The Illinois Collaboration on Youth (ICOY) team holds a wealth of experiences and expertise in the systems that affect and support children, youth, and families. Each ICOY staff member brings to the table a passion for the well-being of children and youth and for the advancement of best practices on the individual, community, and systemic levels.
Chanel Dotson, Illinois Youth Investment Program Manager
Sally Ehrlich, Homeless Youth/ Comprehensive Community Based Youth Services Program Manager
Maribel Gonzalez, Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission Program Manager
Heshima Mance, Trauma Specialist
Andrea Durbin, Chief Executive Officer
Andrea Durbin has been the Chief Executive Officer of Illinois Collaboration on Youth since 2012. A passionate and life-long advocate for young people, she leads ICOY’s work to improve the lives of children, youth, and their families. Prior to becoming CEO, Andrea served as policy and advocacy director for ICOY and led the agency’s federally-funded capacity-building initiative for youth service agencies in Chicago.
In 2017, Andrea helped to shepherd a long-discussed merger with the Child Care Association of Illinois, which took effect on July 1, 2017. Following the merger, ICOY is now the largest provider voice for services to children, youth and families, representing nearly 100 organizations across the state.
In 2016 and 2017, Andrea led the effort to ensure that human service providers were paid for the work they did during Illinois’ historic and destructive state budget impasse, forming the Pay Now Illinois coalition to sue Governor Bruce Rauner and state agency heads over unpaid contracts. The lawsuit attracted national attention and was key in ensuring that providers were eventually paid in full for their work when the two-year impasse ended.
Andrea serves on several high-level committees and workgroups, representing the needs of at-risk children and youth and the agencies that serve them, including as an invited member of Governor Pritzker’s Healthy Families and Communities Transition Team. She represents providers through the Social Services Advisory Council, the Child Welfare Advisory Committee and the Mental Health Opportunities for Youth Diversion Task Force, among many others. She is the Chair of the ACT Now after school coalition; in that role, she has led a comprehensive restructuring and overhaul of the coalition’s governance and operations.
In 2019, Andrea was recognized with the Social Impact Award from the School of Social Service Administration (SSA) at the University of Chicago. Chicago Business Journal named her a Woman of Influence in 2017.
Prior to joining ICOY, Andrea worked for seven years in education, including serving as the Director of Communications at SSA, and for eight years at Aunt Martha’s Health and Wellness, where she led efforts to develop programs for high-risk youth, and primary and preventive health services for medically underserved communities. She has a Master’s Degree in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago and a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. Andrea lives in Chicago with her husband and their three teen-aged and young adult children. She is active in her local community as a Trustee for Morgan Park Academy and serves as an adjunct faculty member at DePaul University’s School of Public Service.
Kacy Anderson, Policy Analyst
Kacy joined ICOY as a Policy Analyst in October 2018 at our Springfield office. Kacy’s passion for policy work came into practice from her experience at working at two different CCBYS agencies.
In her position at ICOY, Kacy serves as the subject-matter resource in areas of child welfare and multi-systemic-involved youth and maintaining effective relationships with youth-serving system stakeholders. Kacy works collaboratively with members of the Illinois General Assembly and ICOY Policy team to write and analyze policies that impact children, youth, and families in Illinois. Kacy was vital to the recent passing of an ICOY Champion-piece of legislation in the 102nd General Assembly, HB3100, which requires mandated reporters to go through implicit bias training. Kacy leads ICOY’s Policy Advisory Committee (PAC), which works diligently to determine ICOY’s legislative agenda for each General Assembly session. Kacy also creates information for the Quick Response Network (QRN), which informs ICOY’s membership of specific laws being voted on and how to rapidly engage with their respective Representative and/or Senator.
Kacy has a Master’s Degree in Social Work – Policy, Planning & Administration from the University of Missouri – Columbia, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from MacMurray College. Kacy is currently working on becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Outside of work, Kacy can be found spending time with her family and dog, traveling to see friends, and cooking new recipes.
Chris Boyster, Chief Lobbyist
Chris Boyster joined ICOY’s policy team in January 2018, to lead legislative affairs in Springfield. Chris has a rich background in Illinois legislative affairs; most recently, he served as Director of Governmental and External Affairs at the Illinois Department of Human Rights. Before that, Chris was the Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and previously the Director of Legislative Affairs at the Illinois Department on Aging. Chris holds a BA in Political Science and Journalism from Eastern Illinois University. Outside of work, Chris enjoys spending time with his family, especially his six-year-old son.
