Board & Staff
Linda Raff is a retired social worker who worked in child welfare and mental health prior to her 30-year commitment to Catholic Charities. She served as director for 15 years initiating and expanding social services to families and children throughout the state. Linda has extensive experience in program development, management fundraising, legislative advocacy, policy development and analysis, consultation and supervision. Linda graduated from Mississippi State University and earned her Master’s in social work at Florida State University. Linda and her husband Michael have two children and four grandchildren.
Joann Mickens is director of chapter services for Parents for Public Schools, Inc. (PPS), a national organization with 17 chapters in 13 states. Prior to joining PPS, Joann spent 20 years as a manager with BellSouth Telecommunications and later spent several years running her own training and consulting business. Joann holds a bachelor’s degree from Notre Dame College of Ohio and an MBA from Millsaps College. In addition to serving on the board of the Mississippi Campaign for Teen Pregnancy Prevention, she is also a member of the supervisory committee of Hope Federal Credit Union and is an active member of New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson. Joann is married to Frank Mickens Jr., and they have two children and three grandchildren.
Judith Mitchell Wiener is a native of Winston County, Mississippi, and graduate of Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi School of Law. A retired attorney, she worked with several law firms in Jackson and finally as a partner with the Wiener Law Firm. She has been an active volunteer and leader of a number of civic, cultural and religious organizations, including the Women’s Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Jackson, University Press Book Friends, Mississippi Opera, Hinds/Jackson Library Friends, Jackson Zoo, Parents For Public Schools, Beth Israel Tikkun Olam committee, Institute for Interfaith Dialogue, and the City of Jackson Housing Authority and Planning Board. She and her spouse, Joshua Wiener, have three children and one grandson.
LaShirl Wilder is a delinquency intake officer for the Rankin County Youth Court. She has served troubled youth for eight years, directing the young people and their parents with seeking resources to direct them towards a better path, to ensure that they would become productive and successful adults. She formerly worked as a youth services counselor with the State of Mississippi Department of Youth Services, serving the Rankin County area. LaShirl earned a bachelor’s degree in health care administration and a master’s in rehabilitation counseling from Jackson State University. She also earned a master’s in health and wellness counseling from Liberty University. She is the proud aunt of seven nieces and nephews.
Judy Ferguson has 30-plus years of experience in the public relations, marketing, and communication fields. She earned her bachelor’s in English from the University of Mississippi and was accredited by both the Southern Public Relations Federation and by the International Association of Business Communicators. Working in the non-profit, government and corporate arenas, her work has included both creative and management roles. She also has extensive experience as a volunteer with such organizations as United Way and Leadership Jackson and is a founding board member of the Community Foundation of Greater Jackson. Judy and her husband Charles have two sons and five grandchildren.
Dana Larkin began working with Growing Up Knowing in October of 2014 as director of programming and was promoted to executive director in June 2015. Prior to GUK, Dana served as program director at Parents for Public Schools of Jackson for 12 years, where she implemented and managed the Parent Leadership Institute. Dana has volunteered and served in leadership roles in many civic, education and religious organizations, including Beth Israel Synagogue, Jackson 2000, Working Together Jackson, Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference, National Commission on Improving the Senior Year of High School, PTAs, and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. She and her husband Jonathan have two daughters and four grandchildren.
Leah Wittenberg started managing the social media for Growing Up Knowing in January of 2018 and began a full-time position as the Program Specialist in August of 2018. Originally from the Chicago suburbs, Leah attended Tufts University and then moved to Jackson after graduating in 2016. Through a two-year Education Fellowship with the Institute of Southern Jewish Life, Leah fell in love with Mississippi. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to positively impact families across the state.
Kevin is a founding member of Wellspring Wealth Group PLLC in Ridgeland, Mississippi, along with five other representatives. Kevin is also an investment advisor representative of Cambridge Investment Research Advisors (CIRA) and holds several security licenses. He has worked with several independent broker-dealers, the most recent being Cambridge. Kevin graduated from Jackson State University with a bachelor’s in marketing and business. A native Jacksonian, Kevin resides in Madison and attends Christ Temple Church along with his wife Sheila. Together they are the proud parents of four children.
Dr. Mary Jackson is a former teacher, school administrator, and school district administrator. She retired from the Jackson Public Schools (JPS) as Assistant Superintendent in 1991. She has bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees in mathematics and educational administration from Jackson State University, Marquette University, and the University of Southern Mississippi, respectively. Currently Dr. Jackson serves as a consultant on educational issues and a grants writer. Dr. Jackson was the first female administrator in a high school in JPS and was named one of the “100 Executive Educators to Watch” in the nation by the National School Boards Association. She is a member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Jackson. Mary is married to Sherman Earl Jackson, Jr., and they have two adult children and two grandchildren.
Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Harriett Johnson-Oppenheim has over 12 years of experience working as an attorney in the public sector. Harriett graduated from Jackson State University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in English, and received her juris doctorate from the University of Mississippi. She served as law clerk for the Honorable Lillie Blackmon Sanders of the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit Court in Natchez. She also served as advocacy coordinator/attorney for the ACLU of Mississippi’s Juvenile Justice Program and is now a trial attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the Jackson area office. Harriett is married to Jed Oppenheim.
