Together Conference – Leading Well
May 1 & 2, 2020

****Due to the ongoing outbreak of Covid_19, the Together Conference has been postponed until further notice. If you would like to be advised when it has been rescheduled, please email ****

Along the journey of taking care of vulnerable children, caregivers often neglect taking care of themselves.

                     “You can not lead a child to a place of healing if you do not know the way yourself.”                                                                                                                 – Dr. Karyn Purvis

The Together Conference will focus on living, loving, and leading well as a caregiver. Come and gain new tools and be refreshed. Whether you are a foster or adoptive parent, teacher, health care provider, or social worker, at Together you will find valuable tools to help bring healing to yourself and vulnerable children.



Friday, May 1
Pre-conference Workshops

Main Event: May 1 & 2

Friday evening and Saturday
Early Bird Rates:          After March 31:
Single $69                                     $89
Couple $120                                 $165
Group (5+)*  $55                         N/A

*Group rate is only available until March 31.
(Tentative Schedule)

Friday Evening Schedule – May 1
5:30pm – Arrival & Registration
7:00pm – Open with Worship – Pastor Brett Esslinger

Saturday Schedule – May 2
9:00am – Morning Keynote – Alan & Debra Jones
10:00am – Coffee Break
10:30am – Breakout I
11:30am – Lunch (provided)
12:30pm – Breakout II
1:45pm – Breakout III
3:00pm– Youth Speak Out & Closing



Breakout I Options

Becoming a Trauma-Informed, Trust-Based Dad
(Alan Jones)

Being a father to a child or teen from a hard place is a tough call for men. Join Alan, a 29-year adoptive parent, who has worked hard to overcome his traditional ways of thinking about behavior in kids.  He helps Dads come to a place of compassionate understanding with much grace as they learn the deep developmental impact that early trauma has had on their children. Gain skills for taming your inner sense of justice and staying emotionally present as you help your child come to great levels of healing.

Self-Care for Moms
(Deb Jones)

Moms who are on hard parenting journeys need more self-care than most parents to stay emotionally present and meet the constant and exhausting demands of children who suffered early harm. However, the harsh reality is that they get much less! Join Deb, who has worked hard to learn the balance of meeting needs and maintaining her health, for this much needed topic in our adoption and foster communities. Gain helpful tips for finding inexpensive and guilt-free ways to increase rest, relaxation, and joyful friendships in order to sustain healthy parenting for the long haul.

Starting a Foster/Adoption Ministry in Your Church-Abba Canada
(Kristjen Hull)

Whether you are just getting started or are expanding an existing ministry, this breakout is uniquely tailored to help you take the best next steps in your church’s foster care and adoption journey. We will construct a general framework of principles for you to uniquely apply to your ministry as well as help you form an action plan of practical “next steps” moving forward.

Introduction to the Stoplight Approach
(Melissa Strike)

The Stoplight Approach is an approach to life for everyone, and specifically effective for those caring for vulnerable children, those with adverse childhood experiences, and children with special needs. Stoplight is designed to foster environments that connect people, create caring communities, and give hope for a kinder world. Before we can make that future a reality, we need to first understand how the human brain works and realize how this can impact our own lives and the lives of those around us.


Breakout II Options

Finding Hope and Joy in a  Difficult Parenting Journey
(Colleen Derksen)

At the best of times, parenting can be humbling and leave us feeling rather out of our depth! Throw in grief, trauma, issues related to adoption and foster care, and a variety of special needs, and parenthood soon feels impossible. Join Colleen as she shares some of her story and shares how she has found joy and hope in the midst of the challenges.

Adopting the Older Child
(Tandela Swan)

The large majority of children (both locally and internationally) in need of adoption are older than 7 years of age. Come and explore what it might look like for your family to open your home to these unique little (or big) lives. This training provides an overview of some of the common experiences, opportunities, and parenting challenges that come along with older child adoption. Through a combination of personal stories and current trauma-informed research, you will learn more about the specific needs of each age group and best practices in supporting the journey. If you already have an older child placement in your home, feel free to come with specific challenges, questions, or stories to add to the learning.