Kathryn Culleeny, Senior Juvenile Justice Manager
Kathryn (or Katy) joined ICOY as the Juvenile Justice Manager in May 2020. In this role Katy supports the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission and its efforts to reduce Racial & Ethnic Disparities statewide and maintain accordance with federal standards set forth by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Katy also assists the Redeploy Illinois program and their efforts to reduce juvenile commitments through evidence-based diversion programs and services. Katy is passionate about addressing the ways in which various systems (education, child welfare, and criminal and juvenile justice) intersect and impact children, families, and communities.
Katy completed a dual degree program with Erikson Institute and Loyola University Chicago, graduating in May 2020 with a Master of Jurisprudence in Child Law & Policy and a Master of Science in Child Development. She completed her internship at the Illinois Justice Project in her final year of graduate school, working with local and statewide stakeholders on various juvenile and criminal justice topics, including housing, school discipline, dually-involved youth, barriers to re-entry, successful youth diversion, and solitary confinement. Katy received a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from Washington State University.
Sarah Daniels, Assistant Executive Director
Sarah received her BA in Communication/Public Relations from Millikin University in 2016. She then served at her alma mater as an AmeriCorps*VISTA focusing on economic development and education. Many of her duties entailed creating service-learning opportunities for students on campus, grant management for voter engagement, solidifying and maintaining partnerships with community organizations, and performing administrative tasks in Student Development. Based on the project completion as a VISTA, she decided to attend the University of Illinois-Springfield to complete her Master of Public Administration in May 2019. During the first year and a half as an MPA student, she served as a Graduate Public Service Intern (GPSI) at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services - Bureau of Behavioral Health as a Policy Generalist. Building on her experience at HFS, she became a Case Manager for Lincoln Prairie Behavioral Hospital in Springfield, IL where she served as a liaison for hospital psychiatric physicians, nurses, therapists, and families of youth served.
Sarah joined ICOY in March 2020, as a Policy Analyst amidst a global pandemic and has summarized key research findings and prepared polished presentation materials appropriately targeted to tailored audiences. She serves as a subject matter resource in the area of changes to the child welfare and multisystem-involved youth, including staying abreast of state and federal policies in the form of law, rules, and guidance. Sarah also represents ICOY and its members on policy commissions, committees, and various workgroups.
When she isn’t working, Sarah can be found traveling to see family, binge-watching the latest television shows, or enjoying long walks with her dog, Milo.
Ashley Deckert, Director of Public Policy & Government Affairs
Ashley Deckert joins the Illinois Collaboration on Youth (ICOY) as the Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs. Prior to joining ICOY, Ashley was the Deputy Director of Child Services for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. As Deputy Director, she had the oversight and responsibility for four state-wide divisions: Residential Monitoring, Residential Recruitment, Foster Parent Recruitment, and Juvenile Delinquency and Restorative Justice. Ashley was with the Department for 13 years having served in various roles from direct service in the Intact Family Services Division, Supervisor in the Division of Child Protection, to various leadership roles within the Division of Licensing.
Ashley worked to improve outcomes for youth in congregate care settings, who are considered to be the most vulnerable and at-risk population of youth in the child welfare system. Ashley has experience in program development and policy writing and was one of the IL Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) leads with the responsibility of strategizing and implementing changes for the Congregate Care population.
Ashley is a passionate and dedicated child welfare administrator skilled in collaborative problem solving and high-level assessments of complex, systemic child welfare issues. She prides herself on her ability to build and maintain strong partnerships and relationships with internal and external stakeholders. She also has an intense passion for keeping families intact and improving child and family well-being by collaborating with ICOY members, various advocacy groups, and various state government entities.
Ashley received both her undergraduate degree in Sociology and graduate degree in Social Work from The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. In 2018, Ashley went back to graduate school to obtain a Master of Arts in Public Policy from the University of Chicago due to her desire to impact change at the legislative level. At ICOY, Ashley will represent members in the development of state policies and practices to improve child and family well-being.
Lastly, Ashley is a Chicago native, but have resided in Champaign, IL for 20 years. She has a 12 year-old daughter and they both love to travel, eat at different restaurants, and are especially fond of boating season!
