Executive Team

Photo of LaSharnda Beckwith LaSharnda Beckwith, Ph.D.
President and Chief Executive Officer

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 people in Southern California. Establishing a vision for community impact that works across private, public and corporate sectors, Beckwith leads a diverse team of 150+ employees across 18 offices in eight 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 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 is a graduate of Capella University, with a Doctor of Philosophy in Organization & Management with a Leadership specialization, an Master of Business Administration with Distinction from Embry-Riddle University, Master of Arts in Business Management from Webster University and is finishing up a second Doctorate of Business Administration in Strategic Leadership from California Southern. Dr. Beckwith’s personal blog can be visited by clicking here.

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Photo of John Kohl John Kohl, MBA
Executive Vice-President, Chief Financial Officer

As Chief Financial Officer, John Kohl oversees all fiscal and human resources aspects of the agency.

John earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Finance/Accounting from California State University, Northridge, and holds a Master of Business Administration, Finance/Accounting from the University of Southern California. John is a seasoned collaborative professional, a servant leader who acts with integrity, and he is committed to ethics at all levels of his work. He has served as the Controller for St. Joseph Hospital Foundation for the last five years.


John was baptized a Lutheran and understands the tenets and values of the Lutheran faith. He considers it part of his duty to give back to society, while soundly managing the fiscal operations of the agency he serves. John has successfully led the financial areas of many non-profits and is particularly drawn to the LSS-SC mission.

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Photo of Ellen D. Waild Ellen D. Waild, MS
Executive Vice-President, Chief Agency Officer

As Chief Agency Officer, Ellen Waild oversees execution and compliance for the nearly 100 programs in the agency’s 18 offices.

Ellen holds a master’s degree in education from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She has served for over 30 years in social services and non-profit management/leadership positions across the US. Ellen has been with LSSSC for 10 years and has served as the agency as both its President/CEO and the Foundation President.


She is a lifelong Lutheran and has served in many leadership capacities for her home congregation, including congregation vice president, Sunday School Superintendent, and Education Committee chair. Ellen is married, has two children and two beautiful grandchildren all living in California. She is an avid reader, enjoys photography and loves to travel.

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Photo of Tiffany Mitchell, PsyD Tiffany Mitchell, Psy.D.
Executive Vice-President, Chief Operating Officer

As Chief Operating Officer, Tiffany Mitchell is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day administrative and operational functions of the agency.

Dr. Mitchell received her Doctor of Psychology in Applied Clinical Psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Irvine and 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.

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Photo of Darren Varacruz
Darren Veracruz, ESQ
Executive Vice-President, Chief Philanthropy Officer

Darren is the Chief Philanthropy Officer for Lutheran Social Services and has primary responsibility over fundraising and donor development.

Darren 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 has 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.

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Photo of Maria Dillon-Owens
Maria Dillon-Owens, MS 
VP, Employee Engagement & Organizational Effectiveness

As Vice President of Employee Engagement /Organizational Effectiveness, Maria Dillon-Owens will oversee all aspects of Human Resources and Internal stakeholder relations.

Maria joins 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.

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Photo of Ben Garcia
Ben Garcia
Vice President of Housing Counseling

As Vice President of Housing Counseling, Ben Garcia will oversee all aspects of the agency’s Housing Counseling and financial literacy programs.

Ben has 20 years of leadership experience in the housing industry, both for-profit and non-profit agencies. He Is a licensed HUD-Certified Housing Counselor and a Certified USDA 502 Loan Packager.


Ben has served communities in Southern California with housing and financial sustainability. He has offered financial mentoring that helped clients learn how to handle money and live on a budget, and he has assisted getting low-income individuals and families into long-term sustainable housing.

Before coming to LSS, he worked as a Loan Officer for Prime Lending in Glendora, CA and also as the Regional Community Services Director for the Inland Fair Housing & Mediation Board, Ontario, CA.

Ben and his wife Karla, along with their family, live in Covina.

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Photo of Gia Hamilton
Gia Hamilton, Psy.D., LMFT
Vice President of Health, Wellness, and Recovery Services

As Vice President of Health, Wellness, and Recovery Services, Dr. 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.

LSS Senior Directors

Darlene Mees – Senior Director, Central City Lutheran Mission; Riverside County; San Diego County


Darlene Mees supervises the operations of LSS programs in Central City Lutheran Mission, San Diego and Riverside Counties.

Her fields include operations, finance and education. She worked as the Assistant Operations Officer for a commercial bank, Controller for a retailer, and Accounting Supervisor for a law firm. She taught in the Riverside Unified School District as a permanent substitute.

From 1999-2015, Darlene was a field executive for LSS. She also functioned as an Administrative Assistant, Area Director, Roving Director throughout Southern California, and Chief Operations Officer. She returned to work for LSS in October 2016 as the assistant to the Chief Financial Officer, and was then promoted to Senior Director.

Darlene received a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from California State University, San Bernardino, in 1993.

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Mark Kuntz – Senior Director, Garden Grove/Orange County; Long Beach/South Bay; San Fernando Valley; San Gabriel Valley; Ventura County


Mark Kuntz supervises the LSS programs in Long Beach, North Hollywood, San Gabriel Valley, Orange County and Ventura County. He has provided Clinical Supervision and oversight of the staff and services in the five LSS service sites for the last three years.

From 2004-2017, Mark worked in management at several levels of the SCAN Health system. His last assignment was as Director of Contract Programs for Independence at Home (IAH).
Mark is a licensed clinical social worker in the State of California. He received the Master of Social Work from California State University, Long Beach, CA, and the Bachelor of Arts from Concordia University, Irvine, CA.

He has emphasized the importance of Emotional Intelligence, highlighting ways to be more aware of and empathetic with LSS clients.

Mark’s father was a pastor in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and he and his family are members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Irvine.

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Eileen Hofer – Senior Director, Rural San Bernardino County


Eileen Hofer is responsible for Rural San Bernardino County, the largest geographic area served by LSS. She has been on the agency staff since 2001.

She graduated in 1979 from the College of the Sequoias with an Associates degree in Nursing, and became licensed as an RN in 1980. Eileen received the Bachelor of Professional Arts, with an emphasis in Health Education, from St. Joseph College in Windham, Maine, in 1995.

After employment in multiple hospital-based nursing positions, Eileen became an in-home Case Manager at LSS Big Bear in May 2001 and worked her way up the ranks to Senior Director in 2017. She is also a certified Grief Counselor with the American Academy of Grief Counselors.

Eileen is a widow with a daughter, son-in-law and a 2½ year-old granddaughter. She is a practicing Roman Catholic, and her faith is very important to her.

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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!