Dana Ortiz, Executive Director

I came to this vocation in a bit of an odd manner – through a variety of professional experiences that have enriched my life tremendously. I have enjoyed a career in biochemistry working in a few different industries, including, pharmaceutical development, project management, agricultural metabolism, and winemaking. I even did a bit of time as a biology teacher in California. And the best career choice for me has been working with families experiencing homelessness.

I had been blessed to have worked as a volunteer for over 30+ years with families experiencing homelessness prior to joining Family Promise of Lawrence. My first introduction to the challenges and obstacles for families was when volunteering monthly as an overnight host in a family shelter in San Jose, California in the 1990’s with my then sweetheart, now husband Leo, before we moved to Lawrence. We moved from the San Francisco Bay Area in 1995 for Leo to get his Ph.D. at KU. We fell in love with Lawrence and decided to raise our girls here. Leo is a Professor of American History at Baker University. Leo and I are the very proud parents of two amazing adult daughters, Emily and Jamie.

The best things in my life are my family, my friends, my faith, traveling, backpacking and my work.

This job is hard and is also a gift and brings great joy. I consider it an honor to work with Family Promise guests, graduates, clients, our board, staff, volunteers and alongside other non-profits and community leaders to make real changes in the lives of families who are experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of becoming homeless.

“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  Micah 6:8

Brenda Wahl, Director of Programs

One of the remarkable things about Family Promise is the way congregations and people all across Lawrence work together to provide hospitality to the families, and how God then works as lives and experiences intersect. It’s a beautiful picture of the Kingdom, and I’m thankful to be a part of it.

I came to Family Promise from a varied background of years of ministry in Russia and the health care field here in Lawrence. Though these experiences seem unrelated, both have helped to prepare me in multiple ways for the incredible adventure that is Family Promise.

Throughout my time of working with Family Promise, my life has been changed by the amazing people who rotate through the program–volunteers, guests, board members, fellow staff. Each person contributes a few tiles to the mosaic that makes Family Promise a beautiful picture of hope, redemption, relationships. I’m proud and humbled to be a part of this mosaic.

In 2013, I embarked on a whole new adventure when God brought my beautiful daughter into my life. I never tire of telling our story, so don’t be afraid to ask me about it! Besides spending as much time with her as possible, I love to read, I like to pretend I enjoy gardening and I like watching KU basketball. (At 20 months, my daughter could say, “Rock Chalk Jayhawk! Go KU!” But maybe I was the only one who could understand her.)

John Booth, Director of Housing

My role today has evolved into helping families navigate the complexities of applying for a housing subsidy, maintain their housing subsidy and managing our temporary housing units.
I have been passionately serving family promise since it started here in Lawrence and I have taken on many different roles to help the program. I have served as a van driver, an overnight host (at several churches around Lawrence) and a lead volunteer coordinator. I like and believe in, our approach and I have seen firsthand the impact it has made in people’s lives.

I grew up in a working-class town in the UK (a low socioeconomic area), so I can understand from my life’s experiences many of the challenges our guests face. However, with a reasonable education and a parent advocate, my life has been immeasurably changed, praise God. I believe education can help our guests, graduates and their kids too. I came to the USA in 1994, and I have now lived in 4 countries and 3 states (TX, MI, and KS).

I love meeting and working with the diversity of churches and volunteers who make family promise happen. I feel called to this work at Family Promise. By training, I have a Ph.D. in chemistry and significant experience in project management, including managing project with large numbers of people and ever-changing dynamics.

I was recently married, in April 2019, to my wonderful and beautiful wife Alice. I immediately become the father to 3 teenagers: Shiku, Ashley and JP. We were then blessed with an unexpected surprise, our daughter Taji was born in February 2020.

Kristin Montgomery, Director of Development

What an honor it is to join the Family Promise team! My family moved to Lawrence four years ago and we fell in love with the town. This is the first place I’ve lived that had a Family Promise program and the more I learned about it, the more I felt it was a place for me. I started volunteering with Family Promise a couple of years ago through a local church and fell in love with the program. The ability to put my faith into action is something I don’t take lightly and am so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of a team that is dedicated to the connection and safety of families. If you ever want to chat, please stop by. I’ll probably see you around town.

Vanecia Hazel, Director of Family Services

In 2013, I made a huge decision and traded sandy beaches for snowy plains when I moved to Kansas. No, I’m not crazy, haha! Nonetheless, I’ve made a home in Lawrence and enjoy connecting with people and building relationships. I have a Masters in Social Work and my background is in family and child welfare to which I have gained knowledge that has solidified my passion to empower and impact those in need.

Through my home church, Velocity, I became aware of Family Promise and the programs they offered to the Lawrence community. This allowed me an opportunity to see a tangible measure of faith with how volunteers and churches were willing to work together to share resources for those in need. The more I learned of Family Promise and the engagement provided to families I wanted to be a part of that journey in giving back. I am overjoyed to be able to work at Family Promise to assist in advocating for individual and families and providing them an opportunity to be empowered to make confident life decisions.

Joey Spiegle, Family Service Coordinator

My wife and I have been living in Lawrence since 2016. And since moving from Colorado, we have encountered the question: “why did you move to Kansas?” (or some other variation of the question often implying that we may not be completely sane). This can be a rather difficult question to answer at times. While there are certainly many appropriate answers to the question, it has become increasingly clear since moving here that serving Family Promise is a crucial point in God’s calling on my life in Lawrence.