Seth El-Jamal, Program Director
Seth El-Jamal joined ICOY in November of 2020. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and a master’s degree in Human Services from Concordia University Chicago. His 20 years of experience in Direct Service programs include Community Outreach, Workforce Development, After School Program Management and Community Health Program Management.
As ICOY’s Director of Prevention and Intervention Services, Seth works to manage ICOY’s partnerships with the Department of Human Services. He leads a team of Managers who facilitate training and technical support for programs that serve many of Illinois’ most marginalized communities. Seth also brings a trauma informed perspective to the work of capacity building between programs and works to provide innovative ideas to partners and stakeholders around work with youth and young adults.
Outside of work, Seth likes to spend as much time outside as possible. He recognizes that meaningful work demands meaningful play. He enjoys all things outdoors including camping, hiking, and fishing with his family.
Melissa Franada, Communications & Marketing Manager
Prior to joining ICOY, Melissa spent multiple years working with local Chambers of Commerce throughout the City of Chicago in various marketing and event roles, most recently in Lincoln Square Ravenswood. With a fierce dedication to small businesses and local non-profits, especially those that are traditionally underrepresented, she engaged with multiple stakeholders to support non-profit organizations, Chamber Members and additional members of the community through events and marketing programs. Because of her social media work during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chamber's account was recognized as one of "the often unrecognized creators, community managers, and strategists" with a nomination for the Sprout Social, Inc., Spotlight Award in 2020.
Much of her personal time is spent with her son, Dexter, exploring and enjoying the city via CTA or playing games at home. She can also be found running along the lakefront path, volunteering her time for a local organization, and supporting small businesses.
Alex Hylka, Senior Manager of Technology & Quality Assurance
Alex is the Quality Assurance and Membership Manager for Illinois Collaboration on Youth. Motivated by a strong sense of commitment to addressing the structural inequalities faced by those who are most at-risk, Alex’s work connects ICOY’s large network of members, experts, and advocacy partners to create better outcomes for Illinois’ children, youth and families. Alex has been with ICOY since 2016, having originally taken a position as an Office Coordinator.
Prior to joining ICOY, Alex spent multiple years working in after-school programs providing direct services to elementary school-aged children. While receiving an undergraduate degree in Political Science from the University of Iowa, Alex was funded to perform research on disparities in school-day experiences in the Iowa City Community School District.
Alex and his wife live in Chicago. He’s an avid traveler, musician, and relentless consumer of all things news and politics.
Esther Kaplan, Administrative Assistant
Esther recently joined the team as an Administrative Assistant in September 2021. In this role, she will help support the organization’s IDHS contracts with the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission and Redeploy Illinois, as well as provide operational support for ICOY’s staff.
Esther received her BA in Comparative Studies from Ohio State University in 2019. During her time at OSU in Columbus, OH, she helped run an art program at a drop-in center for youth experiencing homelessness. Later on, Esther moved to Chicago for a social justice fellowship called Avodah. The fellowship ran through the spring of 2021, during which she worked in housing advocacy as a case manager for folks living with HIV/AIDS. She’s really excited to re-enter the youth advocacy sphere through ICOY!
In her spare time, Esther loves to hang out at the lake, have potlucks with friends, bike around Chicago, and make art.
Mercedes Joyner, Community Outreach Coordinator
Mercedes Joyner is ICOY's new Community Outreach Coordinator who works with our NEPPP R3 Planning committee. Mercedes is an entrepreneur and social media consultant. With a Bachelors degree in Communication and public administration and a Master’s degree in Communication, Joyner takes pride in teaching people how to become more effective with their social media engagement and communication. Mercedes successfully works with political candidates who were seeking state and local candidacy. Joyner spends her time operating social media platforms for organizations such as NAACP, State Representatives and teaching others how to maximize the outcome of their social media platforms.
Ariel Liddell, Prevention & Intervention Manager
Ariel joined ICOY in January 2021 as the Prevention & Intervention Manager. In this role she supports Illinois Department of Human Services youth service providers with technical assistance and capacity building. In addition, she also supports Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission and some special projects relating to youth services.
Ariel graduated from Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 2012 with a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Psychology. After graduating she began her career in government legal services in Chicago and Indianapolis. After being a CASA volunteer with Child Advocates, Ariel enrolled in a master’s program at Loyola University Chicago. She graduated with a Master of Jurisprudence in Children’s Law & Policy in December 2017. Her passion for mentoring and supporting at-risk youth and emerging adults, specifically on the westside of Chicago where Ariel grew up, has steered her career through direct services in education, after-school programming, and legal and reentry services.
