Staff Spotlights

Welcome, Courtney Merritt!

Courtney Merritt joins Positive Childhood Alliance NC as Membership and Training Coordinator. She is already enjoying the position and learning all that the organization has to offer. Courtney’s career and passion for politics started early in her childhood, and took her through school, earning a bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a Public Policy & Leadership Studies concentration and making her way to Capitol Hill and the White House for two years. A North Carolina native, Courtney grew up in Winston-Salem and moved to Chapel Hill in late high school.

For Courtney, Nurturing Positive Childhoods means “you are doing the best you can to provide every child with the ability to feel a safe and secure, stable, healthy in their environment.” Outside of work, Courtney is a huge sports fan, and can be found watching just about any game from basketball to football to hockey. Her favorite teams are the UNC Tar Heels, Georgia Bulldogs, Carolina Hurricanes and USC Trojans.

Meet Our New Intern: Justin Castro-Vargas Shares His Story

“Hey! My name is Justin Castro-Vargas, and I am PCANC’s newest intern! I am a 19-year-old full time student attending UNC Greensboro. I was born and raised in Charlotte, NC. I also come from a Mexican family and have lived in Mexico as well a few years. My hobbies include sports, working out, playing instruments, listening to music, and photography of course. I actually own my own photography/videography business.

Development and childcare have always been interests of mine and I’d eventually like to settle down in a field resembling those. I think the children are the future and we must do everything to our abilities to mold them into the best they can be. I actually have past teaching experience, which is what made me interested about PCANC. I believe we must do everything we can to have a positive impact on the youth and society, or at least not have a negative one.”

Welcome, Shantel Haskins!

Shantel Haskins joins us as Executive Assistant with a background in administration in fields ranging from healthcare to education to non-profit work. She is excited to be a part of a team with an array of skill sets and to be working with an organization that has a meaningful purpose and cause. Shantel is a graduate of Winston-Salem State University with a degree in Political Science. During her time in school, she played collegiate softball.

For Shantel, nurturing positive childhoods means to emphasize childcare that translates to genuine connections, relationships and promotes healthy habits.

Shantel is a Durham native and enjoys the rich sports history that the triangle offers as well as enthusiasm for athletics across the state. She enjoys visiting local parks, writing poetry, spending time with family and attending local festivals and events.

Welcome, Sara Moreno! 

Sara is joining the Evaluation Team and is looking forward to leaning into the position and working with other teams to support them in their work. She is most excited about being to utilize the skills she has learned at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and contributing to PCANC’s meaningful work. Sara graduated from Gillings in May 2023, earning her Master of Public Health. She was a part of the Leadership in Practice concentration, where she focused on the development, management, and evaluation of public health programs. Sara was born and raised in North Carolina — she grew up in the Fuquay-Varina/Apex area and attended UNC Chapel Hill for both undergraduate and graduate school.

To Sara, Nurturing Positive Childhoods means that the community works at every socio-ecological level together to ensure that children are supported throughout all of their developmental phases. It means placing the well-being of children at the center of the work that we do and providing resources and support to all families. By ensuring that all children have a positive and nurturing childhood, they will be able to grow up and break previous generational cycles that have led to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

Currently Sara enjoys coaching fencing with her parents at their fencing club in Apex, NC. She has been coaching for over ten years and competed on UNC’s D-1 Women’s Fencing Team. Sara and her fiancé love to cook together and play with their two cats. Her most recent hobbies include crocheting items for friends and going to yoga with friends.

Welcome, Beth Moore! 

Please join us in welcoming Beth Moore to our team as Learning & Development Manager! Beth joins us with over 20 years of experience in the child and family well-being sector, working as a childcare teacher and director, as well as in Family Services. Through her experience with Family Services, Beth has worked with many families and children that have overcome the downstream consequences of child maltreatment like food insecurity, housing issues, domestic violence, poverty and trauma, and is looking forward to the opportunity to work on the upstream, preventative side of this work. To Beth, Nurturing Positive Childhoods is all about helping to connect families and communities with the resources and support they need to be successful and live happy lives.

