Children's Institute

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President and CEO

Swati Adakar


Swati Adarkar

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. has a wealth of experience in research, communications, child advocacy, and public policy development, and is a champion for high-quality early care and education for children pre-birth to age eight. She helped found Children's Institute and has shaped its growth since its inception, first serving as the organization’s vice president of research and communications. Under her leadership, the Institute has helped secure significant increases in public funding for Oregon Head Start Prekindergarten, Early Head Start, and Oregon’s newest preschool program, Preschool Promise. In 2010, Swati helped conceive the Early Works initiative, a community-driven demonstration project with sites in east Portland and southern Oregon. Swati has served on a variety of state committee and advisory councils, including former Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s Oregon's Early Childhood Matters Advisory Council and former Gov. John Kitzhaber's Early Childhood and Family Investment Transition Team. She is currently a member of the PBS Teacher Community Program Advisory Board, the Attendance Works Advisory Committee on Eliminating Chronic Absence, and the International Women’s Forum of Oregon. In 2011, Swati received the Women Leaders of Oregon Award from Portland State University's Center for Women, Politics & Policy. Prior to joining Children’s Institute, she advised nonprofit organizations on public policy and communications, served as policy director for Children First for Oregon, and directed community affairs for Children Now. Swati holds a master's in public administration from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and a bachelor's in communications studies from UCLA.

Early Works Site Liaison, Earl Boyles

Maya Crone Maya Crone Adult

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. joined Children’s Institute in 2017. Before joining the Institute, she lived and worked in La Paz, Bolivia for 6 ½ years. Maya has a deep background in international project management, policy development and advocating for children and families. Her current role entails developing and evaluating early learning programs, empowering families to assume a leadership role in the Earl Boyles educational community, and collaborating to build and enhance statewide legislation to promote preschool and early learning. Maya holds a MA in international policy studies from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and a BA in Latin American Latino studies from UC Santa Cruz.

Communications Associate

Baby Pic Melissa Duclos Adult

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. joined Children’s Institute’s communications team in 2017. She is responsible for the organization's social media, e-mail updates, and assists with writing the Early Link blog. She has ten years of experience teaching college-level writing, communications, and rhetoric courses. Prior to coming to CI, she ran an editorial consulting business working primarily with education and social science researchers and authors of fiction. She holds a master’s degree in fine arts from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Pennsylvania. Melissa is also an essayist and novelist, whose writing has appeared in The Washington Post and Salon, among other venues, and whose debut novel will be released in 2019. She is deeply involved in Portland’s writing community and volunteers her time with Write Around Portland, providing free writing workshops to children and adults in a variety of social service settings.

Operations Coordinator

Child Chelsea Chelsea Greenwood

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. joined Children’s Institute in 2016. As the operations coordinator, she is the first face people see when they walk through the Institute’s door and ensures the organization is running smoothly. In addition to her front-of-house and operational duties, Chelsea also plays a key role in database maintenance, event coordination, and special project management. Chelsea has a passion for nature and the environment - she has taught environmental education in Colorado and Oregon, working with ages pre-K to 8th grade, and has also interned at the Oregon Zoo, where she designed and planted a native alpine garden. Chelsea holds a bachelor's in environmental studies with a focus on nature and society from Principia College.

Early Works Site Liaison, Yoncalla

child Erin Erin Helgren

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. joined the Institute in November 2015. Erin brings nearly 25 years of experience and knowledge working with young children and families. She has experience in a wide range of programming, including home visiting, early childhood classrooms, parenting education and play to learn groups. Before joining Children’s Institute, Erin worked as the North Douglas County Family Relief Nursery program manager. In this position, she built programming around the unique needs of rural, isolated families. These experiences have given Erin a deeper understanding and insight into the needs of rural communities. She currently lives in rural Oregon. Erin received an associate’s degree in human services/ early childhood studies at the University of Hawaii-Maui and has studied early childhood education at Southern Oregon University.

Director of Policy & Program



This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is the Director of Policy & Program at Children's Institute. She oversees the organization's legislative advocacy and two early childhood demonstration sites. Dana joined Children's Institute in 2013 after nine years with Stand for Children, most recently as the national director of policy development. Before that, she was Stand's advocacy director and played a leading role in winning several key pieces of legislation to improve Oregon schools; she was also a community organizer for that group. Dana started her career as an elementary school teacher and pre-K teacher. She graduated from Barnard College with a bachelor's in political science and a minor in elementary education.

Senior Research & Policy Advisor

Marina Marina

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. joined Children’s Institute in 2013 to lead the organization’s research on prenatal through third-grade issues, evaluation, data collection, and analysis. She also advises Children’s Institute’s advocacy and policy work. Dr. Merrill was instrumental in advocating for and winning a new, mixed-delivery preschool program in Oregon during the 2015 legislative session. She has extensive experience in program evaluation and technical assistance for early learning programs, prenatal to third-grade initiatives at the program and policy level, parenting education programs, home visiting, education reform, safe schools, community partnerships, and school/community health. Dr. Merrill partners with Portland State University on the evaluation of the Early Works initiative. She serves on the statewide Spark Ad Hoc Committee, working to revise the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System and participates in the Partnership for Preschool Improvement team, working to develop a comprehensive professional development system for state-funded preschool.

Prior to Children’s Institute, Dr. Merrill was a Senior Research Associate at RMC Research and Early Childhood Education Specialist at the Oregon Department of Education, where she provided leadership for Oregon’s Even Start Family Literacy and Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education programs. She also contributed to the development of the early childhood longitudinal data tracking system and provided statewide professional development on school readiness, including effective teaching strategies in early childhood.

