Focus 2023 Presenters

Keynote Presenters, Panelists, and Facilitators

Julia Richardson

Julia E. Richardson serves as the Treasurer of the NSPN Board of Directors. She was most recently the director of advocacy and senior counsel at the National Association for Behavioral Healthcare (NABH), an organization that advocates for mental health and substance use facilities across the country. Prior to joining NABH, Julia served as director of the Office of Legislative Affairs for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. She previously served as senior counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules & Administration, then chaired by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). Before she moved to the Senate, Julia served as counsel to the commission chair and vice chair at the Federal Election Commission (FEC). She also served as a legislative assistant/director and district office coordinator in the Florida House of Representatives.

Julia earned her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center and is a member of the District of Columbia Bar and the Florida Bar.

Arash Ghafoori
Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth

Arash Ghafoori (he, him, his) is the CEO of the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth (NPHY), Southern Nevada’s most comprehensive service provider for homeless youth. Leveraging his diverse background in policy, academia, and the start-up and corporate worlds, Ghafoori has transformed NPHY into a community leader on issues affecting Southern Nevada’s homeless youth. He is a passionate advocate for disadvantaged populations and is an active leader in the national and local movements to end youth homelessness, serving on the Board of Directors of the National Network for Youth, the Advisory Board of National Safe Place, and the Southern Nevada Homelessness Continuum of Care Board. A firm believer in leveraging the intersections between the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to create visionary solutions for social problems, he speaks locally and nationally on best practices in serving homeless youth and how to incorporate sound business practices into non-profit management.

Ghafoori holds a multidisciplinary B.A. in International Relations and Political Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an M.A. in Economics from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was honored in 2014 as a “40 Under 40” business trailblazer by Vegas Inc. and received the 2016 Executive Leadership Award from National Safe Place, the 2017 Sustainable Leadership Award from Impact NV, and the 2019 HOME Award for outstanding individual member of the Southern Nevada Homelessness Continuum of Care.

Patricia Cardoso
Haven House Services

Patricia Cardoso has been the Chief Operating Officer of Haven House Services since August 2017, although she has worked with the agency since August 2007.  In this role she leads and manages the day-to-day operations of all the agency’s services and programs and manages its compliance with legal, regulatory, and accreditation requirements.  Previous to this she was the Director of Diversion Programs at the agency.  She has 28 years of experience working with youth and families within the mental health and juvenile justice systems, both in North Carolina and in South Florida, as well as implementing best and evidence-based practices for youth.  While she has spent most of her professional journey working in the non-profit sector, she has also worked in for-profit mental health hospital and private practice settings. Cardoso has a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Miami, a Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from the University of Miami and is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor in North Carolina.

Sydney Givens is a dedicated and compassionate 27-year-old youth worker, currently serving on a panel of other esteemed youth workers. With a deep passion for helping young individuals navigate through challenging times, Givens brings her unwavering commitment and empathetic nature to every interaction. Her one-year experience in this role, along with her own participation in the program as a youth has provided her with a unique perspective to delicate task & a strong foundation in providing effective support to youth.

With a firm belief in the potential of every young person, Givens strives to create a safe and nurturing environment where they can explore their emotions, overcome obstacles, and develop essential life skills. Her genuine care for the well-being of the youth under her guidance has earned her the respect and trust of both her colleagues and the community she serves.

Sidney Givens
YMCA Safe Place Services

Sydney Givens is a dedicated and compassionate 27-year-old youth worker, currently serving on a panel of other esteemed youth workers. With a deep passion for helping young individuals navigate through challenging times, Givens brings her unwavering commitment and empathetic nature to every interaction. Her one-year experience in this role, along with her own participation in the program as a youth has provided her with a unique perspective to delicate task & a strong foundation in providing effective support to youth.

With a firm belief in the potential of every young person, Givens strives to create a safe and nurturing environment where they can explore their emotions, overcome obstacles, and develop essential life skills. Her genuine care for the well-being of the youth under her guidance has earned her the respect and trust of both her colleagues and the community she serves.

Givens’s exceptional communication skills, coupled with her ability to actively listen and understand the unique needs of each individual, allow her to build meaningful connections with the youth she works with. She is adept at providing emotional support, guidance, and practical solutions, empowering young individuals to find their own voice and make positive choices in their lives.

