Staff and Community Connectors

Monika Grasley

Monika Grasley is the Executive Director and has a heart for seeing people develop their potential. Monika teaches individuals and groups on Asset Based Community Development and coaches community workers.

Monika grew up in Germany and came to the US at 24 to learn English and go to school. She worked on her degree in Community Development when she met her husband who was on his way for a 1 year commitment in China. After their marriage in 1987 they continued to live in the Los Angeles area until they moved to Merced to be closer to family before they returned to China. Over the years Monika’s passion for Holistic Community Development grew. While working at Gateway Community Church Monika had the opportunity be more active in the community and realized the tendency of individuals, churches and groups to give ‘hand-outs’ which often only perpetuated the problem of people in poverty. Monika received training on ABCD principles and practices and now is involved in various communities to equip community members and in the region to coach churches and organizations. If you want to know more about Monika personal story, you can read the Merced SunStar article.

Laurell Uptegrove

 My name is Laurell Uptegrove and I came to be with LifeLine CDC through the Welfare-To-Work program in March of 2013 as an Administrative Assistant. I didn’t know anything about LifeLine CDC except that it was a non-profit organization that helped communities, the main office was in Merced, and that there was a LifeLine Community Center in Winton. When Monika explained the reason behind LifeLine CDC and what it stands for, I realized I would fit in perfectly. Up until 3 years ago, I was homeless, a drug addict, and had no job skills, but through the help of friends, family and a strong determination to change, my husband and I got off the drugs, got custody back of our son, moved into a house, I was able to go to school through a ROP program to learn new office technology skills and accounting skills, and started job searching. (I had a hard time finding an employer that was willing to take the chance on me even with the skills that I had learned in school and during internships.) After completing the Job Search Club through HSA, my worker placed me on a work site: LifeLine CDC.

I love that LifeLine CDC is about a “hand-up” and not a “hand-out” type of program and that they look for the “good” instead of the “bad” in people and their communities. LifeLine CDC helps community connectors explore their neighborhood to discover what resources God has placed there, together they find what people care about and mobilize resources for use, promote community by having community events, facilitate people who need the resources, empower people to learn and use their skills, enlist community members, organizations, faith-based groups, and students to volunteer their time to help, and most of all, work together to combine all efforts throughout the county.

Since being with LifeLine CDC, I’ve learned about the amazing work that has been going on at the Community Center in the Meadows Apartments and at the Community Center in Winton due to community members and LifeLine CDC’s assistance. Without LifeLine CDC I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to help with the Summer Lunch Program at the Meadows Apartments this past summer and meet some of the wonderful kids (some gave me the nickname “lunchlady” since it was easier to say than my name☺) and their parents, I got to attend both LoveWinton Events and saw how much community members loved their town by volunteering to help clean up their neighborhoods, and I’ve been part of the group that’s helped individuals with finding clothing on the Bus Boutique when the bus was part of the Homeless Connect Event, when the bus goes out to the O’Banion Center by the Housing Authority each month, and when somebody comes to the office needing clothing for job interviews or for everyday wear. In the office, I help Monika with organizing documents, creating newsletters, answering phones, writing letters, compiling resources for the communities to use, and have attended meetings at the Public Health Department. Yesterday I went to the Meadows Community Center and helped Tunde for the first time with the kids do their homework, color pictures, read books, and played some games with them; I’m looking forward to going back and helping out with craft time. I am so grateful to Monika for giving me the chance to be part of the LifeLine CDC team and to be one of the many who is giving back to the community by using the gifts that I have. 

I’m Chanel, a 25-year-old mother of two. I am free-spirited, and consider myself to be a very open-minded, perceptive person. I aspire to be kind to any and every one I meet, and want everyone around me to feel understood and accepted. Life has taken me in many various directions, and from this I have gained a lot of wisdom of the world around, lessons in what it truly means to be kind and good. In a world that is constantly trying to make us all cynical, I take pride in my ability to always see the good. I aspire to lead by example that all of us have the capability, the obligation, to be tolerant and understanding to all those who surround me, which is what led me to The Meadows Lifeline Community Center. Though intimidated at first never had working with children before, I was amazed how quickly I filled the role I am in today. How quickly the purpose, what we are doing here, came clear to me. What I want for the future is to help build the future, and there is no better way to build a better future than by building up a child.  I want to see people with smiles on their faces and the knowledge that we are all in this world together, despite any human construct of inequality, race, or socioeconomic status; that love, understanding, and tolerance has nor ever will acknowledge these constructs, and just as these barriers have been created they can just as easily be torn down, one act of kindness at a time. 

My name is Bobbie Allison and I’m 26 almost 27 years old. I’m a single working mom of 3 girls and 1 rowdy boy. I both raise my kids and pay bills alone.

