Meet Our Team
Shari Finney, LMFT
Shari is thrilled to bring her more than 20 years of experience in nonprofit management and clinical experience to the clinic, with a long history of deep ties to the local community.
Shari has spent many years in nonprofit service in San Diego. For eight years she served on the Board of Directors of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, as well as the Social Action Collaborative. Additionally, she served on the Council to End Homelessness during its inception. She also received commendations from the Mayor of San Diego from 2009 to 2014 for excellence in treatment programs; recognition for innovation from the United Way of San Diego for creating the Recuperative Care Unit for medically fragile homeless and in 2007 she received the San Diego Business Journal’s Woman of the Year award.
A licensed marriage and family therapist, Shari received her Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of San Diego. Prior to her appointment to the Cohen Clinic, she was the Executive Director of Peninsula Shepherd Center and prior to that was the Vice President of Clinical Programs for San Diego Rescue Mission. She enjoys utilizing her skillset and experience to manage effective treatment programs that assist veterans in attaining recovery, self-sufficiency, and healing.
Having grown up with a father who served in the Air Force and in a military city, Shari knows it is an incredible honor to provide care to those who served our country. She also understands the endless stress and sacrifice military families experience and looks forward to providing care for all military family members, including children and spouses.
Shari currently resides in San Diego with her family. In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, swimming and playing with her dogs.
Kelly Williams, LMFT
Prior to her role at the clinic, Kelly worked on Naval Base San Diego and MCRD Miramar, where she worked with active duty sailors to improve day-to-day life challenges and then with Marines and their families towards building resiliency against the challenges that a military lifestyle can provide. Prior to those roles, Kelly provided trauma therapy to youth in the foster care system and child therapy for families at emergency children shelters. Most recently, Kelly has been working in private practice with adults, children, families and couples.
Originally from Phoenix, Arizona and currently residing in La Mesa, Kelly received her Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University in Psychology with an emphasis on early childhood development. She later received her Master’s degree from San Diego State University in Counseling.
Kelly enjoys helping military families in an environment that was created just for them. In her words, “It’s difficult enough to find a therapist who you can connect with, and then the added stress of finding one who can be sensitive to your specific military background can be even harder.”
In her spare time, Kelly leads community workshops on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. She is also a dog lover and enjoys reading, spending time at parks and exploring San Diego through kayaking, beach days and bay walks.
Giselle Vallejo, LPCC
Giselle is a bilingual clinician at the Cohen Clinic. Born and raised in Chula Vista, she received her Bachelor’s degree in religious studies at San Diego State University and received her Master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling at the University of San Diego. During her graduate studies, Giselle completed her practicum at the residential program at Veterans Village of San Diego, providing services to homeless veterans with co-morbid diagnoses. Prior to becoming a part of the Cohen Clinic team, Giselle worked with non-profit organizations providing Flexible Integrated Treatment (FIT) to underserved communities, specifically to children between the ages of 2-21 and their families. Giselle has been trained in utilizing Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Parent-Child Interaction Treatment, and Prolonged Exposure. Giselle likes to take on a strengths-based, trauma-informed, and culturally-inclusive approach when working with individuals. She has a strong passion for working with people who have generational and complex trauma and believes every person should have their own space to feel heard. Giselle’s passion in working with the military population stems from having veteran family members and being a military spouse. Her husband is in the U.S. Air Force and they currently reside in Northern California. In her spare time, Giselle enjoys playing the violin, exploring new places, trying new foods, cooking, and spending time with friends and family.
Mark Shideler, M.D.
Mark Shideler M.D. serves as a Prescribing Psychiatrist at the Cohen Clinic at Veterans Village of San Diego. He joined the Cohen Clinic after 28 years in the Air Force and served as an operational physician in Aerospace Medicine (aka “Flight Doc”) and Group Surgeon for the 548th ISR Group. He also served as a psychiatrist teaching and mentoring at the 60th MDG at Travis AFB, CA.
