Skip links


Board of Directors


Diana Maldonado


Texas State Representative (Fmr)

Representative Maldonado served in the 81st legislature and authored & co-authored over 80 bills, secured almost $17 million for higher education, a $10 million road project through her appointment on Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and was appointed by the Speaker to the Committee on Defense and Veterans Affairs and the coveted State Affairs.

Diana Maldonado is former President of the Round Rock ISD Board of Trustees and guided one of the fastest growing and highest rated school districts in Texas during her term in 2006, spent over 20 years at the Texas Comptroller’s Office as an efficiency expert and recently completed work in a Director role at Texas Health Institute. Her advocacy work made concrete advances in education, transportation and economic development in Central Texas.

Ms. Maldonado received a BBA in Business Management from St. Edward’s University, Magna Cum Laude.

Diana is a health enthusiast and brings awareness by staying active with running, fitness training and yoga and incorporates this discipline into her daily regimen.  She completed her first full marathon in November 2011 in addition to several half marathon races and continues to do races and other sports events.  In addition, Diana is a Senior Advisor to a public affairs group and serves as a speaker and on non-profit boards as part of her public service.  Her two adult children live in Austin and Hiroshima, Japan.

Leroy Nellis

Leroy Nellis


After receiving his BBA from the University of Texas, Leroy practiced public accounting with Peat, Marwick & Mitchell, CPA’s in Houston, Texas.  He returned to The University of Texas for graduate studies earning an MPA while teaching undergraduate accounting courses.  He was the Assistant Director of Administrative Services for The University of Texas General Libraries for 14 years.  He has also held several Chief Financial Officer positions in Austin. He retired after 19 years from his position as Travis County Budget Director.

Leroy has mentored for the past 15 years with several mentoring organizations including Seedling. Leroy was recognized as the AISD “Mentor of the Year” in 2003. He serves on several Campus Advisory Committees for AISD elementary schools and is an active recruiter of mentors for many schools. Additional community service has included serving on the Central Texas Chapter of the American Red Cross and on the Advisory Board of Healthy Families.  Leroy is passionate about helping high-risk students reach their educational goals.

Patricia Whiteside

Patricia Whiteside


Patricia Whiteside has been a Certified Public Accountant since November 1982 and is currently the President of the Austin firm, Whiteside & Huver CPA, PC which was incorporated in 2000. Prior to 2000, Pat was a sole proprietor for 18 years and also served for three years in the Texas State Auditors Office and nine years with the Internal Revenue Service.

Pat received a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting in August 1980 and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in December 1972. She is licensed by the Texas State Board of Accountancy and is a member of the Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants and its local Austin Chapter. Pat is a member of the Oak Hill Business and Professional Association. She is also a member of the Board of Directors of both the South Austin Civic Club and the Lake Travis Lodges Marina Association.

She is a former member of the Board of Trustees of the Austin Independent School District. Pat has been married to W. Robin Whiteside since February 14, 1976, and they have two adult children, William R. Whiteside, Jr. and Brandy E.Whiteside.

Deborah Treece

Deborah Treece

Immediate Past President

Deb Treece is proud to call herself a thirty-five year Austin resident. She has been married to her high school sweetheart, also a native Austinite, since 1991. Together they parent three incredible college students; one daughter and two sons. Her hobbies include CrossFit, yoga, reading and all things “Aloha.”  Deb is a graduate of Texas A&M University, where she studied Sociology and Psychology with a specialization in Social Work.

As a former Child Protective Services caseworker, Deb has a passion for issues that involve children and families. She has been an active volunteer at the Austin Waldorf School, serving the school in a number of capacities including President of the Parent Society, class representative, class delegate, and Finance Committee member, as well as a member of the Strategic Planning Committee for the school.

As a feminist, Deb is also involved in a variety of women’s issues and feels a strong conviction about social justice. Deb has made an amazing impact on Seedling both as Past Board President and as a Mentor.

Board of Directors


Monica de Leon

Monica de Leon is a Senior Manager in of the office of Strategy and Operations for Cisco’s United States Public Sector business. In her role, Monica provides program management leadership for the strategy function, focusing on State Government, Local Government and Education as well as its US Federal business. Monica has an extensive background in Public Sector and Project Management, serving both as a consultant and as a leader in state government.

 Prior to joining Cisco, Monica also served as a senior consultant at a global management consulting firm, where she specialized in helping public sector clients streamline operations and modernize their processes.

Monica is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is certified by the Project Management Institute (PMI) as a Project Management Professional (PMP).  Monica has been a Seedling Mentor since 2016 and is a Girl Scout Troop leader for her two young daughters’ troop.

Charles Dickerson

Charles Dickerson serves as the Austin Energy Chief Operations Officer (COO) responsible for Power Production, Electric Service Delivery, Strategy, Technology & Market Operations.

