Cheasty Anderson, MA, PhD - Senior Policy Associate - Austin Office
canderson@childrensdefense.org |  (512) 236-1699

Cheasty Anderson joined the CDF-Texas health policy team in Austin in October of 2014. Her work focuses on community organizing, education, and outreach, as well as working with key stakeholders, coalition partners, and elected officials on strategic planning for advocacy efforts to expand health care access in Texas. For more on this work, visit Cover Texas Now.

Previously, Cheasty worked as Education and Outreach Coordinator at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, where she was a key member of the Texas Well and Healthy Coalition. She brings diverse experiences in youth development and education, as well as in health care policy to CDF's work.

Cheasty graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill in 2000, and then earned a Master’s Degree (2008) and a Ph.D. (2014) from the University of Texas–Austin. Her doctoral dissertation was, “Health Reform in Sandinista Nicaragua, 1979-1990.”

Joanna Bennett - Community Health Outreach Associate - East Texas Office
jbennett@childrensdefense.org  |  1 (844) 713-3939

Joanna Bennett joined CDF-Texas in October of 2016, and serves as a Community Health Outreach Associate in Nacogdoches County in East Texas. After almost twenty five years in the medical field, Joanna returned to college and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Promotion.  As a mother and a grandmother, she came to CDF in answer to a call she felt to improve the lives of children. 

Joanna serves as chairwoman of the advisory board for the Community Health Worker Program at Tyler Junior College and has served as a student proctor in addition to teaching undergraduate health course at Texas A&M University in Commerce. 

In addition to being a Community Health Worker, Joanna is a Certified Health Education Specialist, holds a bachelor’s degree in health promotion and is currently in the master’s program at Texas A&M University in Commerce.

Patrick Bresette - Executive Director - Austin and Houston Office
pbresette@childrensdefense.org  |  (512) 236-1699

A leader in policy and advocacy for more than 23 years, frequent public speaker and national advisor, Patrick Bresette brings a broad understanding of how to work with and within the public sector to create positive social change for children and families. He joined Children's Defense Fund as Texas Executive Director in 2014.

Patrick was previously the Executive Director of Public Works, where from 2004-2014 he helped to transform and build public will for the common good by engaging more Americans in an active pursuit of a government that works for all. He has traveled to dozens of states to train advocates, nonprofits, community leaders, public officials and organizers on how to defend public programs and the role they play in the lives of children, families and communities. From 1991-2004, Patrick was Associate Director of the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities where he was responsible for launching the Texas Kids Count Initiative and spearheading the Center’s child advocacy work. He has led statewide coalitions in the development of shared legislative priorities and has testified frequently before House and Senate committees and administrative hearings on behalf of low-income Texans, especially children. He is a frequent consultant to the Kids Count network and presenter to funder affinity groups like Grant Makers for Children, Youth and Families.

"Patrick made an immeasurable and enduring contribution to Public Works’ mission, having inspired and equipped thousands of leaders and activists around the country to make a compelling case for public systems and structures at the local, state and federal levelsI am delighted that he will be in a position to resume work he has cherished throughout his career—bettering the lives of children."  - Public Works President and CEO Diane Stewart

Patrick is a devoted husband, father of four, and grandfather to three young grandchildren in a vibrant bi-racial household in central Texas. He holds an MPA from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and a BFA in Sculpture from the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. Patrick commutes weekly between our Austin and Houston offices.

Graciela Camarena, BSW - Program Director - McAllen Office
gcamarena@childrensdefense.org  |  (956) 687-5437

Gracie Camarena joined CDF-Texas' Rio Grande Valley office in 2012. As a Child Health Outreach Program Director, Gracie works with families, schools and community partners to connect uninsured children with affordable health coverage. 

Prior to joining CDF, Gracie spent 18 years in public health and social services in a variety of outreach and administrative roles, including 10 years as a Camp Health Aide / Promotora de Salud both in Michigan and South Texas. In 2002, Gracie was the first State of Texas Community Health Worker Promotora de Salud to be certified by the Texas Department of State Health Services. She considers it a blessing to be able to inform, educate and make a difference in the lives of children and families by improving access to care in Texas' vulnerable border communities.

A member of the Phi Alpha Mu Honor Society, Gracie graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Work from the University of Texas Pan American at Edinburg.  She is a mother of three, grandmother of three, and lives in Weslaco.

Mary Carreon - Community Health Outreach Associate - McAllen Office
mcarreon@childrensdefense.org  |  (956) 687-5437

Mary Carreon joined CDF-Texas' Rio Grande Valley office in 2016 as a Community Health Outreach Associate.

Laura Guerra-Cardus, MD - Deputy Director - Austin Office
lguerracar@childrensdefense.org  |  (512) 236-1699

Dr. Laura Guerra-Cardus joined CDF-Texas in 2007 and serves as Deputy Director in CDF's Austin office. She helps lead statewide policy initiatives, including Cover Texas Now, which works with coalition partners to ensure that all Texas children and all Texans have access to affordable, comprehensive health care coverage. Since 2008, our policy efforts have connected more than 1,000,000 children to health coverage. From 2009 - 2010, Laura served as CDF-Texas' Interim Director.

Laura is a graduate of Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine. After graduating from medical school, Laura served as a Fellow in the Coro Fellowship Program in Public Affairs – St. Louis.

Michelle Castillo - Youth Civil Education and Engagement Coordinator - Austin Office
mcastillo@childrensdefense.org  |  (512) 236-1699

Michelle Castillo joined CDF-Texas in 2018. As the youth civic education and engagement coordinator, Michelle helps to organize statewide and regional efforts to promote systems change for greater youth civic participation and leadership in our public squares.  

