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.
Janine Strack, M.S., BCBA
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 as Regional Clinic Director for 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!
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.
Sarah Bolla, M.Ed., BCBA
Sarah Bolla graduated from Texas State University-San Marcos in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies with a minor in Mass Communications. Throughout her undergraduate studies, Ms. Bolla worked with children in a variety of settings as a Swim Instructor, Gymnastics Instructor, and as a Boarding School Activities Supervisor, as well as volunteering with a variety of non-profit organizations as a camp counselor. Through these experiences, Ms. Bolla developed a passion for working with children and strived to find a career geared towards benefiting children and helping those in need. She became interested in ABA when she began researching the field and the various companies providing services.
In 2014, Ms. Bolla discovered FirstSteps for Kids, Inc. She joined the FirstSteps team as an Instructor and was later promoted to Lead Instructor. During this time, she developed a passion for the field of ABA and decided to further her education. She pursued a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction in Applied Behavior Analysis through Arizona State University and received her BCBA.
Ms. Bolla is excited to be working as a Program Director at FirstSteps. She is extremely grateful for the opportunities and experience this agency has provided, and to be involved with a company dedicated to providing quality ABA services to children diagnosed with autism. Ms. Bolla looks forward to continuing her professional growth at FirstSteps for Kids and working with a dedicated team of professionals.
Christina Kowan, M.A., BCBA
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.
Wai-Ling Wu, M.A., BCBA
Wai-Ling Wu received a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from University of California, Los Angeles in 2011. Throughout her undergraduate career, she had volunteered with a research lab that examined emotional responding to music through fMRIs in children and teens diagnosed with autism. After graduation, she sought other avenues of helping children diagnosed with autism, and found a job as a behavior technician at an ABA agency in Los Angeles. Through her two years there, she experienced first-hand the difference that behavior analysis could make as she watched all her clients make significant strides in their lives. To pursue her Master’s Degree in Behavior Analysis, she moved to Houston to attend a three-year behavior analysis program at the University of Houston - Clear Lake. During the program, Ms. Wu had the privilege of working in a variety of settings, including the early childhood ABA-Skills Intervention Program, the parent-training Verbal Behavior Clinic, and the Severe Behavior Disorders Research Clinic. She developed her research skills by assisting in a variety of research projects and refined her clinical skills working under close supervision of different behavior analysts in center-based services, school districts, and in-home settings. She also participated in community workshops and presentations that spread basic ABA strategies to teachers and parents of children with developmental disabilities. Through her internships and classes, she developed a passion for the field of behavior analysis, learning about the research behind the science and the impact that behavior analysis can have in the applied settings.
Upon completing her Master’s Degree in Behavior Analysis in 2016, Ms. Wu accepted a position in California and received her BCBA the same year. For the next three years, she continued to gain valuable clinical experiences in both Northern and Southern California. She discovered FirstSteps in 2019 and was very excited to find a team who is dedicated to both the evidence-based practices and the needs of the children and families that they serve. Ms. Wu’s clinical and research interests lie in verbal behavior, foreign language development, and staff training.
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.
Ramona Cortez, B.S.
After graduating from California State University, Long Beach in 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Health Science, Ms. Cortez began working at an early intervention program with children who were identified to be at risk for developmental delays. Ms. Cortez always had a profound love for working with children but soon discovered her passion for working with children with special needs. She wanted to learn what therapeutic interventions and practices worked best for this population and was led to the field of applied behavior analysis.
Ramona joined First Steps For Kids, Inc. in 2015 as an Instructor and within a year was promoted to Lead Instructor. As an Instructor, Ms. Cortez learned the fundamental skills and principles of ABA while working with children and their families in a variety of settings. After witnessing incredible growth in the children with whom she worked, she decided to pursue a higher education in the field of ABA . She completed her BCaBA coursework in 2017 and is currently pursuing her Master’s Degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from Ball State University.
As a Program Manager, Ms. Cortez appreciates the opportunity to expand her clinical skills through the guidance of passionate individuals. She looks forward to continuing to make a positive impact in the lives of the children and families with whom she works.
Ellen Lewis, M.A.
Ms. Lewis graduated from University of California, Riverside in 2012 with her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. Throughout her undergraduate degree she worked as a shadow for children with autism spectrum disorder at preschools and camps. Ms. Lewis was introduced to applied behavior analysis in her first job out of college and instantly fell in love with her clients and the principles of ABA.
Having grown up in Santa Barbara, Ms. Lewis moved to South Bay in 2013 to continue her career in ABA at FirstSteps for Kids, Inc. Starting as an Instructor, she was quickly promoted to Lead Instructor in 2014. Ms. Lewis saw how passionate FirstSteps is about caring for their clients and the strong clinical ethic of their staff, and knew that she would learn so much. As such, she decided to pursue a career in the field and continue to grow within the company.
Ms. Lewis graduated from Ball State University with a Master’s of Arts in Applied Behavior Analysis in 2018 and is currently working on becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. As a Program Manager, she is excited to continue to expand her role at FirstSteps for Kids and work to develop the programs that help change our clients’ lives.
Savannah Pio, M.S.
Ms. Pio first began her studies in child development and psychology while attending California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Following the completion of her coursework at Cal Poly, Ms. Pio obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Child Development and a Minor in Psychology.
After a brief period of teaching in an early-childhood and educational setting, Savannah joined the FirstSteps clinical team in the summer of 2016, officially marking the beginning of her career in Behavior Analysis. Early in her experience working for FirstSteps as a Lead Instructor, she decided to pursue a Master’s Degree in Applied Behavior Analysis. After initially enrolling in an online graduate degree program, Savannah re-applied to USC’s ABA program, ultimately earning a Master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis in May of 2019.
Ms. Pio is looking forward to continuing to develop in her leadership role at FirstSteps as a Program Manager and the expanded responsibility of supervision. She looks forward to both the opportunity to have a positive impact on clients’ lives as well as working in an environment that encourages sharpening of clinical skills.
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, B.A., BCaBA
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 Coordinator
Ms. Jessica Salceda 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. Salceda 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. Salceda discovered another passion: mentoring and developing clinical growth in her novice peers.
Committed to a career in this new found passion, Ms. Salceda 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.