He has more than 29 years of experience in the utility industry in areas including power production, transmission, distribution, customer care, human resources, strategic planning, and energy market and risk operations. He previously served as President of Business Services with National Grid, USA, one of the largest investor-owned energy companies in the world. Prior to his role at National Grid, Charles worked for Exelon-Pepco Holdings Inc. – an investor-owned utility that delivered electricity and gas to more than 2 million customers in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C.  There his roles included Senior Vice President of Technical Services, Vice President of Customer Care, Vice President of Performance Management and Support Services and Chief Risk Officer, Vice President of Strategic Planning and Vice President of Gas Delivery.

Charles previously served on the boards of directors/trustees for The Treatment Learning Center and City Year, Washington, D. C. – both nonprofit organizations dedicated to improving education and learning for children.

Dickerson is a graduate of the University of Maryland, with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a Masters in Applied Management.

David Grant Halpern

David Grant Halpern

David Halpern joined the Seedling Mentor Program and has been a mentor since 2006. At Texas A&M, he practices in the areas of Student Affairs and Litigation and, in collaboration with the Texas Supreme Court’s Children’s Commission, is actively growing the System’s programs and support for at-risk youth, including those in the State’s foster and adoptive care system.

Prior to joining the Office of General Counsel, David served as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Texas for twenty years with a focus on personal injury and employment law. He is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law.

David is on the extended faculty at the University of Texas School of Law, the National Institute for Trial Advocacy, and he has served as teaching faculty for the National Association of Attorneys General and the State Bar of Texas.  His writings have been published in the Texas Bar Journal, Voir Dire quarterly, the Juror Connection, and he is a contributing author to the book, Practicing Medicine in the 21st Century.

David’s commitment to youth is also directed at civic engagement. He is the founder of a national legal education program, the Teachers Law School, in association with the American Board of Trial Advocates on whose board he serves. He is also on the board of the SIMS Foundation, dedicated to providing mental health and addiction recovery services to Austin music professionals and their families.

  • J.D., University of Texas School of Law, 1994
  • Bachelor of Journalism, the University of Texas at Austin, 1984
Brian Maguire

Brian Maguire

Brian is a Senior Vice President and Regional Portfolio Manager for Frost Bank, where he leads a team of professionals managing investment portfolios for high net worth individuals and corporations. Brian joined Frost in 2004. Prior to joining Frost, he worked in consulting and various finance-related assignments with two Fortune 500 companies and a global accounting and business firm.

Brian received his Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Rice University and his Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Finance from the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business. Brian is a holder of the right to use the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA®) designation and is also a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™. He is a member of the CFA Society of Austin.

Brian enjoys camping, golfing and cheering for the Owls and Longhorns. He and his wife, Judy, are the proud parents of two boys, Joey and Owen.

Chris McNeill

Chris figured out how hard running a business is by starting one.
He validated that by starting another one. Now he’s learning how to run
one before he starts another.

Chris currently serves as Account Executive at ScaleFactor.  He and his wife Melissa are both proud Seedling mentors.

Jessie Metcalf

Jessie Metcalf

Jessie has been an advocate of compassion in her 25+ years in Austin.  She started her career in the public sector helping local disadvantaged businesses build strategies for growth.

Jessie then joined Cisco to build sales and technical enablement programs and led M&A strategies that integrate and activate the amazing people and culture of the companies they acquire.  Jessie now works at Amazon Web Services as a Strategist in the US State and Local Government Department.

Jessie’s passion for Seedling reaches beyond Board service. She has been a Seedling mentor since 2014 and has supported the Seedling College Scholarship program.

Jessie has a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin and hopes to see her mentee graduate as a Longhorn in the class of 2026.

Mike Metschan

Mike Metschan

After receiving his BBA from The University of Texas, Mike Metschan joined the sales division of IBM. For more than twenty years, he enjoyed a successful career in sales and marketing management. In 1991 Mike started his insurance agency. Since that time, he has built one of the finest agencies in Central Texas with an enviable reputation.

Mike’s commitment to community service includes being a former President of the Austin Aqua Festival, North Austin Rotary Club, and helping to establish Leadership Austin. He has served as a Vice President of the Capitol Area Boy Scouts of America and recently received Scouting’s highest adult award, the Silver Beaver.

Mike is passionate about the value of school mentoring and has been a mentor to an economically disadvantaged child for over twelve years. He has authored two books, “Understanding Youth League Soccer” and “Achieving Your Potential.” Mike is currently a Mentor and leads a Boy Scout Troop in East Austin.

Lance Ramsey

Lance Ramsey is an attorney and shareholder at Gjerset & Lorenz, LLP, where he works with hospitals and other health care providers on a broad range of Medicaid, indigent, and low-income reimbursement initiatives. Lance’s practice includes a complex mix of state and federal health care law, including government reimbursement programs, health care fraud and abuse, and administrative procedure litigation. With his unique expertise, Lance helps his clients navigate the evolving regulatory change and uncertainty, as well as identify opportunities to shape and advance new policies. In particular, Lance has led numerous successful efforts to develop programs that support the delivery of health care services by safety-net providers to vulnerable communities.

Lance received his undergraduate degree from the University of North Texas, then attended the University of Texas School of Law, where he graduated with honors. An Austin native, Lance enjoys travel, golf, fly fishing, and spending time at his ranch in the Hill Country. Lance married his college sweetheart, Erin. Their son, Reese, is a sophomore on Texas A&M’s golf team.

Margie Southard

Margie Southard is Vice President Operations – P&C Underwriting for State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Companies. Her current role includes responsibility for the Personal Lines Contact Center and Business Lines Resource Center. She has more than 34 years of experience with State Farm®.

Margie joined State Farm in 1984 as a Health Claims Processor at Corporate Headquarters in Bloomington, IL. She has served in a variety of leadership positions in Health Claims, Human Resources, and P&C Claims; and executive leadership positions, including Assistant Vice President – Diversity/Human Resources, Vice President Operations – Human Resources, and Vice President Operations over Fire Claims and Fire Underwriting. She assumed her current position of Vice President Operations – P&C Underwriting in 2014.

Margie received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.  She earned the Health Insurance Associate (HIA) designation in 1986; the Associate, Life and Health Claims (ALHC) designation in 1989; and the Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) designation in 2008. Prior to joining State Farm, Margie was a speech and language pathologist in Birmingham, AL, for four years.

In 2012, Margie was selected as an International Women’s Forum Fellow, named the 2014 Austin Area Urban League’s Corporate Leader of The Year, and awarded the 2016 Corporate Leadership Award by the Iota Phi Lambda Sorority, Incorporated.  Margie is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated (Phi Xi Omega Chapter, San Marcos) and The Links, Incorporated (Town Lake Chapter).  She currently sits on the Board of State Farm County Mutual Insurance Company of Texas and the Austin Area Urban League.

Margie and her husband, Eddie, reside in Georgetown, Texas and have one daughter.

Gerry Tucker

Gerry has been active in our community with a wide variety of organizations, often serving in leadership roles.  She has also advised non-profit organizations on human resource issues.  She currently serves as Vice President of Human Resources at Austin Community College.

Gerry is passionate about issues of women in the workplace and preparing youth for college. Through her non-profit work, she created three scholarship programs for high school students bound for college.   She has been recognized for her community service by Girl Scouts of Central Texas, The YWCA, AISD, Fisk University and First Tee of Austin.

She is a published author, speaker, life and career coach, and community volunteer. Her writings often appear in the Austin-American Statesman and The Villager newspapers.  She also devotes time to practicing law.

Education has been Gerry’s focus with a special interest in students with disabilities and providing them equity and inclusion is our support programs and systems.

Beverly Vandegrift

Beverly Vandegrift

Bev Vandegrift is dedicated to making a positive difference in the community through her work as an entrepreneur and business owner, founding member of non-profit organizations, hands-on volunteer, and mother of three daughters.

Bev established her executive search and technology recruiting firm Grindstone Group in 1993 and has helped shape Austin’s technology landscape. Bev’s professional contributions illuminated the need to engage women in the technology field, which led her to help launch Austin Women in Technology while partnering with Carol Thompson, an Austin networking icon, and Alexa Lange (Wesner), currently the United States Ambassador to Austria.

Bev became a volunteer for Seedling in 2009 and was also an active member of school boards and parent-teacher-student associations for over 20 years.  Making a positive impact on the lives of all children has long been a commitment of hers.

Bev has also supported the Seedling College Scholarships.

A proud graduate of the University of Michigan, Bev is an ardent fan of Wolverine sports and still an active alumna in University athletic, academic and community support programs.

Advisory Council

John Blazier


John C. Blazier founded Seedling in 1998 to provide support for special projects in Austin ISD. In 2006, the Seedling Mentor Program was launched in Austin ISD with 5 schools and 50 students in response to requests by school principals concerned with the unique needs of the growing population of children in the schools with a parent in prison and the lack of support services available to help.

Mr. Blazier is an active member of the American Bar Association and the Travis County Bar Association. He is a passionate leader in the Austin community for systemic change in public education. He has served as Chair of Austin Partners in Education (2002-2003), and helped implement a number of initiatives, such as seeking logistical technology support from governmental entities and private businesses for high schools and middle schools in AISD. More recently John, along with Fleur Christensen, has worked to help build school to career pathways and facilities, such as the Institute of Hospitality and Culinary Arts at Travis High School, Auto Collision and Repair at Crockett High School, and the Kocurek Health Science Institute at Lanier High School.

Mr. Blazier has been recognized for his commitment to children with the award of Five Who Care, Partner of the Year with the Travis Education Foundation in 2001, and an elementary school named after him.

Mr. Blazier founded Blazier, Rutland & Lerner, P.C. in 1976, and has remained the president of the Firm, now Blazier, Christensen, Browder & Virr, P.C.

Mr. Blazier earned his B.A. degrees at the University of Texas at El Paso in 1966, then attended the University of Texas School of Law, where he was editor-in-chief of the Law Forum and was published in the Texas Law Review. He received his J.D. and was admitted to the Texas Bar in 1969. He is also licensed to practice before the U.S. district Courts of the Western, Eastern, and Southern Districts of Texas, as well as the U.S. Tax Court.

Following law school, Mr. Blazier entered the U.S. military, serving in Vietnam. He was awarded the Bronze Star on two occasions, as well as a Military Service Medal. Upon return from active duty, he served in the Texas National Guard, attaining the rank of Lt. Colonel, and was employed by the IRS Estate and Gift Tax Division, Austin, District. Here he gained significant insight into complex tax matters and business valuation. Using his GI Bill, he then attended New York University School of Law, where he completed his L.L.M. in taxation.

Honorable Darlene Byrne

The Honorable Darlene Byrne has served as presiding judge of the 126th Judicial District Court in Travis County since January 2001. Prior to her election in 2000, she practiced for thirteen years in the areas of employment, commercial and governmental entity litigation. She is the Senior Judicial Advisor for the Texas Children’s Commission.  She is a past President of the National Council for Juvenile and Family Court Judges and a past Judge of the Year of National CASA, Texas CASA and CASA of Travis County.  She is a past recipient of the Seedling Foundation Fab Five Award.  She is currently on the Judicial Council for National CASA, is an Advisory Council member for TexProtects,  Partnerships for Children and the Seedling Foundation, is the Chair of the Texas Statewide Collaborative for Trauma Informed Care and on the Editorial Review Board for NCJFCJ’s Juvenile and Family Court Journal.   Judge Byrne is a member of the Travis County Juvenile Justice Board, a founding team member of the Travis County Family Drug Treatment Court and the Travis County Model Court of Children, Youth and Families. She has served on many boards and committees related to law and child welfare as well as community organizations.

John-Michael Cortez

A life-long resident of Central Texas, John-Michael Vincent Cortez, is a graduate of The University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business and received a Masters of Science in Community and Regional Planning from UT’s School of Architecture.

Following stints in corporate consulting and owning a small business, John-Michael decided to make his vocation his profession and has since dedicated his career to community engagement and development, and currently serves as Special Assistant to Austin Mayor Steve Adler.

Mr. Cortez’s passion for service is evidenced by his leadership roles in dozens of community organizations and efforts. John-Michael was elected by central Texas voters to the Board of Trustees of the Austin Community College District in May 2009, and served as Secretary of the Board from 2010 to 2012.

A native Austinite and third-generation attendee of The University of Texas at Austin, John-Michael is a rabid Longhorn fan, yet found himself falling in love with and happily marrying a wonderful Aggie, Priscilla Guajardo. Priscilla and John-Michael spend most of their spare time doting on their beautiful daughter, Isabella.

Dan Rourke

Dan Rourke has over 30 years of leadership experience in the software industry. His operational and startup successes leading teams in customer support, software development, and services development and delivery have earned him a reputation for being a results-oriented executive. Dan is currently serving as Vice President of Customer Success for Vjoopta, a B2B SaaS company that delivers unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) performance management to customers around the world., the leading Social Media software provider. Prior to joining Vjoopta, Mr. Rourke spent over 28 years in technical and management leadership positions at Spreadfast, HomeAway, Cadence, and IBM.

As a long-standing contributor back to his community, Dan has served as a Board Member and Board President of Seedling Foundation, and is a graduate of Leadership Austin in 2016.

Mr. Rourke holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Notre Dame in Mathematics.  He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife. He has two daughters, Devin Falck, an Assistant District Attorney for Travis County and Danielle Ogg, a Pediatric ICU Nurse in Nashville. In his spare time, he is an avid runner on Town Lake trails and just completed his 16th Half Marathon.

Kali´ Rourke

Kali´ has donated her time to public service, mentoring, and philanthropy since retiring from her career as a mortgage banker and escrow officer.

She served as Founding Board President of Seedling Foundation from 2005-2012 and as a Board Member and Officer from 2012-2017. Kali’ is also a dedicated Seedling Mentor and presently serves on the Seedling Advisory Council.

Kali´ is an active member of Impact Austin and serves as a YWA Connect Mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance. She is a member of the Guardian Angels Society of the Center for Child Protection and a supporter of Girl’s Empowerment Network.

Kali´ was a finalist for the 2017 and 2018 Austin Under-40 Mentor of the Year award and was named one of Austin’s Fab Five – Champions for Children in 2016. Austin SERTOMA Club chose her as 2009 Service to Mankind Award winner. She is a lifetime member of Texas PTA and an ACPTA Oak Tree Award Winner for Outstanding Volunteerism.

Charles Smith

Charles Smith was born and raised in Childress, Texas. He excelled in sports and in the classroom.  He graduated in the top 10% of his class from Childress High School in 1984.  He went to East Texas State University (now Texas A&M Commerce) to play football and major in Criminal Justice.  After two years of playing football, he transferred to Texas Tech in 1986.

Charles served as a volunteer for the Office of the Attorney General’s Child Support Division’s (CSD) office in Lubbock his last semester at Tech in 1988.  He volunteered because he planned to go to law.  However, after volunteering for the fall semester, he was hired as a child support officer in January 1989.  Charles worked in the Lubbock office from January 1989 to November 1990.  In 1990, Charles was promoted to become the manager of the Midland CSD office.  After improving the efficiency of the Midland office, Charles was promoted to run a larger office in Abilene.  He managed the Abilene office from September 1993 to July 2000.  During his time in Abilene, Smith and his office garnered praise from management in regional and state headquarters.  In 2000, Smith received the Outstanding Individual Achievement award from the Western Interstate Child Support Enforcement Council.  In 2000, the Abilene office received the Outstanding Field Office award for the state.

In July 2000, Smith was promoted to Assistant Regional Administrator for the Dallas-Ft. Worth region of the CSD.  He was promoted to Regional Administrator for the DFW region in January 2002.  The DFW region consisted of 14 offices housing 400 employees.  He held this position until October 2003. Under Smith’s leadership, the DFW region improved performance and exceeded goals that were previously seen as unobtainable.

In October 2003, he was promoted to assistant Deputy Director of Field Operations.  In May 2004, Charles was promoted to Deputy Director for the CSD.  In December 2004, Charles was given the additional duty of serving as the Director for Field Operations where he was responsible for the overall delivery of child support services for 2,200 staff housed in 65 offices across the state. From 2004 to September 2013, Smith served as Deputy Director of Child Support and Director of Field Operations. Under Smith’s direction, the CSD received its first Outstanding Child Support Enforcement Program award from the National Child Support Enforcement Association (NCSEA) in 2007.  Texas won this award again in 2011 and 2014.  Texas also won the Outstanding Program award from the Western Interstate Child Support Enforcement Council (all state child support programs west of the Mississippi River) in 2010 and 2014.  In October 2013, then-Attorney General Greg Abbott appointed Charles to serve as one of his executive deputies for the agency.

Charles served on the Board of Directors for the WICSEC from 2010-2015.  Serving as WICSEC President from 2013-2014.  He served on the NCSEA Board of Directors from 2009-2015.  He served as President Elect for NCSEA from 2014 until his resignation from the Attorney General’s Office in June 2015.

Charles received the Dr. Charles Akins award from the Austin Independent School District in 2015 due largely to his support for and volunteerism with Seedling.

Charles Smith was selected by Gov. Greg Abbott to serve as the Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s Chief Deputy Executive Commissioner in July 2015.  Charles was appointed by Gov. Abbott to serve as Executive Commissioner effective June 1, 2016. As Executive Commissioner, Smith oversees Texas’ Health and Human Services system consisting of a $40 Billion annual budget with nearly 50,000 employees that serves more than 7.5 million Texans every year in more than 600 programs ranging from Medicaid to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.  During his tenure at HHSC, Smith has worked to improve the agency’s efficiency and accountability to Texas citizens.  In December 2017, he successfully negotiated a federal waiver with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that will bring $35 Billion in healthcare funding to Texas over the next five years.

Charles received the Fab Five award from the Seedling Foundation in 2016.  Charles had previously served as a child mentor for 6 years.  He was featured in the May/June 2017 edition of the Texas Techsan.

During Charles’ 29 years of state government experience, he developed a reputation for improving operations, reducing waste and improving staff morale.

Charles is a proud graduate of Texas Tech University.

Dr. Gloria Williams

Dr. Gloria L. Williams has been a successful and accomplished educator for more than 45 years.  She received her basic education in the District of Columbia Public Schools and her higher education degrees include a Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, Education Specialist, and Doctorate of Education from universities in Washington, D.C., Florida and California. Over the years, her experience includes serving as a teacher, education specialist, program analyst, reading specialist, principal, consultant, and area superintendent.  Currently, as the Executive Director of School, Family and Community Education with the Austin Independent School District, her departmental efforts employ a contemporary family/school/community partnership approach to educating AISD students and involve a variety of the key players who can directly impact their growth, development and learning success.

Dr. Williams has been extensively involved with and an important contributor through her church, Wesley United Methodist,  and a variety of national, state and local community efforts.  These include being: Past President and Member of the Board for the Association For Compensatory Educators of Texas;   National Committee Member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc;  Founding Member and Treasurer of the Town Lake Chapter of The Links, Incorporated;  Member and Secretary of the A+ Federal Credit Union Supervisory Committee , past member of the A+ Federal Credit Union Foundation Board and recently appointed A+ Federal Credit Union Board Member; a Member of the Austin Alliance of Black School Educators; past Board Member, National Association of Federal Education Program Administrators; past Board Member of the Communities In Schools of Central Texas and current member of the Advisory Committee; past Co-chair of the YWCA Women of Achievement Award Banquet; Co-chair of the Southwest Regional Conference and recent Summit; Protocol Co-chair Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. ; Board Member, UT Neighborhood Longhorn Program; newly appointed charter member of the Seedling Foundation Advisory Council; member of the Boys and Girls Scholarship Committee; Advisor, Travis County Special Fund; and Treasurer for the Western Area Cluster Conference Committee, The Links, Inc.


Dan Leal

Dan Leal

Executive Director

Dan became Seedling’s Executive Director in August 2017 with 21 years of nonprofit management experience.  Dan has helped the Board of Directors to develop a strategic plan that will grow Seedling to 1000 children served by the 2024-25 school year and to increase the depth of services and resources for children of incarcerated parents.

Dan served as the Executive Director of the Children’s Advocacy Center in Denton County for 15 years. Dan led an organization of 29 staff members and 37 partner agencies to provide justice, safety, and healing for abused children. During Dan’s tenure, the Children’s Advocacy Center was selected as the Inaugural Nonprofit of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in Southern Denton County. Dan also collaborated with Jenna Quinn and State Representative Tan Parker on the passing of Jenna’s Law, which served as the catalyst for Children’s Advocacy Centers in Texas to add education to their service delivery.

Prior to joining the Advocacy Center, Dan served as the Human Services Coordinator for the City of Denton and was named Public Health Advocate of the Year by the Denton County Health Department. He has also been honored by the Denton County Alliance for the mentally ill and been a recipient of the David Fitch Humanitarian Award from the University of North Texas.

Dan and his wife Kirstin have two adult sons.  Dan’s youngest son serves in the United States Air Force. Dan enjoys sports and broadcasted high school sports on the radio for 20 years.  Dan and his wife Kirstin are both proud to serve as Seedling mentors.

Connie Howe

Connie Howe

Director of Programs

Connie joined Seedling with over 20 years of experience working with children and families in the non-profit sector.  In five years working in the Caribbean and Central America, Connie’s areas of impact included spearheading a four-community-wide Latrine Building Project, collaborating with the local school to bring education programming for healthy choices and environmental awareness, training community health workers on fundraising and project development/management (all in the Dominican Republic with the U.S. Peace Corps), and serving as CFO and acting Country Director for Global Education Partnership in Guatemala, training youth in computer and job skills for the global marketplace.

In Austin, she began as a Health Educator with People’s Community Clinic, including work specifically with homeless youth. Prior to joining Seedling, Connie spent twelve years developing and honing her skills and expertise in the field of youth mentoring at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas, working her way up from Match Support Specialist to Vice President of Programs.  Connie has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Indiana University and is bilingual in English/Spanish.

At Seedling, Connie enjoys using her years of experience and expertise working with children and youth, and her passion for social justice to support agency growth and continued programmatic excellence. Connie lives in East Austin with her treasured dog, Harlow.

Linda Thompson

Director of Development

Linda joined Seedling as the Director of Development with 17 years of nonprofit management experience. After a successful career in corporate sales as an account executive for AT&T and experience as a Board Member of LifeNet Community Behavioral Healthcare in Dallas, Linda was convinced to pursue her passion in a full-time non-profit career. Prior to joining Seedling, Linda managed the YMBL Sunshine Camps development where she worked alongside 250 Young Men’s Business League members to raise money for low-income children to go to week-long summer camp. During Linda’s tenure, the camps grew from serving 800 kids to 1100. Before Linda’s tenure with the YMBL, Linda served as the Vice President of Development for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area, leading the organization to the top of the leaderboard during Amplify Austin and laid the groundwork for a development team that grew from two to five as the organization expanded services for more kids and more clubs in the Austin Area.

Linda and her husband, Dick have a blended family of three boys, two girls, and three grandchildren. Dick is a middle school math teacher at Webb Middle School and they enjoy Austin’s music scene on the weekends. Linda’s 15 minutes of fame came when she was a young girl at Central Michigan University studying music and theater and worked alongside Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber, Terms of Endearment, Arachnophobia) in Catcher in the Rye. You might catch Linda singing at the long Center with Chorus Austin and the Austin Symphony Orchestra……. Or with some friends through Girl Guitar Austin at Antone’s.

Bea Benson

Bea Benson

Mentor Director

Bea joined Seedling after 30 successful years in public and private school education. Formerly she was employed by the Austin Independent School District as a Curriculum Specialist for the district’s middle and high school language arts programs. Her professional roles have included an adjunct teacher at community/junior colleges, state assessment writer, and consultant for school districts and education agencies. Currently, she is the education consultant for Edge of Your Seat Consulting. Bea was recognized by the Texas Legislature and the State Board of Education for writing outstanding lesson plans that would serve as templates for state adopted textbooks. Bea was one of the 120 outstanding women selected from across the state to participate in the 2011 Leadership Texas Class.

Bea received her Bachelor of Arts in Education from Tennessee State University and her Master’s Degree in Secondary Reading Instruction from Cardinal Stritch College in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, as well as additional graduate work in Leadership and Educational Administration at Mount Mary’s College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

As a Mentor Director for Seedling, Bea is grateful for the opportunity to nurture the men and women (mentors) who bring compassion and hope into the lives of children who have incarcerated parents. Bea is happily married to Taft Benson and is the proud mother of Maurice and Pam. She has two grandchildren, Allyson and Preston.

Lynn Cozart

Lynn Cozart

Mentor Director

Lynn joined Seedling with 28 years experience as a Special Education teacher in our area public school districts. Lynn has served in teacher leadership roles where she supervised and assisted teachers in order to coordinate services and develop individual program plans for students with special needs. While Lynn’s area of teaching expertise is in teaching reading and writing to middle school students with learning disabilities, she has mentored numerous students and beginning teachers. Outside the world of work, Lynn has been a volunteer with the Sunshine Kids Foundation where she has assisted in planning and coordinating positive life experiences for young cancer patients.

Through her teaching experiences, Lynn recognizes the importance for children of incarcerated parents to develop meaningful relationships with compassionate, positive role models. At Seedling, Lynn is pleased to share her knowledge of child development and the positive spirit of mentorship with members of our community. Lynn has a Bachelor of Science in Habilitation of the Deaf from Texas Christian University and a Master’s in Educational Administration from Texas State University.

Erica Flores

Recruitment Coordinator

Erica Flores enthusiastically joined the distinguished Seedling team in the fall of 2018. She has over a decade of nonprofit management experience and has been working in youth education since she taught preschool while attaining her BS from the University of Texas. Following graduation, Erica moved to Los Angeles where she earned her MA in Communications Managment from the University of Southern California. It was during this time that she began to focus her efforts on social justice and community work.

Erica spent the better part of the next decade working in the Girls Rock Camp movement, eventually making her way back to her hometown of Austin to serve as Executive Director of Girls Rock Austin. She served three terms on the board of the international Girls Rock Camp Alliance, helping guide the movement double its reach to over 100 chapters worldwide. Other local organizations she’s worked with include 826LA, Austin Public Library, Science in a Suitcase, Latinitas, and RAICES.

When not working or volunteering around town, Erica enjoys road trips, bad movies, playing music, and trying to get attention from her neurotic dog. She can usually be found hanging out with family and friends in East Austin or at a bookstore wishing for infinite time to read everything.

Sabra Fugate

Sabra Fugate

Mentor Director/Trainer

Sabra joined the Seedling family in 2012 as Trainer and Mentor Director.  Her previous work includes over 20 years of experience in Austin non-profits, providing case management and social services to students and their families at all school levels in Austin ISD and Del Valle ISD. She has had the privilege of assisting youth in developing their leadership skills through combatting racism, enhancing empathy, and using their voice for change. Sabra also planned dropout prevention strategies for students, recruited, trained, and supported mentors; and developed her reputation as a skilled trainer for staff and volunteers alike.

Sabra earned a Bachelor’s in Social Work at Texas Tech University and her Master’s in Social Work at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. Sabra’s passion has always been working with young people and helping them find their unique way in the world.

Tess Gillespie

Mentor Director

Tess joined the Seedling team in November 2019 after spending three years advocating for children in the child welfare system with CASA of Travis County. After being raised on a farm in a small Texas town, Tess attended Texas Christian University where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s degree in Social Work. Upon graduation, Tess moved to Austin to be closer to family and is proud to call Austin her home.
Tess’ friends and family describe her as an old soul. On the weekends, you will find Tess walking her dog Ellie to the sound of Miles Davis or Tommy Flanagan, or hovering over a 1000-piece puzzle with Carole King‘s greatest hits on repeat.
Tess is passionate about listening to others’ stories and helping everyone find their value and light.
Sarah Littler

Sarah Littler

Development Associate

Born and raised in Texas, Sarah has been a resident of Austin for 22 years. Since graduating from Texas State University, Sarah has focused her career on serving the non-profit community, most recently in executive support and event planning roles at American Red Cross of Central Texas and LIVESTRONG. Sarah is passionate about social justice issues and is committed to serving vulnerable populations in the Austin community. Sarah joined the Seedling family in April of 2017 after spending the last several years as a full-time mom to her two sons. After being incredibly inspired by Seedling’s mission and remarkably positive outcomes of the Mentor Program, Sarah is proud to be a part of the team that helps make that mission possible.

Sarah enjoys traveling, baking, practicing yoga, volunteering at her son’s school, and listens to way too many podcasts.

Sarah and her husband Ben live in East Austin with their two rambunctious boys Callum and Liam.

Amelia Paramo

Amelia Paramo

Mentor Director

Amelia joins Seedling with more than fourteen years of experience as a school social worker, including 10 years with the Austin Independent School District, 2 years with Del Valle ISD and 1 year with both Round Rock ISD and Pflugerville ISD.