Outside of her professional work, Beth loves to spend time with her family and travel. Originally from the New York/New Jersey area, Beth is a NY Yankees and NY Giants fan, and has adopted the Carolina Hurricanes as her favorite hockey team since moving about 25 years ago.

Welcome, Kelly Baxter!

Please join us in welcoming our newest staff member, Kelly Baxter! We’re so excited to work with her and launch our child sexual abuse prevention work! Kelly is joining PCANC’s policy division as the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Manager. She has extensive experience working with early childhood related nonprofits and child sexual abuse prevention work, including with Greenville’s TEDI BEAR Children’s Advocacy Center. Kelly has worked with partners to develop and implement child protection policies in Eastern North Carolina, trained and advised a variety of community agencies and partners in CSA prevention, and has personally trained over 5000 adults using the Stewards of Children curriculum. Her 25 years of experience in the field have been primarily focused on child welfare issues, emphasizing nonprofit management, strategic planning, advocacy, revenue generation, grant writing, community engagement, and policy development as community educator with Reach Out and Read, in her work at TEDI BEAR Children’s Advocacy Center, as Executive Director of the Pitt County Health Education Foundation, and as Interim Executive Director for the Martin Pitt Partnership for Children. She lives in Ayden, NC with her family, 2 mastiff dogs and 3 cats, and enjoys trips to the Outer Banks.

Meet Sharon Hirsch!

Sharon is Prevent Child Abuse NC’s (PCANC) President & CEO and has served in this position since 2015. Sharon is passionate about family and child well-being and ensuring that communities and families have the support and resources they need to thrive. She has a strong background in the family services field, with 30 years of experience working to support families. She began her career in Kentucky, where she worked with The Council of State Governments, then moved to North Carolina where she spent 17 years with the social services system, first working as Executive Director of the NC Association of County Directors of Social Services (NCACDSS), and then as an Assistant Director for Business Operations at Durham County DSS. Her time in these positions provided an intimate experience seeing how disproportionately people of color are known to child welfare and economic systems, and how easily staff working in these systems can focus more on rules rather than the humanity of the people they are serving. Sharon was a registered lobbyist in the 1990s during her time with NCACDSS, and worked with coalitions of organizations that want to improve conditions for families and increase understanding for how difficult it can be to make changes in public agencies.

“Those years taught me about the intersection of child well-being and family economic supports, how to build support for policy change and the importance of working in partnership to build systems to support children and families. No one agency can do this work alone,” Hirsch said, “I’ve seen issues cycle and repeat, and have learned over 30 years in this work that it is a marathon, not a sprint. I’d prefer a sprint, but that’s not how we move big systems.”

For Sharon, nurturing positive childhoods means creating the possibility for positive relationships and environments so that children can grow up safe, stable, nurtured and loved. It includes building the capabilities of parents, building community supports and creating the conditions families need to thrive. It takes advocacy for economic policies we set to assure families can raise their children without the overload of financial stress, workplace policies that support families and provide flexibility for caregiving, and policies in child-serving agencies to assure safeguarding.

Sharon serves as a Board Chair for the Child Care Services Association, an important partner of PCANC. Outside of work, she enjoys reading and taking leisurely walks through nature. She also loves college basketball and March Madness, and cheers for her hometown team, Duke University. Sharon and her family are fans of the Carolina Hurricanes and enjoy attending games. She loves 70s and 80s music, and can be found attending concerts like Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks and Genesis.

Meet Melanie Christmas!

Melanie is Prevent Child Abuse NC’s (PCANC) Human Resources Manager and has been with the agency since 2021. She holds her MBA in HR and has many years of experience learning the various processes of HR and applying the knowledge in her day-to-day work. She has a vast knowledge of the foundations necessary to apply learned concepts and tactics within an organization. Melanie enjoys her work as a Human Resources Manager and says that while the role can be fulfilling and interesting, it is rewarding yet challenging. In her position, she is responsible for overseeing the needs of both the employees and employers, and her goal is to create a harmonious and compliant workplace.

