Meet Our Educational Advocates

Treehouse Educational Advocates support students in foster care by providing timely, appropriate education supports and interventions tailored to each individual’s academic and developmental needs.

By partnering with a team of existing supports in a youth’s life — caregivers, caseworkers, teachers, school counselors and community providers — Treehouse Educational Advocates help resolve barriers and identify needed resources for the youth to make progress at school.

Region 1

Donn Cook

I am an Educational Advocate with many years of experience collaborating with community partners to address the needs of children in education and healthcare. As an executive director of a community foundation, I assisted parents and youth with navigating the college application process and FAFSA submissions. In my role at the community foundation, I administered a large scholarship process providing more than 100 scholarships each year which was a highlight of my career. Working with a wide variety of unique individuals, I am pleased to be a part of an amazing organization that puts the needs of youth experiencing foster care at the forefront. I hold two business degrees and a paralegal science degree, the latter of which is very helpful when deciphering legislation surrounding youth experiencing the foster care system. Two things bring me the most joy: nature and my family. When I can join those two things, especially experiencing nature with my grandchildren and building their love of nature, I feel joyous beyond belief.

Contact me:
509.901.2563
[email protected]

Primary Office: Moses Lake
Secondary Office: Colfax and Clarkston
Supervisor: Amber Alvarez

Lacey Weller

Prior to joining Treehouse, I was a therapeutic foster parent for over five years. During that time, I got to work with many partners on each child’s team, including but not limited to DCYF staff, CASA/GAL teams, parents, other caregivers, attorneys, therapists, behavioral management coaches and case management. I have completed many specialized trainings in behavior management, ADHD, Love and Logic, Triple P Parenting and more. I have attended several conferences for caregivers to help build my skillset in working with youth experiencing foster care. I have my general AAS degree. My children bring me joy. They are the reason why I push forward with integrity. They are my world, and I am so thankful for them every day. The belly laughs, the smiles and just normal day-to-day routines bring my heart so much happiness.

Contact me:
509.699.9321
[email protected]

Primary Office: Wenatchee
Secondary Office: Omak and Ellensburg
Supervisor: Pamela Holmes-Whyte

Lori Gessler

Lori Gessler has been an Educational Advocate with Treehouse for over 16 years.  She has continuously worked in and with school systems since graduating from Eastern Washington University with a BA in Education. Her previous work includes classroom teaching in grades K-12, and managing a Big Brothers Big Sisters School-Based Mentoring Program in 18 elementary schools. Lori’s hope when working with youth and their support teams is to impart knowledge, skills and confidence so that they may become an active part in their own advocacy. What brings me joy? Listening to children laughing/playing together.

Contact me:
509.209.4675
[email protected]

Primary Office: Spokane Valley, Central and North
Secondary Office: Colville and Newport
Supervisor: Pamela Holmes-Whyte

Region 2

Evan Jones

I grew up in New England and then lived in several places back East as life and family have evolved, including 17 years in Northern Virginia near Washington, D.C. before we moved to the Tri-Cities in 2019. I received a BA (as a Sociology major) at Kenyon College in Ohio. I attended graduate school at the London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) in the U.K. (Social Policy & Planning), The Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia (Social Foundations of Education) and Robert Kennedy College/York St. John University–an online executive learning program out of Switzerland and the U.K. (Leading Innovation & Change). I have worked in many sectors over the years: but all my work has been focused on learning development for youth and adult populations. As a K-12 educator in independent schools for 20 different school years since the 1980s, I have served as a classroom teacher, coach and student advisor in middle school and high school, a Dean of Students and Division Director and a school Headmaster (Principal). I have been blessed to be able to spend parts of 40 summers since 1970 as a camper, counselor and staff leader at boys, girls and co-ed summer camps in New England. I consider my work now at Treehouse to be the most important professional endeavoring I have ever been privileged to pursue. Helping people, especially kids, to find their way through “the wilderness” — particularly as their guide in the great outdoors — is what I love doing the most: Whether that guidance I provide actually occurs on a trek deep in the woods, or if it is given closer to home as they navigate the pathways toward building an extraordinary life – that kind of work with and for others is what brings me the greatest joy every day.

Contact me:
509.975.6770
[email protected]

Primary Office: Tri-Cities
Secondary Office: Walla Walla and Sunnyside
Supervisor: Pamela Holmes-Whyte

Region 3

Heidi Barden

Throughout my working career, I have worked with youth in a variety of settings in some capacity. Through outdoor education, case management and working directly with schools to support creating education opportunities, I strive to make a meaningful impact. The fresh air of being out on a hike, kayaking and swimming in an open lake all bring me great joy.

