Let It Be Us Staff

Everyone who works at Let It Be Us has a passion for helping the children in foster care and for finding solutions to problems.

With a diverse set of professional backgrounds and expertise, Let It Be Us is rethinking child welfare.

Susan McConnell, DSW(c), MBA

Executive Director and Founder of Let It Be Us

Susan McConnell founded Let It Be Us to direct her experience toward the child welfare sector designing innovative solutions through technology. She is a Doctoral candidate from the University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and has an MBA and BS in Management, Human Resources, and Recruitment from DePaul University. She is also a graduate of Cornell University’s Women in Leadership Program and Northwestern University’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program.

Susan is the Vice-Chair of the Illinois Statewide Foster Care Advisory Council where she was appointed by the Illinois Director of the Department of Children and Family Services in 2017. Susan was on the team that established the Heart Gallery of Illinois, the State’s photo listing of children awaiting adoption, which is a child-specific recruitment tool that gives a child a significantly increased chance of adoption. In turn, Susan and her team have designed the Illinois Waiting Children’s Gallery, a gallery of children in need of foster care and adoptive placements. Susan also designed the Let It Be Us Placement Support Program, which places children who are in emergent need and those who are challenging to place in the safest homes, keeping them out of shelters, and their Foster and Adoptive Parent Recruitment Program, which annually recruits hundreds of potential foster and adoptive parents for children in Illinois foster care. Susan and her husband are the parents of four children, three of whom came to their family through adoption.  Susan has 30 years of experience in open adoption.  You can reach Susan here.

Bryana Hopkins

Director of Operations and Finance

Bryana Hopkins is a Northwestern graduate. During college, she worked with various nonprofit, for-profit, and public organizations. Hopkins’ experience working with numbers helps her tell stories and assist children and families through the data she gathers. Hopkins holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Policy. She also has a Master’s in Public Policy and Administration. Hopkins’ goal is to continue to work closely with the children she helps and advocate for all children in the foster care system. You can reach Bryana here.

Jennifer Bulandr

Development and Communications Director 

Jennifer is a seasoned professional who focuses on strategic changes to bring business transformation to organizations. She has worked with nonprofits to optimize campaign performance via stakeholder outreach through the effective use of storytelling on websites, newsletters, public relations, and social media. Her roles have also included project management, investor relations, content strategy, and digital marketing. Jennifer embraces collaboration and out of the box thinking, studied English at Illinois State University, and is a graduate of Hootsuite Academy. Jennifer has a passion for and experience with rare disease and nonprofits that focus on serving children with special needs. You can reach Jennifer here.

Vanessa Baie, MSW, LCSW

Director of Child Welfare Services

Vanessa comes with ten years of child welfare experience. She began working initially in foster care as a Permanency Case Worker and then moved into other positions in the field including; foster parent licensing, administration, quality assurance, and risk management, and most recently in clinical social work as a Therapist and Parenting Educator for birth parents and children involved with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Vanessa earned a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Jane Addams College of Social Work at UIC and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with the state of Illinois. She is also a Licensed Direct Service Child Welfare Employee and is Rule 402 and Child Care Act certified. She is currently a PhD student in Clinical Social Work with the Institute of Clinical Social Work in Chicago. Vanessa is deeply passionate about child welfare and committed to improving outcomes for the safety and well-being of all children in Illinois. You can reach Vanessa here.

Karron Shaw, MJ

Director of Placement Support and Foster Care Recruitment

Karron Shaw brings 15 years of experience as a child welfare professional to the Let It Be Us staff. She has worked in the child welfare system as a licensing supervisor, director for residential care programs and as a care coordinator and operation manager. Shaw graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelor’s Degree and has her Master’s Degree in Child and Family Law from Loyola University Chicago. In addition, Shaw has a great passion for training and onboarding new hires and ongoing training for employees. Karron is also certified as a Licensed Direct Service Child Welfare Employee, and certified with Rule 402 Licensing Standards for Foster Family Homes and the Child Care Act. You can reach Karron here.

Cathy Newbury

Director of Foster Care Recruitment

Cathy Newbury is an active foster parent and has been for 17 years. She has experience with both traditional and specialized placements, with private agencies and DCFS. She has extensive training on trauma-informed care for children and teens. Newbury is a licensing coach with Let It Be Us, responsible for working with prospective foster parents and engaging in recruitment strategies to increase the number of licensed foster parents throughout the State of Illinois. Newbury has worked as a Family School Liaison, helping students grow through cognitive-behavior techniques and parental supports. In 2021, she participated in the REACH (Resilience Education to Advance Community Healing) pilot program to build trauma-responsive schools and communities. Newbury lives with her husband and four children, one adopted through foster care, in Washington, Illinois. You can reach Cathy here.

Kendra Wright

Program Coordinator, Springboard to Adulthood and Special Families Programs

Kendra Wright has experience as a caseworker in child welfare as well as supporting teens and young adults, many who have aged out of foster care. She has personal experience with children and adults who have special needs as well. Wright brings her background and passion to the population Let It Be Us serves as part of the Springboard to Adulthood program which focuses on teens and young adults as well as the Special Families program which focuses on connecting children with special needs with specialized foster homes. Wright has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Rehabilitation and Disability Services from Northern Illinois University where she is also working on her Masters Degree. You can reach Kendra here.

Jeri Bark

Administrative Coordinator 

Jeri Bark brings 4 years of administrative and accounting experience to Let It Be Us. She is an expert in database management, events, and administration. You can reach Jeri here.

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