2016 Employment First Summit  Trailblazing:  Charting Our Employment Path

Forrest Austin is an employment coach for the Johnson County Government Project SEARCH program. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Developmental Psychology from the University of Kansas. Forrest was a peer model in a peer support group for students on the autism spectrum in Shawnee Mission North High School. From there, he worked for a private developmental disability organization for 5 years where he did both day and residential work. In 2013, he began working for Johnson County Developmental Supports (JCDS) in their Day and Employment program.  There, he gained experience facilitating a number of common programs that employ adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, such as a sheltered workshop, business enclaves, and individual employment through Vocational Rehabilitation.

Madeleine Bowens Benefits Specialist, KDHE South Central District Office, Wichita Through the years in social services I’ve seen changes in attitudes policy and services. I spent 12 years in British Social Services, working in a day program with people with developmental and mental retardation, I developed county policies, curriculum and activities that respond to the changing needs of individuals as they developed their self-sufficiency skills. On the East Coast I worked as a Deputy Treatment Manager in a program to promote rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. I moved on to the mid –west where I worked in the private sector and non-profit Mental Health services as a Residential Care Manager, a Treatment Manager and Case Manager and Employment Consultant and obtained my Stepping Stones to Recovery certification while working with the homeless population. I became a Certified Benefits Specialist and currently employed by KDHE. While the challenges remain for our services and customers, I am particularly energized by the Ticket To Work Legislation that provides encouragement, empowerment , opportunities and options for our customers to develop their own life-styles and decisions. That’s why I love this work and to see how people realize they can use work incentives and social security legislation that provides a route to success that includes a safety net.

Stephanie Breaker is the Executive Director at Skills to Succeed and a member of the Employment Systems Change Coaltion. Stephanie graduated from Drake University in 2012 with a Master’s in Rehabilitation Administration, which contributes to her expertise in the field of disability employment. With an extensive background in supporting people with autism and other developmental disabilities in employment and other settings, Stephanie leads her team in strengths-based approaches and progressive employment models as learned in both her educational background and hands-on experience. Stephanie has participated in partnerships and training with highly respected and successful leaders in the field of disability employment and utilizes these strategies in program design and implementation.

Beth Clavenna-Deane Ph.D. The career focus for Beth Clavenna-Deane over the past 20+ years has been quality transition services and improved post-school outcomes for students with disabilities. She has worked as a secondary special educator, transition coordinator, technical assistance provider for transition and post-school outcomes, autism behavior specialist, teacher leader, adjunct instructor for master’s students, and most recently state trainer for Kansas MTSS.  As state trainer, she continues to promote the development of successful and meaningful successful transition programs for all students. 

Wendy Coates is an Education Program Consultant with the Kansas State Department of Education.

Julia Connellis, Executive Director, KYEA, holds a bachelors degree in Human Services from Washburn University and certification in nonprofit management, addictions counseling, and youth services. She has two years of master level Social Work education and plans to complete her masters degree in the near future. Julia is an example of how civic engagement with KSYLF ignited a passion to dedicate her life to breaking down barriers preventing equality, justice, and the right to choice. She has been involved with KYEA as a volunteer and as a staff member for over 13 years. Julia’s management experience began in college where she coordinated community service projects and managed volunteers. She has had 8 years of experience managing and coaching the staff of KYEA, while learning alongside them. Ms. Connellis is a leader, active listener, and has the ability to uncover and reveal the potential in others. Julia enjoys leisure activities such as music, concerts, spending time with friends and her parents, eating, dogs and reading.

Cassy Davis, CESP™ Manager- APSE National Cassy began her career in the field of customized employment as a community support specialist with Community Involvement Programs in Minneapolis, MN. In this role, Cassy became involved with Griffin-Hammis Associates’ Discovering Personal Genius work and was given the opportunity to share this knowledge at various trainings and conferences. In 2013, Cassy was the recipient of APSE’s Wendy Wood Award for Emerging Leaders. In 2014, she accepted a position as Director of Customized Employment and Community Supports with Ardmore Enterprises in Bowie, MD where she facilitated a sheltered workshop closure project. Cassy was also responsible for relaunching the Maryland State APSE Chapter, where she served as president until her return to Minneapolis in 2015. In January 2016, Cassy joined the APSE National team where she currently serves as the CESP™ Manager.Beth Clavenna-Deane is a state trainer with the Kansas MTSS Project.

