The CFILC Staff
Our staff is a richly diverse group of individuals from various backgrounds and experiences. We invite you to learn more about us.
Brenda Wheeler Information & Advocacy Specialist
Brenda Wheeler is the Information and Advocacy Specialist at CFILC. She developed an early interest for helping people with disabilities when she met her uncle with down syndrome while visiting family in Mexico. At the age of 14, she volunteered in the Special Education classrooms in her high school. After graduating High School, she went on to volunteering at Learning Solutions, who offer a range of services to children with a variety of disabilities. With the experience she acquired from Learning Solutions, Brenda went on to babysitting kids with disabilities. Brenda plans to return to college in the Spring of 2020 to pursue her career in Occupational Therapy and hoping to one day be able to apply all of her experiences to helping others.
When not in the office, you can find Brenda with her husband and kids exploring different lakes throughout Northern California, traveling, eating at their favorite restaurants, or watching movies at home.
Vanessa Cuellar Youth Organizer
I was raised in the outskirts of Patterson, CA - the apricot capital of the world. As a middle school student in 2008, I began to volunteer for the city's Parks and Rec department working with youth. Soon after in 2010, I was hired by the City to continue my work with the community in both middle schools and high schools. We worked in collaboration with Stanislaus County in order to reach the youth in nearby cities. During this time in 2012, I started my own peer support group called "Be A Friend" for teenagers living with depression; I was able to do this with the help of my sister and close friends. With "Be A Friend," I had the opportunity to host assemblies on anti-bullying at local schools and meet amazing people.
I moved to Sacramento in early 2015, where I joined Sacramento Job Corps' group of staff working with at-risk youth. A few of my accomplishments at Job Corps include the establishment of a Women's Club, a Gay Straight Alliance, Spanish Club, and becoming the soccer coach. After a few years, I decided to branch out in order to help and support a wider variety of youth within our communities. I am now a Youth Organizer at CFILC, and am very excited and hopeful!
I am a first generation Latina American with Spanish being my first language, as my parents immigrated to this country from Ocotlan, Jalisco, Mexico.
I will be transferring to a university in 2019 to obtain a Bachelor's Degree in Sociology after obtaining my Associate's Degree from Sacramento City College.
In my free time, I enjoy soccer, volleyball, yoga, hot Pilates, singing Christmas music, and spontaneous trips to San Francisco at 1:00am to visit the Golden Gate Bridge.
Christina Mills Executive Director
Christina Mills has been with the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers for over a decade. She became Executive Director of CFILC in February of 2018 after serving as Deputy Director. Christina began her career at CFILC in 2006 as the Statewide Community Organizer.
Born in San Diego, California, Christina began her post-secondary education while simultaneously pursing her career in disability rights. In 1998 she served as one of five Field Coordinators for the Orange County Independent Living Center, The Dayle McIntosh Center. From there she went on to work for Access to Independence in San Diego for 6 years.
In 2001 Christina was appointed by the California Governor as a member of the State Independent Living Council. As a young professional she was active in several leadership activities including National Council on Disability, Youth Advisory Committee Chair, a Youth Consultant for the National Family Voices, Kids as Self Advocates (KASA) project, and has continued to engage in planning and implementation of the California Youth Leadership Forum for Students with Disabilities since her participation as a Student Delegate in 1995. Christina's passion for offering youth leadership opportunities for others led her to become Co-founder of CFILC's youth program, YO! Disabled and Proud.
In 2008, she was awarded the National Council on Independent Living Region IX Advocate of the Year. In 2011, she received the California Coalition for Youth Sue Mathewson Mentoring Award and was inducted into the National Susan M. Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame in 2016.
Christina serves on the board of the Disability Rights Education Defense Fund (DREDF and is a State Board of Education Appointee to the Special Education Advisory Commission of California.
Christina proudly identifies as a disabled. Her favorite poem written by Laura Hersey is, "You Get Proud By Practicing." When she's not working or volunteering, Christina can be found with her husband and son, gardening, traveling or taking it easy.
Kyla Aquino Irving Communications & Marketing Manager
Kyla Aquino Irving is the Communications & Marketing Manager of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers (CFILC) and was first introduced to the disability rights community since her involvement in the California Youth Leadership Forum for Students with Disabilities in 1997.