Dr. Shideler earned his bachelor’s degree in Biology at the U.S. Air Force Academy, went to medical school at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS), served as an operational, medical physician and later went on to complete psychiatry training at Wright State University.
He enjoys treating and helping people with psychological trauma and posttraumatic stress and, most importantly, helping them get their lives back. Dr. Shideler is trained and clinically experienced in Prolonged Exposure (PE), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Imagery Rehearsal Therapy (IRT) for nightmares.
In his spare time, he enjoys hunting, fishing and spending time with his daughter and wife. He was raised by a family that moved a lot and has called the following places home: Alaska, Ohio, New Mexico, Virginia, Colorado, Northern California, Alabama, Maryland and South Korea.
Maegen DeGroff, LPCC
Maegen is a licensed clinician with experience working primarily with adults struggling with mood dysregulation, mood disorders, trauma, substance abuse, and severe anxiety. She utilizes evidenced-based practices including CBT, DBT, and EMDR to assist clients in their treatment goals.
She says she truly respects and admires veterans, service members and their families. “I really appreciate the holistic and evidenced-based treatment approach that the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, San Diego and Cohen Veterans Network offers to veterans, service members and their families. I also really appreciate the amount of consideration and care that goes into offering culturally appropriate services for the military family community,” she said.
In her leisure, Maegen enjoys spending time with her two dogs, getting outside, listening to music or podcasts, and reading.
D. Christine Winicki, MHA
As the Outreach Coordinator for the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, San Diego, Christine shares her passion for providing superior mental health treatment options with veterans, service members and their families. She is focused on expanding the clinic’s strong relationships with San Diego business, veteran organizations, and the greater San Diego County community.
Prior to her role at the Cohen Clinic, Christine developed a wealth of experience. She served four years as an Intelligence Officer specializing in Soviet nuclear weapons, where she studied the last vestiges of the Cold War. Later, as a U.S. Marine Corps military spouse, she transitioned into the healthcare administration field with a focus on implementing electronic medical records and bedside data collection. Once she moved with her family to Monterey for Naval Post Graduate School, she left the workforce to focus on raising their four sons. This gift of ”time working in the home” allowed her to hone leadership and organizational skills as a military spouse network coordinator, school fundraising manager and youth outdoor leader.
Once she and her family settled in Oceanside, she chose to re-enter the workforce as a U.S. Marine Corps Family Readiness Officer aboard Camp Pendleton, providing education, resources and vital communication between the commanding officer and military families. The past 13 years in that role filled her life with people and experiences that reflect the pride, joy, and pain of the active-duty military lifestyle during wartime, and in her words, “illustrated the need for strong, clinically proven mental health treatment.” She said, “the Cohen Clinic’s core values of community-based excellence and the desire to ‘do what we say’ as we strive to heal military families resonates with. Working at the Cohen Clinic is my way to help heal the scars and create stronger military members and families.”
In her leisure, Christine enjoys walking and swimming in the ocean with her youngest son and dog on the beaches of Camp Pendleton. In the last year, she became a proud San Diego Zoo volunteer and receives great joy in sharing her love of wildlife conservation with Zoo visitors. She is also a board member of a foundation that provides funding for the education of children who lost their parents to the AIDS epidemic in Uganda. Lastly, visiting ALL the National Parks is a personal goal of hers!
Ashley Tatum, MHA
After serving in the Navy for nine years, Ashley obtained her Bachelor and Master of Science in Healthcare Administration from National University. During this time, she also worked in the Department of Veterans Affairs office at National University in the Benefits and Enrollments Department.
While on active duty, Ashley was able to work alongside great people and see many amazing places. Her passion for wanting to help veterans with their mental health started after going through the transition from the military to civilian sector herself and realizing the importance of having a strong support system. As a Case Manager at the Cohen Clinic, she helps other veterans with their needs by connecting them to resources in the community that will ensure their success. And as a Substance Use Disorder Counselor, she provides addiction severity assessments, treatment goals and relapse prevention plans for clients, followed by tools to obtain and maintain sobriety.