Michael Donnelly is the Kansas Vocational Rehabilitation Services director.

Kristin Doze, BS Psychology, Kansas Workforce ONE: Kristin has been with Kansas WorkforceONE for four years and currently serves as the Disability Resource Coordinator covering 62 counties in western Kansas. Prior to her involvement with workforce development, she worked in educational services for four years focusing on low-income, first generation individuals.

Mickayla Fink, MA English/Cultural Studies, Workforce Alliance: Mickayla has been with the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas as the Disability Resource Coordinator for 4 ½ years after serving as a Workforce Professional with the Kansas Department of Commerce at the Wichita Workforce Center for almost a year. Mickayla obtained her degree from Kansas State University where she also taught for 2 ½ years.

Cindy Fisher, Ed.D., is a post high transition teacher. She has taught over 30 years at all levels of special education, including stints as a learning specialist, inclusion facilitator, resource teacher, and staff developer. With a passion for developing independence and self advocacy skills in the community, she was inspired to create the Smart Steps Mobile app when working with post high students on a community college campus.

Jeremy Gooch is the Project SEARCH Instructor/Coordinator at Newton Medical Center and is employed through USD 373 in Newton Kansas.  He has a B.A. in Education from Wichita State University and a M.A. in School Leadership from Baker University.  Recently he has added an Endorsement in Adaptive SPED from Sterling College.  

Jeremy began his career to help students create a successful life for themselves, in Garden City by working as a teacher at the high school.  Then he took on a new challenge in Lyndon as a Head football coach and PE teacher.  Jeremy’s high expectations for the students paid off as they ended that year with a 4-5 record compared to a 1-8 record before he arrived.  It was after this year of coaching he realized there are bigger challenges out there in working with students.  Students that were typically shoved aside and not given a chance to do much in life.  This is when he decided to move back to Wichita to become an Adaptive Teacher.  

Jeremy found an area that he could really help the most and it grew from there. He has been part of a very successful Project SEARCH Program, which has had 100% employment three out of the five years.  He has developed many new approaches to help young adults with disabilities get a job and work towards being independent.  His major professional goal is being realized in the job he has by seeing young adults become successful in life.

Judith Gross, Ph.D., is the Principal Investigator for the 2013 NIDRR-FI award “Assessing Family Employment Awareness Training” and was the project coordinator and co-developer of FEAT and the pilot and follow-up studies in Kansas in 2010-2012. She is also an assistant research professor at the Beach Center on Disability working on Family and Community Engagement Technical Assistance team for the Schoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation (SWIFT) Center. Dr. Gross has worked in the disability field for over 20 years in the roles of researcher, consultant, certified special education teacher, and in-home and in-school behavioral skills therapist for individuals with autism.

Stephen Hall Ph.D. is the Director of Employment Policy and Research with Griffin-Hammis Associates and is a private consultant specializing in policy development and implementation, individualized funding mechanisms, creative leadership, and helping states transition from facility to community-based services. Stephen has strong relationships with state and federal government leaders, universities, and provider and advocacy organizations.  He is a former State Commissioner of Behavioral Health, State Director of Developmental Disabilities, USDOL Subject Matter Expert, CEO of both small and large Community Provider Organizations, School Administrator, and Teacher.  Stephen has a Ph.D. in Disability Policy and Adult Education from the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Supported Employment and Workplace Supports at Virginia Commonwealth University. He was a member of the National Association of Developmental Disabilities Directors for a decade, President-elect and Chair of the Research Committee for seven years.