Meltdown Management
(Deb Jones)

Parenting a child who has extreme rage and/or frequent emotional meltdowns brings a great deal of stress into the family. No one understands this better than Deb who has made huge gains with a child who suffered early harm from abandonment, severe neglect, institutionalization, and alcohol in utero. Learn to go a bit deeper with TBRIÒ and gain more specific information about how to handle behavioral dysregulation that is the result of early trauma or substances in utero. Develop the parenting skills to help everyone in the family embrace healthier ways of dealing with big feelings and “flipped lids.”

Your Child’s Adoption Story: Navigating Emotions, Transitions, and Questions Through the Life Course
(Wendy Goetze)

In this interactive session, Wendy Goetze will lead adoptive parents and those interested in adoption, through discussion about how to support their child(ren) through the individual experience of adoption. The workshop will include provision of strategies for equipping children with an emotional vocabulary, a healthy sense of self, and helping children learn how, when, and with whom to share their stories. Encouraging and supporting healthy boundaries will be discussed. Furthermore, this vital educational session will provide practical and emotional support for parents as they navigate the adoption journey alongside their child(ren).

Breakout III Options

TBRI for Teens
(Alan Jones)

The adolescent brain is going through tremendous changes during this period of development, and with teens from early trauma or loss, these years can be tough on them as well as on their parents. Learn ways to implement Trust-Based Relational Intervention for teens with practical strategies that further brain growth. Discover how to find the needs beneath the behavior and begin to develop opportunities for connection to support your son or daughter while maintaining your sanity.

Supporting Your Spouse in Parenting
(Brian & Colleen Derksen)

Marriage is hard work! If you are married AND parenting children from hard places, you will have noticed the increased complexity and potential for conflict in your marriage. Join Brian and Colleen (who can’t remember ever fighting before they became parents!) as they share from their experience and offer insights they’ve gleaned over the years.

The Alert Program: How Does Your Engine Run? Self-Regulation Made Easy!
(Helen Garda)

In this 45 min seminar you will learn the importance of self-regulation through practical teaching, songs/games and various tactile tools. What is self-regulation you ask? It’s that inner drive that moves us through the day – sometimes frenzied, sometimes mellow, and sometimes attentive and focused.

When It All Falls Apart
(Celeste Klassen)

Adoption breakdowns are never the dream of adoption. Whether you have walked the road of dissolution, your child is in a treatment facility or group home, or if you just don’t know what the future holds, this breakout is for you. This will be an informal share or no-share session with opportunities to breathe and relax in a chilled out space.

Speaker Bios

Milan and Kay Yerkovich*

Specialize in couples’ marriage counseling and are the founders of Relationship 180, a Christian counseling center specializing in the application of attachment research ( They co-authored ‘How We Love’ and ‘How We Love Our Kids’, and they travel and speak extensively on relationships (
*pre-conference only*

Cherilyn Orr

Has given her life to working with hurting children. She has lived and worked with children in Africa, Europe, and North America. She has a special interest in the research and implementation of attachment theory practices and brain science, as it applied to behaviour. As a consultant, Cherilyn trains teachers and parents/caregivers to build resiliency in children. As an adjunct professor at Vanguard College, she teaches on working with at risk children. Cherilyn lives in Greece with her husband Mark and their seven children, four of whom joined their family through local adoption in Canada.

Melissa Strike

And her family live in St Albert, Alberta. They are the proud parents of seven amazing kids: two bio daughters and five adopted. Melissa has been involved in The Stoplight Approach since 2016 when she met Cherilyn Orr at Vanguard College. She is the certified trainer for Alberta and Manitoba and helps with resource development. Since becoming a ‘Stoplight Home’ both her and Chris have seen significant change and growth in their kids.

Ingrid Rust

Has been married to Murray for almost 29 years. They have six children, three in-laws, and one grandbaby. Their journey has included kinship care, foster care and adoption. Ingrid has worked as a pastor at West Edmonton Christian Assembly for the past 20 years in the areas of children, family, and marriage ministries. She and Murray have taught Empowered to Connect for 5 years and Ingrid is a T.B.R.I. Practitioner. More recently she has worked with Edmonton Public Schools to help teachers understand the face of trauma and how to connect with their students using T.B.R.I. to create environments of safety and learning.

