Maureen Blaha is the executive director of the National Runaway Safeline (NRS), formerly known as the National Runaway Switchboard, the federally-designated national communication system for runaway and homeless youth. Under her leadership, the visibility of NRS and awareness of its 1-800-RUNAWAY hotline has grown, while support has steadily increased in both personnel and finances. Several key accomplishments have been realized during Blaha’s tenure, including:
- An assessment of the NRS brand, which led to the introduction of a new name in 2013 to better connect with the youth and families it serves;
- Advances in how the organization uses technology, such as launching a new and improved agency website in 2015 with emphasis on online services and social media platforms to build its presence on the digital landscape;
- An increase in the budget by 100 percent in 12 years and an increase in staff by 33 percent
- A program focused on runaway prevention called Let’s Talk: Runaway Prevention Curriculum;
- A bi-annual comprehensive trend data report of crisis calls to 1-800-RUNAWAY used to educate and raise awareness about the runaway crisis in America;
- “Runaway Youth Longitudinal Study 2011” research that identifies the long-term effects of running away as a youth, which can be used to better educate and encourage parents, teachers and other adults to get involved, address the issues, and ultimately prevent a runaway situation;
- And National Runaway Prevention Month, an annual campaign to increase awareness of the issues facing runaway youth and to educate youth, families and the public about resources available to prevent youth from running away.
Additionally, Blaha has been a featured speaker at the National Human Trafficking Awareness Day (2014), an invited panelist on human trafficking at the Interstate Commission for Juveniles annual meeting (2014), and a featured speaker of the Special Victims Assistance Unit for the FBI (2005 and 2010). She was invited to speak to UK parliament to help launch The Children’s Society of England’s national Safe and Sound Campaign (2005), and represented the runaway population at the groundbreaking White House Conference on Missing, Exploited and Runaway Children (2002). Blaha was selected as the recipient of the CASA of Cook County 2010 Spirit Award and selected to participate in the Laura and John Arnold Giving Library for high-end donors. Blaha serves on the Interstate Commission for Juveniles, appointed in 2009. Blaha was also selected as an expert for Kids in the House (2012).
Gary Harper, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Member of the National Runaway Safeline Board of Directors
Professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education in the School Of Public Health at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Gary W. Harper, Ph.D., M.P.H. was elected to NRS’ board of directors in 2008 and has been involved with NRS since 2001. His participation has included collaborating to create the organization’s Let’s Talk: Runaway Prevention Curriculum, participating in an NRS informational video, and being a part of NRS’ Research Oversight Committee (ROC) that reviews, approves and oversees research projects.
Dr. Harper earned his bachelors’ degrees in Biology (B.S.) and Psychology (B.A.) from Washington University, both a master’s degree (M.S.) and doctorate (Ph.D.) in Clinical Psychology from Purdue University, and an M.P.H. (Master of Public Health) degree in Epidemiology from the University of California, Berkeley.
After completing a clinical internship at the University of California at Los Angeles’ Neuropsychiatric Institute and Hospital, Dr. Harper completed both a postdoctoral clinical fellowship at San Francisco Juvenile Hall and a postdoctoral research fellowship in AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California. He joined the faculty at DePaul University in January 1996 where he became a professor in the Department of Psychology, director of the Master of Public Health Program, and co-director of the Center for Community and Organization Development.
Dr. Harper is an applied community-clinical psychologist who works in collaboration with community agencies and community members to promote social justice for several groups of young people who have been marginalized in society. He also demonstrates his passion for addressing significant social problems through his teaching/mentoring, research, and community service.
Dr. Harper serves as a consultant to a range of community-based agencies that provide health promotion services to adolescents, both in the U.S. and in Kenya, East Africa. He has developed and evaluated a range of youth-focused prevention programs that promote the health and well-being of adolescents, with a focus on runaway/homeless youth, urban youth of color, gay/bisexual youth, and youth living with HIV. Dr. Harper began his HIV prevention work early in the epidemic and has been involved in various forms of adolescent-focused HIV prevention, treatment, research, advocacy, and community organizing work over 20 years. His HIV-related research and community work have focused on homeless youth, urban ethnic minority female youth, gay/bisexual youth, and primary school children and rural youth in Kenya.
