Staff

Our extraordinary professional staff are dedicated to helping children and teenagers achieve their full potential, despite a parent’s illness. Meet our staff and Board of Directors who work together to support families on their medical journey.

Alex Gabbi, MBA

Alex Gabbi, MBA

Executive Director

Alex Gabbi is a devoted father to his three wonderful kids, Nico, Maya and Luca. After his wife died of cancer, 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. This included 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
alex@wondersandworries.org

Corinne Barnickel, MA, MS, CCLS, LMFT-A

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. 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 a facilitator of the monthly teen group which provides peer support to adolescents dealing 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 the influence of parental cancer on school-children and their families.  Corinne decided to continue her education further and attended St. Edwards University to complete a Master of Arts in Counseling.  Gaining a marriage and family therapy degree allows Corinne to continue her passion for making sure families build resiliency in the midst of grief and loss.  She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate in part time private practice.

512-329-5757, Ext. 113
corinne@wondersandworries.org

Donna Bueche, MA

Donna Bueche, MA

Grant Writer

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
donna@wondersandworries.org

Meredith Cooper, MA, CCLS, LPC

Meredith Cooper, MA, CCLS, LPC

Co-Founder & Child Life Specialist

Meredith Cooper is the co-Founder of Wonders & Worries, a nonprofit that provides professional support for children and teenagers 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 (CCLS) and a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) 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
meredith@wondersandworries.org

Cindy Fitchpatrick, MEd, CCLS

Cindy Fitchpatrick, MEd, CCLS

Bilingual Child Life Specialist

Cindy joins Wonders & Worries with more than 28 years of experience, having served in numerous hospitals supporting the psychosocial needs of pediatric patients and their families. She is bilingual in English and Spanish and a passionate champion for Spanish-speaking communities. Cindy has her bachelor of science in Early Childhood and Family Relationships, and a Master of education in Special Education, both from the University of Texas. She is a certified child life specialist (CCLS) and recently started teaching an Introduction to Child Life course at UT.

Cindy volunteers with Operation Smile on international medical missions and serves on the Standish Foundation advisory board. Cindy has been married 25 years and enjoys spending time on the lake and running.

512-329-5757, Ext. 319
cindy@wondersandworries.org

Kim Fryar, MS, MEd, CCLS, NCC

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. 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 (CCLS) and National Certified Counselor (NCC).

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
kim@wondersandworries.org

Francine Gamez

Francine Gamez

Child Life Specialist

Francine has 7 years of experience as a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS), currently working at Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. Francine began her Child Life career as a child life assistant in 2006, has Bachelor’s degree in Education and is currently pursuing a master of science degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at the University of San Antonio.

Francine is from San Antonio, TX and on her spare time she enjoys reading, cooking, and re-watching the office. She is a homebody at heart, but also enjoys a good hike, game nights and her goal is to try every pizza joint in San Antonio.

francine@wondersandworries.org

Aleida Guerra

Aleida Guerra

Bilingual Child Life Specialist

Aleida has 12 years of experience as a certified child life specialist (CCLS), currently working at Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. Aleida has a Bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Houston. She will be serving our Spanish-Speaking families in San Antonio by doing intakes and parent consultations as needed.

In addition to Aleida’s child life specialist certification, she is a Certified Passenger Safety Technician, and a Child Life Volunteer Coordinator. Aleida and her fiancé, Ernest, are big Star Wars fans and enjoy going to the movies.

210-307-4853
aleida@wondersandworries.org

Nicole Halder, MA

Nicole Halder, MA

Outreach & Development Director

Nicole Halder is passionate about helping organizations create outstanding services for children in challenging environments. Nicole’s focus is developing partnerships to help Wonders & Worries expand. After completing her Bachelor of Science in Finance and International Operations from Georgetown University, she earned her Master’s in Elementary Education from Columbia University.  Nicole has extensive experience in teaching, and her work in teacher and curriculum development effected major advances in educational outcomes at schools in New York City and Central Texas.

She previously served as President of the Board of Directors of Wonders & Worries and is a former board member of the Lake Travis Education Foundation. Her professional and board work consistently demonstrate outstanding leadership skills and successful outcomes. She enjoys cooking, “playing” in her garden, traveling and raising her three elementary school-age children with her husband.

