Leadership Team

     Co-Founder & President  - Elizabeth Occhipinti

Elizabeth Occhipinti Co-Founder & President of Miriam’s Heart, Elizabeth and her husband Jim first developed Miriam’s Heart in 2009. Elizabeth is the Executive Director of Miriam's Heart, Inc. where she focuses her efforts on the direction and development of Miriam’s Heart. Elizabeth holds an AAS in Legal Studies with Paralegal Certificate and a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services. A trained TRBI practitioner, Elizabeth studied and maintains working relationships with the renowned team at the Texas Christian University’s Karyn Purvis' Institute of Child Development, where she studied the effects of trauma and loss. Elizabeth can often be heard calling herself a ‘student of life’ and she continues to pursue her education and training at various colleges and institutions to best guide her work. A NYC Leadership Fellow in the 2016-2017 class, Elizabeth also serves on the international Orphan Sunday leadership team for the Christian Alliance for Orphans. Elizabeth works as a liaison to develop relationships between adoptive and foster families, adult adoptees and prospective adoptive and foster families, and with agencies and orphan care organizations and area churches. Seeing the church and the family as the two groups tasked with looking after vulnerable children, Elizabeth tirelessly reaches out, networks to bring children into families who are supported and prepared. The heart of our organization, Elizabeth’s passion and commitment to a world where children grasp their preciousness and families are restored is only matched by her determination to radically support families who take action on behalf of orphaned and abandoned children. Adoptive and licensed foster parents themselves, Jim & Elizabeth have 5 children who keep their Somerset, New Jersey home appropriately busy and can often be seen dancing and singing in their kitchen as they clear the dinner table.

Co-Founder of Miriam’s Heart - Jimmy Occhipinti

Jimmy Occhipinti is co-founder of Miriam’s Heart, along with his wife Elizabeth. Jimmy felt God speaking to his heart when he had a first-hand encounter with orphans in Criscor, Romania, where he helped establish a dental clinic through work with International Children’s Aid Foundation. Jim worked on the Board for ICAF for a few years and then began his work with Urban Impact, through his involvement at Zarephath Christian Church. In 2007, Jim & Elizabeth felt a strong sense to adopt. They began that process and within the next few years welcomed two children from South Korea. During their research, Jim & Elizabeth began gathering information to share with others and for several years, facilitated the “vision” of  Miriam’s Heart out of their home. With a strong passion for rallying men to take action on behalf of the fatherless, Jimmy focuses his ministry on reaching men and developing their hearts to take on this divine purpose. Now the father of five, Jim has ample opportunity to show God’s heart to his children! Jim and Elizabeth live in New Jersey, where Jim works as a dentist.

Communications - Jennifer Taylor

Jennifer Taylor oversees Miriam's Heart Communications & Media by coordinating and creating the communication strategy for the ministry including key messaging, web presence, and event materials. A terrific asset to our ministry, Jen uses her professional skills to effectively communicate our ministry's message! In her “day job,” she works for Johnson & Johnson as a Communication Director. Jennifer also serves Miriam’s Heart as a Board member. Jen and her husband Merle have three children and live in NJ. Jen & Merle volunteer for Urban Impact, Young Life, and the Zarephath Christian Church My Neighbor’s Ministries.

Ministry Administrator & Board Secretary - Noami Patino

Noami “Ami” Patino serves as Ministry Administrator and sits on the Board of Directors as the Secretary. Noami oversees a team of volunteers who manage and update our databases, create effective flow of information, develops communication and administration strategies and develops processes by which we maintain excellence in operations. Noami is also the Board Secretary who is responsible for all Board administration and management. Noami works with the leadership team and the Board of Miriams’ Heart, Inc. to plan budgets, organizes data and spreadsheets, and enact policies or procedures to improve operations.  Together with Ivonne, Noami keeps our ministry running smoothly, updates and maintains our list of contacts and organizes data and information, so that we can network within our ministry, support area churches, manage large groups of volunteers and assist in our event.  Noami lives with her two children in central New Jersey, surrounded by a loving husband and extended family. 

Director of Operations –Ivonne Droz

As the Director of Operations, Ivonne Droz assists by ensuring Miriam's Heart runs smoothly, by setting parameters to judge how efficiently and effectively the organization is operating. Ivonne reviews and evaluates business procedures, oversees the advancement and the analysis of intake and organizational processes. Ivonne also oversees the Orphan Sunday efforts of ZCC Flemington and acts as a liaison to ZCC Flemington! Having hosted and advocated for numerous children, Ivonne and Jose work to find families for children through a partnership with KidSave. Together, Jose and Ivonne have 2 children, are licensed foster parents with a heart for older children. They, along with a few well-loved chickens and their pretty pup live in Flemington, New Jersey. 

