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Christine Gendron, MPAff, Executive Director
Christine Gendron has served as executive director of TNOYS since 2012, and has been involved with the organization since 2008. In her role at TNOYS, she serves as a resource for policymakers, funders, service providers and others looking to make informed investments to strengthen services for youth and young adults. Prior to becoming executive director of TNOYS, Christine worked as a Senior Research Associate at the LBJ School’s Center for Health and Social Policy, where she was managed evaluations of several innovative state-funded initiatives to promote the well-being of Texas children and their families. Christine has led an array of consulting projects for youth service agencies and authored numerous publications relevant to youth services and child well-being. Christine received her master’s degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, and her bachelor’s degree in History and Women’s Studies from Texas A&M University.
Lara O’Toole, LMSW – Director of Training and Program Development
Lara joined TNOYS in March 2013 to oversee the organization’s training and program development efforts. As a social justice and youth advocate, her work is inspired by a belief in the power of youth and the idea that with the right supports, even the most vulnerable youth can heal and succeed. She has more than 15 years of experience in a variety of youth and community services organizations and statewide initiatives. She has worked with and for children and teens of all ages, including in: a laboratory preschool; a school readiness initiative; a statewide home visiting and mental health program; an inner-city elementary school; domestic violence shelters; sexual assault prevention projects; a teen parent program; youth poetry slams; hip hop creative writing projects; and social justice theater arts events. She also has experience in social marketing, communications/outreach, and professional development. Lara has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Vassar College and a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently pursuing her Advanced Practice social work license.
Valerie Zanders, PhD, LMSW – Director of Research, Policy, and Evaluation
Dr. Valerie Zanders joined TNOYS in May 2017 to establish formal operations for the organization in Houston as its Director of Policy, Research, and Evaluation there. Valerie brings over a decade of experience leading in organizations that serve vulnerable populations, including homeless and dual-status youth. Her previous roles have included serving as Social Worker and Social Work Field Instructor at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston Houston, Project Manager at Baker-Ripley (formerly Neighborhood Centers, Inc.), Manager of Residential Treatment Services at DePelchin Children’s Center, and Manager of Community Rehabilitation at Goodwill Industries of Houston. She has also been a social work field instructor for several institutions, including the University of Houston Clear Lake, where she received the Field Instructor of the Year award. Valerie received her Ph.D. in Psychology from Capella University, her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Southern California, and her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles. A consummate advocate for quality programs, Valerie believes that youth engagement is key in providing quality services.
Jack Nowicki, LCSW– Senior Program Development Specialist
Jack has been with TNOYS for nearly two decades, providing training and consulting for youth services organizations. He is also a lecturer at the University of Texas School of Social Work. He has more than 35 years of experience working with youth and families, including at Children’s Protective Services, LifeWorks, Waco Center for Youth, and in a private practice for marriage and family counseling. Jack is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the State of Texas. He is also certified in ICA Group Facilitation Methods, trained as a trainer in the “Strengthening Families Program,” and a Certified Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. His areas of expertise include strengths-based services, youth and family therapy, youth development, crisis intervention, solution-focused brief therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, counseling adolescents, adult education, team building, clinical and staff supervision, and social work ethics. Jack has been called “the best of the best” in counseling, training and consulting on these issues. Through his work, he aims to ensure that youth and families receive ethical treatment and practitioners are fully prepared to facilitate collaborative conversations. He received his master’s degree in Social Work with an emphasis in direct social work practice from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1979, and his bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the University of Texas at El Paso.
Elizabeth Flint, Program Coordinator
Elizabeth’s work for TNOYS is focused on youth development programming and event planning. She is responsible for overseeing PEAKS Camp, an experiential learning program for youth and adults; organizing Youth In Action Capitol Day, a bi-annual event that brings young Texans to the State Capitol to advocate for policy change; coordinating Transition Age Youth Initiative, which aims to increase youth engagement and collaboration with eight Houston-area mental health organizations; and coordinating TNOYS’ annual conference on services to youth and families. Elizabeth has been working with TNOYS since 2011 and attended PEAKS camp growing up. Her work is driven by a desire to share the value of youth voice in changing programs, systems, and the future. She received her bachelor’s degree in Social Work from The University of Texas at Austin.
Beth Duke, Administrative Specialist
Beth has been TNOYS’ administrative specialist since 2013.