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.

Jake Cook - Community Health Outreach Associate - East Texas Office
jcook@childrensdefense.org  |  1 (844) 713-3939

Jake Cook joined CDF-Texas in October of 2016 as a Community Health Outreach Associate for Smith County in East Texas. Prior to CDF-Texas, James served as an Americorps VISTA with a Healthy Dallas County community health project.

He graduated from the University of Texas with B.A.s in Political Science and History, and recently began work on his M.A. in Political Science.

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.

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.

Maria Salas - Community Health Outreach Associate - East Texas Office
msalas@childrensdefense.org  |  1 (844) 713-3939

Maria Salas joined CDF-Texas in October of 2016 as a Community Health Outreach Associate in East Texas.

Anat Kelman Shaw, MPA - Director of Communications - Houston Office
akelman@childrensdefense.org  |  (713) 664-4080

Anat Kelman Shaw joined CDF-Texas in 2004. As Communications Director, Anat manages print, digital, and social media and press relations. She helps coordinate CDF-Texas' annual Beat the Odds awards and has contributed to the project's substantial growth. As communications lead, Anat provides expertise and support for strategic CDF initiatives, including policy, fund development, and outreach. She has helped produce flagship publications, media and messaging campaigns that put a human face on Texas' significant rate of uninsured children, efforts that have shaped health care policies to benefit millions of children.

Prior to her work in communications and development, Anat managed statewide outreach. She helped coordinate CDF's Every Child, a Healthy Child project in 19 school districts of Harris county, and produced highly visible billboard and restaurant tray-liner campaigns in ten Texas cities to promote awareness of CHIP and Children's Medicaid. Her 2004 report on the State of Elementary Health Coverage in Houston ISD, presented to then Superintendent Dr. Abe Saavedra and the Houston School Board contributed to the success of CDF's earliest school-based outreach pilot linking health enrollment with school enrollment. The success of this pilot provided the necessary foundation for what is today one of CDF's signature national outreach initiatives. In January of 2016, the U.S. Depts of Education and Health and Human Services highlighted CDF's school-based health outreach model as the first of a set of five recommendations for states across the country to strengthen the link between student health and education.

Anat's prior experience includes three years at the international law firm Baker Botts LLP, in both Dallas and Austin sections.

Anat graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a BA in Government and earned an MPA from the University of Houston. She is a proud mom of two young children, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston.