Meet Our Team


Shari Finney, LMFT

Regional Clinic Director

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.


Dr. Nikki Watkins, LMFT

Clinic Director

Prior to coming to the Cohen Clinic, Nikki was Program Administrator for Telecare, where she provided clinical oversight of three outpatient mental health programs serving the parole and probation populations. She was also Vice President of Clinical Programs for the San Diego Rescue Mission, where she oversaw seven clinical and residential programs serving the homeless population.

Nikki received her bachelor’s degree in Journalism with an emphasis on Public Relations at San Diego State University. She later received a master’s degree in both Religious Studies and Counseling Psychology and doctoral degree (PsyD) in Clinical Psychology at Southern California Seminary. Nikki is a BBS approved Clinical Supervisor with clinical training in CBT and grief/loss.

Both of Nikki’s parents are Airforce veterans who met in Okinawa, Japan where she was conceived. Her grandfather was an Army and Marine veteran, and four of her uncles are veterans of various branches of the military.

Nikki enjoys attending trainings and conferences on mental health to learn new concepts and updated research, which allows her to provide the best service possible to clients. At the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, one of Nikki’s goals is to help veterans and their families who have immediate needs. “They have sacrificed so much to ensure our safety and freedom, and I am grateful to have this opportunity to serve them,” she said.

Nikki grew up in Los Angeles and currently resides in San Diego with her family. In her leisure, she enjoys crocheting, reading, puzzles, traveling, and going to the beach.


Kelly Williams, LMFT

Associate Clinic Director/Lead Clinician

Kelly is a clinician at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD. She works with families using a mindfulness-based approach through individual and group therapy.

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.


Mark Shideler, M.D.

Medical Director/Psychiatrist

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.


Ashley Tatum, MHA

Case Manager

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 taking care of her two children and supporting her husband’s Naval career.

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.

Ashley is originally from Findlay, Ohio but thanks to the Navy, she has lived in Southern California for 17 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

Data Manager

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.


Jenny Lynne Stroup

Outreach Coordinator

Jenny Lynne is the Outreach Coordinator for the Cohen Clinic at VVSD. She comes to this role as a seasoned military spouse who has spent her time at each duty station fostering community.

She is also freelance writer who uses stories to bridge the gap between the civilian and military communities. She is passionate about being a bridge builder and sees her role as a military spouse as an opportunity to reach both communities.

Jenny Lynne has a background in marketing and education. Jenny Lynne received her Bachelor’s degree in Marketing Management from Virginia Tech and her Master’s degree in Elementary Education from Old Dominion University.

Prior to her role at the clinic Jenny Lynne taught elementary school and spent her time working with several military organizations and spouse groups. She has been a key note speaker for United Through Reading at both the Storybook Ball and the Tribute to Military Families events.

Jenny Lynne also worked for the USO of Metropolitan New York as a special event coordinator. During her time with the USO she worked to provide comfort and care for the wounded warriors participating the US Army Warrior Trials.

Originally from Virginia, Jenny Lynne has taken her loved of Southern cuisine and hospitality to create community wherever the Navy has sent her.


Celeste Gomez-Lozoya

Senior Business Office Manager

As the Business Office Manager, Celeste Gomez-Lozoya is responsible for all office administration at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD.  She oversees clinical and financial operations, supports clinical, outreach, and case management staff, and supervises the office assistant. Previous to her role at the Cohen Clinic, Celeste was the Office Coordinator for CVN at VVSD where she provided administrative support to the office by organizing daily patient schedules, triaging incoming patient reports to appropriate locations, preparing billing information, and documenting insurance pre-authorizations and pre-certifications, among other office responsibilities.

Celeste is currently working towards her degree in Psychology and Business Management.

Celeste has family in the Marines and Airforce and that is where her interest to help serve military families comes from. 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 likes to spend time with her husband and family. She also enjoys reading and prioritizes mental self-care. Working as the Business Office Manager, Celeste finds her job very rewarding. She loves to be part of a life-changing team.


Carmen R Croucher, LPCC, NCC


Carmen is a clinician at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD and specializes in the treatment of military populations, specifically trauma and substance use.

Before her role at the clinic, Carmen worked as a clinician at the VVSD Veterans Rehabilitation Program residential treatment program for substance use and co-occurring disorders, treating veterans and civilians. Carmen also has experience working with inpatient psychiatric patients assisting physicians with the assessment of safety, lethality, and grave disability. She also has experience treating those in the justice system with a thorough assessment of recidivism and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Carmen has been a mentor with the Veterans Treatment Court of San Diego since 2015 and takes great pride in watching veterans restore their sense of honor after living with the negative effects of mental illness and drugs and alcohol.

Carmen is a Navy veteran,active-duty spouse, and an Airman’s daughter. She understands the culture, the pride, the tempo, the challenges, and the sacrifices of the military family from several angles and this is her “why”, it’s her life and her passion to have a positive impact on our country’s military families. 

She graduated from the University of San Diego in 2017 with a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She completed her master’s level practicum work with VVSD, Veterans Rehabilitation Program, treating veterans for mental health and substance use disorders. In 2013 Carmen earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Health Care Administration from Ashford University, attending courses while stationed overseas in Gaeta, Italy.  

Originally from Anchorage, Alaska and currently residing in San Diego, CA with her active-duty Navy spouse, their daughter, and “fur children,” Carmen enjoys anything that takes her outdoors, including paddle boarding, walking, bike riding, and visiting with friends.


Grace Charlton, MA, NCC, APCC


As Intake Coordinator, Grace welcomes each prospective client with a clinically informed background to complete the initial referral screener as their first step toward receiving services.

Prior to her role at the Cohen Clinic, she 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. 

She enjoys helping to foster self-awareness with clients in order to support them in creating healthy relationships with their support system. She also works from the relational-cultural theory, which acknowledges the identities (both individually and culturally) that people belong to in order to help them move towards connection with others. She said, “It’s important for me to work toward being the best Counselor I can be, which includes being multiculturally informed, gender affirming, and always willing to learn from the client about what is important for them. I believe nothing is more important than the human connection and I’m incredibly grateful to be in a therapeutic position to be a part of our clients’ journey toward healing and peace.”

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.


Jillian Mayer

Clinical Fellow

Jillian is an intern clinician at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD and works with individuals, couples, and families.

Prior to her role at the Cohen Clinic, Jillian worked as the evening manager at Little City Foundation, a neighborhood of group homes for individuals with Autism and other diagnoses related to developmental disabilities. Jillian received her Bachelor’s degree from Northeastern Illinois University in Communication, Media, and Theatre with an emphasis on vocal performance, and she is currently in the second year of her Master’s program in Marriage and Family Therapy at San Diego State University.

Jillian has been trained in Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Her main professional interest is the study and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, and she plans on dedicating her life to working with individuals who identify as having PTSD and Complex PTSD. 

Jillian used to work as a professional actor at various theaters around her hometown of Chicago and still loves spending her free time singing, acting, and performing.  Currently residing in the Ocean Beach area of San Diego, Jillian also enjoys any time she can spend outside with her dog. It was a dream of Jillian’s to be offered this position at the Cohen Clinic as she is honored to be able to serve those who have served our country and is thrilled about the opportunity to learn from the incredible clinical team. 

Leslie Ann Amaya

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, AMFT


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

Kaory Mizraim Hirata, AMFT

Intake Coordinator/Clinician

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.

Emily Paddock 3

Emily Paddock


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.

Laura Folsom

Laura Folsom, MA, APCC, NCC

Clinical Fellow

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. 


Kirsten Alfaro White, M.A., NCC, APCC

Intake Coordinator

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

Business Office Manager

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.


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.