2024 Speakers

Nicole Brisson

Dr. Nicole Brisson is a licensed clinical mental health counselor who has been working in the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities since 1992. She holds a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Psychology and a specialization in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Dr. Brisson founded and directs SAGE Institute for Adaptive Parenting, which provides parenting assessments, training, and consultation to help parents with disabilities succeed. She is the creator of an innovative practice model for evaluating parents with disabilities and has earned recognition from the United States Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services as a national expert in the field. Dr. Brisson developed and taught a course on parental disability and child welfare at the University of Vermont. She has given trainings, presented at conferences, and testified in courts across the United States. Dr. Brisson was the Education Committee Chair and Vice President of The Association for Successful Parenting (TASP). She is also a member of the International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Parenting and Parents with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Special Interest Research Group and a Fellow of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD).


Brian Cassidy

Brian Cassidy is currently an Agent in the Crime Information Bureau of the Division of Criminal Investigations.  The Crime Information Bureau consists of four sections Criminal Justice Information Network (CJIN), Criminal Records and Identification Services Section (CRISS), Sexual or Violent Offender Registry (SVOR), Computer and Internet Crime Unit (CICU). CICU, where Cassidy is assigned, consists of cybercrime and Internet Crimes against children. 

Agent Cassidy grew up in Montana and has been in law enforcement since January 3rd, 2013.  Cassidy has been employed with DCI since June 2019. Prior to this time, Cassidy was a sworn Peace officer in the City of Havre Montana. Cassidy worked the first three years of his career as a Patrol Officer until being promoted to Detective. While employed by the Havre Police Department, Cassidy was actively involved in hundreds of search warrants for state and federal crimes. Cassidy attended the MLEA Basic Academy as well as acquired hundreds of hours of additional training. This training includes, but is not limited to, Crime Scene Processing, Blood Stain interpretation and Reconstruction, Domestic Violence response, Child Forensic Interviewing, Responding to Complex Sex Crimes, Drug and Human Trafficking training, Cellebrite Cellular Extraction training, AXIOM Magnet forensics, Xways Forensics, and Internet Investigation Techniques training. 

Cassidy is currently assigned by the Montana Attorney General to the Computer and Internet crime Unit. This unit investigates child crimes and is specifically responsible for conducting federal and state investigations relating to crimes involving digital devices being used in relation to the crime, including investigations related to online child exploitation. Cassidy is the current ICAC commander for the State of Montana. 

Cassidy has attended and is a certified user of a multitude of advanced forensics programs. Cassidy also sought and earned his Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC), which certifies him to be a GIAC Certified Computer Forensic Examiner (GCFE). Cassidy also has completed the SANS FOR500: Windows Forensic Analysis class, that provides in-depth and current Microsoft Windows Operating System forensics and analysis. Cassidy has attended and completed IACIS CFCE course and holds his certification as a Certified Forensic Computer Examiner (CFCE).

Steven Coop

steve-image.jpgSteven Coop is the Programs Manager for Reach Higher Montana (RHM) where he spends his time working with homeless and Foster Youth from across the state and maintaining an extensive scholarship database for Montana students. Prior to being the Programs Manager, Steven was an Outreach Advisor for RHM where he worked with high school and college students in Western Montana helping them with career planning, college exploration, and searching for financial aid opportunities to help them further their education and career training. He is certified as a Career Services Provider through the National Career Development Association and enjoys helping students and school professionals navigate the ever-changing world of career preparedness. Prior to working for RHM, Steven spent several years as a high school counselor in Montana.

Adam Dodge

Adam DodgeAs the founder of EndTAB (End Technology-Enabled Abuse) and TheTech-Savvy Parent, Adam’s work is characterized by his dedication to addressing the existing and future threats posed by technology to youth and victims of gender-based violence. He has written and presented extensively on cyberstalking, technology-enabled abuse, non-consensual pornography and co-authored the first victim safety guide on the emerging threat of ‘deepfake’ pornography. At EndTAB, Adam spends a great deal of his time delivering innovative technology-enabled abuse trainings and presentations to organizations, nonprofits and governments around the world. A frequent speaker and lecturer at universities and national conferences, Adam has advised the White House Task Force to Address Online Abuse and Harassment, is a special advisor to the Coalition Against Stalkerware and sits on the World Economic Forum's Digital Justice Advisory Committee. He has worked with technology companies like Bumble, Headspace and Ring to improve the safety and wellbeing of victims of gender-based violence. Adam has appeared on CBS, ABC, NPR and his work and expertise has been featured in The New York Times, Vogue, MIT Technology Review, the Washington Post, SELF Magazine, HuffPost, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, GQ, VICE and others. Adam is a licensed attorney in California, and earned his B.A. from UC Santa Barbara and his J.D. by way of McGeorge School of Law and Hastings College of the Law.