Ashley is originally from Findlay, Ohio but thanks to the Navy, she has lived in Southern California for 20 years and is currently living in San Diego, California. She loves to spend her spare time with her family and reading.
Cesar Padilla, BBA-IMC
As Data Manager at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, Cesar oversees the clinic’s various data and IT systems. He is responsible for organizing, storing, and analyzing data as effectively as possible, while always upholding agreed-upon security standards.
Previously, Cesar worked as the Executive Assistant to the Chief Operating Officer at Veterans Village of San Diego. A Purple Heart Recipient and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran of the U.S. Army, he held the following military occupations during his 11 years of service: M1 Armor Crewman, U.S. Army Recruiter, and Public Relations Specialist.
As a veteran, Cesar is excited to be part of the Cohen Clinic at VVSD’s vision of helping veterans and their families address mental adversities. However, more importantly, he believes the services provided at the Cohen Clinic are an essential step in bringing down the stigma around mental health, especially debunking the stigma that claims asking for help is a form of weakness.
Born and raised in San Diego, Cesar earned his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Integrated Marketing and Communications from San Diego State University. In his leisure time, Cesar loves to spend time with his daughter, play Airsoft, Paintball or just be outside enjoying the San Diego weather.
As the Senior Business Office Manager, Celeste Gomez-Lozoya is responsible for all office administration at the three Cohen Clinics at VVSD across Southern California, overseeing clinical and financial operations. She also supports clinical, outreach, and case management staff, and supervises the administrative staff. Celeste has been with the team since the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, San Diego was still under construction and is honored to see the Cohen Clinics expand to Oceanside and Los Angeles!
Prior to her current role, Celeste was the Office Coordinator for the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, San Diego where she provided administrative support to the office by organizing daily client schedules, triaging incoming client reports to appropriate locations, preparing billing information, and documenting insurance pre-authorizations and pre-certifications, among other office responsibilities.
Celeste is bilingual and is tremendously proud she can help eliminate language barriers. Having Airmen and Marines in her family is what initiated her passion to help give back to the military community. Although born in Los Angeles, Celeste considers herself a San Diegan since she has spent most of her life in San Diego. In her free time, Celeste loves to spend time with her husband and toddler. She also enjoys road trips, decluttering, and reading as mental self-care exercises!
Grace Charlton, MA, LPCC, NCC
Grace works from a client-centered approach where she believes clients are the expert on themselves, and she is there to help them navigate their world, relationships, and healing journey. Grace loves to work with individuals and couples, with a particular passion for assisting couples in identifying new ways to connect, understand, and feel close to one another. Grace is trained in EMDR, CPT, and EFT and uses these evidence-based modalities to overcome feeling stuck in trauma, and finding freedom from the past driving the present. Grace truly loves to meet and get to know all her new clients and is deeply invested in their success.
Prior to her role at the Cohen Clinic, Grace was as a counselor at a correctional facility in Houston, TX where she worked with incarcerated clients on their substance abuse patterns, anger management, PTSD, and also taught a psychoeducational class on Healthy Relationships. Before that position, she completed her Practicum at the VRC.
Grace earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Forensics from Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore and a Master of Arts degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from University of San Diego.
In her leisure, Grace loves spending time with her rescue dogs and finding ways to be creative in art and music. She also enjoys traveling to new places, eating good food, and visiting friends and family from all over. Grace was born and raised in Newcastle, England and moved to the United States in 2009. She currently lives in San Diego.
Leslie Ann Amaya, LMFT
Leslie works with individuals, couples, and families, utilizing mindfulness-based approaches and focuses on client collaboration to offer person-centered treatment to clients.
