant mental health. Jyrah has a passion for educating and empowering families of children with chronic illnesses and disabilities and currently serves as the President of Chronic Endurance.
Stephanie Madrigal | Director of Safe Babies
Stephanie is the Safe Babies Director of First3Years and oversees Tarrant and Dallas Counties. Before joining First3Years, Stephanie worked in the child welfare system with the Dallas juvenile and family courts. Stephanie also has experience in program development for early childhood education, parent engagement, and community collaboration. Stephanie attended the University of North Texas and has been involved with various non-profits since 2012. Stephanie is bilingual, experienced in program alignment, staff management, and grass-roots outreach. Stephanie’s passion comes from the desire to help build a strong foundation for child success; she recognizes that this success stems from parent empowerment and engagement in their child’s development.
Alexandra Mylius | Director of Community Systems
Shelby Aguilar | Administrative Assistant
Shelby Aguilar is a graduate of Texas A&M University where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Psychology. Shelby received her Master’s degree from Dallas Baptist University in Professional Development. Shelby and her husband Joshua, serve their community as foster parents and are heavily involved in many child welfare organizations throughout the metroplex. Shelby believes that the next generation of children are going to change the world so she is passionate about investing into the lives of the children in her community.
Working along the child welfare system as a foster parent has been one of the biggest eye openers in Shelby’s life thus far. Shelby is passionate about education and teaching when it comes to serving her community and empowering family systems.
Laura Alvarado | Community Systems Manager
Laura’s role as Community Systems Manager leads her to collaboratively develop an integrated and coordinated community system within Baytown, TX where every family has an equitable voice, is supported, and can readily access and choose from quality resources and services for their young child.
In her previous role, she served as the Senior Director of Operations for the National Diversity Council to advocate for the value of diversity and inclusion within the private, public and non-profit sectors. During her time at the Council, she also led the efforts to coordinate and execute a four-year writing program in partnership with Rice University for high school students, which resulted in granting over $40K in scholarships. She is a Leadership Houston alumna, Class XXX, where she served on the Communication Committee and was previously named one of Houston’s 100 Hispanic Women in Leadership by the Houston Chapter of Hispanic Women in Leadership. Laura is also a board member for Communities in Schools Baytown and Our Promise for West Baytown. Laura is a graduate of Lee College in Baytown, TX with an associate’s degree in business administration. As part of her mission of continuing to give back to her community, Laura currently serves as a City of Baytown Councilmember where she serves as the Secretary for the Municipal Development District and Vice President of the Architecture & Engineering Committee.
Natalie Baerwaldt, MS, IMH-E® | Reflective Supervision Specialist
As the Reflective Supervision Specialist, Natalie’s goal is to provide professional development through engaging and connecting with early childhood experts to deepen their impact with families. Natalie has worked with young children and families since 2001 when she began her graduate studies at the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton. During her schooling she worked as a research assistant in the child development lab and supported community partners through university resources. Natalie’s career has included working in a variety of positions in nonprofit organizations such as Nexus Recovery Center, Rainbow Days, and First3Years. Natalie has an undergraduate degree in Psychology from Austin College, a master’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies from UNT, and she is a licensed childcare director in the state of Texas. For many years Natalie has taught as an adjunct professor at both UNT and the University of Texas at Dallas. The first several years of Natalie’s career included direct practice with children and families, and since 2011 she has positioned herself to provide professional development and training to the workforce. Natalie is excited to return to the team in this capacity to offer her skills as First3Years continues to grow.
Christina Henriquez, MSW | Safe Babies Coordinator – Harris County
Christina Henriquez is the Safe Babies Coordinator in Harris County. Before joining First3Years, Christina worked in child centered intervention systems for abused children, served as an advocate within the juvenile and family courts, and community-based health initiatives. Christina also has experience working with teens and women in a therapeutic setting as well as assisted in the development of a early literacy program. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from the University of Houston and Masters degree in Social Work from the University of Houston. Christina grew up in Alief and now lives in Katy. Christina says her biggest motivation for this work are her children.
