Staff

Steve Brong, MS – Founding Partner, President & CEO, Family Worker

Bios

Steve began his venture in social services while attending graduate school at Shippensburg State College pursuing his Master’s degree in counseling. He holds more than 40 years of experience working in the areas of drug and alcohol, mental health, as well as providing directorship of several children and youth organizations. Steve has dedicated his career to helping adults, children and families in managing stress and crisis by guiding them to stability.

As a founding partner of Lehigh Valley Families Together, Inc., Steve continues his commitment to children and families through his everyday work. “Just as the original concept of helping parents build a family that will be stable, emotionally and physically safe continues to guide my efforts, my direct involvement with clients as a family worker and team leader shapes my decisions as the chief administrator of LVFT. There is no question in my mind that continuing to provide direct services helps me stay in touch with the needs of our families and the counties we serve, and has made me a more effective administrator.”

Allyn Benech, M.Ed. – Founding Partner, Vice President, Program Director

Starting out to be a business manager, Allyn decided towards the end of her undergraduate work that the counseling field was the direction she was headed. Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Business Management and subsequently a Master’s of Education in Rehabilitation Counseling from Penn State, she now sees her life took her down the perfect path because she uses both of her degrees in her current position. 

Allyn has held several positions in the area of social services from mental health and intellectual disabilities services to working with children in foster care and seniors in a nursing home setting. Her experiences brought her together with President Steve Brong to create Lehigh Valley Families Together.

Throughout her work, Allyn has learned that every person has a story that deserves to be heard and honored, and there is hope even in the direst of circumstances. Allyn holds true to a saying her father would tell her, “Everything happens for a reason.” She works to help clients see beyond their immediate struggles to what may lie ahead.

In addition to holding the positions of Vice President and Program Director, Allyn is also certified in Family Group Decision Making and Family Development Credentialing. She enjoys spending time with her sons, dog and cat and when she’s not reading a good book you may be able to talk her into taking a sky dive!

Laura Gross – Office Manager

Laura has been working 15 years as Lehigh Valley Families Together’s office manager. Laura holds substantial management experience prior to joining LVFT and holds a degree in Computer Programming. Throughout her years with LVFT, Laura is inspired to see families who have so much going against them become success stories.

She enjoys spending time with her family and friends. Loves to laugh!

She believes you need to “enjoy the little things because one day you will look back and realize they were the big things!”

Laura is a longtime volunteer and loves to be outdoors especially on a beach somewhere.

Stephanie Dressler - Foster Care Recruiter/Trainer

Stephanie has wanted to work in the foster care field since attending college. This is her first job in the social services. Previously before LVFT, she worked at KidsPeace as a Mental Health Technician II.  Stephanie also worked as an Associate Teacher in a Life Skills Classroom at an elementary school for about 2 years.

Stephanie received her Associate's degree in Social Work from Northampton Community College, and a Bachelor's degree in Social Work from Kutztown University. 

Since starting at LVFT, Stephanie has been inspired by all her co-workers who have come from all types of backgrounds and work experiences. She feels her prior experience has prepared her the this new career opportunity. 

Stephanie had a Community Learning/Service paper published during her time at NCCC. She also presented at a research conference on The Importance of Program Evaluation for a Healthy Relationship workshop during her senior year at Kutztown. 

She enjoys hosting parties. When she wants to unwind, she cleans. Stephanie is inspired by great people who believe in making a difference, have each other's best interest in mind, and who use humor as a stress relief and a way to connect with others. 

Her quote to live by: In order to get on the road to success you have to get in the car and start the engine!

Amanda Deppa - Family Worker

Hello all!

My name is Amanda Deppa, I am new to LVFT but I have had the pleasure of working in the human services field for 4 years now. In the past, I have worked with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, young adults struggling with mental health, children of mental health and autistic. I have my bachelor’s degree in psychology with a double minor in criminal justice and sociology, I am currently working towards going back to school to pursue my masters in mental health clinical counseling.

I am born and raised as a Jersey girl so when I made the transition to Pennsylvania, it was quite scary, figuring out where to live, where to go but most importantly my work. When on my job search, LVFT stuck out to me. The mission and goal of this agency is what I was looking for, to me, if you do something you love, you never work a day in your life and LVFT sounded like that to me. I take pride in my work every day, I love the work I do because I know when I walk into that office, home, courtroom, etc. I will change someone’s life. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but one day, it will make an impact and that’s my work aspiration. My life has changed tremendously since I began this work, this work makes you empathetic, kind and strong; if one didn’t have these qualities, they will now.

During my undergrad career, I was able to get certified as a sexual assault/domestic violence advocate as well as after my undergrad career, I was CPR certified as well as became a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT). When I am not working, I love to binge watch tv shows with my boyfriend, explore new restaurants as well as playing outside with our 4 dogs. I like to live by the quote that, “you are not what happened to you, you are what you choose to become”. I am looking forward to my future at LVFT!

Noelle Carden - Family Worker

Noelle recently graduated from Kutztown University. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and minored in Social Work and Case Management. Working at Lehigh Valley Families Together will be her first full-time job since graduating. Working closely with children and their families is what drew her to accept the position as a family worker helping to make a difference.

