Julia Cuba Lewis - Executive Director
Julia Cuba Lewis, 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 GEN, 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 several 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 of Austin and also for the State of Texas, and was the student commencement speaker for her graduating class. She is past Secretary and currently serves as Chair for the second time of the Austin Commission for Women, and is a graduate of Leadership Austin and Leadership Texas. Julia was also a Visiting Scholar and Community Sabbatical Recipient through The University of Texas Humanities Institute. Julia was an adjunct faculty member of The University of Texas School of Social Work graduate program where she taught Leadership of Human Service Organizations. Julia is also a course instructor for a non-profit leadership certification program through The University of Texas called Lessons from Innovative Social Work Executives for Rising Leaders in Human Service Organizations. She is the co-founder of the Executive Director Lab, a customizable course developed to provide real leadership resources and strategies to emerging leaders. She was the narrator and troop leader in an award-winning documentary about a program she directed 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 GEN:
I love that GEN is addressing critical issues that girls face today, both locally and nationally. GEN is an amazing catalyst for change because we are educating our community about the unique pressures of growing up female. The staff members of GEN 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: Before coming to GEN, Jana worked 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. She is married and the mother of three adult children. Outside of work, Jana enjoys traveling, gardening, great food, her dog, and reading.
What I like about GEN: I would have loved to have had an organization like GEN when I was a girl, especially in middle school. With so many conflicting messages from society about who we should be as females, GEN offers a safe place for girls to explore their true worth and to feel empowered. The GEN team is a strong, dedicated group whom I love working with to further our mission.
Sidney Kenley, Operations & Program Coordinator
Education: Bachelor’s of Social Work; Baylor University, Waco, Texas
Experience: Sidney previously worked with Afterschool Centers on Education (ACE), and did her BSW field internship with Communities in School (CIS) in Waco. Throughout these experiences Sidney saw a trend of bullying and low self-esteem issues in the girls that she worked with and developed a passion to work with girls to help resolve issues that come with being a girl. Upon moving to Austin in May 2014, she began searching for opportunities to work with girls and young women and discovered GEN. She began as an intern in September 2014 and spent a semester helping to plan and coordinate the We Are Girls Conference. She was also a clubGEN program coordinator at Dawson Elementary. Sidney is thrilled to have the opportunity to assist with direct service and programs, as well as the operations that keep GEN running.
What I like about GEN: The GENvironment is extremely welcoming and encouraging. GEN provides incredible programs that target specific needs and age groups of girls. Our mission to support and guide girls through girlhood and our message of empowerment gives girls strength and confidence to make their own choices, be who they are, and stand up for what they believe in. I am excited to be a part of an amazing team that is committed to help girls live healthy and happy lives.
Development and Community Engagement Department
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 GEN. 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 January of 2013. She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Impact Austin, and the Leadership Austin Emerge class of 2014. Her largest volunteer commitment is leading the girls’ giving circle, Girls Giving Grants, through Impact Austin. 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 GEN: Having worked in girl services since 2005, I know firsthand how vital GEN’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.
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 GEN: GEN 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. GEN 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?
Brittany Yelverton, Community Relations & Volunteer Manager
Experience: Brittany is the Community Relations and Volunteer Manager at GEN. 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 GEN 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 GEN 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.
Elena Carey, Development Coordinator
Experience: Elena began at GEN in August 2015 and is thrilled to combine her passions for nonprofit management and girls empowerment. She is originally from eastern Pennsylvania and moved to Austin in spring 2012. Before beginning at GEN, Elena worked as Administrative Director at Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, a green building and sustainable design nonprofit in east Austin. She has also served as Volunteer Coordinator for Movability Austin, Austin’s transportation management association. Elena studied at the College of William and Mary, where she was awarded a Dintersmith Honors Fellowship and Altshuler Scholarship. Beyond work, Elena volunteers for HeartGift and Austin Bat Cave. She runs, reads, and creates mixed media cards often.
