Our Leadership Team

Safe Passage for Children of Minnesota Board Members:


Patrick Hirigoyen, Chair

Patrick Hirigoyen is Principal of The Hirigoyen Group LLC, a Saint Paul, Minn-based public relations and marketing communications consultancy. Prior to establishing his consulting practice in 2009, he was Vice President, Marketing and Communications at John B. Collins and Associates, Inc., a Minneapolis-based reinsurance broker. From 1986 until 2004, he worked in Corporate Communications at property-liability insurer The St. Paul Companies (now The Travelers), over time working with every part of the company in every aspect of corporate communications. He led a global marketing and communications program that included operations in the United States, Europe, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region. Mr. Hirigoyen began his career in the Minnesota State Senate, and worked for a Minnesota state agency.

He holds a Master’s in Journalism from the University of Minnesota and a Bachelor’s in English from Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. He is accredited by the Public Relations Society of America (APR).

Mr. Hirigoyen has served on the boards of directors of the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies and the Highland Park Block Nurse Program, and the communications committee of the Saint Paul Area Red Cross.


Greg Gardner

Greg Gardner spend all but 15 months of his 40 year social work career working in the Child Protection system. He retired from Hennepin County, Minnesota in June, 2014, after having worked there for 37 years. Greg worked as a direct service worker in both the case management and the investigations areas of Child Protection. He was a unit supervisor for 30 years in foster care, Child Protection Case Management and for the last 24 years of his career in the areas of Child Protection Screeening, 24/7 Immediate Response and mostly in the area of CP Investigations. Greg served on several hospital and community based Child Abuse Teams, as well as on the Hennepin County Child Abuse Team. He also functioned as the Child Protection liaison for Hennepin County with the Minneapolis, Bloomington and Richfield Police Departments. For a number of years during the 1980’s and the early 1990’s Greg was also an adjunct faculty member of the University of Minnesota School of Social Work.

Greg received his BA in sociology from St. John’s University (Collegeville, MN) and his Master’s of Social Work from the University of Minnesota. During his working career he was a member of the National Association of Social Workers and the Academy of Certified Social Workers. He was also licensed as a “Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker” by the State of Minnesota Board Of Social Work.


Ellen Hoeg

Ellen spent the bulk of her career working in the technology and services industry for IBM, Accenture, and two smaller companies which she helped re-position for subsequent acquisition by HP and Dell. She held executive leadership positions in the areas of Sales, Marketing, Communications, Business Development and Strategy. In addition, Ellen spent 12 years in various volunteer leadership roles at The Blake School, including being Chair of the bi-annual fundraiser and President of the school-wide Parent Association. Ellen is on the Board of Minnesota Diversified and is a volunteer Guardian ad Litem.

She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics from Amherst College, and a Masters in Business Administration from Harvard.


Kim O’Brien

Kim O’Brien is Legislative Aide to Saint Paul City Councilmember Amy Brendmoen, representing Como, North End and Payne-Phalen neighborhoods. As Legislative Aide, her duties include constituent service, city policy research and development and communications for the Council office. Before working for the City of Saint Paul, Kim was the Community Relations and Advocacy Manager at the non-profit Children’s Home Society & Family Services where she served as the agency’s lead lobbyist in the areas of child welfare, early childhood education and adoption policy, and led agency fundraising events and social media communications. Kim has also worked as an Advertising Account Executive at two prominent communication agencies: Campbell Mithun and The Integer Group, where she developed skills in project management, client service and knowledge of new and traditional media platforms. Kim earned her Master’s degree in Public Policy from the University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs in 2009 and holds Bachelor’s degrees in Communication and Sociology from the University of Colorado. She has been a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities for six years.


Judy Schumacher

Judy Schumacher has been privileged to work in the early childhood and parent education field, supporting the welfare of children and their families, for the past 25 years.