Erica Martinez | Professional and Parent Education Coordinator
Erica Martinez is the Professional and Parent Education Coordinator. Prior to joining First3Years, she worked in the non-profit sector as a college and career advisor where she helped students and their families access higher education. Erica also has experience working to identify and assess food deserts throughout Harris County and surrounding counties. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Houston. Erica’s excited to bring her skillset to First3Years and assist professionals and parents.
Sarina Naik | Community Systems Coordinator
Sarina holds both a Bachelor of Science in Community Health and a Master of Science in Health Education from Texas A&M University. Here, she worked with a breadth of grassroots health organizations to increase community engagement and ensure individuals were served in meaningful ways. Her passion for mental health education and desire to support infants and their families led her to her current position as First3Years’ Community System Coordinator. Through this role, Sarina primarily serves the Houston area by strengthening the network of care for infants and toddlers. She brings experience in evidence-based practice to the table as she consistently strives to bridge the gap between theoretical and implementable. Outside of First3Years, Sarina loves starting new craft projects and exploring the great outdoors.
Heather Pugh, IMH-E® | Safe Babies Coordinator – Tarrant County
Heather Pugh graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma with a Bachelor’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology and then completed a Master’s of Science in Infant/Child Specialist.
For almost a decade, Heather has specialized in infant and early childhood mental health, and currently supports efforts by First3Years to change the trajectory for infants, toddlers, and their families impacted by the child welfare system. Heather has experience in the field supporting statewide infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH) workforce training, supporting state-level IECMH policy work, nonprofit operations, and early intervention.
Heather brings with her a passion for challenging the current status quo of current child welfare systems. Her tenacity for change is seen through her trauma-informed lens supporting relationship-based work with infants, toddlers, their families and the systems that serve them. Heather has maintained her Endorsement as an Infant Family Specialist and has provided several trainings around topic areas like transitions for young children, goodbye rituals, infant mental health 101, the power of hope, and several others.
“Our best intentions and smartest interventions are only as good as our ability to be with people and create safety.” – Dr. Stacey Leakey
Cynthia Rendon | Professional and Parent Education Specialist
Cynthia brings her passion and expertise in maternal & infant health to her current position as First3Years’ Bilingual Professional & Parent Education Specialist. She has over 6 years of experience in nonprofit organizations advocating for vulnerable and marginalized communities such as pregnant women and their infants and immigrant populations. This led her to pursue a career in social work with a focus on infant mental health. She is currently working on her Master of Social Work from Texas A&M-Commerce, with an expected graduation date of August 2023.
Argenis Santamaria | Family Leadership Coordinator
Argenis is the Family Leadership Coordinator and Community Organizer in the greater Houston area. Prior to joining First3Years, Argenis worked out of Los Angeles on multiple public health projects including environmental justice advocacy, oral health education for underserved communities, and youth development through a skateboarding curriculum. His educational background in Early Childhood Education, Program Development, and Community Health Work from the University of Cal State, Los Angeles illustrates his extensive involvement in community development. In addition, Argenis was a recipient of the Public Policy and International Affairs Fellowship at the University of Minnesota in 2019. Currently, he attends the University of Southern California as a candidate for the Master of Social Work specializing in Social Change and Innovation practices. As an immigrant from Honduras and the first member of his family to attend and graduate college, Argenis aims to use his passion and knowledge to help inspire the next generation of leaders and advocates as a means of empowering the community.
Carissa Brown | Safe Babies Coordinator – Harris County
Carissa brings over 15 years of experience in a wide range of services such as case management, juvenile justice system, parenting programs, supervisory roles, early intervention services, prevention programs, domestic violence, and individual/group therapy to her role as the Safe Babies Coordinator in Harris County. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Social Work from Chicago State University. After working in the social services area for 6 years and loving the work she was doing Carissa decided to pursue her Master’s in Science specializing in Children and Adolescent development from Capella University. She also received a certificate of Nonprofit Management and Leadership that provided guidance to her in this career field. Carissa has recently relocated from a suburb of Chicago to Katy, TX. Outside of work, her 18-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter keep her busy.