The 2019 Yellowstone Conference: Communities in Crisis

The 2019 Yellowstone Conference: Communities in Crisis is focused one identifying and deciphering current crises that Montana communities are facing with professional panel discussions on:

  • Rural Montana
  • Montana Cities
  • Indigenous Communities
  • Collaborating for Community Outcomes

Montana communities face an array of challenges including domestic violence, homelessness, drug use, sex trafficking, incarcerated parents, limited education, access to metal health providers, and a flood of children entering the foster care system.  These challenges directly contribute to the generational cycle of abuse, and the trauma that families endure, and in turn create communities in crisis.  Panelists for Rural Montana, Montana Cities, Indigenous Communities, and Collaborating for Community Outcomes will address these issues, provide education, feedback, and resources for Montana families and community members. 

Date: Thursday September 19th, 2019
Time: 9am-5pm
Place: The Franklin Robbie Chapel, located on YBGR’s main campus at 1732 South 72nd Street West, Billings, MT 59106
Cost of attendance: $25.00, includes lunch and refreshments
CEUs and OPI credits are available upon request

Click to Register

Keynote Speaker:

Greg Upham, Billings Public Schools Superintendent. Greg has been a professional educator for over thirty years. His career began as a teacher and coach in Browning and Belt, Montana.  He joined the Helena School District in 1992. He began his administrative career as an Assistant Principal at Capital High School, followed by six years as the Principal of Helena High School.  He recently served as the Assistant Superintendent of Helena Public Schools until July 2018, and is now serving as the Superintendent of Billings Public Schools.

Mr. Upham earned his undergraduate degree in Industrial Technology from the University of Montana Western, Dillon.  He received his Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Montana, Missoula.

He is the past chair of the Montana ACT Council and also served as its past president.  He has presented both statewide and nationally on the process of data-based decision-making, the importance of ACT course patterning, and the effectiveness of Professional Learning Communities.  Greg plays an active role in the community. He has served on the Lewis and Clark Foster Care Review Board and the Wakina Learning Center Board. Greg is a member of Rotary, is on the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Club Board, has conducted Ruby Paine poverty trainings, and serves as a sports broadcaster.  He is a passionate and visible figure throughout the community.

Rural Montana Panel Discussion: There are 9 states in the US that have formed rural development committees, Montana is not one of them. Montana rural communities share common challenges of other state rural communities in regard to healthcare, economic development, infrastructure, and educational resources. The Yellowstone Conference: Communities in Crisis Rural Montana panel will address rural Montana’s particular challenges in meeting the mental health needs of at risk children.

Confirmed Panelists:

Sydney Blair, LCSW, MHP,  is the Chief Operating Officer for the Center for Mental Health, a regional community mental health center for children and adults ranging from age 2 to end of life.  Sydney has served in the role of CEO for the last eight years.  Her career began in human services in 1983 after receiving a bachelor in science from Montana State University in Sociology and Criminology.  Since that time, Sydney’s has worked in a variety of settings and positions to include the Veterans Administration, In-patient addictions, Department of Corrections, schools, and the Clinical Director for the Center.  Sydney received her master’s from Colorado State University in 1990, and was licensed as a Clinical Social Worker in 1994.

Sydney presently serves on several boards; Behavioral Health of Montana (BHAM), Behavioral Health Advisory Council (BHAC), Crisis Intervention Training of Montana (CIT-MT) and served on the Governor’s Council for Healthcare Innovation and Reform.  Sydney also serves on numerous steering committees to include the Integrated Behavioral Health Steering committee, the Cascade County Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) committee and is an active member of Rotary International.  

Karl Rosston, MA, is the Suicide Prevention Coordinator for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.  He provides evidenced-based programs to all Montana secondary schools, implements the State Suicide Prevention Plan, supports the Montana Suicide Prevention Lifeline, implements firearm safety programs and statewide media campaigns, provides suicide prevention trainings, and coordinates suicide prevention efforts around the state. Karl is adjunct faculty at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy and a nationally certified trainer in QPR and Mental Health First Aid.

Previously, Karl was the Director of Social Services at Shodair Children’s Hospital in Helena.  Before returning to Montana, he was on the faculty of the University of Colorado, School of Medicine, and a clinical consultant with the Colorado Division of Youth Corrections.

He is a licensed clinical social worker who maintains a small private practice in Helena.  He received his Master’s in Social Work from the University of Denver and his Bachelor’s in Psychology from the University of Montana.

Gary Adams, Director of Farm and Ranch Operations for Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch.

Michael Faust, ED, Western MT Health Center

Montana Cities Panel Discussion: Montana cities face an array of challenges including domestic violence, homelessness, drug use, sex trafficking, incarcerated parents, limited education, and a flood of children entering the foster care system.  These challenges directly contribute to the generational cycle of abuse, and the trauma that families endure, and in turn create communities in crisis.  The panelists for this topic will address these issues, provide education, feedback, and resources for Montana families.

