Keynote Speaker Day 1
Rob Scheer and his husband Reese are fathers of four children, all of whom were adopted from foster care. Their children came to their forever home carrying what few possessions they had in black trash bags.
Recalling being a teen in foster care, Scheer recognized a troubling yet consistent trend. Like so many youth in the foster care system their personal belongings are still put into trash bags. He immediately connected the trash bags with the instability, lack of self-worth, and fear that nearly 437,500 kids in foster care experience during this uncertain time in their lives. It is a time of great upheaval and instability, and their first foster home placement is unlikely to be their last. Many youth in foster care will be moved from home to home multiple times, carrying their life’s treasures in a trash bag.
Armed with the conviction that all children should be provided with everyday essentials and the comfort of a few things to call their own, Scheer and his family started Comfort Cases in 2013. This simple, but large step began a journey to improve the lives of children in foster care throughout the greater DC region.
Subsequent news coverage about the Scheer family and the vision for helping youth in care has resulted in global interest in Comfort Cases. Comfort Cases has been given exciting exposure with interviews on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, a viral video production viewed by more than 100 million from Upworthy, and segments dedicated to the cause on the Today Show, NBC Nightly News, and CNN. The organization has shipped the Cases to 49 states, DC and Puerto Rico.
The dream is for every youth to receive a Comfort Case upon entering foster care and for no child to have to experience the indignity of carrying a trash bag ever again. The organization is continuing to expand its reach and will continue to grow with Scheer’s passion and determination. Comfort Cases looks forward to the day when the organization can utilize local partnerships to reach every youth entering foster care in communities throughout the United States.
In addition to his work as the founder of Comfort Cases, Scheer has more than 25 years of leadership experience in the financial industry. He is also a proud veteran of the United States Navy.
Dr. Melissa Kull
Keynote Speaker Day 2
Dr. Melissa Kull’s research focuses on promoting the use of evidence in systems that address family and youth homelessness and on supporting cross-system partnerships. She has authored numerous articles and briefs on housing quality, instability, and neighborhood effects on children, youth and families. Her current work includes: disseminating finding from a recent federally funded supportive housing demonstration project for families involved in the child welfare system; expanding the use of a screener for detecting housing instability among families enrolled in early childhood programs; drawing on research evidence to strengthen youth homelessness systems; and, as part of a new primary prevention model for youth homelessness, facilitating the universal screening of junior and high school students in two large urban school districts to identify youth at risk for homelessness and early school learning. She has also conducted research on child and family housing contexts, family instability, and children’s early education experiences.
In the first Voices of Youth Research-to-Impact brief in 2017, researchers estimated that nearly 4.2 million youth and young adults in America experienced some form of homelessness during a 12-month period. In the fifth brief, released in October 2018, Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in Rural America, researchers found that rural youth homelessness is just as prevalent as urban homelessness. Youth in rural areas, however, experience homelessness quite differently, facing unique challenges in accessing education, employment, services and support. Dr. Kull will share findings from Chapin Hall’s research about the nature and prevalence of rural youth homelessness. Insight will be provided regarding the intersection of educational challenges and youth homelessness in rural areas. Additionally, Dr. Kull will describe an emerging prevention initiative that Chapin Hall is piloting in two school districts that could be useful for children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness in rural areas.
Sarah Colantonio, Institute Presenter Day 1
With a Master’s of Science in communication and a bachelor’s in psychology, Sarah Colantonio has served as a professor of communication at Millersville University of Pennsylvania and Penn State University since 2003; her years in the classroom have benefited her coaching clients. She has expertise in interpersonal communication, public speaking and group dynamics. In addition to her expertise in high performance communication, Colantonio has studied mindfulness since 2004 and participated in training and certifications with Deepak Chopra, Jack Kornfield, and Tara Brach.
Colantonio is a certified meditation instructor and has completed mindfulness training through the University of California, Berkeley. She is also certified in emotional intelligence from Multi Health Systems.
Kedren Crosby, Institute Presenter Day 1
Kedren Crosby is a certified practitioner of emotional intelligence and serves as adjunct graduate school faculty at Elizabethtown College. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in business psychology at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She has written and presented extensively on burnout, work-life integration, authentic leadership, organizational culture, organizational conflict management, and communication best practices.
Crosby holds a master’s degree in policy science from the University of Maryland, graduate-level certificates in nonprofit studies from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, conflict resolution at Notre Dame and has completed graduate coursework in organizational behavior at Harvard University.
Christina Endres, Institute Presenter Day 1
Christina Endres is a program specialist with the National Center for Homeless Education. During her 10-year tenure as a state coordinator for homeless education, she also served as president of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth and Even Start state coordinator.
Endres started her career providing direct services to families, including mental health, home-based, and family preservation services, as well as mentoring and helping youth build independent living skills.
Melanie G. Snyder, Institute Presenter Day 1
Melanie G. Snyder currently serves as the trauma-informed specialist for Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, where she leads a community-wide, cross-sector training initiative that has already trained more than 2,000 people in Lancaster County about trauma, resilience, and trauma-informed care, to help move Lancaster County toward becoming a trauma-informed community.
Snyder has trained thousands of people about trauma and resilience, including more than 600 law enforcement professionals. Snyder is passionate about helping people in the community understand the connections between trauma, addiction, mental health, and criminal justice system involvement. She is a certified trauma instructor with the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Eastern Mennonite University, and Treatment Innovations. She was a 2016-17 Baldwin Fellow with the Lancaster County Community Foundation, where her focus was on trauma, resilience, and trauma-informed communities.
Kehiliarys Concepcion-Cano, Eriel Gaylord, Anthony Simpson and Mark Stokes, Youth Panel Day 3
These students choose not to let their life situation define them, and instead have persevered to maintain their focus on their education rather than be deterred by the obstacles that have been set before them.