Hermosa Beach

Regional Clinic Director

Your Regional Clinic Director is responsible for ensuring FirstSteps program integrity. She oversees all client programs, ensures your treatment team is trained and supported, interfaces with your funding agencies, and communicates with our executive team daily to ensure your child's services run smoothly and are effective.

Please feel free to contact her at any time with questions, concerns, or to discuss your child's treatment progress.

Kristen Carmi, M.A., BCBA

Kristen Carmi

Kristen Carmi joined our FirstSteps family as a Program Director in 2007. Prior to joining our team, Ms. Carmi began her work with children and adults with disabilities after earning a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology with a second major in Theatre Arts from Towson University. Ms. Carmi sought a career that combined her passion for the arts with psychology. Under the guidance of Sally Bailey (MFA, MSW, RDT/BCT), Ms. Carmi developed self-advocacy programs for adults with disabilities in the D.C. area and facilitated social development with children and young adults through the course, "Act for Yourself: Social Skills Through Drama," through the Continuing Education Division of Montgomery College.

In 1999, she ventured from Maryland to California, where she found a new passion waiting for her in Applied Behavior Analysis. Ms. Carmi began work as a Therapeutic Instructor applying intensive behavioral strategies with children with Autism, using Discrete Trial Training, Natural Environment Training, the Picture Exchange Communication System, and Social Skills Training.

Soon after, Ms. Carmi earned her Master of Arts Degree in Psychology from California State University, Los Angeles and became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She has presented and will continue to present her ongoing research at state, national and international levels, including the California Association for Behavior Analysis and the Association of Behavior Analysis. She is also a regularly invited guest lecturer at colleges and universities in the Greater Los Angeles area and has served as Adjunct Professor, teaching a graduate level practicum course at CSUN's Autism Clinic..

Working in the field of ABA for over a decade, Ms. Carmi has developed a broad range of skills and interests. Her areas of expertise and particular interest include social skills training through the use of behavioral strategies, generalization of learned skills to multiple settings, verbal behavior, and motivation in parent training and program implementation.

Ms. Carmi resides in the South Bay with her two sons. She is, at the end of every day, grateful for the opportunity to work with the most amazing children and looks forward to life-long learning within the field of Autism.

Associate Regional Clinic Director

Janine Strack, M.S., BCBA

Janine Strack

Janine Strack began her work with children diagnosed with autism at FirstSteps in 2005, after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles.  While working as an Instructor, she quickly realized she had found her lifelong career and decided to pursue a graduate degree in the field.  While continuing to work full time as a Lead Instructor at FirstSteps, she completed her Master of Science Degree in Counseling, with a specialization in ABA, from California State University, Los Angeles and, shortly thereafter, became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. 

As a long-time member of the FirstSteps team, she has served in a variety of clinical roles ranging from providing 1:1 behavior therapy to clients in the home, school, and community settings, designing and supervising the individualized behavior intervention programs for children of a variety of ages and developmental levels, overseeing the FirstSteps intake and assessment department, and most recently, joining Kristen Carmi as Associate Regional Clinic Director in the Hermosa Beach office. 

Ms. Strack takes great pride in her work at FirstSteps, and strives to provide the most effective, comprehensive, and individualized services to her clients possible. She appreciates the importance of transforming current, relevant, and empirically validated treatment intervention findings into effective clinical practice, and has a particular interest in higher-order programming, to include perspective taking and executive functions. She is looking forward to continuing her career with FirstSteps for many years to come!

Program Directors

FirstSteps is committed to achieving the best possible outcomes for the children and families we serve. Essential to this goal is effective and ongoing program supervision provided by our Program Directors. At FirstSteps, all Program Directors have a minimum of a Master's Degree AND are Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs), with at least 5 years of behavior analytic experience with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

As a client of FirstSteps, your child has a designated Program Director who is responsible for developing his or her individualized Treatment Plan which includes establishing clearly defined, objective, measurable, and appropriate treatment goals and ensuring you and your child's clinical team are prepared and able to implement the plan successfully. Your Program Director will educate and support your family in the Principles of Applied Behavior Analysis, therapeutic targets and strategies, and behavior management techniques to ensure proper generalization of treatment effects outside of the structured therapy setting. To further support your child's learning and generalization, consultation and collaboration with your child's school teachers and other service providers will be provided by your Program Director on an ongoing and regular basis.

