Ampersand Families strives to be the employer of choice for extraordinary professionals who are committed to helping develop innovative and effective approaches to achieving and supporting permanency for older youth.


Michelle Chalmers, (she/her) - Executive Director

Michelle has worked with youth in out-of-home care since 1989, her child welfare career has included front-line staff positions in residential settings, a home-based intensive supervision worker, and youth development work in a therapeutic foster care agency. Prior to co-founding Ampersand Families in October 2008, Michelle directed The Homecoming Project, a federally-funded Adoption Initiatives program to increase adoptions of teenagers from Minnesota’s foster care system. Read More

Al Willig, (he/him) - Finance & Operations Director

Al was a founding board member of Ampersand Families and is thrilled to now be a part of the staff as the Finance and Operations Director. Prior to joining our staff, he was the Director of Finance & Operations for 19 years at the Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery; a shelter for children at risk of abuse and neglect. Read More

Lucy Augustine, (she/her) - Permanency Specialist

Lucy joined Ampersand in May of 2021; she has a Bachelor of Science majoring in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin Superior. She has been working in the human services field for 30 years in numerous capacities. Read More

Danielle Brown, (she/her) - Permanency Specialist

Danielle joined Ampersand Families team in 2018 after receiving her bachelor's degree in sociology and to pursue her passion for working with youth in the child welfare system. Read More

Amber Buer, (she/her) - Program Director

Amber joined Ampersand Families in November 2020. She earned her Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from St. Cloud State University. Amber has experience working in different areas of child welfare including child protection, foster care, and adoption. Read More

Misty Coonce, (she/her) - Program Director

Misty joined Ampersand Families as Program Director in 2016, after working 6 years at another adoption and foster care agency. In addition, Misty brings experience supporting survivors of domestic violence and providing children’s mental health wraparound services. Read More

Amanda Coppess, (she/her) - Senior Permanency Specialist

Mandi Coppess (she/her/hers) has been a Permanency Specialist with Ampersand Families since July, 2018. Mandi has her LSW and before coming to Ampersand, was part of the foster care intervention team through the YMCA. Read More

Lauren Donoho (They/She) - Permanency Specialist

Lauren (they/she) joined the Ampersand Families team in 2021. They earned their bachelor’s degree in Social Work with a minor in Family Studies and certificate in Child Welfare and Policy from University of Northern Iowa in 2016. They earned their master’s degree in Clinical Social work from University of St. Thomas in 2020. Read More

Olivia Garcia (She/Her) - 30 Days to Family Specialist

Olivia Garcia (she/her/hers) has been a 30 Days to Family Specialist with Ampersand Families since August, 2021. Olivia has her BA in Psychology with a focus in Multicultural and Developmental Psychology from Hope College. Since graduating, she has gained experience working as a Foster Care Case Manager in Illinois and a Waiver Case Manager in Minnesota. Read More

Ingrid Larson, (They/Them) - Permanency Specialist

Ingrid started at Ampersand Families 2021. They received their BA in Sociology and Child Advocacy Studies at Winona State University. Since graduation, they have gained experience in settings such as Treatment Foster Care, Emergency Youth Shelter, Schools and Adolescent Day Treatment. Read More

Emily Lindell, (she/her) - Youth Leadership Program Coordinator

Emily was excited to join Ampersand Families in August 2020. She brings a multi-disciplinary background that includes everything from working at an LGBTQ youth community center. Read More

Jory Miller, (he/him) - Permanency Specialist

Jory graduated from the U of M with his MSW in 2019 with a Families and Children concentration and as a IV-E scholar. Shortly after graduating, he joined Ampersand Families with a strong passion to support youth in the child welfare system. He is driven to provide education, connection, and resources to the families and youth working towards permanency. Read More

Vanessa Monahan-Rial, (she/her) - Senior Permanency Specialist

Vanessa joined Ampersand Families as a Permanency Specialist in 2018. In addition to supporting youth and families on their journeys toward permanency, she also provides assessments with the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT) to help youth, families, and caregivers gain additional tools for healing from developmental trauma. Read More

Kait Nolte

Kait joined Ampersand Families in 2021 after she earned her Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from the University of St. Thomas. She brings experience supporting individuals and families at the intersection of legal services, child protection, and trauma-informed care. Read More

Elizabeth (Libby) Onchiri (she/her) - Permanency Specialist

Libby was very pleased to join Ampersand Families in June of 2021. She came to social work “later in life,” completing her graduate degree from the University of Minnesota in 2014 with a focus on public child welfare. Since then, she has worked in various foster care and adoption roles. Read More

Laura Orpen, (she/her) - Permanency Specialist

Laura is a Licensed Graduate Social Worker who joined Ampersand Families as a Family-focused Permanency Specialist in July 2021. She graduated with a Master of Social Work in 2021 from the University of Minnesota as a Title IV-E Child Welfare scholar. Read More

John Peterson, (he/him) - Administrative Specialist

John started at Ampersand June of 2020 and has a Bachelor of Science degree in Child Psychology from the University of Minnesota and a Master of Social Work degree from the University of St. Thomas/St. Catherine’s University. Read More

Renee Banas, (she/her) - Program Supervisor

Renee joined Ampersand Families in October 2017.  She is thrilled to continue her work with an organization that supports children and families. Read More

Sami Schneider, (she/her) - Family Support & Education Specialist

Sami joined Ampersand Families as a Family Support and Education Specialist in May 2021. She is passionate about working with parents and families and honored to join the Ampersand Families team. Read More

Teiana Nakano, (she/her) - Heart Gallery Coordinator/Administrative Specialist

Teiana is honored to be a part of Ampersand Families! She received her BA in Race & Ethnic Studies and Religion, along with a concentration in Education at St. Olaf College. Teiana spent much of her undergrad working and volunteering in classrooms with youth of all ages and backgrounds. Read More

Katherine Wald, (she/her) - Senior Permanency Specialist

Katherine has been a Permanency Specialist since 2018. Katherine is a licensed social worker in the state of MN, and graduated with her Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Work with Family Studies, Race & Ethnic Studies, and Women & Gender Studies concentrations. Before coming to Ampersand, she gained experience in different settings working with youth and families. Read More

Why choose Ampersand Families?

“Ampersand is amazing!  They are there for you 100% or more. Love them all.”


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