What I like about GEN: Each of GEN’s core values resonates with my own principles. There is one unlisted but present value spun throughout GEN’s narrative: empathy. I believe in the profound power of empathy. I have empathy for my younger self, who would have benefitted tremendously from GEN programming, and for all girls, at every age, but especially those just beginning to carve out their role in the world. I have empathy for girls navigating challenges unique to their generation, geography, race, and socioeconomic level. I believe GEN’s work is critical to ensuring we empower girls with a compassion for others and themselves that fuels self-realization and strengthens community.
Leslie Goode Williams, Houston Conference Coordinator
Experience: Leslie is the owner and operator of Williams Events & Consulting. With over 10 years of experience in the event planning industry and the nonprofit community, Leslie has always wanted to work in a capacity that allowed her to merge her passion for event planning with her heart for the nonprofit sector. She has had the opportunity to work on some of Houston’s top events. Prior to forming Williams Events & Consulting, Leslie worked for the nonprofit, The Houston Museum of Natural Science. There she worked for 9 years overseeing the facility rentals department as the Director of Special Events. In that position, she not only served as a vendor to clients and organizations that rented the Museum for events, but also a planner for Museum events such as exhibit openings, promotional events and development events. Leslie is a graduate of the United Way’s Project Blue Print Board Leadership and Development Program (Class XXX1), Member of the Rotary Club’s Group Study Exchange Team to Brazil, and founder of Girlfriends’ Getaway Women’s Movement, a faith-based conference primarily for adult women. She resides in Houston, Texas with her husband and daughter.
What I like about GEN: I can look back as an adult and really appreciate the influence and wisdom from the women in my life. The wisdom that they poured into me as a young girl was absolutely priceless and assisted me in making positive life decisions. Because these women in my life took the time to invest in me as a child, I too wanted to invest in the lives of my nieces, my daughter and every young girl that I came in contact with. That’s what I love about GEN! Their programs empower and pour wisdom into the lives of young girls so that they too can make positive life decisions. The organization is creating a domino effect. Just like myself, I believe the girls impacted by the organization will grow up, invest in and serve as role models to other young girls.
Caroline Crawford, Program Director
Education : B.A. in Communications and Minor in Sociology, College of Charleston, Masters of Science and Social Work, The University of Texas
Experience : Caroline started her work with youth over a decade ago. She has been a mentor and volunteer through several organizations including HeadStart and Boy Scouts of America. Her passion for girls empowerment stems from her time at Camp Greystone, an all girls residential camp in North Carolina. From 2007 to 2010, Caroline was a counselor working with girls on self-confidence and self-worth. She went on to pursue her passion for empowering others through obtaining her masters degree. In 2011-2012, Caroline worked at Winn Elementary performing individual counseling and volunteered with GEN co-leading a clubGEN girls group at Maplewood Elementary. In 2013, Caroline worked with Pheonix House, a residential rehabilitation organization designed for at-risk youth 13 to 18, leading group therapy. From 2013 to 2015, Caroline was promoted from Assistant Director to Director at Camp Champions. Using the camping venue, she created intentional frameworks and programs to support and to reach out to every girl at camp. Caroline could not be more excited about joining the GEN team as their Program Director and working with a mission driven organization empowering young females.
What I like about GEN : Living in a society that covets air-brushed models and unrealistic expectations for women, girls are experiencing more pressure than ever. I love that it is GEN’s mission to help girls navigate through the messages they receive everyday from the media, our culture, and their peers. GEN creates a safe space for girls to be wholeheartedly vulnerable and authentic while exploring who they are and who they want to be. Growing up, I would have truly benefited from a supportive group of women and girls telling me my self-worth was more than just my body or my looks. I hope every girl who participates in GEN programming walks away with a sense of self-confidence and knowing they are worthy of friendship, success, and love.
Alex Cogan, Program Coordinator
Education: A.B.J. in Journalism, A.B. in Sociology from The University of Georgia in Athens, GA.