Your Program Director is dedicated to ensuring your child's success as well as supporting you and your family along the way. Please feel free to contact your Program Director at any time with questions or concerns.

Christina Kowan, M.A., BCBA

Christina Kowan

In 2008 Christina Kowan had her first experience working with children diagnosed with autism. After graduating from California State University, Dominguez Hills with a degree in Psychology and a minor in Sociology, Ms. Kowan eagerly sought out knowledge on what practices produced the best results for children on the spectrum. After thoroughly researching various therapies and agencies, she was lead to ABA and joined the FirstSteps clinical team in 2009.

Ms. Kowan advanced to a Lead Instructor as she completed her Master of Arts degree in Education with an emphasis in School Counseling at California State University, Dominguez Hills. Enthusiastic about turning her passion into her life's work, Ms. Kowan promptly enrolled in Board Certified Behavior Analyst courses upon graduation. With her dedication and sound clinical skills shining through, FirstSteps promoted Ms. Kowan to a Program Director. She is currently supervising cases, implementing parent training, and assisting in mentoring FirstSteps instructors. In addition, Ms. Kowan currently facilitates two social skills groups for girls.

Ms. Kowan takes pride in working rigorously to ensure that each child's program is highly individualized to ensure its effectiveness. She enjoys developing new and creative ways to assist each child to be successful in their daily lives.

Ms. Kowan resides in the South Bay with her husband and young daughter and serves FirstSteps families living in the surrounding beach cities.

Suan Moncayo, M.S., BCBA

Suan Moncayo

Suan Moncayo has always had a passion for working with children. In the summer of 2009, Ms. Moncayo joined FirstSteps for Kids, Inc. after graduating from California Polytechnic State University of San Luis Obispo with a Bachelor of Science in Child Development, as well as a minor in Psychology. After three years of working with FirstSteps as an Instructor, and eventually Lead Instructor, Ms. Moncayo decided to further her education by moving to Boston, Massachusetts where she attended Simmons College and completed her Masters of Science in Behavior Analysis. During her stay in Boston, Ms. Moncayo continued to gain experience in the field of ABA through her employment with Boston Public Schools, providing 1:1 and group instruction to students in Pre-K to 4th grade within the school setting. It was there where she gained further knowledge with the importance of student IEP's, as well as parent and teacher collaboration.

Eager to return to FirstSteps (as well as sunny California), Ms. Moncayo was welcomed back with open arms as a Program Manager in the summer of 2014 and in March of 2015 was promoted to Program Director. 

Stephanie Anyakwo, M.A., BCBA

Stephanie Anyakwo

In 2009, Stephanie Anyakwo was welcomed to the clinical team at FirstSteps for Kids, Inc., after graduating with a B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis in Individual and Family from Loyola Marymount University. As an undergraduate, Stephanie held membership with several philanthropic organizations, such as the Bill Gates Millennium Scholars and Best Buddies International, which focused on the importance of higher education and providing support to children and families in the special needs community.

Working at FirstSteps fueled Ms. Anyakwo’s passion for helping others, thus she went back to school, completing her Masters of Arts Degree in Clinical Psychology, with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy from Azusa Pacific University in 2012. Simultaneously, Stephanie implemented ABA principles while working as a Behavioral Interventionist and provided psychotherapy to adolescents and their families through a charter school organization in Downtown Los Angeles.

As her clinical skills strengthened, and her eagerness to make a difference continued, FirstSteps promoted Ms. Anyakwo to the clinical role of Program Manager. As a Program Manager, Stephanie is currently taking on more responsibility with case management, creating effective treatment plans and behavior interventions, and mentors the intervention team of instructors and lead instructors.