Early Childhood Education Advisor

David Oh Baby pic  David Oh

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.joined Children’s Institute in 2017. He has over 15 years of teaching experience as an early childhood educator and draws his pedagogical inspiration from the pre-primary schools and infant/toddler centers of Reggio Emilia, Italy. His career in early childhood education started as a children’s songwriter. Since then he has been a lead teacher, accreditation specialist, and mentor teacher. Outside of the classroom, David remains committed to the early childhood profession as a consultant to early childhood center-based programs and Head Start schools, and has worked on developing professional standards for early childhood teachers in Oregon with the Oregon Center for Career Development in Childhood Care and Education. David brings joy and passion to his work as a practitioner and as an aspiring scholar: He holds a master’s in early childhood inclusive curriculum and instruction from Portland State University and is working towards his Ed.D. in curriculum and instruction also with PSU.

Senior Communications Associate

Rafael 125x125 Rafael Otto

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. brings more than 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector to Children's Institute, including a background in communications, education, policy, social services, and strategic planning. He leads CI's digital communications strategy and is the writer, host, and producer of The Early Link Podcast that highlights national, regional, and local voices involved in the work of early childhood education. As a writer, his work has been published by Grantmakers for Education, The Writer's Chronicle, Getting Smart, Americans for the Arts, and, among others. Rafael is keenly interested in strengthening communities and systems to improve education and health outcomes for kids across Oregon. He also co-chairs CI's staff equity team focused on developing and applying a diversity, equity, and inclusion framework to the organization's work. He holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and serves as a board member for the Portland-based Construct Foundation.

Director of Communications and Community Engagement

danielle baby pic DPC MIYB 2017 web

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. leads the organization’s strategic communications and community engagement efforts. She is responsible for the development, integration, and implementation of communications strategies that support the organization's mission. Danielle also oversees Children's Institute's emerging statewide community engagement work focused on rural communities and communities of color in the Portland metro area. In addition, Danielle chairs CI’s staff equity team focused on developing an integrated diversity, equity, and inclusion framework to guide organizational practice and external work.

Danielle is a member of the Portland'5 Center for the Performing Arts Foundation Board and the board of directors of The Children’s Book Bank.

Development Director

Gini child photo 2 Gini

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. comes to the Children’s Institute with a wealth of experience in non-profit fundraising. She served as the Development Director for Adelante Mujeres, where she substantially grew corporate and individual giving by using a donor-centered approach with a focus on storytelling. She most recently served as the Corporate & Community Partnership Manager for Community Action where she used these same strategies to build strong corporate support. Prior to her career in non-profit fundraising, she practiced law for 16 years in a range of areas including criminal law, family law, and elder law. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago and a law degree from the University of Washington.

Strategic Grant Writer

Nicole baby Nicole adult

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is Children’s Institute’s Strategic Grant Writer. She brings over six years of experience in government and the private sector, including a background in research and analysis, communications, event planning, and project management. Before joining Children’s Institute, she spent two years providing technical assistance for federal welfare and workforce development projects at ICF, a consulting firm based in Fairfax, Virginia. Nicole also conducted performance audits that analyzed K-12 achievement gaps and recommended ways to increase the number of GEDs earned in Oregon while working at the Secretary of State Oregon Audits Division. She holds a master’s degree in public policy from American University and a BA from Whitman College. Nicole has also been a member of the City Club of Portland Research Board, where she served as an adviser to studies on affordable housing and children’s oral health. 

Finance and Operations Assistant

Paul  Paul Reich eblast

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is Children’s Institute’s finance and operations assistant. He has over three decades of executive and senior-level leadership service in a variety of nonprofit organizations serving diverse populations. Most recently, Paul worked as a program officer for the Meyer Memorial Trust.

Senior Health Policy and Program Advisor

Elena kiddo Elena headshot

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. joined Children’s Institute in 2015. She is responsible for establishing strong linkages between health and early learning at the Early Works demonstration sites as well as in policy and advocacy efforts. Elena has a master's in public health from the University of North Carolina, where she co-chaired the UNC Minority Health Conference and completed her master's project on policy efforts to address social determinants of health at a local health department. Prior to graduate school she coordinated a health and peer education program for underserved high school students at the Latin American Youth Center in Washington DC. Elena completed her undergraduate studies in human biology at Stanford University. She brings a passion for health equity to all of her work, in addition to skills in program evaluation, community engagement, and health policy. Elena currently serves as Vice Chair of the Best Beginnings Committee of Oregon's Early Learning Council.

Director of Finance and Operations

Carole Shellhart Baby Photo web Carole Shellhart web

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  is Children’s Institute Director of Finance and Operations. She brings a wealth of experience in nonprofit finance, management of human resources, team-building, and strategic thinking to the organization. Before joining Children’s Institute, she spent nine years with Oregon Humanities overseeing financial and organizational operations. Carole is an active member of the Multnomah County Cultural Coalition and in the past served on the design committee for the Regional Arts & Culture Council’s Right Brain Initiative and the steering committee of Tivnu: Building Justice. Carole is an avid supporter of the Oregon Cultural Trust. She holds a nonprofit management executive certificate from Georgetown University and a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute. 

Community Engagement Advisor

Aldo baby Aldo Adult 

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. joined Children’s Institute in April of 2018 as our first Community Engagement Advisor. In this role, Aldo is responsible for developing and expanding relationships statewide to build stronger political support and public demand for a comprehensive early childhood system. Before joining the Institute, Aldo worked as the Advocacy Director for the Oregon Latino Health Coalition. In 2017, Aldo led the community engagement and field efforts that passed Cover All Kids (SB 558) to expand OHP access to all children in Oregon regardless of immigration status. Aldo brings several years of experience engaging underserved communities, particularly low-income, immigrant and rural communities of color. He currently serves on the board of directors for both Farmworker Housing Development Corporation and Causa.

Children's Institute Update

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