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Staff & Board of Directors

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Families Helping Families is proud to introduce our hardworking staff and board of directors. Each member of our board of directors serves as a volunteer 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 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. 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 lives in Marion with her husband Dennis and their two daughters.
Angela Downing, Director of Programs & Events
Angela Downing 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 enjoys building relationships with our families and helping reach as many children as possible. In her free time, Angela loves spending time with her husband Casey, their three children, and their dog and two cats. She also enjoys warm weather, live music, working out, instructing at the gym and time with friends!
Alonzo Marsh, Board President
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. Alonzo works as a Software Engineer for uAvionix.
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 for National SAM Innovation Project as an administrative coach, implementation specialist and coordinator for Iowa SAM teams. 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.
Elizabeth Wilson, Board Treasurer
Elizabeth grew up in the Midwest and holds a BA from Cornell in Mathematics and Computer Science as well as an MBA from the University of Iowa. She spent the first part of her career at Rockwell Collins in various positions including software engineering, international business development, marketing communications and program management. She relocated to California in 1999, but moved back to Iowa in 2008 as she truly loves the Midwest. Elizabeth works as a business consultant for Wilson Business Services providing accounting, payroll, taxes and financial business planning. Elizabeth has extensive non-profit Board experience including Linn Mar School Board, Junior Achievement, Systems Unlimited, LT Memorial Foundation, Save CR Heritage, LM Booster Club and Iowa Art Works. Assisting with families is a lifelong passion of hers. She has two children Katie and Jack who attend Cornell College and Linn Mar High School.
Sarah Majerick, Board Secretary
Sarah lives in North Liberty with her two dogs and two cats. Since retiring in May 2019 from a 35 year career of teaching Early Childhood Special Education and preschool in the Iowa City School District, Sarah spends her days volunteering at the North Liberty Community Food Pantry and the Eastern Iowa Diaper Bank.  She is also rediscovering her enjoyment of growing flowers and doing a variety of craft projects, including crocheting and sewing.  Sarah was a foster parent for 12 years before adopting her daughter in 1998. Sarah enjoys spending time with her daughter, Stasia, going on day trips, eating out, and visiting friends and family.
Brienne Eastwood
Brienne Eastwood was born and raised in Iowa. She has lived in the Cedar Rapids area for 20 years. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Human Resources from the University of Northern Iowa and MBA from the University of Dubuque. She is currently a Client Services Manager with Sedgwick. Brienne spends her free time watching her 16-year-old son’s soccer games and spending time with her husband Brian and stepson. She also enjoys coaching and instructing at the gym. Part of her blended family includes three dogs and three cats.
Stephanie Howard
Stephanie was born in Jacksonville, Florida but has lived in the Cedar Rapids area for most of her life. She graduated high school in 1988 and went on to earn an Associates Degree as a Registered Nurse in 1995. She began her nursing career working with teenagers at Tanager Place and worked as an inpatient Psychiatric Nurse on the adult and adolescent psychiatric units at St. Luke's Hospital for years. She has now been a nurse on the outpatient Endoscopy unit at Mercy Hospital in Iowa City for the past 18 years. Over the years, she has volunteered her time at His Hands Free Medical Clinic, Critter Crusaders and the CR Animal shelter. Most recently, she volunteered hundreds of hours at events for Advocates for Social Justice, Marion Alliance for Racial Equity, We Are CR, and Parents Against Violence Everywhere. She also volunteers with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). She enjoys spending her free time where she lives on ten acres in Bertram with a multitude of animals including a macaw, iguana, three cats, one dog and two horses. Her three children are grown but she enjoys spending time with them and her four grandchildren on the weekends.
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.
Tami Muirhead
Tami grew up in western Iowa and graduated from the University of Iowa. After college, she moved to Marion and started working at a local financial institution. She has over fifteen years experience in Commercial banking and is currently employed at Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust in Compliance. Tami enjoys spending time with her husband Mark, twelve year old daughter and their furry pets. She found Families Helping Families because of her friend Corinne. After learning more about the organization she knew that she had to get involved and help these local children currently in foster care in any way that she can.
Corinne Newport
Corinne has been married to Ben Newport for 19 years. They have two daughters, Alexis, 17, and Alyssa, 14. They have lived in Marion for 16 years. Corinne’s passion for volunteering and community involvement started in high school. She first started volunteering at a nature center helping with displays. She eventually got hired by the conservation board and helped build the trails. It also happened to be where she and Ben got married. She then would help her father in college deliver for Meals on Wheels where he was the coordinator.  Once settled in Marion, Corinne became involved with the Marion Metro Kiwanis where she was President for one year. Corinne recently went to work for Blooms/Bladeworks in Marion and is loving every minute of it!
Jenna Sandry
Jenna grew up in Southeast Iowa and has lived in Cedar Rapids for the past five years. She gained a passion for serving others in high school after attending a Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership conference and has volunteered with local organizations since, including Variety – The Children’s Charity, Horizons, and Catherine McAuley Center. She began volunteering with Families Helping Families in April of 2021 planting trees after the Derecho. Jenna has been in banking for three years, most recently as a Personal Banker at Great Western Bank, and also has experience in hospitality and management. In her free time, Jenna enjoys playing with her two dogs, spending time with family, kayaking, or working on home improvements with her girlfriend, Dahlia.
Raymond Siddell, At-Large
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.
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.