Ms. Anyakwo is extremely dedicated to this field and has grown tremendously, both professionally and personally, while witnessing the progressive change that the children and families of FirstSteps for Kids, Inc., have undergone.

 

Amy Fuller, Ph.D., BCBA

Amy Fuller

Amy Fuller first began working in the field of applied behavior analysis as an undergraduate at the autism lab at Claremont McKenna College. After graduation in 2007, she continued to work at an ABA agency as an instructor providing early intervention services to children with autism and related disorders in the home and school settings. She witnessed incredible growth in her clients, which led her to apply to a Ph.D. program in Human Development and Psychology at UCLA. Upon acceptance, Ms. Fuller worked under her advisor Connie Kasari, refining both her clinical and research skills. She gained valuable experience in the assessment and treatment of young children with autism. Ms. Fuller was also able to assist in the coordination of multi-site randomized controlled treatment trials. After earning her Ph.D. and becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, Ms. Fuller was thrilled to continue working with children and their families in a clinical capacity as a case supervisor and clinical director.

When she discovered FirstSteps for Kids, Inc., Ms. Fuller knew it was a company that shared her high standards and passion for helping children. Ms. Fuller is currently a Program Director in our Hermosa Beach office and is excited to bring her knowledge and perspective to FirstSteps as well as collaborate with all of her talented colleagues.

Ms. Fuller resides in West Los Angeles with her husband. Her interests and areas of expertise include teaching early joint attention and play skills, generalization of learned skills to the natural environment, social skills development, and parent training and consultation. She is truly grateful to be working with all of the inspiring children and families at FirstSteps.

Sarah Johnson, M.S., BCBA

Sarah Johnson

Sarah Johnson was first introduced to Applied Behavior Analysis in spring of 2007 at the New England Center for Children (NECC), following completion of a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology at the University of Maryland.  The following year she accepted a relocation opportunity to help open new classrooms in NECC’s replicate school in the United Arab Emirates.  While there, having fallen in love with the powerful teaching effects of behaviorism, she completed a Master of Science Degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from Northeastern University. Ms. Johnson stayed for three years, helping to spread awareness of Autism and ABA to a new culture.  When Ms. Johnson returned, she taught in NECC’s preschool classrooms, then moved to working directly with families in the home as part of the early intensive behavioral intervention program. 

She received her BCBA in 2012 and the following spring began work at South Bay Mental Health Center as the Regional Coordinator of In Home Behavior Services.  This was a program that brought intensive behavioral therapy to children of disadvantaged families who were at risk of out-of-home placement due to behavioral challenges.  She created behavioral support plans for family-driven implementation, with a strong emphasis on parent training to improve post-involvement sustainability.  

Ms. Johnson discovered FirstSteps in 2015 and immediately knew it was a match made in heaven.  She is currently a Program Director at the Hermosa Beach office and excited to be part of such an exuberant and focused clinical team.  Her clinical interests lie in conditioned reinforcement, early intensive behavioral intervention, skill acquisition, verbal behavior, and naturalistic teaching. 

Program Managers

Program Managers assist Program Directors in the management of their clients cases. Depending on the needs of the client, Program Managers may assist with case initiation, parent education and training, assessment and data collection/analysis, program modifications, and training and support for Lead Instructors, Instructors, and Trainees. Program Managers also provide direct intervention for their clients in the home, school, and community settings. All Program Managers hold masters degrees in psychology and/or applied behavior analysis and are Board Certified Behavior Analysts or are in the process of completing their certification as Board Certified Behavior Analysts.

Beatrice Baisa

Beatrice Baisa

Beatrice Baisa graduated from University of California Los Angeles in 2007. Throughout her undergraduate studies, she worked as a volunteer tutor and mentor to underprivileged elementary students in low-income areas where her love and passion for helping children grew. Prior to working at FirstSteps, Beatrice was also a sitter for a family with a child with autism. This young boy eventually received ABA services and Beatrice was there from day-1. It was through this experience that she saw first-hand the socially significant changes and milestones that were made throughout this young boy’s life due to ABA.

