Staff

Judy Cockerton

Founder

Judy Cockerton is not your average social entrepreneur. She is a nationally recognized visionary committed to Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America.

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This award-winning educator and businesswoman established the Treehouse Foundation in 2002 to help move children out of foster care into permanent, loving families and communities so that they are never at risk of “aging out” of foster care alone.

Cockerton is known for her collaborative social change approach to inspiring widespread investment in foster care innovation. Her bold vision – Every Child Rooted in Family and Community – has inspired thousands of Americans of all ages and backgrounds to work in partnership to ensure improved outcomes for all children and youth in foster care.

Griet Dehandschutter

Chief Development Officer

Griet joined Treehouse in 2023. Over the past 20 years, Griet inspired and supported local, national and international nonprofits to think big and bold.

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She advised them on transforming their fundraising and communication strategies and how to raise more than money to achieve their vision.

Most recently, Griet was the Executive Director of Acton-Boxborough United Way in Massachusetts. As Founder of Dehandschutter & Associates, Griet guided the leadership of art museums, nonprofits in international development and educational institutions around the world on strategic fundraising journeys. Prior to that, she established the East Coast office in Boston for Flanders Investment & Trade. Griet was an award-winning consultant for Burson-Marsteller, a global communications agency in Brussels, Belgium. She started her career as the first Managing Director of the European-American Chamber of Commerce in the United States, located in Washington, D.C.

After graduating with a law degree from the University of Antwerp, Belgium, Griet did her Masters in International Relations at Johns Hopkins University in Bologna, Italy and Washington, D.C.

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Eric Fiedler

Development Coordinator

Eric joined the Treehouse team in 2023. Previously, Eric served as Senior Project Manager for Financial Development Agency, a nonprofit consulting firm based in Amherst MA.

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During this time Eric assisted with the planning, management and execution of several capital campaigns and other major nonprofit projects throughout Massachusetts. His experience also includes marketing and development work for New England Business Associates, a Springfield MA-based nonprofit that assists individuals with disabilities in attaining their employment and education goals. Prior to that, Eric served as Director of Development for Independence Public Media, an innovative public television broadcaster in the greater Philadelphia region.

Kerry Homstead

Chief Program Officer

Kerry joined Treehouse in 2005, during the construction of the first Intergenerational Treehouse Community in Easthampton.

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She has been key to building the Treehouse Foundation from a grassroots movement to a nationally recognized and award-winning organization. Kerry welcomed the opportunity to promote collaborative change “outside the foster care box.” She continues to facilitate the Re-envisioning Foster Care in America Movement and Intergenerational Treehouse Community with creative programming, partnerships and leadership.

Homstead received her EdD from the University of Massachusetts and her BA from Smith College, previously served as a Research Project Coordinator for Casey Family Resource Centers in the Northeast. She brings over 30 years experience in community-based work with at risk populations to the Treehouse Foundation.

Erica Kuester COO of treehouse

Erica Kuester

Interim CEO

Erika comes to Treehouse in the COO role as a seasoned nonprofit leader, with 20 years of experience in the sector.

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She has led operations work as both a COO and as a consultant in multiple national organizations. She has a background in community organizing, having led campaigns around bank accountability, equitable access to educational opportunities, access to addiction recovery services, and eliminating payday lending, among many other issues.

Through her community organizing work, she found a passion for team-building, coaching and mentoring, and building systems and infrastructure that set teams up to do their most impactful work. Erika is a parent to two young kids and a very large dog. She and her family live in Amherst, where they take advantage of all the outdoor activities that Western Massachusetts has to offer, including hiking, canoeing, and snowshoeing.

Erin LaDuke

Child and Family Support Coordinator

Erin has been with Treehouse since 2022 in the role of Child and Family Support Coordinator.

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Her professional experience varies from summer camps, nannying, classroom teaching, 1:1 behavioral support staff, and case management. Erin has done it all! Supporting families and kids, though, has always been her deepest passion.

Erin’s ties to foster care and the Re-inventing Foster Care (REFCA) movement stem from her work with foster youth in Alaska. As a therapeutic-level foster parent, Erin learned from experience about how much advocacy goes into ensuring that youth receive the services and supports they deserve, and how vital a cohesive support team is for both youth and parental mental health.

In her free time, you can often find Erin camping, snuggling one of her three cats, attending concerts, or visiting her three young nephews.

Tracey Levy

Community Facilitator

Tracey joined Treehouse Foundation as the Community Facilitator in 2020, after following its growth and progression since its inception.

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She is motivated by communities comprised of people who take care of each other and is thrilled to bring her skills, heart and passion to the unique community at Treehouse. She is very familiar with the Foster Care system, having adopted both of her sons through DCF and being connected to a variety of support systems for parents and families involved with the Department.

