EXECUTIVE TEAM

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, Dr. 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.

Laura Gutierrez, MBA

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. Ms. Gutierrez 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.

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

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.

Ms. Dillon-Owens 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, she 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, Ms. Dillon-Owens inspires innovative management techniques and transformative methodology, designed to empower leadership and frontline teams alike.

Ms. Dillon-Owens 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 individuals, families & communities toward self-sufficiency.

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.

Mr. Veracruz 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.

LSSSC Vice Presidents and Senior Directors

Andrew Nguyen LSS ID Picture

Andrew Nguyen, DC, MSPH, CMPE

Vice President, CalAIM Programs & Services
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Dr. Andrew Nguyen is responsible for overseeing Lutheran Social Services of Southern California’s CalAIM programs and services. He is an adept and driven healthcare leader with nearly 20 years of non-profit experience stewarding the growth of community healthcare and public health organizations and inter- and intra-sectoral collaboration and communications to improve healthcare access, equity, and quality; and advance racial equity and inclusive policies.

Dr. Nguyen joins LSSSC having served as Executive Director of the Valley Care Community Consortium, Inc. – Coalition of Los Angeles County SPA 2 Safety-Net Healthcare FQHC community health clinics and non-profit organizations.

Dr. Nguyen holds a Doctorate in Chiropractic Medicine from Cleveland University, Kansas City, Kansas as well as a Master of Science degree in Public Health and Health Sciences from Touro University, New York, NY., with specialization in engaged leadership, change management, fundraising models, strategic planning, and organizational growth; board certifications and credentialed training in medical practice executive (CMPE), patient safety and healthcare quality (CPPS), Agile and ScrumMaster (CSM) executive coaching and consulting.

Dr. Nguyen is experienced in leading the executive oversight and operational functions of healthcare and public health organizations. He looks forward to collaborating with communities to foster greater health outcomes and systemic change for the broader communities, and social access equity, justice, and resiliency for all.

Dr. Nguyen has previously served as an advisory council member of the State of California Community Vaccine Advisory Committee (CVAC); members of Los Angeles County Vaccination Health Equity, and FEMA UMCOR Disaster Relief and Recovery Planning and Access Navigation Taskforces.

Sam Anuakpado, MS, JD

VP of Housing Counseling
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Mr. Sam Anuakpado, supervises the LSSSC housing counseling programs and services. 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.

Mr. Anuakpado 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

Vice President of Health, Wellness, & Recovery
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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. Ms. Counts 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, Ms. Counts pursued a Master of Arts degree in Psychology, graduating from Chapman University in 2008.

Ms. Counts 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.

Ms. Counts, 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.

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Ryan McCutchan

Vice President of Business Relations
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As Vice President of Business Relations, Mr. McCutchan oversees key initiatives that drive collaboration,  growth, and innovation. With a sharp focus on optimizing operations, Mr. McCutchan directs Information Technology, the development of LSSSC’s Mobile Wellness Unit program, volunteer engagement, and strategic expansion projects.  

Mr. McCutchan was born and raised in the Lutheran faith in Southern California and has more than 10 years of experience working in the nonprofit sector in similar operations roles. Prior to joining LSSSC, Mr. McCutchan was the Operations Manager for a nonprofit Orange County shelter for families experiencing homelessness. As a key team member of LSSSC’s Operations Department, Mr. McCutchan’s philosophy and approach to his role and the role of the department is to drive innovation, safety, and efficiency so that our team on the ground in the communities we serve can be as effective as possible in achieving our mission.  

 

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Jennifer Carpenter

Vice President of Operations
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As LSSSC’s Vice President of Operations, Ms. Carpenter oversees the operations and sustentation of all 17 Care Centers across six major Southern California counties. Her commitment to serving vulnerable communities and industry expertise has been instrumental in launching innovative projects at LSSSC that break through the traditional model of social service delivery

Ms. Carpenter has more than 20 years of facilities and operations experience. In her early career, she worked for the state of Arkansas as a Facility Maintenance Technician, Trainer, and Supervisor. During this time, she received specialized training through the HVACR certification, EPA Universal License, CAD Drafting certification, and Estimator Certification. She has also served in the Army Reserves’ priority unit for nearly a decade in special training and leading various large-scale award-winning projects in wire system installations. Her background in Construction Management has led to a successful and multifaceted career in project management, business administration, and technology specialization. Her expertise has streamlined processes and established necessary measures, which has resulted in a significant increase in company revenue. In 2021, she transitioned from being a Facilities Manager for a 400-bed student housing education institution to serving at Lutheran Social Services of Southern California.

 

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Elin Zerai, MSW

Clinical 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. Ms. Zerai 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, Ms. Zerai utilizes these cumulative skills to deliver trauma-informed and whole-person care services that best advance individual and community health.

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Daniel Brezenoff, LCSW

Senior Clinical Director for Long Beach

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Mr. Brezenoff, Clinical Area Director for LSSSC Long Beach/South Bay programs, is a licensed clinical social worker who has worked in community mental health and social services in and around Long Beach for more than 20 years, both as a direct service provider and in leadership positions. Prior to joining LSSSC, Mr. Brezenoff was Senior Advisor to Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, serving as a key advisor on policies relevant to homelessness and mental health. He also worked closely with constituents and service providers throughout the city on these and other important social issues.

He has been in private practice as a therapist since 2006, and teaches undergraduate Human Services and graduate level social work at Cal State Dominguez Hills and lives in Long Beach with his family.

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.
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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
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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!

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