Mon - Thurs: 9:00am - 5:00pm | Fri: 9:00am - 4:00pm


Keynote Speakers


Darcy Chamberlin

Darcy J. Chamberlin is a principal with the Chamberlin Law Group in Oak Brook, Illinois, where she concentrates on estate planning, probate and trust administration. She received her law degree from Indiana Univeristy in Bloomington, Indiana. Ms. Chamberlin is a fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Concsel (ACTEC), a member of the Special Needs Alliance (SNA) and a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). She has written and lectured extensively on estate planning topics and has been a featured speaker on special needs trust planning since the inception of the Illinois Institute of Continuing Legal Education (IICLE)’s annual Elder Law conference as well as a IICLE’s annual Special Needs Trust conference. She is a former Board Member of Community Support Services, Inc., a nonprofit organization providing supportive services to persons with developmental disabilities and their families.


Ronnie Cohn

Ronnie began her career around the time that the first class action lawsuit was initiated on behalf of people with developmental disabilities who were living in a deplorable institutional setting.  Her first job was as a direct support person in a classroom setting with people who had moved out of the institution, the Willowbrook State School.  For the next ten years she worked with Willowbrook class members in numerous positions and it was that experience that set her professional path for the next thirty years.

Over the following five years Ronnie was the executive director of an advocacy agency in California and consultant to other states regarding developmental disabilities, special education and transition services.

When she returned to New York, Ronnie was hired as staff to the Special Master in the Willowbrook Case, the focus of which at that point had become closing that institution and developing capacity in the communities throughout NYS to meet the needs of those leaving Willowbrook.  When the Special Master’s office closed in 1993, following the signing of a Permanent Injunction in that case, she was named the Independent Evaluator for the Willowbrook Class. Ronnie still remains in that role, working cooperatively with the plaintiffs, defendants, families, class members, advocates, providers and others responsible for insuring that the members of the Willowbrook class receive and benefit by their court ordered entitlements. 

During this time Ronnie has also been consulting on eight other class action suits in six states: evaluating services in both institutional and community settings; assisting in transition planning; developing and implementing  protocols for compliance reviews;  training service coordinators; working with advocacy groups and quality assurance entities; developing systemic plans; and spending time with individuals who receive services to determine whether or not all of the efforts by consistently well-meaning professionals and others are actually benefiting those for whom we all work.


Nora Fox Handler

Nora Fox Handler is a committed sister to her four siblings with disabilities. She is a founding member and the treasurer of SIBS, Supporting Illinois Brothers and Sisters, and serves on multiple governing boards including the National Sibling Leadership Network and SIBS. She served on The Arc of Illinois board from 2010 – 2019. Handler serves on the Consumer Advisory Committee at the Institute on Disability and Human Development (IDHD) and Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and related Disabilities (LEND) at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is a 2014 – 2015 LEND trainee. She also speaks on family issues in Crisis Intervention Team training for police and corrections officers.


Matt Koupal

Matt Koupal graduated with distinction from Iowa State University’s School of Engineering in May, 1978, and married his bride, JoAnne, 10 days later.  Matt’s career includes various positions of increasing responsibility at Procter and Gamble, Frito Lay, KA Steel Chemicals, Rowell Chemical Corporation and GEA Farm Technologies. 

Matt and JoAnne have two happily married daughters, Amy and Sarah, and six grandchildren, in addition to their special son, Luke who lives in a group home attached to Matt and JoAnne’s home.

Since retiring in May, 2019, Matt has been active at his church’s Caring Ministry, serving as a Student Leader for Bible Study Fellowship, building his son Luke’s confidential document destruction business, Shredigator, speaking to various groups of parents with special needs children and thoroughly enjoying the freedom of retirement.


Leanne Mull

Leanne has been supporting people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to achieve their dreams since 1999 when, after her works as a corporate trainer, she hired someone with a job coach to work in a store she managed. She spent the next 15 years at a traditional agency in a variety of roles including Director of Employment and Advocacy, and QIDP. Leanne believes that the key to meaningful lives for people who receive services is to encourage, empower and enlighten the staff who work for them. As co-director of Blue Tower Solutions, Leanne fulfills that dream as a national speaker and consultant improving organizations and systems supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.


