LaSharnda Beckwith, Ph.D., D.B.A.

President and Chief Executive Officer
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As President and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. LaSharnda Beckwith oversees the strategic direction and execution of the agency’s core mission: Ignited by faith, we live out God’s love by embracing, equipping, and empowering vulnerable individuals, families and communities toward self-sufficiency. Establishing a vision for community impact that works across private, public, and corporate sectors, Beckwith leads a diverse team of 200+ employees across 18 offices in six counties, to improve conditions for underserved and marginalized communities.

Dr. Beckwith joins the organization from California Southern University where she most recently served as Provost and Chief Academic Officer. She offers a wealth of fiscal and executive management to the position following a 27- year career with the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) retiring as the Vice President of Eastern Region, responsible for profit and loss for operations.

Supported by the work Dr. Beckwith’s done through the Professional Christian Women in Service organization she established in 2005, and other leadership and empowerment programs she created over her professional career, it is clear her heart is truly aligned with the values of Lutheran Social Services.

“My personal mission statement is to enable, encourage, empower, and energize others to be all that God has called them to be. This mission statement has driven my over three decades of personal and professional growth and development” reflected Beckwith. “Everything I do is informed by what I believe to be my purpose and calling in the Body of Christ. Ultimately, my desire is to live out Proverbs 31:8-9 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

Dr. Beckwith holds Doctoral degrees in Business Administration and Philosophy in Strategic Leadership and Organizational Management from California Southern and Capella Universities respectively. She holds lifetime professional certifications in the area of strategy from the University of Michigan and in leadership from both the Center of Creative Leadership and the Wharton School of Business. She also holds a Master of Business Administration with Distinction from Embry-Riddle University and a Master of Arts in Business Management from Webster University. Dr. Beckwith’s personal blog can be visited by clicking here.

Tiffany Mitchell, Psy.D.

Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer
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As Chief Operating Officer, Dr. Tiffany Mitchell is responsible for overseeing multi-million-dollar capital projects for the organization, and collaboration and partnership with city, county, state, and federal initiatives that align with the mission of LSSSC. She is also responsible for the day-to-day administrative and operational functions of all sites across Southern California.

Dr. Mitchell received her Doctor of Psychology in Applied Clinical Psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Irvine and a Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy from California State Fullerton. She has 15 years of experience working in the social profit sector, serving individuals and families struggling with homelessness, domestic violence, addiction, and mental/behavioral health needs.

Dr. Mitchell has garnered a deep comprehension of non-profit management, including operations and strategic planning. A proven leader, well versed in program design, implementation, and data collection, she has a record of success in managing strong teams and providing service excellence through her commitment, dedication, and adaptability to the growing and changing needs of the community.

Laura Gutierrez

Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer
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Ms. Laura Gutierrez, Executive Vice President, and Chief Financial Officer, oversees accounting, financial reporting, and financial analysis for Lutheran Social Services of Southern California. She has more than 10 years of finance and accounting experience. She brings experience in a broad range of industries, including, health care, manufacturing, distribution, retail and nonprofit. Laura is experienced in virtually all aspects of finance and accounting management, including financial reporting, budgeting, financial modeling and analysis, business planning, and process improvement while having a proven track record of success with automating financial and accounting reporting systems.

She has excellent communication and leadership skills and works directly with C-level executives to oversee the organization’s operations.

Laura received her Bachelor’s Degree, from California State Polytechnic University-Pomona and is expecting her Master of Business Administration in Accounting from Cal Baptist University in 2023.

Maria Dillon-Owens, MS

Executive Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer
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As Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, Ms. Maria Dillon-Owens oversees all aspects of Human Resources and Internal Stakeholder Relations.

Maria joined the agency from a local university where she served as Vice President & Chief Officer of Student Affairs. As the recipient of the university’s first-ever Servant Leadership Award, Maria has demonstrated a strong commitment to providing diverse programs that facilitate team building, development, collaboration, and engagement. A data-driven leader that routinely elevates the core competencies of her organization, Maria inspires innovative management techniques and transformative methodology, designed to empower leadership and frontline teams alike.

Maria holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Tougaloo College and a Master of Science in Guidance & Counseling from Jackson State University.

Gia Hamilton, Psy.D., LMFT

Executive Vice President, Chief Program Officer
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As Executive Vice President and Chief Program Officer, Dr. Gia Hamilton oversees the integration of services to embrace, equip, and empower vulnerable people in Southern California.

Dr. Hamilton joins LSSSC having served as Dean for the School of Behavioral Sciences at a local university. She has been licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist since 2006 with clinical expertise in the healing of interpersonal trauma and trauma-informed care. As an American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) Approved Supervisor, she enjoys working with MFT Trainees and Associates. Dr. Hamilton provides guidance and training for universities, organizations, and agencies focused on serving diverse, marginalized, and underserved communities.

Darren Veracruz, Esq.

Chief Compliance Officer 
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Mr. Darren Veracruz has a multidisciplinary skillset in law, business, and nonprofit management. He is the founder and principal of Veracruz Legal Corporation, APC, and is a licensed advisor with the Securities and Exchange Commission. He and his firm are committed to pro bono services across California and have partnered with other organizations dedicated to protecting vulnerable populations such as the Elder Law & Disability Rights Center and the Public Law Center.

Darren received his Juris Doctorate in 2010 from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York and is committed to devoting his time and energy to the mission of LSSSC.