Prior to joining the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, Leslie worked with a range of clients from adolescents to adults, including military and civilian populations. During her time as a clinician, she has worked in outpatient, residential and hospital settings. Leslie has worked as a clinician at the VVSD Veterans Rehabilitation Program residential treatment program for substance use and co-occurring disorders, treating veterans and civilians. Additionally, Leslie has experience working with those who have an eating disorder diagnosis and co-occurring mental health diagnosis. Leslie began her career through utilizing equine-assisted therapy in her home state of Texas with veteran populations. Leslie enjoys helping military families in an environment that was created just for them and is honored to continue to serve clients who have served their country, and their family members.
Leslie received her Bachelor of Science degree from Texas Tech University in Community, Family and Addiction Sciences with focuses on psychology and human development and family studies. Subsequently, she graduated from the University of San Diego with a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.
Leslie resides full time in San Diego. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time outside at the beach and utilizing weightlifting and mindfulness approaches in her day-to-day life.
Ruben Daniel Gutierrez, LMFT
Ruben “Goot” Gutierrez is a clinician at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD who provides mental health care to post-9/11 veterans and their families.
He has 20 years of active-duty service as a Marine Infantry Officer that included seven deployments: four combat, two Unit Deployment Programs to Okinawa, Japan, and a two-year unaccompanied tour to Republic of South Korea. In addition, he had two short deployments as the Officer in Charge (OIC) of a Military Training & Transition Team (MTT) to Mexico in support of the Mexican and Nicaraguan Naval Infantry.
After his service, he joined VVSD as a Mental Health Intern in its Residential Co-occuring Substance Use Disorder Program. For nearly 3 years, prior to joining the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, Ruben worked for VVSD’s Drug Medi-Cal SUD, a clinically managed high and low intensity residential program.
“From PTSD, SUD, Psychotropic Medication referrals and management, relationship distress, to case management referrals, my charge is to walk alongside (clients) and support them in ‘becoming the heroes to their own story,’” he said.
In his spare time, Ruben enjoys playing with his son, visiting theme parks with his wife and son, CrossFit, traveling local and abroad, as well as eating out and anything involving the beach.
Kaory Mizraim Hirata, AMFT
As intake coordinator, Kaory provides support for the Cohen Clinic at VVSD as the first contact for services. She conducts screenings and intakes for veterans, service members and their families.
Kaory is a San Diego State University graduate who previously completed her traineeship at the Center for Community Counseling and engagement in City Heights. What she likes most about the Cohen Clinic is the love the staff members have for their clients, and how leadership wants them to be prepared to serve in the best possible way to serve our veterans, active-duty service members, and their families.
In her spare time, Kaory likes to walk her dog, eat Ramen, watch documentaries, and go dancing.
Laura Folsom, MA, APCC, NCC
Laura is a bilingual clinical fellow at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD. She has experience with military populations, specifically treating trauma and substance use.
Prior to joining the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, Laura worked as a Counselor at Jackson House Recovery Center providing group and individual therapy to individuals struggling with substance use disorders. Laura graduated from the University of San Diego in 2021 with a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She completed her master’s level practicum work with VVSD’s Veterans Rehabilitation Program, treating veterans for mental health and substance use disorders. In 2018, Laura earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with a minor in Anthropology from the University of Florida.
Laura is a Navy veteran, serving as a Quartermaster from 2010-2014. She is also an active-duty spouse. She realized she wanted to be a clinician while on active duty, as she saw the need for mental health services for all military connected persons. Laura is passionate about using her experience and knowledge of military culture to provide support for her clients, and feels this clinic is integral in providing access to mental health services to veterans and their families.
Originally from Bogota, Colombia, Laura immigrated to the United States as a child and grew up between Colombia and Miami, Florida. She currently resides in San Diego, CA with her family. Laura loves animals, the Miami Heat, music, travel, and spending time with her daughters.
Emily is an intern at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, working with individuals, couples, and families.
Prior to her role at the Cohen Clinic, Emily worked as the cultural tourism coordinator for the San Diego Tourism Authority, where she promoted and advocated for San Diego’s cultural diversity through media, city, and grassroots objectives. Emily received her bachelor’s degree from California State University Northridge in Communication Studies and is currently in the second year of her master’s program in Marriage and Family Therapy at Alliant International University.
