The National Advisory Caucus is a diverse group of nationally recognized leaders from across the country who guide the STAR Center's efforts on youth leadership and developing sustainability for peer and family run organizations.
Johanna Bergan is an advocate for youth with lived experience in the mental health system who is working in the field of youth engagement to promote and encourage the inclusion of youth voice in policy change. As Youth M.O.V.E. National’s Executive Director, Johanna assists chapters of the Youth M.O.V.E. network in creating youth-driven organizations working to unite the voices and causes of youth at the local, state and national level. Johanna has eight years of experience advocating for system change and has found a deep sense of purpose in helping youth live a well life. Her voice has been present on national platforms providing technical assistance and advising on the value of youth voice.
A Favorite Quote:
"Feels like some kind of ride but it's turning out just to be life going absolutely perfectly" - Brian Andreas, StoryPeople
Viviana Bonilla Lopez
Viviana is a Puerto Rico native committed to mental health and disability justice.
In 2014, she graduated from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, earning a BA in journalism with a minor in entrepreneurship. As an undergraduate, Viviana worked in the mental health system as a volunteer, intern, and research assistant. In 2011, she co-founded Rethink: Psychiatric Illness, a student organization aimed at raising awareness about mental illnesses and increasing help-seeking behaviors among students. In this role, she spearheaded the creation of the university’s first-ever mental health advocacy training, which has attracted over 680 students. In March 2015, Viviana presented Rethink’s work at the Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy, and Ethics’ Symposium.
In the journalism field, she has experience as a writer, photographer, videographer, researcher, translator, and editor. Her storytelling focused on health issues and the experiences of people with disabilities.
A Favorite Quote:
“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us struggle together.” ~Aboriginal activists group, Queensland, 1970s
Susan Manzi is an advocate, community educator and organizer. She speaks to the injustices of vulnerable families and young people within Systems of Care, and dreams of a day where neighborhoods can share resources, restore justice, and speak peace to one another–keeping folks out of Systems, and thriving in communities. Her lived experiences as queer, a third generation foster care survivor, and a psychiatric *thriver* have empowered her to develop and deliver models and policy for systems-change in Mental Health and Child Welfare. Much of her training and advocacy career started in Humboldt County, where Susan was an active part of Prop 63, co-founding the California Youth Connection Chapter and Humboldt County Transition Age Youth Collaboration (HCTAYC). In addition to her activism in Northern California, Susan worked on National work groups to address critical issues of disproportionality, disparity and permanency within the Child Welfare System. Recently attending the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Susan was a Fellow with the New Organizing Institute and studied under Professor Marshall Ganz, grappling with the struggle to have front line communities uphold psychosocial wellness as a core value when doing social justice and liberation work. As an artist, Susan strives to bring holistic healing and the creative arts into her political work. She currently lives in the Bay Area where she attends school and works as a freelance consultant. A founding member of Youth In Mind, Susan envisions the day when the original leadership team can look back, and see the ripples of resistance within the mental health community, and the power that young people with a vision have.
Stephanie Orlando is a founder and the Executive Director of YOUTH POWER!, a statewide network comprised of young people who have disabilities and experiences in multiple state child-serving systems. Building upon her personal experience of having received children’s mental health, special education, and residential services, Ms. Orlando began her work with youth peer advocacy in 1998 in Buffalo New York. She is dedicated to promoting positive change within child-serving systems, increasing the availability of peer support for young people and teaching youth how to advocate for their own needs and rights on all levels of service.
Ms. Orlando is a nationally recognized advocate for youth with disabilities. She has received numerous awards for her work, including the Diana Vietz Award in 2008 from the National Council on Independent Living and mpower Award in 2006 from the National Mental Health Association. In 2012, Ms. Orlando was appointed by President Obama and confirmed by the US Senate to the National Council on Disability for a term, which expired in November 2014.