Previously, Kyla worked in health-related nonprofit organizations where she took great joy in developing and leading public relations campaigns for local, regional, and national public health outreach efforts, events, and conferences. She has been a member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) since 2012 and was the youngest and first person of color to serve as President of the PRSA California Capital Chapter in 2015.
As a two-time kidney transplant recipient, Kyla has 20 years of experience as a spokesperson for ethnic minority health, disability rights and organ donation awareness. She's passionate about diversity, inclusion and health equity. No stranger to CFILC, Kyla has emceed Disability Capitol Action Day twice.
Born in the Philippines and raised in California, Kyla graduated cum laude from California State University, Sacramento in 2010 with a bachelor's degree in Communication Studies, with a concentration in Public Relations and a minor in Marketing.
Sacramento Business Journal named Kyla one of the "40 Under 40" in 2015 and Sac Cultural Hub named her one of the "Exceptional Women of Color" in 2016.
Kyla enjoys cooking, dining, traveling, and rooting for the Sacramento Kings with her husband Steve.
Whitney Edwards Accounting Clerk/Receptionist
Whitney Edwards is the Accounting Clerk/Receptionist for the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers. Prior to working for CFILC, she was an Account Specialist (bookkeeper) for multiple law firms around the Sacramento area. She looks forward to using the skills and knowledge she has earned to help CFILC continue thriving and expanding.
Whitney feels that she owes a great deal to organizations such as CFILC-- organizations that work hard to defend, uplift, and provide resources to individuals with disabilities. She credits disability organizations like CFILC with providing her mother the ability to live independently and know that "her opinion, voice and life are valued as well as heard."
Whitney was born and raised in Oceanside, CA (southern California) and moved to Sacramento, CA after graduating high school in 2009 to attend CSU Sacramento for a degree in Social Work and minor in Sociology.
While persuing her degree in Social Work, she worked with youth as a tutor in schools, daycare teacher, Social Work intern for middle schools and as a Residential Counselor for the Children's Receiving Home in Sacramento. Here she found a passion for helping at-risk youth and hopes to one day open her own group homes and homeless shelters.
Outside of work, Whitney enjoys reading, experimenting with cosmetics, watching action movies, traveling, listening to podcasts and music, photography, and playing tennis.
Kathrine Crowley AT Access Coordinator
Kathrine is the Assistive Technology (AT) Access Coordinator for CFILC. Her role is to raise public awareness about access to AT and provide technical assistance and training to Independent Living Centers and community members to improve programs and ultimately outcomes for our consumers who use AT.
Kathrine attended University of California, Davis (UCD) and obtained bachelor's degrees in anthropology and English with a minor in psychology. Before attending UCD, her early life and career was spent participating and advocating with the Disability community. At UCD, she was able to continue her passion by participating in various activities impacting marginalized communities. She studied and interviewed a wide scope of groups, ultimately studying abroad in Ecuador. She lived with indigenous communities and learned about their struggle for autonomy in the wake of government and corporate attempts to strip and mine their lands. This experience taught her much about the strength of community organizing and what a collection of determined individuals can accomplish together.
Kathrine enjoys traveling, with the goal of visiting all seven continents in order to beat her father's record of having visited six. She enjoys hiking, white water rafting, swimming, reading, solving puzzles and playing board games with her husband, sisters and nephew. She and her husband have adapted many of their board games in order to make family game night a seamlessly accessible event for her sister Becka, who has Down syndrome.
Henry Contreras Public Policy Director
Henry J. Contreras is an attorney licensed to practice in the State of California. He possesses over 28 years of legal, legislative, public policy, and consulting experience while working in the California State Legislature and the United States House of Representatives. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Occidental College and a Juris Doctor Degree from the UCLA School of Law.
His professional career began when he was appointed as a Deputy Legislative Counsel for the Legislative Counsel Bureau, the non-partisan bureau that functions as the attorneys for Members of the California State Assembly and California Senate and was responsible for drafting bills, amendments, and legal opinions. During his 10-year tenure, he specialized in Local Government, Education, Higher Education, Criminal Law, and Civil Procedure. In 1990, he joined the Office of Assemblywoman Lucille Roybal-Allard as her Principal Consultant and Chief of Staff and joined her in Washington D.C. for five years as her Chief of Staff following her election to the United States House of Representatives.
