Leadership Team:

Rick Hulefeld, Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Rick holds a Bachelor of Science in International Affairs from Georgetown University, a Master of Arts in Humanities from the University of Chicago, and a Masters in Education from Xavier University. He has studied at the University of Madrid and was an exchange student in Peru. Along with his wife he began Children, Inc. in 1979. He has served as Children, Inc.’s executive director since its beginning.  Rick and his wife, Mary, have reared their five children in an inner city Covington neighborhood.


Shannon Starkey-Taylor, MSW/M.Ed, Chief Operating Officer

Shannon Starkey Taylor headshotShannon Starkey-Taylor has specialized in the field of Early Childhood, Education, and Social Work for over 22 years. She serves as the COO for Children, Inc.

Prior to Children, Inc., Shannon was the Chief Operating Officer for Rettsyndrome.org where she was responsible for the day to day operations of a $6.2MM Foundation reporting directly to a national Board of Directors.   During Shannon’s first year, she successfully led the organizational through a strategic planning process, rebranding initiative including a website design, and a fundraising plan allowing the Foundation to once again exceed the $5MM amount which they had not reached in the past two years.

Prior to Rettsyndrome.org, Shannon was the Vice President of Strategic Development where she was responsible for new program development, marketing and ensuring the agency met their strategic goals. Previously as the Vice President of Education for The Children’s Home of Cincinnati, Shannon oversaw the daily operations of over 70 personnel in the Education and Early Childhood departments, and was responsible for a $5MM of the organization’s $20 MM operating budget. Shannon developed new service initiatives including a full array of early childhood services and a high school for students with Autism and other related disorders.

Shannon began her career as a youth worker in residential treatment for children with mental health issues and advanced to senior executive positions. For the past 20 years, she has provided leadership to staff in child welfare, early care and education, alternative special education and family support services.  Shannon has provided leadership in many children’s social service initiatives including Help Me Grow, Every Child Succeeds, Success by 6, and the State of Ohio’s Early Childhood Cabinet Fiscal Workgroup. She was instrumental in founding The Consortium for Resilient Young Children and was the past chair of this community collaboration. Shannon has presented locally and nationally on establishing partnerships in early childhood mental health consultation.

She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Heidelberg College, and her Masters in Social Work from the University of Cincinnati and holds a Masters in Education Administration from Xavier University.

Shannon has extensive experience in designing and implementing new programs, strategic planning, establishing community collaborations, and nonprofit executive management.

Phyllis Berry, Senior Director of Quality Assurance

Phyllis Berry portraitPhyllis primary focus is on Quality Curriculum Components and compliance with regulation.  She serves on several community collaboratives including Success By Six, Community Early Childhood Councils, United Way Learning Circles, and others.  She is a former member of the STARS Advisory Committee, Partnership for a Fit Kentucky, Chair of the Kenton County Community Early Childhood Council for ten years, Chair of the Northern Kentucky Branch of the National Association of Social Work and has served on several other advisory boards in a leadership capacity.  She has designed and implemented health curriculum for children enrolled in center-based care and works with local universities to recruit nursing student volunteers to support the implementation of this health initiative.Her educational background includes a Master Degree in Public Administration with an emphasis on non-profits; a Master Degree in Social Work with state certification, a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Registered Nurse.  She holds a Level 5 Early Childhood Trainer Credential and provides a variety trainings to early childhood professionals and serves as a Training Consultant for 4C of Northern Kentucky.

Experience prior to entering the Early Care and Education field includes working as an RN in the hospital setting, working in schools and community agencies, working as an outpatient and residential therapist for abused and neglected children, and serving as Associate Executive Director for Family Nurturing Center, a non-profit agency focusing on child abuse prevention, education, and treatment services.

Jennifer Cruz, Professional Development and Training Coordinator

With over 10 years of experience in early childhood environments, Jennifer now enjoys working in Professional Development. Mostly, she says she loves how it allows her to support Children, Inc. teachers often. Jennifer is at the helm of facilitating all Children, Inc. workshops and plays a major role in supporting The Greater Cincinnati Center for Montessori Education.


Jim Epping, Senior Director of Finance

Jim is responsible for all financial record keeping and reporting of Children, Inc.  Jim has been with Children, Inc as Director of Finance in June of 2000.  With a Bachelor of Arts in Accounting, Associate of Arts in Computer Technology from Thomas More College and a Master of Divinity from Christ The King School of Theology in East Aurora, NY.  Jim has held controllership positions with numerous organizations prior to joining Children, Inc., including five years as President of Novus Debut, Inc., publisher of Minkus Stamp Albums and Catalogs.

Elizabeth Fricke,MPA, Senior Director of Marketing & Talent Management

Elizabeth Fricke is the Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Children, Inc.  She oversees the marketing efforts of all Children, Inc. programs and manages all public relations efforts for the organization including major events.  Elizabeth holds a Bachelors of Art in Political Science and an Associate of Art in History from Thomas More College, in 2013 she completed a Masters of Public Administration from Northern Kentucky University. Prior to coming to our organization, Elizabeth worked in the Critical Thinking Center at Thomas More College and the Business Development Office at the City of Covington.  If you have any media inquiries please contact Elizabeth at efricke@childreninc.org.