As a forward-thinking professional, Givens is excited about the opportunities that lie ahead in her career. She is continuously seeking out new strategies, research, and best practices to enhance her skills and knowledge in youth work. Givens firmly believes that by staying up-to-date with the latest trends and innovations in the field, she can better serve the youth she works with and contribute to the advancement of the social services profession as a whole.

Givens's dedication, compassion, and enthusiasm make her a valuable asset to the panel of social service workers. Her unwavering commitment to improving the lives of young people, combined with her willingness to learn and adapt, make her a beacon of hope for those facing difficult circumstances. Givens is truly excited to be part of a team that shares her passion and to collectively explore innovative ways to support and empower youth in their journey towards a brighter future.

Misty Gattie-Blanco
Fresno, EOC

Misty Gattie-Blanco, Sanctuary and Support Services Director, has been employed by Fresno EOC since 2010. Gattie-Blanco holds a Master of Science degree in Human Services, with a concentration in Organizational and Social Services. She has over 20 years' experience working with foster, probation and homeless youth/young adults, and chronically homeless adults/families. Gattie-Blanco is responsible for all Sanctuary operations, development, contractual and budgetary compliance, and oversight of service delivery and facilitation of evaluative measures for Sanctuary and Support Services Homeless Services, LGBTQ+ Resource Center, and Central Valley Against Human Trafficking. Gattie-Blanco currently serves as the Regional Representative on the state-wide board of directors for California Coalition for Youth (CCY) and as the Treasurer for the Fresno-Madera Continuum of Care (FMCoC).

Barissa Ford
Youth in Need

Barissa Ford, MSW, LMSW has been working with youth experiencing homelessness, in crisis and/or in child welfare services for over 10 years. Barissa has a Master of Social Work from University of Missouri- St. Louis and a Bachelors in psychology and sociology from Webster University in St. Louis. Barissa is currently the Director of Community Outreach & Engagement at Youth In Need. In this capacity she oversees Youth In Need’s Street Outreach program, Safe Place Program, and Coordinated Entry program along with leading community engagement initiatives. Barissa has extensive experience providing direct street-based outreach.

Tora Bly
Intelligence Analyst, Criminal Investigative Division Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking Intelligence Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Tora Bly is an Intelligence Analyst (IA) in the Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking Intelligence Unit working crimes against children matters since May 2021. IA Bly supports the program by producing strategic level products that focuses on trends, tactics, highlighting methodology used by child sexual exploitation offenders, and working with internal and external partners on a routine basis to combat the threat. Prior to working crimes against children, IA Bly supported the human trafficking program for approximately four years. IA Bly has been with the FBI for over 14 years. During that time, she spent the first half of her career working in the Directorate of Intelligence before transferring to the Criminal Investigative Division in 2016. Prior to joining the FBI, IA Bly worked at a local group home in Baltimore, MD serving youth from all walks of life. IA Bly was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and received her Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Coppin State University and her Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Colorado Technical.  

Lauren Bledsoe
Intelligence Analyst, Criminal Investigative Division Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking Intelligence UnitFederal Bureau of Investigation

Lauren Bledsoe is an Intelligence Analyst (IA) in the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking Intelligence Unit. She has been working adult human trafficking matters to include sex, domestic servitude, and labor trafficking since September 2018. IA Bledsoe currently supports the human trafficking program by producing national-level strategic products focusing on trends, vulnerabilities, and actionable intelligence for law enforcement, policy makers, non-governmental organizations, and the public. IA Bledsoe has been with the FBI for almost 14 years. During that time, she spent the first half of her career working in the Directorate of Intelligence before transferring to the Criminal Investigative Division in 2016.

Prior to joining the FBI, IA Bledsoe worked with the DC Government, in the Deputy Mayor for Children, Youth, Family, and Elders Office, as well as at the Department of Parks and Recreation’s Office of Educational Services. Born in New York City and raised in New Jersey, IA Bledsoe received her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Princeton University and her Master’s in Forensic Psychology from Marymount University.  

Jamie Van Leeuwen, PhD, MA, MPH
CEO and Founder, Global Livingston Institute

Jamie Van Leeuwen currently serves as the Senior Director of Youth & Community Engagement with the Emerson Collective focused on building and leveraging relationships across sectors that impact social justice issues specific to education, conservation, immigration, health care, and youth development.  Prior to this role he served both Mayor and Governor John Hickenlooper for 14 years as a public sector leader in Colorado.  Through his work in local and state politics he has engaged collectively across sectors to generate over $300 million in new resources for the public good.  He is also the CEO & Founder of the Global Livingston Institute (GLI), a non-governmental organization in East Africa designed to engage students and community leaders to Listen. Think. Act. by developing innovative solutions to poverty.  He is a Senior Research Fellow with the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs and became a Fulbright Scholar in 2013 and a Woodrow Wilson International Fellow in 2017.   

