Meet Sadhna Matai, Program Manager for the Start Well program. She has almost 30 years of experience working in the Human Services field. Sadhna has earned a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education & Family Studies and a Master’s degree in Psychology. As a native Southern Californian, Sadhna always knew she wanted to work with young children. While attending undergraduate school at CSU Long Beach, Sadhna worked at a child care center, she instantly knew this was the path for her and she quickly changed her major to Early Childhood Education.
Throughout her career she was able to make a difference in a child’s life in so many capacities! Now, Sadhna is EXCITED for her next journey with the Start Well community by building sustainability towards social-emotional development in young children through supporting Early Learning providers in Orange County.
Content Expert & Training Specialist
Sandy Avzaradel, MS Ed., is the Content and Training Specialist for Start Well. She was hired in 2017 by the Early Childhood Mental Health Collaborative to design and implement the Early Childhood Mental Health and Wellness Program (now Start Well) and was the Program Manager for the initial implementation, serving 48 early care and education programs across the county. Sandy is also the Director of Early Childhood OC, an organization which promotes Orange County’s Early Childhood Policy Framework, champions an increase in funding to early childhood programs and services, and supports initiatives which cultivate resilient families, ensure quality early learning and promote comprehensive health and development. As a part-time adjunct faculty member at California State University, Fullerton in the Child and Adolescent Studies Department, Sandy enjoys sharing her early childhood passion and expertise with future educators.
Sandy has provided numerous local, state, and national presentations with a focus on social and emotional development, toxic stress, resilience, mental health and challenging behavior, school readiness, child development, special education, parent education, and Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS) for early childhood. Sandy is newly elected to Orange County’s Local Child Care and Development Planning Council, is a committed volunteer and former Board Member with Families Forward, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for Orange County Association for the Education of Young Children. When not advocating for everything ‘early childhood’, Sandy enjoys spending time with her husband, two adult children, and her dogs!
Hannah Thompson has her masters from California State University, Long Beach in Education with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education. Hannah has a background working in and with early childhood education schools and environments. Hannah has been with the Early Childhood Mental Health and Wellness program for over a year (the name would change of course)! Hannah is also involved in Orange County Association for the Education of Young Children and continues to do research that focuses on the birth to eight population and the field of early childhood education.
Hazel Benavides Vickers, M.A., BCBA, graduated from UC Irvine with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a minor in Biology. She completed her Master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis, with an Emphasis in Autism from Ball State University. Hazel has over 10 years of experience educating caregivers in the community and interacting with families from diverse cultural backgrounds throughout Southern California. She has experience conducting social skills groups and is a Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) provider, an evidenced-based early intervention approach for children on the autism spectrum disorder, ages 12 to 48 months.
Hazel is committed to supporting caregivers throughout the county learn how to best support the social and emotional development of children at an early age. She enjoys spending time with her family, attending baseball games (Go Angels), putting together puzzles, and rollerblading.
Kim Versluis holds a Masters Degree in Teaching Elementary and Secondary Education, a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership and a Bachelors Degree in Child Development. Over her 20-year professional career she has led in afterschool care, taught in the preschool and elementary classrooms, run a home day care, and served almost a decade as Director of Programing for Children and Families at a local mega-church.
She has a heart to serve people and seek justice for all, especially children. She has volunteered with many non-profits in Orange County, has traveled all over the world serving vulnerable children, families and communities, and is currently a licensed foster parent.
She loves the beach, reading, travel, music, and learning new things. She enjoys spending time with her 12 yr. old daughter, family and friends.
Rhysa Suh, M.A., BCBA, is a Mental Health Consultant with Start Well: Mental Health Consultation for Early Care and Education. She has partnered with programs and families across Orange County to highlight the importance of mental health in young children. Rhysa has a background in Psychology and Sociology and master’s degrees in Applied Behavior Analysis and Criminology, Law and Society. She is also a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and has focused on addressing challenging behaviors in preschool settings. She has spent the past 18 years in the field of early childhood as a teacher, social skills provider, behavior specialist, mental health specialist, and parent educator.
Rhysa is passionate about creating positive early childhood experiences for children, families, and providers in our community because it has the potential of having a long-lasting impact for us all.
Veronica Oliver is a Mental Health Consultant at Start Well in Orange County, with over 12 years of experience working with children and families. She worked at the University of Irvine’s Infant Toddler Center during her undergrad and later became a teacher after earning her Bachelor’s degree in Cognitive Psychology. Since then, Veronica has earned her Master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis with an emphasis
in Autism Spectrum Disorders from Ball State University. She has been a parent educator for Child Behavior Pathways for the past 6 years and has facilitated over 40 COPE Parent Behavior Management groups. In addition, she has worked as a Mental Health Specialist, serving preschool programs in Orange County supporting social emotional best practices as well as providing direct support to early childhood providers and educators.
Through her experience as a teacher, parent educator, and mental health specialist, Veronica has worked with hundreds of families teaching positive proactive alternatives and interventions meant to help navigate them through difficult and challenging situations. She is extremely passionate about working with children in helping them reach their maximum potential and success.