Steering Committee

Our Steering Committee guides this initiative, providing leadership and oversight. To date, the Steering Committee has developed the effort’s goals and focus areas with input from the community. The Steering Committee includes leaders from healthcare, education, community-based organizations, business, and other sectors that serve women and families:

Lynne AshbeckLynne Ashbeck, is the Senior Vice President of Community Engagement and Population Wellness for Valley Children’s Healthcare. In her role, Lynne is responsible for developing a system-wide strategy that will allow Valley Children’s Healthcare and all of its partners throughout Central California to extend the delivery of their world-class care across the entire continuum, from the traditional healthcare settings to neighborhoods, schools, and communities. In her civic leadership roles, Lynne is serving in her fifth term on the Clovis City Council. She founded the Clovis Citizen’s Academy, a five-week training program to help Clovis residents learn more about local government and is active with the League of California Cities Institute for Local Government initiatives around civic engagement and public participation. Prior to her election to the City Council, Lynne served on the City’s Personnel Commission (1987 – 89) and Planning Commission (1989 – 2000). Lynne teaches in the newly launched Health Care Administration degree program at Fresno Pacific University and has previously served as a Senior Mediator/Facilitator with the Center for Collaborative Policy, California State University, Sacramento, working on issues such as land use/transportation, water quality/supply in the Valley’s rural communities and higher education issues within the CSU system.

Brian Angus, CEO of Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission.For the past 40 years, Brian Angus has held responsible management positions in community action agencies (CAA) in four regions of the United States, including serving as CEO in three. As chief executive of Fresno EOC, Mr. Angus leads one of the largest community action agencies in the nation, by clients served and budget. He is widely regarded as a leader, innovator, and entrepreneur. The hallmark of his career has been building regional and national coalitions around urgent human and economic issues.

Ken Bird, MD, MPH is the Fresno County Public Health Officer. He trained initially as a pediatrician, and has practiced general medicine in the Central Valley for 36 years. Dr. Bird has been a public health physician with the Fresno County Department of Public Health since 1986, previously serving as a rural health clinic physician, medical director of Jail Medical Services at the Fresno County Jail, tuberculosis controller, communicable disease controller, sexually transmitted disease controller, and deputy health officer.

Joseph I. Castro, Ph.D., M.P.P. President, California State University, Fresno. Joseph I. Castro was appointed as the eighth president of California State University, Fresno on August 1, 2013. He is the first Central Valley native to serve in this leadership position. Dr. Castro is also a Professor of Educational Leadership in the Kremen School of Education and Human Development. Prior to his appointment at Fresno State, he served as Vice Chancellor, Student Academic Affairs, and Professor of Family and Community Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) from 2006-13. Earlier in his career, he held faculty and/or administrative leadership positions at four other University of California campuses – Berkeley, Davis, Merced, and Santa Barbara. He received a B.A. in political science and M.P.P. in public policy from University of California, Berkeley and Ph.D. in higher education policy and leadership from Stanford University. In 2016, Dr. Castro was awarded the Ohtli Medal, which is the highest honor granted by the Government of Mexico to Mexican-American leaders in the United States. He was selected as the 2014 Alumnus of the Year by the University of California, Berkeley Richard and Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy. Dr. Castro is also the recipient of the 2010 Martin Luther King, Jr. Award at UCSF and the 2010 University of California Student Association’s Administrator of the Year Award. Dr. Castro is the grandson of farmworkers from Mexico. He was born and raised in Hanford, CA and is the first person in his family to graduate from a university. He and his wife, Mary, have three children, Isaac, Lauren and Jess.

Kathryn Catania, Ed.D., is the Deputy Superintendent of Educational Services for the Fresno County Office of Education. She has been in education for over 28 years, serving as a teacher, principal, district administrator, and county office administrator. She is co-author of the English Learner Professional Development program, in conjunction with the University of California San Diego Professional Development Institute. Dr. Catania has taught in the graduate programs at Fresno State University and University of California, San Diego. She has her Bachelor of Science in Business Management from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, a Master in Educational Leadership from California State University Fresno, and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Alliant International University.

