Webinar Presenters & Facilitators
Rev. Derrek Belase
Rev. Derrek Belase is the director of Connectional Ministry for the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church where he assists more than 470 Oklahoma United Methodist churches as they build capacity to make disciples in their local settings. A lifelong Oklahoman, Derrek graduated from Carnegie High School, University of Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma City University and Saint Paul School of Theology. He also studied at the Center for Socio-Legal Studies at Oxford University. He has degrees in criminal justice and theology and is also a certified police officer in Oklahoma. Before entering full-time ministry, he was the criminal justice coordinator at the Caddo Kiowa Technology Center in Fort Cobb. Derrek has served in full time appointed ministry for seventeen years and has been a QPR trainer for 4 years.
Staff attorney, Oklahoma Indian Legal Services
After earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Multi-Disciplinary Studies from the University of Oklahoma (OU), Brian Candelaria worked nine (9) years as a legal assistant. He proudly served the Oklahoma Paralegal Association (OPA) as the Seminar Committee Chair for multiple years from 2011 to 2016. While working as a legal assistant, Mr. Candelaria went back to school and earned a Master’s Degree of Legal Studies for Indigenous Peoples Law from OU Law School’s online program. He then attended law school at Oklahoma City University School of Law starting in 2016 and graduated in 2019. During law school Mr. Candelaria was elected to serve as the president of the school’s Native American Law Student Association (NALSA) and was elected to represent Region 3 of the National Native American Law Student Association (NNALSA), serving on its Board of Directors. Mr. Candelaria was twice awarded First Place for the Oklahoma Sovereignty Symposium’s John B. Doolin Writing Competition and this year received Hargrave Prize for Writing. Mr. Candelaria was also awarded the 2018-2019 G. William Rice Scholarship by the Indian Law Section of the Oklahoma Bar Association.
A member of the Oklahoma Bar since April of 2020, Mr. Candelaria has worked as a staff attorney at Oklahoma Indian Legal Services (OILS) for the past three years but had previously interned with OILS for the previous three years. He is currently a member of several Tribal Bar Associations. He also helps OILS by serving as OIL’s Disaster Navigator thanks to funding from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and helps tribal citizens prepare and recover from disaster. While working for OILS Mr. Candelaria has embraced the organizational mission of OILS to serve the legal needs of low-income enrolled tribe members residing in Oklahoma and looks forward to serving the Native American tribal communities for years to come. He happily lives with his wife, Kathryn, and multiple cats.
Christa Figgins, Esq.
Christa Figgins, Esq. (Licensed in Florida) is Director of Mission Advancement for Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc. She is responsible for overseeing all statewide aspects of organizational fundraising and marketing, including an endowment campaign, a private bar campaign, foundation and corporate giving, and grant proposal writing and management. Following the devastating EF-5 Moore Tornado in 2013, Christa began overseeing LASO’s statewide Disaster Response, which is ongoing due to further tornado and flooding disaster events in 2015, 2016, and 2019. Christa trains disaster case managers to spot common legal issues experienced by disaster survivors and educates other agencies and Oklahoma emergency managers regarding the importance of post-disaster legal services. Christa is Chair of Oklahoma Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster for 2020-2021.
The Rev. Dr. Bessie Hamilton
Rev. Dr. Bessie Hamilton serves as Associate Director of Connectional Ministry for New Faith Communities and Multi Ethnic Initiatives for the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Rev. Dr. Hamilton is a native of Gainesville Alabama. She is married to the Reverend Elvyn L. Hamilton who serves as the senior pastor of Quayle UMC and has two beautiful daughters Makaria (22) and Manda (20). After marriage, Bessie and Elvyn moved to Kentucky where they served for almost 20 years. In 2013, they returned to Alabama to plant a church in Montgomery, AL. In 2019, they moved to Oklahoma to take appointments in the Oklahoma Annual Conference.
Dr. Hamilton previously served as Co-Pastor of Quayle UMC in Oklahoma City and Campus Pastor at Langston University in Langston, OK. She currently serves as the Associate Director of Connectional Ministry for New Faith Communities and Multi-Ethnic Initiatives. Dr. Hamilton holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Stillman College (Tuscaloosa, AL) and a Master’s Degree from the University of West Alabama (Livingston, AL) in Elementary Education. She has a Master’s of Theological Studies degree from Vanderbilt University Divinity School. Dr. Hamilton graduated from Creighton University in May of 2022 with a Doctorate of Education in Interdisciplinary Leadership. Her dissertation was entitled, “A Case Study of an Urban Church: Community Development in Action in an African American Church”.
In 2012, Dr. Hamilton was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2013, she was declared cancer free. Her favorite quote is from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. which says, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”.
Rabbi Vered Harris
Rabbi Vered L. Harris became the spiritual leader of Temple B’nai Israel in Oklahoma City in 2012. She is the fifth rabbi to serve the congregation since 6its founding in 1903.
Rabbi Harris’ community work in Oklahoma City includes interfaith dialogue, guest lecturing, and multi-faith prayer services. At the Temple she enjoys serving with a professional and volunteer team offering religious education, pastoral care, prayer, and social action opportunities. Although she was born Jewish, her formal study of the religion did not begin until college. Through learning and living Judaism, Rabbi Harris has become more passionate about civil rights, more compassionate for those who suffer, more open to universal truth, and overall a better human.