Experience: Alex started her work with youth as a City Year Americorps member in Boston upon graduating from The University of Georgia in 2010. After serving the community through one-on-one mentoring and tutoring, she shifted gears to work on reforming education policy at the state and local level. Alex used her degrees in Communications and Sociology to help concerned parents and community leaders reform education in their city. In 2014, Alex moved to South America to teach English to Strata 1 middle school students residing in a small island community off the coast of Cartagena. While a WorldTeach volunteer in Colombia, Alex not only picked up on Spanish, but returned to the states with a mission to empower young people. Prior to GEN, she worked with AISD youth in schools managing a tutoring program aimed at lifting up those who had fallen behind in their studies. Alex is so excited to now be at GEN, an organization that embodies all that she stands for!
What I like about GEN: This is an organization that gets straight to the core of girl empowerment. The best way to build confidence is to start young, and GEN is on the front lines, reaching the girls who can benefit from empowerment groups the most. There is a lot conflicting information being thrown at girls today, so now, more than ever, it’s important to have a safe space to discuss challenges, as well as empower girls to handle them. I am thrilled to be part of such an inspiring organization!
Ally Miller, Program Manager
Education: BA in Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, and MA in Counseling from St. Edward’s University Austin, TX.
Experience: Ally started working with GEN as a volunteer in 2011, and spent three years as a Campus Coordinator. In Fall of 2014, Ally was excited the become the GirlConnect Program Coordinator and is now Program Manager. She has worked with youth and in prevention through being a Mental Health Counselor Intern at O’Henry Middle School, the Diversity Leadership Conference, Youth Partnership for Change, the Travis County Underage Drinking Prevention Program, and Phoenix House. Ally is currently learning how to code and enjoying getting involved in the Austin technology community.
What I like about GEN: My favorite thing about GEN is the opportunity to connect with girls in elementary, middle, and high school 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 our programs at GEN provide a place that supports and validates the the girls we work with exactly where they are at.
Chelsea Dean, Program Coordinator
Education: Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin
Experience: Chelsea served as a social work intern for the Girls Empowerment Network in the spring of 2015. During her time at GEN she helped co-facilitate several groups in multiple schools around the Austin area. As well, she assisted in workshops, after school clubs, and was involved in community networking. Prior to her involvement at GEN, Chelsea spent many volunteer hours at Project Transition’s Doug’s House – a hospice for those diagnosed with AIDS, Front Step’s the ARCH – Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, and Inside books – a nonprofit dedicated to sending books to Texas prison inmates. During her time at the University of Texas at Austin, Chelsea was heavily involved with the College Senate and served as her school council’s Vice President during her senior year. She recently graduated from UT with her Bachelor of Social Work in May of 2015. Chelsea is from Brenham, Texas where she grew up with Blue Bell ice cream and bluebonnets. In her spare time you can find her at Zilker Park with her dog, Max. Chelsea’s most important form of self care is quality time with her partner and closest friends.
What I like about GEN: I love that GEN fosters such positive relationships between young women, both in their services and in their office. Having strong female supports was so important in my adolescent years and I love being able to create spaces where young women can meet their peers and form meaningful, supportive relationships. Young women face unique pressures in today’s society and it is so important for them to have a safe space to discuss those issues and collectively explore positive ways to handle such conflict.
Claudia Arellano, Program Coordinator
Experience: Claudia is a Program Coordinator. She has had a variety of roles at GEN, first as a volunteer with the 180 Program in 2013, then as an intern the following spring, and on staff the summer of 2014 through the AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate program. Throughout these many months she was able to co-facilitate and observe groups, workshops, and camps. For the 2014-2015 school year, Claudia served as the Hays County Program Coordinator in the area where she went to school in for 4 years. In her current role, she works full-time with girls in all of the agency’s programs. Claudia was born and raised in Austin, specifically a proud member of the Dove Springs area. She is excited to be a first generation college graduate from a large family. Claudia likes to find time to hang out with her friends and family, listen to music, go to concerts, and find different workout classes to be active in.
