Staff & Board of Directors

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Families Helping Families is proud to introduce our hardworking staff and board of directors, all of whom serve as volunteers in the organization. Our team is proud to help support Iowa’s foster children and foster families.

If you’d like to join our team of volunteers, learn more and apply for available volunteer opportunities.

For information or to reach our Executive Board of directors, please contact us today.

Melissa Carlson, Executive Director
Melissa Carlson joined Families Helping Families as the Executive Director in January 2019. Melissa grew up in Sand Springs, OK and attended Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, OK. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing. From working with large brands such as Chick-fil-A and Whole Foods Market to a small Chamber of Commerce in a city of 9,000 people, Melissa has many years of marketing, event planning, and community relations experience. Melissa’s family permanently relocated to the Cedar Rapids area in June 2018 after her husband accepted a job as a Supplier Quality Manager at Husco International in Maquoketa. Melissa enjoys reading, movies, concerts, shopping and watching her kids play sports. Melissa lives in Marion with her husband Dennis and their two daughters.
Angela Hauskins, Director of Programs & Events
Angela Hauskins is a lifelong resident of Cedar Rapids. She graduated in 2002 from Jefferson High School. She went on to Hamilton Business College where she got her AA degree as an Administrative Assistant. Angela has a passion to serve her community. She works with preschoolers part time and has a passion for organizing people's homes. In her free time, Angela loves spending time with her boyfriend Casey, their 3 children, and their dog and cat. She also enjoys warm weather, live music and time with friends!
Raymond Siddell, Board President
Raymond is an adoptive parent who began volunteering with Families Helping Families in January 2016. He has adopted two sons, Keenan and Jordan. Raymond has strong ties to the Cedar Rapids community as he grew up on the Southwest side of Cedar Rapids and graduated from Jefferson High School in 2008. Professionally he is an entrepreneur and licensed REALTOR® with Keller Williams Legacy Group of Iowa.
Sandy Merritt, Board Vice-President
Sandy retired in June 2014 after more than 40 years in education.  She was a first grade teacher and high school drama director at Center Point-Urbana, an Inclusion Resource Specialist at Grant Wood AEA, the Student Services Director at College Community, Curriculum and School Improvement Director and Principal at West Elementary in Independence.  She is currently working part time for AEA 267 as an Administrative Coach and a data collector for School Administrators of Iowa. She also volunteers at her local school, library and Families Helping Families. Sandy is passionate about helping children to grow and learn so that they can be productive and positive children and adults.  She has been part of Families Helping Families since March of 2015 and loves seeing the look in a child's face when he/she gets a new pair of shoes, a new shirt, or a toy! In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her grandchildren and grand puppies, reading, doing crafts, traveling, spending time with friends, and shopping.
Alonzo Marsh, Board Secretary
Alonzo graduated from the University of Illinois in May of 2019. Shortly after relocating to Cedar Rapids, he started volunteering with Families Helping Families. Alonzo's past volunteering experience includes working at the Woodridge Community Resource Center to tutor and mentor elementary school children and working at local community food pantries and shelters. He graduated High School from the Illinois Math and Science Academy in 2015, where he served as a class liaison and Student Council Vice President. During college, Alonzo coached children ages 6 through 18 on the Woodridge Sea Lions Swim Team. At the University of Illinois, Alonzo served on the Illini Union Board where he helped plan campus activities and advised the Union on strategic planning decisions. After graduation, Alonzo moved to Cedar Rapids to work as a Low-Level Software Engineer for Collins Aerospace.
Michelle Hotchkiss
Michelle grew up in Coggon and Center Point and was a 1989 grad. She earned her BA at UNI for Early Childhood and Elementary Education. She has been a teacher at Center Point Child Care Center, and a substitute teacher. Since 1996, Michelle has been an in-home daycare and preschool provider. She enjoys the little kids, planning lessons and crafts, and watching them grow and learn. Her love for volunteering and giving started as a young child. Her mom, Sandy, was her inspiration in giving help to those less fortunate. Sandy is the FHF Vice President who got Michelle involved in volunteering with this organization in 2015. Michelle’s teen daughter, Megan, is also a volunteer for FHF. Having three generations working together has been a very rewarding blessing! Michelle enjoys spending time with her husband Berne and kids Tyler, Megan and Bryce, and her two fur babies Molly and Bella. She enjoys traveling, bike riding, and spending time with family and friends.
Maria Johnson
Maria was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, and is a Jefferson High School graduate. She received her Bachelors in Public Relations and Communications from the University of Northern Iowa, and her Masters of Business Administration at the University of Iowa. She has over 15 years experience in Marketing, Public Relations and Communications, working in both Chicago, IL and Cedar Rapids. She is currently the Communications Division Manager for the City of Cedar Rapids, and previously was Assistant Vice President of Marketing at Collins Community Credit Union. Maria began volunteering at Families Helping Families in 2017 because of her interest in providing much needed support for foster children and foster families in her community.  In her free time she enjoys spending time with her husband Matt, and attending the many activities of her teenage twins, Abram and Shea.
Liz Neff
Liz grew up in the Cedar Rapids/Marion area and graduated from Linn Mar High School. She completed her undergraduate education at Kirkwood and Mount Mercy University with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. Her career started in city government administration, specifically Parks & Recreation in both Hiawatha and Lisbon. This experience provided her with an opportunity to learn about program and event planning and implementation. During that time, she played an active role in starting the 501(c)(3) Friends of Hiawatha Parks and Recreation. After that, Liz spent four years as the Events & Marketing Director for the Cedar Rapids Freedom Festival. Upon the birth of her second child, Liz launched her own company, Neff Event Services, an event consulting and planning firm specializing in large-scale and marketing events. Liz took an interest in Families Helping Families, as she, her husband, brother, and several cousins have been in the foster system or were adopted. She started volunteering in the summer of 2018, opening the door to sit on the board of this phenomenal organization. Her expertise in event planning and fundraising are a perfect fit for her role. Liz has been married to her husband John for seven years. They reside in Marion with their two children, Tyler (8), Isabelle (1) and a cocker spaniel, Maxwell. Liz enjoys meeting new people and is continually inspired by so many of the foster and adoptive parents she meets. In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors and spending time with her family, friends, and dog.
Ashley Vanorny, At-Large
Ashley is a lifelong Cedar Rapidian who learned the value of hard work by helping on her family farm. She graduated from Kirkwood Community College with an AS in Criminal Justice, and also holds a BS in Psychology and a BA in Political Science from the University of Iowa. Currently, Ashley is completing her Master's Degree in Healthcare Administration from Des Moines University.  She works as an IT Analyst with the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. Ashley takes enormous pride in her advocacy for foster children, low-income families, and celebrating and supporting diversity. She came to be involved with Families Helping Families through her membership with Junior League of Cedar Rapids and is very excited to be joining the board.
Brenda West, At-Large
Brenda has been volunteering with Families Helping Families since January 2015 and brings a wealth of experience in communications, office management and excellent organizational skills.  She also brings public relations and marketing skills to the Families Helping Families team.  Brenda very much enjoyed serving Waypoint Services as the Senior Executive Assistant to the Executive Board and the Board of Trustees for six years.  Since 2007, Brenda has been serving customers at Toyota Financial Services.