Julia Cuba - Executive Director
B.A. in Women’s Studies, Creative Writing, Literary Studies, Beloit College, Beloit, WI; Master of Science in Social Work, University of Texas at Austin
Before GENaustin, Julia worked for eight years at the Girl Scouts of Central Texas running various outreach programs that served at-risk girls. Prior to that, she worked in Chicago at various grassroots women’s agencies on equal employment opportunities, international women’s issues, mentor programs and emergency rape counseling. She is the recipient of numerous professional and academic awards, including Austin Under 40. While earning her Master’s degree at UT, she was honored as the NASW Student of the Year for the City and the State, and was the student commencement speaker for her graduating class. She is currently the Chair of the Austin Commission for Women, and is a graduate of Leadership Austin and Leadership Texas. She was the narrator and troop leader in an award-winning documentary about a program she developed while at the Girl Scouts called Troop 1500, which aired on PBS to more than 800,000 viewers in March 2006 and was highlighted in O Magazine, People Magazine, This American Life and won the runner up “Audience Award” at SXSW. The documentary, about a Girl Scout troop with incarcerated mothers, had a successful U.S. tour with Julia as its spokesperson and can still be seen on PBS today.
What I like about GENaustin:
I love that GENaustin is addressing critical issues that girls face today, both locally and nationally. GENaustin is an amazing catalyst for change because we are educating our community about the unique pressures of growing up female. The staff members of GENaustin are as passionate about women’s and girls issues as I am, and that makes our work environment not only energetic, but educational and very fun. Together we are committed to being a resource for our community – so that when a parent, educator or girl calls us for help, we have a way.
Jana Collins - Operations Director
B.A., Business Administration, Austin College, Sherman, TX; M.B.A., Finance, University of North Texas, Denton, TX
Experience: Jana’s most recent experience was as Back Office Manager for Greenlights for Non Profit Success. She has also worked as the accountant for a small consulting firm, and as a financial analyst for Travis County. Jana began her career in Dallas as a banker.
Jana was a PTA volunteer for many years, serving in almost every capacity including President, Treasurer, and Fundraising Chair. Jana is married and the mother of three adult children. Outside of work, Jana enjoys traveling, gardening, her dogs, and reading.
What I like about GENaustin: I would have loved to have had an organization like GENaustin when I was a girl, especially in middle school. With so many conflicting messages from society about who we should be as females, GENaustin offers a safe place for girls to explore their true worth and to feel empowered. The GENaustin team is a strong, dedicated group who I love working with to further our mission.
Ami Kane - Development Director
Education: B.A. in Political Science, Psychology, and Gender Studies from Butler University, Indianapolis, IN; M.P.A. in Nonprofit Management from Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, IN.
Experience: Ami is from the Indianapolis area which is where her passion for girl services began. This interest was sparked through volunteerism and her undergraduate political science and gender studies programs where she was honored as the Servant Leadership award winner in 2007. Her commitment to girls was further inspired by over four years of work with Girls Incorporated of Greater Indianapolis, during which time she also received her masters. After arriving in Austin in late 2009, Ami worked briefly with Foundation Communities before going back to her girl service roots with GENaustin. Ami managed the annual We Are Girls Conference for three years, serving thousands of girls, before moving into her present role as Development Director. In her free time Ami loves to watch movies, read, volunteer, try new nail polish, blog, and swim at Barton Springs.
What I like about GENaustin: Having worked in girl services since 2005, I know firsthand how vital GENaustin’s empowering messages and skill building activities are for girls. I am so happy to be a part of an organization led by women working to make a real difference in the lives of girls. It is because of a commitment to our mission that I’m honored to work with our community to ensure the necessary resources to support our fabulous, life changing programs for girls.
Rachel Thrift - Program Director
Education: BA in Sociology, University of Texas at Austin; Master of Social Work, University of Michigan
Experience: While obtaining her bachelor’s degree, Rachel worked with the Girl Scouts of Central Texas providing supportive services to youth in foster care, incarcerated youth and youth with incarcerated parents. In Michigan, she worked with the Michigan Women’s Justice and Clemency Project on behalf of female survivors of domestic violence who were incarcerated for using self-defense against their abusers. She also served a year-long internship with a private foster care agency in Detroit, Michigan. After moving back to Austin, Rachel spent 2 years working with the Texas Council on Family Violence providing training and technical assistance to family violence programs across the state. Before coming to GENaustin, Thrift worked for Communities In Schools for 2 years providing school-based counseling and supportive services to children and their families. She is excited to join GENaustin so that she can focus her efforts on the needs of adolescent girls. When she is not working, you can find Rachel at Dharma Yoga, on her bicycle in East Austin, or out sampling new restaurants. Rachel served as the clubGEN Program Manager with GENaustin for 2 years before becoming Program Director.