Emily firmly believes in taking a strength-based approach when working with clients—raising self-awareness and working with the whole self. She is the daughter of an active-duty Naval captain, with an undeniable passion for our military members and their families. This opportunity to work with a community she is so endeared to is a dream come true for Emily. Through plenty of moves because of the military, she has found home in San Diego for the past eleven years. In her free time, Emily finds herself enjoying the multitude of hikes, eats and treats, iconic music venues and ample scenery of the region.
Charles is an intern at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, San Diego, where he provides mental health services for individuals, couples, and families within the military community.
Raised in San Diego for the majority of his life, Charles grew up having to move around a lot during his childhood due to his father’s service in the military. Charles’ father served in the U.S. Navy for more than 20 years and retired as a Senior Chief. Because of his upbringing and courses from undergraduate school, Charles was inspired to provide support and empathy for this population due to the effects the military culture has on both the veteran and the military family system when going through transitional periods.
Prior to joining the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, Charles worked with children on the autism spectrum as a behavior therapist after completing his undergraduate degree at San Diego State University in 2018, where he obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology with a minor in Sociology. He also provided tutoring services at a math center while attending his other master’s program at San Diego State University back in 2020 where he earned a master’s degree in Education, with an emphasis in Counseling. Currently, he is in the process of getting his second master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at the University of San Diego. Charles hopes to promote cultural diversity and client-centered collaboration within the therapeutic alliance.
Kirsten Alfaro White, M.A., NCC, APCC
An Associate Professional Clinical Counselor, Kirsten serves as the Intake Coordinate for the Cohen Clinic at VVSD. In her role, she welcomes each prospective client with a clinically informed background to complete the initial referral screener as their first step toward receiving services.
Born and raised in San Diego, Kirsten received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from California State University San Marcos. She then went on to receive her Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of San Diego. She completed her practicum experience for her graduate program in a residential treatment center for homeless veterans with substance use disorder and other co-morbid disorders. Having a passion for the veteran population, Kirsten continued her clinical experience at the residential treatment center as she accrued hours towards licensure.
Prior to joining the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, Kirsten worked as the Clinical Manager for PsychArmor Institute. At PAI, she managed their national Support Center and worked to help disseminate educational courses and resources to those who work with, live with, and care for military members, veterans, and their families.
Kirsten first started her clinical work as a behavior technician for children with autism in the field of applied behavior analysis, working mostly with military families.
As the daughter of a retired Navy veteran, Kirsten is excited and honored to continue her work to with veterans and their families.
Alyssa Retuya, MPH
As the Business Office Manager at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, Alyssa oversees financial operations and general office administration. She is responsible for billing/insurance verifications, providing administrative support and assisting front desk duties as needed.
As she was completing her Bachelor of Science degree at University of California, Riverside in Sociology/Administrative Studies, Alyssa decided she wanted to pursue a career in Healthcare Administration. After graduating, she pursued her Master’s degree in Public Health with a specialization in Healthcare Administration at National University. Alyssa previously worked as a Complaint Management Specialist for Tandem Diabetes Care, a Community Medical Liaison for AccentCare Home Health, and most recently, was the Clinical Compliance Specialist at Veterans Village of San Diego for the Drug Medi-Cal Program.
Alyssa is a very proud daughter of a U.S. Navy Veteran and also has several uncles who served in the Navy. “No words can ever describe the amount of gratitude I feel for the life my dad and the U.S. Navy has provided to me,” she said. “I find it extremely rewarding to be part of an entity that serves those who have served, as well as those who continue to serve us. The older I get, the more I understand the value of mental health and how important it is to prioritize it. Our team is such an amazing support system, and I am grateful to be working with them.”
In her leisure time, Alyssa enjoys taking care of her houseplants, cooking and baking, traveling, attending concerts and music festivals, as well as hanging out with her dog and spending time with family and friends.