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Meet Marshmallow's Hope
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

Assistant Coordinator - Robert Worth

Robert grew up in the panhandle of Florida and moved to Illinois at the age of 20.


After having a few turbulent years of navigating his own way through the process of finding help for his mental health issues, he decided he would like to help other people on their journey of healing and becoming a better version of themselves.

Robert is very much an indoor person, enjoying spending his free time playing with his two kids or enjoying one of his many hobbies, including computer programing, electronic building, woodworking, and video gaming.

Mental Health Counselor - Mary Earle

Mary is a Licensed Social Worker (LSW) who has been providing mental health services through various programs in Rockford for 8 years. She utilizes a variety of therapy modalities based on your needs and preferences such as mindfulness, grief- and trauma-focused CBT, DBT, solution-focused therapy, family systems therapy, narrative therapy, and social justice/multicultural therapy.  

Mary understands that there can be moments in life that are painful and navigating through the stress of change or emotional distress can be difficult – especially if you feel alone in the process. Mary believes that you are the expert on your lived experiences with endless strengths and abilities. She utilizes a holistic and strengths-based approach in every interaction. Her goal is to meet you where you are, let you decide where you want to go, and help you get there on your terms. Mary is dedicated to promoting social justice, equity, and respect for all persons. She strives to provide an atmosphere in which you feel safe to find and express your story and further develop the skills and strengths within you to reach your goals.   

In her spare time, Mary enjoys traveling, watching theater, spending time with family and friends, and working on her own personal and spiritual growth.  

Mental Health Counselor - Paula Peters

Paula is a Licensed Social Worker (LSW) with over 20 years in the mental health field. She received her Bachelors in Psychology from the University of Arizona and a Masters in Social Work (MSW) from Aurora University, and since has worked in several types of settings including inpatient hospitals, outpatient clinics, detox programs, and schools.


She enjoys working with adolescents and young adults with all types of issues including anxiety, depression, pain management, bipolar disorder and anger management. She also has a great deal of experience working with the LGBTQIA+ population. Paula has a great deal of empathy, and builds quick rapport with her clients. She remains warm even with firm boundaries. Paula loves guiding her clients to their healthiest selves.

Paula enjoys spending time with her family and friends. She loves her cat, Joss, to bits, and likes to shop, cook, bake, travel, and binge watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She spends most of her free time hanging out in her hammock. 

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

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! 

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.

Contact us via email: 

Founder & Chief Executive Director -

Laura Kane

Mental Health Counselor - Paula Peters

Mental Health Counselor - Mary Earle

President - Rich Foster


Vice President- Lana Barker


Chief Financial Officer- Tara Foster


Assistant Coordinator - Robert Worth

Marketing Director - Beth Squires

Elizabeth "Beth" Squires was born and raised in Springfield, IL. After moving with her family after graduating high school in 1989, she has lived in northern Illinois ever since. She graduated from NIU with both an undergraduate and graduate degree in public health. Her passion is prevention, especially for mental health.


Beth has extensive experience in higher education. She has worked in higher education since 2005 in a variety of roles. She has experience in student advising, internship coordination, curriculum development, instruction, program design, and evaluation. She currently works as the Assistant Director of External and Pipeline Projects at the National Center for Rural Health Professions which is located at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford campus. She works to recruit high school and college students into healthcare degrees to increase the rural healthcare workforce.


Due to family history and life experiences, Beth has gained an interest in promoting excellent mental wellness starting from a young age. Although she did not have the opportunity to meet Zachary, she hopes to prevent suicides in teens through the promotion of events and programs offered by Marshmallow's Hope in her role as Marketing Director. 

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