What I like about GENaustin: I joined the GENaustin team so that I could work with an amazing network of strong women who are devoted to serving girls! clubGEN is exactly what was missing from my life in Middle School, so I feel honored to be part of such a crucial program. I love that GENaustin is a space for all girls and women to express and celebrate their female identity.
Rachel Ladov - Pathfinder Curriculum Developer
Education: B.A. in Urban Studies, Haverford College, Haverford, PA; Master of Science in Social Work, University of Texas at Austin
Experience: Rachel Ladov, LCSW, is GENaustin’s former program director, and is currently serving as the curriculum developer of the new Pathfinder program. Rachel began her career in social services working for 2-1-1 Texas, United Way Capital Area’s information and referral helpline. After pursuing a master’s degree in social work at the University of Texas, she worked for several years at a local nonprofit healthcare clinic. At the clinic, she provided counseling and other support services to youth, including many with developmental and/or behavioral issues. Through her work with youth and families, she became increasingly aware of the community’s need for creative, engaging programs to support the healthy development of teenage girls. Since coming to GENaustin, she has helped to grow and develop several programs designed to meet that need. Rachel’s focus has been to develop these programs so that they are relevant to girls, reach a diverse population, and based in sound research and evaluation. Outside of work, Rachel enjoys being outdoors, traveling, cycling, reading, and spending time with her family.
What I like about GENaustin: I love working with all the passionate, talented staff and volunteers who are a part of GENaustin. I am most inspired when I get to spend time with the smart, funny, strong girls who are part of GENaustin’s programs.
Brittany Yelverton- Community Relations and Volunteer Manager
Experience: Brittany is the Community Relations and Volunteer Manager at GENaustin. Though originally from Texas, Brittany pursued her undergraduate degree at Elon University in North Carolina where she earned a BA in Communications and English and minored in Women’s/Gender Studies. After graduating from Elon, Brittany was selected as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar and earned her graduate degree in Media Studies at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. Brittany first began working in the Austin nonprofit community when she served as the AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer Specialist at GENaustin in 2011-2012. Most recently, Brittany served as Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas’ Community Outreach Specialist and was awarded the 2013 Reproductive Equity Award from the Lilith Fund. Currently, Brittany acts as an advisor for Impact Austin’s Girls Giving Grants program and serves as the Board Vice President for DOVIA (Directors of Volunteers in Austin).
What I like about GENaustin: I have an overwhelming amount of respect for the work that GENaustin does, and I am thrilled to be able to contribute to an organization dedicated to empowering girls and creating inclusive and supportive programs for young women. Additionally, I am exceptionally excited to connect Central Texas community members to valuable opportunities for engagement with this incredibly significant and impactful organization.
Celeste King- clubGEN Campus Coordinator
Education: B.S. in Youth and Community Studies, Minor in Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin (Hook ‘Em!)
Experience: Celeste served from June 2012-August 2013 as the AmeriCorps VISTA, Summer Associate and then Volunteer Specialist, before transitioning into her role as clubGEN Campus Coordinator. She was born and raised in Colorado, but has considered Austin home for the last five years. During her time at UT, Celeste was active in the Texas Spirits social organization, while serving as a volunteer for the UT Autism Project, Camp Fire USA-Balcones Council, and the Horse Powered Learning Program. Outside of work, Celeste can be found trying new restaurants and recipes, napping with her mini dachshund Joanie, or getting caught up in a new television series.
What I like about GENaustin: I am unbelievably lucky to have many strong, confident and beautiful women in my life who taught me how to handle the most difficult situations with grace and resiliency. I hope, through my work at GENaustin, that I can serve as that positive role model for all the girls we serve. I am so excited to work with such amazing women who share my passion for changing people’s lives for the better.
Claudia Garate- clubGEN Campus Coordinator
Education: B.A. in Psychology, Minor in Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin
Experience: Claudia served from June 2012-August 2013 as the AmeriCorps VISTA, Summer Associate and then Volunteer Specialist, before transitioning into her role as clubGEN Campus Coordinator. She is originally from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, but has lived primarily in Central Texas and loves living in Austin. While in college, she formed an organization called Gain to Give, where she worked in the production of a benefit concert for adrenal cancer research and focused on outreach, fundraising, marketing and social media. She also worked as a research assistant at UT’s children’s research labs, but her most inspiring work with girls began when she worked as the head coach for eighth grade volleyball and as the assistant basketball coach for middle school and high school girls at Austin Waldorf School. Outside of work, Claudia loves meditating, cooking, reading and watching soccer. She can often be found singing and dancing her way through the Austin music scene.
