Staff and Steering Committee

ARI's efforts are driven by a dedicated group of individuals committed to our shared goal of
mobilizing Alaska to end child maltreatment, intergenerational and systemic trauma through healing and strategic advocacy. Meet our steering committee and staff.

Alaska Resilience Initiative Steering Committee

Joshua Arvidson (Co-Chair)

Sector: Behavioral Health & Substance Abuse
Region: Anchorage, Statewide

Joshua Arvidson is the Director of the Alaska Child Trauma Center and Early Childhood Services at Anchorage Community Mental Health Services, Alaska’s first child trauma treatment and training center.  Joshua is a Lead Technical Assistant and Trainer for the Complex Trauma Treatment Network, a SAMHSA-funded national trauma training center.  He manages two statewide trauma training and technical assistance programs, one focused on trauma-informed behavioral health and one focused on early childhood mental health. Joshua served on the National Child Traumatic Stress Network Steering Committee and numerous work groups. Trained as a therapist and clinician, Joshua has over 15 years’ experience working with children and families impacted by trauma.

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Deborah Bitney

Sector: Philanthropy (Alaska Children’s Trust Board)
Region: Mat-Su Valley

Deborah Bitney is the Vice President of Finance and Administration for the Rasmuson Foundation. Her professional experience as an administrator encompasses business sectors including banking, real estate lending, state government, private sector, nonprofit and campaign settings. As director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend Division, she managed the implementation of the Pick.Click.Give. program and implemented many changes that created efficiencies and improved the public’s experience with the division. As the housing and finance director for Wasilla Area Seniors, Inc., she helped build the first senior housing project in Wasilla. Most recently as the administrative services director for the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, she worked to establish AGDC as an independent corporation of the State of Alaska. Deborah serves as chairman of the board at MyHouse (Mat-Su Youth Housing) in Wasilla, offering a helping hand to homeless and at risk teens. She is also a board member with the Alaska Children’s Trust and the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness.

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Amy Gorn  

Sector: Philanthropy, Mat-Su Health Foundation
Region: Mat-Su

Amy Gorn is a Program Officer for the Healthy Foundations for Families focus area at the Mat-Su Health Foundation. She is passionate that all children in the Mat-Su Borough, and Alaska, are well-cared for, protected, thriving and successful. Amy has lived and worked in rural Alaska, and has spent years working with tribal communities to support their adolescents with positive development and prevention. Amy is a trainer of the David P. Weikart Center’s Youth Worker methods, and is also a member of the Governor’s Alaska Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee. Most importantly, she is the proud mother of her lively and sweet five-year daughter.


Jeff Jessee

Sector: Education: University
Region: Anchorage, Statewide

Jeff Jessee has over 35 years of experience in the Alaska health care sector. Formerly the CEO of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, he brought strong administrative skills and a comprehensive understanding of state and federal regulations and laws. He interfaced with state and federal legislators and worked to leverage collaborative funding opportunities with both private and government sources. Mr. Jessee currently serves on several boards, task forces, and committees, including the Medicaid Redesign Steering Committee, Criminal Justice Commission, State of Alaska Opioid Task Force, Recover Alaska Steering Committee, Criminal Justice Working Group, and the Foraker Group. He is the recipient of the 2016 Cultural Humanitarian Award from the Alaska Psychological Association, the 2015 20 Year Vision and Unity Award from Cook Inlet Tribal Council Inc., and the 2012 “Going to Bat” Advocacy Award from the National Association for Rural Mental Health.

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Hannah Gustafson

Sector: Community Organizing/ Community Development
Region: Kenai Peninsula  

Hannah Gustafson is the MAPP (Mobilizing for Action through Planning & Partnerships) Coordinator and member of the Southern Kenai Peninsula Resilience Coalition’s Leadership Team. A lifelong Alaskan and graduate of UAA, she spent her 20’s as an organizer and advocate in the environmental field, working seven years as the founding Deputy Director of Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP). After the birth of her second child, she took time off to be at home with her two young children. When deciding to rejoin the workforce, she started a consulting business, so she could bring her community organizing skills to a variety of causes and projects. Her experiences and research as a stay at home mom inspired her to apply her organizing skills to ACES and resilience awareness and education. Hannah is thrilled to be engaged in this work in her home community of Homer and across Alaska.