Taysen Edelen

taysen-edelen.photo.jpgTaysen Edelen is a full time student that is working towards a degree in Exercise Science that enjoys working out, studying in college, doing flips, listening to music, spending time with family and finding a new hobby every week. He is proud of his academic abilities, athletic ability, and ability to be empathetic and inclusive. Taysen became interested in supporting and advocating for youth in care after being in a program called Big Sky Youth Empowerment(BYEP) that gave him the support he needed when he had nothing else. Taysen hopes to be a strong advocate for youth and find ways that he can fix the foster care system to be more for the youth. Taysen represented Montana as a 2023 Foster Club AllStar Lex Leader. Janessa Henderson,

Stacie Eckenstein

Stacie is a dedicated professional with over two decades of experience in social services, specifically focusing on teenagers and young adults. For the past 8 years, she has worked with Kairos Youth Services as the coordinator for Chafee services in Region 2 in Montana, overseeing and managing the provision of essential services for youth and young adults. Passionate about ensuring a smooth and successful transition to adulthood for teens in foster care, Stacie is committed to providing comprehensive support and resources. Her mission is to empower these young individuals to become the best version of themselves. Stacie's commitment to youth success is reflected in her emphasis on collaboration and inclusivity. She values the input and assistance of youth with lived experiences, recognizing the importance of their perspectives. This inclusive approach has significantly influenced the way Kairos provides Chafee services to all youth in the region. Stacie holds a Bachelor's degree in Psychology and a Master's degree in Counseling. Her education and experience enable her to approach her work with a well-rounded and empathetic perspective. Stacie's dedication to the well-being and success of teenagers in foster care has made her a driving force in creating positive outcomes for the youth she serves.

August Elliott

S. Auguste Elliott, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides support and training to Visit/Family Time Coaches across the country and internationally. For nearly 30 years, she worked with Easterseals Vermont, where she was responsible for statewide training of all contracted providers of family-centered practices for the Department for Children and Families Vermont, supervision of psychologists and clinicians providing clinical consultation to staff, supervision of child-parent psychotherapists, and program evaluation projects. She is a rostered Child Parent Psychotherapist/Supervisor and a Registered Play Therapist/Supervisor. Her work has been greatly enriched by her years as a Board Member of The Association for Successful Parenting (TASP).  Dr. Elliott is an Institute for Social Innovation Fellow at Fielding Graduate University.

Lacey Hallett

lacey-hallett.photo.jpgLacey joined United Way’s team in 2015 as a community facilitator. Her position with United Way provides a unique opportunity to function as an intermediary and resolve territorial, historical and financially competitive challenges to ensure cohesive collaboration for root cause community challenges. She has expert knowledge in Collective Impact Framework and significant training in conflict mediation and human management. Her current position requires not only mastery of communication but also of project management. She provides a skill set of versatility and time management to efficiently cover three areas of community initiative work in education, health, and financial stability. Lacey has resided in North Central MT most of her life and has a significant connection with a variety of community leaders.

Marla Hauser

marla-hauser.photo.pngMarla has been working with youth for over 20 years. Starting as a swimming coach and then adding 10 years of experience with Great Falls Public Schools. Her time with students has grown her belief in the power of relationships and meeting people where they are. Marla’s new role began in the Fall of 2022. Her position is unique in that she works for the schools, but in partnership with United Way of Cascade County and Alliance for Youth. Together we hope to increase graduation rates by supporting students' mental health and providing unique opportunities for struggling or nontraditional students to succeed. Marla is leading exciting efforts to build student mentors in our high schools and middle schools and works with students on transformational learning. Her passion has been ignited by youth voice and building capacity for their own advocacy opportunities.

Janessa Henderson

janess-henderson.photo.jpgJanessa was born in OR but has lived in MT for most of her life. She is passionate about all things film, especially screenwriting. She lives with her sister and two of their best friends who also happen to be sisters and the four of them all pursue film together. She enjoys reading, watching new films with her roommates, and writing poetry and short personal essays. Janessa became interested in this work after she joined her state's Youth Advisory Board and learned how she could help support the youth. She now wants to become an educated leader and mentor who can help to implement real change for youth in the system. She has served on her state's advisory board for 6 months, and is also pursuing her bachelor's degree in Screenwriting at Southern New Hampshire University. Janessa represented Montana as a 2023 Foster Club AllStar Lex Leader.

