Our team

As the advocacy team at Children’s Minnesota, it’s our job to bring health home through active community engagement and strong public policy advocacy. Our work is founded in the understanding that health is largely driven by factors outside of clinical care, a respect for community knowledge and a belief that every child deserves to be healthy and well.  As a result, we work hard to influence federal, state and local public policy decisions and building relationships with organizations and people who share an interest in supporting children and families.

How you can help

You don’t have to work at Children’s to help us advocate for Children’s, patients and families. Learn how you can be a voice for children.

Meet our team

Take a minute to get to know the members of our team:

Elham Ashkar, Senior Program Developer

Elham has been involved in developing and implementing strategic projects and initiatives, collaborating directly with executive leadership teams primarily within the public and private health sector. Elham is currently leading work on addressing social conditions and their impact on child health through partnerships with community. She has extensive experience leading health care projects for provider organizations both at the community and at the government level.

Prior to joining Children’s, Elham worked at Bloomington Public Health where she coordinated the Statewide Health Improvement Program which was aimed at reducing chronic disease and improving healthy living choices and opportunities. This role was primarily responsible for managing the SHIP grant through program assessment, planning and implementation and also included working with community partner organizations through different engagement initiatives. She also serves on the Metropolitan Council Equity Advisory Committee which guides the council’s equity initiatives on issues like transportation, land use and housing.

Jessica Block, Coordinator

Jessica joined Children’s in the spring of 2014. She graduated from Winona State University with a degree in early childhood and elementary education. After working as a substitute teacher, she spent two years as an executive legal assistant at a law firm in downtown Minneapolis. Jessica decided to join the Children’s team because she felt the position united her desire to advocate for children and her skill set as an assistant. Jessica’s interests outside of work include traveling (16 countries, 18 states, and counting), scrapbooking and cooking. She loves spending her free time with her husband, dog, friends and family.

Michelle Kainz, Senior Administrative Assistant

Michelle began her career at Children’s Minnesota in 1992, providing secretarial and administrative support to various departments and projects. After leaving Children’s in 1999, Michelle worked at Allina, Mercer Human Resources Consulting, UnitedHealthcare, UnitedHealth Group, and Midwest Dairy Association. She provided administrative support in a variety of areas: Labor Relations, Government/Medicaid Consulting, Finance, Legal, Compliance, Privacy, and in the dairy industry.

After 17 years of wandering to and fro, Michelle decided it was time to return to where her heart has always been. She joyfully returned to Children’s in October 2016, bringing with her a wealth of experience, to the Advocacy and Health Policy team.

In her free time, Michelle enjoys photography, gardening, quilting, kayaking, biking, caring for a menagerie of 4-legged rescue animals, and spending time with her family, treasuring every moment with her much adored and growing-up-much-too-quickly granddaughter.

Kjelsey Polzin, Emergency Medical Services for Children Program Manager

Kjelsey is excited to join the Advocacy and Health Policy team! She graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato with a degree in Community Health. She began her career at Children’s as an intern for the Emergency Medical Services for Children (EMSC) Program and was hooked. She is now the Program Manager for the federally funded statewide program that ensures all children in Minnesota receive the best appropriate care in a health emergency. In partnership with the EMS Regulatory Board, EMSC works to fulfill the federal requirements of the grant. The Program has a vast Advisory Committee that spans across Minnesota including EMS agencies, school nurses, urban and rural hospitals, the state’s Poison Center and a family representative. Kjelsey’s passion for volunteering and health/wellness has guided her to be a Hands Joining Hands co-chair and also the Wellness Champion for Advocacy at Children’s.

Additionally, she loves hanging out with family and friends, traveling, exploring and being outdoors (when the weather is nice), working out with others, and being an auntie to three nephews and two nieces. Kjelsey and her husband, Nick, reside in the Como Park neighborhood of St. Paul.

Pam Ross, Institutional Support Officer

Pam leads fundraising efforts to support Children’s community-focused initiatives. She partners with clinical and organizational leaders, community members and funders to identify philanthropic opportunities and shape charitable giving. Before joining the team in 2015, Pam worked at Allina Health and UnitedHealth Group, leading several initiatives around community benefit, community programming, and community-focused grantmaking.

Along with her family, Pam aspires to take advantage of all that the Twin Cities has to offer – from great music, festivals, plays, museums, and restaurants to our amazing parks and lakes.Pam received her undergraduate degree from Colgate University and both her law degree and Master in Health Administration from Tulane University.

Lisa Skjefte, American Indian Community Liaison

Lisa began working at Children’s in the fall of 2014. In her current role, she works with the Advocacy and Health Policy and Social Work teams to connect patient experience and community voice back to Children’s. Lisa has helped launch an initiative called The First Gift, a space for American Indian community members to come together to make baby moccasins to give back to American Indian families whose babies are in the Special Care Nursery and NICU units.

Lisa is a citizen of the Red Lake Nation of Ojibwe. She graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. Lisa is also a co-founder of an Indigenous Women’s Wellness movement called KWESTRONG, Kwe, pronounced “qway” in the Ojibwe language, means woman. KWESTRONG organizes an American Indian Women and girls triathlon, Run Bike Canoe, each year on the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis.

Kelly Wolfe, Public Policy Director

Kelly leads the organization’s government relations and policy advocacy work that advances Children’s mission and vision. She oversees state and federal public policy issues ranging from Medicaid funding, hospital operations, and children’s health and development.

Prior to joining Children’s in 2012, she was the director of government relations at the Stinson Leonard Street Law Firm.  During her five years there, she represented health and social service non-profits, economic development organizations, and education clients at the Capitol. She provided strategic and political counsel in addition to building coalitions and relationships with key legislative and agency stakeholders. In addition, she served two years as a senate staffer and as a leadership assistant to the Minnesota State Senate Majority Leader.

When she is not storming the halls of the Capitol, Kelly can be found spending time with her family and watching SEC football (Roll Tide!). Originally from Alabama, she relishes in the warm Minnesota summers and loves exploring the beautiful scenery of Minnesota. She has a little boy who keeps her on her toes and makes her laugh daily and a baby girl who consumes the other half of her heart.

Kelly received her Master of Public Policy from the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute in 2004 and her B.A. in English from the University of Alabama.

Anna Youngerman, Senior Director of Advocacy and Health Policy

Anna provides strategic guidance and oversight to the Advocacy team and Children’s leadership on public policy, community engagement and health equity issues. Anna works to keep the policy and community work well connected to the rest of Children’s through active collaboration with internal partners and relevant, meaningful engagement with external organizations.

Prior to joining the Children’s team in 2011, Anna was a director at Himle Horner Inc., one of the Twin Cities region’s leading public affairs and public relations agencies. Anna’s early career included several different positions in Minnesota’s political arena and a stint as a legislative assistant in the KARE 11 capitol bureau.

Just to make sure things don’t slow down after work, Anna and her husband stay busy with with a young son and daughter — playing ball, acting out scenes from movies and telling stories. Anna also tries to find time to enjoy the simple pleasures: good food, engaging books, the great outdoors and lots of laughs.

Anna earned her bachelor’s degree in English at Lake Forest College in Illinois.


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