Contact me:
425.324.1607
[email protected]

Primary Office: Smokey Point
Secondary Office: Everett and Sky Valley
Supervisor: Pamela Holmes-Whyte

Region 4

Christi Kessler

Contact me:
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Primary Office: King West and King East
Secondary Office: Lynnwood
Supervisor: Pamela Holmes-Whyte

Jaliyah Lunde

I studied psychology and sociology at Seattle Pacific University, where I received my Bachelors. I became interested in foster care during this time, as I had aged out of the system myself. I have worked in foster care and adoption agencies, foundations that encourage and guide foster kids in reaching higher education and assisting low income students as they navigate college and future career prospects. Before joining Treehouse, I was an advocate for kids returning home from foster care after being separated from their parents by incarceration. What brings me joy is the idea of growth. I am comforted by the knowledge that there is always potential for learning and expanding, even when life feels difficult.

Contact me:
206.573.2924
[email protected]

Primary Office: MLK and Kent
Secondary Office: ICW
Supervisor: Pamela Holmes-Whyte

Region 5

Debra Flannagan

I have a BS in Marketing and a Master’s in Organizational Systems. Market research manager and tech sales were my first two careers. Working on behalf of youth is my 3rd career and the one that I have found the most rewarding. I have been a foster parent, CASA, Peer Partner for families with youth that have emotional, behavioral and mental health disorders, a coach for families with truant youth and an adoptive parent of 5 youth out of the foster care system. In addition, I find joy in traveling, dog shows/sports and spending time with my husband, adult children and their families.

Contact me:
253.686.7475
[email protected]

Primary Office: Tacoma
Supervisor: Pamela Holmes-Whyte

Erma Wasswa

My educational background is in Early Childhood, Elementary & Special Education. My work experience has been in corporate, public & nonprofit educational settings. I taught kindergarten & middle school special education. I managed Early Learning Childcare Centers as a Director & Regional Director for many years. Academic Advisor for Upward Bound Program at Evergreen State College – Olympia & Lincoln High School for first-generation college students. I was a youth violence prevention facilitator with the American Psychological Association/National Association of Education of Young Children. One of the most rewarding experiences of my life was fulfilled by being a foster mother for several years. The thing that brings me joy is being a part of a team that brings hope & strategies for the best interest & educational success of the youth. I love to see how a youth’s resiliency partnered with a caring adult brings forth a successful youth.

Contact me:
253.302.9879
[email protected]

Primary Office: Puyallup
Secondary Office: Lakewood
Supervisor: Ari McLaren-Simpson

Region 6

Crystal Cowles

Greetings! My name is Crystal Cowles, and I have been in the education field for about 19 years. I have been a paraprofessional in special education classrooms, taught English in China and was a 5th and 6th-grade teacher for seven years. Before joining Treehouse, I taught in a program where adults could earn their high school diploma. I also opened my own doula business and helped birthing people welcome their babies into the world. I enjoy all genres of music and play the clarinet and tenor saxophone. Listening to and playing music is a large part of my life and brings me joy daily.

Contact me:
564.244.7804
[email protected]

Primary Office: Kelso
Secondary Office: Tumwater and Centralia
Supervisor: Amber Alvarez

Molly Milligan

My background is in education, specifically at the middle school level. I have a Master’s in Education and a BA in History, which I put to good use as a classroom teacher for 13 years prior to working at Treehouse. In addition to supporting youth, I find joy in family games nights and community theatre productions!

Contact me:
360.460.1513
[email protected]

Primary Office: Bremerton
Secondary Office: Port Angeles and Port Townsend
Supervisor: Pamela Holmes-Whyte

Nichole Ericksen

My experience working in Special Education, both professionally and personally, combined with experience working closely with the Department of Children, Youth and Families, has uniquely prepared me to do this work. I find joy in helping families succeed because I know how difficult it is to navigate unknown systems without support. In my spare time I enjoy playing video games with my 6 children and spending time in my garden. I look forward to the opportunity to work together to help our youth succeed.

Contact me:
360.580.5076
[email protected]

Primary Office: Aberdeen
Secondary Office: Shelton and South Bend
Supervisor: Amber Alvarez

Robbie Orr

I have been working with foster youth in various capacities since 2007. I feel honored to be able to support youth who are experiencing foster care and their caregivers to ensure that they are receiving the best education possible. I believe that public education is one of the most important things that a young person goes through in life, and with the proper support, they will receive the skills that are needed to live up to their dreams, whatever they may be. When I am not working to support others, I like to spend my time skateboarding, playing disc golf, going to concerts and spending time with my dogs and family.

