OUR TEAM

DEVOTED TO HELPING CHILDREN

PROF. MARCI A. HAMILTON
Founder & CEO

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Founder and CEO of CHILD USA. She is also a Professor of Practice in Political Science and a Fox Family Pavilion Non-Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvania. Before moving to Penn, Professor Hamilton held the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University.

Prof. Hamilton is the leading expert on clergy sex abuse and child sex abuse statutes of limitation (“SOL”). She has been invited to testify and advise legislators in every state where significant SOL reform has occurred. She is the author of Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children (Cambridge University Press), which advocates for the elimination of child sex abuse statutes of limitations. She has filed countless pro bono amicus briefs for the protection of children at the United States Supreme Court and the state supreme courts. She is the co-author of Children and the Law (Carolina Academic Press 2017).

Hamilton is a leading and influential critic of extreme religious liberty and the author of God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty (Cambridge University Press), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Hamilton successfully challenged the constitutionality of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) at the Supreme Court in Boerne v. Flores (1997), and defeated the RFRA claim brought by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee against hundreds of child sex abuse survivors in Committee of Unsecured Creditors v. Listecki (7th Cir. 2015). She has represented numerous cities, neighborhoods, and individuals dealing with church-state issues as well as claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”).

Hamilton has been honored with the 2019 Distinguished Daughters Award by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf; the 2018 Louis H. Pollak Award for Public Service by the University of Pennsylvania Law School; the 2015 Annual Religious Liberty Award, American Humanist Association; the 2014 Freethought Heroine Award; the 2016 Voice Today, Voice of Gratitude Award; the National Crime Victim Bar Association’s Frank Carrington Champion of Civil Justice Award, 2012; the E. Nathaniel Gates Award for outstanding public advocacy and scholarship, 2008; and selected as a Pennsylvania Woman of the Year Award, 2012, among other awards and honors. She is also frequently quoted in the national media on child sex abuse, statute of limitations issues and constitutional, RFRA, RLUIPA, and First Amendment issues.

Hamilton clerked for United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Judge Edward R. Becker of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Professor Hamilton is a graduate of Vanderbilt University, B.A., summa cum laude; Pennsylvania State University, M.A. (English, fiction writing, High Honors); M.A. (Philosophy); and the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, J.D., magna cum laude, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Order of the Coif.

JAMES F. PLAPPERT
Chief Financial Officer

James Plappert joins CHILD USA as Chief Financial Officer after an extensive career in the corporate business arena.  After graduating from Carnegie-Mellon University with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and earning an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh, Jim had a career in the corporate world working for Westinghouse Electric, Conversion Systems, and Exxon Corporation, before founding and managing an executive recruiting and consulting firm. He brings the abundance of business experience gained in those positions to CHILD USA.

James also established a consulting business for high school student-athletes who wanted to pursue their athletic careers at the collegiate level and published two books to aid those athletes, Interviewing with College Coaches and So, You Want to be a College Athlete. As the father of four children, two of whom were elite college athletes, Jim is particularly concerned about the abuse and neglect of athletes of all ages and the programs that will find solutions to end abuse in athletics.

JILLIAN RUCK
Chief Operating Officer

Jillian Ruck joins CHILD USA as the Chief Operating Officer from her previous career in education. As a former high school teacher with a degree from Villanova University in History and Education, she has taught in various places around the country including Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas, and Washington, DC. Jillian has taught subjects from Government to AP World History to students ranging from 8th to 12th grade. Her teaching career included teaching in both public and charter schools to students all across the socio-economic spectrum. Due to her experience, she is acutely aware of the issues surrounding the education system in the United States as well as the increased vulnerabilities of students located in already marginalized communities. 
Jillian has been a passionate advocate for social justice through education for children and has a deeply held belief that all children deserve a high quality education no matter the circumstances they are born into. These are the beliefs that she bring to CHILD USA where she will continue her mission in life to work to educate and protect children, especially those who are marginalized.

KELSEY BRYNER
Development Director

Kelsey Bryner joins CHILD USA as the Development Director. She looks forward to helping our organization grow as we continue to create change and impact policy ensuring that civil rights for children are protected. 

AJ ORTIZ, MSSP
Social Science Director

AJ Ortiz joins CHILD USA after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Science in Social Policy program. He graduated from Millersville University in 2014 with a degree in social work and went on to work in educational settings and complete a year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA.