 Alone has been the theme of my life. My mom was an alcoholic and also used drugs. She is not responsible for raising me, I raised myself, my little brother, and in a sense, my mother as well. Raising and taking care of kids and adolescents minds is what I’ve always done. It’s my life’s work I suppose.

In a lonely period of my life I met a man I thought would be my world. He was destined to be the father of my first, Ayla, but nothing more. After four years I discovered the father of my baby, my fancy, was not a truthful person. He was already married with 3 kids.

I felt then and six years later still feel I’m cursed with loneliness, but my kids will not be cursed with this hole in my heart even they can’t fill. I would and still will try all I can to give them a good and happy childhood. My kids will learn, love, and play like I never could. They are the light in my lonely abyss and my greatest contribution to the world. The contribution is why I came to work at the Meadows LifeLine Community center.

 I moved in to the Meadows apartments so Ayla could stay in the same school with her friends, and not having friends while I was growing up, I was happy to make that possible for her.

 About a month after we moved in my kids and I were walking to the story and Ayla saw about 8 kids run out a door. Thanks to my baby I found The Meadows LifeLine community center. The work of my life was now my first taxable job.  I’ve learned and grown a lot thanks to The Meadows LifeLine Community Center and its great team. Most of all I’ve learned kids are my future and the future of us all. In the future, I want to be doing the same thing I am now, helping to mold our future, so life will be better for my baby’s in theirs.

My name is Marcene, I am a 31-year-old single mother of two wonderful children!  My son is 10 years old, and my daughter is 2 ½ years old.  I am very family-orientated and love to see my kids happy and smiling, for they are my world. I am very much an opened minded person and believe in “live and let live.” I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, even if we may not understand the reason at that very moment. I aspire to treat others the way I want to be treated, and I love working with kids and adults in the community, it is one of my passions, and dear to my heart. That passion is what lead me to want to work at the Meadows Lifeline Community Center, I get to do something I love and enjoy while making a difference in the kids’ daily lives. As for the future, I hope that I get to continue to have a positive impact on the children while helping them to grow and realize their own personal gifts and abilities that God has blessed them with; to never give up and keep persevering no matter what life throws at them. There is always a rainbow at the end of the storm.



Jim Kanabay Jr. is married to Dana and have four children and one grandchild. Jim grew up in Illinois and attended the University of Illinois, School of Engineering on an Air Force ROTC Scholarship. Upon graduation in 1981, he entered the Air Force and earned his Navigator wings, flying in B-52s until 1999. Upon retirement from the Air Force, Jim and Dana moved back to her native Winton. Jim has worked in several areas including retail, economic development, and most recently, as an Analyst for Merced County Human Service Agency. In the past two years Jim has been involved in local service organizations including: Hunger Task Force, Family Wellness Council, and the All Dads Matter Program. Jim and his family are members at Yosemite Church in Merced.

Renu Nandkishore and her husband Oliver were born and brought up and married in India.   They have been in the US for over 43 years, starting out in the East Coast (New Jersey) and moving to Southern California in 1981.  After working for California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena for 15 years Renu moved to Pomona, working at the Cal Poly Pomona.  They both then moved to Merced in 2006 where they both work for University of California in Merced,  Oli as the Director of Student Business Services and Renu as a Research Administrator.

After joining the Gateway Community Church they heard about the work done by LifeLine, Renu approached Monika to see if she could help with the work.  Having a background in Accounting, she started helping with the finances and eventually joined the Board and a member.

Renu has been a Deacon at the Gateway Community Church for three years.

Steve Roussos


Dr. Stergio (Steve)  Roussos leads the operational and administrative functions UC Merced’s Blum Center for Developing Economies.  As part of a multi-campus initiative, the Blum Center is charged with establishing research, educational opportunities, and community partnerships to transform poverty into prosperity for the UC Merced’s primary service area (San Joaquin Valley and Sierra Nevada) and analogous communities worldwide. Dr. Roussos has over twenty years of academic and community leadership in public health and community development. He has a doctorate in child psychology and human development and a masters in public health.  His research aims to understand and improve how organizations and community partnerships influence population-level outcomes, especially outcomes disproportionately affecting vulnerable and under-represented communities.  At UC Merced, he also co-leads the Resource Center for Community Engaged Scholarship (ReCCES), supports community-based research development thru the Health Sciences Research Institute's, and mentors students in the rapidly growing public health program.  He has helped to establish and lead several local, regional and national efforts to improve community health and development. In 2003, he co-established and led the Community Partnership Alliance, an initiative for formal, longer-term, community-academic collaboration to improve UC Merced’s impact on Merced County’s educational, economic, health, and civic engagement goals. In 2006, he helped to established and co-chaired the Community-University Research and Action for Justice, a regional effort to ensure actionable-research to improve equity and prosperity in the San Joaquin Valley. A guiding principle of his research and civic work is to ensure meaningful and sustainable collaboration between community and academic partners. 


Armando Diaz

John H. Doty

John Doty

John is a native of Seattle Washington, where he graduated from High School and the University of Washington.