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Lauree Morton

Sector: Government & Behavioral Health (alternate w/ Brita Bishop)
Region: Juneau, Statewide

Lauree Morton moved to Alaska in 1989.  She served as the Director at Tundra Women’s Coalition in Bethel until 1994 when she moved to Juneau.  She served as the Director of the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault  for ten years then saw her mother through the final stages of Parkinson’s Disease.  In 2007 she went to work for the state Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and served as the Director from 2011-2016.  Currently, Mrs. Morton is the Prevention Lead and Legislative Contact for the Division of Behavioral Health in the Department of Health and Social Services.

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LaVerne Demientieff

Sector: Education: University
Region: Interior/Statewide

LaVerne Demientieff is the daughter of the late Rudy and Alice (Frank) Demientieff of Holy Cross and Anvik, Alaska, and the granddaughter of Stanley Demientieff and Edith Bifelt and Joe Frank and Marcia Reed. LaVerne is Deg Xit’an, Athabascan on her mother’s side and Koyukon Athabascan,Yupik and Russian on her father’s side. Born in Fairbanks, Alaska, She was raised in the small roadside town of Nenana and in big city of Anchorage, as well as at her family's fishcamp along the Yukon River.

LaVerne graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with her BSW and went on to receive her Masters in Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, with a concentration in social and economic development and with an emphasis in management. She is currently working towards a PhD is Social Work from the University of Utah, College of Social Work. The title of her dissertation is Deg Xit’an Athabascan Conversations on Wellness: A Qualitative Study Exploring the Radical Possibilities of Relationships. LaVerne is currently working as a Clinical Associate Professor for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Bachelor of Social Work program; she is also a licensed master social worker through the State of Alaska.


Carmen Lowry

Sector: Violence Prevention
Region: Southeast/ Statewide

Carmen has been working on gender-based violence issues for over 25 years, initially starting her journey under the guidance of Patti Bland at New Beginning Shelter in Seattle, WA, as a children's advocate.  Since that time, she has worked in Alaska as well as international humanitarian sites in a range of positions. She served in Bethel, AK at the Tundra Women's Coalition from 1992 - 1997, and has been the Executive Director of the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault since 2016. Carmen maintains deep relationships with her family in western KY and continues to be involved in family farming efforts.


Josephine Oke

Sector: Public Health Nursing, Tribal Organization, Community Engagement and Advocacy
Region: Northwest Arctic, Frontier

Josephine Oke is the Program Manager for Maniilaq Association Public Health Nursing. Ms. Oke has been with the tribal organization for the past 12 years. Ms. Oke received her Bachelor’s from Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas in 1990. She received her Master’s in Public Health (MPH) from University of Washington in Seattle in 2012.

As a public health nurse, Ms. Oke worked with the City of Dallas from 2003-2006 at the West Dallas clinic which offered a range of public health services, which include communicable disease surveillance, child health services, education and outreach, and a variety of community health programs. Ms. Oke enjoys all of the passionate people she works with, in providing healthcare and preventive services to 11 communities in NW Arctic and Point Hope.

Kim Guay

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Sector: Alaska Office of Children’s Services Region: Statewide

Kim has 19 years of work experience focusing on children, youth, families, tribes and communities in Alaska.  The majority of her experience is focused on the child welfare system. As the Deputy Director for the State of Alaska Office of Children’s Services (OCS), she is responsible for overseeing and implementation of initiatives to improve child welfare system in the state of Alaska. 

Additionally, she is the Chair of the Children’s Justice Act Task Force and a member of Child First Alaska and Court Improvement Project.  Kim has a Master of Social Work degree from Portland State University

La quen naay (Liz) Medicine Crow (Co-Chair)

Sector: Tribes & Tribal Organizations, Policy, Community Engagement
Region: Anchorage, Statewide (from Kake, Southeast)