What I like about GENaustin: I would’ve loved to have something like GENaustin growing up- it’s so amazing to see the ways in which our programs help girls embrace not only who they are as a person, but also to embrace everyone around them. I feel totally privileged to be working in such a supportive and positive environment with such passionate staff. I’ve found that our programs don’t just empower the girls who attend, but that working with GENaustin is a highly rewarding and empowering experience in itself.
Ally Miller- clubGEN Campus Coordinator
Education: BA in Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin in 2010, and is currently working on her Master’s in Counseling at St. Edward’s University
Experience: Ally started working with GENaustin as a volunteer in 2011, and is now starting her third year as a Campus Coordinator. She recently completed certification as a Positive Discipline Parent Educator and is currently pursuing certification to be a Prevention Specialist. Ally has worked in prevention through Youth Partnership for Change, the Travis County Underage Drinking Prevention Program, and Phoenix House.
What I like about GENaustin: My favorite thing about GENaustin is the opportunity to connect with middle schoolers in a positive way. So many students are surrounded by criticism, negativity, and the message telling them they aren’t good enough the way they are. I love that clubGEN provides a place that supports and validates the middle school girls exactly where they are at.
We Are Girls
Blair Stirek - We Are Girls Conference Coordinator
Education: B.A. in Communication Studies from University of Nevada Las Vegas
Experience: Blair moved to Austin, Texas at the end of 2012, after being in Las Vegas for 17 years. She started her work with non profits in 2005 when she organized all the events for an organization called Women’s Empowerment Network. After working with a few different marketing companies and doing brand management Blair found herself working for Aid for AIDS of Nevada, the largest non profit in Southern Nevada to support people with HIV and AIDS. She held a role with AFAN for almost 2 years as Development Coordinator, which entailed planning the Las Vegas AIDS Walk, which would have more than 8,000 attendees. Blair always had a dream of going to Africa, so she put her mind to it and personally fundraised over $5,000 to spend July 2012 in Uganda building sustainable businesses for schools. Shortly after returning from Uganda Blair was contacted by Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Nevada, an organization she had been volunteering with for years. They invited her to come on temporarily to manage their 5K and “Knockout Cancer for Candlelighters Kids” an amateur MMA fighting event. Immediately after the execution of these events Blair moved to Austin, Texas. Blair also volunteers locally at LIVESTRONG, Animal Trustees, and Texas Veg Fest.
What I like about GENaustin: GENaustin is near and dear my heart. I remember what it was like to be a young girl just like it was yesterday. There are so many challenges EVERY moment of the day. GENaustin wants to take those challenges and help young girls through them before it is too late. How could someone not believe in an organization like this?
Girl Talk Workshops
Joy Beth Myers - Workshop Coordinator
Joy Beth Myers
Education: B.S. in Mass Communication and Electronic Media Production from Middle Tennessee State University
Experience: After a few years in the production field, Joy Beth decided to follow her passion for the healthy development girls. Prior to coming on staff, Joy Beth was a GENaustin Workshop volunteer as well as a volunteer for Austin Child Guidance Center and the YWCA in Nashville, TN. She is thrilled to pursue a career in providing direct service to girls and women in her community.
What I love about GENaustin: GENaustin provides incredible programs and experiences to so many girls in our community. GENaustin’s message of empowerment is allowing girls to have an even stronger voice here in Austin. It is a privilege to be a part of a team that is dedicated celebrating girlhood and helping girls build a healthy self-esteem!
Beth Donnan - 180 Program Coordinator
Education: Bachelor’s in Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX.
Experience: Beth is the 180 Program Coordinator at GENaustin. She started as a BSW intern with the 180 program and has since officially joined the team! In her experience as an intern she was able to learn about a variety of issues facing girls today. She co-faciliatated several 180 groups and was able to complete a group on her own. Beth also learned about working with other organizations and was able to attend many meetings throughout the community. Beth was also able to be part of a clubGEN at one of our middle schools. She greatly enjoys being able to work directly with such incredible girls! When not working Beth enjoys reading, listening to music, going to the gym and exploring Austin with her friends.
What I like about GENaustin: I love being able to work with such strong and empowering women. Our clients are all incredible and teach me something new every day. I am always inspired by their strength and resiliency! The staff at GENaustin is fantastic as well. Everyone is driven and passionate to work toward the goal of helping to empower girls! I have learned so much from everyone in my time here and have grown so much. I am excited to be able to share my passion and excitement about girls’ issues with such a wonderful organization.