He met his wife in Pasadena, CA. some 35 years ago while studying for the ministry at Fuller Seminary, where he earned a D.Min.

After 30+ years of ministry both John and his wife, Vernette, enrolled in graduate studies at Washington State University in Pullman.

John earned the Ph.D. in Literacy with a specialization in math, literacy, while Vernette earned a Masters in Higher Education.

Vernette and John moved to Merced 3 years ago where Vernette now works in the Office of Student Life at UC Merced, and John consults in literacy in non-profits and the local schools, working with college students, training them in literacy and tutoring fundamentals, and diagnosing and treating reading disorders. John and Vernette are both passionate about social justice and equal opportunity, and love the opportunities to serve in Merced. They have 3 children and two grandchildren.

Eugene Drummond I was born in Madrid, Spain. My father was in the Air Force and my mother was in bi-lingual education.  I have one brother and two sisters.  I have lived in Michigan (my favorite), South Dakota, Texas, California, Spain and Korea.  I played sports (football, basketball, baseball and track) most of my life.  I was in the Army for 5 years, 11 months and 20 days (about).  I went to Modesto JC, Merced College and San Diego State.  I love San Diego. I always wanted to work in Recreation.  I have worked with kids since high school.  I was a teen dad and a juvenile delinquent.  I love history and learning about people that are different from me.  I like working in groups and I enjoy helping people.  In my career I have worked for the City of Atwater, City of Modesto, San Diego State University Foundation, San Diego County, Merced County and City of Merced in the area of recreation.  I currently work for the Merced Police Department as a Community Liaison, which is a huge change for me.  And I love it!

My wife (Cindy Sae Chou) is my best friend and she is the nicest person I have ever met.  We enjoy traveling together (Mexico, Hawaii, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand).

One of my favorite things to do is being a foster parent.  I have been a foster parent for 13 years.  I still have one of my original kids who was 6 years old, when he came to live with me. 


Adolphus Speights

Adolphus Speights Jr. and his wife Nancy have lived in Winton,California since 1982. They have two grown children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren children. He attended the Community College of the Air Force and studied Hazardous Waste Management & Auditing at the University of California Davis. After a 30year career in the United States Air force he worked as a real estate auditor for the Base Closure Authority at Castle Air Force Base, Environmental Technician for the Jacobs Engineering Group and Juvenile Institutions Officer for the Merced County Probation Dept. He has worked as a Campus Safety Liaison for the Merced Union High School District since 2009. Additionally he is an independent business owner, and telecom, energy, utilities, and home services consultant. Adolphus has been the youth teacher at the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Atwater California since 1991.


Some of our former staff. We pride ourselves in developing leaders who are more confident in achieving their goals and passions and then see them move forwards towards their goals. 

Veronica Rodriguez

Hello, my name is Veronica Rodriguez I started with Lifeline Community Development Center since July of 2012. Even though the Community Center was just down the street from where I live i didn't know it was so close to my house. I found out about the Winton Community Center from the Walfare to work program. I was very excited to be able to complete some hours of the WEX program at the Lifeline Community Center doing something something I love to do. Helping people out of the kindness of my heart is something I'v always loved to do and to be able to help out people from my own community is something that I never thought would be possible for me! About two years later I completed my time with the WEX program but I continued to volunteer everyday!   Not to long after I was offered a postion of becoming the site-supervisor at the Winton Community Development Center. I accepted and I love to be able to give a good example to my 3 young children ages 4, 8 and 12 years old. They are my whole meaning of life. They love to help out and learn new things and also new people.   Update: Veronica has gone back to school and is working. 

Lilian Jennings

Hello, my name is Lilian Jennings and I am a volunteer recreation leader with Lifeline. I chose to go clean the community center at The Meadows Apartments on “Be the Church” Sunday at Gateway Church. Since then I have volunteered in their Summer Camp and After School Program. I would come and do science and art projects. When I joined the CalWorks program in Spring 2013, Monika Grasley welcomed me and set up a work experience program for me. I now volunteer each afternoon at the Meadows. One of my personal goals was to serve the poor. I have worked in the field of Child Development since I was 18 years old. I have transitioned through hardships with the help and guidance of God. I feel prepared and led by God to volunteer at the Meadows Apartments. - Update: Lilian has completed her AA and is now enrolled at Stanislaus

Tunde Osungboye is a former AmeriCorps member with LifeLine CDC and started the work in the Meadows Apartments after closing to move there. The Meadows is located in the Loughborough neighborhood – an area considered by many to be one of the city’s poorest and most dangerous.  He worked with community members to start the work with children (usually ages 3 to 13,, helping them with their homework and providing various after-school activities. You can read his story in the Merced Sun-Star article.  After 5 yeas of working there he still volunteered but went back to school to complete his education.  - Update 2015 - Tunde died of a major lung infection and will be greatly missed.