Judy was Director of Education and Community Partnerships for the Minnesota Children’s Museum, where she focused on stimulating creativity and imagination in well-designed, hands-on children’s exhibits. As the Senior Program Manager for Success By Six at Greater Twin Cities United Way, Judy developed grants to implement innovative early childhood and parent education programs through vital community partnerships. At Saint Paul Public Schools, Judy served as a Family Education Specialist and spear-headed the creation of a Parent Engagement Manual, convincing staff and parents alike of the critical importance of parent support and encouragement in their children’s social and academic lives.

Judy holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Arts/Theatre from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a Master of Arts degree in Family Education from the University of Minnesota. Judy served on the advisory board of the Working Family Resource Center and is an active member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).


Akisha Everett                         

Akisha Everett is executive director of the Neighborhood Hub in North Minneapolis. Neighborhood Hub was established in 2005 as a federally funded one-stop family support center, serving predominantly African American families and individuals.  The Hub was incorporated as a nonprofit in 2007 and in 2010 began addressing health disparities in the North Minneapolis African American community. Its focus is on social determinants of health, such as employment, housing, education and community safety.  Today it serves more than 1,500 persons per year. It provides “Navigation” services to help residents access community resources, financial aid and health services.

Neighborhood Hub was contracted by Northpoint Health and Wellness Center to provide “cultural navigators” for families with open child protection cases under the umbrella of the African American Coalition on Children Protection. Cultural navigators are funded by grants allocated by the Minnesota Legislature in 2017. The Neighborhood Hub cultural navigators work with residents with open child protection cases, to help them address their case plans and access services needed to establish and maintain healthy, functioning families.

“We are dealing with generations of historical trauma that hasn’t been dealt with in our community,” Akisha said. “Our residents need not only access to housing and jobs, but also help identifying the need for self-care, mental health and emotional wellness. Neighborhood Hub will work to meet those needs among the community in North Minneapolis.”

Neighborhood Hub was contracted to manage the program last July. It hired the Cultural Navigation staff in August/September.

Akisha first worked for Neighborhood Hub in 2011, managing assistance needed by North Minneapolis residents in the wake of a tornado that ravaged the area. She later became the Hub’s Director of Health Equity, managing programs funded by the City of Minneapolis-Health Department and Minnesota Department of Health-Eliminating Health Disparities Department.

Her background includes 10 years in the Special Education Department for Minneapolis Public Schools. She and her husband also spent three years in Denver, Colo., managing group homes and foster care services. Although not currently a foster parent, she maintains her foster care license. She currently lives in North Minneapolis where she continues her involvement with the Child Protection and Foster Care Systems as a voice for improvement to those systems.

“As an African American mother and someone working with people with open child protection cases, and with child protection workers, I think I can bring a fresh set of eyes to Safe Passage,” Akisha said. “I’m excited at the prospect of joining Safe Passage.”


Nalee Vue

Nalee Vue is owner of Project Skywings: Healings, LLC, which provides spiritual and energy healing services and raises funds to donate to nonprofit organizations helping women and children around the world.  From 2008 through 2017 she was a senior paralegal at a Minneapolis law firm, after working for two years as a junior paralegal at another law firm.

Her involvement with Safe Passage began as a volunteer and donor in 2016, and is the most recent example of her varied community involvement. That involvement began in 2011 with Family Wise (formerly Children’s Safety Center), where she volunteered two weekends a month observing and ensuring the safety of children during visitation hours with their non-custodial parents. She is an advocate for Breaking Free, a nonprofit that helps women who have been the victims of sex trafficking. She serves on the executive committee of the Hmong Impact Giving Circle, which awards annual grants to selected nonprofit organizations in Minnesota’s Hmong community.  She is fluent in Hmong and holds a Bachelor’s degree from Hamline University and an ABA Paralegal Certificate.


David Foster

David Foster is a vice-president at Merrill Lynch where he leads the financial planning efforts of the Broughton Group.  He joined the group in 2013 after working in retirement and financial planning specialist roles since joining Merrill Lynch in 1999.  Prior to that, David worked as a consultant at Ernst & Young, earned his Masters of Business Administration from Emory University, taught English in Japan, and graduated from Saint John’s University with a Bachelor of Arts in English.  In his free time, David spends time with his family and especially enjoys travelling to see and experience different cultures and coaching youth baseball.