Stephen has been a presenter or keynote speaker at national conferences, state conferences, and town hall meetings. His interview with Governing was published in January 2013.  Dr. Hall’s article, Using Research Evidence to Inform Public Policy, was co-authored with Charles Moseley and others and was published in the Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in October 2013. He has received numerous Governor appointments to Boards and Commissions and awards for his work. In 2012, Stephen received a state award for partnership with Vocational Rehabilitation to ensure the employment of persons with disabilities.  He received an award and was recognized by a United States Senator for Ethical Leadership in 2013.

Robert (“Bob”) Hull has been Vice President for Research at the Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation since 1998. He has managed a number of federal and state research and demonstration grant programs. Since 2013 he has served on the Kansas Employment First Commission. 

Nancy Johnson was born with optic nerve hypoplasia – the optic nerve did not develop completely.  She is near-blind, with enough sight to avoid obstacles, identify colors, and slowly read very large print at extremely close range.  Senses of smell and taste are impaired.  Touch and hearing are good. 

Nancy graduated high school in 1959 from the Kansas School for the Blind, which was a fully residential program at the time.  She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in speech therapy from Wichita State University in 1964, was certified in elementary education from Kansas Wesleyan University in 1967, and earned a Master’s degree in education with emphasis on adult education and training through the University of Phoenix Online in 2013.  She uses Braille and text-to-speech technology, and portable electronic visual aids as appropriate.

Short-term employment while searching for the “real job” included special education instructor, typist, day care provider, and door-to-door sales among others.  The “real job,” which lasted 29 years, was rehabilitation teacher with Kansas Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired.  The program was discontinued the end of 2009.  Nancy traveled to clients’ homes and helped people with significant vision loss or blindness adjust to the vision loss and learn the adaptive techniques they would need to return to employment or to regain their independence.  Since 2010, Nancy has volunteered with the Kansas Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired.  She manages the office, edits the organization’s quarterly newsletter, provides information and referral, and is in her fourth year as president of the organization. 

Nancy was married 41 years to a man who became totally blind.  They had two children and two granddaughters.  Hobbies include latch hooking, reading, playing autoharp, trying to stay physically active, and spoiling two little dogs. 

Lisa Jolliff has worked in the disability field for over 25 years. After receiving her Masters in Rehabilitation Counseling from Emporia State University, she gained experience working as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor with the State of Kansas, in the private sector at Heartspring, Centennial Rehabilitation and KETCH. Lisa started her own business to provide case management and advocacy services to the elderly and then expanding the business back to her passion of serving people with disabilities. After 19 years of running and growing her own business, Lifespan Care Management Services, Lisa decided to explore new opportunities and became the Coordinator of Disability Services at Hutchinson Community College. This position has allowed her to take her past experience as a case manager and advocate to educate families, educational systems and community providers about college as a pathway to employment.

Sherri Marney is the WORK Program Manager for Working Healthy. She received her B. S. in Human Services Management in 2010 from the University of Phoenix. She began working with the Working Healthy team in 2007. From 2007 through 2009 she worked on the Demonstration to Maintain Independence and Employment as a Senior Administrative Specialist and from 2009 through 2013 she worked as a Senior Administrative Specialist with Working Healthy and WORK. In 2013 she became the WORK Program Manager.

Julie Petty is an accomplished self-advocate from Arkansas and has been a leader in the self-advocacy movement in Arkansas and nationally for several years. In 2011, President Barack Obama appointed Julie to be a member of the President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities and then appointed chairperson in 2014.  She is a 2004 graduate of the University of Arkansas journalism department.  She is the past President of SABE (Self Advocates Becoming Empowered) from 2006-2008. In 1998, she established Arkansas People First and helped it grow statewide.  She has served on boards and advisory councils related to disability policy. Julie has keynoted many national and state conferences to spread the word about self advocacy.  Julie joined the staff at Partners for Inclusive Communities, the Arkansas University Center on Excellence for Disabilities, in August of 2008 where she works on various projects to educate people with disabilities. She is married to Brian Petty and they have 2 sons, Logan and Warren.

