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:
- Expanded platforms to include online options for youth to connect;
- 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;
- Secured support from celebrities including Cyndi Lauper and Ludacris;
- 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;
- Expanded the Home Free family reunification program, done in collaboration with Greyhound Lines, Inc., to include older youth and victims of human trafficking;
- An increase in the budget by 121 percent and an increase in staff by 127 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;
- After 30 years, relocated the agency to expanded, more professional space;
- Launched the first-ever Major Gift Initiative exceeding goal;
- Home Free research (2012) to analyze benefits of the program which has reunited over 17,000 youth with their families since 1995;
- “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;
- Laws passed in two states requiring law enforcement to provide NRS information to parents filing a missing children’s report.
Additionally, Blaha has been featured on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (2015), 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). After hosting UK Children’s Society and a Member of Parliament, 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 was featured on UK’s Trevor McDonald Show. She represented the runaway population at the groundbreaking White House Conference on Missing, Exploited and Runaway Children (2002) and was invited to the Rose Garden when President Bush signed the Amber Alert legislation. 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).
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
Lee Ann Osipchak joined the National Runaway Safeline (NRS) in 2007 to promote and provide training and technical assistance for the Let’s Talk Runaway Prevention Curriculum and was promoted to the Training and Education Manager in 2010. Lee Ann manages NRS’ comprehensive prevention and training programs. She recently returned to NRS in 2016, after working as a training coordinator for the Illinois Collaboration on Youth (ICOY). While at ICOY she coordinate multiple trainings across the state of Illinois.
Lee Ann has a Bachelor’s in Peace and Conflict Studies from Kent State University, in Kent, Ohio. She has over 18 years of experience working with at-risk youth and families including: conflict resolution, community mental health, school based mental health, wraparound services, residential treatment, staff training and development, and program development and evaluation. She has presented at numerous state and national conferences such as the National School Social Work Association of America, National Character Education Partnership Conference, National Alternative Education Conference, National Safe Place Conference, and National Youth at Risk Conference. In addition to being skilled trainer on multiple topics, she has provided the following trainings Youth Thrive, NRS’ Trauma Informed Crisis Intervention Model, Let’s Talk: Runaway Prevention, Youth Running from Care, mediation and conflict resolution and is a certified trainer for Youth Mental Health First Aid and Psychological First Aid.
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.