La quen naay (also known as Liz) Medicine Crow, Haida/Tlingit, is from Keex Kwaan (Kake) Alaska.   On her Haida side she is Eagle Tiits Gitee Nei, Hummingbird.  On her Tlingit side she is Raven Kaach.adi, Fresh Water-marked Sockeye Salmon. Her maternal grandparents were Mona & Thomas Jackson, Sr. of Kake, her paternal grandparents were Lillian and Charles Cheney of Washington.  Her parents are Della and William Cheney of Kake.  Her husband, Cloud Medicine Crow, Hidatsa, is a contemporary American Indian artist.  Although she works in Anchorage, Liz’s heart is always at home in the village with her family and people.
Integrating Native knowledge and values into organizations, governance mechanisms, and everyday life is a primary passion and responsibility she has pursued through her education and career.  Liz received her BA (BFA Equivalency) from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, and her professional degree from Arizona State University College of Law, graduating with a Juris Doctorate degree and a Certificate in Indian Law.  Since coming to First Alaskans Institute, Liz has served as the Director of the Alaska Native Policy Center, Vice-President, and now serves as the President/CEO, providing a direct link for her to be of service to our Native peoples.

Russell Pressley

Sector: Other (Foster Parent)/Child Welfare
Region: Anchorage (Eagle River)

Russell Pressley has fostered and adopted more than 100 teens since becoming a foster parent through the State of Alaska in 2000, and presently runs a group home near the Eagle River Nature Center.

Russell was a professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage for more than 25 years where he taught in the Human Services Department and served as the director of the multi-cultural center, eventually retiring as Senior Assistant Dean in the College of Health. Russell currently serves on the board of directors for NeighborWorks Alaska and the Resource Advisory Board through the Alaska Center for Resource Families.

Desiré Shepler

Sector: Community Organizing/ Community Development
Region: Mat-Su

As director of R.O.C.K. Mat-Su, Desiré Shepler oversees a collaborative project working towards increasing family resilience and creating a culture that supports children and families, as well as reducing child maltreatment and the number of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Mat-Su Children experience. Desiré was previously a program officer and program associate with the Mat-Su Health Foundation. Prior to that she worked as social services administrator for Alaska Island Community Services. She holds a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage a bachelor’s degree from the same school, and an associate’s degree from Mat-Su College.

Representative Geran Tarr

Sector: Government & Policy
Region: Anchorage, Statewide

Representative Tarr currently represents East Anchorage in the Alaska State House, as well as serving on the Anchorage Women’s Commission. As a legislator, Geran has continued a career of work from the non-profit sector as an advocate for Alaska’s children.

Her office has sponsored measures to recognize April as Child Abuse Prevention Month, Erin’s Law to require each student in Alaska receives personal body safety information, a measure that calls on Governor Walker and the legislature to work together to implement state policies that recognize Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), restorative justice policies for schools, and has hosted the Go Blue Friday event in Juneau.

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Lisa Wade

Sector: Tribes & Tribal Organizations
Region: Mat-Su

Lisa Wade is an Ahtna Athabascan. She serves as the Health, Education, and Social Services Director, Council Member, and Tribal Court Judge at the Chickaloon Village Traditional Council. Lisa also serves on multiple health-related advisory boards, and offers skills and perspective to children’s health she gained through a powerful history with Tribal environmental protection and advocacy.

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Tina Woods

Sector: Public Health
Region: Aleutians/ Anchorage/Statewide

Tina Marie Woods is Unungan (Aleut) originally from St. Paul Island, Alaska, and Chamorro from the Island of Guam. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and holds a Ph.D. in Clinical-Community Psychology with a Rural Indigenous Emphasis from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She has worked within the Alaska Tribal Health System for over 17 years and is currently the Senior Director of Community Health Services at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium—providing leadership for programs including Epidemiology, Wellness & Prevention, Community Environment & Health, Clinical & Research Services, Behavioral Health/Dental Health/& Community Health Aide programs—achieving the goals of the organization and its vision that Alaska Native people are the healthiest in the world.

She respectfully blends both Western science and Indigenous practices based on teachings from Elders. She has dedicated her academic training and career to working with Alaska Native people to provide quality, holistic and comprehensive health services. Tina presents with “lived experience” and leverages such experience in combination with science for teaching others about trauma-informed care. She strongly believes in going upstream with prevention efforts in order to make a significant difference for future generations.