512-329-5757, Ext. 120
nicole@wondersandworries.org

Ali Houshmand, MA, LPC, LMFT

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. Ali worked for 18 years in the high-tech industry and finished his career at IBM Corporation.

He has traveled the world extensively, speaks several languages, and prides himself in approaching everyone from a multicultural and unique point of view. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University with a Master’s degree in Counseling and is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT).

512-329-5757, Ext. 110
ali@wondersandworries.org

Michele Martin, MS, CCLS

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 (CCLS) for the Children’s Medical Center of Dallas; as a mental health consultant for Head Start; and as a middle-school science teacher at 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
michele@wondersandworries.org

Julie May, CCLS

Julie May, CCLS

Child Life Specialist

Julie joined the Wonders & Worries team with more than 15 years of clinical experience supporting children and their families as they navigate the medical journey. She treasures her many years as a child life specialist at Baylor’s Our Children’s House in Dallas, Texas, serving families in need of 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
julie@wondersandworries.org

Andrew McOmber

Andrew McOmber

Data & Operations Specialist

Andrew is a senior at UT Austin pursing Finance and a minor in MIS at McCombs School of Business. He has interned in different industries in the financial services and consulting sectors.

When he’s away from work, he enjoys basketball, piano, and all UT sports.

andrew@wondersandworries.org

Allison Moore, CCLS

Allison Moore, CCLS

Child Life Specialist

Allison is a certified child life specialist (CCLS) with over eleven years of experience supporting children and families in the healthcare setting.  She worked at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston for six years, primarily in the emergency center and as a float child life specialist covering all areas of the hospital.  Allison currently works as the clinical CCLS at the Children’s Comprehensive Care Clinic in Austin, serving children with medical complexity and their family members.  Allison is passionate about developing programming that supports siblings who have, or have lost, a brother or sister with special needs, both individually and in group settings.  She is a facility dog handler for the clinic’s full-time service dog, Solo, and loves to incorporate his gentle nature into her child life interventions with patients and siblings.  Outside of work, Allison and her husband have a spunky family of 4 kids who love exploring Austin and all the delightful outdoor activities it has to offer.

Allison holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Humanities with a minor in elementary education and a concentration in working with students with special needs from Trinity University.  She is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Child Life at Bank Street Graduate School of Education and graduates in May 2020.

allison@wondersandworries.org

Julie Neitzel, CCLS

Julie Neitzel, CCLS

Child Life Specialist

Julie joins the Wonders and Worries team with over 20 years as a child life specialist.  She has worked as a Certified Child Life Specialist at both Children’s Medical Center in Dallas and Dell Children’s Medical Center.  During those years, she provided developmental and emotional support to infants, children and their families in most areas of the hospital.  Additionally, Julie worked at Austin Area Birthing Center, teaching classes for siblings to be and provided parent instruction in infant massage.  She holds a bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma State University in Child Development and is also a certified infant massage instructor.

Julie loves spending her time in the outdoors and with her family.  She has two amazing children, who have made her use every skill she ever learned as a child life specialist!  She and her husband enjoy watching musicals, taking the kids camping and cooking together on weekends.

Lori Novitski

Lori Novitski

Child Life Specialist

Lori Novitski joins Wonders & Worries with over 15 years experience as a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) and as a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS).  She graduated from Texas State University in 2003 with a bachelor of science degree in Recreation Administration with a Therapeutic Emphasis.   Lori has dedicated the past 15 years to The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio.

Lori and her husband have young, beautiful twin daughters who keep them extremely busy.  Lori and her family value family time and love to travel.  Their favorite destination is Disney World!  Lori and her husband have been known to be rollercoaster enthusiasts.

lori@wondersandworries.org

Adrianna Ortega, CCLS

Adrianna Ortega, 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 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 (CCLS) and has more than 12 years of experience supporting children affected by serious illness or injury. Adrianna has two children and they love being outdoors.

512-329-5757, Ext. 203
adrianna@wondersandworries.org

Maria Patiño

Maria Patiño

Bilingual Child Life Assistant / Resource Navigator

Maria Patiño graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in 2013 with a degree in Human Development and Family Sciences. She completed her child life practicum with Wonders & Worries, and is applying for her child life internship, the next step to becoming a certified child life specialist (CCLS). Maria volunteers with Dell Children’s Medical Center, the Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas and El Buen Samaritano. Maria is fluent in English and Spanish, and her superpower is creating delicious vegan baked goods.