With a growing interest and fascination for the science and field of ABA, Ms. Baisa discovered FirstSteps for Kids, Inc. and started as an Instructor in 2012. She learned her fundamental skills and principles of ABA as an Instructor, quickly became a Lead instructor, and in 2014, she decided to further her education and was accepted into California State University Northridge (CSUN) where she is pursuing a Masters in Science in Applied Behavior Analysis. During her experiences out in the field, her inquisitiveness was challenged and curiosity for learning about skill acquisition in children on the spectrum emerged. She participated as a co-author for a treatment evaluation in one of FirstSteps’s symposiums that was presented at CalABA in 2015. This has been one of Beatrice’s most highlighted experiences in the field and continues to explore ways to increase skill acquisition in the clients she works with today.

In August 2015, Ms. Baisa was promoted as Program Manager and is working hard to become a Program Director in the future. When she is not at FirstSteps, she works at CSUN’s Autism Clinic as Lab Coordinator where she is supervised by other BCBAs. As Lab Coordinator she helps manage the on-campus non-profit clinic, along with other graduate students, to create programs that result in the development of comprehensive treatment plans using principles of ABA to service families with children on the spectrum in the San Fernando Valley. Ms. Baisa is so grateful for the all of the opportunities she’s had in the field thus far and is eager to continue learning, growing professionally, and improving clinically throughout her career.

Heather Bae

Heather Bae graduated from California State University, Fullerton with a degree in Child and Adolescent Development and a minor in Psychology. As an undergraduate, Ms. Bae worked with children in a variety of settings such as public and non-public schools, as well as nonprofit organizations geared to support low income families. She particularly enjoyed working closely with families from different backgrounds, and she learned the value of collaboration and client-specific programming.

In 2012, Ms. Bae joined the FirstSteps for Kids, Inc. As an Instructor, she strived to accurately implement intervention strategies and frequently communicated with the clinical team to effectively manage challenging behaviors. Soon after, she was promoted to Lead Instructor in 2013 and took on a leadership role, which allowed her greater freedom to develop strategies to help her clients reach their fullest potentials. As a Program Manager, she has been working to ensure that each Instructor is providing consistent, behaviorally-sound interventions to the children they serve.

Ms. Bae is currently completing a Master of Arts in Applied Behavior Analysis with an emphasis in Autism at Ball State University. She is excited to continue her work with Instructors and assist Program Directors in providing the most effective intervention plans that meet the individual needs of children and families., as well as learning and continuing to grow within this field.

Jamie Morgan

Jamie Morgan graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2007 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology with a minor in Sociology. For several years following, she worked at an elementary school as an aide for children with ASD, as well as students with a variety of other special needs. Ms. Morgan’s passion for working with children, along with her enthusiasm for continuous growth and knowledge, inspired her to pursue higher education. In 2012, she attained a Master’s of Science in Counselor Education, with a focus in School Counseling. While Ms. Morgan truly enjoyed and valued her experience at the elementary school in Connecticut, she decided it was time for change. 

In 2014, Ms. Morgan traveled to southern California, where she joined the FirstSteps team as an Instructor, and later a Lead Instructor. She quickly came to admire the culture and values of FirstSteps, which sparked a desire to develop her clinical skills in the field of ABA. She is currently completing coursework at the Florida Institute of Technology to proceed on the track of becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. 

Ms. Morgan is thrilled to be working as a Program Manager at FirstSteps, supporting Program Directors, Instructors, and families. She is incredibly grateful to be involved in a company filled with such passionate, talented, and brilliant individuals. Ms. Morgan is dedicated to making a positive difference for the children and families of our community, and looks forward to continued clinical and professional growth at FirstSteps.

Jonalyn Tomelden

Jonalyn Tomelden earned her Bachelors of Science degree in Kinesiology, Option in Kinesiotherapy, and a minor in Psychology from California State University, Long Beach in 2011. Ms. Tomelden came to FirstSteps for Kids, Inc. shortly after graduating with a love for helping people. Completing her undergrad fieldwork in hospital physical rehabilitation units and working closely with individuals with developmental disabilities inspired her to continue on the path of helping others. While working at various pediatric therapy clinics and elementary schools, she discovered her passion for working with children. She was excited to have found a career that aligns with her experiences and passion. As an Instructor and later a Lead Instructor, Ms. Tomelden strived to provide a consistently high level of innovation to each of her clients’ intervention plans. One of her greatest strengths is her creativity in addressing her clients' unique needs. She ensures that her sessions are motivating, fun and productive!