Shannon Cross-Azbill

Sector: Division of Juvenile Justice
Region: Anchorage/ Statewide


Shannon Cross-Azbill, LCSW, is the clinical director for Division of Juvenile Justice. Shannon received her Master in Social Work from Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1995. Shannon has over 16 years of experience working in Residential Psychiatric Treatment Centers (RPTCs) where she helped to create and develop RPTC treatment programs specific for individuals who experienced Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs). Shannon has over 23 years’ experience where she has served as clinical director for RPTCs as well as worked as a clinician in both residential and outpatient settings.  As a treatment provider, Shannon’s passions include being an advocate and a clinician who strives to build on individuals and family’s strengths aimed at building resiliency and helping them find their own success.  In her role as clinical director for DJJ, Shannon has been instrumental in implementing Trauma Informed Care across the Division, including assisting in the development and implementation of the DJJ Trauma Screening Tool and the Child and Youth Resiliency Measure-12. 

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Christy Lawton

Sector: Public Health, Anchorage Municipality Region: Anchorage

Christy Lawton is a life-long Alaskan and mother of two amazing children who has had the fortune and privilege to serve Alaskans statewide for her entire career. After growing up in Fairbanks and attending UAF for her undergraduate degree, Christy moved to beautiful south central Alaska in 1997 and obtained her Master’s degree in Social Work from UAA.  Shortly thereafter, she began her 22 year-long career working for the State of Alaska, Health & Social Services Department, Office of Children’s Services. Over two decades of public service, Christy held many leadership roles including Director for eight years.  At OCS, she gained a reputation of being a passionate advocate to the Alaska Legislature, a sophisticated problem solver, and a leader that values the importance of relationship building to ensure strong and effective partnerships.   

Christy is now channeling her experience as the Public Health Division Manager at the Municipality of Anchorage’s Health Department (AHD). In this new role Christy will oversee the Community Health Nursing, Women, Infant and Children (WIC), and Environmental Health Programs as a member of the Departments Executive Leadership Team. She is thrilled to join the staff at AHD in their efforts to advance priorities focused on reducing food insecurity, improving food safety and air quality and ensuring the health of our community through vaccinations, disease prevention and control and basic reproductive health services.


Sectors: Business
               Early Childhood

Alaska Resilience Initiative Staff

(from Backbone agency Alaska Children’s Trust)


Laura Norton-Cruz
Alaska Resilience Initiative Director        

Laura Norton-Cruz, LMSW, began in February 2016 as the primary backbone staff for the Alaska Resilience Initiative, coordinating the Steering Committee, workgroups, communications, evaluation, and overall vision. Laura spent the previous 5+ years at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium working on the issues of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), domestic and sexual violence, maternal child health, and health equity. In this role, she collaborated with Alaskans in every region to create culturally-relevant and engaging resources and trainings, to lead quality improvement efforts and coordinate research, and to improve and disseminate data. She has also worked as a sexual assault victim advocate, a prenatal tobacco cessation counselor, and as an educator with middle and high school students in after-school programs and as a 3rd grade in a bilingual public school classroom. Laura brings her interests and experience in visual arts, community organizing, birth and postpartum work, and volunteer hosting with the Advancing Native Dialogues on Racial Equity Project, as well as her role as a parent of two young children to her engagement with ACEs and resilience.

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Vicki Lewis
Administrative Assistant

Vicki Lewis is from Scotland. She has worked in the non-profit world for many years at Foraker Group, and serves many indispensable roles at the Alaska Children’s Trust. Vicki helps coordinate Steering Committee meetings, takes notes at meetings, and is the primary contact for the Alaska Resilience Initiative listserve.  

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Trevor Storrs
Alaska Children’s Trust


Trevor Storrs has an extensive background in the nonprofit world and has served as the Executive Director of the Alaska Children’s Trust since 2012. With a BA in Sociology and a Masters in Rehabilitation Counseling, Trevor worked as the Director of Services for a disabilities nonprofit in Alaska for 6 years prior to transitioning to the Executive Directorship of the Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association (4 A’s), leading Alaska’s statewide HIV/AIDs organization for 10 years. Trevor is currently the Board President for the National Alliance of Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds, served as founder and Board President of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness for nearly 10 years, and is a member of the Alaska Innocence Project Board of Directors.  In addition, he is involved in various grassroots efforts focused on equal rights.