Last month, TNOYS’ 40th Annual Conference on Services to Youth and Families in Houston brought together over 400 attendees of all ages and backgrounds for an energizing week of learning, networking, and fun. Our team was excited to host a wide variety of expert speakers and interactive workshops that empowered youth, young adults, and professionals to uncover their strengths and build toward a brighter future for youth and family services.
Following a separate virtual day on May 18, The in-person portion of the conference began on Tuesday, June 13 with three day-long, in-depth pre-conference institutes: Is Compassion Really Fatiguing? Going Beyond Self-Care, Introduction to Youth ThriveTM, and a training on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation-Identification Tool (CSE-IT).
The full conference began on Wednesday, June 14 with a warm welcome from TNOYS CEO Fedora Galasso, and an engaging keynote session by social worker and academic Jama Shelton. They shared insights from their work alongside LGBTQ+ young people experiencing housing instability and homelessness, encouraging attendees to think deeply about structural and individual level changes.
Next, youth and young adult attendees dove into topics like vision boarding and career readiness while professionals participated in their choice of workshops on topics such as adolescent addiction, advancing health equity, and child welfare agency resources. The day closed out with both youth and professionals attending a special panel discussion featuring members of TNOYS’ YALC (Young Adult Leadership Council), who spoke on ways providers can uplift young people to build capacity and effect systems change.
In celebration of over 40 years of TNOYS history, our team hosted a very special anniversary event Wednesday evening. The 40 Years of Brilliance Gala was a chance to celebrate, look back on TNOYS’ history and the incredible community behind it, and of course recognize the hard work and achievements of our members. TNOYS was proud to honor Joel Levine, a longstanding supporter who has been a champion for Texas youth and young adults for over 30 years. Joel is retiring from the TNOYS board after 20 years of dedicated service, and we were honored to mark this milestone with a recognition of his many contributions to TNOYS, our network, and the youth services field.
The second full day of the conference opened with a special meet-and-greet breakfast with DFPS Commissioner Stephanie Muth, exclusive to TNOYS members, to learn about upcoming initiatives at the department.
Next, Jose Alfaro gave a keynote address on his lived experience as a survivor of domestic child sex trafficking and youth homelessness. The day then continued with workshop sessions open to youth and professionals on topics such as preventing trafficking, supporting youth transitioning into adulthood, and leadership skills for non-profit employees. TNOYS YALC members led several sessions where they shared their own perspectives as young leaders who have lived expertise in systems.
A luncheon followed, with a special graduation ceremony for TNOYS YALC members. Attendees shared words of encouragement to these young adults with lived experiences as they continue their leadership journeys.
The third and last day of the conference opened with one final set of workshops, which covered topics such as college resources for students with foster care experience, strategies to remain calm in the workplace, and the intersection of substance abuse and human trafficking. Our closing keynote session was with Chris Thomas, creative director and emcee for the conference, who spoke on the power of art and artistic expression, especially for youth and young adults (YYA) who face adversity.
We at TNOYS were thrilled to see participation from professionals across the full continuum of youth-serving systems. We hope that each and every attendee left the conference feeling energized and motivated to further “Unearth [their] Brilliance.” Check out more highlights in our Facebook photo album.
We also want to give a special shout out to our sponsors and exhibitors as this event could not be such a success without them. We hope to see you all at next year’s Annual Conference!