The Every Teen Counts Initiative staff gathers at a celebration of the project's success.

The Every Teen Counts Initiative staff gathers at a celebration of the project's success. 


Amarachi Anakaraonye, MSPH, Stakeholder Engagement Specialist

Amarachi works to increase the role of youth governance and engage community stakeholders in SHIFT NC's work. Prior to SHIFT NC, Amarachi worked at Montefiore Medical Center and USAID, most recently coordinating a study of a PrEP education campaign. She has also worked with organizations like the New Morning Foundation to increase access to and awareness of contraceptives. Amarachi has a strong interest in racial justice and equity and hosts the podcast, The Fragmented Whole, which explores Black, Brown, and underrepresented narratives of resiliency and agency. She has her Bachelor's degree from UNC-Chapel Hill and her Master's of Science in Public Health from the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. 

Ashley Stewart, MS, CHES, Clinic Linking and Improvement Specialist 

Ashley provides clinic linking and improvement services to our Durham clinic partners through the All Together Now initiative. Prior to joining SHIFT NC, Ashley came from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health where she engaged in quality improvement work related to asthma prevention and control, led a learning collaborative of clinical and community organizations and worked with a program evaluator inform quality improvement strategies. She also developed a racial justice framework for the Massachusetts Asthma Home Visiting Toolkit. Ashley previously worked with the Christiana Care Health System in Delaware to improve and standardize the quality of breastfeeding education. Ashley has strong roots in health education as well, including implementing Making Proud Choices in school and community settings. She holds a Master’s degree in Health Care Administration from Wilmington University and a Bachelor’s degree in Community Health from Georgia Southern University.

Bianka Reese, MSPH, Evaluation Specialist

Bianka leads evaluation for the Every Teen Counts and North Carolina Youth Connected initiatives. She has previous experience in program evaluation of large-scale teen pregnancy prevention programs, qualitative data collection and analysis, and empirical analyses of complex, multilevel datasets. Bianka is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Maternal and Child Health at UNC-Chapel Hill. Her dissertation research explores the implications of positive youth development for holistic aspects of sexual health and romantic relationships in young adulthood, using a nationally representative sample of U.S. adolescents. Bianka holds a Master’s of Science in Public Health in Maternal and Child Health, also from UNC-Chapel Hill. 

Debbie Engelbrecht, Chief Financial Officer

Debbie has worked in the financial field for more than three decades. A native of Zimbabwe, she later moved to South Africa where she met her husband and started a family. She immigrated to the United States more than a decade ago.

Elise Berrier, Clinic Linking and Improvement Specialist 

Elise works with healthcare providers to help them adopt best practices for providing adolescent sexual and reproductive healthcare services. Prior to joining the clinics team, Elise provided capacity-building services for the Juvenile Justice System on the Every Teen Counts Initiative. Before coming to SHIFT NC, Elise worked as a community health educator for Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic and ran a coalition focused on improving access to sexual and reproductive health care in rural communities. She has implemented domestic violence prevention education initiatives for the Compass Center for Women & Families and UNC-Chapel Hill's Student Wellness. Elise obtained her Bachelor of Arts degrees in Psychology and Women's & Gender Studies from UNC-Chapel Hill.  

Elizabeth Hundley Finley, Director of Strategic Communications

Elizabeth oversees communications, development, and public policy for SHIFT NC. Prior to joining SHIFT NC, she worked with many of North Carolina’s other leading child advocacy organizations, including The North Carolina Partnership for Children, Inc. (Smart Start) and Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina. Elizabeth is a graduate of Appalachian State University.

Jason Arrol, Health Communications Specialist

Jason Arrol focuses on health communications, including The Playbook and Prepared Parent. Jason has created communications campaigns in non-profits and higher education for over 15 years. Most recently, Jason served as the Digital Media Manager at the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington, DC, lifting up transgender stories and devising campaigns to change policy at all levels of U.S. government. At the University of Maryland, Jason worked with the Health Promotion team to advocate for positive health outcomes in the UMD community. And at Levine School, Jason documented and promoted music education, supporting efforts to provide free or low-cost music education to underserved populations in the Washington DC area. 

