More About Our Staff

The staff at McDowell Center for Children is dedicated to creating a calm and therapeutic environment for the young men that are seeking treatment. Our team is equipped with the skills and background knowledge to provide the appropriate structure and support to our diverse patients. Many of our staff members have also received their Residential Child and Youth Care Professional Certification. All staff members have completed thorough background checks and passed a comprehensive drug screening. Upon hiring, new staff goes through our rigorous training process, which includes job shadowing with experienced team members. Throughout their tenure, the staff is required to participate in ongoing training and competency-based evaluations to ensure their skills remain at a very high level of ability and professionalism. Learn more about the members of our staff below.

Ernest Hickman
Chief Executive Officer

Ernest Hickman graduated from Lewis University in 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He began working as a Youth Care Worker at McDowell Center for Children in August 2005 and quickly transitioned over to the role of Activity Director, where he developed a love of counseling. While working as the Activity Director, he attended graduate school, and in November 2011, he graduated with a Master of Science in Professional Counseling. Immediately upon graduation, he transitioned over to a therapist position, and by June 2012, he was serving as the Lead Therapist for McDowell Center for Children. He served in this capacity for four years, until he assumed the role as CEO of McDowell Center for Children. Mr. Hickman is dedicated to ensuring that McDowell Center for Children provides the best care possible to patients. You will often see him on the floor, interacting with staff and residents, making sure safety and therapeutic needs are met. 

Tabitha AllenTabitha Allen
Director of Admissions/Intake/UR/Marketing

Tabitha has been with McDowell Center for Children for 11 years. Tabitha graduated from nursing school in 2001 and has worked in multiple areas of nursing, but when she started working with children, she knew this was her calling. She began her tenure at McDowell as the 3rd shift nurse and within two years was promoted into an administration role. In her position, Tabitha strives to ensure a better future for our children. She helps to direct families and providers in the right direction when they’re unsure what kind of treatment their child or patient needs. Tabitha also completes our initial assessments on our clients, even traveling to families when they are unable to come to Dyersburg. She has three boys of her own and has been a lifelong resident of Dyersburg.

Jessica SainJessica Sain, MSW, LCSW
Clinical Director

Jessica Sain, MSW, LCSW, began working at McDowell in 2011. After five years, she became Lead Therapist and after receiving her LCSW in 2018, she became Clinical Director. In this role, she provides administrative and clinical oversight for McDowell Treatment Center. Making use of 12 years of clinical experience, she shapes the direction of the program, supervises clinical staff, serves as a liaison of hiring clinical staff members, and counsels patients. Sain has a lot of experience with children and youth, working as a case manager and also as a sexual assault/domestic violence case manager in previous years. Sain received her master’s in Social Work in May 2011 from Union University. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Tennessee at Martin.

Teresa StewartTeresa Stewart, RN, BSN
Director of Nursing, Improvement and Infection Control

Ms. Stewart began her career at the McDowell Center for Children in August 2002 as an adolescent psychiatric nurse. During her 17 years at McDowell Center, she worked diligently to advance her career and was promoted to the Director of Nursing and Director of Performance Improvement and Infection Control. In her dual roles, Mrs. Stewart is responsible for policy development and enforcement of the statutory guidelines set by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Joint Commission Hospital Accreditation, while also supervising our nursing staff. She received her associate’s degree in nursing from Northwest State Community College in 1996 and obtained her bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee at Martin in 2013 where she graduated with honors, Summa Cum Laude. 

Shannon McCoyShannon McCoy
Lead Teacher

Shannon joined McDowell Education Department in August 2017, completely altering our educational programming by implementing a higher standard of excellence for the entire education department. In her classroom, Shannon incorporates an enhanced hands-on learning and discovery experience, compelling her students to exceed expectations. Shannon believes a student’s mindset is limited only by the perception of barriers they carry and with hard work, positivity, and encouragement they can break those barriers. She received her bachelor’s in History with an emphasis in Political Sciences from the University of Tennessee at Martin in 2010 and is a Tennessee highly-qualified licensed teacher.

Jesse CochranJesse Cochran
Special Education Teacher

Jesse is a Tennessee highly-qualified licensed teacher. He earned his bachelor’s in Education with an emphasis in Teaching All Learners from the University of Memphis in 2018. He joined McDowell in September of 2018, and since his arrival, collaboration in the classroom has soared, and we’ve seen a complete positive turnaround in all our educational classes. Jesse provides a hands-on learning environment with a project-based curriculum that generates enthusiasm for education. Jesse believes his student’s success is tied to forming a more meaningful relationship, even beyond the classroom. 

Lisa GuessLisa Guess
Special Education Teacher (Part-Time)

Lisa is a Tennessee highly-qualified licensed teacher that earned her master’s in Special Education from Tennessee Tech University. She joined McDowell in November 2017. Since her arrival, our educational team has been able to develop a more efficient and effective one-on-one learning atmosphere for our students with special needs. 

Peyton Fortner

Peyton is the newest addition to McDowell’s education department. She earned her bachelor’s in Social Work from the University of Tennessee at Martin. Since arriving in April 2019, she has taken the initiative to submerse herself in our educational program, successfully accommodate education staff in all areas and actively participating in our student’s education. We are excited to see what the future holds with Peyton on our team.

Monica BerryMonica Berry – Therapist

Vickie DunagenVickie Dunagan – LPN, Floor Nurse

Jeff LawrenceJeff Lawrence – Risk/Business Manager

Tonie SmithTonie Smith – Utilization Review Nurse

Barbara WilliamsBarbara Williams – Therapist


Help Is A Call Away

Our admissions staff is available on weekdays from 8:30 a.m to 5 p.m. to provide a no-cost, mental health assessment for your child. Call 888-266-7279 or visit our facility to get started. For questions about our programs, you can also use our online contact form.

In the case of a medical emergency or crisis, please dial 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.