Heather Gerker, M.Ed, Senior Director of Programs

Heather has been working with children since she can remember. Although, when she began her undergraduate degree at the University of Cincinnati, she thought she needed to work in a field where she could “make a lot of money.” After a brief stint in the web development world, Heather realized her heart was in Early Childhood Education, where instead of “making a lot of money” she could “make a big difference.” Heather’s work in education began in Portland, Maine where she earned her Masters degree in Early Childhood Education, a teaching certificate in Montessori Education, and worked as a Montessori Early Childhood Teacher. A native to Kentucky, Heather and her husband moved back to the area to be closer to family while raising their own children. Heather loves connecting with teachers who are currently working in Early Childhood, in both traditional settings as well as Montessori. She is President of Cincinnati Montessori Society, holds a level 4 KY Trainers Credential, and presents often at local and national Early Childhood Conferences. While Heather misses her days in the classroom, she is very passionate about coaching, mentoring, and supporting teachers and parents.

Mike Hammons,JD, Senior Director of Advocacy

Mike joined Children, Inc. on November 1, 2011.  He leads efforts to increase public awareness of and support for young children. He also serves as director of Kentucky’s Voice for Early Childhood, our online advocacy network.  He comes from the Kentucky Philanthropy Initiative, a state-wide organization formed in 2008 to increase philanthropy and strategic grantmaking in Kentucky. The organization works to increase private foundation support for early childhood education and health.

Prior to that, Mike was president of Vision 2015 and its predecessor, Forward Quest. In that position, he helped build broad-based support for regional strategic plans. The plans set ambitious goals to improve the economic vitality and quality of life of the region. The goals aligned well with the goals of Children, Inc thanks to the involvement of Rick Hulefeld.

Mike served in the Brereton Jones administration from 1991-1996 initially making appointments to gubernatorial boards and commissions. He also worked on health care and insurance reform legislation and helped lead efforts to implement it. From 1977-1991, Mike practiced law in Covington.

Josh Hatton, MPA,  Director of Evaluations

Josh has been an employee of Children, Inc. since August 2003. In December of 2006 he began working as a supervisor in School Age Services and completed his Master of Public Administration at NKU. Josh helps maintain Kentucky’s Voice for Early Childhood, a grassroots website that connects early childhood advocates to Kentucky’s decision makers (www.voiceforearlychildhood.org). Since 2009 Josh has facilitated assessments at Children, Inc.’s early child care centers and school age programs. The information collected by the assessments is used in the classrooms to individualize lesson plans to meet the unique needs of the children.

Sheila Hughes, Director of Human Resources

Sheila began her career in Customer Service at the local Blue Cross insurance office which makes her uniquely qualified to handle employee insurance benefits. After 15 years in the insurance industry, she accepted an Office Manager position at the Cincinnati Center for Developmental Disorders at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. In 1999, Tom Lottman recruited Sheila to work at Children, Inc. She says it’s the best decision she ever made.


Jordan Huizenga, MBA, Senior Director of Development

With a passion for the well being of children and the power of education to change lives, Jordan has been advocating for Children, Inc. in the community and raising awareness and funds to support our mission since 2008. After graduating with a B.A. from the University of Dayton he was able to find a rewarding position at Children, Inc. Now responsible for fund development to support Children, Inc. programs, Jordan fosters relationships with individuals, the community and foundations in an effort to support Children, Inc. programs and has since earned his MBA from Northern Kentucky University. If you are interested in supporting Children, Inc. please contact Jordan at jhuizenga@childreninc.org.

Tom Lottman, Senior Director of Research to Practice

Tom Lottman also serves a number of different roles at CI.  He directs the Research to Practice Impact Area, the Devereux Regional Training Center, and is the Research Director for Growing Sound. He has been the Deputy Executive Director of CI for the past seventeen years. Prior to that, he was with the University Affiliated Cincinnati Center for Developmental Disorders at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.  Earlier in his career he directed a mental health center in Canada and taught full time at universities in the states and Canada. Special interests include emotional development in young children and training in the implications of developmental brain research.

Dr. Patricia White, Leadership Scholars

Dr. Patricia White has been in education for 45 years, serving as a college counselor, teacher, head of school and principal. Dr. White earned an Educational Doctorate (Ed. D.) in Urban Education from the University of Cincinnati, specifically in helping minority students and parents with the college admissions process. Dr. White has served on numerous advisory boards, including College Board and ACT, and has read for National Merit. Dr. White has visited over 300 college campuses across the nation and has worked to establish relationships with Directors of Admissions at these universities. She has attended over 75 college meetings, such as College Board, NACAC, OACAC, and on-campus meetings. She has spoken at over 20 college meetings on topics of college admissions, parental involvement, and issues of diversity. Dr. White is also certified in Learning Styles, as well as having completed a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in Mind Body Medicine training with Jon Kabat-Zinn and Saki Santorelli.

Dr. Suzie White, Leadership Scholars

Dr. Suzie White completed her Ph.D. at New York University (NYU) studying higher education and urban school reform. She earned her master’s degree at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education in Education Policy and Management, after which she worked as the college counselor at a Cristo Rey high school in Boston. The Cristo Rey Network is a national network of Catholic, college preparatory high schools for young people who live in urban communities. Prior to graduate school she was an AmeriCorps volunteer and Senior Program Development Associate at College Summit, a social enterprise that helps low-income students go to college. Suzie graduated summa cum laude from Wake Forest University with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and International Studies. Suzie completed her Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in Mind-Body Medicine training with Jon Kabat-Zinn and Saki Santorelli. She also completed her Yoga Teacher Training through Simply Power Yoga.