We’re surrounded by extraordinary professionals dedicated to helping everyone achieve their full potential. See how our staff members and Board of Directors work together to support families during a parent’s illness.
Alex Gabbi, MBA
Alex Gabbi is a devoted father to his wonderful three kids, Nico, Maya and Luca. After his wife died, he gave up a successful career in business to focus on making a difference for others in the community in as many ways as possible, including teaching at the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin and supporting Wonders & Worries. His career encompasses more than 25 years of experience in senior leadership positions with small and Fortune 500 companies in the high-tech, consulting, international business and software arenas. Alex is an avid traveler and enjoys games of strategy. He intends for his children to visit 40 countries and 40 states before they graduate high school. Read more about his story.
512-329-5757, Ext. 101
Meredith Cooper, MA, CCLS, LPC
Co-Founder & Child Life Specialist
Meredith Cooper is the Co-Founder of Wonders & Worries, a nonprofit that provides professional mental health support for children throughout a parent’s illness. Following 15 years of success, Meredith shifted from executive director to a founder role in 2017, where she continues providing strategic direction for Wonders & Worries national growth.
Meredith has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Child Development. She is a certified Child Life Specialist and a Licensed Professional Counselor who has been involved with children’s healthcare in the Austin community for more than 25 years, including being the first pediatric oncology child life specialist for Austin. Meredith received the Helping Hand Home’s Champion for Children Award in 2010, and the Girl Scout Woman of Distinction Award in 2013. Meredith is married with one son, two daughters and a growing number of grandchildren.
512-329-5757, Ext. 201
Corinne Barnickel, MA, MS, CCLS, LMFT-A
Child Life Specialist
Corinne Barnickel moved to Texas to become a program facilitator at a camp for children with special needs. During camp, she heard of Wonders & Worries and signed up to be a volunteer for the organization. After completing her Child Life internship at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital, she excitedly accepted a position at Wonders & Worries. Corinne is now a full-time Child Life Specialist. She provides therapeutic support for individuals and groups of children coping with a parent’s illness. She is also the co-facilitator of the monthly teen group that provides peer support to adolescents dealing with stress from the loss or illness of a parent. She is passionate about her work and loves that this community setting allows her to have relationships with the families she serves.
Corinne graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a Bachelor’s in Family and Child Studies, concentrating in Child Life. She received her graduate degree from Louisiana Tech in Family and Consumer Sciences with a concentration in Family and Child Development. Her graduate work focused on researching the influence of parental cancer on school-age children and their families to help support the mission of Wonders & Worries.
512-329-5757, Ext. 113
Penney Berryman, MPH
Penney Berryman worked in the nonprofit sector in Washington, D.C. for 10 years, focusing on health policy and health communications. After moving to Austin, Penney joined Seton Healthcare’s marketing and communications team before learning about Wonders & Worries in 2016. Penney is published in The Huffington Post, the Journal of Public Health Management & Practice, and the Quality Improvement Handbook. Penney earned her bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Arkansas and her master’s degree in public health from The George Washington University. Favorite pastimes baking sweets, beer tasting, tickling her son and belting out summer camp songs.
512-329-5757, Ext. 202
Lindsey Boyd holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of Texas at Austin with a minor in Economics. She has worked in nonprofits for nine years. As Director of Development, Lindsey oversees all campaigns, events, communications, grant writing, donor relations and stewardship. Prior to joining Wonders & Worries as the Development Director in 2013, she worked in development at Round Rock Christian Academy and Seton. She currently serves on the Board of Directors at Round Rock Christian Academy and the Revenue Development Committee at the ARC of Texas. She is a member of the Junior League of Austin and the Association of Fundraising Professionals where she serves on the Membership Committee as the Scholarship Chair.
Lindsey is married to her high school sweetheart and they have four “fur children.” When she’s not at work, you might find her traveling, eating amazing food, listening to Hamilton, cheering on the Longhorns and binge watching her favorite shows on Netflix.