Rev. Mary Gaudreau Hughes
Rev. Mary Gaudreau Hughes is a licensed professional counselor, ordained United Methodist deacon, and nationally known disaster response specialist with more than 25 years' experience working in crisis and disaster response.
A frequent teacher and presenter, she has authored and provided key leadership in developing numerous curricula, resources, webinars, and significant national operational and ethical guidelines for disaster spiritual and emotional care. Rev. Hughes served as chair of the National VOAD Disaster Spiritual Care Guidelines writing group and served on the writing team for the National VOAD resource, Light Our Way. She was chair of the National VOAD Emotional and Spiritual Care Committee when the groundbreaking Disaster Spiritual Care Points of Consensus document was ratified.
Rev. Hughes has provided training, consultation, and technical guidance across the United States and has facilitated the development of dozens of regional and local disaster emotional and spiritual care teams. She serves as the Executive Director for Crisis Care Ministries. She also is chair of the Oklahoma VOAD Emotional and Spiritual Care Committee.
Veronica Laizure, Esq.
Veronica Laizure received her Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature after graduating magna cum laude from Hendrix College in Conway, AR. After earning a juris doctorate from the University of Oklahoma College of Law and being admitted to practice in Oklahoma, Veronica joined CAIR Oklahoma as Staff Attorney in 2014 and then expanded her role to Civil Rights Director, culminating in her appointment to Deputy Director in 2022. In her time with the Civil Rights Department, Veronica has served hundreds of clients who experienced religious discrimination and harassment and educated thousands of Oklahoma Muslims on how to secure their own civil rights, establishing CAIR Oklahoma as a leader in the social justice movement in Oklahoma. Her commentary on religious freedom, civil rights policy, and community advocacy has been published in dozens of local, state, and national outlets, and she is a frequent speaker at local schools, organizations, state agencies, workshops, and other outlets.
Veronica is proud to serve as President of the Board of Directors for the ACLU of Oklahoma, in addition to serving on the board of the Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation and the Asian Task Force on Domestic and Sexual Violence. She also activated the state’s largest legal observer program to protect those exercising their First Amendment rights, which began in 2020 and continues to support local protests and demonstrations. She is honored to serve the Muslim community of Oklahoma and to build bridges of tolerance, justice, and mutual understanding in the state that she calls home.
For over 10 years, Karen has been the Director of the Statewide Oklahoma Mental Health and Aging Coalition, providing older adult behavioral health education and advocacy. She champions an approach to wellness as we age that includes both mental and physical health, and promotes the integration of the aging, mental health, disability and physical health networks. She has worked in, and with, both the aging and mental health networks and is a trainer and consultant to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Karen is the Vice Chair of the National Coalition on Mental Health and Aging, Chair of the Behavioral Health Forum on Aging, and serves on several Advisory Councils, Governing Boards and Planning Committees.
She developed the Oklahoma Older Adult Behavioral Health State Plan, the Reducing Depression initiative and the ODMHSAS Older Adult Peer Support Specialty. She is a certified trainer for QPR, Talk Saves Lives, Healthy IDEAS, Mental Health First Aid and Mental Health First Aid for Older Adult.
Kyla Powers is an aspiring mental health therapist and graduate of Oklahoma City University. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in May 2023. Along with working for Crisis Care Ministries, she has just started a new administrative assistant position at Circle of Care.
Aside from becoming a therapist, Kyla’s eventual goal is to start a nonprofit organization for mental health therapy in Oklahoma. She hopes to work closely with both the United Methodist Church and organizations like Crisis Care Ministries to make this happen.
Kyla has been employed many times in the Oklahoma United Methodist Church. She has worked in various positions at the OKUMC conference office, OCU’s Wesley Center, and Edmond First UMC. She sings and plays the violin professionally at her current home church, OKC Wesley UMC.
Rev. Adam Shahan
My mission: Helping individuals, groups, and organizations catch clear, shared vision for ministry
My purpose: Developing meaningful relationships that build up the Body of Christ
My core values: 1) Christ-Centered 2) Creative 3) Storytelling
I am an ordained Elder in Full Connection and my membership is in the Oklahoma Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
I currently serve as the senior minister at the Wesley United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City and have served First Methodist in Moore, OK and First Methodist in Lexington, OK.
I enjoy story-telling and creative communicating; sacred music, piano, and voice; reading and writing; and cooking and traveling as a family.
I am blessed with a wife, Aly, two children, and two much-loved dogs.
Carly Rae Van Zant
Carly Rae Van Zant is a dynamic communications and media expert dedicated to empowering mission-driven entities for unparalleled growth. As the Director of Public Relations at HunterCare Health, she spearheads media campaigns, revolutionizing mental health care accessibility. Carly's influential journey encompasses collaborations with esteemed faith-based institutions like Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma and Oklahoma Catholic Radio. Formerly immersed in broadcast media and digital programming, she's been recognized by the Oklahoma Broadcast Education Association and Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters. Carly's visionary prowess has driven impactful projects spanning nonprofit and for-profit domains, consistently acknowledged by industry leaders.