Erikson Institute is now home for the leadership development initiatives that were formerly known as the Illinois Early Childhood Senior Leader and Fellows programs. Erikson continues to connect with and build the alumni community from these and our new early childhood leadership programs.


Milagros Fernandez
Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Vice President of Family Services
Infant Welfare Society of Chicago
[email protected]

Fernandez“It was gratifying to find a program that could lead me in the direction of finding information about other states that have been implementing ideas I too have been considering. It was an awesome experience.”

For more than 20 years, Milagros Fernandez has championed the cause of under-served families living in high-risk neighborhoods. Even as a top administrator overseeing child development and adolescent counseling services for a large Chicago child welfare organization, she is able to call on her skills as a licensed clinical social worker to maintain a small caseload and provide staff with reflective supervision. Among her signature successes has been adapting and implementing an innovative treatment model for mothers experiencing post-partum depression to meet the needs of low-income Latinas. She holds a Master of Arts in Social Work from the University of Chicago, a Certificate in Infant Mental Health from Erikson Institute.

Azucena Gonzalez

Director of Home-Based Children’s Services
Gads Hill Center
[email protected]

Gonzalez“As part of the leadership program, I was able to enhance my knowledge in early childhood policy and expand my professional network.”

Azucena Gonzalez has made it her life’s work to shape the futures of young children and their families. Over the last decade, she has assumed increasing levels of responsibility in overseeing both home- and center-based programs on Chicago’s West and Southwest Sides that enhance the development of children from birth to age five. Her leadership has helped foster healthy habits in countless families and inspired them to play a pivotal role in supporting their children’s learning. She received a Master of Arts in Education from American Inter-Continental University and a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from Roosevelt University.

Anita Harvey-Dixon

Implementation Adviser, Educare Learning Network
Ounce of Prevention Fund
[email protected]

Harvey-Dixon“Through Erikson’s program, I had an opportunity to identify and learn about new resources. Most of all, I gained the understanding that there’s always more to the policy story. The history is critical to the present and making change.”

Anita Harvey-Dixon has devoted herself to transforming children’s lives through education. With more than 20 years in the field, she has developed a resume that’s impressive in both its depth and diversity. She has worked as an administrator for a network of schools that addresses the needs of the most vulnerable children, served as a teacher in Head Start classrooms, taught high school English and adult learners and produced educational programs for public television. Anita holds a Master of Arts in Literature from Yale University, a Master of Science in Child Development from Erikson Institute and a bachelor’s degree from the City College of the City University of New York.

Dawnielle Jeffrey

Director of Education, Early Childhood Services
Children’s Home + Aid Society of Illinois
[email protected]

Jeffrey“In Erikson’s program, I had the opportunity to become a reflective leader, work collaboratively with peers and expand my professional networks and relationships. It helped build my professional capacity in early childhood policy and participate in child advocacy within my agency.”

Dawnielle Jeffrey is committed to guaranteeing that every child, no matter their family challenges or income level, has the opportunity for educational success. A native of Oklahoma, she directed curriculum instruction for an anti-poverty agency in that state before moving to the Chicago area, where she has endeavored to ensure that dual-language learners and children with special needs receive the appropriate educational services and support to succeed in school and in life. She received a Master of Science in Teaching, Learning and Leadership with an emphasis in Special Education from Oklahoma State University and a Bachelor of Science in Special Education from Langston University.

Toni Porter

Professional Development Manager
Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies
[email protected]

Thanks to her longtime association with Illinois’ Gateways to Opportunity program, Toni Porter can see clearly the vital importance of building a professional development support system that provides guidance, encouragement and recognition to individuals and programs serving children, youth and families. By assisting with credentialing, career guidance, education and training resources, peer networking, scholarships, and more, she and her colleagues provide a lifeline to more than 100,000 practitioners working in the fields of early care and education, and school-age and youth development. Toni focuses on what matters most: helping childcare professionals help children achieve greater academic and social success in school and in life. She received a Bachelor of Science in Family and Consumer Science from Illinois State University.