Though Human Resources is widely known for tactical work, such as fulfilling staffing needs, onboarding new employees, explaining organizational benefits, managing employee relations and much more, the profession has a much larger role in business today. Human Resources professionals have evolved from behind-the-scenes administrative roles to active involvement.

To Melanie, Nurturing Positive Childhoods means being able to offer the care, support and love that children require to have a strong sense of belonging during childhood. Emotional support systems can help develop a positive self-image and stable sense of self-worth. Melanie believes that having supportive families that communicate well and do things together facilitate healthy relationships and development for children.

Outside of PCANC, Melanie enjoys interior design, eating authentic Jamaican food and shopping. She says that retail therapy is a real thing, and it makes her feel good! Melanie lives in Raleigh and enjoys watching Washington Commanders football and Duke University basketball. She has one daughter, Asia, and has enjoyed creating a bond with her that can never be broken.

Meet Taylor McDonald!

Taylor is Prevent Child Abuse NC’s (PCANC) Senior Partnership Engagement Manager and has been with the agency since 2018 serving various roles and leading our Prevention Action Network (PAN). Taylor has worked with children and families in a variety of different environments, including Easter Seals, with The Ronald McDonald House, in nursing homes helping the elderly population and their families, and more. Her experience has always weighed heavily on the importance of relationship building and taking time to connect with people. Whether it be through the PAN, Community Prevention Action Plans (CPAPs), Protective Factors Trainings or other events, these connections are what bring Taylor joy in her work.

To Taylor, Nurturing Positive Childhoods is about building relationships with our partners and in the community to ensure we are “resource connectors” that help bridge the gap to services, in turn building protective factors for families and communities across the state. This helps to nurture positive childhoods and support families. Nurturing Positive Childhoods also means checking in with children, listening to them, and expressing empathy and understanding because a little bit goes a long way. A child’s mental health matters, and one way we can nurture children is by listening to them and really hearing them.

Taylor lives in Clayton, NC with her husband Jon (who serves as Taylor’s practice buddy for Connections Matter trainings and Protective Factors trainings) and their dog (Emmy), cat (Zoey) and newly hatched chickens. Taylor is from Chicago, where she says her heart will always be.

Outside of PCANC, Taylor enjoys practicing yoga and sea-shelling on the beach during low tide. She is a huge college football fan, as almost all of the men in her family have played college football and her brother is now a coach for a school in Tennessee but travels often during football season to coach at schools around the country. Her favorite team is wherever her brother is coaching at the time. As a NC State University alum, she hopes that one day he will be coaching for NCSU.

Meet Eric Canino!

Eric is a Prevention Program Specialist with Prevent Child Abuse NC (PCANC). He has been in the Human Services field for over 20 years and has worked with children both one-on-one and in residential home groups. He then shifted to working with parents, facilitating various parenting education programs and providing in-home family education services. This experience is invaluable as a Prevention Programs Specialist, providing implementation support to practitioners of evidence-based curriculums across the state.

For Eric, Nurturing Positive Childhoods means working together to create a safe space for children to learn about and experience the beauty of the world around them.

In his free time, Eric enjoys spending time with family and going on outings with friends. He lives in Stallings, NC with his spouse, Bianca, and their two Aussiedoodles, Toby & Eli.

Meet Kris Demers!

Kris serves as Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina’s (PCANC) Director of Communications and Marketing. She has been with PCANC for more than 10 years, serving various communications roles. When she joined the agency in 2013, Kris was part of the North Carolina Frameworks Learning Collaborative, and still leans into Frameworks’ best practices for effectively framing communications around healthy child development. She served as a catalyst in the creation of Prevent Child Abuse America’s Chapter Communications Work Group, which serves Prevent Child Abuse chapters across the nation by fostering learning and networking opportunities to streamline communications efforts at the local, state and national levels.

For Kris, Nurturing Positive Childhoods is all about investing in policies that help remove the overload of stress families and entire communities face so every child has a strong foundation and can reach their untapped potential. She emphasizes that “Nurturing Positive Childhoods” is a call for our society to shift to a more proactive focus in creating supportive systems that strengthen communities helping to prevent child maltreatment from ever occurring, rather than reacting after negative child and family outcomes occur. Kris asks, “What are we doing today to nurture positive childhoods for all children?”