Niecia Harris spent her early years in Portland, where she was born, and Seattle, where she spent her teen age years. She relocated to Fresno to reconnect with her father and his side of her family. In Fresno she worked at Kids Kare School for 2 years before she decided to go back to school. She obtained her G.E.D then her AS degree from Fresno City College. At the age of 26 she got pregnant and had her first son David, who was born prematurely. Niecia’s transition to motherhood was very challenging. Her son was born eight weeks early and though he did not suffer nor has he displayed any effects from his premature birth. David is now one and a half years old and he is doing great on his milestones. Niecia feels that this has been a hard journey she refers to her son as a Goliath slayer. “He is strong, determined and has a huge fight in him.” Niecia is an active member of her church and her ultimate goal is to share her experience to educate and build up women.

Kristi Hernandez-Barrientez is a stay at home wife and mother blessed with two beautiful daughters. She is a kidney transplant recipient of nine years and is currently back on dialysis. Her first pregnancy was full term though her second pregnancy did not go as planned. Her daughter came into this world at only 28 weeks weighing 1lb 10oz and was 12 inches long. The baby spent the first two months of her life in the NICU at CRMC. Considering how small she was she did very well for her first month. She then developed an intestinal infection and the doctors felt surgery was needed. Fortunately the surgery went well and nothing needed to be removed. While her little girl was in theNICU Kristi was given the opportunity to positively impact those dealing with premature births by becoming a member of the P.T.B.I steering committee. She is also a member of her church and works in the church nursery.  

Greg Hund was appointed CEO of CalViva Health effective July 2010. He has served in a variety of healthcare executive positions over the past 30 years including health plans, medical groups, Independent Practice Association (IPA), and Medical Services Organizaation (MSO) management

Nicole Hutchings is the Community Connector for the Fresno EOC Street Saints. Originally from Hanford, Ca she moved to Fresno in 2003. After being a stay at home mother for a few years, Nicole decided to give back to her community by volunteering with the Street Saints. Nicole is a mother of 3 children: Tony, Hailey & Adrian. Tony and Hailey were born 3 weeks early and they both have asthma. Adrian was born 7 weeks premature with pulmonary trunk stenosis/pulmonic valve stenosis. At 5 months old Adrian had a cardiac catherization performed. Adrian is now 6 years old with asthma, but very healthy, happy, active and smart. Nicole is an active member of her community and church.

Kudzi Muchakahas served as the Vice President of Genetics, Neurosciences, Women and Children’s Services at Community Regional Medical Center since 2005. His work includes developing annual operating budgets, maintenance of the environments and equipment, development of strategic goals and implementation of quality assurance programs. During his career, Kudzi has held various positions at Community Medical including Director of Oncology Services and Manager of Quality Management/Medical Decision Support. In his current role, he also serves as Director of Medical Decision Support and Institutional Review Board. Prior to his work at CRMC he held positions at Fresno Housing Authority and Tri-Con. Kudzi holds a Masters in Public Administration, an MA in International Relations, and an MBA in Information Systems.

Dr Subhashini Ladella is the Medical Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine (Perinatology) for Community Regional Medical Center, UCSF Fresno, and Clovis Community Medical Center, in Central Valley, California. Dr Ladella is Associate Clinical Professor with UCSF and on faculty in the department of Ob/Gyn, UCSF Fresno, Center for Medical Education and Research. Dr. Ladella is actively involved in medical student and resident teaching and training along with conducting clinical research with UCSF Fresno’s Ob/Gyn residency program’s Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine. Her research areas of interest include: preterm labor, preeclampsia and thrombophilia in pregnancy.

Jeanette Moore, Ph.D., NP is a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner at Valley Children’s Primary Care Group – Warner Women’s Healthcare. She has practiced Women’s Health for over 20 years. Dr. Moore is also President of the Central Valley Black Nurses Association INC. She is passionate about servicing diverse populations with the goal of improving health disparities in our communities. She has taught in undergraduate and graduate nursing programs at University of Phoenix. She has a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Nursing from University of Phoenix. Dr. Moore is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Educational Administration, with an emphasis in Adult and Higher Education at University of South Dakota. 