Leticia Ramirez

Director of Early Childhood Services
SGA Youth & Family Services
[email protected]

As a first-generation college graduate, Leticia Ramirez is intimately familiar with the value of a good education. Her personal perspective has fueled her passion for providing quality services to children and families during her 16 years working in the fields of early childhood education, disabilities, and advocacy. In addition to directing early childhood and Head Start programs in the Chicago area, Leticia has been a dynamic advocate for increasing the number of Latinos in higher education, in leadership positions, and as policymakers at the local, state and national levels. She received a Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education from Roosevelt University, a Certificate in Infant Mental Health from Erickson Institute, and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Scott Seftenberg

Manager, Data Systems Improvement
Illinois Action for Children
[email protected]

Seftenberg“Working on a policy action plan was a great opportunity. We initially approached it as an academic exercise, but knowing that it actually might be viewed by policy influencers made it worth the effort.”

Scott Seftenberg has found the best of both worlds: jobs that allows him to combine his computer programming and data analysis skills with his commitment to early childhood education. In one, he works as a systems analyst with an Illinois children’s advocacy organization; in the other, he acts as an eligibility specialist for a government program that serves low-income families in northern Illinois. But even that is not enough to feed his passion for helping others. Scott, who lived abroad in Europe and Mexico for many years, also volunteers with several educational and social service organizations that address the needs of a diverse clientele. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Pamela Staples

Site Manager, Baby-Toddler Nursery
Infant Welfare Society of Evanston
[email protected]


“Becoming an Illinois Early Childhood Senior Leader has allowed me to elevate my understanding of early childhood policymaking and systems. I feel this program has given me the tools to help me feel comfortable as well as confident when advocating for children and families.”

As the site manager for an agency’s baby-toddler nursery in Chicago’s northern suburbs, Pamela Staples has become a master juggler. Whether monitoring and maintaining compliance standards set by oversight organizations, motivating her staff through thoughtful mentoring or fostering positive relationships with parents by truly listening to their questions and concerns, she acts as an inspring leader who stays focused on what matters most: the educational development of the children she serves. Pamela holds a Master of Science in Child Development from Erikson Institute and a Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Leadership and Advocacy from Kendall College.

Aminah Wyatt-Jones

Assistant Director of Community Systems Development
Illinois Action for Children
[email protected]

Wyatt-Jones“The Senior Leaders program provided me with a wealth of policy-focused development opportunities. In addition, networking with proactive, early learning professionals and organizations was an invaluable learning experience. The program will certainly help to advance my work and enable me to be more effective in improving the efforts of our state’s early learning priorities for our most vulnerable children and families.”

Aminah Wyatt-Jones works tirelessly to improve the lives of children and families in Chicago’s North Lawndale community. In addition to developing pilots to help guide the state of Illinois in determining the most effective early-learning programs for high-needs children, she has played an instrumental role in connecting families to formal early learning programs, has served as a literary coach working in tandem with home child care providers and has been a devoted preschool teacher.

As Assistant Director of Community Systems Development at Illinois Action for Children, Aminah leads the agency’s development of strong early childhood systems at the community-level.  She also provides leadership to the recruitment and data entry functions in the Early Learning Programs.  She received her Master of Arts in Early Childhood Development from the University of Phoenix and her Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Development from Northern Illinois University.

Jay Young

Director of Community Impact
Children’s Home + Aid Society of Illinois
[email protected]

After spending more than a decade protecting his clients’ assets in his commercial litigation practice, Jay Young has returned to his true calling: representing the interests of the most vulnerable children and families. He is a highly respected leader who manages his agency’s key partnerships with government and community stakeholders and works collaboratively with other Chicago agencies to promote the healthy development of young children. His many professional contributions have earned him a reputation as a valued thought leader in the child welfare arena. Jay holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Virginia School of Law, a Master of Public Policy from the University of Chicago and a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy Studies and Philosophy from Duke University.

Tracey Young

Vice President of Programs
Carole Robertson Center for Learning
[email protected]

Young“The hands-on experience I received with federal and state early childhood funding and programing systems allowed me to become a global-thinking manager. It is that type of professional development that a middle-level manager needs to become an agency leader.”

Tracey Young prides herself on being a lifelong learner, and one look at her resume will easily explain why. She has extensive experience in managing and training teachers, has designed and implemented dual-language and service-learning curriculum, has led a large staff through accreditation processes, and has taught early childhood education as a college instructor. An ardent believer in the philosophies of Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky — that one constantly constructs knowledge through interactions with people and environment — Tracey likes to credit these developmental psychologists with helping guide her career. She received a Master of Science in Early Childhood Education from Erikson Institute and a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Loyola.