Erin Riehle, RN, MSN  Erin is a recognized authority and national leader in promoting employment opportunities for people with disabilities and other barriers to employment. She is a founder and Senior Director of Project SEARCH, an employment and transition program that has received national recognition for innovative practices pioneered under Ms. Riehle's guidance. She is regularly invited to present at national and regional conferences, and has co-authored numerous publications and book chapters. She has served on many national committees, such as the Virginia Commonwealth University Business Leadership Roundtable and the Youth to Work Coalition. She is a past board member for the Association for Persons in Supported Employment (APSE). She is also a past member of the Ohio Governor's Council on People with Disabilities. She has gained over $3 million dollars in foundation and agency support for Project SEARCH programs, and has won numerous awards for her work. Notably, Project SEARCH received the U.S. Department of Labor's 2004 New Freedom Initiative Award and was the Inaugural recipient of Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s 2010 James W. Varnum National Quality Award.

Sheila Simmons has helped people with disabilities select AT solutions they need for employment, education, and living independently in the community. She works with Assistive Technology for Kansans to develop training materials for professionals, people with disabilties, and their families.assists with staff training and helps develop provider agreements for services for Kansas AgrAbility and public agencies. Sheila also works with the AT Agriculture Specialists in identifying needed modifications, finding public and private resources, and collects evaluation and satisfaction data.

Galen Smith, MSW has been the consultant and trainer for the IPS model for the past 14 years in Kansas. Galen provides implementation services to mental health centers in Kansas and also has implemented the IPS model in mental health centers in Missouri and has provided consultation services for other states intending to implement the IPS model.

Nancy Stork is an AT Agriculture Specialist and helps beginning growers, farmers, ranchers, and their family to select an AT solution to let them continue to be active in agriculture and agribusiness.

Tom Szambecki, the instructor at Project SEARCH@Via Christi, came to teaching at age 50. Prior to the transition Mr. Szambecki owned and sold 2 service businesses over a span of 26 years. He went to Bethel College for his undergraduate degree in Elementary Ed. / Special Ed from 1999 to 2003. His first teaching assignment was in a Special Day School teaching the Academically Challenged/ Emotionally Disturbed (ACED) from 2003 to 2007. He helped create and assume the role as lead teacher in a special day school (Maize Transition Skills Network aka Maize Trans-Net) for students with low-incidence disabilities in transition to adult outcomes from 2007 to 2014. He graduated from Wichita State University with a Masters in Functional Special Education in May, 2014 and started the PS @ Via Christi in November, 2014 where he continues to develop the program.

Dale Tower, BSW, Kansas Department of Commerce: Dale has worked for the Kansas Department of Commerce for three years and is currently the State Lead for the Disability Employment Initiative. Prior to his employment with Commerce, he worked in Non-Profit Executive Leadership for seventeen years with a focus on poverty and disabilities.

Michael L. Wehmeyer, Ph.D., is the Ross and Mariana Beach Professor of Special Education at the University of Kansas. In addition, he is Director of the Beach Center on Disability and Co-Director of the Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities. Dr. Wehmeyer's research has focused on issues pertaining to promoting the self-determination of children, youth, and adults with disabilities, the role of applied cognitive technologies to support meaningful life outcomes for people with cognitive and developmental disabilities, and the education of learners with extensive support needs.

Susan Weidenbach serves as the Manager of Workforce Development and Special Projects for the Kansas Department of Commerce, Workforce Services Division. Since her college graduation, Susan has worked in workforce development, economic development and non-profit executive administration. She has worked for Commerce for 10 yrs and has designed and directed the implementation of the several disability employment and training initiatives since 2008, including the first such Workforce Services program in Kansas. Susan currently oversees disability employment programs, Registered Apprenticeship, older worker programs, offender/corrections employment and training programs, the engineering skills training program, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Adult programs and the Commerce portion of the WIOA state planning process.

Dr. Janet Williams has created innovative solutions for people seeking to live, work and play in the community for the past 34 years. She is the founder of communityworks inc and Minds Matter LLC. communityworks is a case management, consulting and employment agency for people with disabilities and Minds Matter offers functional therapy for people looking to receive therapy at home to work on their goals. Janet has travelled and written extensively to continually push the envelope on evidence based practice.