Pastor Brett Esslinger

Is an innovative and collaborative leader and a bold thinker with a desire to create spaces & places where people can transformed through community. Most importantly, Brett is a dad to Everett & Kingston and a husband to Desiree. He founded the Engage Network, a collective of start-up churches looking to lead the faith conversation in the 21st Century, and the Engage Bus, a free, public transportation service providing unhindered access to the Food Bank in Parkland County. In addition, Brett is also the Lead Pastor of West Edmonton Christian Assembly.

Alan & Debra Jones

Debra Delulio Jones, M Ed, is a wife, mother, educator, writer, and speaker.  She has a Master of Education degree from Texas Woman’s University, specializing in Language and Learning Disabilities. As a mentor of the TCU Institute, Deb has taught Trust-Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI®) and assisted professionals going through their Practitioner Training. She is the founder and owner of Parent Intervention & Training, LLC. She offers presentations, workshops, and keynote addresses to help struggling parents and professionals who work with children who have experienced early harm. Debra is the author of God, Are You Nice or Mean? Trusting God . . . After the Orphanage.

Alan Jones has a BS in political science from Mary Hardin-Baylor College and a Social Studies Composite Certification. He served in Texas public schools for nearly three decades as an Advanced Placement Government/Economics teacher. Since his retirement in 2012, he joined Deb in training both parents and educators. He is a TBRIÒ Practitioner with the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development and has compassion for parents, particularly Dads, who have found traditional discipline strategies lacking for youth who have experienced early harm.

Deb and Alan live in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Both enjoy traveling, reading, all things doggies, and spending time with their family and friends.

Kristjen Hull

Is a high school teacher in Surrey, BC and his wife Tamara is a Circus Ringmaster, also known as, a stay-at-home mom They attend Southgate Church, where they are both active in leadership, as well as lead the “Above and Beyond Orphan Ministry,” responding to the needs of adoptive and foster families in their community. Shortly after getting married in 2009, they felt a strong call to care for the widow, orphan and neglected of this world. They became the directors of ABBA Canada Foundation in 2011, helping families fund adoptions and bringing adoption awareness to the Church. They live in Langley, BC with their four amazing children, ages 8, 6, 4 & 2 months.

Colleen & Brian Derksen

Live in Calgary and are adoptive parents to three lovely children. They recognized early on that they were not equipped to handle the challenges of parenting children from hard places and became trained to teach Empowered to Connect. Since becoming parent trainers over 8 years ago, they have had the privilege of sharing what they are learning with many other families. One of their greatest joys is helping other parents find hope and healing in their parenting journey.

Tandela Swann

Is the Executive Director of AMARIS Adoption and Family Support Services in Alberta, Canada. She has an undergrad in Psychology with a minor in International Relations and a Masters in Clinical Social Work with a focus on international issues and Forensic Youth. Previously, she spent 10 years with Alberta Health Services doing counselling with youth involved in the justice system, as well as time with Child and Family Services and working with pregnant and parenting teens. She has a heart for vulnerable youth, empowering action, and finding a permanent, loving home for every child, youth, and even young adult. In 2003, Tandela travelled to Uganda, East Africa where she lived and volunteered with ex-child soldiers and orphans. While she was there, God called her to adopt a young boy who had been abandoned. She wrote a book about the experience called Kirabo and proceeds go to agencies operating on the ground in Uganda. After getting married and having three bio kids, Tandela and her husband again felt the call to adoption and, in 2017, they adopted teen siblings from Colombia who were aging out of care.

Wendy Goetze

Is a registered art therapist with the Canadian and American art therapy associations. She is also a certified play therapist with the Canadian Association for Child and Play Therapy. Wendy has been in private practice for 27 years and is the mother of seven children, including four adopted children and three biological. She brings to her practice both professional and personal experience in the area of adoption, attachment and related issues.

Helen Garda

Is the wife and mother of 3 amazing children. She is a Certified Alert Program instructor, Certified gymnastics/trampoline coach, Wee Wigglers instructor, personal trainer/fitness instructor and health and nutrition coach. She has 20 years of experience working with children including children with special needs, adults and seniors. Nothing brings her more joy than helping others integrate healthy choices into their daily lives.

Celeste Klassen

is a two time adoptive Mom to Bulgarian kids with special needs, and a non-judger of other parents. She lives in Edmonton with her husband Jason and their daughter Siobhan. They walked the long road of adoption breakdown in 2019. She works at WECA in Family & Marriage Ministries.