Leadership Team

Elizabeth Occhipinti**^

Elizabeth Occhipinti Co-Founder & President of Miriam’s Heart, Miriam's Heart is a NJ based non-profit that provides support to adopted and foster children and families. Elizabeth and her husband Jim first developed Miriam’s Heart in 2009. Elizabeth is a TBRI practitioner trained at Texas Christian University, holds a BS in Human Services and is currently pursuing her MS in Child and Adolescent Psychology. As a trained TRBI practitioner, Elizabeth studied and maintains working relationships with the renowned team at the Texas Christian University’s Karyn Purvis' Institute of Child Development, where she studied the effects of trauma and loss. Elizabeth can often be heard calling herself a ‘student of life’ and she continues to pursue her education and training at various colleges and institutions to best guide her work. A NYC Leadership Fellow in the 2016-2017 class, Elizabeth also serves on the international Orphan Sunday leadership team for the Christian Alliance for Orphans. Instrumental in the development of the Stand Sunday initiative, Elizabeth works alongside the National Foster Care Initiative as a liaison from the Orphan Sunday leadership team. Recently completing Transformational Leadership, Elizabeth is also a member of the NJ non-profit roundtable. Seeing the church and the family as the two groups tasked with looking after vulnerable children, Elizabeth tirelessly reaches out, networks to bring children into families who are supported and prepared. The heart of our organization, Elizabeth’s passion and commitment to a world where children grasp their preciousness and families are restored is matched only by her determination to support adopted and foster children. Adoptive and licensed foster parents themselves, Jim & Elizabeth have 5 children who keep their New Jersey home appropriately busy and can often be seen dancing and singing in their kitchen as they clear the dinner table.

Sandy Duck

Alessandra 'Sandy' Duck is the Program Director for Miriam's Heart. Sandy manages and oversees all programs and events with a focus on hospitality and event administration, facilitation. Sandy works with our team to ensure budgets, and procedures are established and adhered to and promotes the implementation and success of our programs. Sandy monitors volunteers' responsibilities and hours, coordinates schedules, and manages programs and events for children and families. Formerly licensed foster parents, Sandy and her husband Michael live in central NJ with their adorable daughter and handsome son who they've adopted from China.

Suzanne Singer

As the Administrative Specialist, Suzanne overseas child and family specific intake and advocacy. Suzanne is the point of contact for and a liaison to foster and adoptive families and available resources. Suzanne assists with administrative duties and coordinates efforts within the Miriam’s Heart network, leadership team, and professional advisors. Suzanne, along with her husband Larry and two daughters live in Central, NJ and are a licensed foster family. 

Cristina Keresztes

Cristina works as the Child Advocacy Liaison.  Cristina is honored to be the voice for the needs of the Division of Child Protection and Permanency caseworkers in New Jersey. Having graduated from Rutgers University in 2001 with a degree in Psychology and working with local mental health organizations, she began as a NJ Division of Children and Families caseworker in 2003 working within Division offices in Passaic, Bergan, Morris, and Ocean counties as a caseworker and supervisor for 14 years in intake, permanency and adoption units. Cristina left the Division in 2017 to embark on her non-profit career. Cristina mission is to help the most vulnerable children and families of NJ. As a current program manager at Habitat for Humanity, a school counseling/LPC graduate student and mother of 3 beautiful daughters, Christina has devoted her life to improving the well being of others through healing, empowerment and advocacy and looks forward to continuing this journey through Miriam’s Heart. 

Ivonne Droz ^

As the Director of Operations, Ivonne Droz assists by ensuring Miriam's Heart runs smoothly, by setting parameters to judge how efficiently and effectively the organization is operating. Ivonne reviews and evaluates business procedures oversees the advancement and the analysis of intake and organizational processes. Ivonne also oversees the Orphan Sunday efforts of ZCC Flemington and acts as a liaison to ZCC Flemington! Having hosted and advocated for numerous children, Ivonne and Jose work to find families for children through a partnership with KidSave. Together, Jose and Ivonne have 3 children, are licensed foster parents and adoptive parents with a heart for older children. They, along with a few well-loved chickens and their pretty pup live in New Jersey. 

Jessica Sauer, Esq.