Dr. Harper has received local, regional, and national awards for his commitment to mentoring and community service, including the recent 2007 American Psychological Association’s (APA) Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest. Prior APA awards include the Psychology and AIDS Leadership Award, Ethnic Minority Mentorship Award, Special Award for Distinguished Contributions to Practice in Community Psychology from an Academic Base, Distinguished Contributions to Ethnic Minority Issues, and the Illinois Psychological Associations’ Humanitarian Award. Dr. Harper has received a range of honors from DePaul University, including the Excellence in Teaching Award, Excellence in Public Service Award, McNair Scholar’s Mentor of the Year Award, and the Spirit of DePaul Award. He also has received awards from local community agencies such as the Wellness Award for Outstanding Humanitarian Services.
Gordon J. Vance, ACSW, LCSW
National Runaway Safeline Director of Programs
Gordon Vance, ACSW, LCSW, is NRS’ director of programs. He manages crisis intervention and prevention services, volunteer services, training and education, and the technical infrastructure necessary to operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Prior to joining NRS, Gordon was the associate executive director of a Chicago-based agency providing a continuum of services to runaway, homeless and at-risk youth. Gordon has extensive experience working with at-risk youth in a variety of settings including psychiatric hospitals, community mental health agencies, and crisis lines. Gordon trains social service providers on a local, national and international level, having presented workshops for state and national social service organizations. Internationally, he has consulted and provided training in: Saudi Arabia, Albania, Columbia, Namibia, South Africa, Spain, Mexico and the Netherlands.
Gordon is a member of the New Technologies Advisory Council for Child Helpline International (CHI), the Runaway, Homeless, Youth Training and Technical Assistance Center’s (RHYTTAC) National Advisory Board, the Youth Committee of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), and The Center for Missing and Abducted Children’s Organizations (CMACO).
National Runaway Safeline Training and Education Manager
Brittany Mabry is NRS’ training and education manager. She manages the agency’s training programs for volunteers and call center staff, which include the hotline and online crisis intervention, Illinois’ Comprehensive Community Based Youth Services Information and Referral Line, call center supervisor and the continuing education program. She also manages the internship program, runaway prevention curriculum and KidsCall to agency standards. Brittany oversees the development and presentation of conference and agency workshops, as well as fee-based trainings. She joined NRS as a frontline team member in 2013 and then became the volunteer coordinator before taking her current position in January 2015.
Prior to joining NRS, Brittany earned her Bachelor of Science in Sociology at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. In the same city she worked at New River Valley Community Services as a clinical phone assessment case manager and as the Raft Crisis Hotline manager. She created and delivered trainings on suicide watch and prevention for LGBTQ college students to Virginia Tech’s Safe Zones. Brittany organized a suicide awareness vigil featuring Bev Cobain, nationally recognized speaker, educator and workshop leader. She moved to Chicago, where she worked as the volunteer coordinator at Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly and served as the vice president of operations for the Association of Volunteer Administrators of Metropolitan Chicago. She has attended Basic Skills in Disaster Behavioral Health Training, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training and Hokie Heart Suicide Awareness Gatekeeper Training.
Brittany presented at the National School Boards Association Conference (March 2015), as well as at numerous youth political meetings and conferences on grassroots organizing and fundraising. She received the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Stellar Volunteer Award (2008).
National Runaway Safeline Prevention Specialist
Lindsey Kahney is NRS’ prevention specialist. She manages NRS’ Let’s Talk: Runaway Prevention Curriculum (RPC), including its distribution and implementation to community agencies and schools, data collection in regard to its demographics and pre/post test completed by trainers and youth, and training and supporting its facilitators. She also promotes the use of the RPC by presenting at conferences, conducting fee-based trainings, outreaching to various agencies, and developing and leveraging key partnerships with local and statewide communities.
She was an NRS call center supervisor for seven years prior to being hired for her current position in January 2015. As a call center supervisor, Lindsey handled more than 5,000 calls assisting youth and families and initiated NRS’ Home Free service with more than 700 youth looking to return home.
Prior to joining NRS, Lindsey earned her Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was a mental health counselor working specifically with youth and adolescents at a behavioral health hospital.