Mandi Melendez - Williamson County 180 Facilitator
Education: Master of Arts in Professional Counseling, Texas State University; Master of Arts in Interpersonal
Communication, University of Texas at Austin; Bachelor of Science, Corporate Communication, University of Texas at Austin
Experience: Mandi is a 180 Group Facilitator with GENaustin. She is an active member of several local family and play therapy organizations, and specializes in counseling children and adolescents, as well as their parents. Mandi’s family has lived in Williamson County for generations, so she is especially pleased to be helping extend the reach of GENaustin to the girls who need it there. When not leading amazing girl groups, Mandi loves to cook, read, travel and play.
What I like about GENaustin: I love that GENaustin enables girls and the people who care about them to come together in a useful and engaging way. Girls today face some unique pressures, and having a resource to explore and address those issues and find support and community with other girls is vital.
Marisa O'Connor - GirlConnect Program Coordinator
Education: BA in Photography from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and MS in Counseling from National Louis University in Chicago.
Marisa works as the GirlConnect Coordinator at GENaustin. A recent Austin transplant, Marisa spent the last nine years working for The Menomonee Club for Boys and Girls in Chicago, a non-profit that provides recreational and enrichment programs to over 2,000 Chicago area youth. It was because of her work at The Menomonee Club that she knew she wanted to continue to work for other organizations that are making a real difference in the community. This idea is what first drew her to GENaustin.
When not working, Marisa enjoys going camping, hanging out with her dog, having picnics, eating apple pie and collecting vintage cameras.
What I like about GENaustin: I think GENaustin is doing such important work for the girls here in Central Texas. I wish I had something like GENaustin when I was growing up! I am so grateful to be part of this amazing team of women who are helping to make a difference in the lives of girls.
Amanda Villarreal- AmeriCorps VISTA Outreach Specialist
Experience: Amanda is the AmeriCorps VISTA, Outreach Specialist at GENaustin. She is proud to say she was born and raised in Austin, TX. She attributes her passion for women’s and girls’ advocacy to when she facilitated GENaustin’s clubGEN programs during her junior and senior years at McCallum High School. While at Amherst College in western Massachusetts, Amanda followed her passion for working with girls and managed the college’s educational partnership with the Girls Inc. of Holyoke, MA by recruiting, training, and orienting 50+ tutor/mentors every semester. This led to her senior thesis on girls’ development programs. Also at Amherst, Amanda founded a women’s student networking and mentoring organization, which helps ease college first-year women into college life, and provides social and professional networking opportunities for female students and alumnae. After graduation, Amanda moved to Washington, D.C. to work in women’s and girls’ and Latino advocacy, but is very excited to be working back in her home state. In her free time, Amanda enjoys running on Town Lake, lap swimming, yoga, and spending time in local cafés and art galleries.
What I like about GENaustin: My high school facilitator experience with clubGEN changed my life. It taught me how to empower myself through empowering others. I have taken this lesson into every experience since then. I love that GENaustin really listens to the needs of the girls we serve and works diligently to create safe spaces to get these met. The genuine level of care I feel from every person I work with at GENaustin amazes me.
Lesli Simms- AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer Specialist
Education: Bachelor’s in Literature from St. Edwards University, Austin, TX.
Experience: Lesli is the Americorps VISTA, Volunteer Specialist. Lesli is very proud to say that she hails from the same hometown as Beyonce Giselle Knowles-Carter, Houston! She recently received a literature degree from St. Edward’s University where she had the opportunity to write about her favorite topics: Alice Walker, the Iliad and Batman. Before joining this amazing staff, Lesli volunteered with clubGEN at Widen Elementary with some of the funniest, sassiest and most amazing 4th-5th grade girls on the planet. She has also been a Workshop, Conference and 180 volunteer. Through volunteering with GENaustin, Lesli fell in love with direct service.
Lesli’s passion for women’s and girls’ empowerment was inspired by her remarkable family, especially her parents, and her love of Beyonce’s women-centric music. As the youngest of four girls and a recent aunt, Lesli understands the importance of having fierce female role models. As a first generation American, Lesli strives to uplift women of color by giving them a voice when they would otherwise be silenced or ignored. She is incredibly thrilled and humbled by the opportunity GENaustin is giving her.
What I like about GENaustin: I love that our mission allows us to go out into our community and directly serve girls. I love that GENaustin is committed to the action of empowerment and not just the idea. The passion of this staff is incomparable and inspires me every day. Honestly, I wake up happier than I was the day before because of my job. I could not find a better place to work even I wished.