Southern Region Office

 Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald, Director

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Oleta Garett Fitzgerald is Director of the Children's Defense Fund's Southern Regional Office (CDF-SRO), and also serves as the Regional Administrator for the Southern Rural Black Women's Initiative for Economic & Social Justice (SRBWI). SRBWI operates in 77 counties across the Black Belts of Alabama, Southwest Georgia and Delta Mississippi. CDF-SRO also serves as the lead for the W.K. Kellogg funded Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids (SPARK) Initiative.

In 1970 she was employed by the Atlanta-based Southeastern Public Education Program of the American Friends Service Committee. In this position she participated in the Children's Defense Fund's Children Out of School in America, a national study of exclusion of children from public elementary and secondary schools; and monitored Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In 1976, she was hired as southern director for the Children's Foundation, which educated citizens and members of Congress about the need for expanded access to federal food programs.

In 1982 she became a project director for the Southern Regional Council working with rural electric power customers in 12 southern states to increase minority representation on rural electric cooperative boards. Moving back to her native Mississippi, Ms. Fitzgerald served as former Congressman Mike Espy's District Director from the beginning of his first term in 1987 until she joined the Clinton for President Campaign in 1992.

Before joining the Children's Defense Fund, she was appointed White House Liaison and Executive Assistant to then Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy by President Bill Clinton in January 1993. Shortly thereafter, she was named the Department’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, where she worked with local, state and tribal governments; coordinated the Administration’s long-term recovery of Midwestern states affected by The Great Flood of 1993; and was a member of USDA's executive review panel selecting rural Empowerment Zones and Enterprise Communities.

Ms. Fitzgerald serves as a board member for the Mississippi Head Start Association, the Mississippi Children's Museum, the advisory committee for the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, and is a member of the State Children's Welfare Coalition and the Global Women's Action Network for Children. She also received honorary membership to Pi Alpha Alpha, the National Honor Society for Public Affairs & Administration from Mississippi State University in 1999. Ms. Fitzgerald holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi. She is the proud mother of four children, Rashida, Yusef, Layla and Joi.

 Gloria Shields, MS Coordinator of Benefits Ban

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Gloria Shields serves as the Mississippi Coordinator for The Benefit Bank (TBB) software program at the Children’s Defense Fund-Southern Regional Office in Jackson, MS, and has been with the organization since 2006.  TBB is an internet-based software program designed to help low- and moderate-income households maximize their tax credits and their entitlement to an array of public benefits. TBB offers counselor-assisted services through a network of social services agencies, community-based organizations, faith communities and other organizations that agree to offer the service free of charge to low/moderate-income individuals and families. She also supports the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative and other advocacy initiatives that address the needs of children and families, paying particular interest to families and youth living in poverty. 

Prior to joining the Children’s Defense Fund-Southern Regional Office, Ms. Shields was the Parent Involvement-Volunteer Coordinator for Community Development Institute formerly known as Yazoo Community Action, Inc. Head Start in Yazoo City, MS, which served low to moderate-income families.

Currently, Ms. Shields is pursuing her Bachelor of Science degree in General Interdisciplinary Studies at Jackson State University in Jackson. 

 Gloria J. Sturdevant, SRBWI Organizer


Gloria Sturdevant is a proud Mississippi resident with a vested interest in the children of the Delta. Ms. Sturdevant currently works for the Children's Defense Fund as Mississippi's Chief Grassroots Organizer for the Southern Rural Black Women's Initiative for Social and Economic Justice (SRBWI). As a grassroots organizer, Ms. Sturdevant works directly with women in the rural counties of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia and is responsible for working with counties to organize sustainable economic projects in their respective communities. Ms. Sturdevant organized the beginning stages of Women on the Move, a transportation company in Yazoo County, MS, and was the primary organizer of the sewing project that lead to the development of Southern Journeys LLC. Previously, she worked for the District Attorney's Office as Youth Director and Coordinator for the Weed and Seed program. Her life goal is to see economic and social justice for all children and families. Ms. Sturdevant has 3 children and 3 grandchildren.