Outside of PCANC, Kris loves searching for thrifty treasures at local thrift shops and refurbishing pieces to give them a second life. She enjoys trivia nights and writes down every question to refer back to later – just in case! She is originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin but grew up in the Triangle. Kris attended NC State University where she obtained her bachelor’s degree, was an athletic trainer her freshman year for the co-ed cheerleading team, and founded NCSU’s chapter of Her Campus – an online magazine dedicated to, written by, and focused on empowering, college women. Kris enjoys watching sports with her husband and you can find her cheering on the Green Bay Packers and NC State Wolfpack. She lives in Charlotte with her husband, Patrick, and terrier-mix, Bailey (named after George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life”).


Meet Carma Hooper!b&w photo of carma hooper

Carma is PCANC’s Executive Assistant and HR Coordinator. She joined the agency in 2021 as Executive Assistant and her role expanded from there. Prior to working with PCANC, Carma worked in the medical field for many years in emergency medicine, mental health, pediatric care and specialized services. Carma’s experiences in these different environments led her to PCANC where she can apply the essential tools in her toolbox in both her daily life and career to make a difference.

Nurturing positive childhoods to Carma means that both children and families have the essential tools to thrive and build relationships to prevent future traumatic experiences for generations to come. She believes that all children deserve to grow up in safe, stable, nurturing environments, and that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can be prevented when families and communities are supported.

Carma lives in Durham with her husband, Daniel, where they foster their son’s dog, Diesel, while he serves his military duties to our country. She loves football, basketball, traveling, writing poetry and spending time with her family (who she refers to as her own Brady Bunch). Her favorite professional football teams are the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills. Carma is also a UNC basketball fan.


Meet Andrea Clark!

Andrea is PCANC’s Prevention Networks Manager and has been with the agency since 2018 in a couple different roles. Andrea holds her master’s degree in social work from UNC Chapel Hill, and her bachelor’s degree in social work from Metropolitan State University of Denver. She has been in the family well-being and social work field for over 20 years and is a licensed clinical social worker.

To Andrea, Nurturing Positive Childhoods is an inclusive phrase, because all children deserve to grow up in nurturing environments. In order to nurture positive childhoods, parents and communities also need to be nurtured. Helping our community members be aware of the gift of their presence, and being present with children, is a huge way we can nurture positive childhoods. Learning to be mindful and live in the present can help nurture positive childhoods.

Outside of PCANC, Andrea has a passion for the arts, including painting, dance, music, literature, sculpting and more. While she may not be a professional artist, she very much enjoys them. Her most recent projects that she has enjoyed working on include painting with gouache, earring-making and loom-knitting. She has many family members and friends who are very talented in the arts and enjoys seeing their creations and listening to/watching their performances.

Andrea lives in Asheboro, aka “the Heart of North Carolina,” home to one of the world’s largest natural habitat zoos. She has a combined family consisting of seven children- three of whom have flown the nest across the country to California, Montana and Tennessee.


Meet Monica Hicks!

Monica is a Senior Prevention Programs Specialist with PCANC and has been with the organization for TEN years- WOW!

To Monica, Nurturing Positive Childhoods is about recognizing (and often marveling at) the continual, small, daily tasks and efforts parents have to do to help their children feel loved and supported. These efforts are immeasurable.

“One hope I hold is that parents and caregivers understand how meaningful this nurturance is for children. I also hope parents and caregivers seek their own nurturing as a foundation for the ability to provide for their families,” Monica said.

Over the years, Monica has developed a heightened ability to see families’ strengths as they navigate the ups and downs of modern life. She also has a particularly keen sense of perspective-taking that finds space for differing viewpoints. These are valuable characteristics in supporting forward movement toward any particular goal families might have.

