For the staff here at TNOYS, one of the highlights of our Annual Conference is getting to present annual member awards to deserving youth services professionals and organizations within our network. This year, we had an amazing group of awardees to recognize for all their hard work to secure a bright future for Texas’ youth and families. The awards were presented today at a Member Awards Luncheon at the Annual Conference in Houston. Below are details about each award winner and why they were recognized.
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services – Distinguished Leadership Award
Several of this year’s awardees stood out because of their hard work to protect vulnerable youth and families impacted by Hurricane Harvey last summer. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services received the Distinguished Leadership Award in recognition of its work during and after the storm, and DFPS Commissioner Hank Whitman and Associate Commissioner Kristene Blackstone were on site in Houston to accept the award.
When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston last year, it impacted thousands of youth in the state’s care – within days of the storm, over 900 of these youth living in 21 residential facilities in the Houston area had been evacuated to safety. DFPS was responsible for tracking all youth in the state’s care during this time and also stepped in to help coordinate evacuations and provide other assistance as needed. Once the storm had passed and rebuilding efforts began, the agency was then responsible for monitoring and supporting the many foster care providers and families already considered to be “in crisis” who were suddenly without housing.
“The department’s response to Hurricane Harvey demonstrated outstanding leadership, required strong coordination, and displayed the commitment of the agency’s staff, from the top down, to protect children despite challenges,” said Christine Gendron, TNOYS’ executive director. “The response was especially impressive given all of the changes the agency was already going through at the time and the fact that so many of its staff members were personally impacted by the storm.”
Rafael Sarango, Salvation Army Young Adult Resource Center – June Bucy Award for Excellence
The June Bucy Award for Excellence honors former TNOYS Executive Director June Bucy and recognizes an awardee each year who has exhibited excellence, leadership and made significant contributions to the field of youth services. Rafael Sarango, manager of the Houston Salvation Army’s Young Adult Resource Center (YARC), is truly deserving of this year’s award for his amazing dedication and contagious passion for what he does.
The YARC provides a much-needed service in the Houston area by connecting homeless young adults, ages 18 to 25, to housing and other mainstream supports while providing respite, emergency meals, job coaching, recovery coaching, and non-traditional educational support, tutoring and re-engagement. These services were especially important during Hurricane Harvey, as homeless youth were particularly vulnerable to harm during the difficult conditions and many more youth suddenly found themselves without housing. YARC — and Rafael — are setting an example for how programs can meet young adults where they are, build alliances with them, and provide trauma-informed care.
Hope’s Path – Steve Wick Innovative Program Award
Houston-area Hope’s Path received the Steve Wick Innovative Program Award for launching a truly unique new program that has had an incredible impact in its less than two years in operation. First opening its doors in December 2016, this TNOYS member organization is focused on providing solutions to help youth ages 18-26 who are transitioning out of foster care get on the path to being successful adults. Hope’s Path offers apprenticeships and internships for foster youth and alumni in collaboration with universities, business industries, and other vocational leaders, and also places a strong focus on building longstanding, trusting relationships and healing from trauma. In under two years, Hope’s Path created a unique program that has already made a significant impact, recently celebrating the college graduations of two of its original youth participants.
Fennell Seilenga, ACH Child and Family Services – Professional Youth Worker Award
TNOYS member ACH Child and Family Services nominated Fennell Seilenga to receive this year’s Professional Youth Worker Award, in recognition of his valuable contributions to ACH’s mission and values as a mentor with the organization’s LIFE Project. The LIFE Project works with 18-21 year old young adults to help them learn what it means to be a responsible adult. ACH praised Fennell for viewing his job through the eyes of his clients and always staying humble and open to growth, which has allowed him to build strong bonds with the young adults. According to the staff at ACH, “In a job that can turn very cynical, Fennell stays relationship-focused and understands that growth is a continuous process, not an individual metric, and works to be an illustration of the LIFE Project’s overall goal of becoming a responsible adult.”
Craig Cormier – Outstanding Youth Partner Award
2018 marks the first year that TNOYS has given an Outstanding Youth Partner Award – we felt this was an important award to add given our organization’s increased focus on elevating youth voice, particularly at this year’s Annual Conference. We are excited to present this first annual award to Craig Cormier, nominated by TNOYS member Harris County Protective Services for his work with Harris County Youth on B.O.A.R.D, which gives youth in the foster care system an opportunity to make their voice heard and impact services. Craig is a graduating senior and future University of Houston freshman who has been active with Youth on B.O.A.R.D for the past five years, as well as a member of the Harris County Youth Advisory Council and Youth MOVE Houston.
Craig has been instrumental in volunteering his time and talents to helping others. Whether it is with a conference presentation, a food drive, or a youth-led initiative, he is always available to lend a hand. According to Harris County Protective Services, “Craig challenges himself to give more, to work harder, and to gain new insight on becoming a better leader. He is very driven and always sees opportunity where others may see roadblocks.”
Bob Daemmrich and Susan Jensen, Upbring – Volunteers of the Year
Bob Daemmrich and Susan Jensen were both nominated by Upbring in Austin for their tireless dedication as volunteers for TNOYS member Upbring’s BeREAL program. BeREAL is a housing program for young adults that helps them transition to leading successful adult lives. As volunteers, Bob and Susan have done everything from collecting donations to furnish the apartments to the helping coordinate and execute the move-in process for new residents. Moreover, the two have not just dedicated their own time and efforts, but have motivated their congregation at St. Martin’s Lutheran Church to also put their resources behind BeREAL and help make it a success. Upbring is incredibly grateful for their support and TNOYS is pleased to have a chance to recognize their efforts.