Terrye Jones is a native of Jackson, Mississippi. She is a graduate of Jackson State University, where she received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in Early Childhood and Elementary Education respectively. Now retired from Jackson Public Schools after 37 years as an educator, Terrye spends time volunteering with her church’s food pantry, HeARTworks at Stewpot and as board member with Growing Up Knowing. Terrye and her husband Bernard have three daughters and four grandchildren.
Mary-Michael Lindsay, a Jackson native, is an Associate Account Executive at the Ramey Agency. Lindsay graduated Magna Cum Laude from Loyola University Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations and minors in Marketing and Dance. Her previous work experiences include External Affairs at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and marketing agencies in Chicago. In addition to Growing Up Knowing, she currently serves on the International Ballet Competition Friends’ Board and is an event committee member for Team JXN. She’s happy to return to the South and to trade winter storms for Mississippi heat.
Brad Pigott has served as an attorney in Jackson for over three decades in a small firm with a large national litigation practice. Brad was the Presidentially-appointed United States Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi. His legal accomplishments are vast, including heading the federal investigation and bringing the only federal murder indictment ever returned over a Ku Klux Klan member for a 1960’s-era killing of an African-American (U.S. v. Avants). Brad’s community service includes serving on the boards of the Mississippi State Board of Education, National Parents for Public Schools, Mississippi Center for Justice, and Good Samaritan Center. He is the founder and CEO of Poindexter Park After-School Club and the recipient of the Fannie Lou Hamer Humanitarian Award at Jackson State University. Brad graduated from Duke University and University of Virginia School of Law. Brad and his wife Margaret have two sons, David and Chris.
Dr. Gwendolyn Spencer Prater is president and owner of Children and Family First, Inc. where she provides consultation services to agencies and organizations in the areas of program development, evaluation, management and leadership, ethics and risk management, and conflict resolution. Gwendolyn is also Dean Emerita, Jackson State University (JSU), College of Public Service-School of Social Work where she served as Professor and Founding Dean of both the College and the School. She is currently serving as Chair of the Women’s Council for Philanthropy at JSU. She is a native of Vicksburg, Mississippi and proud magna cum laude graduate of Tougaloo College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology. Gwendolyn’s graduate degrees include an M.S.W. from The Ohio State University and the Ph.D. in Social Work from the University of Southern California, where she received the W. June Simmons Distinguished Social Work Alumna Award in 1999. Gwendolyn is married to Wesley F. Prater, M.D., and they have two children and four grandchildren.
Ann Skelton is a licensed clinical social worker at the Children’s Safe Center with University of Mississippi Medical Center. A native of Jackson, Mississippi, she earned her bachelor’s from Mississippi State University, and her master’s in social work from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Ann is certified in Trauma Focused-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She works with parents and social workers to help families link to beneficial resources in their communities and advocates for the rights of each child she encounters. She is a facilitator for The Darkness to Light: Stewards of Children, a program to help empower adults to prevent child sexual abuse. She has volunteered for multiple organizations, such as the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi and Prevent Child Abuse of Mississippi.
LaShetta Wilder is the statewide reentry coordinator with the Mississippi Department of Corrections where she has the opportunity to work with outside agencies seeking transitional programming for offenders being released back into society. She graduated from Jackson State University with a bachelor’s in criminology and justice services with a concentration in juvenile justice, and with a master’s in criminology. Her career at MDOC has included serving as the correctional services aide for the vocational department, the vocational education director of the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, and working with offenders ages 15-19 in the Youthful Offender Unit (Y.O.U). She has served on the board for Growing Up Knowing since 2015 and is a member of Word of Life Church where she serves with KidsLife (1-5th grade).
Dr. Corey Wiggins, a Mississippi native, is the Executive Director of the Mississippi NAACP. Previously, he served as the director of the Hope Policy Institute, and managed the strategic direction, sustainability, research training and advocacy agenda for the institute. His state and federal governmental experiences include serving as a Barbara Jordan Health Policy Fellow in the US Senate and as a policy analyst for the Mississippi Legislature Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER). Corey completed his undergraduate studies at Alcorn State University with a bachelor’s in biology. He also holds a master’s of public health with an emphasis in health policy and a Ph.D. in health promotion and health education from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Corey is married to Dr. Shenekia Wiggins and they have three sons.
Betti Watters has served as a professional social worker in numerous capacities in both public and private settings in a career spanning almost fifty years. She received an undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and did graduate work at Tulane University School of Social Work and received a master’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi. Betti’s social work at Catholic Charities focused on helping children in foster care, placing many of those children in adoptive homes. Her work followed adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth parents, many times bringing them all together. Upon retirement she saw the great need for teen pregnancy prevention. She founded our nonprofit organization, Growing Up Knowing, and served as board president for several years. Betti continues her volunteer work with her church, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral, Meals on Wheels, Stewpot Food Pantry, and Springboard for Opportunity. Teaching water aerobics is also her passion. Betti is married to Walker and they have four children and eight grandchildren.