Before coming to Penn, AJ worked as a therapeutic foster parent recruiter and conducted trainings on complex trauma, human trafficking prevention, and specialized foster care. During graduate school, he co-authored a paper analyzing evidence for programs serving youth aging out of foster care and studied implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act. AJ’s primary focus is preventing institutional child abuse, particularly in residential facilities. He is ultimately interested in using mixed-methods social science research to inform child protection policies nationwide.

JESSICA SCHIDLOW, ESQ., MA, NCC
Legal Director

Jessica Schidlow joins CHILD USA with an extensive background in child welfare. Jessica holds a Master’s degree in Professional Clinical and Counseling Psychology and worked as an out-patient child and family-based therapist before pursuing her legal education. After law school, Jessica joined the Montgomery County Public Defender’s Office in their Child Advocacy Unit where she represented hundreds of at-risk and dependent youth in their Juvenile and Orphan’s Court proceedings. Jessica is committed to advancing the rights of children and improving the outcomes for court-involved youth by ensuring practices that are trauma-informed and congruent with legal, medical, and social-science research.

Jessica earned her B.A. in Psychology from Temple University, Honors Program. She earned her M.A. in Professional Clinical and Counseling Psychology from LaSalle University, graduating with distinction. Jessica earned her J.D. from of Drexel University’s Thomas R. Kline School of Law, 2-year accelerated program, where she served as a research assistant and president of the Health Law Society. Jessica is a National Board-Certified Counselor and member of the National Association of Counsel for Children. She also serves on the Children and the Law Committee for the Montgomery County Bar Association and the Children’s Rights Legislative Subcommittee for the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

DEVYNE BYRD, ESQ.
Staff Attorney for Global Projects

Devyne Byrd joins CHILD USA as the Staff Attorney for Global Projects with prior experience working with international legal organizations. Previously, Devyne was a Legal Fellow at the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, where she practiced family, landlord-tenant, and employment law.
Devyne graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law where she participated in the International Human Rights Clinic working on improving air quality in Bogota, Colombia. She also has experience in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania where she partnered with the Women’s Legal Aid Clinic to assist women entering marriages with retaining ownership of their premarital property.
Prior to law school, she received her B.A. in History from Houston Christian University. While enrolled, she served as President of the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society and volunteered with the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.

JESSICA DOWNES, ESQ.
Staff Attorney 

Jess joins CHILD USA as a staff attorney with a strong background in child welfare and a passion for integrating social science into her legal work. Jess earned a B.A. in Psychology and Women’s Studies from the University of Delaware and her J.D. from Drexel Thomas Kline School of Law. During Jess’s time at the University of Delaware, she worked as a research assistant at a developmental psychology lab called the Infant Caregiver Project (“ICP”), studying parent-child attachment theory and conducting research on families in the child welfare system. During her time at ICP, Jess saw the effects of the court system on the relationship dynamics and long-term well-being of the children in the study, which ultimately propelled her to apply to and attend law school. Jess deeply believes it is important policy and law are informed by social science research in order to have a substantial effect on and remedy the root cause of an issue.
During her law school career, Jess interned at Philadelphia Legal Assistance’s family law unit representing clients in protection from abuse and custody cases. Jess also served as a clinic student at the Andy and Gwen Stern Community Lawyering Clinic using a community lawyering model to represent tenants in eviction cases and assist members of the community with estate planning. After law school, Jess clerked for the Honorable Natalie Haskins and the Honorable Felice Kerr in Delaware Family Court.

STEPHANIE GONZALEZ
Digital Media Manager

Stephanie Gonzalez joins CHILD USA as Digital Media Manager, who brings creativity and ingenuity to everything she does. As a digital storyteller with a decade of experience in social media, brand development, and marketing strategy, she is also a forward-thinking self-starter who continually challenges herself to learn something new. Stephanie considers herself a creative problem solver who enjoys utilizing her communication, hands-on work, and problem-solving skills. She is also a lover of design, branding, and graphic/visual arts, which all come together to form her work. Having attended The University of the Arts and graduated with a Multimedia degree, her background in the arts further fuels her creativity and passion for making intuitive decisions quickly, with the ability to create something from nothing.