Moderator: Elizabeth Campoy, Supervisor for the IPS Supported Employment Program at YBGR.  Elizabeth is passionate about the work she does with youth to teach them how to obtain and maintain employment, how to use soft skills, and to self-advocate.  She promotes the importance of being independent, self-sufficient, and healthy in order for youth to break the cycle of poverty and abuse.  She strongly believes in YBGR’s mission of Caring People, Preparing Youth for Life. 


Stacy Zinn, Regional Agent in Charge (RAC) for the Drug Enforcement Agency. Stacy joined the DEA in 2001. She served in duty stations as a Special Agent include: El Paso, Texas, Afghanistan, and Peru. In 2014, RAC Zinn was promoted to Group Supervisor for the TDS located in Billings. In late 2018, she was promoted to the RAC position which covers the entire state of Montana. RAC Zinn holds a Master’s Degree and previously was a body guard within the private sector.

Holly Mook is the Coordinated School Health Unit Director with the MT Office of Public Instruction. Holly has dedicated most of her career to working with youth and their families. She facilitated an Adolescent Intensive Outpatient Substance Use Treatment program for a community provider in Helena, worked as a Project Success Counselor for the Helena School District, and as a Medicaid Waiver Program Manager. In August of 2016, Holly transitioned to her current role with the Montana Office of Public Instruction as the State Coordinator for MT SOARS, a systems-change, collaborative, and community-based effort in partnership with the Browning, Butte, and Kalispell school districts. The initiative was made possible by the five-year Project AWARE funding through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In September of 2018, Holly additionally became the Title IV A SSAE Program Managers and helps schools to run programs under the following three categories; Safe and Healthy Students, Well-Rounded Education, and Effective Use of Technology. Under the State of MT’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, Holly is focusing on legislatively mandated priorities for MT schools, including bullying prevention, suicide prevention, school emergency planning, and sex trafficking prevention.

Holly Mook is the Coordinated School Health Unit Director with the MT Office of Public Instruction. Holly has dedicated most of her career to working with youth and their families. She facilitated an Adolescent Intensive Outpatient Substance Use Treatment program for a community provider in Helena, worked as a Project Success Counselor for the Helena School District, and as a Medicaid Waiver Program Manager.

Ben McKee is the Development Director for CASA of Yellowstone County. After relocating from the Philadelphia area he worked at Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch from 2013 to 2016, first as a Mental Health Worker and subsequently a Program Manager. Ben has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Pennsylvania State University where he also worked in mental health research.

Penny Ronning. Penny’s commitment to human rights, the arts, social justice, and protecting wildlife habitat is reflected in more than 30 years of professional and volunteer service. She is co-founder/co-chair of the Yellowstone County Area Human Trafficking Task Force and, in 2017, Penny was elected to a 4-year term on Billings City Council. Penny is a filmmaker and photographer; earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Film, a Master’s Degree in Business Administration, and enjoyed law school.

Indigenous Communities Discussion Panel: The state of Montana is home to seven reservations which encompass twelve tribes. A common theme among tribes are the many ways in which these populations suffer. Currently, there is an astonishing number of missing and murdered indigenous women which is correlated to a chronic alcohol and substance abuse problem as well as domestic violence. These problems start at a very young age for most with a lack of adequate housing, access to clean water, educational opportunities, and inequality in schools with non-indigenous students. Over time, these situations lead to severe mental illness and eventually an extremely high suicide rate among all age groups.

Confirmed Panelists:

Reno Charette. Ms. Charette currently serves the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) as the Project Director for the Aseto’ne Networking Project (ANP).  AIHEC serves 37 tribal college/universities encompassing 20,000 students.  The Aseto’ne Networking Project is funded by NIH and seeks to inspire tribal college students to pursue a biomedical career in research.

Ms. Charette holds a Master of Arts degree in History with a specialty in the American West supported by a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies with an emphasis in Native American Studies.  Ms. Charette is a member of the Ties In the Bundle clan of the Crow Nation and a descendent of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa.  She was raised on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.

Ms. Charette has eleven years of experience in teaching Native American Studies and serving as the Native American Achievement Center Director at MSUB.  Former positions she has held include the Coordinator of Indian Affairs Governor for Brian Schweitzer’s administration, Project Director for the Big Horn Teacher Projects at MSUB, Program Assistant for the Circles of Care project at In-Care Network, Project Coordinator for the Health Careers Opportunity Program in the School of Pharmacy at the University of Montana as well as an academic advisor for the Educational Opportunity Program at UM.

Ms. Charette has served on many boards in the Billings community, but currently serves on the Native American Coalition, the Billings Urban Indian Health and Wellness board, and volunteers for the Billings Urban Indian Crafters that teach powwow dancing and making powwow regalia. 

Above all, her most important contribution to the world is that she is a mother of six children and grandmother of eleven.

Jennifer Smith, Executive Director of Indian Education for Billings Public Schools. She is also the SOS Signs of Suicide Program Coordinator and Title III English Language Coordinator for the school district. She is the chair for OPI’s Montana Advisory Council on Indian Education, and a board member for both Rimrock Foundation and CASA of Yellowstone County. Jennifer is a member of the DPHHS Foster Care Review Committee, Youth Court Placement Committee, Yellowstone County School and Student Safety Committee, and Centennial Youth Fund committee. Jennifer has a BS degree in psychology/sociology from Wesleyan University, an MA in Early Childhood Education from MSUB, and K-12 principal and superintendent endorsement through MSU Bozeman. She is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band Cherokee tribe and a descendant of the Turtle Mountain Band Chippewa tribe.