In her free time Ariel enjoys binge watching the latest shows or true crime podcasts and spending time with her dog, Bailey.
Deb McCarrel, Director of Public Policy
Deb McCarrel is the Director of Policy and Government Affairs for the Illinois Collaboration on Youth (ICOY). Deb spent 30 years within state government working to improve the lives of children and youth and transform the state systems that serve them. Over the course of her career she has served in a variety of capacities at several state agencies.
Deb worked to improve social service systems for the developmentally disabled at the Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities and improved food stamp employment and training programs under the Welfare-to-Work Reform at the Department of Public Aid. At the Department of Human Services, she managed youth services and delinquency prevention programming such as crisis intervention, homeless youth, and AmeriCorps. Deb spent over a decade at the Department of Children and Family Services where she served in a variety of leadership positions ensuring the safety of children and families. Deb has analyzed and implemented Medicaid policy and programming at the Department of Healthcare and Family Services and led their efforts to reform the children’s behavioral health system before retiring.
At ICOY, Deb represents ICOY members in the development of state policies and practices to improve the behavioral health and child welfare outcomes for children and adolescents and to support ICOY members in preparing for and participating in a transformed behavioral healthcare system. Deb brings a unique multi-agency perspective to the work helping legislators and state partners streamline services for youth and families. She received her Bachelor’s in Social Work from the University of Illinois at Springfield and her Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Deb is also a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
Amanda McMillen, Chief Program Officer
Amanda McMillen is the Chief Program Officer of the Illinois Collaboration on Youth (ICOY). As CPO, Amanda oversees the training, technical assistance, and capacity building for providers with an emphasis in trauma, restorative justice, positive youth development, and race equity. She also leads innovative projects that enhance collaboration between partners and state institutions. As a trained social worker with a master’s in social science administration from Case Western Reserve University, Amanda is passionate about empowerment and building equity through strength-based programs and systems. In her spare time Amanda is an elected member of her district school board, loves bicycling, and has developed a podcast called “Not Your Nuclear Family” to provide insight to today’s modern family.
Leslie Ress, Training Coordinator
Leslie joined ICOY as an Administrative Assistant in July 2019 and shortly thereafter transitioned to Training Coordinator in December 2019. In this role, she maintains the development and coordination of a training calendar for all DHS-funded programs. In addition, she supports the training evaluation process by analyzing data and creating reports for each training event. Since August of 2021, Leslie’s focus has been helping support ICOY’s growing Trauma-Informed Initiatives.
Leslie received her Bachelor’s in International Relations from Boston University in 2016. She is very passionate about humanitarian affairs in the Middle East, as well as educating youth and helping them reach their full potential in safe and positive environments. Before joining the ICOY team, Leslie was an early childhood teacher, and she is currently pursuing her Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education.
In her spare time, Leslie enjoys taking long walks around the city, eating deep-dish pizza, and playing with her very spoiled guinea pigs.
Randi Slack, Director of Programs
Randi joined ICOY in February 2017 as a Program Assistant for the Pathways Independent Living Program. After the program ended, Randi filled direct service and administrative roles throughout the organization, including Executive Assistant, Office Coordinator, Training Coordinator, Child Welfare Manager, and now the Director of Programs.
As Director of Programs, she supports two Illinois Intact Family Recovery (IFR) Programs operating in Northern and Eastern Illinois, spanning 21 counties. Through these programs, ICOY works to increase the well-being, permanency, and safety of children affected by substance abuse disorder (SUD). IFR improves family recovery stability while increasing system-level capacity and effectiveness by connecting child welfare providers with agencies who serve SUD families in targeted program regions. In addition to managing IFR Programs, Randi supports the overall Programs Team with technical assistance by overseeing the training department that serves both Prevention & Intervention and Trauma Initiatives. Randi also serves as Co-Chair of the Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. Her leadership has been instrumental in chartering the committee and implementing the overall expectations, priorities, and goals for the organization in our DEI work.
Randi has a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resources and Business Management. In addition, she has taken multiple courses in the human services field. Outside of ICOY, Randi has been an entrepreneur for over 16 years, sharing a small business that started on the Southside of Chicago alongside her sister. She has a passion for cooking and recently acquired photography.