ALICE NASAR HANAN, ESQ.
Senior Staff Attorney

Alice Nasar Hanan joined CHILD USA in February 2019. She is a staff attorney and contributes to the legal research, analysis and development of our Statute of Limitations Reform Initiative. She is a former student of Marci Hamilton from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. At Cardozo, she was the recipient of the Dean’s Merit Scholarship, worked as an editor of the Cardozo Law Review, was a legal writing teacher’s assistant and graduated with honors. She received her B.A. in Criminal Justice from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. She is also a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the Order of the Coif. Alice began her legal career in New York City at Kasowtiz, Benson, Torres, and Friedman LLP, as a litigation attorney with a focus on complex commercial litigation and white collar criminal defense. Next, she moved to New Jersey with her family and joined a local litigation firm. Alice brings to CHILD USA both her legal expertise and passion for respecting the dignity and legal rights of all children.

MARYCLARE MALADY

Event Planner & Executive Assistant to CEO

MaryClare joins CHILD USA having enjoyed a successful career as a preschool teacher, volunteer, and active member of various local and national nonprofit organizations. Her passion for the well being of every child is what inspired her to leave the classroom to join CHILD USA. MaryClare will draw on her past experiences and wide-ranging skills as liaison to members of the CHILD USA team as well as organization ambassador. “Children are amazing. They all develop using the same principles. It is our job to make sure they feel loved, nurtured, and valued.”

MaryClare received her BFA from West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia. She continued her education at The Art Institute of Philadelphia where she received a Continuing Education Certificate. MaryClare continues her education by completing courses in various areas of personal and professional interest.

 

 

CARINA NIXON, ESQ.
Senior Staff Attorney

Carina Nixon joins CHILD USA as a Staff Attorney. Prior to CHILD USA, Carina worked as an Attorney-Advisor for the Small Business Administration’s Office of Disaster Assistance where she aided small business owners in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Previously, she worked as an Attorney-Advisor in the General Counsel’s Office of the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington, D.C.

Carina graduated from Pepperdine School of Law, where she served as a Note and Comment Editor for the Pepperdine Law Review. As a staffer for the Law Review, Carina wrote an article exploring and arguing against the constitutionality of juvenile solitary confinement in the U.S. prison system. Her article was chosen for publication in Pepperdine’s Law Review and earned Pepperdine Law’s Sorenson Award for best student article. Carina additionally acted as President of Pepperdine’s International Commercial Arbitration Moot Court Team and was a member of the Moot Court team. Prior to law school, Carina graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.A. in International Studies and a B.A. in Spanish Language. As a mother herself, she is passionate about ensuring every child is afforded the legal protections and human rights they deserve.

ANNELIES SMILDE, MPHTM
Social Science Researcher

Annelies joins CHILD USA as a social science researcher with a profound commitment to advancing the rights and well-being of children. Armed with a Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and a dual bachelor’s degree in Public Health and Gender and Sexuality from Tulane University, Annelies has cultivated a strong foundation in social science research methods, epidemiology, and data analysis.

Annelies’s professional journey showcases her dedication to researching critical issues affecting children. During her time at Tulane, she worked on an NIH-funded study focused on reducing child maltreatment risk, and on a study looking at teen pregnancy in Latina America and the Caribbean.

In addition to research, Annelies has actively engaged with the Latinx community of New Orleans through translating health and wellness content, voter engagement, and advocating for the rights of migrant workers. She also enjoyed her time as a children’s soccer instructor.

Annelies is passionate about utilizing rigorous mixed methods research to reduce health inequities locally and globally. Her multidisciplinary expertise and unwavering commitment to child advocacy align seamlessly with the mission of CHILD USA, and we are happy to have her!

JENNIFER WILCZYNSKI, ESQ., MA, MS
Staff Attorney

Jennifer Wilczynski joins CHILD USA with an academic background in child rights and juvenile justice reform. Jennifer earned her B.A. in Political Science and Economics and M.S. in International Relations from Suffolk University in Boston, MA. She earned her J.D. with a Child Rights concentration and M.A. in Peace and Justice from the University of San Diego School of Law and Joan B. Kroc Institute of Peace and Justice. 

Jennifer’s involvement with child rights expands into her personal life as well. In her free time, she coaches competitive synchronized swimming and is certified by SafeSport, where she cultivates a positive environment for young athletes to learn and grow in both character and sport. As a former athlete herself, she understands the challenges of women in sports and ensures her athletes have a safe environment to express themselves. Jennifer applies restorative practices in problem solving amongst the youth she works with when conflicts arise and encourages her athletes to advocate for themselves.