I was first exposed to Family Promise shortly after my wife and I moved to Lawrence and began attending one of the hosting congregations, Plymouth Congregational. We were immediately struck by the work of Family Promise and pondered how we might contribute to its success. Correspondingly we fell more and more in love with the community of Lawrence at large and have longed to give of ourselves to this place that has become our beloved home. But it seemed that there was some necessary preparation that needed to take place first, and I spent the following two years working as a case manager at an outpatient mental health facility.

My time as a case manager allowed me to grow in a variety of ways. Among the various skills that I was able to hone there, I grew in compassion for people experiencing some of the roughest moments of their lives. It can often be quite difficult to engage someone when they are in the midst of their most difficult moments, but it can also be incredibly beautiful. Doing so is a way of honoring the Image of God present in each of us and emulates precisely what Christ has done for each of us.

God entered (and continues to enter) into our midst even as we are at our lowest. He then calls us into full life with Him, offering us a new way of seeing ourselves and consequently a new way of seeing the World around us. This is part of what I see Family Promise doing: showing families that they are loved, that they matter, and that they can indeed live full lives. Family Promise believes in the families that it serves and presses them toward their full potential.
Christ is acting through Family Promise, and it is my deepest hope and prayer that I may be a means through which Christ expresses his abounding love toward these families. May we all we all experience, more and more, the depth of God’s steadfast love.

Josiah Atkins Family Service Coordinator 

Born in Kenya and raised in Canada—I am passionate about learning about other cultures and perspectives. I believe everyone you interact with has inherent value and a story to share which I can learn from.

I hold a BA in Intercultural Studies from Rocky Mountain College in Calgary, AB Canada and have had a variety of experiences leading up to working with Family Promise. At the heart of everything, I am a family man and so I care deeply about helping others achieve stabilization for their families from a strength based, trauma informed perspective. That is why I am very excited to grow in my new role as a Family Promise Stabilization Case Manager.

Juanita Dutton, Support Advocate

My name is Juanita Dutton, and I am a support advocate with Family Promise. I am originally from New Mexico, and moved to Lawrence four years ago. I have two children, who are healthy and happy, because of Family Promise, I have an excellent community of friends and support today. I enjoy helping others, and giving back to the community that helped me so much as I grew as a person and got my life to a place where I always wanted to be. Currently I am enrolled in JCCC and soon to be transferring to UMKC to get my Bachelor’s Degree in computer science. Thanks to Family Promise of Lawrence, I have achieved the things that I only wished for previously, and have begun the journey of becoming the person that I didn’t even dream of 4 years ago. As a support advocate, I am finding that my real-world experience and desire to give back to the people that are where I once was have been invaluable, and have allowed for a greater degree of communication and openness between myself and anyone in need that seeks our help.

Crystal Hays, Family Advocate Specialist

My husband, kids and I graduated from Family Promise in 2015. While in the program I never expected that this experience would turn into a full-time job for me. Even after we graduated, Family Promise still felt like home, and it still does. Because I’ve gone through this, I have the experience to be able to relate to families in the program and give them hope that they can do this. I love seeing people succeed in finding jobs, finding housing and seeing how happy they are that they have reached their goals. Family Promise isn’t something you’re just done with. Family Promise is still involved with you even after you graduate, and that’s why I love coming to work every day!

Melissa Murrell, Housing Advocate Specialist

When I first learned of Family Promise, I was serving as part-time children’s pastor at First Baptist Church, Lawrence.  I was amazed by the work being done and how God’s light shown so brightly through Family Promise.  Little did I realize at that time how I would be greatly impacted by Family Promise.  In one of the darkest moments of my life, Family Promise was one of God’s lights for me to navigate through the crisis I was in.  As a graduate of P515, I wanted to give back to a ministry that greatly encouraged, blessed and helped me.  I wanted to give back to a ministry I believed in with all my heart.  I became a C2C partner, an Advocate, and now Advocate Housing Specialist.  I am honored to serve Family Promise and our community.  I see God’s work everyday at Family Promise.  In addition to working full-time with Family Promise, I also serve as a bi-vocational pastor of children and youth at First Baptist Church Topeka.  I have two children, Kaitlyn and Aedyn, who are sometimes seen with me at the day house.  We enjoy watching Japanese anime and superheroes shows or movies, going on nature walks and trails, and hanging out with family and friends.  When I am not engaged with my children or Family Promise or the church, I enjoy reading fantasy books and making crafts and a bit of gardening.

Jaytoya Simms, Housing Advocate


I’m so excited to be a part of the Family Promise team. I grew up in Lawrence and am thankful to be a part of this community. My Grandfather was granted custody of me at the age of 2 and from 2-16 I was raised in the Lawrence Community. My Grandfather got sick, and I was placed back into foster care. Moving to Kansas City was a culture shock for me but I was lucky enough to find a wonderful foster family that was in Lawrence, and I was able to graduate from my hometown.

After a few years on my own I had a child, and she changed my life for the better. Unfortunately, 3 years after she was born, I found myself in an abusive relationship. I prayed and found enough strength to leave. I came across FPL and this program changed our lives in so many ways.  At FPL I worked with case management on budgeting, being vulnerable, asking for help, and simply being patient.  I have found many of these skills I learned in the program I still use to this day. I’m so blessed to say that I’m a Family Promise Graduate and I’m thankful to be a part of this family.

After we graduated from the program, I got into property management. Being able to help people in the community find a home is so rewarding.  No matter what stage of life we are in, we need a place to live and call home. I am so excited to be a part of this movement and so excited to help other families through my work at FPL.

Holly LeClaire, Advocate

Eugene Cowper, Advocate