Ms. Tomelden is currently working towards a Masters in Applied Behavior Analysis with an emphasis in Autism at Ball State University. She has grown tremendously under the guidance of her mentors at FirstSteps and is thrilled to take on her new role as Program Manager. She looks forward to working with Program Directors in upholding the standards and excellence of FirstSteps. She is proud to be part of an amazing team that continuously provides quality ABA services.

Jessica Vu, B.F.A., BCaBA

Jessica Vu

Jessica Vu is a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst who has been working in the field of applied behavior analysis since 2008. She is dedicated to improving the lives of children affected with Autism and related disorders and helping these children reach their full potential. Personally and professionally, she is always looking for opportunities to learn, grow, and collaborate with other professionals within the field of ABA. Ms. Vu graduated from Digital Media Arts College with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Computer Animation. She is currently completing a Master of Education program in Applied Behavior Analysis with an emphasis in Autism, at Arcadia University.

In 2013, Ms. Vu joined the FirstSteps for Kids family as a Lead Instructor. She was quickly promoted to Program Manager and took on a leadership role ensuring that the cases she manages are well-organized, consistent, and effective. In addition to involving parents in programming and going above and beyond to address their concerns and facilitate their participation, she offers excellent treatment ideas to Program Directors and Instructors. Her training and experience make her a valuable addition to all of her teams.

Dinelle Zipser

Dinelle Zipser

Dinelle Zipser began working with children as a tutor at a math and reading center while attending Mount St. Mary’s University in Los Angeles, CA. She also observed and worked in classrooms as a student teacher and volunteer while working toward a BA in Liberal Studies and a teaching credential.

Shortly after graduating, Ms. Zipser moved to London, U.K. and was hired as a long-term substitute at a school for children with Autism and taught a class of students, ages 12 - 14. It was here that she discovered her interest and passion for working with individuals on the Autism spectrum. She heard about Applied Behavior Analysis through this experience and sought to gain more knowledge about the treatment. Ms. Zipser was soon trained and employed to work as an Interventionist at an ABA agency in California, where she worked for nearly a year, before moving on to an ABA school in London, U.K.

Ms. Zipser joined the FirstSteps team in 2012 as an Instructor and, shortly after, was promoted to Lead Instructor. In 2015, she became a Program Manager. She is currently enrolled in a Master’s of Education program in Applied Behavior Analysis at Arizona State University.

Ms. Zipser is passionate about the work that she does and feels privileged to be part of a dedicated team of professionals.

Lead Instructors

FirstSteps Lead Instructors provide one-to-one behavior intervention services with your child in the home, school, and community settings. They also manage your child’s treatment program and team, while supporting the Program Director and Program Manager.

Lead Instructors - Hermosa Beach

Jeanette Buchanan Veronica Campos
Thania Casillas Cheree Chavis
Ramona Cortez Krystina Hunley
Jessica Kading Ellen Lewis
Anagabriel Loeza Kentaro Majima
Alex Maki Linda Mao
Elizabeth Pennington Ciantera Rose
Roisin Taylor Daniella Vallejo
Danielle Wagoner Shannon Whitelaw

Director of Training & Employee Development

Our Director of Training & Employee Development, Ms. Demi Contreras, epitomizes the heart and enthusiasm of our FirstSteps' clinical team. She is responsible for overseeing our FirstSteps Training Department and ensuring our Training Managers provide exceptional coaching and support to our new staff. Ms. Contreras personally guarantees that each clinical team member shares our FirstSteps values and mission to provide our clients with state of the art treatment and a brighter future.