Upon his return to California, he joined the Office of Robert M. Hertzberg as his State Capitol Director during the period when he was the Chair of the Assembly Rules Committee and the Speaker of the Assembly. He subsequently joined the Office of the Assembly Majority Floor Leader and California Latino Legislative Caucus Chair Marco A. Firebaugh as his Chief of Staff and Legal Counsel. From 2005-2008, he operated his own legal and legislative consulting firm, Contreras & Associates, prior to accepting his current position as the Public Policy Director for the California Foundation for Independent Living Center.
Ann Bui Program Director
Ann is the Program Director at the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers (CFILC). Prior to joining CFILC in January 2019, Ann worked as the Statewide Assistive Technology Project Coordinator and Grants Administrator at the California Department of Rehabilitation.
Over the past 20 years, Ann's diverse professional experiences included serving as a long-term Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) fellow at the UC Davis MIND Institute; Santa Clara County Public Health Policy Aide for County Board Supervisor Ken Yeager; Diabetes Prevention Project Coordinator for the Indian Health Center of Santa Clara Valley; Personal Health Assistant and Lifestyle Health Coach for consumer health start-up with Mayo Clinic and Social+Capital Partnership; Community Engagement Coordinator at the Health Trust; Community Organizer at Close to Home Domestic Violence Prevention Initiative; Client Services Specialist and Floor Manager for Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC); Civil Advocate for the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence; and Director of Programs and Development for Viet-AID.
Ann's passion for resolving barriers to health and access to person-centered care led her to volunteer on several non-profit boards to develop policy and programs to better serve persons from disadvantaged communities, including persons with disabilities, their families and caregivers.
Ann holds a bachelor's of arts in psychology from University of Illinois Chicago and a master's of science in Health Care Administration and Change Management from California State University East Bay. Ann enjoys discovering new local cafes, hiking trails, spending time with her partner and rescue kittens, and supporting as well as advocating for her brother with Autism and Traumatic Brain Injury.
Jose Guerrero Graphic and Web Designer
A Southern California native, the military took Jose all around the world. Once back he chose the Central Valley has his final destination and attended Fresno State for his B.A. in Graphic Design once honorably discharged. Jose is forever grateful to CFILC and various campus veterans organizations for his successful transition back to civilian life and has been using his newly acquired skills strictly for non-profit organizations and causes.
As an artist, he enjoys creating sociopolitical art pieces and his works have been shown in the Gearbox Gallery in Oakland, Gregory Kondos Gallery in Sac City, Conley Art Gallery at Fresno State, and the Fresno Art Museum as part of a collaborative art project.
Raelyn Keys Youth Organizer
Raelyn Keys is currently a Youth Organizer with CFILC. She holds a degree in Social Science and is finishing up her Bachelors of Social Work (BSW) at California State University, Sacramento. Upon completing her BSW, she plans to start courses to obtain her Master of Social Work (MSW) degree in the fall 2019.
She is a huge Disney devotee, avid reader, and United States Women's National Soccer Team (USWMNT) fan. Raelyn's prior work with the disabled community was as a Direct Service Trainer for adults with disabilities. Along with working at CFILC, Raelyn is a Social Work intern for the Sacramento School District. Ultimately, Raelyn is working to bridge gaps between transitional youth and all communities.
Allie Cannington Statewide Community Organizer
From the Bay Area, Allie Cannington is a white, Queer, Disabled community advocate and educator. For over nine years, Allie has led and organized youth with disabilities on local, state, national and international levels, always centering Disabled youth with multiple marginalized identities- including Queer and Trans, low/no income, houseless, and youth of color.
Allie is honored to serve as the Statewide Community Organizer. In fact, Allie's journey into disability identity, community, and advocacy began with CFILC, as Allie was one of the first YO Disabled & Proud youth organizers. After moving to Washington DC to pursue national political advocacy and graduating from American University, Allie completed the Youth Transitions Fellowship at the National Council on Independent Living. In 2016, Allie returned to the Bay Area to work on the frontlines of direct service organizations; particularly with youth experiencing homelessness & Trans and Gender Non-Conforming youth in the areas of leadership development, political advocacy, and workforce readiness.