512-329-5757, Ext. 206
Donna Bueche, MA
Donna Bueche is a fundraising professional with 13 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations and public universities. For the last 10 years, Donna worked as a Grant Manger at Meals on Wheels Central Texas. Before joining Meals on Wheels Central Texas, she worked in the Resource Development office at the McCombs School of Business at UT Austin. There, she assisted the Director of Corporate Relations with proposals, presentations, donor research and events. Donna holds a B.A. in English from the University of Texas at Austin and a M.A. in English from the University of Arizona. She is a member of the Grants Professional Association.
Donna is a PTA member at her daughter’s elementary school in Austin. She has also volunteered for Open Door Preschool, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Paramount Theater. When she is not fundraising or spending time with her husband and daughter, Donna can be found at the YMCA, most likely in a spin class.
512-329-5757, Ext. 119
Kim Fryar, MS, MEd, CCLS, NCC
Program Director, Child Life Specialist
Kim has been a child life specialist for more than 20 years. She started her career at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, and worked with seriously ill children and their families for nine years. Kim moved to Austin and joined the Wonders & Worries team in 2002 as a senior child life specialist. Kim now serves as program director, a role that provides her the privilege of providing initial support to newly referred families, supervising child life staff and overseeing client services. Kim holds a bachelor’s degree in Family Relations and Child Development and Masters’ degrees in both Human Development and Family Studies and Counseling with a play therapy emphasis. She is a Certified Child Life Specialist and National Certified Counselor.
Kim is married to her high school sweetheart, who proposed underwater while they were scuba diving. They have a teenage daughter, teenage son, two dogs and a rabbit. Kim is adventurous and loves the outdoors. She is a certified scuba diver, avid hiker, snow skier, water skier and has jumped out of a plane. She also enjoys relaxing with a good book.
512-329-5757, Ext. 207
Ali Houshmand, MA, LPC, LMFT
Child Life Staff
Ali Houshmand was born in Teheran, Iran and grew up in Europe. He studied in Belgium and finished his university studies in Bordeaux, France. In 1991, he moved to the United States and went back to college in San Francisco, California. He worked for 18 years in the high-tech industry and finished his career at IBM Corp.
He has travelled the world extensively, speaks several languages, and prides himself in approaching everyone from a multicultural and unique point of view. He coaches tennis weekly to young children and volunteers at Helping Hand Home for Children in Austin, working with a group of boys. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University with a Master’s in Counseling.
512-329-5757, Ext. 110
Michele Martin, MS, CCLS
Child Life Specialist
Michele Martin has over 20 years of experience providing emotional and developmental support for children and families in health care environments. Michele has worked as a Certified Child Life Specialist for the Children’s Medical Center of Dallas; as a mental health consultant for Head Start; and as a middle-school science teacher for Bishop Garriga Middle Preparatory School. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master of Science degree in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of North Texas. She also has her teacher’s certification for the 4th – 8th grades. Her husband and four children are her pride and joy.
512-329-5757, Ext. 205
Julie May, BS, CCLS
Child Life Specialist
Julie joins the Wonders and Worries team with over 15 years of clinical experience supporting children and their families as they navigate the medical journey. She treasured her many years as a Child Life Specialist at Baylor Our Children’s House in Dallas, Texas serving families in need of physical medicine and rehabilitation services. For the past seven years, Julie served in a senior leadership role on the Child Life team at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas. She holds a bachelor of science in Human Development and Family Sciences from the University of Texas at Austin.
Julie is also known as “Mom!” to four crazy kiddos of her own. She and her husband enjoy camping and exploring the awesome hill country with their children and silly golden retriever. Julie has a knack for repurposing old furniture, which led to the creation of her own furniture design company, Firefly Skies. Climber of trees and often covered in paint, Julie is always up for an adventure.
512-329-5757, Ext. 316
Adrianna Ortega, BA, BS, CCLS
Bilingual Child Life Specialist
Adrianna is primarily responsible for providing direct clinical services through psychosocial support to children, adolescents and teens in bilingual or Spanish-speaking families who have a seriously ill parent.