A Favorite Quote:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Juan Vélez is a peer supporter from Puerto Rico, who has worked within Systems of Care, support group facilitation, motivational speaking and community involvement. A Production major, Vélez also incorporates audiovisual elements to promote mental health stigma reduction.
One of Juan's goals is to integrate peers into the mental health workforce in Puerto Rico. He's also been involved with SAMHSA's Recovery Month committee, and was a panelist in their Youth Recovery Summit, which he hopes is one day developed for Puerto Rico.
A Favorite Quote:
“Stay hungry, stay young, stay foolish, stay curious, and above all, stay humble because just when you think you got all the answers, is the moment when some bitter twist of fate in the universe will remind you that you very much don't.”
― Tom Hiddleston
David McClung is the youth engagement specialist at Texas System of Care where he helps to lead ACCEPT, a cross-system group of youth and young adults ages 13-25 from across the state who work together for system transformation by supporting partnerships between, youth, young adults, and organizations. David graduated from Wayland Baptist University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Baylor University with a Masters in Social Work and Master of Divinity. He is now pursuing a Ph.D. in Social Work at Baylor University and hopes to graduate in 2018. His research interests include natural support systems, the role of congregations in mental health, and youth participatory action research. In his free time, David enjoys spending time with his family, keeping up with current events, reading, and watching movies.
A Favorite Quote:
“The key to creating or transforming community, then, is to see the power in the small but important elements of being with others. The shift we seek needs to be embodied in each invitation we make, each relationship we encounter, and each meeting we attend. For at the most operational and practical level, after all the thinking about policy, strategy, mission, and milestones, it gets down to this: How are we going to be when we gather together?” - Peter Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging
Joshua Kogut is a social worker living in Oakland, California. They hold the identities of Queer, Trans, Mixed Race, and Disabled. They currently work at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center as a Transitional Age Youth Navigator, supporting LGBTQ youth who experience homelessness and dual diagnoses. They have a strong will to shift how the mental health system treats LGBTQ youth, as a former young queer and trans person who deeply struggled with mental illness. They have worked for the past 7 years in non profit, not only supporting young queer and trans folx, but also training providers and professionals on how to better serve LGBTQ youth. In their free time, they are a physically integrated modern dancer, and co-train their future service animal, Penny.
A Favorite Quote:
"Perhaps we don't like what we see: our hips, our loss of hair, our shoe size, our dimples, our knuckles too big, our eating habits, our disposition. We have disclosed these things in secret, likes and dislikes, behind doors with locks, our lonely rooms, our messy desks, our empty hearts, our sudden bursts of energy, our sudden bouts of depression. Don’t worry. Put away your mirrors and your beauty magazines and your books on tape. There is someone right here who knows you more than you do, who is making room on the couch, who is fixing a meal, who is putting on your favorite record, who is listening intently to what you have to say, who is standing there with you, face to face, hand to hand, eye to eye, mouth to mouth. There is no space left uncovered. This is where you belong.”
- Sufjan Stevens
Abigail Cyntje was born on December 8, 1983 on the beautiful island of St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. An avid reader Abigail expressed interest in math science and music at an early age. The last of four children, Abigail graduated at the top of her class and was accepted at one of the top ten schools for engineering. At the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, Abigail studied Electrical and Computer Engineering. Upon graduation, she received the student leadership award for her work on both professional and social student boards and committees. Abigail moved back to her home town where she took a position as a Telecommunications Engineer. Abigail has over 8 years of telecommunications experience and has served as a Project Manager over various telecommunications projects. Abigail has received promotions for her dedicated work in engineering. Apart from engineering, Abigail has spearheaded several volunteer initiatives working on her own and as the president various community organizations. Abigail has a strong entrepreneur spirit in which she was rewarded with the Nascent Business award. Abigail has come to believe that there are two main factors that determine success: a person’s own determination and will to succeed and equally important the support of people around you.
A Favorite Quote:
With the new day comes new strength and new opportunities.