Kelli is both the Executive Director and a founding member of Think Kids. She began working in the nonprofit sector in 1999, advocating for public education, then for kids’ health issues since 2004. Most recently, she served as the Executive Director of the West Virginia School-Based Health Assembly, and as the Director of Child Health for West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.
She is a fellow of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Interdisciplinary Research Leaders program, studying the linkages between health care and public education in rural West Virginia with researchers from Penn State University and Child Trends. More on Team West Virginia can be found on the IRL website.
Kelli is a vocal advocate for kids’ health in our state and can be heard and read frequently in statewide media. In 2019, she received the West Virginia Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics’ Friend of Children Advocacy Award. She presents on the national and state levels to a variety of organizations about the health care needs of West Virginia’s kids. Most often, you can find her on Twitter.
Andrea Darr is the Director of the West Virginia Center for Children’s Justice which promotes and supports a statewide trauma informed response to child maltreatment and children’s exposure to violence. The Center, housed in the Crimes Against Children Unit at the West Virginia State Police, streamlines resources and minimizes duplicative efforts to address challenges, barriers, gaps and needed improvements in working child maltreatment cases. The Center includes the WV Children’s Justice Task Force and the WV Handle with Care Initiative. Before devoting her work full time on children’s initiatives, Andrea served as the Coordinator of Victim Witness Services for the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute from 2005-2015. In that capacity she coordinated with prosecution based victim witness assistance programs as well as community based programs to improve their collective knowledge concerning available resources and information and to establish a bridge between local, state and federal agencies regarding victim issues. Andrea has also worked in direct services with victims of crime, violence and abuse while serving as the Victim Advocate at the Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Andrea is a nationally-sought speaker on the Handle with Care program, now implemented in 28 states and three countries. Her work was most recently recognized with an Innovation Now Award by the Addiction Policy Forum.
Candice Lefeber, MPH
Candice Hamilton is the Assistant Director of Project WATCH/West Virginia’s Birth Score Program in the Department of Pediatrics at West Virginia University and the Executive Director of the West Virginia Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics. Candice is also the Period of PURPLE Crying liaison for Our Babies Safe and Sound and works to recruit/engage pediatricians in the statewide campaign.
Since completing her Master of Public Health degree at WVU in 2004, she has worked closely with West Virginia maternal and infant birth outcome data, substance use during pregnancy, and public health policy. Through her experience as a Court Appointed Special Advocate and foster parent, she has developed a passion for advocacy to protect and improve kids health in our state.
Candice is a staunch advocate for kids’ health. She coordinates an annual Tiny Hearts Day at the Capitol– a West Virginia American Academy of Pediatrics Day of Advocacy.
Brittany Smith is a student at the West Virginia University School of Public Health who will be pursuing a PhD in Public Health Sciences. She will be graduating Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Public Health. During her undergraduate career, she did extensive research that focused on childhood adversity and substance misuse in women. She has a special interest in studying the consequences of substance use crises on children due to her own childhood experiences. Her experiences have made her self-motivated to prevent the suffering and intergenerational transmission of trauma in this population.
Brittany’s work has been presented at local, national, and international conferences and meetings. She also does advocacy work at the national level to ensure children have access to high quality early education. Other works include designing curriculums to educate providers and families on the impact of adverse childhood experiences. Through research, advocacy, and education, Brittany hopes to ensure that children are not marginalized and forgotten during traumatizing circumstances.
Barbara Wessels, MS
Barbara Wessels is a marketing and communications strategist with a passion for public health.
As part of the leadership team for UniCare, Barbara partners with organizations to promote health and wellness. She was recognized in the 2016-2017 Medicaid Health Plans of America’s Annual Best Practices – Promising Initiative for her work increasing well-child visits in a school-based setting.
Formerly the marketing director for CAMC and Kay Casto and Chaney, Barbara has a BA from the University of Charleston and an MS for Western Governors University in management and leadership. She is a graduate of Leadership West Virginia and is a board member for the American Heart Association, Great Rivers Affiliate in Charleston, WV.
Barbara’s public service began many years ago with the Junior League of Charleston, a service organization focused on volunteerism, working with women and children. Previously, she has been a board member for Daymark, Inc. and has volunteered with the West Virginia Symphony League.
Owomide Adeyemi, WVUSPH Graduate Student
Owomide Adeyemi is originally from Brooklyn New York and moved to West Virginia to pursue her bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She now attends WVU in pursuit of a Masters of Public Health in Epidemiology. She also works at J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital as an Addiction Specialist, which has given her the opportunity to work closely with individuals whose lives have been affected by drug use. She joined Think Kids in June to begin the process of compiling and centralizing state-specific, kids’ health data.
Erin Beck, Kids’ Health Correspondent
Erin Beck is a writer, journalist, and native West Virginian. She grew up in Doddridge and Ritchie counties, then earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in public health at West Virginia University. She enjoys houseplants and container gardening, live music, swimming holes, and buying an excessive amount of animal-print clothing. She recently covered the kick-off of a landmark federal trial against three opioid distributors over their role in the drug crisis. She often writes about trauma, addiction, and healing. Her journalism has appeared in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Mountain State Spotlight, The Register-Herald, and several other West Virginia publications. She also spent some time in Clarksburg working in sexual assault and domestic violence prevention.
Maddie LaVoie, Social Media Volunteer
Maddie is originally from Washington. She joined us as a volunteer in April, 2020 when she was a student at Fairmont State University. She’s a graduate now, with degrees in National Security & Intelligence and Political Science. She continues to volunteer with us. If you join us on Zoom and Facebook Live, Maddie is often the person sharing the thoughts you post below the video with the panelists.