Artie Padilla B.S., was born and raised in Fresno California. After earning a degree in Business Administration from California State University, Northridge, he returned home to Fresno and has worked in the nonprofit sector for 16 years. For six years he served as a volunteer ministry leader through his church where his work opened his eyes to the complexities of our school system, the diverse cultures in our community, and the many opportunities to serve in the city. In January 2008 Artie helped to develop Every Neighborhood Partnership. He currently serves as the Executive Director of ENP with a vision to mobilize all the sectors of our city to holistically serve its schools, neighborhoods, and families.

Andrea Powell, B.A., BSN, RN, RNC-NIC settled in the Central Valley in 2002. In 2008 she received a Bachelor of Arts in Communication with a minor in Art from Fresno Pacific University. In 2010 she received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from California State University, Fresno and began working in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) as a Registered Nurse (RN) in the summer of 2011. After being married a few years, Andrea and her husband decided to start a family. However, things did not go as planned and in February 2014 their daughter arrived at 23 weeks & 6 days’ gestation, weighing only 1 pound & 12 ounces – 4 months premature. Their daughter spent her first 4 months of life in a NICU, facing many battles including breathing on her own, infections, brain bleeds and surgery. After the worst 4 months of their lives, they were able to bring her home. To help overcome the challenges her prematurity caused she has been enrolled in early intervention programs through Central Valley Regional Center (CVRC) and United Cerebral Palsy Center. Andrea was able to return to work in a NICU setting as an RN and in July 2016 she successfully carried their second child to full term! Serving on the Preterm Birth Initiative Collective Impact Steering Committee has been incredible opportunity to continue to positively impact the Central Valley and those dealing with premature births.

Preston Prince B.A.,MS Urban Affairs and Policy., building on more than two decades of experience in housing development and policy, Preston Prince took the helm of the Fresno Housing Authority in 2007, following six years as Executive Director of the Aurora, Colorado Housing Authority. Preston shaped his housing philosophy through his experiences as a housing developer at the Seattle-based nonprofit Common Ground, as development director at the Kitsap County Housing Authority, and as senior housing development program manager with the Seattle Housing Authority. Under his leadership, Fresno Housing Authority administers more than 12,500 Housing Choice Vouchers and manages a portfolio of more than 4,500 residential units including public housing and units developed through Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) and bond-financing, as well as farmworker, migrant, homeless, and permanent supportive housing for targeted populations. Together, these programs provide housing to more than 18,000 households. During his tenure in Fresno, Preston has overseen the completion of a HOPE VI development and the addition of more than 475 units for low-income families throughout the city and county of Fresno, and is currently spearheading the development of more than 800 additional units. In an effort to link the Fresno Housing Authority with local communities, and to raise the level of awareness within the county of the role housing plays for low-income households, Prince has forged crucial partnerships with public and private agencies, elected officials, residents, community members, Fresno businesses, schools, and nonprofits. He is a member of the Fresno Bridge Academy, Economic Development Corporation, and the Fresno Workforce Investment Boards. In 2007, he was recognized by the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO) as an Outstanding Director. In 2013 he was elected, by his peers, as President of NAHRO, putting the Fresno Housing Authority at the core of national discussions on housing policy. Preston is married to a school teacher and enjoys golf and running marathons.

Dr. Larry Rand, director of Perinatal Services at the UCSF Fetal Treatment Center, is an obstetrician and gynecologist who specializes in high-risk pregnancy and maternal-fetal medicine, with a special interest in fetal disorders. He counsels and coordinates care and participates in prenatal diagnosis, specializing in procedures such as chorionic villus sampling (CVS), amniocentesis, intra-uterine transfusion and fetal biopsies, as well as interventions such as lung and bladder shunt placements, fetal bladder taps and multi-fetal pregnancy reduction. In addition, Rand cares for patients during labor and delivery. In his research, he has a special interest in complicated monochorionic twin pregnancies. He has presented research in the fetal treatment community internationally and was nominated for a Young Investigator Excellence in Research Award at the 2009 American Institute for Ultrasound Medicine national meeting. He holds leadership positions at the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and serves on the Patient Safety and Quality Assurance Committee. He travels to West Africa and Central America several times a year to perform surgery and provide high-risk obstetric care to patients with limited access, and to create sustainable health programs in these countries.