Program Coordinator - Alessandra 'Sandy' Duck

Alessandra 'Sandy' Duck Overseeing event and program coordination, Sandy assists with hospitality and event administration, Sandy facilitates events, and coordinates with staff members, budgets, and procedures to ensure the implementation and success of our programs. Sandy and her husband Michael live with their daughter in NJ.

Director, Family Ministries  - Allison Highton

Allison Highton Acts as the Director of Family Ministries. Allison has a heart to raise awareness about the plight of orphans worldwide and to engage the local community to partner, collaborate and take action. Both Empowered to Connect Parent Trainer, Allison and her husband Russ (who also serves as a Board member) provide ongoing training and mentoring support to the families of Miriams’ Heart. In her role as Director of Family Ministries, Allison supports families both local to Zarephath Christian Church and the families we serve as an outreach to other area churches. Allison oversees family mentoring, parent training and local church events.   Allison maintains and recruit couples and families willing to mentor families through infertility, post adoption and the decision to foster or adopt and coordinates the efforts of the Family Mentors. Allison actively seeks information and resources for our families that can assist them.  She also develops working relationships with agencies and organizations so that connections can be made with prospective families and provides post-adoption resources, training and curriculum to help families post-placement. 

Administrative Specialist- Suzanne Singer

As the Administrative Specialist, Suzanne overseas child and family specific advocacy. Suzanne is the point of contact for and a liaison to foster and adoptive families and available resources. Suzanne assists with administrative duties and coordinates efforts within the Miriam’s Heart network, leadership team, and professional advisors. Suzanne, along with her husband Larry and two daughters live in Central, NJ and are a licensed foster family. 

Executive Assistant - Amber Pachucki 

Amber Pachucki joined our team as an intern in late 2016. Amber is a full time junior at Pillar College pursuing my bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Counseling. Her goal is to pursue a Master’s in Social work so can work with children and families in foster care. Amber loves to work as a volunteer with Zarephath Student Ministry and currently serves as the Executive Assistant to Elizabeth and team.

Finance and Fundraising Committee

Finance Coordinator- Juana Canna

Juana Canna works with Miriam's Heart as the Finance Coordinator. In addition to serving our families through participating in our mentoring team, Juana is generally responsible for responsible for a range of bookkeeping responsibilities as well as providing support on finance and project budget management functions. Juana carries out and records relevant financial transactions as well as coordinating the financial coding of these transactions. Juana oversees the maintenance and reconciliation of bank records and is responsible for maintaining ledgers and contributing to the regular financial reporting as well as budgeting/forecasting functions and audit related routines. Both former foster parents and adoptive parents, Juana Canna and her husband Anthony are the proud parents of 4 children. Anthony and Juana bring a passion for adoption and foster care, but also a compassion and a calling for older child adoption.  Having travelled on several missions trips and having the opportunity to see the plight of vulnerable children first-hand, the Cannas bring a depth of understanding to their roles with Miriam’s Heart.  They desire that every family will have a sense of connection and that our ministry will mentor and raise-up healthy families!

Diana Berenter

Yih-Pai Lotz

Ivonne Droz (see above) 


Family Mentors:

     Empowered to Connect Parent Trainers - Russ & Allison Highton

Russ and Allison Highton oversee the Family Mentors for Miriam’s Heart.  Russ and Allison focus on pre and post-placement training for adoptive and foster parents. As our Empowered to Connect Parent     trainers, Russ & Allison Highton have completed the ETC Train the Trainer Parent Training, and offer ongoing training throughout the year. actively seek information and resources for our families that can assist them this is what we call the Symbibazo Ministry of Miriam’s Heart. As a part of our work, family mentors willingly press-in to the lives of our adoptive and foster families in order to help them heal and connect with tangible, emotional, spiritual support.

They develop working relationships with agencies and organizations so that connections can be made with prospective families, and mentor and train families using the TBRI method developed by Texas Christian University and the training provided by Empowered to Connect.   Our Family Mentors assist in the planning, development and implementation of the Blend, retreats, mentoring and training in coordination with the Family Ministries Director and the Symbibazo ministry of Miriam’s Heart.

     Family Mentor - Anthony & Juana Canna (See above)

     Family Mentor - Amanda & Jimmy Mancusi

As foster parents, with a heart for missions and family preservation, Amanda and Jimmy Mancusi have been with our team from the start. Amanda and Jimmy have participated in various missions initiatives and serve the Lord through on-going work in Nicaragua, and short-term work in Haiti.  Amanda has served as a regional team leader for the international Orphan Sunday initiative of the Christian Alliance for Orphans. Amanda and Jimmy have two beautiful daughters and a wonderful son and live in Northern, NJ. 

     Family Mentor - Jim & Elizabeth Occhipinti (See above)