Denail Timms, Director of Operations
Denail has been with ICOY since October 2009. As Director of Operations, her duties include assisting the CEO with payroll, bank deposits, income tracking, and serving as primary liaison to ICOY’s human resources, financial team, and information technology support consultants. Outside of work, she enjoys volunteer work, candle making, and spending time with family and friends.
Karina Velazquez, Prevention & Intervention Training Coordinator
Karina Velazquez started her journey with ICOY in August 2021 as the IDHS Training Coordinator for the Prevention & Intervention Team. In this role, she will coordinate technical assistance and provide trainings to all IDHS-funded youth-serving programs throughout the state. In addition, she will collect and analyze data to produce reports for each IDHS training. Before joining the ICOY team, Karina worked as a CNA specializing in dementia care and also worked with rehabilitation patients. Karina has skills in team management and highlights the importance of having a solid team as the foundation of a strong and successful organization.Karina enjoys taking long nature walks, listening to music, painting, and spending time with her family outside of work.
Jocelyn Vega, Director of Trauma Initiatives
Jocelyn joined ICOY as a Trauma Specialist in November, 2019, to support technical assistance, training and capacity-building. Prior to joining ICOY, Jocelyn provided crisis intervention, safety planning and court support to individuals who experienced harm at the Cook County Domestic Violence Courthouse. During her time there, she also initiated trauma-informed care policy and language access values for a legal aid agency providing legal representation for Orders of Protection.
Over the course of her career, Jocelyn has additionally interviewed Khmer Rouge survivors and provided program consulting for a research fellowship in Siem Reap, Cambodia, as well as served as a legal translator for undocumented farmworkers in upstate New York. Due to these experiences, Jocelyn is dedicated to addressing structural barriers that marginalize experience, expression, and belonging within an intersectional trauma lens.
Richard Walsh, Compliance Monitor
Dick has worked as Compliance Monitor for the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission and ICOY since 2009. As Compliance Monitor, Dick ensures that municipal lockups, county jails, and other correctional facilities remain in compliance with federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act requirements for the sight and sound separation of juveniles from adults, the removal of juveniles from adult facilities and the deinstitutionalization of status offenders.
Before coming to ICOY, Dick served as Detective and Youth Officer for the Village of Matteson Police Department for over 25 years. He has also served as Executive Director of the Illinois Juvenile Officers Association, President of the South Suburban Juvenile Officers’ Association, and member of the Advisory Committee of the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Board. Dick worked with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and legislators on the enactment of the Balanced and Restorative Justice Act.
Gabriela Zamora, Trauma Specialist
Gabriela joined ICOY as the Trauma Specialist focusing on IDHS programs. She will provide technical support and trauma informed training to youth service providers and staff throughout the state of Illinois. Additionally, she will assist youth serving organizations in the participation of the Capacity-Building Assessment of Trauma-Informed Care for Organizations (CBAT-O).
In 2017, Gabriela graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Spanish at Cornell University. She was a Research Assistant for the Person and Context Lab (formerly known as Personality, Attachment, and Control Lab) with the Department of Psychology at Cornell University. Most of her research focused on different processes such as cognitive and controlled, or automatic and unconscious, and how they shaped people's world experiences. Later, she collaborated with a research study and in 2019, they presented the "Formation and Functions of Relationships: From Initial Encounters to Long-Term Bonds." at the International Convention of Psychological Science symposium in Paris, France. The main purpose of our study was to investigate how even a simple text message from a significant other substantially increases positive affect and deceases negative affect, even in the face of real-world stressful situations. Gabriela has also been a part of City Year Chicago, an AmeriCorps program, as a Student Success Coach and focused on developing the social-emotional learning curriculum for CPS high school students.
In her spare time, Gabriela enjoys running, baking, spending time with family, and watching baseball games.
Cameron Zelaya, Policy Analyst
Cameron received his BA in Sociology from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in 2012. He spent the following year in Washington, D.C. where he served as a Legislative Intern for Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman Ami Bera. After developing a passion for public service, he returned to Illinois to serve as an In-Person Counselor for the DeKalb County Health Department. There he assisted residents with applying for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Desiring to expand his knowledge of public policy and local governance, he decided to attend DePaul University to attain his Master of Public Administration with a concentration in Public Management.
Cameron joined ICOY as a Policy Analyst in July of 2020.
Outside of work, Cameron enjoys running, watching soccer (La Liga mostly), and attending theatre performances.