Outside of PCANC, Monica enjoys playing practical jokes on family members. She lives in Durham with her two daughters, Fedora and Aleena. Each of her daughters has a “therapy cat,” Fedora’s is named Cola and Aleena’s is named Marcus Baker (after a popular teen romance show on Netflix). In her free time, Monica can be found striking deals at thrift stores and experimenting with Keto recipes.


Meet Stacey Cunningham!

Stacey is a Prevention Programs Specialist with PCANC. She has been with the organization since 2015.

To Stacey, “Nurturing Positive Childhoods” means ensuring that all families have what they need to raise their children in a safe, stable, nurturing setting. In her role, this means working with agency staff to incorporate best practices that support program delivery to strengthen the five protective factors. Stacey has firsthand experience needing support as a parent- she has participated in both parenting education and peer support programs.

“I see the value of participating in programs both through the eyes of the agencies I partner with and firsthand as a parent. I’ve had leadership opportunities to share my voice and help create change for my family and other families,” Stacey said.

Outside of PCANC, Stacey enjoys spending time with her family and crafting handmade jewelry. She grew up in Raleigh, went to NC State University (go pack!), and now lives in Durham with her husband of 28 years and her four children: Ben-23, Luke- 21, Abby- 20 and Kate- 16. They have three dogs and a very full house! Stacey and her family enjoy taking their dogs on long walks through the neighborhood. This month, she is participating in a 50-mile dog walking fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Hospital.


Meet Melinda Neal!

Melinda is PCANC’s Financial Administrative Assistant and has been with the organization for 3 years. Melinda has over 20 years of experience in accounting and administration roles across various industries, including nonprofits.

To Melinda, Nurturing Positive Childhoods begins in the home by making sure each child is a priority and feels valued and heard.

“It is so rewarding to be part of an organization that provides the support families need to ensure all children grow up in safe, stable, nurturing families and communities,” Melinda said.

Outside of PCANC, Melinda likes to spend time with her husband, two children and corgi. She spends a lot of her time outdoors visiting parks and lakes and enjoys kayaking. Since moving to North Carolina, Melinda and her family have become fans of the Carolina Hurricanes.


Meet Christy Bradsher!

Christy is the Vice President of Finance and Administration with Prevent Child Abuse NC and has been with the organization for 5 years. Christy prides herself as a lifelong learner; she loves the beauty of learning and exploring history, as well as new topics. Her background and expertise in Finance and Administration have afforded her the opportunity to be a part of driving meaningful and impactful work.

To Christy, Nurturing Positive Childhoods means to not only take care of children and families within your own circle, but to care for the well-being of children and families in your broader community. She says, “It’s about demonstrating the desire for all children to be cared for, regardless of where or who they are.”

Outside of PCANC, Christy enjoys spending time with her husband, two children and toy poodle, as well as reading, traveling and learning about what is happening all over the world.


Meet Kathy Smith! photo of Kathy Smith

Kathy is a Prevention Programs Senior Specialist and has been with Prevent Child Abuse NC for 13 years, providing support for the Strengthening Families Program, Incredible Years Program, Circle of Parents and Triple P. To Kathy, nurturing positive childhoods is powerful because when we do this well, the impact is exponential; it impacts the child, but then also makes it more likely that the child will b able to nurture positive childhoods when they become an adult.

Outside of PCANC, Kathy enjoys teaching group fitness programs, playing tennis, traveling and spending time with her nieces and nephews.


Meet Erin Meehan!

Erin was recently promoted to Evaluation Director with PCANC. Her background and expertise are born from a combination of rigorous violence prevention research and evaluation training at UNC Chapel Hill and years of experience serving as a Mecklenburg County Guardian ad Litem. She continues to combine her passions for research and ending violence to support PCANC in making data-driven decisions that bridge the gap between research and practice, push our work upstream and prevent child abuse and neglect before it ever occurs.

To Erin, Nurturing Positive Childhoods means striving for a social and economic infrastructure that provides all NC families with the resources needed to make decisions that advance the well-being of our children. Healthy and supported adults and communities = healthy and supported children.
Outside of PCANC, Erin can often be found hanging out with her partner, Andrew. They enjoy riding bicycles, taking their dogs on adventures and obsessing over their orange cat.