Meet the Team  

Garrett Underwood

Executive Director/ Founder

Garrett’s journey began at Cal State Northridge, where he pursued his passion for Kinesiology, combining his love for understanding both the mind and body. Fueling his thirst for knowledge, he continued his educational adventure at Azusa Pacific, diving headfirst into the enriching graduate program for Sociology of Organization Development.

But Garrett’s impact reaches far beyond academics; he’s a true beacon of inspiration in leadership development and mentorship. With genuine care and dedication, he served as the Outreach Coordinator and Program Manager for Outreach at PATH, embracing the heart of downtown Los Angeles, leaving a positive trail wherever he went.

Currently, as the driving force behind Seed House Project, Garrett’s mission is nothing short of remarkable. He envisions a world where youth transition to adulthood with confidence and support, embracing the power of technology and innovative ideas to foster change within the homelessness community in LA.

With Garrett’s compassion and commitment at the helm, Seed House Project is a place where humanity and dreams come together, leaving a lasting impact on the lives of those we serve.

Alex Yawata

Cecilia Gonzalez

Program Director

Cecilia Gonzalez was raised in the San Fernando Valley (SFV) and has dedicated her career to uplifting the San Fernando Valley community. Cecilia obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Studies from California State University and after becoming fueled by the desire to be a change-agent, she earned a Master of Social Work from University of Southern California. Following her graduation, she was awarded a fellowship with the Justice Policy Network where she obtained knowledge in leadership, policy, and the effects legislation has on communities. 

Cecilia started her career working for Congressman Tony Cardenas, focusing on Juvenile and Criminal Justice and then went on to establish the College Culture Reentry Hub at Los Angeles Mission College working with formerly incarcerated students. In 2019, she managed a state-funded survivors of crime program, bringing much needed and innovative services to crime survivors in the Northeast SFV during the height of the pandemic. Shifting her focus to  fundraising, she helped set the foundation for the expansion of the LA Tequila Fest in her role as Director of Development with The Andres y Maria Cardenas Family Foundation. 

Cecilia has experience working in community based organizations, foundations, and institutions of higher learning, and brings skills in budget management, grant writing, community mobilization, and management. She is most passionate about program development and implementation. In her free time she enjoys pretending to be Godzilla and King-Kong with her son.

Alex Yawata

Jeanine Espejo, LCSW

Lead Mental Health Therapist

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Jeanine Espejo is a proud first-generation Peruvian-American, bridging the rich tapestry of their cultural heritage with their dedicated service in the field of mental health. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Jeanine possesses a deep-rooted passion for supporting transition-aged youth, individuals with mental health struggles, and those experiencing housing instability.

Their educational journey began at California State University, Los Angeles, where they earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. They further solidified their commitment to mental health and social service by obtaining a Master’s in Social Work from California State University, Monterey Bay.

Across a diverse professional landscape spanning over a decade, Jeanine has accumulated extensive expertise in roles that range from hospital social work and case management to program management and private practice. Central to their practice is a trauma-informed approach, ensuring that their clients are always treated with profound understanding, respect, and care.

Dedicated to uplifting transition-aged youth, Jeanine recognizes the nuanced challenges this group often encounters. Their unique background as a first generation Peruvian-American enriches their perspective, enabling them to address the multifaceted needs of their clients with empathy and cultural sensitivity.

Fun Fact: Jeanine was a professional Peruvian Folklore dancer for much of her youth!

Alex Yawata

Amelia Ruiz, MSW, ASW

Leading Clinical Social Worker

Amelia Ruiz earned her BA in Child Development and MSW at California State University, Los Angeles. She has worked with marginalized populations for over 20 years and brings a wealth of life experiences that empowers her to engage with others. Her professional social work experience has focused on working with individuals and families experiencing crisis, behavioral health issues, domestic violence, child abuse, substance use, coping with illness and loss.

Amelia’s areas of practice expertise include intergenerational trauma, aging with a particular focus on end of life, grief and loss. She strives to learn and is curious about the relationship between spirituality, mental wellness, trauma and healing. 

Amelia Ruiz is a born and raised San Fernando Valley Girl and outside of clinical practice, you can usually find her reading a good book, exploring nature, cooking and spending time with family.  

Alex Yawata

Alex Yawata

housing & member success case manager

Alex graduated from Occidental College with a degree in Urban and Environmental Policy. Prior to Seed House Project, Alex worked at Safe Place for Youth and North Valley Caring Services in direct services for people facing homelessness. Throughout her time in Los Angeles she has interned and been employed by various non-profit organizations, specializing in immigration, criminal justice, and homelessness efforts.

Alex is currently dedicating her time to exploring and understanding creative and effective solutions to youth homelessness in Los Angeles. Her current career path is driven towards developing responsible community-based affordable housing. In her free time she enjoys soccer, surfing, music, and photography.

Alex Yawata

Celina Gougis

housing & member success case manager

Celina holds a Master’s degree in marketing with a focus on consumer behavior from Durham University and received her Bachelor’s degree in business and economics at Westmont College. She embarked her career in sales and marketing, honing her keen understanding of consumer psychology, creativity, and presentation. After 5 years in the sector, Celina decided to pursue her true passions – advocating for our youth and being an agent for systemic change.

This redirection led her to work with Soccer Shots, where she provided enrichment programs and created safe spaces for kids to develop social and motor skills. Celina later became an After-School Enrichment Program Supervisor at SEEDS Enrichment. Here she developed & coordinated workshops/ activities, tutored, and mentored students while concurrently serving as an Intake/Outreach Coordinator at Helping Hands Senior Foundation. 

Celina enjoys dissecting the world around her and journey has been a fusion of creativity and a deep passion for social change. In her free time, she delights in exploring farmer’s markets around LA, playing basketball, and expressing her creativity through drawing. 

Alex Yawata