Van Leeuwen completed his PhD in Public Policy at the Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver with an emphasis on affordable housing and homelessness.  He has a master’s degree in International Public Health and a master’s degree in Sociology from Tulane University.  Van Leeuwen was selected in 2005 as an inaugural Livingston Fellow by the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Board to cultivate his leadership in the non-profit community in Colorado and in 2006 was named one of “Forty Under Forty” by the Denver Business Journal. In 2011 he was featured in the Power Issue of Out Front magazine as a leader in Lesbian & Gay community and in 2017, CoBiz Magazine named him as one of the 25 Most Powerful People in Colorado.   

Van Leeuwen is active as a national and international author, researcher, and presenter.  He co-authored Listen. Think. Act.: Perspectives and Lessons in Community Development in 2021 and is credited with over 75 publications, poster presentations, lectures, and keynotes. He was named Outstanding Public Affairs Lecturer by the University of Colorado Denver in 2020-21 and he is the recipient of the 2018 Denver Center for International Studies Community Ambassador Award, the 2017 Urban Peak Maverick Thinker Award, the 2014 Creighton University Alumnae Merit Award, the 2010 Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation Alumnus of the Year, and the 2009 “Judy Kaufman Civic Entrepreneurship Award” from the Denver Foundation. 

Van Leeuwen has extensive international experience with travel to over 120 countries. He is an avid runner and has participated in over 20 competitive races including a five-time finisher of the New York City Marathon, and the Boulder & Lake Placid Half Iron Man competitions. His partner, Andrei, lives and works in Washington, DC for the U.S. State Department. They have also lived in Hong Kong, Jeddah, and Saudi Arabia.  His son, Troy, graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder with a degree in international development and works in business development.   

Laurie Padilla
President and Chief Executive Officer, National Safe Place Network 

Laurie Padilla is the President/CEO for National Safe Place Network. She joined the organization in June 2010 and has been active with the Safe Place program for more than 15 years. She served as Associate Executive Director for Synergy Services, Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri. Jackson was with Synergy Services for 19 years and prior to that she worked for several years with Cedars Youth Services in Lincoln, Nebraska. She has been active with local, regional, state and national efforts in the areas of runaway and homeless youth, child welfare and domestic violence. 

Jackson holds an Executive Master's Degree in Business Administration from the University of Missouri Kansas City and a Bachelor's Degree in Social Work from the University of Nebraska Kearney. She serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the National Network for Youth and is dedicated to bringing awareness to the issues of runaway and homeless youth.

Tammy L. Hopper
Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer, National Safe Place Network 

Tammy L. Hopper, MSW, CYC-P, brings more than 35 years of experience as a professional youth care worker and clinician to her presentations and partnerships with organizations. Her role as the Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer within National Safe Place Network includes development and support for national initiatives and partnerships. She has served as the Chair of the National Council on Youth Policy, the Director of Public Policy for the National Network for Youth and spent 20 years as a member of the National Safe Place Advisory Board. Hopper has conducted trainings in 42 states over the past 30 years and is recognized as a expert facilitator of group process. She is a certified trainer in trauma-informed care, Youth Thrive, Families Thrive, Child and Youth Care Foundations Training, and others. Hopper has contributed to curricula for training on human trafficking, trauma-informed care, understanding evidence-based practices, developing outcomes, and positive youth development. She was also on the subject matter expert team that developed the national certification exam for grants professionals. Hopper is an advocate and enthusiastic believer in youth development and is committed to working with individuals and organizations that embrace the power and promise that comes from partnering with youth.

Workshop Session I Presenters

Rick Nord
United States Secret Service 

Special Agent | Technical Staff Assistant, Rick Nord, has been with the United States Secret Service (USSS) since 2000 and was originally assigned to the Washington Field Office. In 2004 Nord was transferred to the USSS Headquarters where he held several roles in the Office of Protective Research. 

With 23 years of service to the USSS, Nord currently serves as the supervisor of the KY Cyber Fraud Task Force (KYCFTF) and is proud to be an Ambassador for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, where he has the great fortune of educating youth in Kentucky and Southern Indiana about the dangers of social media, sexting, sextortion, exploitation, and trafficking.