Scott Nixon

Scott Nixon has been the Executive Director of Life’s Plan Inc. since 2007.  Life’s Plan is a 501 c 3 Illinois non-profit that acts as a Corporate Trustee for hundreds of beneficiaries.  Life’s Plan manages two different types of Pooled trusts (3rd party/OBRA D4C) as well as offering families individual trust management services.  Life’s Plan Inc. offers families a way to protect a loved one’s private assets/inheritances, personal injury settlement or medical malpractice suits using either a pooled trust option or individual Special Needs Trust to providing supplemental support to improve quality of life care to beneficiaries with disabilities without loss of state or federal public benefit programs. 

Scott graduated from the University of Colorado with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology/Sociology.  Scott worked for 4 years with Nesbitt Burns (BMO Harris) Trading Group at the Chicago Board of Trade, managing and administrating 30-year Treasury bond futures and option contracts. 

Scott has worked in the non-profit field since 1998 starting with Mercy Home for Boys and Girls in Chicago, then served as a Project Manager and Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor for the Marriott Foundation Bridges from School to Work Program for people with disabilities and their families from 1999 through 2006.  He has taught, mentored, and advocated for individuals with disabilities and their families in the areas of self-sufficiency, employment, disability rights under ADA and over last 11 years served as Trustee through the Ray Graham Association in managing Pooled and Individual Special Needs Trusts.


Consuelo Puente

Consuelo Puente is a retired attorney and is currently working as a consultant with several agencies and organizations that support individuals with disabilities and their families. As a consultant Ms. Puente has a real talent in developing and presenting training sessions which engage and inform families on various disability related topics.

Ms. Puente has used her legal skills in helping to form two not for profits, Grupo Salto and Lo Que Puede Venir. Ms. Puente continues to contribute her energy to enable both organizations to serve Spanish speaking families that have family members with disabilities in the Chicago area. Working collaboratively, Grupo Salto and Lo Que Puede Venir have offered disability related conferences that provided all sessions in Spanish.

Ms. Puente’s passion for her work comes from her two sons that have been identified to be on the Autism Spectrum Disorder. Her sons are truly gifted in enriching the lives they touch.


Brian Rubin

Attorney Brian Rubin, the founder of Rubin Law, a former IRS Agent and former IRS Attorney, has been a practicing attorney since 1976, has been married to his wife Linda for the past 42 years, is the parent of three children (41, 38, and 34), one of whom, Mitchell, has Autism. Brian’s law practice, for nearly four decades, since 1982, when Mitchell was one year old, has been dedicated to serving the legal and future planning needs of his fellow Illinois families of children and adults with intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities, and/or mental illness.  Brian is the Immediate Past President (2017-2018) of the Special Needs Alliance, the national, non-profit, association of experienced special needs planning attorneys (membership is by invitation only), served on the Special Needs Law Section Steering Committee of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, was a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners, and is a Faculty Member and Text Book Author for the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education (IICLE) on the topic of special needs legal and future planning, as well as a Speaker for the American Bar Association and the Illinois State Bar Association on those topics. Brian has been elected as a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC) and has received the highest attorney rating from Martindale-Hubbell, AV® Preeminent™, and AVVO’s highest attorney rating of Top Attorney.  Brian is a Past President of The Arc of Illinois (2007-2011), served on The Arc of Illinois Board for 15 years (2004-2019), is a Past Chairman of the State of Illinois Statewide Advisory Council on Developmental Disabilities (2002-2004), is the Immediate Past Chairman of the State of Illinois Autism Task Force (Chairman 2005-2015) established by the Illinois Legislature in 2005, serves as a member of the State of Illinois Guardianship & Advocacy Commission since 2013, served on the State of Illinois Department of Human Services Office of Inspector General Quality Care Board for 6 years, among many other State of Illinois Committees and Commissions.  Brian has been a member of the Board of Directors of Clearbrook (an organization serving more than 8,000 individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, including his son, Mitchell) since 1989, is a member of the Board of Trustees of Life’s Plan, Inc. which serves as Trustee of both Pooled Special Needs Trust and individual Special Needs Trusts, is a member (Past Chairman) of the Board of Directors of the Special Leisure Services Foundation, the foundation supporting the Northwest Suburban Special Recreation Association (NWSRA), served as the founding Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Foundation of The Special Education District of Lake County (SEDOL Foundation), served on the Board of Directors of KESHET (Jewish Parents of Children with Special Needs), serves on the Advisory Council of Encompass (Encompass in partnership with Jewish Child & Family Services, Jewish United Fund, JVS Chicago, JCC Chicago, Keshet, and The Center for Enriched Living and Center for Independent Futures), served for 7 years on the Board of Directors of Pact, Inc., now known as DayOne Pact, which serves as Trustee of Special Needs Trusts as well as Guardian for individuals with intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities and/or mental illness, and served on the Board of Directors of Northpointe Resources, also an agency serving individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities.