Adrianna holds Bachelor’s degrees in both Religious Studies and Human Development, and Family Studies with an emphasis in Early Childhood Development from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a Certified Child Life Specialist and has over eight years of Child Life experience supporting children affected by serious illness or injury at children’s hospitals in Austin and Houston.
512-329-5757, Ext. 203
Bilingual Child Life Assistant
Maria Patiño graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in May 2013 with a degree in Human Development and Family Sciences. She completed her child life practicum in early 2016 and is working on her internship at Dell Children’s Medical Center. Maria is fluent in English and Spanish, and her superpower is creating delicious vegan baked good.
512-329-5757, Ext. 315
512-329-5757, Ext. 107
Kristen Simmons, MA, CCLS
Child Life Specialist
Kristen Simmons has worked professionally with children for over 10 years, and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Education and a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Counseling. After completing her child life internship training at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, Texas, Kristen became a Certified Child Life Specialist and joined Wonders & Worries part-time in 2015. Kristen is also a Child Life Specialist at ‘Specially For Children, a pediatric sub-specialty clinic associated with Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, Texas. Kristen enjoys spending time with her husband, laughing and travel. Kristen’s super power is the ability to identify various dog breeds. This may be because she follows more dogs on Instagram than people.
512-329-5757, Ext. 117
Lara Strickland, MS, CCLS
Child Life Specialist
With a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Relations, Lara Strickland joined Children’s Medical Center of Dallas as the Outreach Coordinator in pediatric oncology before entering the specialty field of Child Life. She received her Master’s in Human Development and Family Studies in 1997 at the University of North Texas and became certified as a child life specialist in 2002. Upon transferring to the Child Life Department at CMCD, Lara served as a child life specialist in hematology/oncology and worked with children coping with cancer and sickle cell anemia, as well as their siblings.
Lara joined the staff at Wonders & Worries part-time in 2005. She provides individual support in the playroom and school environments for children coping with illness in the family. She has facilitated weekly teen groups and the 8-week parenting class, Child-Parent Relationship Training. She is married and has two children.
512-329-5757, Ext. 118
Kelly works with community organizations, schools and businesses to educate them about Wonders & Worries services. Kelly received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder in Psychology. Prior to joining Wonders & Worries, Kelly worked for Angel Foundation in Minneapolis, Minnesota as well as the University of Minnesota.
512-329-5757, Ext. 116
After graduating with a BA in accounting, Beth worked in accounting for a number of years. When she became a full-time mom, she continued doing bookkeeping for her husband’s business. During the 12 years of raising two daughters, Beth had the opportunity to volunteer for many different organizations and became passionate about nonprofit work. For her second career, Beth managed the Texas Retired Teachers Foundation, gaining experience in fundraising and donor relationship management while overseeing the foundation’s four charitable programs. She continues serving on the Board of Directors of Art From the Streets. Beth’s hidden talent is that she knows how to milk a cow.
512-329-5757, Ext. 102
Crystal Wilkins, MEd, CCLS, LPC, RPT
Child Life Specialist
Crystal completed her Bachelor’s degree in Family and Child development from Texas State University in 2003, and then earned her certification as a Child Life Specialist. Crystal worked for 12 years in hospitals as a Child life specialist, providing developmental and coping support to children impacted by illness, hospitalization and trauma. In 2013, Crystal completed her Master’s degree from the University of North Texas in Counseling, going on to obtain her License in Professional Counseling and Registration in Play Therapy. Crystal recently worked as the play therapist at Dell Children’s Medical Center, and continues providing play therapy and counseling support at Austin Stone Counseling Center. Crystal’s super powers include her ability to recall dance routines from her childhood, the power to identify an episode of Friends that may provide wisdom for just about any situation, and despite inordinate amounts of caffeine, to be able to sleep for 12 hours and still take a nap.
512-329-5757, Ext. 114