Kandace Thomas, MPP, PhD

Executive Director

Dr. Kandace Thomas is a changemaker and leader in children’s social emotional development and well-being, diversity-informed practice and mindfulness. Prior to joining First 8 Memphis, Dr. Thomas was a senior program officer at the Irving Harris Foundation. She provided vision and strategic direction for organizations integrating early childhood development and child trauma-informed best practices in order to help improve school and life outcomes for children from birth to age eight. Dr. Thomas led the creation and the current dissemination of the Diversity-Informed Tenets for Work With Infants, Children and Families. She is currently the Chair of the Tenets Advisory Council. Dr. Thomas is also a founder of Camp Sojourner, Girls’ Leadership Camp—an organization that promotes leadership development, creative arts and appreciation of nature for Philadelphia girls. Dr. Thomas has a PhD in Child Development from Erikson Institute/Loyola University of Chicago, a master’s of Public Policy degree from The University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy and a BA from Wesleyan University.

Gwendy Williams, MEd

Director of Strategic Operations

Gwendolyn Williams (Gwendy)  is a strategic thought leader and effective project manager dedicated to improving child, family, and program outcomes. Gwendy was recruited to Memphis in 2015 as an Education Pioneer Fellow at Seeding Success and was hired as a Highly Specialized Advisor at Shelby County Schools in May 2016. During her time at Shelby County Schools, Gwendy managed projects that created more high-quality school seat options for students, created more effective reporting tools that enabled well-informed district leaders’ decision-making, and facilitated meetings with community leaders to align county-wide strategies for improving literacy. Gwendy earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, a Master of Education from Vanderbilt University, and most recently a Master of Education from The Broad Center. She is happily married with one child.

LeAmber Hill, MS

Compliance Manager

A native of Nashville, TN LeAmber Hill moved to Memphis to attend the University of Memphis in 2005. After graduating from the University of Memphis, LeAmber began her career as a teacher counselor with Youth Villages, a non-profit organization serving at risk-youth. In 2016, LeAmber was able to receive her master’s degree at Capella University for Mental Health Counseling. Prior to her departure with Youth Villages, LeAmber worked in their corporate compliance department managing policies and procedures. She is married with two children.

Ginny Renfroe, MS Ed

Operations Manager

Ginny Renfroe started her career in education as the lead Pre-Kindergarten teacher for Lauderdale County’s Voluntary PreK program in 2005, where she continued teaching for 10 years.  A lifelong Memphian, Ginny received a Bachelor of Science from the University of Memphis, where she majored in Integrated Studies, K-8. Later she earned a Master of Science from Walden University with a focus in Early Childhood Education, Leadership Management, and Administration. Recently, Ginny served as an education consultant for the Tennessee Department of Education overseeing the Preschool Development Grant for the Shelby County Consortium. She is married with two children.

Johanna Harrison, MUEd

Pre-K Operator Liaison

Johanna Harrison has spent her professional career as a teacher and instructional coach in Shelby County School’s English as a Second Language Department. Originally from Pennsylvania, Johanna moved to Memphis to join the Memphis Teacher Residency, through which she received a Masters of Education from Union University. Johanna received a B.S. in Secondary English from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. In 2020, Johanna completed a Reading Specialist certification through Christian Brothers University. Passionate about early childhood, she strives to create an equitable educational experience for all children in Memphis and looks forward to leveraging her instructional and community knowledge to support First 8 Memphis’ Pre-K partners. Now a Memphian by choice, Johanna lives in the city with her husband and greyhound.

LaDora Watkins, CAP

Executive Assistant

LaDora received a BA in psychology from the University of Memphis and began her career as a counselor with Youth Villages. She spent more than a decade in the corporate sector in various roles with Frito Lay, Inc (a division of PepsiCo). A native Memphian, LaDora’s love for the city of Memphis deepened through Nexus Leaders (c/o 2011). LaDora was well-positioned as a subject matter expert in her role as an HR and Sales Administrator, when she transitioned to the non-profit world in May 2016. LaDora has high regard for the unique ways collaboration and innovation support children and families, cradle to career. Supported with professional development through Seeding Success, LaDora received a designation of Certified Administrative Professional in May 2019.  LaDora joined First 8 Memphis in August 2019 and feels favored to contribute to the good future of her hometown, starting with the youngest citizens.