What I like about GEN: I love the fact that GEN is so passionate about it’s mission. The environment is welcoming and motivational. It’s a pleasure to be a part of an organization that is open to so many young women in the Central Texas area. I like being a part of a movement that is helping girls become confident in making their own choices for their future. As a Latina, I love seeing the work that is being done in bringing different cultures together in our devotion to bettering the future of the young women we are working with.
Claudia Garate, Program 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 Outreach Specialist and as a clubGEN Campus Coordinator for the 2013-14 school year. 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 is a MSSW candidate at UT, 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 GEN: I would’ve loved to have something like GEN 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 GEN is a highly rewarding and empowering experience in itself.
Estefania Romero, Program Coordinator
Education: B.A. Fashion Marketing and Management, Savannah College of Art and Design, Certification in Life Coaching, Fowler International Academy
Experience: Estefania is originally from Venezuela and moved to the United States when she was eleven years old. She recently relocated to Austin from Miami, Florida and is excited to connect with the latino population through GEN. Estefania first began to work with youth after she graduated college and taught fifth grade for a non-profit organization, Breakthrough Miami. After several years of involvement with Breakthrough, Estefania developed a leadership program for the eighth grade girls of the organization. This program was funded by the Arbonne Charitable Foundation and has recently finished it’s third year. Estefania’s passion for girl empowerment has also led her to receive a 200 HR Yoga Teacher certification and a specialization in Kids Yoga. She believes yoga is an important component to help girls lead a healthy and positive lifestyle. Aside from her work in girl empowerment and yoga, Estefania is an entrepreneur, running a home-based business with a holistic beauty and wellness line, Arbonne. As a way to combine her passions into one, she uses her blog, “A Healthy Girl’s Guide to Life”, to connect with young women and help them find their inspiration to live healthy and happy.
What I like about GEN: I love that GEN connects with girls through authenticity and provides them with a platform for full self-exploration. Girls need support as they discover who they are and face the ups and downs of growing up. It is wonderful that GEN has many programs for girls to choose from. GEN helps bring diversity, creativity and freedom for girls to know they are important, help them feel included and enthusiastic for their future.
Mandi Melendez, Williamson County Program Manager
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 the Program Manager with GEN for Williamson County. 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 GEN 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 GEN: I love that GEN 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.
Natalia Ornelas, Program Manager
Education: B.A. in Psychology from St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX; Master of Science in Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin
Experience: Natalia has worked with Texas youth and families for over eight years. She is passionate about creating opportunity for marginalized communities. Natalia’s professional experience in serving regional non-profits has focused on youth and family development and success through case management, inclusive individual/community support services, policy advocacy, strategic program development, community organizing, and leadership.
What I like about GEN: Society expects girls to fit a certain mold. GEN breaks the mold by empowering, supporting, and guiding girls to live as their authentic, unique, and individual selves. I love that the GEN team works side by side with girls so that together, they create a stronger, inclusive, and supportive community for girls.
Renese Johnson, Williamson County Program Coordinator
Education: BA in Psychology, minor in English Literature from Texas State University and MA in Counseling from St. Edward’s University
Experience: Renese Johnson is a Licensed Professional Counselor with over 13 years of experience in the field of mental health and working with at risk youth to include residential treatment work, foster/adoption, and adolescents in the juvenile justice system as well as women and children dealing with incarceration and reentry. Renese served as the Program Coordinator for Girl Scouts Beyond Bars and Juvenile Justice Initiative. Her professional interests include a focus on children’s mental health, juvenile and parental incarceration and the effects these circumstances have on the family system. Renese has also presented at the African American Men and Boys Harvest Foundation Conference, the Girl’s Leadership Institute at Austin Community College, the 5th and 6th Annual Prisoner’s Family Conference, Social Work Day at Kansas University and the Healthy Youth Providers’ Conference.
What I like about GEN: Being a young woman is difficult in today’s’ world. Although there are more images of positive diverse women role models the ever prevailing restrictive, sexualized few of femininity is wide spread. It is important that children in general but young girls in particular know their options are limitless and that they never need to be defined by the narrow perspective of how they are perceived. GEN truly focuses on this and strives to reach all girls to help them have brighter futures.