WHO WE ARE continued
Colleen Connors, MSSA, LSW
Council Coordinator for Lake County Family and Children First Council
Mindy C. Hughes, MSSA, Independent Living Program Specialist, Lake County Job & Family Services. She has been a child welfare social worker for 15 years, focusing for the past 8 years on preparing vulnerable teens and young adults for independence and adulthood after foster care. In addition to direct practice experience, Ms. Hughes offers lessons learned through her participation on numerous local, regional, and statewide collaborations dedicated to best practice in serving this population.
Most recently, Ms. Hughes was appointed to the statewide Advisory Council for the implementation of Bridges, which will extend housing and other essential supports necessary for emancipating foster youth to achieve self-sufficiency. Ms. Hughes serves on the Lake County Workforce Development Board Youth Council and is a Family Unification Program Children Services liaison between Lake County JFS and the Lake Metropolitan Housing Authority. From 2012-2015, Ms. Hughes represented Lake County on the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Connecting the Dots pilot program, designed to improve outcomes for Ohio youth at increased risk for homelessness, incarceration, and poverty. Prior to coming to the field of child welfare in 2004, Ms. Hughes received her Master’s Degree in Social Administration from Case Western Reserve University Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences with a concentration in Community Development and her Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology from Heidelberg University.
Tia Lawrence has worked for Torchlight Youth Mentoring Alliance (formerly Big Brothers Big Sisters Northeast Ohio) for the past 14 years. Tia started at the agency as an after school mentoring program coordinator for 8 years, and then transitioned to the Director of After School Programs for one year before becoming the Director of Programs. Before working at Torchlight Youth Mentoring, Tia worked for Geauga County Job and Family Services as a social worker.
Tia received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Sociology from Lake Erie College in 2000. Tia is a graduate of the Leadership Lake County Signature Program 2016 and the Leadership Lake County Community Builders Program 2015. Tia has previously sat on the Camp Sue Osborn Board and currently sits on the Lake Geauga Head Start Board. She is passionate about youth and resides in Painesville with her husband and 3 daughters.
Jessica Jones, LSW, CDCA
Jessica is a Licensed Social Worker who graduated from Youngstown State University. Jessica currently serves as the Mental Health Ombudsman at NAMI Lake County, Oh. As the ombudsman Jessica provides advocacy, education and support services for individuals and family member of individuals affected by mental health conditions. While encouraging persons with mental health conditions and their family members to develop skills and strategies for constructive advocacy and decision-making on their own behalf. Jessica also represents NAMI by serving on many committees in Lake County including, CALMHS, SART and Citizens Circle.
Jessica entered the mental health field in 2010 as a Qualified Mental Health Specialist for an agency in Ashtabula, Oh. While working in Ashtabula she obtained her license as a Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant. This gave her the opportunity to work with individuals with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.
In 2016 Jessica accepted a position in Lake County at Extended Housing. Here she provided outreach and mental health service linkage to Lake County’s homeless community for the next three and a half years. It was in this position where she realized the obstacles which the transitional youth population faces. Jessica has walked along side many transitional youths, helping advocate for resources such as housing, benefits, employment, and basic needs. Jessica has also worked extremely close with the homeless shelter, Project Hope.
Jessica has been a lifetime Lake County resident and enjoys dedicating her free time to her family and her community.
Kathie Freshour has extensive small business operations experience. She is President / Owner of North Coast Perennials, Inc. since 2008. North Coast Perennials, Inc. is a 30-acre wholesale farm in Madison, Ohio. In peak season they employ about 30 employees. Kathie brings her background and professional development in banking and lending to the business end of the nursery, handling human resource matters, vendors, accounts payable, accounts receivable and payroll. She also works with Auburn’s Career Center’s Landscape Horticulture Program to provide training for interns and is a past board member of Auburn’s Advisory Committee. The nursery is a corporate donor for the Madison Food Center and Kathie is a past volunteer.
Bridget Y.T. Fuerst, MS, Social Worker, Lake County Department of Job and Family Services.
Ms. Fuerst began her career as a child protective services social worker with Lake County in 2010. In that year, she also completed a Master of Science Degree in Psychology through Walden University. While in her master’s studies, she was inducted into the National Honors Society in Psychology. Ms. Fuerst’s interest in child welfare began while earning her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology and working as psychological research assistant for the Children Who Witness Violence Program through The Institute for Study and Prevention of Violence, Kent State University. In 2015, Ms. Fuerst represented Lake County serving as a Child and Family Services Plan Workgroup Volunteer for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. From 2018 to 2020, she transitioned from child welfare to post-secondary education as Director of Admissions and was quickly promoted to Director of Academics and Financial Services for a local trade school. Ms. Fuerst’s passion to help people brought her back to serve the children and families of Lake County.
As a child welfare social worker, Ms. Fuerst strives to be a stable and consistent advocate for the emancipating foster youth on her case load and helps them prepare for graduation and independent living. When not working, she enjoys spending time with her family and pets, practicing yoga, or creating abstract paintings.
It is the goal of Ms. Fuerst with One Step at a Time, Lake County, OSAATLC, to provide support and housing assistance to the vulnerable population of emancipated foster youth.
Kelly Kolberg Program Manager
Kelly Kolberg has worked for the Lake County Department of Job and Family Services since 2012, serving the first 4 years in
the intake department. Her role included the investigation and assessment of allegations regarding child abuse and neglect. For the past 4 years, she has served the role of assessor, working with relative caregivers of children in foster care. Specifically, she assesses and upon approval, licenses individuals as foster and adoptive parents within Lake County. From 2015-2019, Ms. Kolberg was employed by Project Hope, Lake County’s local homeless shelter. She served as a residential specialist, working one on one with individuals to develop and accomplish goal plans to sustain affordable and stable housing.
It was during this time period that Ms. Kolberg saw the need for transitional housing for young adults who have aged out of the foster care system. A resource is missing in Lake County which will allow young adults to transition from foster care into safe, affordable, and stable housing while they continue to develop independent living skills. Unfortunately, children age out of foster care without having been given the opportunity to utilize the skills they are taught from the age of 14-18. Having a transitional living space will provide emancipated youth an opportunity to gain practical experience in independent
living while in a well-supported environment.