CASA of Contra Costa County Board 

CASA of Contra Costa County Board Members have the responsibility to ensure that the program does the best work possible in pursuing its mission of recruiting, training and supporting volunteers to advocate for abused and neglected children in the juvenile court system. Board Members are expected to govern CASA of Contra Costa County while judiciously providing support for programs and initiatives (in concert with management staff).

The Board of Directors is comprised of no fewer than 7 and no more that 15 voting members who assume governance and fiduciary responsibility for the organization. Board Members are elected to a term of 3 years and may serve no more than 3 consecutive terms.

CASA of Contra Costa County seeks motivated and dedicated Board Members who will serve as knowledgeable ambassadors of our mission, make informed decisions, and provide the necessary support to advance that mission. Commitment to this concept is as desirable as is a commitment to attendance and meaningful productivity.

Board Member Job Description
Board Application


John Witaschek, President Dan Ashley Maria Knutson
Jennifer Johnson, Vice-President Kelly Connelly Craig Nevin
Denise CoyneSecretary Sherina Criswell Samira Nikaein
Mindy Murphy, Treasurer    


John Witaschek, President

John is currently a Manager at Accenture where he advises high technology company on a global basis. Before joining Accenture, he was Vice-President of an Artificial Intelligence company where he managed sales and alliances on a worldwide basis. John spent most of his career at Cisco and Hewlett Packard where he managed sales and marketing teams in the public, education, enterprise, and small business sectors. He also has extensive experience managing in global theaters including Latin America, Europe, and Asia Pacific. John holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Colorado State University. He and his wife Yulia are avid golfers and skiers. John has three children: Johnnie, Olivia, and Tyler. John has lived in the Bay Area for the past 30 years with ongoing commitment to community service. John has been on the Board of Directors of CASA for over ten years now and is extremely proud of how far CASA has progressed in that timeframe.
John’s LinkedIn profile:


Jennifer Johnson, Vice-President

Jennifer spent her educational career in a variety of areas including a first grade teacher for Pittsburg Unified, Director of Instructional Technology for Lincoln Unified in Stockton and as an adjunct professor at Delta Community College in Stockton. Seeing firsthand the importance of working with underrepresented youth, led Jennifer to have a passion for advocating for children. She earned her BA in Elementary Education from the University of Montana and her Masters in Education from Cal State East Bay. Jennifer lives with her husband and two daughters.

Denise Coyne, Secretary

Denise Coyne retired from Chevron after 33 years in Information Technology and Marketing. Her last position was as CIO for Chevron’s Global Corporate Functions, responsible for the Information Technology efforts of 24 Global Corporate Departments and Services Companies. Denise began her career with IBM in Sales. She moved to Chevron where her experience spanned assignments such as Strategy, CyberSecurity, Operations, Applications development and management, and Retail Automation. As a manager in global roles, Denise managed information technology across Europe, Africa and Asia. In addition, Denise participated in a Marketing Development Program which culminated in an assignment as Marketing Business Manager overseeing 200 convenience stores and service stations in Southwest United States and achieving a 10% reduction in operating expense. A native of California, Denise earned both her Master of Business Administration and BA degree in Criminology from the University of California at Berkeley. She serves on the Board of CASA of Contra Costa, Impact 100 East Bay, and on the Supervisory Committee of the Chevron Federal Credit Union. In addition, she has served on the Board of Diablo Valley Literacy Council, taught English as a Second Language, assisted Million Women Mentors with a technology project, was Chair of the Board of the South African Pro Cantu Children’s Choir, and served both the Animal Rescue Foundation and the East Bay SPCA. Denise lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, Michael, and daughter, Kathryn. She enjoys travel, hiking, and reading.

Dan Ashley

Dan is an anchor of ABC7 News at 5, 6 and 11 p.m. In his 30 years on television, Dan has reported on a wide-range of issues and events that affect our lives. As a journalist, Dan has covered stories all over the Bay Area, the country, and the world. Dan reported from Poland on the "March of the Living" with Bay Area holocaust survivors, and before that, reported from Marine Corp basic training at Camp Pendleton in San Diego. Other notable assignments include reporting live from New Hampshire and South Carolina for the state primaries and from Iowa for the state's caucus. As an active member of the community, Dan serves on the boards of directors of many other worthy organizations in addition to CASA including The Commonwealth Club, President of the Bam Music Foundation, Friends of Camp Concord, The Bay Area Red Cross, The Oakland Symphony, The Contra Costa County Crisis Center, The First Tee, among others. Additionally, he hosts the annual "Dan Ashley's Friends of Camp Concord Golf Tournament" which raises money to send under-served youngsters to summer camp. Dan also created the non-profit "Rock the CASA Foundation" to raise money through an annual concert to benefit the CASA organization. Dan is a graduate of the University of North Carolina with degrees in English and Speech Communication.

