Meet our Board of Directors
Chief Executive Director - Laura Kane
Laura Kane started this organization in memory of her son
Zachary Ryan Birkholz, a 14 year old Harlem Freshman who died by suicide in 2018. Sadly, Laura was unaware that her child was suffering in silence. Depression and Suicide were foreign topics to her until the tragedy of these silent killers affected her in the worst way.
After Zachary’s death, she began to post motivational messages on social media through her son’s Snapchat Shadow313zc and on her personal Facebook. Her goal was to encourage kids in the community to reach out for help and stay alive. But to her surprise, kids began to open up to her about their own struggles with depression, anxiety, trauma from abuse, their battle with self harm, addiction, and suicidal ideations. Parents of hurting children also began to reach out to her for help.
She began to educate herself on these topics and quickly realized that our community has a huge need for resources to help kids who are struggling and need mental health related services. She knew that she had to make a change for these kids and help in a big way, thus the birth of Marshmallow’s HOPE.
Laura is committed to helping aid the youth in our community. She believes that if we offer mentorship and support, it will help lessen drug addiction as kids who are struggling often self medicate; it will lessen crime rates as kids turn to crime to come up with money to self medicate; and more importantly, it will help the youth in our community learn that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to reach out. They don’t have to suffer in silence or alone!
Her commitment is to help kids like her son Zachary stay alive and live out their purpose as no parent should ever have to go through this type of pain. She is committed to helping survivor families as well, as she knows that the journey is a difficult one and offers them her support.
Her promise to the community and especially to all the Mother’s out there who are missing their babies, is that she won’t stop fighting this battle. She will raise awareness, be an advocate, and help break the stigma that surrounds mental illness, while educating parents and kids in the topics of the importance of mental health in hopes of preventing more suicides.
This organization will aid hurting children like Zachary and his story will continue to bring positivity to our community through his mother’s perseverance. The love for her children is what drives her.
Thank you Laura for your leadership as our Executive Director
Chief Financial Officer -Tara Foster
Tara is a mother of three beautiful girls, a wife, Girl Scout leader, and tax accountant.
While she did not grow up in the Rockford area, this community has been her home for 10+ years and she is eager to support where needed. She has been involved in various community support roles.
She did not have the pleasure to truly get to know Zachary; however, first as a mother and second as someone who is passionate about mental health, she sees the importance of Marshmallow’s Hope’s mission and the gap it will truly fill in the lives of those who need support. She has seen family and friends (and even herself) struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions and is a firm believer that we need to talk about all of these conditions often and openly. She strives to promote a culture in which all people feel comfortable being vulnerable.
In technical terms, Tara is an accountant by trade and will support the financial process and goals of the organization – a role she doesn’t take lightly (and that she’s pretty excited about….she loves turning data into useful information).
We are thrilled and extremely grateful to have her on our Board of Directors!
Internal Communications Liaison- Tonya Cassata-Rink
President - Rich Foster
Rich Foster came into Zachary’s life when Zachary was 11 years old. Zachary grew up in a single parent household so his mother enrolled him in the Big Brothers program and Rich was his match. Soon after they were paired, the program sadly closed, however, Rich chose to continue being Zachary’s mentor.
Our HERO mentor program was designed because of the relationship that Rich & Zachary had. Zachary always looked forward to hanging out with his “big bro” as he called him, and Rich was a huge influence in Zachary’s life.
We believe that mentors have a huge positive impact on children, which is why our organization’s primary focus is our HERO Mentor program. To mentor kids ages 9-19 who are living with depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations or have been victims of abuse.
Help, Encourage, Reach & Overcome
We are grateful for Rich’s leadership in the Organization as the President of our Board
Vice President - Lana Barker
Lana Barker met Zachary when he was 10 years old when he and his 12 year old sister knocked on her door because they locked themselves out of the house and mom was at work. Lana showed Zach and his sister compassion and care, and welcomed them into her home, fed them yummy snacks and let them watch tv until the kids were picked up and has been in the kid’s lives since.
After Zachary’s death, Lana was heartbroken and knew that she had to help make a change. She is committed to making a difference in our community by helping raise awareness against suicide and breaking the stigma that surrounds mental illness.
We are grateful to have Lana’s leadership and compassion on our board of directors as the Vice President.
Fundraiser Specialist- Beth Ippen
Beth is a hard working entrepreneur, who is loyal, dedicated, and compassionate.
She has over 20 years of experience in fundraising. From planning, and organizing, to ensuring that all event operations run smoothly, she is driven and dedicated to make our fundraiser events a success!!
We are so happy to have Beth as part of our board and can’t wait to see all of the fun events and activities that she plans for you all!!
Contact us via email:
Chief Executive Director - Laura Kane
President - Rich Foster
Vice President- Lana Barker
Chief Financial Officer- Tara Foster
Internal Communications Liaison-
Fundraiser Specialist - Beth Ippen
Tonya is a Harlem High alumni and has extensive experience in business communication. She is a loving wife to her high school sweetheart, and a proud mother of a United States Coast Guard Veteran. She has an extremely compassionate heart and willingness to help make a difference in other's lives. Her personal story is not only inspiring, but an example of perseverance as she is no stranger to grief and trauma.
Losing her hero, mentor, and father to a tragic car accident at only 21 years old, she had to learn how to navigate life through the phases of grief from young adulthood, and when she felt like she could finally begin to "catch her breath", she was again greatly impacted by the loss of her younger brother Tommy Cassata to suicide.
Tonya desires to use her pain and personal experiences to positively impact other's in our community who may be dealing with the hard battles of hopelessness, depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideations. She strongly feels that people should know that it's okay to not be okay, especially our youth; and she truly believes that if her brother Tommy had the type of resources that we offer through our organization, her family's story may be a lot different.
We are extremely happy to have her on our board as the Internal Communications Liaison.
"Despite the overwhelming odds; tomorrow came"- Tonya