Kia Thacker, MPH, Director of Priority Populations

Kia leads SHIFT NC's Every Teen Counts initiative. She previously worked on the Gaston Youth Connected project to create strategies to reach the most vulnerable youth and managed the project’s Teen Action Council. Prior to joining SHIFT NC, Kia worked in substance abuse prevention. She has a Bachelor’s in Sociology from UNC-Chapel Hill and an MPH from UNC-Greensboro.

Linda Chamiec-Case, MSW, MSPH, Capacity-Building Specialist

Linda is a Capacity Building Specialist on the Every Teen Counts Initiative. Linda previously worked at Compass Center and UNC Student Wellness in the areas of sexual health education and interpersonal violence prevention and response.  She has worked with foster care systems through her MSW field placement with Guardian ad Litem of Orange and Chatham Counties and continues to volunteer there as a GAL. Linda has also worked in public health economics research at RTI International and has a Master's of Social Work and a Master's of Science in Public Health from UNC-Chapel Hill. 

Melinda DeJongh, Director of Resources and Special Projects

Melinda is SHIFT NC’s lead grant writer, and coordinates the Annual Conference and the Resource Library. She has been with SHIFT NC since 1999, which means she remembers when the fax machine was the most-used piece of technology in the office. Melinda holds a Bachelor’s in English from Guilford College, with a concentration in Women's Studies.

Meriel Shire, MSW, MPH, Clinic Improvement and Linking Specialist

Meriel works with health centers and youth-serving organizations in Durham County, providing technical assistance for best practice promotion and strengthening referral and linking networks as part of the All Together Now initiative.  A native of Connecticut, Meriel holds Master's degrees in Public Health and Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis, and a Bachelor's degree from Bard College. Before moving to North Carolina, Meriel worked as a Policy Research Assistant for the Contraceptive Choice Center in St. Louis.

Michela GarrisonMPH, Evaluation Specialist

Michela leads evaluation for the All Together Now initiative in Durham, NC and the Healthy Tomorrow Alliance initiative in Greensboro, NC. She also provides evaluation support for the High Point Access Initiative. Michela has experience domestically and internationally in sexual and reproductive health evaluation and program development, and in teaching and developing sexual health education curricula. Michela has a Master’s of Public Health in Maternal and Child Health from UNC-Chapel Hill and a Bachelor’s degree from Vassar College.

Michelle Reese, Director of Clinic Improvement Services

Michelle provides leadership and technical assistance to SHIFT NC healthcare improvement and access projects. Previously, she led community mobilization efforts and clinic improvement strategies for the Gaston Youth Connected initiative. She has more than two decades of experience working in adolescent reproductive health issues, starting as Director of Community Health Education at the Mecklenburg Council on Adolescent Pregnancy. She has also managed non-traditional HIV testing programs, served as a master trainer for the North Carolina School Health Training Center, and mentored young professionals for more than a decade. She holds a Bachelor’s in Health Promotion from UNC-Charlotte and is a graduate of the Emerging Minority Leaders in Public Health Fellowship at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Miller Russell, MSW, LGBTQ Capacity Coordinator

Miller leads the development, delivery, and coordination of trainings on supporting LGBTQ+ youth for a variety of SHIFT NC’s statewide partners, including public school districts, health clinics, and community-based organizations. Miller also collaborates across SHIFT NC initiatives to ensure integration of LGBTQ identities and experiences, and supports internal staff capacity to affirm gender and sexuality diversity. They are certified to facilitate the Teaching Transgender curriculum from the Transgender Training Institute in Philadelphia, PA. Miller has nearly a decade of nonprofit capacity building experience across North Carolina. In their most recent role with Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, they designed and led a year-long effort to map access to informed consent gender-affirming hormone therapy in PPSAT’s four-state service area and delivered staff training on affirming LGBTQ patients. They have a degree in Creative Writing from UNC-Asheville and a Masters in Social Work from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Nia Short-Sutton, CHES, Capacity Building Specialist 