 Kim Robinson, Program Associate

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Kim Robinson is the Program Associate for National Initiatives for the Children’s Defense Fund-Southern Regional Office (CDF-SRO). After graduating from Louisiana State University, she began her career in corporate America working with several of the country’s leading Information Technology staffing agencies as a Recruiter, Project Manager and Marketing Specialist in Louisiana and Mississippi. In 2003, Ms. Robinson returned to her roots in Finance when she accepted a position as Grants Manager with the  CDF-SRO office, and gladly accepted the challenge to work with CDF’s Healthy Child Campaign and all CDF National Initiatives. Her tough corporate sales approach was easily transferred to the aggressive world of policy and lobbying for the rights of all children. She has urged a large number of community partners and citizens to join CDF’s Healthy Child Campaign and endorse H.R. 1688, the All Healthy Children Act, legislation introduced by the organization in 2007.

Ms. Robinson is also acting Program Manager for a pilot afterschool program modeled after the CDF Freedom Schools® program, where high performing 11th and 12th grade high school students work with 250 K-6 students to deliver an Integrated Reading Curriculum (IRC) and remediation in Math and Science for the Indianola School District in Indianola, MS. In addition to her work with CDF Freedom Schools, she also works with Better Choices Mississippi, a coalition of organizations focused on increasing revenue options for Mississippi.

 Natalie A. Collier, SRBWI Youth Organizer & Program Officer

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Natalie A. Collier is the director of youth initiatives for the Children's Defense Fund-Southern Region Office and the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative for Social and Economic Justice (SRBWI), where she directs the Unita Blackwell Young Women’s Leadership Institute (YWLI) – a program that has expanded its reach under her leadership. She is responsible for the development and execution of high impact youth-centered curricula and programming, as well as donor development, community organizing and advocacy. Ms. Collier is dedicated to seeing young people learn life lessons, recognize their strengths and lead while growing from their weaknesses. Prior to joining CDF-SRO, Ms. Collier worked for many years as a writer, editor and stylist. She is a Millsaps College alumna, has studied at Reformed Theological Seminary and Poynter University, and has had fellowships at Northwestern University, the National Juvenile Justice Network, the U.S. Human Rights Network and the Human Rights Institute, among other board appointments and guest lectureships.

 Sarah Bobrow-Williams, SRBWI Finance & Asset Development Officer


Mrs. Sarah R. Bobrow-Williams, is the Asset and Finance Development Director for the Southern Rural Black Women Initiative for Economic and Social Justice (SRBWI).  She is responsible for regional and community-based asset development program and enterprise development in 77 rural counties in the Mississippi Delta and the Black Belt of Georgia and Alabama. SRBWI supports local innovation, worker ownership and workforce development in targeted sectors  value added agriculture, cultural heritage, niche manufacturing and allied health care by facilitating technical assistance, peer exchange, networking and collaboration to create a strong, sustainable, regional economy.

Ms. Bobrow-Williams has worked extensively as a community and regional planner, rural developer and program administrator in persistently poor rural communities in the American Southwest, Southeast and in Latin America for over 20 years. She is the owner and operator of Bobrow-Williams Group, LLC in Augusta, GA, a community economic development planning firm specializing in downtown revitalization, cultural heritage and historic preservation, value-added, social enterprise development and nonprofit organizational development.  Ms. Bobrow-Williams received an MA in Community and Regional Planning/Rural Development Concentration from University of New Mexico and is a currently a Faculty Advisor for Goddard College’s Masters Program in Sustainable Business and Communities.

 Shirlett Stapleton, Administrative Services Manager

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Shirlett Stapleton has served as the Administrative Services Manager for the Children’s Defense Fund- Southern Regional Office (CDF-SRO) in Jackson, MS, since 2005. Her work involves providing administrative and program oversight support to the Executive Director, general support to CDF-SRO staff, and oversight for centralized operations that meet the needs of multiple program areas. Ms. Stapleton also oversees all accounts payable and receivable transactions for CDF-SRO. Ms. Stapleton has worked on several initiatives at CDF-SRO, such as the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative (SRBWI), Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids (SPARK), Katrina Resource and Referral and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA). She is a graduate of Jackson State University and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration.