Founder & Executive Director
Sandra Whitley is the Founder and Executive Director of Thrive Youth Center, Inc. Ms. Whitley graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in Psychology and a minor in Business. She also obtained a Paralegal certificate, and for ten years worked as a Paralegal with the 2nd largest law firm in Florida. Over the next 20 years, she owned two businesses, but always had the desire to help LGBTQ youth due to her own negative experiences of being a young, “out” lesbian living in the Panhandle of Texas.
After the sale of her second business in 2013, she began researching how she could best serve LGBTQ youth and young adults. She found an epidemic of LGBTQ homeless youth in the United States, with only six shelters in the country specifically addressing this issue. She opened Thrive Youth Center, the first LGBTQ-specific shelter in the southern United States, in San Antonio in February 2015.
Greg Casillas started with Thrive in October of 2017 as the Life Skills Program Manager and this position allowed him to support youth through every avenue of their emerging life off the streets. He created a program for these youth that centers around 7 major areas of life; Daily Living, Self Care, Housing & Money Management, Relationships & Communication, Work & Study Life, Looking Forward, and Permanency.
Now as the Assistant Director, Greg is moving the organization forward through policy development, community engagement, community partnerships, and funding opportunities. Greg is focused on cultivating partnerships with community providers to offer a wide range of services to youth experiencing homelessness.
Greg is active in the community, serving as a resource to San Antonio and the surrounding area. He was a member of the selection committee that appointed San Antonio citizens to Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Board. He is the current co-chair for the Ryan White Program and the End Stigma End HIV Alliance of San Antonio. He actively serves on several community based initiatives and university-based student projects.
Prior to living in San Antonio, Greg lived in Costa Rica for 17 years. He is a yoga teacher, a Quaker, sports enthusiast, likes to cook and is looking forward to a long career serving the community. Greg and his husband John are “Dads” to two dogs, 10 cats and an opossum named Mabel.
He often reminds people that “Silence = Permission” and that, “It takes one voice. Let it be yours.”
Director of Case Management
Nicole Cornevin holds an MA in Psychology and obtained her BA from Texas A&M University – San Antonio. She joined Thrive Youth Center as a case manager in 2018, providing case management for both emergency shelter and housing program clients. Prior to joining Thrive, Nicole spent several years as a caseworker for the state investigating abuse and neglect of elderly and disabled individuals. Nicole also has experience in the corporate world, having held positions with American Express and USAA, and has volunteered with Fiesta Youth and Paws for Service in the past.
Nicole’s life experience of having dropped out of school after coming out as a teen shaped her desire to work with LGBTQ+ youth and young adults, with hopes of playing a part in showing them that they are not alone in their own life journey, no matter the circumstances.
When she’s not working, Nicole enjoys traveling, writing, doing creative artsy projects, interior decorating (translation: shopping), and spending time with her beloved dachshund Snoodle (who has her own Instagram and TikTok account).
Housing Program Manager, Continuum of Care
Born and raised in south Texas, David Guajardo-High completed his undergraduate work at Texas A&M University – San Antonio. He attended graduate school at Duquesne University in Pittsburg, where he received his master’s degree in special education community and support.
David has always been driven by helping others, and identifies as a happily married gay male, so working for Thrive Youth Center was a natural and perfect fit. He is one of two housing program managers and has enjoyed his employment with Thrive since July of 2019.
David and his husband eagerly await the day when they can once again travel safely, but for now, love each other’s company as well as the company of their three cats.
Maddie Kennedy is on an endless pursuit to make the world’s perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe. Maddie studied Political Science and Spanish at Trinity University, where they led community organizing efforts in student groups and in local organizations. Their experience in nonprofit work, social justice efforts, and disability studies prepared them for navigating the world of Homeless Services at Thrive.
They began their time at Thrive as a Case Manager for the CoC Rapid Re-Housing Program, working to support the young adults at Thrive in working towards their goals, knocking down obstacles, and affirming themselves. After learning how necessary advocacy, policy, and structural change is to each youth’s success, Maddie became motivated to lead Thrive’s advocacy and community action. As Manager of Community Affairs, they work with donors, volunteers, board members, community organizations, and the youth we serve to actualize the changes we need to achieve our vision: creating an equitable community where LGBTQ+ young adults can flourish. Thrive has been a wonderful opportunity to build on their passion for community support and LGBTQ+ advocacy.
When not at Thrive, you can find Maddie taking naps, cycling around San Antonio, or testing new breakfast spots around the city.
YHDP Case Manager
Bernard Aleman joined Thrive Youth Center in 2021. Bernard came to Thrive with a background of over 25 years in various case management capacities, group home settings, and agency experience in serving youth and young adults.
Bernard’s philosophy driving his professional case management work is that it isn’t just a job, it’s a mission. Bernard has appreciated the open and accepting environment at Thrive and looks forward to guiding young adults toward being the best version of themselves every day.
Erin Kirby attended a prestigious Catholic school in Seguin, TX, and later studied mass communications and psychology at San Antonio College, after which she planned to pursue her dream of joining a glam rock band in California. Life had a few other plans, and today, Erin is the proud mother to an adult daughter, along with being an important role model to Thrive’s emergency shelter youth. Erin has over 25 years of experience in the retail field working for companies such as Toys R Us and Nordstrom, and also has extensive experience working in school settings, childcare, and nanny positions.