Emilia Reyes, MBA, has been at First 5 Fresno County since 2003, and has been honored to serve the community’s young children and their families through her work at the agency. Under her leadership, First 5 Fresno County opened the Lighthouse for Children, a community space in downtown Fresno where young children and their families are supported and prioritized so they can reach their full potential. As First 5 Fresno County’s Executive Director, Emilia is highly involved in community efforts to combat the area’s preterm birth and black infant mortality rates. She also is a passionate advocate for the early years, and encourages all parents to trust their instincts when it comes to the development of their children. Emilia comes from a migrant farm working family and was born and raised in Mendota. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, Santa Cruz and a Master of Business Administration degree from the California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Mark Salazar, Fresno P.D. Capt., was born and raised in East Bakersfield, California. After receiving a scholarship from the Kern County Sheriff's Department, Mark attended Fresno State and graduated with a degree in Criminology in 1993. At Fresno State, he met his wife who also attended and graduated from Fresno State. Mark was hired by the Fresno Police Department and served on many units including Internal Affairs, Violent Crime Suppression Unit, CrimeView Commander, Homicide Robbery Commander and Southeast District Commander. In 2016, Mark was promoted to Captain and was assigned as the Southwest District Commander. Over the years, he has been instumental in developing crime strategies that led to record-breaking crime reductions. As a Captain, community engagement has been a priority as he and his staff work around-the-clock to ensure its success. Mark is most proud of his duties as a police leader where he has trained, mentored and coached dozens of subordinates who now have been promoted to higher ranks within the Department. He served on the Big Brothers and Big Sisters board and is a current board member of Fresno PAL. Mark also graduated from the LAPD WestPoint Leadership program, the State of California Law Enforcement's Command College and Leadership Fresno. He went back to school and graduated with an MBA. His spark comes from his relationship with his wife, Virginia Madrid-Salazar, and his four children: Alexis, Isabel, Max and Luke.

Dawan Utecht, B.S., M.S.. has been the Fresno County Director of Behavioral Health, and the Public Guardian, for over 3 years. Prior to this, she worked in hospital administration for Community Medical Centers for 13 years. Dawan also served as the CEO of the Community Behavioral Health Center, a 61-bed adult acute inpatient psychiatric facility, in Fresno, for 7 years. She is a member of the Governing Board of the California Behavioral Health Directors Association, the Vice President of the CalMHSA Joint Powers Authority Board, a Commissioner on First 5 of Fresno County and serves on Fresno’s Community Corrections Partnership.

Davena Witcher is the Executive Director of AMOR, a community based non-profit established in 2008. AMOR builds healthy communities worldwide by partnering with other organizations to cultivate dignity, empower neighborhoods, and provide opportunity in the communities we serve. Davena holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing and worked at Valley Children’s Hospital in the neonatal and pediatric departments for 15 years. Since AMOR’s inception she has served on the Board of Directors, as the Development Director from 2011-2013, and most recently as the Executive Director. Under Davena’s leadership AMOR’s cornerstone project in Afghanistan doubled the number of children and families treated annually to 67,000, opened a state-of-the-art neonatal nursery, and began teaching health education to young girls and boys ages 10 -18 in three public schools. AMOR is currently working on a capital campaign to construct and operate a multi-structure, eco-friendly facility in Mendota, right here in our Central Valley. The Wellness & Enrichment Center will provide wraparound medical, social, and youth services in this underserved town and the surrounding communities.

PTBi California

Dr. Larry Rand, director of Perinatal Services at the UCSF Fetal Treatment Center, is an obstetrician and gynecologist who specializes in high-risk pregnancy and maternal-fetal medicine, with a special interest in fetal disorders. He counsels and coordinates care and participates in prenatal diagnosis, specializing in procedures such as chorionic villus sampling (CVS), amniocentesis, intra-uterine transfusion and fetal biopsies, as well as interventions such as lung and bladder shunt placements, fetal bladder taps and multi-fetal pregnancy reduction. In addition, Rand cares for patients during labor and delivery. In his research, he has a special interest in complicated monochorionic twin pregnancies. He has presented research in the fetal treatment community internationally and was nominated for a Young Investigator Excellence in Research Award at the 2009 American Institute for Ultrasound Medicine national meeting. He holds leadership positions at the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and serves on the Patient Safety and Quality Assurance Committee. He travels to West Africa and Central America several times a year to perform surgery and provide high-risk obstetric care to patients with limited access, and to create sustainable health programs in these countries.