Shanell Lavallie

shanell-lavallie.photo.jpg17 Years in Foster Care Shanell is currently teaching elementary school in Great Falls, MT. She graduated with her Bachelors of Science in Elementary Education in 2021. Shanell was in two foster care placements, one became her long term placement; she spent a total of 17 years in the foster care system and aged out at 18 years old. She was placed with a tribal foster family and able to be connected to Native culture and broad traditions; however, she is still reconnecting to her tribal nations - Aaniiih and Nakoda. Shanell was able to grow up with two of her siblings while in foster care; she is still connected to 3 of her 5 siblings. Shanell is passionate about being a voice for Native American foster youth in the education system. She is a tireless scholar, advocate, and educator that expands her knowledge to better equip youth for success that she works with. Shanell hopes to reach the young people that need mentorship, inspiration, and hope. In 2021, Shanell completed the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Internship and published two policy reports on Expanding Cultural Connections and Educational Supports for Foster Youth in Tribal College and Revitalizing Indigenous Communities and Culture by Strengthening Child Welfare to Meet the Needs of Tribal Youth.In 2022, she received the United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) 25 under 25 Award. In 2023, Shanell shared her experiences and recommendations alongside peers with the United States Supreme Court in an amicus brief submitted in Brackeen v. Haaland. She aspires to pursue her master's degree in Educational Leadership because Education is of value and a high virtue for Shanell.

Carrie Porter

Carrie Porter is a seasoned professional with an exemplary 18-year career in the child welfare and human services field, demonstrating an unwavering commitment to prevention and meeting families where they are. Her extensive experience has positioned her as a passionate advocate for vulnerable children and families, advocating for positive interventions and proactive measures to create lasting change. Throughout her career, Carrie has been at the forefront of innovative strategies aimed at preventing crises and addressing the root causes of challenges faced by families. Her approach is grounded in the belief that by meeting families where they are, with empathy and understanding, lasting and meaningful impact can be achieved. This philosophy has shaped her work in child welfare and advocacy, driving her to utilize and implement programs that prioritize early intervention and support. One of Carrie's core beliefs is in the transformative power of one caring adult in a child's life. Drawing on her wealth of experience, she has witnessed firsthand the profound difference that a supportive and compassionate presence can make in the life of a child facing adversity. Carrie is a firm advocate for building connections and fostering relationships within communities to create a network of caring adults who can positively influence the well-being and development of children.

Carla Ritz

carla-ritz-headshot-1.jpegCarla Ritz is the Managing Director at The Montana Institute. For the last 15 years she has worked from coast-to-coast as a nonprofit leader, convener, early childhood and prevention advocate, and innovator. Prior to joining the Institute, she served as the Executive Director for First 5 Lake County in Northern California where she collaborated at the county, regional and state levels to reduce ACEs by applying the principles of H.O.P.E. Carla holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Arizona.

Andrea Savage

andrea-savage.photo.jpgAndrea has been in the field of mental health since 2005. She is dually licensed as a clinical professional counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist. Andrea holds several advanced certifications in evidence based mental health treatments and practices. She has worked in all areas of mental health from community-based treatment, hospital outpatient settings, and school based mental health. She also owns and operates a therapeutic private practice office. Andrea is an experienced professional with a demonstrated history of working in the mental health care industry. She is skilled in Child Therapy, Attachment Parenting, Trauma Therapy, Family Therapy, and Parent-child Relationships. She owns a Master of Counseling from Montana State University-Northern. Andrea currently serves as Mental Health Coordinator for Great Falls Public Schools. She is the spearhead and therapeutic visionary for student mentor groups.

Kristy Pontet-Stroop

kristy-pontet-stroop.photo.pngA native of Belt, Montana, Kristy joined the Alliance for Youth team in September of 2006. Motivated by the work at Alliance for Youth, Kristy obtained a BA in Community Leadership from MSU-Northern. It's very fitting Kristy was a Northern Lights Graduate because all she desires is to be is a LIGHT of hope and peace in this world. She brings energy, dedication, and passion for improving the lives of youth in her community. Kristy has a highly successful history in administering, implementing, evaluating & sustaining federally funded projects including SAMHSA, OJJDP and private sector foundations such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation. She manages a staff of more than 20 individuals who provide extensive services for youth in the areas of prevention, mental health, homelessness, and addiction. Most of the youth served by her agency identify as Native American.