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Our Team


Shirley Smith

Founder & CEO 

Shirley Smith is a native of Newark, New Jersey.  Prior to moving to Cleveland, Ohio, Shirley worked as a Teacher's Aid at the Leaguers Head Start program and had obtained her Associates Degree in Liberal Arts  from Union County College in Cranford, NJ, while raising her eldest daughter, Demi. 

While residing in Cleveland, Ohio, she attended Cleveland State University, majoring in Urban Studies with a minor in Organizational Leadership.  She originally founded My Kota Bear after giving birth to preemie daughter, Dakota also known as Kota Bear.

Since moving back to New Jersey in 2018 (after giving birth to her youngest daughter, Denver), Shirley has worked diligently to acquire the non-profit 501c3 status for My Kota Bear and continues to work services families of the NICU who are in need all across the United States.


Her experiences of being raised in the inner city of Newark ignited a flame in her at a young age to uplift and give back to those around her.  When she was 21 years old, her mother passed away, creating a passion within herself that centered around empowering and uplifting young women.  While in Cleveland she mentored young girls and after coming back to New Jersey, Shirley started  Dropping Jewels, which is here to inspire and motivate women & girls to push through on purpose. 

To share key strategies to encourage, support and prepare individuals to push through the hurt, pain and disappointments that life may present to them as they move forward in life through education, empowerment via social media, emails, teachings via workshops, conferences, videos, audios, etc.

Danica Raney

Executive Director

Danica Raney has been making inroads in the marketing industry for, approximately, 12 years. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications, a Marketing Certification and over 15 years (collectively) of experience in customer service, administrative, entertainment/radio, event planning, sales, marketing and as an entrepreneur.

Her work in these industries, expertise and certifications have demonstrated significant achievement, and reaped lasting results for the companies and clients that she has worked with.


She handles all of the day to day operations of My Kota Bear and the marketing, which includes  social media and email marketing in which she specializes in as she owns a Social Media Marketing Agency called Perfect PR & Marketing.

Danica has also held and currently holds varies leadership positions at her church, Love of Jesus Family Church of Newark and her sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Beta Alpha Omega Chapter of Newark.

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Dr. Esney Sharpe


Dr. Esney Mae Sharpe is the Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Bessie Mae Women and Family Health Center located in East Orange, Essex County, NJ.

Dr. Sharpe holds several prominent positions and is a statewide and national leader.  She is one of the Itinerant Pastors and a member for over 38 years at Victory Cathedral Church in Union, NJ; she is the former President of the Orange Public Library Board of Trustees; an Executive Board Member of the NJ Library Trustee Association; elected as the 2016 and 2018 United States Congressional Speaker on Capitol Hill for ALA’s National Legislative Day for State of NJ; Chairwoman of the Urban Life Counseling Center, Inc. Board of Trustees; Member of the State of New Jersey Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General, Human Trafficking Task Force – Faith Based Subcommittee; Advisory Board and Partnership for the African American Brain Health Initiative, Brain Health & Aging Center for Molecular & Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers University, Newark.  Vice-Chairwoman of the Essex Metro Immunization Coalition; Executive Board Member of the Partnership for Maternal Child Health of Northern New Jersey; Vice President of the Eloquent Bouquet Kitchen, Inc. (Science & Sustainability); Vice-President of Eloquent Boutique Kitchen (Science & Sustainability) Organization; Member of the East Orange Non-Profit Organization; Member of the Essex County Urban Essex Coalition; Secretary of the Board of Directors for Universal Bible Institute Sonship Program; member of the National Association of Professional Women since 2012; and Member of the National Career Institute Advisory Board.

Dr. Sharpe is an extraordinary, distinguished and phenomenal woman who has dedicated her life to serving the community in many, many capacities!  To hear more about this outstanding entrepreneur go to the web site for Bessie Mae Women and Family Health Center:

Aishah Abudullah


Aishah Abdullah, from Newark, NJ is an ambitious woman who is an Alumni of Hampton University where she received her Bachelor of Science in Accounting.

Aishah was determined to excel and continued to further her education and received her M.B.A at Saint Peter's College in New Jersey.

She is a force in her expertise, making strides with over 20 clients and their businesses all over the world as a Senior Accountant at Bederson LLP (Accounting & Advisor) firm, whom she has worked with for 12 years.


Kawana Curry


Lynn McGhee



Kim Wilson
Kim Harris-Wilson
Nellian Barrett
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Cortney Stoutemire
Alicia "Tasha" Boue'
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Michelle currently resides in Mentor, OH where she lives with her husband of16 years and 2 children. Michelle received her AS degree in Nursing from Lakeland Community College in 2009 and her BS degree in Nursing from the Chamberlain College of Nursing with President's Honors in 2016.

Michelle is currently working as a Team Lead at the Cleveland Clinic Willoughby Hills Family Health Center in Internal Medicine. Michelle has 15 years of experience as a caregiver with the Cleveland Clinic. Beginning as a Phlebotomist and moving on to ER RN, NICU RN, Cardia RN and Internal Medicine RN.

Michelle continues to care for the entire lifespan and their families. She has received many caregiver awards and was one of the original recipients of the Safety Stay Award. Michelle loves to volunteer. Some of her volunteer work includes cochairing the NICU fundraiser, ASA's Angels, Mentor Hockey Booster and putting together multiple baskets for charity.

Debbie Andrews

Torrie Florence

Our meetings are held every 1st Thursday of the month at 7pm at:

Due to COVID-19 our monthly Board Meetings will be held virtually until further notice.

My Kota Bear is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.


Topic: My Kota Bear Monthly Board Meeting
        Every month on the First Thursday of each month at 7pm, EST.


Meeting ID: 857 7598 0843

Passcode: 752039

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