Kathleen Little Leaf, MSW, LAC, the Behavioral Health Coordinator at Billings Urban Indian Health and Wellness Center and is an enrolled tribal member from the Blackfoot/Blackfeet tribes. Kathleen has worked within Indian Health Services providing Mental Health and Addiction Treatment, Prevention, and Recovery with cultural interventions for over a decade. Her work history includes Domestic Violence advocacy through the YWCA. She is a Mental Health therapist and providing Co-occurring therapy and case management. Kathleen has experience working within Jail Diversion and implemented Jail Diversion Cultural Recovery Programming to Native American inmates and research in Missoula County.

Jami Pluff, has been a Policy Analyst for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) for the past 13 years . Prior to that she served on the Tribal Council for 8 years from 1998 until 2006. In her current position- she gets assigned various tasks. She also gets assigned Special Projects, which is where she began researching and advocating on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women issue. The CSKT Tribal Council passed a resolution to form a workgroup and create an action plan on the education and awareness of MMIW in our communities.

John Old Elk, Western Native Voice

Collaborating For Community Outcomes Panel  Discussion: The panel on Collaborating for Community Outcomes will focus on government and provider relations and how they impact youth and families.

Confirmed Panelists:

Sheila Hogan was appointed in December 2016 by Governor Steve Bullock to be the Director of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS). She has been a champion for the thousands of Montanans this agency serves through her work in public service for over 30 years and is thrilled to begin her tenure at DPHHS.

Prior to her recent appointment, she served as the Director of the state’s Department of Administration for four years, with a focus of strategic health care initiatives, customer service, and streamlining government processes to better serve Montana communities.

She led a multi-pronged initiative in the state healthcare plan that saved the state and taxpayers more than $30 million. She led staff in a top-to-bottom review of the state health plan, resulting in the streamlining of services, saving taxpayer money, and increasing government efficiency.

Director Hogan led new efforts to help Montana businesses do business with the state, including: the creation of “Procurement Forecasts” of upcoming bid opportunities for Montana businesses, instituting procurement workshops across the state, serving more than 100 businesses as they learn best practices for submitting successful bids; establishing an online submission program that streamlines the submission process and cuts down on red tape; and creating of a pre-qualified pool of businesses and vendors, which creates greater efficiency in obtaining contracts.

She ensured that veterans and national guardsman had access to Employee Assistance Programs. She instituted training for more than 1,400 individuals through the Confront the Stigma suicide prevention campaign, and made government more accessible to citizens by establishing a free shuttle during the legislative session through a partnership with local government.

Through this work and leadership, Sheila has led innovative change initiatives, motivated teams, cut costs, and empowered employees through strategic thinking, planning, and management. She has directed multi-funded, multi-divisional, multi-disciplinary organizations utilizing performance management techniques and standards and maintaining goal-oriented approaches to effectuate positive change. She specializes in formulating effective, versatile and efficient solutions while maintaining focus and persistence to initiate and implement meaningful change.

Meghan Peel is the Bureau Chief for the Montana Children’s Mental Health Bureau, since May of 2018.  Previously, Meghan was the Program Manager for Montana’s Medicaid Expansion and CHIP Programs within the Department of Public Health and Human Services. In this role, Meghan served as the liaison between the Department and its Third Party Administrator. Additionally, Meghan has managed several 1115 demonstration waivers, including Montana’s Medicaid Expansion demonstration waiver. Before joining Montana Medicaid, Meghan worked as an auditor for Ernst & Young in the Bay Area of California. Meghan received a B.S. in Business and holds a Master’s of Professional Accountancy, both from Montana State University. She lives in Helena, Montana with her husband and two sons.

Jeff Folsom is the President of Folsom Strategies, LLC and the Director of Policy and Special Projects at the Center for Children and Families and Workforce Development at the University of Montana. Jeff’s has leadership experience in all facets of behavioral health delivery systems spanning the past 35 years. Foundational experiences include providing direct care services in a variety of treatment settings, moving from front line into clinical, supervisory and ultimately executive management.  Jeff’s dual qualifications in both law and clinical social work foster leadership in running programs and advocating with the state legislature and governmental agencies.  Jeff is recognized for his solution focused approach to his work and his leadership role in shaping state policies and regulations to reduce systemic barriers to delivering behavioral health care, improving access and promoting the quality of care for Montana’s children and families.

Mary Windecker, is the executive director of Behavioral Health Alliance of Montana, an advocacy group representing addiction, mental health and tribal behavioral health organizations. She has 30 years of experience in strategic planning, business development, advocacy, patient satisfaction, marketing and outreach, primarily in nonprofit health care in Montana.

Mary is very involved in her community. She has volunteered in leadership positions with the YMCA, Rotary, Big Brothers Big Sisters, United Way, Missoula Writing Collaborative and served as the board chair for the Missoula Chamber of Commerce in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

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