Soutdaly Sysavath

Wichita Children's Home

Soutdaly Sysavath received her Master’s in Social Work from Wichita State University and has served children, youth, families and adults in crisis for over 15 years. She has been with the Wichita Children’s Home for over seven years where she helped lead the establishment of the first and only homeless youth emergency shelter serving young adults ages 18 -24 in the state of Kansas. In her role as Director of Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs, in addition to the shelter, Sysavath serves as the Safe Place site coordinator and manages the drop-in center, street outreach program, and supports both the transitional living program and maternity group home. Her experience has led to her involvement in the National Safe Place Network Advisory Board and Sedgwick County Continuum of Care Advisory Board lending her voice to help amplify those of youth experiencing homelessness.

Mahogany Smart
ACH Services

Mahoganey Smart currently serves as the Safe Place Coordinator for ACH Child and Family Services. Smart has also served as a Residential Team Supervisor for the ACH Independent Living Program and Street Outreach Coordinator. She has a degree in business administration and brings lived experience to interactions with and on behalf of the youth and families served by ACH. Smart appreciates the role of Safe Place in ensuring youth have needed resources and is a strong advocate for youth who have no support and who need guidance, unconditional care, and understanding during times of crisis. She is passionate about youth well-being and strengths and sees connections with youth as an opportunities to help them build better lives.

Dr. Kimberly Frierson

Kim Frierson earned her BA in Psychology from the University of Kentucky, her Master of Science in Social Work from the University of Louisville, and a Doctor of Social Work from Tulane University and is a former Child and Youth Care practitioner with over 15 years of experience in youth services. In addition to her experience working in runaway and homeless youth services on the local, state, and national level, Dr. Frierson has provided training, facilitation and education to students, practitioners and administrators across the country. Her passion lies in “helping helpers”, a role she filled at National Safe Place Network for eight years. Additionally, Dr. Frierson’s recent work seeks to address white supremacy in social work education and nonprofit organizations. Her primary areas of interest include macro practice in social work education, critical race theory, anti-racist and anti-oppressive practice, reproductive health, training and implementation, and runaway and homeless youth.

Joli Guenther, MSSW, LCSW
Executive Director, Wisconsin Association for Homeless and Runaway Services

Joli Guenther, MSSW, LCSW, executive director, Wisconsin Association for Homeless and Runaway Services is a certified personal trainer (NASM), yoga instructor, and CrossFit L-1 Trainer who teaches group fitness and yoga in multiple formats. Guenther has served young people and families through over twenty years of work on the field of runaway and homeless youth services.  With twenty years of experience in teaching mind-body, yoga, and meditation formats, Guenther feels passionately about using our breath and bodies to process and integrate our experiences.  She is also a volunteer Rescue and Recovery Diver and Training Officer for the Columbia County Sheriff’s Department, an experience that directly requires regular practiced use of breath and mindfulness during events of extreme stress.  While she seldom finds herself at a loss for words, Guenther knows that one of the most powerful aspects of yoga and meditation is the non-verbal opportunity they provide us to heal in our bodies and minds.

Workshop Session II Presenters

Rick Chamness
Synergy Services

"Rick Chamness is a Kansas City native who spent his early career in Taiwan teaching English to youth ages 8-18. For the past four years, Chamness was the program manager for a residential substance use disorder program with the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission in Los Angeles. He took over the role of Safe Place coordinator in Kansas City in October 2022 and is thrilled to be back in his hometown helping the community he grew up in. Go Chiefs!"

Michaela Taylor
Christopher Youth Center

Michaela Taylor is the enthusiastic, innovative Safe Place Coordinator for Christopher Youth Center in Monroe, Louisiana. Although she has worked for the agency for just 13 months, she has already been celebrated as employee of the year for her countless contributions to the advancement of the Safe Place program. Taylor's affinity for building rapport to develop strong relationships and her exceptional communication skills has helped many Safe Place sites reignite a passion for the program to support youth in their local communities.

Taylor grew up in Eros, Louisiana where her grandparents taught her to treat others with kindness and respect. She credits this upbringing for her passion for helping others. Taylor is currently pursuing a Bachelor's degree in psychology with an end-goal of becoming a licensed therapist.

