Jillian Tsiplakis

Program Director and Founder

I can remember the exact moment my life changed. While deployed to Afghanistan in 2010-2011 I served as a part of a female engagement team working with the women and children in Afghanistan. My work allowed me the flexibility to plan and implement my own programs as well as working with the Civil Affairs team on their initiatives. After holding one of my many women's shuras (meeting with locals) to discuss ideas for women's sewing programs and health programs, I was preparing to leave when a widow named Bibi Juma grabbed my hand and pleaded with me "we are poor people... there is nothing you can do for us (the women of Afghanistan) but you can help our children, for they are the future of Afghanistan" I promised her I would do what I could to help and walked back to the truck with my eyes full of tears and heart full of hope.
I truly believe that the key to success lay in the foundation of education for children no matter where they live. Learning of the alarming 2% literacy rate in the province, I knew I had to do something to help change that and to keep my promise to Bibi. I began an education initiative, carrying school books and backpacks into the villages to give these children of war a real chance at life. Through research, I found and partnered with a book company from Los Altos California who provided stories of traditional Afghan folklore printed in both Pashtu and Dari. I then had these stories recorded with page turn signals (think Reading Rainbow for Afghanistan!) to be played on Afghan and coalition force radio stations. We handed out the books, solar powered radios and schedules of reading times to the villages and the program took off. Villagers across the province began asking our US soldiers how they too could be provided with these books! I continued my work, helping provide health services for the women and assisting in opening the first two girls middle schools ever in the province.
For the first time in my life I felt like I really made a difference in other’s lives. Upon my arrival home I began exploring career options which would give me the same since of pride and accomplishment I felt in Afghanistan. I finally decided to explore a path I found to be most similar to my work in Afghanistan and that was working with at risk youth here in America. Interviewing at an Alternative High School in the area I was elated to be offered a job as a classroom aide out of a field of 67 candidates. It was my military experience which had set me apart and I vowed to once again keep my promise to Bibi this time by educating our youth here at home so our next generation may be more compassionate about helping those in need.
I have found my place working with these children, however in February of 2016 I experienced a particularly trying time in my career as an educator. I never fully grasped the true struggle of our population until a 17 year old student at our school found herself homeless with her young daughter in early 2016. Immediately stepping in to help, I called over 30 programs and services over the course of a few days. Unfortunately there were limited to no programs which catered to homeless mothers under the age of 18. Due to being deemed homeless, this young mother's daughter was ultimately removed from her and we needed to go to court to petition to allow this young mother to regain custody. During the time in court fighting to reunite mother and baby,  the idea of Stepping Stones Family Home was born. From there the mission evolved to an all inclusive focus with Stepping Stones Family Services.
After developing our Program Proposal I enrolled in classes with the Veteran Business Owners Initiative. After graduating from the 6 month, 18 module certificate program SSFS is now a member organization of the Veteran Business Owners Association and has an amazing set of supports and resources through this group. I have continued on with my education through the Nonprofit Management Certificate Program through Harvard University in the summer of 2018. I believe it is vital to the success of Stepping Stones Family Services to ensure our staff at all levels are continually expanding their knowledge and education in the field we are so passionate about.

Elizabeth (Liz) Murray

Director of Educational Development

Liz had her first son, Tobin at age 21. She had dreams of attending nursing school and began taking classes but soon after her son was born she became a single mom. She dropped out of college and for years she struggled to make something of herself, working long hours at dead-end jobs just to keep her electricity on and food in the fridge. Liz met her now husband, Paul, in 2012. They married in 2015 and together worked hard to purchase a home and small farm in Southern NH. Liz and Paul welcomed their son Eamon in October 2016.
Liz is currently a Certified Nursing Assistant in MA, runs her own Equine Massage business and has plans to apply to Nursing School. She understands what it is to be a single mom living in poverty because she lived it herself. Liz now lives a life she wouldn’t have dared to even dream of ten years ago. She is inspired to share her experiences and help young mothers to become success stories. Liz leads educational classes and groups in many different aspects of Attachment Parenting, Motherhood, and Life Skills.

Kelsey Harrington

Healthy Relationships Specialist

Kelsey comes to Stepping Stones Family Services in hopes to identify with and provide positive support to young girls who need guidance through some of the hardships she too has faced, as a young parent. She continues to excel and set new goals in her career at the Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank in Online Services/Business Banking where she was hired after having her son, Josiah at age 20.
Kelsey experienced the loss of a parent at a young age, and unfortunately, her son did too. Josiah’s Dad struggled with addiction in his late 20’s which lead to his untimely death. Kelsey lives an active and healthy lifestyle focusing on diet, exercise, and strong relationships with those around her to keep her at her best in both body and mind. She leads classes and groups focusing on Healthy Relationships and Bonding, Healthy Body and Mind, Healthy Alternatives, and Healthy vs. Not Healthy: Drugs/Alcoholism.

Margaret Parkhurst

Donor Relations Specialist

Margaret is our Donor Relations Specialist and volunteer extraordinaire! There is no job too big or too small for her to accomplish. Although Margaret struggled through High School she quickly found her place helping animals and people in need.
On top of running her own Dog Walking business in Topsfield, MA, Margaret spent countless hours each week scouring Facebook Marketplace to find second-hand baby items we are in need of and handles all communication with potential and current donors. She is single handily responsible for our ENTIRE storage unit full of gently used items for babies and moms. Margaret also assists with the monthly Family Gathering event regularly working alongside Jill until midnight or later to prepare bags full of requested items for attendees in the days leading up to the event.  We are very lucky to have Margaret on our team!