  Rich Gehrman, Executive Director

Susan Lacek

Susan Lacek has been focused on helping children and families facing difficult circumstances for over a decade.  She and her husband are co-founders of Faith's Lodge, a non-profit lodge retreat created in memory of their daughter Faith, which serves bereaved families and couples, as well as those with children with life limiting conditions.  In its northwoods' setting, Faith's Lodge offers guests a place to reflect on the past, renew strength for the present, and build hope for the future.  In addition to bringing families together for support, it offers programming based on each family's needs and circumstances, including professionally led discussion groups, therapeutic arts and crafts, and northwoods adventures.  Opened in 2007, Faith's Lodge has served more than 5,000 families and continues to offer enhanced programming options every year.  In addition to her work on Faith's Lodge, Susan currently serves as a Guardian ad Litem for Hennepin County, serving abused and neglected children in the child welfare system and representing them in juvenile court proceedings.  She has also worked at the State Capitol to help pass legislation for families affected by loss.

Susan holds a degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin- Madison and held marketing positions with Carlson Marketing Group and International Market Square before becoming involved with child and family advocacy issues. She and her husband have been recognized locally and nationally for their work and are members of Mpls St. Paul Magazine's Volunteer Hall of Fame, as well as award recipients of the Ronald McDonald House of the Upper Midwest for their work on behalf of families.


Rich Gehrman, Executive Director

Rich Gehrman is the founder and Executive Director of Safe Passage for Children.  Mr. Gehrman developed expertise in child welfare metrics and Best Practices in his work for clients including the Center for the Study of Social Policy, the Ramsey County ACE program, and Growing Home – a Minnesota foster care agency.  This background led him to develop the core strategy and resources for Safe Passage.

In his consulting work Mr. Gehrman is an experienced project manager who represents business owners in major Business Process Redesign projects and IT systems upgrades.  He has managed projects in federal, state, county and municipal governments in the areas of health, human services, state court administration, higher education, and juvenile justice.

Mr. Gehrman has served as the chief finance and administrative officer for the Westchester County New York Department of Social Services, the Maryland Department of Human Resources, and the City of Saint Paul Minnesota.

Mr. Gehrman is a graduate of Williams College, Harvard Divinity School, and Harvard Business School.


Stephanie McCorkell, Operations Manager and Volunteer Coordinator

Stephanie McCorkell is the Operations Manager and Volunteer Coordinator for Safe Passage for Children. Mrs. McCorkell developed her skills in organizational management, communications, volunteers, media, and technology as a public school teacher who served hundreds of students, families, and staff in multiple school buildings and school districts in three different states. She also served students, families, and staff in three Minnesota school districts as a pk-12 Administrative Intern. She is currently licensed in Minnesota as a teacher and a school administrator.

Stephanie holds a Masters Degree in Educational Policy and Administration from the University of Minnesota's school of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development (OLPD). Her interests in youth, families, policy, and governance are what led her to her work with Safe Passage for Children.

Besides her 14 years in education serving in the public schools, Stephanie has also has served as a volunteer with Twin Cities area nonprofit organizations, including College Possible, a nonprofit AmeriCorps organization making college admission and success possible for low-income students through an intensive curriculum of coaching and support, and the Paul Payne Phalen District Five Board of Directors in Saint Paul, whose mission is to improve Payne-Phalen neighborhoods by engaging, educating, and empowering all residents in their diverse community.

Safe Passage for Children of Minnesota Trusted Advisors:

Paul Bauknight is President and CEO of Urban Design Lab in Minneapolis, a minority owned urban development, planning and architectural firm.  He is the founder of The Crib, a nonprofit working to engage students of color in careers in architecture and urban design. He is former Director of the African American Men Project at the NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center and has been a community activist on the Minneapolis North Side for 20 years. Paul is the first board chair of Safe Passage for Children.

Ellen Benavides – Health care consultant and former Assistant Commissioner Minnesota Department of Health.

Rob Etten, Vice President and Minneapolis Lead, North Highland Management Consulting.