Linda Franck, RN, PhD, FRCPCH, FAAN | Co-Principal Investigator, PTBi California. "My program of research focuses on health care for acutely and chronically ill infants and children, in primary, secondary and tertiary care settings, with a particular emphasis on pain assessment and management. This includes research on the assessment and management of side effects of analgesia and sedation as well as investigation of the long term consequences of pain and pain treatments on the developing child and family. My most recent research highlights the information needs of parents and suggests innovative strategies for enhancing the partnership between parents and professionals to ensure children receive optimal health care before, during and after a child’s hospitalization. Specialties: Nursing, neonatal intensive care, pediatric intensive care, advanced practice nursing education, clinical research, children's pain "

Jonathan Fuchs, MD, MPH, is the Director of the Center for Learning and Innovation at the San Francisco Department of Public Health and Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCSF. Over the past 14 years, Dr. Fuchs’s research interests have focused on biomedical and behavioral HIV prevention and the development of novel mentored research programs to engage early career investigators in clinical translational research, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds in science. He is the Director of the Mentoring Program of the UCSF Center for AIDS Research, and for the PTBi, is providing leadership to the New Minds, New Ideas initiative, which seeks to attract and retain academically- and community-based researchers who are dedicated to reducing the global burden of prematurity-related morbidity and mortality. During the PTBi planning phase, Dr. Fuchs has also served on the Northern California Collective Impact readiness assessment working group.

Monica Mclemore, "My long-term interests are to design interventions to improve preventive women’s health and overall well-being. I am a nurse trained in public health, with a research focused doctorate and I maintain a clinical practice, which allows my clinical responsibilities and research interests to be closely aligned. My program of research is centered in discovering the structural factors associated with reproductive health outcomes for women of color. Using a patient centered approach, I partner with women to answer difficult research questions of interest to us with a specific emphasis on designing programs to deliver and test community engaged interventions to support health and wellness. My work is informed by complex intersections of social determinants of health (individual factors) and the contexts (structural, environmental and institutional factors) that contribute to health inequities. "

Shanell Williams has served thousands of San Franciscans as an informed, passionate and dedicated public advocate, nonprofit leader and community organizer. From mentoring youth trapped in cycles of incarceration—to saving city college from a near loss of accreditation and closure for the past four years— Shanell has worked tirelessly to improve all San Franciscan’s quality of life. Shanell is currently working to reduce birth outcome disparities in communities of color through her work as a Community Engagement Specialist for the Preterm Birth Initiative at UCSF. 

Wendy Hussey is a public health professional with years of experience in maternal health. She currently serves as the program director for the California Preterm Birth Initiative. Prior to joining the team at UCSF, Wendy served as the assistant director of the Wallace Maternal and Child Health Research Center at UC Berkeley School of Public Health. Wendy brings deep experience in place-based community transformation to PTBi-CA from her work as the national program manager for the Best Babies Zone at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, where she worked in support of infant mortality reduction. She was also the assistant director for the Maternal and Child Health program at UC Berkeley School of Public Health. Wendy began her career in public health at UCSF and is thrilled to be back here supporting the work of PTBi-CA. Wendy holds an MPH from San Jose State University and a BA in Psychology from San Francisco State University. 


Our Funders gave us three mandates:

EMBRACE bold ideas.

DISRUPT current models of care and support across the reproductive life course.

REDUCE preterm births and improve preemie outcomes.

The Fresno County Preterm Birth Initiative is part of a multi-year Preterm Birth Initiative led by UC San Francisco. This comprehensive effort is led by Marc and Lynne Benioff and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Fresno State serves as the backbone organization for the Fresno Initiative. Working together with scientists in other regions of the world, the initiative will focus on the bio-logical, behavioral and social factors that drive prematurity—defined as being born before 37 weeks—and how to protect children from its consequences. They will explore the barriers at the family, community and society level that prevent good practices from being widely adopted, and they will contribute to the development of new drugs, diagnostic tools and medical devices.