Contact me:
360.913.4114
[email protected]

Primary Office: Vancouver
Secondary Office: Stevenson
Supervisor: Amber Alvarez

Statewide Advocates

Blaire Sebren

I’ve lived in Washington state my whole life! I attended community college in Yakima to get my associate’s degree. I earned my B.S. in Psychology and B.A. in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies from Western Washington University years later. In my professional life, I have worked as a body piercer, a fast-food worker, a barista and more. Within the non-profit realm, I’ve held positions in domestic violence shelters, a crisis helpline and worked as a case manager in a permanent supportive housing program. I’ve also been lucky to volunteer facilitating support groups for queer and trans youth. I am passionate about seeing people holistically with humanity, and it’s important to me that people have as much choice and autonomy as possible in their lives as they navigate tough systems. I find joy in going to the beach, painting, laughing with my friends and hanging out with my dog.

Contact me:
306.328.6190
[email protected]

Serving highly mobile youth statewide
Supervisor: Ari McLaren-Simpson

Teshia Kluski

My educational background includes a Masters of Science in Psychology. My studies encompassed a lot of research in statistics and psychology/sociology themes of human and animal behavior. I am bilingual in English/Spanish.

Contact me:
360.867.8540
[email protected]useforkids.org

Serving highly mobile youth statewide
Supervisor: Ari McLaren-Simpson

Leadership Team

Andi Ervin

Prior to joining Treehouse in 2018, I was the executive director for a small non-profit in North Central Washington working to increase trauma-informed systems and substance abuse prevention through community organizing. In 2018 I began my Treehouse journey as an educational advocate. I moved into the role of Regional Manager in 2021. In 2022 I transitioned into the role of Director for Educational Advocacy. I live and work on the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people, specifically the Nisqually and Squaxin Island peoples. My passion is to create positive systems change in a way that elevates and prioritizes equitable access to education. I am a parent of 4 – three of whom are card-carrying grown-ups! My most valuable lessons and purest joy has come from those four humans. We live with three delightfully silly dogs – two standard poodles and a Chesapeake Bay retriever. I find the most joy in spending time with my family, experiencing nature – hiking, kayaking, skiing, going to hear live music and playing with our dogs.

Contact me:
360.764.9187
[email protected]

Director, Educational Advocacy

Ari McLaren-Simpson

I am a black, queer and non-binary social worker committed to racial equity and community care. I currently occupy the traditional lands of the Puyallup, Duwamish and Coast Salish peoples. I received my master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Washington in 2020. I have experience working as a Behavior Specialist in an alternative classroom setting and as a Child Welfare Social Worker for DCYF. It is my hope to further the fight for all children and youth across the state of Washington to receive equitable education and equitable opportunities to thrive. Spending time in the community, being in nature and participating in community activism brings me joy.

Contact me:
253.921.7227
[email protected]

Program Manager, Dual-System Involved Youth and Highly Mobile Youth

Pamela Holmes-Whyte

Pamela hails from Canada where she was a founding faculty member of the Neufeld Institute, a teaching institute forwarding a developmental, attachment-rooted approach to teaching, parenting and treating children. In that role, she provided seminars, courses and consulting to parents, teachers, social workers and other professionals who work with children. Pamela has six children, four of them grown: bio, step and adoptive, including one adopted out of foster care here in Washington state. Pamela’s passion for equipping the parents and professionals who work with vulnerable youth is long-standing, leaving her well-suited for her role as Education Advocate.

Contact me:
206.530.6739
[email protected]

Regional Manager

Amber Alvarez

My name is Amber Alvarez, and I am the Lead Educational Advocate. I have been employed by Treehouse for three years as of September 2022 and truly believe in Treehouse’s mission to support youth experiencing the foster care system. I hold a Bachelor of Arts (BA), which I attained at the University of Washington Bothell (UWB). While at UWB, I double majored in Law, Economics & Public Policy, and Society, Ethics, & Human Behavior with a minor in Human Rights. I have over six years of professional experience working closely with students and young adults to support their employment and educational needs. My range of experience includes collaborating with the public school system, local colleges and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). I enjoy relationship building within the communities I serve, especially as a means to best support our youth in care. I find the most joy in my family, friends and dogs. They mean the absolute world to me. I also find joy in thrifting, antiquing and spending time near the healing ocean. I look forward to working with you to serve our youth in care.

Contact me:
509.440.3679
[email protected]

Educational Advocacy Lead