Valerie Douglas
The Center for Youth

Valerie Douglas, MPA, discovered her passion for working with runaway, homeless, and street-involved youth in 1994 while living in Seattle. Her experience there gave her a wide range of perspectives; from providing direct services such as training and supporting street-involved youth to outreach to their peers, managing a job-training program for youth experiencing homelessness, to the governmental point of view of a Grants Specialist overseeing homeless youth funding for the City of Seattle’s Human Services Department. Douglas returned to her hometown of Rochester, NY, in 2008 and is currently the Director of Counseling and Runaway and Homeless Youth Services at The Center for Youth, overseeing multiple FYSB RHY programs, writing grants and summary reports, implementing evidence-based practices and prevention efforts across RHY programs, and coordinating with other local youth-serving agencies. In 2012, The Center for Youth began a partnership with the local Child Welfare Department to implement NY State’s Safe Harbour legislation which ended the criminalization of minors who experienced trafficking and shifted the focus to services, supports, and systems changes. The Center for Youth is the lead agency in Monroe County in identifying commercially sexually-exploited and labor-trafficked youth, providing best practices when delivering services, and ensuring that there is a coordinated, immediate, and effective response for each survivor. Douglas provides technical assistance and trainings across the state to other Safe Harbour and RHY programs on the importance of understanding trauma and the importance of increasing our collective risk tolerance when serving trafficked youth. She has served as the President of the Board for the NY Coalition for Homeless Youth and is a member of the National Network for Homeless Youth (NN4Y) Policy Advisory Committee, as well as the McCain Institute and NN4Y RHY and Human Trafficking Experts Advisory Group. Through these collaborations, Douglas has contributed to the content and editing of multiple national white papers and research articles.

Curtis Joe
Sea Haven, Inc.

Curtis Joe currently serves as Executive Director of Sea Haven for Youth in the Myrtle Beach areas. He has enjoyed a human services career that spans more than 24 years serving youth in crisis in the areas of homelessness, mental health/behavioral health, substance abuse, and developmental disabilities. Joe holds a Master of Science in Leadership from Pfeiffer University and a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies and Non-Profit Management also from Pfeiffer University.

Under Joe's dynamic leadership, Sea Haven has evolved from a small provider of out-of-home crisis care to one of South Carolina’s most respected multi-service agencies. He worked to build on the organization’s foundation to create a continuum of services to prepare youth and young adults to be healthy, productive, and engaged members of the community. Today, the agency works with over 500 participants yearly throughout its many programs.

Joe is passionate about building leaders. Under his 24-year leadership career, he has developed and promoted over 29 employees into leadership positions. Sea Haven was awarded the 2022 Non-Profit of the Year, and Bank of America’s 2022 Community Champions Award.

Joe provides leadership and direction necessary to provide effective delivery of services to youth and families. He brings strong connections in the fundraising field. Joe fosters an environment of teamwork and ensures that strategy is clearly defined while overseeing performance and maintaining morale.

Joe is a proud alumnus of Leadership Charlotte Class 40. He was appointed to the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness Board of Directors in January 2018. Joe is currently the Vice President of the RLE GoForeIt Foundation, and currently serves on the advisory board of National Safe Place Network.

Joe is passionate about spending time traveling with his wife Nakia, and spending time with his new twin granddaughters.

Dave Brennan
YMCA of Greater Louisville

Dave Brennan is the District Development Director for the YMCA of Greater Louisville who works directly with YMCA Safe Place Services. Brennan brings more than two decades of experience developing meaningful relationships with key stake-holders in the corporate world and more than six years on the non-profit side.

Michelle Tutunjian
Fresno EOC

Michelle Tutunjian is a dedicated advocate for community action. Throughout her 25-year career at Fresno EOC, she has successfully directed projects that have addressed poverty, ranging from training people for jobs to finding people a place to live. The Food Express Bus, a mobile designed Safe Place, is her most recent passion. As Chief Operating Officer, she has mobilized partners, outlined strategic actions, and has combatted food insecurities in the most vulnerable of California’s populations.

Tutunjian's contributions to fighting human trafficking, reducing educational disparities, and creating a more sustainable environment are also among her achievements. She also serves on a myriad of local and national boards and advisory committees, including National Safe Place Network. She is an active Rotarian. Tutunjian looks forward to developing innovative action strategies to promote self-sufficiency and self-empowerment in underserved communities.

Tutunjian holds a bachelor’s degree in Social Science from University of California, Berkeley and a master’s degree in Organizational Behavior from CSPP at Aliant International University. Recently, she earned a Certified Community Action Professional (CCAP) credential further highlighting her expertise and commitment to the field.