She brings to Seedling vast and varied experiences including a deep knowledge base in Positive Behaviour Supports (PBS).  While in AISD she was a team member and leader for the very successful and effective district-level PBS initiative which helped in creating positive campus climates, reducing disciplinary infractions and improving student academic achievement.  As a Safe and Drug-Free Schools Middle School Program Coordinator, she was responsible for coordinating community-based programs aimed at preventing and reducing the use of drugs and alcohol by middle school students.

Amelia joins Seedling with more than twenty-one years of experience as a school social worker, including 10 years with the Austin Independent School District, 2 years with Del Valle ISD and 1 year with both Round Rock ISD and Pflugerville ISD.

She brings to Seedling vast and varied experiences including a deep knowledge base in Positive Behavior Supports (PBS).  While in AISD she was a team member and leader for the very successful and effective district-level PBS initiative which helped in creating positive campus climates, reducing disciplinary infractions and improving student academic achievement.  As a Safe and Drug-Free Schools Middle School Program Coordinator, she was responsible for coordinating community-based programs aimed at preventing and reducing the use of drugs and alcohol by middle school students.

In her capacity as Community Liaison in Del Valle ISD Amelia served students and families eligible for the Federal Migrant Program as a case manager supporting students and their families as well as teachers and administrators at Hornsby-Dunlap in varied capacities including coordinating programs aimed at improving student academic achievement.  Amelia brings additional knowledge and experiences from her dedicated work as a Parent Educator at The SAFE Alliance and as an Advocate Supervisor in support of adult volunteers at C.A.S.A. of Williamson County.

Coming to Seedling has brought her full circle; back to work in support of students. For this opportunity, Amelia is very grateful and hopeful that she can once again make a positive difference in the lives of ‘at-risk’ students!

Amelia earned both her Bachelor of Social Work and her Master of Science in Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin.

Amelia is a proud native Texan! She and her two teenage sons live in Round Rock. Together they enjoy traveling, the beach and Marvel movies.

Alison Preslar

Alison Preslar

Customer Relations Specialist

Alison joined the Seedling team in April 2017.  She has a BS in Natural Resource Economics from the University of Arizona. Alison has spent the bulk of her career in business and brings with her 10 years’ experience in executive office support with an emphasis on client relations.

Upon her children settling into school, Alison had the opportunity to carve a new path and follow her passion.  Her compassionate nature, dedication to children, and professional office background provided her with the perfect combination of experience and motivation for the Customer Relations Specialist position at Seedling.

Alison has been fortunate to lead an adventurous life traveling to a wide variety of places and cultures. Having had these experiences, she enjoys working with people from all backgrounds and strives to provide excellent service to all.

Alison is proud to be 6th generation Texan! In fact, Andrews County earned its name from an ancestor of hers who was the first to sacrifice his life in the Texas Revolution.

Outside of work, Alison is raising her 3 moppets; a Labrador named Micah and very active twins, Zach, and Savannah. She spends most of her time trying to round them up and hopes to one day be successful.

Kendra Shaw

Mentor Director

New to Seedling in Fall 2018, but a native of Austin, Kendra has a genuine fondness for her city and the unique array of people who call it home. Kendra graduated from Texas Lutheran University with a BA in Psychology and a minor in Geography. While earning her MLA with a concentration in Social Justice at St. Edward’s University, she served as an after school art instructor with AISD through the ACE Afterschool program. Kendra then decided that she wanted to make a greater impact in children’s lives and became a conservatorship worker for CPS. While working with CPS, she primarily helped young adults transition into successful adulthood. Having witnessed how critical and how necessary supportive and positive adults are in children’s lives, Kendra sought out Seedling as an opportunity to help adults become those necessary role models and mentors that children facing familial challenges can depend on.

During her free time, Kendra enjoys anything art related, attending music concerts and festivals. When at home, she cares to unwind with her spunky dog, Xoey.

Gina Zook

Mentor Director/Trainer

Gina eagerly joined Seedling in 2018 to continue serving others in the community and through her love of education.  She spent 22 years in the education field, starting immediately upon graduation with a Science Education degree from Missouri State University.  Gina taught Junior High and High School science in Missouri and Texas, then transitioned to coordinator roles in Texas as a Middle Years Programme Coordinator for the International Baccalaureate Programme and an Instructional Coordinator for a traditional high school and an alternative high school. She then became a home loan originator prior to joining Seedling.

Those who know Gina well, know that she adores her two boys, and enjoys spending time exploring parks, hiking, touring museums, attending festivals, going to car and air shows, visiting historic sites, and is an avid movie-goer.

Gina enjoys volunteering and supporting Military Veterans as the daughter of a 30 year Veteran, and she also supports Dog Rescue organizations.

Gina is proud to be a part of Seedling.

Return to top of page
For COVID-19 Updates Click Here