Noelle loves to travel, being outdoors and, spending quality time with family and friends. What inspires her the most is to lead by example and being a great role model.

Favorite quote to live by: “If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for everything”.

Amelia Garraway - Family Worker

Amelia graduated in 2019 from Lock Haven University with a Bachelors in Psychology. While at Lock Haven she was co-captain of the cheerleading squad. She is currently pursing a Masters in Social Work at Kutztown University with a projected graduation date of May 2021. 

Last year was her first year working in social services during an internship and she fell in love with the overall profession. Amelia loves working with children and families, so naturally LVFT was a perfect fit for her. She came to work at LVFT because she believes that she will be able to grow and flourish in her journey of helping as many families succeed as she possibly can. She believes she can offer the tools that will help others succeed in their life. Since entering this field, Amelia has learned true selflessness and how to roll with whatever the day throws at you. 

In her spare time she enjoys spending time with family, friends and her cat LuLu. Amelia is inspired by seeing people's lives truly change before her eyes and it keeps her motivated to keep going. 

Something she keeps close to her heart is to be grateful for the good and graceful in the bad.

Yariliz Castillo - Resource Family Care Caseworker

Yariliz joined the staff at Lehigh Valley Families Together 2 months ago. She loves that the organization believes in reuniting children with their families. Interacting with the children is one of her favorite parts of her job. 

Yariliz also works as a certified nursing assistant at Valley Manor Nursing and Rehab Nursing Center.

She attended Northampton Community College and graduated with an Associate's degree in Sports Management. Yariliz is currently attending Penn State pursuing her Bachelor's degree in Human Services and Rehabilitation.

In her spare time she likes to spend time with family, fiancé and volunteering with autistic children. Yariliz use to dance and was involved in many sports during her high school and college years. 

Her favorite quote is "make it happen". 

Her mother inspires her because by any means she always finds a way for anything.

Mariah Colon - Family Worker

For the past 4 years, I have worked as a lab technician at Spark Orthodontics. This is my first job in the social service field. Being a family worker at LVFT allows me to use my own personal experiences to help other families. Every person deserves to be treated as one. People deserve to know that someone out there cares for them and is looking out for their best interest. LVFT allows me to use my energy towards my passion for helping others. It allows me to share with families the love I have to care for them, and to help them grow firmly.

Since starting in this field, my life is more enriched and exciting, this field constantly encourages me to utilize and apply the knowledge and skills I have learned from my studies to come up with different ways to solve problems.

During my spare time, I love enjoying time with my family and friends. My son and I always find different things to do to keep ourselves busy. 

"The mind is everything. What you thing you become."

My past and present experiences, lessons I have learned, and things I continue to face and go through in everyday life inspires me. 

Cheryl Donovan - Family Worker

I started my career in 1986 as a volunteer lay counselor with the Exchange Club for the Prevention of Child Abuse in Florida.  As peers, we were matched with one or two families at a time and met with them in their homes, similar to what we do here.  I did my BSW internship with The Children’s Home Society in Florida in foster care and special needs adoption and was hooked!  I say that child welfare gets in our bones, and it is hard to walk away from it. I have done adoptions, supervised a family visitation center, initiated and supervised an early service intervention program, supervised foster care and adoptions, and taught social work classes at Florida international and Florida Atlantic Universities.  I came to realize that many children could not go home due to their parents’ substance use disorders and went to work in the area of drug and alcohol treatment.    I have worked as an inpatient counselor and supervisor at a residential treatment center for women, specializing in pregnant and parenting individuals.  I worked at the Carbon County Correctional Facility, serving the inmate population and worked as an outpatient counselor. I have gone back and forth between child welfare and chemical dependency.  I tried to retire in 2017, but that didn’t last.  I didn’t feel as though I was doing what I was called to do.

I love my career and feel honored to have had the opportunity to touch so many lives.  Those folks taught me a lot. Everyone has strengths, and it is our job to identify and cultivate them within those we serve.  I believe that, absent or present, the child’s birth parent is the most significant relationship for that child.  The level of intervention must be with the parent, which is where the change needs to occur in order for children to be with their parents.

I moved to PA in 2005 but have only been living in Allentown since the start of the pandemic- March 2020.  In Carbon County, I was a foster parent with three placements.  One went home, one was adopted, and one went to a permanent family.  I consider these children to be extended family members.  Along with my grandson, we also volunteered with Family Promise, where we hosted homeless children and their families at our church for one week at a time four times a year.  We actually moved into the church and went to work and school from there. It was exhausting but a lot of fun at the same time.

As the adoptive parent of my fifteen-year-old grandson, a lot of my time goes to him.  Our best talks are in the car, probably because I am not looking directly at him.  I have noticed that with other children too- automobile therapy, I love to read and go walking fairly regularly.  I also enjoy going to dinner with my friends.  My favorite thing to do is travel.  I love all things Irish (well all but the food) and have been to Ireland three times. 

As for quotes, I have two- “I am responsible for the effort, I cannot control the outcome.”  This is probably how I survived so long as a social worker.  Eventually, things do work out the way they are supposed to.  And the second is, “Trust the process.”

If I could be a cartoon character, it would be Cookie Monster because “me like cookies.”

What inspires me?  My faith, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, people, the faces of children, music, life itself, etc. etc.