Nia is a Capacity Building Specialist on the Every Teen Counts Initiative. Nia began working in the field of sexual and reproductive health at the age of 16 as a Peer Educator. This position spiked her interest in the field of Public Health, which influenced her decision to pursue Health Education during her undergraduate studies. After obtaining her Bachelor of Science from North Carolina Central University, Nia began her professional career as a Public Health Educator at a local health department in rural North Carolina. Eager to continue her education, Nia relocated to Atlanta, Georgia to pursue a Master of Public Health concentrating in Health Promotion and Behavior. During this time, she worked with various community organizations who target youth between the ages of 9 and 25 with data-driven substance abuse prevention strategies.

Nicole Crews, MPH, Executive Coordinator

Nicole provides coordination and support to SHIFT NC's leadership and board. Nicole has experience working in the field of sexual and reproductive health on communications, development, and client support teams. She previously collaborated with SHIFT NC while working on her master's thesis on North Carolina's Healthy Youth Act. She holds a Master's in Public Health from East Carolina University. 

Pat Hilliard, Administrative Coordinator

Pat provides in-office support for training and program activities, as well as coordination for public events. Pat received her Bachelor’s in English and Religion from UNC-Chapel Hill and a Master of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest.

Sally Swanson, MSW, MSPH, Chief Program Officer

Sally oversees SHIFT NC's programs department, the department that coordinates all signature initiatives. She has also earned the alternate title "Director of Awesomeness." Previously, she directed the Gaston Youth Connected initiative, a nationally-recognized prevention project that reduced teen birth rates in Gaston County by more than 40%. Sally previously worked in HIV prevention, counseling, and testing, as well as in domestic violence services. She holds Master’s degrees in Social Work and Public Health from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Sam Peterson, Marketing and Outreach Specialist

Sam is part of the communications team for SHIFT NC. Before joining SHIFT NC, he worked with a number of non-profit LGBTQ advocacy groups, including Integrity USA, Queer History South, and Equality Texas. Sam graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in Communication Studies. He mentors transgender and queer youth in recovery from substance abuse, and volunteers for several Durham-based gay and transgender groups.

Tamara D. Robertson, MPH, Capacity-Building Specialist - Foster Care

Tamara Robertson is the Capacity Building Specialist for the Foster Care System on the Every Teen Counts Initiative. Prior to joining SHIFT NC, Tamara was a Public Health Educator with Wake County Human Services in the HIV/STD Community Program and interned with the Coastal Health District's Adolescent Health and Youth Development Department in Savannah, Georgia. Tamara earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Communication Studies from Georgia Southern University and Master of Public Health from Armstrong State University. 

Tania Connaughton-Espino, MPH, Director of Training and Consulting Services 

As Director of Training and Consulting Services, Tania works to identify and develop opportunities for SHIFT NC to serve the needs of other organizations with our capacity, intellectual property, and consulting services. Between September 2015-June 2018, Tania served as Project Director for the NC Youth Connected initiative, which focused on reducing teen pregnancy rates by 50% in Cumberland and Wayne Counties. Originally from Mexico City, Mexico, Tania came to North Carolina to obtain her Master’s in Public Health at UNC-Chapel Hill.  Tania has managed local and statewide reproductive health programs, providing technical assistance, conducting program evaluation, and preparing manuscripts for publication. She has worked extensively with the Latino community on reproductive health issues and developed Spanish-language family planning and women’s health resources. She also has experience implementing  evidence-based curricula and developing trainings for a variety of audiences including lay health advisors, health professionals and youth. Tania served as the Team Leader for the NC Division of Public Health’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiatives (TPPI) and provided technical assistance to TPPI-funded projects in Eastern NC and projects funded under the Personal Responsibility and Education Program (PREP)