Nancy Mullen
Youth Outlook

Youth Outlook’s Executive Director, Nancy Mullen, has provided expert guidance to the organization for over two decades. Under their leadership, Youth Outlook has grown from a volunteer-run social group with a single drop-in center to a recognized social services agency with fourteen drop-in centers in seven counties, support groups for LGBTQ+ youth and their families, and community outreach and education. They are an author, activist, and highly sought-after speaker and have a Master of Social Work.

Robin Donaldson, PhD
Chief Operations Officer, Indiana Youth Services Association

Dr. Robin Donaldson is the Chief Operations Officer at Indiana Youth Services Association, a member organization that provides training, and support for Youth Service Bureaus in Indiana. She is also the founder and CEO of Collective Impact Training and Consulting, LLC. Dr. Donaldson worked at National Safe Place Network for five years and was at Youth Services Bureau of Monroe County in Bloomington for 12 years. She has been teaching psychology classes at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana since August 2001. 

Dr. Donaldson has a Master’s Degree in Counseling and Social Psychology, a Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and has a graduate Applied Neuroscience certification. She is a federally-approved trainer in trauma-informed care and an ACEs Interface Master trainer. She has been a licensed Mental Health Counselor and a licensed foster parent. She is the mother of four sons and has one granddaughter.


Erin Strohbehn
Youth in Need

Erin Strohbehn, MSW, LCSW has been working with young people experiencing homelessness or in child welfare services for 20 years. She as a Master of Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis and a Bachelor of Social Work and Bachelor of Criminal Justice from The University of South Dakota. Strohbehn is currently the Senior Director of Youth Programs at Youth In Need (YIN). In this capacity, she oversees YIN’s housing programs including Emergency Shelter, Transitional Living, and Rapid Rehousing. She is a member of National Safe Place Network's (NSPN) advisory board and serves on the Safe Place committee.


General Session Presenters

Lyric Wardlow
Cultural Awareness Educator, Author/Speaker: Youth Homelessness and The Power of Lived Expertise; Policy and Advocacy Manager, Ending Community Homelessness Office 

Lyric Wardlow, a remarkable motivational speaker and changemaker whose journey has been defined by a series of setbacks during her young adult life. However, amidst years of uncertainty and instability, Wardlow discovered that the true power of her story did not lie in the hardships she faced, but rather in her unwavering determination to conquer them. With incredible resilience, Wardlow triumphed over homelessness and transformed her life into one that serves as an inspiration not only to herself but to others as well.

Throughout her journey, Wardlow has collaborated with numerous leaders and advocacy organizations across the nation, leveraging her unique perspective, exceptional storytelling skills, and diverse expertise as an employee within her local continuum of care. As a result, she has become a highly sought-after speaker and expert for events throughout the country. Her message resonates with audiences, emphasizing compassion and resilience while reminding everyone that anything is possible as long as they persevere.

Amiyah Hawkins
Youth Leader, YNOW Mentoring Program

Amiyah Hawkins is a young leader inspiring others to follow in her footsteps towards success and personal growth. Born outside of Washington D.C. to drug dealing parents, Hawkins grew up facing unique challenges that most young people couldn’t fathom. Despite adversity, she never flinched or lost her resilience. She struggled to fit in due to her unique life experiences, but tirelessly worked towards achieving her goals.

Eventually, Hawkins moved to Louisville, KY, where she saw an opportunity to make a difference by starting her own program called Ladies of Leadership for middle school girls. The program helped instill confidence and leadership skills in these young girls, who were struggling with their own personal challenges. Her work and dedication to the program open doors for her, leading her to join the YNOW Mentoring Program, which further enhanced her leadership abilities.

Hawkins's commitment to community service and her inspiring journey won her recognition in 2020, when she was awarded the YMCA youth character award. Her numerous roles within the community include her current position as a youth leader for the YNOW Mentoring Program, and a youth advisory board member for both Love Notes and National Safe Place Network. Amiyah is also a facilitator for Love Notes and serves as a health ambassador for the KY Youth Advocates.

In addition to her community involvement, Hawkins has set her sights high academically, graduating early from high school next year. She plans to begin an internship at the Louisville Zoo and aspires to become a zoologist specializing in big cats. Her story is one of resilience, leadership, and unwavering ambition – a true inspiration for young people around the world.