Lori Butler, CFRE

Chief Development & Marketing Officer
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Ms. Lori Butler is the Chief Development & Marketing Officer for LSSSC and has primary responsibility for fundraising, marketing, and donor development. Lori is a Certified Fundraising Executive with more than 27 years of experience working with donors and supporters to professionally secure the most impact for each of their philanthropic gifts. She has successfully led development and marketing teams of all sizes and has handled all aspects of philanthropy including events, grant writing, direct mail solicitations, major gifts, capital campaigns, and more.

She has previously served at The ALS Association in Orange & San Diego Counties, The National Alliance on Mental Health, Feeding America Inland Empire, and spearheaded fundraising for a women’s recovery foundation in Orange County during the COVID-19 crisis.

LSS Senior Directors

Sam Anuakpado, MS, JD

Senior Area Director for Ventura, Pasadena, SFV & Long Beach
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Mr. Sam Anuakpado, supervises the LSSSC programs operating within Ventura, Pasadena, San Fernando Valley, and Long Beach. He is a multidisciplinary leader who specializes in program development, budget preparation, and data analysis. His data-driven mindset is a strong driver of change as LSSSC looks to become a forward-facing, results-driven organization.

Sam received his Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from Stockton State College, now Richard Stockton University, in Pomona, New Jersey. He earned his MS in Criminal Justice Administration from California State University, Long Beach, and followed that with his Juris Doctor from Anaheim-based American College of Law.

Tawanda Counts, MA, LMFT

Clinical Senior Director for San Bernardino County
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Ms. Tawanda Counts received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in Paralegal Studies from California State University San Bernardino in 2002. Tawanda worked as a paralegal while applying to attend law school and quickly realized that she was no longer interested in the field of law. Therefore, Tawanda pursued a Master of Arts degree in Psychology, graduating from Chapman University in 2008.

Tawanda learned about Lutheran Social Services of Southern California when seeking a practicum placement, and was selected as a trainee with the Our Children program in 2007, working with victims of sexual abuse and youth and adult sexual offenders. She became employed by Lutheran Social of Southern California in 2008, working as a clinician and in various management positions within the different SBC Rural mental health programs.

Tawanda, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, is committed to advocating, empowering, and providing resources to foster youth and children, adolescents, and adults, with severe mental health symptoms and impairments.


Elin Zerai, MSW

Senior Director for San Bernardino Community Wellness Campus & Riverside County
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Ms. Elin Zerai has decades of experience as a clinical social worker in San Bernardino have equipped her as a regional and topical expert. As a former foster youth herself, she dedicated the first five years of her career to working with adolescence and transitional-aged youth (TAY). During this time, she successfully lobbied for AB12, which transformed the foster system and extended foster care to the age of 26. Elin then worked as a medical social worker in the Emergency and Trauma Unit, providing critical patient support and clinical chart audits. Her personal commitment to mental health led her to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), where she led numerous initiatives, including peer-to-peer training and vital family education services that addressed early signs of mental health challenges amongst youth and children.

Throughout her career, she supervised teams of clinicians and ensured the highest quality of care. As an Applied Suicide Skills Intervention Trainer (ASIST) and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), she also served as a Crisis and Intervention Training instructor and coached law enforcement officers to best engage community members with mental illness. At Lutheran Social Services, Elin utilizes these cumulative skills to deliver trauma-informed and whole-person care services that best advance individual and community health.

Jamila Leander edited

Jamila Leander

Senior Clinical Director
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Ms. Jamila Leander serves in our Fullerton/Orange County office as Senior Clinical Director.

Lutheran Social Services of Southern California corporate offices are located in Orange, but services are delivered throughout Southern California with more than 40 unique programs and services at nearly 20 locations.

Ambassadors are short-term volunteers who open doors for our organization in the community, introducing new people at our bi-monthly Fostering Community Care event. These are one hour awareness events only (no solicitations are made) to expose people to the great work of LSS Community Care. To become an Ambassador here are your responsibilities:
  1. 1 – Attend at least one Fostering Community Care event during the calendar year
  2. 2 – Host or invite and bring 10-15 guests to one Fostering Community Care event within 3 months of your attending one yourself.
  3. 3 – Inform your invited guests of what the Fostering Community Care meeting will be about, and let them know that they will receive a follow up call from the organization
  4. 4 – Ambassadors will complete their commitment after bringing 10-15 persons within the 3 month time period. An Ambassador has the option to complete after one term, continue for another 3 month term or move into another role on the team.
Become an Ally

Allies are community members who want to be in a supportive, intentional, befriending relationship with an individual or family working to get out of poverty.

Other ways to help the Southern California Family Support Initiative
  • Be an Ad-Hoc Ally – share your special skill or talent
  • Be a member of your local Community Leadership Team
  • Assist with weekly Child Care/Children’s Programs
  • Be a Community Spokesman – talk about the initiative and recruit others to join
  • Financially Sponsor a Family Leader
  • Facilitate/assist with Training Our Leaders and Allies
  • Behind-the-scenes work – internet research, graphic design, writing
We are actively seeking individuals and groups to be a part of our on-going mission to serve those in need. LSS administers over 50 specialized programs and services throughout the Southern California region. Contact your nearest LSS Center to hear about the local opportunities they have available.
Be a positive role model
Give back to others and help change lives
Transform communities
Spend your time doing something rewarding
Meet new people
Have fun
Learn new skills, share your talents, build your resume

The life you change most – may be your own!