Demetria Contreras, BCaBA

Demetria Contreras

Demetria Contreras began her career in the field of Behavior Analysis in 2001 after learning of her godson's diagnosis of Autism. Refusing to believe his doctors who explained that her godson would likely not talk or have friends, she researched the treatment options available at the time. She quickly determined that ABA was the only empirically validated and effective intervention and committed herself to becoming an expert. From 2001 through 2005, Demi worked as a senior therapeutic instructor, providing hundreds of hours of both direct intervention and parent training to families with children diagnosed with Autism.

In 2005, Ms. Contreras joined our FirstSteps team as a Lead Instructor. Not only did she work with countless FirstSteps children and families, she also partnered with other FirstSteps Program Directors and dedicated herself to recruiting, training, and assembling bilingual therapy teams with the mission to bring ABA services to non-English speaking families.

In 2006, Ms. Contreras was promoted to the position of Director of Training & Employee Development. In this capacity, Ms. Contreras continues to work directly with FirstSteps children and families while also leading the Training Department to training and providing ongoing support to our new instructors, ensuring they perfect their instructional technique and meet the specific needs of our children.

Ms. Contreras has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from California State University, Los Angeles and has also earned her certification as a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA).

Regional Training Manager

Our Hermosa Beach Regional Training Team, Mr. Justin Hays and Ms. Jessica Leggett, are responsible for recruiting, screening, hiring, and training our new clinical team members. They are directly involved with each FirstSteps child's treatment plan and are able to effectively coach our staff and maximize treatment integrity. As a FirstSteps family, you will see them regularly as they "pop-in" to observe your child's sessions, provide feedback, and test your child's skills and generalization of skills across instructors.

Justin Hays, M.A., BCBA

Justin Hays

Justin Hays graduated from Northern Arizona University with a B.A. in Parks and Recreation Management and a minor in journalism. While working in the field of recreation, Justin was intrigued by the work of a FirstSteps instructor working with a child at a school site. A short time later, after applying and being accepted as an instructor himself with FirstSteps, Justin knew he had found a passion in the field and the science of ABA.  

Justin seeks to keep sessions fun, active, and goofy while contriving real learning opportunities. While being promoted to lead instructor, Justin enrolled at Ball State University working towards a Master of Arts in Applied Behavior Analysis with an Emphasis in Autism. Having earned his M.A. in ABA, Justin was promoted to Program Manager at FirstSteps. 

Justin is a BCBA as of early 2015 and is now the Regional Training Manager of the Hermosa Beach office. This entails training new Instructors and Lead Instructors, as well as constantly getting out into the field to see clients and instructors during session time. This is a great fit for him as he can share his knowledge regarding a plethora of positions he has held here including Instructor, Lead Instructor, Program Manager, and now part of the training team.  He has also become a certified instructor in CPI’s Nonviolent Crisis Intervention, equipping staff with effective strategies for defusing crisis situations when they occur. He is extremely grateful to the many Program Directors who have been mentors to him through the years. Justin has a special passion for training other ABA instructors and in the general, life-long learning of the field of ABA.

Regional Training Coordinator

Jessica Salceda

Jessica Salceda

Ms. Jessica Leggett spent years dedicated to child care and found most fulfillment when working with those that had been affected by developmental disabilities. Her experiences and love for children encouraged her to follow this path into a career. She joined FirstSteps in 2009 as an instructor and was a natural from the start. Ms. Leggett was quick to gain clinical understanding and excelled in tending to the individual needs of each child. Ms. Leggett loved watching every step of progress turn into a milestone and was so inspired by the science of ABA.

Under the mentorship of many FirstSteps Program Directors and the Training Department, she was promoted to a Lead Instructor in 2010 where she acquired a great deal of experience working with children across the autism spectrum. It was also during her time as a Lead Instructor where Ms. Leggett discovered another passion: mentoring and developing clinical growth in her novice peers.

Committed to a career in this new found passion, Ms. Leggett began assisting with training duties and in July of 2013, was made an official member of the Training Department. She looks forward to helping many more children reach their goals by teaching other instructors how to utilize the science of ABA to increase skills and decrease maladaptive behaviors.