Allie is humbled to partner with organizers and advocates across the state to mobilize and elevate the power of the Disability community. Allie honors the legacy of the Independent Living Movement and will use intersectionality, equity and #DisabilitySolidarity as guideposts for success.
Ultimately, Allie's work is dedicated to unveiling everyone's proximity to disability and to fueling justice movements that are intersectional, sustainable, and intergenerational.
During down time, Allie is resting and connecting with her incredible friends, family, and partner. On evenings and weekends, you can find Allie at a local concert watching her partner play guitar or wheeling around the city of Oakland.
Jackie Moura Bookkeeper
Jackie brings to CFILC over 15 years of office and administrative experience, with the last 10 years primarily focused in accounting. She has worked mostly for larger companies and is very excited to join the non-profit world. She is looking forward to learning more about the history of the disability rights movement, and is also eager to learn more about different types of assistive technology.
After growing up in Santa Rosa, CA Jackie moved to Sacramento to attend California State University, Sacramento, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Social Sciences. While in college she realized that she liked the Sacramento area so much that she decided to make it her permanent home, and has lived in the region ever since.
Jackie is an avid sports fan, and jokes that she is an Oakland A's fan by birth and a San Francisco Giants fan by marriage. Her hobbies also include reading mystery and legal suspense novels and watching home and garden shows, in the hopes to one day take on a DIY project of some sort. She also enjoys spending time in her backyard and hosting family gatherings.
Jackie and her husband are proud pet parents to Golden Retrievers Sierra and Jade, and Australian Shepherd-English Mastiff mix Max. The dogs bring a lot of fun and joy to the family, although with a lot of fur to contend with on a daily basis!
Lisa Austin Office & Logistics Manager
Lisa Austin is the Meeting & Logistics Coordinator and newest member of the CFILC family. In this role she manages logistics for many CFILC events including site selection, contracts with venues and vendors, preparing event orders, managing audio-visual requirements, access compliance for members and onsite management.
Lisa was born in Pittsburgh, PA and moved to Walnut Creek, CA in 1974 where she spent the remainder of her childhood and early adulthood. Lisa attended college at California State University Hayward studying Human Development, specializing in Early Childhood Education. Her passion to have a positive influence and be an advocate for young children, Lisa's professional career started in the childcare industry. She was introduced to the meeting planning profession in 1999. She enjoys the excitement of meeting new people, traveling around the country and using her skills to create and support many successful events. She has previously worked in the non-profit industry with California Peace Officers Association and The California Pharmacists Association.
Growing up, most of Lisa's time was spent competing in sports such as tennis, swimming, soccer and softball. At the collegiate level, she competed in soccer and softball. As a team captain and starting goalkeeper she finished her competitive career by winning the Division II, NCAA Soccer Championship. She enjoys the outdoors, photography, spending time with friends, and traveling. Her biggest joy is spending with her family most importantly her 4 nieces and 3 nephews.
Megan Cowdell Program Manager
Megan is a Program Manager at CFILC, she joined the team in February 2015. She has loved learning about disability history and the fight for civil rights.
At CFILC, Megan works to close the digital divide by helping families gain access to the internet. She also works on the Voice Options program where she helps to train individuals with speech disabilities on different communication apps. Megan has loved seeing people's lives change by receiving a newly found voice through this program. Recently, Megan has become the "editing guru", and she helps to edit all written content for CFILC's programs.
A native of San Diego, Megan left California to pursue a nursing degree at SUNY Buffalo. She quickly got tired of the cold weather and was happy to return to the Golden State and start her career.
When not in the office, Megan can be found curled up with a good book, baking new creations, or traveling the world with her wife.
Kevin Hansen Program Manager
Kevin Hansen is currently working as a Device Lending & Reuse Manager with CFILC. Kevin has worked for CFILC since 2011.
Kevin attended Sacramento State University, Sacramento. After receiving a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from CSUS he worked in retail as a supervisor for 5 years. Kevin enjoys spending time with his wife and family, golfing, camping, hiking and outdoor fun.
Phil Thompson Administrative & Accounting Director
Phil Thompson, Administrative and Accounting Director first worked at CFILC in 2005 and officially joined the CFILC staff in 2006.
Phil has over 20 years of experience in both accounting and business management. Phil's prior experience includes Real Estate / Hotel Property Management, Restaurant Management and State & Federal Tax preparation.