Tracey started her career as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Federated States of Micronesia, and then moved to the Valley and directed Youth Leadership Development programs in Ware and Easthampton for over a decade. After several years at the Franklin Hampshire Career Center (now MassHire) supporting people who were looking for jobs, she became the Program Director at the Amherst Survival Center. In that position she was responsible for, among many other things, creating a sense of community and developing programs that met the emerging needs and wants of the hundreds of people who came there each week.

Tracey has a B.A. from Oberlin College and has been awarded Woman of Distinction by the Amherst League of Women Voters, Direct Service Award from the Hampshire County Council of Social Agencies, and Esteemed Service Award from the Human Service Forum.

Maria Melendez

Beacon Communities Property Manager

In 2023, Maria joined Treehouse as the Property Manager, drawn by her deep appreciation for the foundation’s mission.

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Prior to her role at Treehouse, Maria began her career at Beacon Communities in 2022 as the Resident Service Coordinator, where she gained recognition for her ability to build trust and foster engagement within the community.

Before her time at Beacon, Maria served as a Family Engagement Coordinator for the City of Springfield Public Schools, acting as a liaison between internal and external resources to support middle school youth and their families.

With nearly 20 years of experience in operations and leadership within the Financial and Insurance services industries, Maria has worked with esteemed organizations such as Aetna, Voya Financial, and MassMutual. At MassMutual, she received accolades for her exceptional leadership, earning the “Champion in Leadership” and “Aspire Together” Awards. Additionally, Maria chaired the Professional Development sub-committee of the Association of Latinos and Allies at MassMutual (ALMMA) Business Resource Group.

Yael Petretti

Volunteer Coordinator

Yael serves as the Treehouse Volunteer Coordinator and in this capacity, she helps assess the needs of community members and then matches them with others in the community who can step in to help.

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Her Treehouse activities also include planning community events, preparing the TH newsletter, working to engage and see to the well-being of our older adults, conducting the Voices for Children semi-monthly tours of TH, processing donations made to TH and maintaining the Donor Perfect data base and other administrative tasks.

Yael has been a certified Compassionate Listening facilitator since 2003. She has brought this practice to the Treehouse Community where she has worked since 2014. She serves as a volunteer Alternative to Violence facilitator at the Osborn Correctional Facility for men in Sommers, CT. She a contributing author to World Vision’s upcoming book entitled, “Interfaith Peace-building: Challenges for Practitioners.”

Holly Rueger

Co-Director, HEROES Youth Leadership

Holly Rueger joined the Treehouse team as the HEROES@GCC Site Coordinator in November 2021 and is new the HEROES Youth Leadership Director.

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Holly graduated from Sweet Briar College with a double major in psychology and Spanish literature and a minor in dance. After interning in college with the International Rescue Committee, assisting newly arrived refugees, she moved to Guatemala as a Youth-in-Development Peace Corps Volunteer.

During her two and a half years in Guatemala, she worked with rural, indigenous youth on life skills, arts education, reproductive health, and leadership. She returned to the United States just before the pandemic began and was working as a bilingual family and child advocate at a domestic violence emergency shelter before beginning a new season of her life with the Treehouse Foundation. Her previous professional experience with the foster care system led her to Treehouse’s innovative team and approach to Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America.

Jess Tierney

Child and Family Support Coordinator

Jessica excitedly joined the Treehouse team in 2023, after completing her Master’s in Social Work at Fordham University.

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Prior to pursuing a career in Social Work, Jess supported people with disabilities in a variety of positions, and taught for several years — as a substitute teacher, environmental educator, and classroom teacher for first and fourth grade classes in the Springfield Public School System. Jess also served in AmeriCorps for two years and gained experience in clinical social work as a therapeutic mentor for youth with trauma residing in Springfield. Ultimately, Jess is highly creative and passionate, and her career choices are driven by the desire to be of service, as well as the idea that when all people and communities are seen and honored for their strengths, they naturally blossom into who and what they are meant to become.

Abby Whittier

Co-Director, HEROES Youth Leadership

Abigail (she/her) has been sharing her passion for nature, sustainability, art and social justice with youth of various ages and backgrounds for over eight years.

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Having graduated from Boston University with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and then from UMass Amherst with a master’s in public policy, Abigail is driven to contribute to making the world a more just, equitable, and safe place for all people and creatures.

Abby has a permaculture design certification, and has volunteered with various environmental and social justice organizations such as Full Moon Girls, Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, and “A Knee is Not Enough” in her hometown of Easthampton, MA. A world traveler, Abby has visited nearly 20 countries, has driven across the U.S. three times, and has lived in three different states. In her spare time she enjoys hiking, cooking, music, film, and spending time with loved ones, her dog, and her two kitties.

Abigail is passionate about supporting children and youth who have experienced housing impermanence with their personal growth, learning, and amplifying their voices. As the Program Coordinator for the HEROES Youth Leadership Program, she is driven to expose youth to new experiences that both challenge and delight them, and believes young people should have an instrumental role in decision making, advocacy, and policy.