Van Zandt Hawn is co-founder and Managing Partner of Goldner, Hawn, Johnson and Morrison, a private investment firm. He is active in leading the investment activities of the firm. Van has served on the boards of the Minnesota Children’s Museum, the Blake School and the Minnesota Orchestra.

Lisa Hollensteiner M.D., has cared for patients in the Fairview Southdale Emergency Department for the past 26 years. Prior to that, she worked in Family Practice for 3 years at North Memorial. She has served on the Pediatric Committee at Southdale working to best provide services to children, and has been chair of the Service Excellence Committee for the Emergency Department. Currently, she volunteers with Boy Scouts and middle-school church ministry. She is mother to 3 boys. Lisa attended Lawrence University, University of Exeter in England, and University of Pennsylvania Medical School. A number of individuals have agreed to serve as Trusted Advisors to Safe Passage for Children of Minnesota . Their role is to lend their specific expertise to Safe Passage, advise us in our strategic initiatives, and help us connect to people in their field.

Mark Hudson, M.D. is a Board Certified Child Abuse Pediatrician. He is the Medical Director of Midwest Children’s Resource Center, a medically based Child Advocacy Center at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of MN, and is the Executive Director of the Midwest Regional Child Advocacy Center. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Medical School, completed his Pediatrics residency there, and now has an adjunct faculty appointment there as well. Following residency he completed two years of fellowship training in Child Abuse Pediatrics.

Ross E. Kramer co-founder Messerli & Kramer law firm. Minnesota Government relations 30+ years. Boards: Minnesota Zoo, Volunteers of America, MSP Airport Foundation: Retired LTC USAFR, Retired Captain Northwest/Delta Airlines.

Vivian Nelsen is co-founder of the African American Work Group on Child Protection, and co-founder of INTER-RACE, a diversity think tank at Augsburg College.  Vivian is former Director of Administration at the Hubert Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, has authored eleven books, and has served on numerous Minnesota nonprofit boards.

Todd Otis is Chief Advancement Officer and Senior Vice President of Think Small and was formerly President of Ready 4 K. Prior to that he worked as a public affairs consultant with a focus on energy and early childhood, was the Chair of the Minnesota DFL party (1990-1993); served as an elected Representative, Minnesota House of Representatives (1979-1990), and worked in corporate community relations and small business advocacy.

John Regal is the Director of Risk Management and Local Public Affairs for Securian Financial Group. In addition, he directs the Company’s business continuation planning efforts.  John is also part of Securian’s public affairs team. Prior to joining Securian in 1998, John spent over ten years in various capacities within the City of St. Paul Department of Finance.  He obtained his undergraduate degree from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.  He has also earned an MBA from the University of St. Thomas and the Associate in Risk Management designation from the Insurance Institute of America. John is the immediate past Chair of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors and a past Chair of the Chamber’s political action committee.   He is also past Chair and current board member of the St. Paul Port Authority.   He is a member of both the University of Minnesota’s Leadership Council and the Presidents Club.  John is a member of the Risk Management Committee advising the 2018 Super Bowl Host Committee.  He is past Chair and current board member of Sargasso Mutual Insurance Company, a Bermuda-domiciled group insurance captive. Previously, John was a past board member of both the St. Paul Police Foundation and the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation.  He was also a two-term President of the Minnesota Chapter of the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS). John and his wife Barb reside in Oak Park Heights.

Kimberly Spates is the Chief Operations Officer for NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center, Inc. In her role, she is responsible for the day to day management of human and social services. Mrs. Spates has over twenty years of experience in governmental and non-profit management. Ms. Spates holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and Bachelors in Political Science. She worked 11 years with Hennepin County in high level administrative positions, supporting cross-sector initiatives and working closely with elected officials and executive leadership. Now in the nonprofit sector, Kimberly works to integrate health and human services to deliver holistic care in an effort to build a healthier community. Mrs. Spates serves as the Vice Chair of Alliance Housing, an affordable housing organization in Minneapolis and is a member of the Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) Foundation Board.

Melissa Middleton Stone, Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, Gross Family Professor of Nonprofit Management.  Research, teaching, and professional development focus on cross-sector collaborations and strategic nonprofit management and governance.