Kelly Connely

Kelly works for Astra Zeneca, and has been in the healthcare industry for 15 years, focusing on access to care for patients in the biopharmaceutical industry. Over the past 20 years, Kelly has volunteered with the SPCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the Be A Mentor program, the last 2 programs allowing her to work with and mentor foster youth. Kelly has a passion for helping children that don’t have the support, resources, or advocacy that that they need and deserve. She has great excitement about CASA’s vision and is grateful for the opportunity to contribute her efforts and resources to such a worthy mission. Kelly earned a BS in Business from the University of the Pacific. Kelly lives in Alamo.

Sherina Criswell

Sherina “Rina” Criswell was born and raised in San Francisco, in the Bayview Hunters Point community, currently living in Contra Costa County. She studies Social Work at Eastern Gateway Community College, and will be graduating in December 2021. Her goal is to earn her Master’s Degree in Social Work. She has been newly-elected Vice President for the Online Campus for over 48,000 students, and is a member of the Beta Phi Kappa Honor Society and The National Association of Black Social Workers, Bay Area Chapter. She is responsible for starting the first ever Black Student Union (BSU) at Eastern Gateway Community College. Sherina also is an active coach with Bay Area Girls On the Run, an empowerment organization directed toward girls from low-income families. Sherina has been a grassroots community worker throughout the Bay Area. She has worked at San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), Pittsburg Unified School District (PUSD), Mt. Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD), and the City of Concord Parks and Recreation Department. While working for the San Francisco Health Department as a Case Manager, she learned to become an advocate for children for the Black Infant Health Improvement Project, which focused on reducing infant mortality and healthy living within the Black community. With over 20 years of advocating experience, no issue is too big or too small when it comes to serving our children in the community. 


Maria Knutson

Maria's professional career in healthcare spans over 35 years. She worked for several large hospital systems in Human Resources as a physician and executive recruiter. Maria earned a bachelor's degree in political science from California State University, East Bay. She was born in El Salvador, and when she was 9 years old, she emigrated to the United States with her family, eventually settling in San Francisco. Maria has volunteered her bilingual interpreter skills to healthcare outreach programs promoted by Kaiser Permanente, Shriner's Children's Hospital, Alameda Health System, and Stanford Health Care. Maria's belief in the proverb that "it takes a village to raise a child" has inspired her to serve on the board for CASA of Contra Costa County. Maria lives in Danville with her husband, David Newhouse. 

Craig Nevin

Craig Nevin is a Partner in the Northern California Business Real Estate Group of Kimball, Tirey & St. John, LLP. He is a skilled trial attorney who for over 35 years has brought an effective, efficient, and client-centric focus to business, real estate and construction related matters throughout California.

Mr. Nevin is originally from Southern California and former Associate General Counsel for a major real estate developer with corporate offices in Irvine. He has both practical experience as well as in-house counsel experience, in the areas of construction, real estate development and all aspects of the business of real estate. In addition to his law practice, Craig is a frequent lecturer and author in the areas of real estate and construction and has provided numerous seminars and trainings. He has testified at both civil and criminal trials as an expert in real estate and is a former Special Master to the Courts of San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa Counties. Mr. Nevin is a recognized expert and expert witness in Mechanics’ Liens.


Samira Nikaein 

Samira (Maya) Nikaein is an accomplished family law and criminal defense attorney. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California, Davis followed by a Juris Doctor degree from the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego. In the last 20 years, she has litigated hundreds of cases involving children and youths. She has received the Martindale-Hubbell’s client awards multiple times. Samira has overcome many obstacles in her life from living in Iran during the revolution, living through most of the war between Iran and Iraq, migrating to the United States and learning English. Although she is dyslexic, she nevertheless graduated from law school with Honors.

In 2009, Ms. Nikaein finished CASA training and became a court certified child advocate in Santa Clara County. She is ecstatic to be part of CASA of Contra Costa County's board as she believes in order to have a thriving society we must focus on the children.

Samira has always been an active member of her community. She was one the original founders of Iranian American Bar Associations (IABA) for the Northern California Chapter. She also served as one of the directors and board members of the IABA for three years.

Samira was an adjunct professor at Lincoln School of Law. Additionally, she has been a guest speaker throughout the years for different organizations including Santa Clara School of Law, Santa Clara Family Court Services, Maitri , and PARS International TV. She also co-hosted a program with the Honorable Judge Susan Etezadi of San Mateo County. She also served as a Vice-President of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) for two years for Walnut Creek school district.

She has obtained a cosmetology license, a real estate broker license, and is a certified yoga instructor and life coach. She is an avid traveler, enjoys playing tennis, chess, yoga, music and spending time with her friends and family.