TNOYS hosted our 36th Annual Conference for Services to Youth and Families in Houston last month and was excited to see how enthusiastically attendees embraced this year’s theme of “Stepping Into Your Superpower.” Inspired by a variety of expert speakers and interactive workshops, attendees of all ages and backgrounds worked together to strengthen their skills and discover their own unique talents in an effort to create the best future for Texas’ youth.
As always, the event offered a mix of the latest research- and evidence-based information youth services professionals need to best serve the youth they work with, as well as inspirational speakers and activities to re-energize their commitment to this important work. For the third year in a row, TNOYS invited youth to participate in the conference alongside professionals, providing real-life experience in elevating youth voice and building youth-adult partnerships. Engaging youth in this way is an approach that is proven to strengthen services and improve outcomes. Click here to read the perspectives of two young adults who participated in this year’s conference.
The two-and-a-half day event kicked off on Tuesday, June 25 with two day-long pre-conference institutes on Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), a holistic, evidence-based, multi-systemic, attachment-based, and trauma-informed intervention designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. One session provided a general introduction to the approach, while another focused on how it can be used to serve survivors of trafficking. The sessions were so popular that both reached full capacity weeks in advance and had 200 total attendees.
The full conference kicked off on Wednesday, June 26 with an energizing keynote session by Super Bowl champion and motivational speaker Spencer Tillman, who helped the crowd understand the value of teamwork. Youth and professionals then attended separate workshop tracks with information tailored to their unique needs. Youth learned valuable skills such as building resumes based on their lived experience and financial planning. Professionals participated in their choice of workshops on important topics such as fundraising, youth trafficking, and youth-adult partnerships and then came together for a general session featuring Frank Kros, a neuroscience expert and child advocate. Kros shared the science behind how a youth’s mind works and how to use this knowledge to help them build resilience.
The second full day of the conference opened with an inspirational keynote by trafficking survivor and advocate Alyssa Beck, who shared her personal story and encouraged the crowd to discard labels and think of solutions to fight trafficking in their own communities. The crowd was also entertained and energized with a special superhero-themed step routine by the men of the Zeta Zeta chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity.
The three workshop sessions that day were open to youth and professionals, allowing them to learn from both the expert presenters and each other about important topics such as equity and special populations, personal and professional development, public policy, and more. The full group came together again for a seated lunch and TNOYS’ annual award presentation. During the awards ceremony, attendees heard about the impressive work of each of the award winners, then watched as they were presented with their own superhero cape and shared a few words of thanks and inspiration for the crowd. This year’s award winners were:
- June Bucy Award for Excellence: Stacy Johnson, Central Texas Table of Grace
- Steve Wick Innovative Program: Roy Maas Youth Alternatives, Centro Seguro
- Professional Youth Worker: Chris Lopez, THRU Project
- Outstanding Youth Partner: Justin “Prince” Hayward
- Volunteer of the Year, Webb Crunk, Houston reVision
- Distinguished Leadership Award: Texas State Representative James White
The conference wrapped up on the final day with another sessions of workshops and a closing keynote featuring spoken word artist Marlon Lizama and Chief of the Houston Police Department Art Acevedo. Acevedo shared his belief in the power of “community policing” and was an important point to end the conference on, as the role of the criminal justice system in the lives of youth was a recurring topic throughout many of the conference workshops and sessions.
This year’s conference was attended by professionals from a variety of systems that serve youth, including education, justice, and mental health. This diversity among attendees underscores the importance of serving youth across the continuum of care and TNOYS is encouraged to see that so many different types of professionals came together to learn from each other and gain skills that will better enable them to serve the youth in their care. We hope that each and every attendee left feeling empowered and encouraged to harness their own superpowers in their work and lives!