Who Are We?

We are a small group of individuals who came together around a mutual belief that our children and youth deserve to be better supported to achieve their unique life’s potential. Unfortunately the scope and diversity of youth homelessness in Los Angeles make it difficult to understand the challenges that our underserved and at-risk children and youth face every day. Our Children LA is committed to changing this. We believe it should be easy for all of us to become informed about youth homelessness and what we can do to alleviate the barriers and challenges that threaten our young people’s opportunities to grow into successful adults. We believe in empowering homeless youth with effective tools to help themselves. We believe in collaborations, region-building and accessible knowledge. We believe that change is possible and in many cases has already begun - our task is to find better ways to spur dialogue and share models that drive change forward.

Board of Directors

Denise McCain-Tharnstrom
Founder, President and Board Chair

Tuan Le
Founding Board Member

Barbara Moore
Founding Board Member

Lisa Cleri Reale
Founding Board Member

Jeffery Hamilton 

Board Member

WIN Leadership

Denise McCain-Tharnstrom

Product Vision and Outreach

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Carla Buck

WIN Operations and Development

Carla Buck is a partner at Quivira Solutions and a board member of Pathways LA, the Everychild Foundation and Vistamar School. She has served as consultant to Fortune 500 Companies for over 25 years and is a leader in nonprofit efforts to support children and youth in the Los Angeles area. Ms. Buck has donated hundreds of hours to the development of WIN, offering critical management oversight to the design and development process and is a critical member of the WIN leadership team.


2015 Directory of Services for Homeless Youth

Denise McCain-Tharnstrom

Project Director and Content

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Melissa Schoonmaker

Outreach and Distribution Support

Melissa Schoonmaker earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of California Irvine and went on to obtain a Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of Southern California. She is currently a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Melissa joined the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) as a Consultant II in the Division of School Support Services in 2012 to serve as the Homeless Liaison in order to support the 80 school districts and numerous charter schools to meet the educational needs of more than 67,000 homeless youth identified across the county. Prior to the LACOE, Melissa was employed at the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) for 16 years in several positions including Pupil Services and Attendance (PSA) Counselor, School Attendance Review Board Chairperson and as a PSA Coordinator over the Homeless Education, Pregnant Minors, Permits and Student Transfers, Foreign Student Admissions and School Court Liaison Programs. The culmination of her professional experiences has enabled her to facilitate outreach and support additional services as a collaborative partner with various district personnel, community organizations and other stakeholders in an effort to make a positive impact upon for the educational goals of these often underserved students and their families.

Jennifer Gomeztrejo

Outreach and Distribution Support

Jennifer Gomeztrejo is an educational consultant with Student Support Services Solutions, providing training and technical support to school districts, parents, students and community members as it relates to the California Education Code and other laws affecting student services and school administration. Previously, Jennifer served as a Consultant in the Child Welfare and Attendance Unit for the Los Angeles County Office of Education where she coordinated the interdistrict transfer appeal process and served as the County School Attendance Review Board (SARB) Coordinator.  Jennifer’s expertise is enhanced by nine years of administrative experience at the school site level which included serving as a site administrator over curriculum and instruction, counseling, specialized programs, and professional development. Jennifer started her career as a high school social studies teacher and activities director.

Jennifer Essen

Graphic Design

Jennifer Essen is a graphic designer and principal/owner of Jennifer Essen Design. For the last two years, Jennifer has run the annual giving program at Braille Institute, Los Angeles. Previously, she was the principal designer at the Library Foundation of Los Angeles for over six years. In addition to her professional career, Jennifer has contributed her talents to many causes including Union Station Homeless Services, the Los Angeles Public Library, Friends in Deed, and most recently, creating a directory for homeless youth in Los Angeles in conjunction with Our Children LA and LACOE. Jennifer is a graduate of Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and Principia College in Elsah, Illinois.


Denise McCain-Tharnstrom

Executive Editor

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Professional Supporters

Our Children LA has been fortunate to have received expert guidance from highly regarded professionals who have donated time and expertise in support of our vision. Special acknowledgment must be given to the following individuals who have contributed greatly to OCLA’s existence and program goals.


William Finkelstein, Steptoe & Johnson PLLC- trademark attorney

Maria Hwang de Bravo, Educational Consultant at Student Student Support Services Solutions, Inc., Editor and Graphic Design for OCLA's Newsletter

Sabrina Weill, Weill Media, OCLA Content Communications and Marketing Strategy

Ashley Maxwell, MPH UCLA, WIN communications strategy

Fatinah Darwish, MPH, UCLA, WIN communication strategy

Elizabeth Bluestein, Public Counsel, legal incorporation

Kristina Romero and KR Media & Designs, website creation

Chris Black,  founder and CEO of Updopt, a Digital Marketing SaaS company, Technology Advisor. Chris oversaw the initial  technological development and build out the WIN API and backend administration prior to the November 2015 launch.

Our Interns

Glenna Roberts, Fall 2014, Research and Clerical Assistant

Megan Shipley, Washington University, St Louis, summer 2015 outreach and data intern

Talia Horrow, Mira Costa High School, summer 2015 intern, website researcher

Greta Devoney, University of Southern California, summer 2016, outreach and data intern