512-329-5757, Ext. 315
maria@wondersandworries.org

Rhiannon Pytlak

Rhiannon Pytlak

Marketing Specialist

Rhiannon is currently a junior at UT Austin pursuing Marketing with a minor in MIS at McCombs School of Business. She has a customer service background with prior internship experience in Austin. Rhiannon’s mother was diagnosed with Lupus before she was born, so she feels strong ties to Wonders & Worries and the services they provide.

In her free time, Rhiannon enjoys yoga, reading, and playing the oboe.

rhiannon@wondersandworries.org

Jacquelyn Rebecek, MS, CCLS

Jacquelyn Rebecek, MS, CCLS

Child Life Specialist

Jacquelyn received her Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from St. Edward’s University in 2000 and her Masters in Family and Child Development with a focus in Child Life from Texas State University in 2007.  She has over 11 years of experience working as a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS). Prior to coming to Wonders and Worries, Jacquelyn directed the children’s bereavement program at The Christi Center providing therapeutic support groups, activities, and events for children and teens and parental support to parents in grief.

Jacquelyn is honored to come alongside Wonders and Worries families during their illness journey, offering psychosocial support that helps them see their strengths as individuals and as a family.  She is also honored to hold the title of Total Boy Mom and can often be found adventuring through Austin and beyond with her husband and two boys.

512-329-5757, Ext. 323
jacquelyn@wondersandworries.org

Leslie Schulze

Leslie Schulze

Event Manager

Leslie comes to us from the American Red Cross where she managed special events for five years. Prior to that she was a stay at home mom for 12 years. During that time, she held almost every PTA position, and volunteered with multiple organizations. That time spent helping others solidified her love of philanthro pies and desire to work for a non-profit.

She is married to her college sweetheart and has two children. Leslie graduated from the University of Houston and is very active in the Cougar Austin Alumni Group. She spends her  f ree time volunteering as football team mom for her son and burning up the road between Austin and College Station traveling to visit her daughter. If you can’t find her doing any of those things, she will probably be by the pool reading a book or visiting her favorite winery in Fredericksburg.

leslie@wondersandworries.org

Jaina Shah

Jaina Shah

Marketing Specialist

Jaina Shah is a senior studying Marketing and Art History at UT Austin. She had two prior internships in Marketing in the DFW area, where she’s originally from. In the future, she wants to continue working with non-profits and further the incredible work they do.

One of Jaina’s favorite past times is traveling the world with her parents and younger brother, who is joining her at UT in the fall. She also loves movies, music, and spending time in art museums.

jaina@wondersandworries.org

Deanna Smith, CCLS

Deanna Smith, CCLS

Child Life Specialist

Deanna Smith joins Wonders & Worries with more than 12 years of experience as a certified child life specialist (CCLS) in the hospital setting. She graduated from Lubbock Christian University with a degree in Child Development & Family Studies. Deanna completed her internship at Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas and started professionally at Children’s Medical Center Dallas. Most recently she worked at Children’s Hospital of San Antonio.

Deanna also teaches yoga. With spare time, she enjoys relaxing with her husband and two little girls – whether it’s a tea party at the house or vacationing at the beach. And when the girls aren’t watching, her favorite indulgence is anything chocolate!

210-307-4853
deanna@wondersandworries.org

Lara Strickland, MS, CCLS

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 (CCLS) in 2002. 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 parenting classes. She is married and has three children.

512-329-5757, Ext. 118
lara@wondersandworries.org

Beth Unite

Beth Unite

Operations Director

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
beth@wondersandworries.org

Crystal Wilkins, MEd, CCLS, LPC, RPT

Crystal Wilkins, MEd, CCLS, LPC, RPT

Program Director, Operations and 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 (CCLS). Crystal worked for 12 years in hospitals, 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, and obtained her License in Professional Counseling (LPC) and Registration in Play Therapy. (RPT) 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 superpowers include her ability to recall dance routines from her childhood and the power to identify an episode of Friends that may provide wisdom for just about any situation. She is more at home on the lake than anywhere else on the planet.

512-329-5757, Ext. 114
crystal@wondersandworries.org