Jessica is a lawyer and zealous advocate for children and families. A law guardian for over seven years with experience in human resources, fundraising, administration, safe church training, and estate planning, Jessica brings a unique combination of skills to her volunteer work for Miriam’s. She is passionate about connecting with others willing to help raise capital, improve systems, push for needed policy changes, and/or do whatever can help maximize Miriam’s ability to provide meaningful, effective support to children and their families. Jessica is also the Managing Attorney of The Sauer Law Firm LLC (​www.SauerFirm.com​), an estate planning & administration law firm with hours and services designed to accommodate the needs of working professionals and families of children with special needs. Feel free to contact her at Jess@Miriamsheart.org​ anytime.

Allison Highton***

Allison Highton Acts as the Director of Family Ministries. Allison has a heart to raise awareness about the plight of orphans worldwide and to engage the local community to partner, collaborate and take action. Both Empowered to Connect Parent Trainer, Allison and her husband Russ provide ongoing training and mentoring support to the families of Miriams’ Heart. In her role as Director of Family Ministries, Allison supports families both local to Zarephath Christian Church and the families we serve as an outreach to other area churches. Allison oversees family mentoring, parent training and local church events.   Allison maintains and recruit couples and families willing to mentor families through infertility, post adoption and the decision to foster or adopt and coordinates the efforts of the Family Mentors. Allison actively seeks information and resources for our families that can assist them.  She also develops working relationships with agencies and organizations so that connections can be made with prospective families and provides post-adoption resources, training and curriculum to help families post-placement. 

Jessica Pratt

Jessica Pratt is our social media coordinator. She desires to volunteer for Miriam’s Heart because she feels led to stand in the gap for orphaned and vulnerable children. By helping to spread awareness, she is also enthusiastic to help to edify herself and others about the needs of children right here and around the world and how Miriam’s Heart supports them and families. 


Originally from Louisiana, Jessica joined the United States Navy right out of high school, where she saw the country. Once out of the US Navy, moved to New Jersey. Jessica holds have a double degree in Business Administration and Marketing and had the opportunity to work at 2 fortune 500 companies before deciding to be a stay at home mom. Jessica is happily married to an amazing God-loving man and has two daughters.   

Joi Fisher

Anna Mui

Currently attending Rutgers University, Anna Mui is joining the Miriam's Heart team as a Volunteer Coordinator. After hearing about Miriam's Heart through her church PEM, she felt called to serve within the foster care and adoption system, as she deeply believes that every child deserves to have a home. Just as no child escapes God's heart, so we should strive to make every child feel loved, valued, and worthy. 

Traci Bethea

Traci Bethea, owner of Turtle Fitness & Performance, holds a BA in Health and Exercise Science from Rowan University, with a concentration in health promotion and wellness management. 

Board of  Directors

Noami Patino       Jimmy Occhipinti 

Jennifer Taylor    Chris Ottenstroer

Elizabeth Occhipinti**

Family Mentors

Russ and Allison Highton***

Amanda & Jimmy Mancusi

Suzanne & Larry Singer

Jim and Elizabeth Occhipinti**

Juana & Anthony Canna

Ivonne & Jose Nuñez

Blend Leaders

Joi R. Fisher is an Educator, Entrepreneur, Author and Mother whose compassion, professionalism, and dedication have all earned her the reputation as a service-centered leader. As a youth advocate and education ambassador for the last two decades, she is intrinsically driven to help underprivileged communities, share valuable resources, and bring awareness to adoption sensitivity topics. In addition to her Master’s degree in Educational Administration and Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice, Joi holds various certificates, including Standard Principal, Standard Supervisor, Standard Elementary Teacher (K-8), and Eligibility for School Leaders Licensure. She is an educator at heart and has a passion for teaching and learning.

Yih-Pai Lotz ^

Yih-Pai Lotz joined Miriam’s Heart in September, 2017 as a member of the Finance and Fundraising committee. Her role in the ministry is to contribute ideas for and participate in fundraising endeavors, and managing fundraising projects to ensure smooth execution.


Yih-Pai and her husband Bruce have adopted two children from China and have since been actively involved in the China adoption community. She regularly makes advocacy/mission trips to the foster center in China where both her children came from. She has helped quite a few children there to find their forever families, as well as assisted the adoptive families to fundraise, including securing a matching grant from Miriam’s Heart. Yih-Pai and her family live in Central Jersey and attend Washington Crossing United Methodist Church where she is hoping to develop an orphan care ministry.  

Empowered to Connect Parent Trainers*

Russ and Allison Highton***

Rebekah and Eric Mindrebo

*Indicates Empowered to Connect Parent Trainer

**Indicates TBRI Practitioner

^ Indicates Certification of Orphaned and Vulnerable Children Best Practices with CAFO