Prior to joining the CDF-Texas team, Michelle worked as a Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate legislative staffer on a variety of issues impacting voting rights, immigrant communities, criminal justice reform, public and higher education, and health care. Michelle is eager to pull from her previous experiences working on statewide advocacy and political campaigns across Texas to ensure young people are part of the policy-making process across all levels of government.  

Michelle is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and Harvard University. She loves being the little sister to her brother with Down syndrome and Autism and going on adventures with her husband and their stubborn, ever-hungry, Beagle.

Crystal Marcial - Community Health Outreach Associate
cmarcial@childrensdefense.org  |

Crystal joined CDF-Texas in September 2017 as a Community Health Outreach Associate.

Four years before joining CDF, Crystal was working as an electronics team member at Target, but this position didn’t quite satisfy her desire to work with and help people. This Tyler native was inspired to serve her community and advocate for those who can’t speak for themselves, so in 2016 she went back to school to earn her certification as a Community Health Worker through Health and Human Services. She came across Children’s Defense Fund in her search for an internship and immediately fell in love with the mission and initiatives. As a Community Health Worker, Crystal is able to build relationships to increase her knowledge, community education, and social and advocacy support. With CDF-Texas, she continues to support families by improving access for affordable health care plans for children and connecting those in need with other valuable resources.

Outside of CDF, Crystal is a proud aunt of four beautiful nephews and a mom to a German Shepherd named Bailey. In her free time, she enjoys playing tennis and going on adventures with her loved one.

Cecilia Joseph - Director of Operations - Houston Office
cjoseph@childrensdefense.org  |  (713) 664-4080

Cecilia Joseph joined CDF-Texas in 2004. As Director of Operations, Cecilia wears multiple hats as the statewide Finance Manager, statewide Human Resources Manager, and statewide Office Manager for CDF-Texas.

Cecilia has also led tax benefit outreach efforts to low and moderate income families and families with disabilities, targeted for Earned Income Tax and Child Tax Credits. She has developed a solid partnership with the IRS and the Houston Asset Building Coalition, and is often invited to give presentations and provide benefits outreach on their behalf.

Cecilia has extensive experience in financial management. From 1995 through early 2001, she was an Assistant Vice President and Trust Officer with JPMorgan Chase managing a staff of ten in the administration of money market funds for 100,000 customers and trust accounts for both New York and Texas offices.

Cecilia received her BA in Communication and Psychology from Oakland University at Rochester, Michigan.

WyKisha Mckinney - Program Director - Houston Office
wmckinney@childrensdefense.org  |  (713) 664-4080

WyKisha McKinney joined CDF-Texas in November of 2012. As a Child Health Outreach Program Director, WyKisha works to inform and connect Houston area children and families to CHIP and Children's Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Health Insurance Marketplace.  She provides community outreach, public education and trainings to community groups, school leaders, and other professionals who serve or come into contact with uninsured children and their families.

WyKisha graduated from Ashford University in Clinton, IA in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Management. She brings over fifteen years of experience working in the nonprofit industry and a strong background in community relations and volunteer management. WyKisha is passionate about her work with nonprofits and holds a strong conviction for serving her community. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for three Houston-area nonprofits and organizes small volunteer projects throughout the year for herself and her family. She is a dedicated wife and mother of two beautiful children and two little dogs.

Cindy Ross - Community Health Outreach Coordinator - East Texas Office
cross@childrensdefense.org  |  1 (844) 713-3939

Cindy Ross joined CDF-Texas in October of 2016 and serves as Community Health Outreach Coordinator for Smith County in East Texas.

For eleven years prior to joining CDF, Cindy was a Head Start Case Manager for Tyler Independent School District. Through Head Start Cindy served as an advocate for low income children and families, providing services in six areas: Social Services, Nutrition, Health, Mental Health, Disabilities/Education and Parental Involvement. In December of 2015 Cindy became a certified Community Health Worker through Health and Human Services. As a community health worker Cindy built relationships to increase health knowledge and self-sufficiency through outreach, community education, social support and advocacy. With CDF-Texas Cindy continues to work to improve access to affordable health care for children and other valuable resources that strengthen vulnerable families. 

Cindy majored in Sociology at UT Tyler, and is a graduate of Tyler Junior College in Long-term Care Administration. She is a proud mother of four children.

Clarissa Webb - Youth Development Coordinator - Houston Office
cweb@childrensdefense.org  |  (713) 664-4080

Clarissa Webb joined CDF-Texas in December 2016 as a consultant for the Children’s Defense Fund Beat the Odds® Scholarship Program. She was so inspired and honored to work with such high-caliber students and staff through her first Beat the Odds experience that she wanted to have a bigger role the following year. She now serves as the full-time Youth Development Coordinator where she splits her efforts between Beat the Odds and CDF Freedom Schools®.

A graduate of the Texas A&M University Mays College of Business, Webb has utilized her marketing skill set and communications prowess as a copywriter at a creative-consulting firm and in a variety of non-profit settings including churches, a residential youth home and her local YMCA, where she also “moonlights” as a group-exercise instructor. The combination of her passion for social justice and healthy living is what gets her up in the morning and drives her to be an energetic part of the CDF-Texas team. Webb is always ready to put her yoga/weight-lifting/general fitness into practice at any moment. (One may be surprised how often those two worlds collide.)

This grateful mother of two is also a committed volunteer for the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo Speakers Committee and strives to be a supportive wife to an out-of-the-box senior pastor. She feels privileged and humbled to be a voice for children in Texas.