Erin first became interested in joining the Thrive team after hearing about the various ways Thrive staff help the youth they work with. Always up for a challenge, Erin excels in a constantly changing environment, as every day in Thrive’s emergency shelter is different. Erin enjoys knowing that she is working for an organization that is helping to make a difference in youth’s lives, and takes pride in the sense of accomplishment this brings to her work.
While Erin is passionate about the young adults she works with, she is equally passionate about animals. When Erin wins the lottery, she will likely be found in a tropical destination as an exotic animal caretaker. Erin is a big fan of reggaeton, bachata, salsa, and merengue music and enjoys horror movies, criminal minds, cooking, baking, reading, fashion, fast & furious cars, and spending time with her two furbabies.
Emergency Shelter Case Manager
Dustin Castillo is a Texas native, born in El Paso and raised in San Antonio, TX. He graduated from UTSA with a Bachelors in public administration with a minor in nonprofit management. Dustin was recently accepted and enrolled at UTSA to pursue a Masters in Public Administration with a Graduate Certificate of Nonprofit Administration and Leadership. Dustin brings 5 years experience of interdisciplinary case management with mental health/substance use, HIV/AIDS and the LGBTQIA community to his position at Thrive.
When not at work, Dustin’s hobbies include eating, gardening, singing, meditation, and spending time outdoors in nature. Dustin is the proud “furfather” to four pugs and a cat.
Life Skills Case Manager
Brian Hodges obtained his Bachelors of Arts in Communication Studies from Texas Lutheran University.
Previously working in the higher education field at University of Texas at San Antonio, Brian was drawn to Thrive Youth Center for the important advocacy and difference the organization makes in the San Antonio community. In his free time, Brian has studied and performed in local theatre around our city.
Youth Benefit Specialist
Hello, my name is LeLisa Watkins and I was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada.
I have 26 years of marriage under my belt, seven children, and four grandchildren. I received my high school diploma from Eldorado High and hold Associate Degrees and Certifications from College of Southern Nevada and St. Mary’s University. I am an Interior Designer by trade and have worked on residential and commercial projects. I have a BS in Psychology and a BA in Anthropology. Both were received from Weber State University in Utah.
In my spare time, I enjoy swimming, reading, working out, volunteering, attending church functions, traveling, playing games, spending time with family and friends, entertaining, DIY, decorating, design, and cooking. I enjoy working in positions where I can assist those in need, positions that are a bit challenging, rewarding and where there is always something new to learn. All companies I have worked with thus far: Thrive, CPS, DCFS, HOPE Adoption Agency, Clearfield Group Home, Applegate Senior Facilities, PRS Youth Programs, PRS Senior Program, and Workforce Services just to name a few have literally kept me on my toes. If I could describe myself and my life in two words, those words would be Blessed and Amazing!
Lynn Gonzalez is a dog mama to Gucci, who just moved here from California. Lynn has worked in child case management for the past few years with an immense care for children and youth. She is quickly settling into her new Thrive home and is excited for her new journey! When not napping/powering up for her nights at Thrive, you can catch watching all things True Crime, at Hobby Lobby or catching a flight with Gucci to Cali!
Weekend Case Manager
Education and Employment Aide
Ashlee is a Georgia native, who has a deep love for chicken wings and naps. Ashlee earned her BA from Georgia State University and her MS from Our Lady of the Lake University. She’s a lover of random facts and useless information, believes that housing is a human right, and will never turn down a night out.
Ashlee is also a proud mother to a jalapeño plant and a turtle name Lamarcus Aldridge. One day she would like to be a senator and own a mini cow farm.
Krys Sustaita doesn’t know when to quit and that’s both a weakness and strength for them! Krys came to San Antonio 15 years ago, right out of high school. After spending some time working in various industries, Krys finished their Bachelor’s at The University of Texas in San Antonio and set to work in the non-profit sector.
In their free time, they run their own free pantry network consisting of 8 sister pantries across San Antonio, named after a locally famous Mexican American activist, The Jovita Idár Pantry and Fridge. Krys and their pantry team are always looking for new pantry hosts, so if you think you have what it takes, look them up!
CoC Case Manager
Sandi Esquivel obtained her Bachelors of Arts in Public Policy from University of Texas at San Antonio and a Masters in Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling from Walden University. Sandi has over 15 years of case management experience working with both adults and children in a myriad of settings which focused on improving the mental health, linking to community resources, and life skill needs of those from underprivileged communities. Sandi was drawn to Thrive Youth Center in the hopes of advocating and improving for the youth in the San Antonio community. In her free time, Sandi enjoys spending time with her friends and family, reading, and training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Angel Drake is a graduate from Argosy University with her Master’s in Human Services as well as her BA from Wayland Baptist University-San Antonio in Human Services. She has over 7 years of experience working with families and disadvantaged youth.
She spent the majority of her career working with the State of Texas as a Texas Health Advisor as well as an investigator with Adult Protective Services. Her passion is to help others see their full potential no matter who they are or who they love. Angel is a soon to be wife and a mother of 3 kiddos ages 12, 7 and 3. She is also a Furmom to a 1 year old Chihuahua named Maximus Aurelius.
In her free time, Angel really enjoys traveling around the world with her children in tow to experience different cultures and food. Some of her hobbies are reading, online shopping, instagram and binge watching the latest tv shows.