Support for Early Learning and Families Board of Directors
Debbie Ham, Executive Director
Debbie has been an early childhood champion for more than 25 years. She began advocating for children as the parent of a child with special needs. This led her to start Clark County’s Parent-to-Parent program at the ARC of Southwest Washington and the Infant Toddler Early Intervention Program, now run by ESD 112. The ESD hired her as Director of Child Care and Early Learning in the mid-’90s. In 2001, Debbie was a founding member of Support for Early Learning & Families, a coalition focused on early learning. When SELF became a nonprofit in 2010, she became executive director. Her passionate advocacy for equal opportunities for every child is felt in Clark County, Southwest Washington, and at the state level. Debbie and her husband, Les, raised five children, two with special needs, and have six amazing grandchildren.
Francesca Taylor, Board Chair
Francesca navigates modern motherhood with a focus on community building and a passion for philanthropy. She leverages her background in corporate responsibility and community engagement to bring people together and improve community belonging. She is very active with the Hough Elementary PTSA and enjoys all elements of volunteerism, from advocacy to event planning. Francesca joined the Support for Early Learning & Families board in 2016 and serves on the board’s Marketing and Communication Committee. She and her family love the outdoors. Together they ski, stand-up paddleboard, hike, camp, travel, play at the beach, and attend many Timbers and Thorns soccer games each year.
Mary Sisson, Vice Chair/Secretary
Mary and husband Bob started Kazoodles Toy Store in 2006 and sold it in 2019, but being immersed in the world of toys and play taught her much about the importance of giving children a great start from birth. Five grandchildren eagerly served as toy testers. A former journalist and school public information specialist, she edited a magazine for the toy industry while running Kazoodles. Active in her church, she also serves on the Columbia Play Project board.
Elaine Gunter, Treasurer
Elaine has letters behind her name — MBA and CPA — but her thing is really numbers. She’s a manager at Brewer Caley CPAs and makes sure Support for Early Learning & Families’ finances are in excellent order. She counts working with clients and Disney trips as her favorite things to do. Family is very important and she enjoys time with children and grandchildren. She has worked in volunteer capacities for many years, especially with children from 18 months to 18 years. The SELF mission is very important to her as early education and learning make a true difference in childhood development and confidence in education.
Joan Caley, Director
Joan may be retired from her nursing career as an administrative director with the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, but she has not retired from caring for people. Serving on multiple boards, including Vancouver Housing Authority and Council for the Homeless, she began to look upstream at the root causes and joined Support for Early Learning & Families in hopes of helping solve problems before they start. Both her daughters are VA nurses. Joan has a menagerie of dogs and a reptile, but her favorite role is Mummu. That’s Finnish for grandma!
Jerry Bender, Director
Being sent to the principal is a good thing when it’s Jerry you’re talking about. His career encompassed being a high school teacher, Career and Technical Education director, principal and director of governmental relations for the Association of Washington Principals. This has well equipped him to take on Support for Early Learning & Families’ role of advocacy for early childhood. After retiring, Jerry and his wife, Lila, moved to Vancouver to be near some of their 14 grandchildren.
Phyllis Goldhammer Robertson, Director
Phyllis has been active in the Vancouver community for years. As a banker for 23 years, she was involved in mentoring and educational opportunities for women in banking and young women with the Miss Washington Scholarship Program. She served on the first Clark County Tourism Board, was a commissioner of Vancouver Parks and Recreation, co-founder and president of the Parks Foundation board, and executive director of the Parks Foundation. She retired as a business education coordinator from Educational Service District 112 with more than two decades of education and nonprofit leadership. Her skills keep Support for Early Learning & Families moving ahead to make a difference for local children and families.
Lori Oberheide, Director
Lori spent 36 years working on behalf of children and families in Southwest Washington. Before retiring in 2019, she led a team of communications professionals who used their superpowers to improve perceptions of public education and increase support for schools. Other passions include traveling, exploring the great outdoors, engaging with her Barre 3 exercise community, supporting her husband's love of restoring classic cars, hosting family dinners for four children and their spouses, and snuggling with her first grandbaby, Riftan Dane.
Caroline G. Reed, Director
Caroline brings a passion for diversity, equity and inclusion to the board. She majored in human development and family life education at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, then went to law school at Lewis & Clark in Portland. After a stint as a lawyer, she decided she really wanted to work around kids, so she is now the grants manager at Boys & Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington. She’s also a Girl Scout troop leader.
Not a regular at board meetings, Dolly Parton often shows up when Support for Early Learning & Families is out in the community. Well, a cardboard cutout of her does. Dolly has had a tremendous impact on children through her Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, of which Support for Early Learning & Families is the Southwest Washington agency. Born in a one-room cabin in Tennessee, she rose to become a country music legend and has composed more than 3,000 songs. Remembering her roots, she gives back to causes such as literacy through the Dollywood Foundation.
Doug Lehrman, Director Emeritus
As a licensed social worker, area administrator for the State of Washington Children’s Administration, and executive director of Educational Opportunities for Children and Families, Doug brought his extensive knowledge to Support for Early Learning & Families as we initially formed the coalition, when we applied for our nonprofit status and as a member of the board of directors. Now retired from work and Support for Early Learning & Families, he helps address homelessness by serving on the board of Family Promise of Clark County.