Sherri Schneider

For over 35 years, Sherri Schneider, President of Family Benefit Solutions, Inc., QIDP, and the mother of a child with some special needs, has been tirelessly dedicated to helping individuals with special needs and their families to obtain and maintain the government benefits they so desperately need (including SSI, SSD- Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP…etc.).  Her vast experience has enabled her to establish and maintain open, productive relationships with the government agencies involved in the entire decision-making process.  Families and professionals find her interactive workshops to be invaluable as they attempt to navigate the government benefit arena.  Sherri is also a member of the faculty of the IICLE (Illinois Institute of Continuing Legal Education) and is the Board President of The Arc of Illinois.


Allison Stark

Allison Stark is the Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, DHS and has committed her entire career to serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Allison most recently served as the President and CEO of Orchard Village, a nonprofit in the North Chicagoland area providing an array of community based services to individuals with I/DD. Prior to her 12 years with Orchard Village, Allison was a Program Manager at Resources for Living in Evanston, and a Home & Community Based Services Waiver Case Manager for Adult Care Management in Lafayette, Colorado. Allison holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a Master’s degree from the University of Chicago.  


V.J. Smith

V.J. Smith is a professional speaker and published author.  He graduated from South Dakota State University in 1978 and spent the decade of the 1980s working for the Allied Signal Aerospace Company in Kansas City.  He returned to his alma mater in 1990, working for six years in the SDSU Athletic Department.  He was appointed Executive Director of the SDSU Alumni Association in 1996.  In January 2007, he left that position to pursue a career in professional speaking.  Smith travels the country and makes over 100 speaking appearances a year.

In March 2014, Meeting and Conventions Magazine named V.J. as one of the favorite speakers of meeting planners throughout America. 

He is the author of the best-selling book, “The Richest Man Town.”  The book details Smith’s relationship with a little old man who ran a cash register at a local Wal-Mart.  “That guy changed my life,” Smith says.

Smith is a two time finalist in Toastmasters’ International’s “World’s Championship of Public Speaking.”  He is also the author of, “Can You Hear What I See” and “Jackrabbit Tales.”

Smith currently serves as a member of the South Dakota State Senate and is the President of Life’s Great Moments located in Brookings, SD.


Barry Taylor

Barry Taylor is the Vice President for Civil Rights and Systemic Litigation at Equip for Equality, where he has worked since 1996. At Equip for Equality, he has overseen many individual and systemic disability discrimination cases including successful federal ADA suits against the National Board of Medical Examiners, the Chicago Police Department, and the Chicago Transit Authority. He is currently co-counsel in seven class actions, including lead counsel in Ligas v. Norwood, providing community services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Prior to coming to Equip for Equality, Barry was the AIDS Project Attorney in the Midwest Regional Office of Lambda Legal working to advance the civil rights of people living with HIV/AIDS. From 1988 – 1993, Barry was a litigation associate at the Chicago law firm of Peterson & Ross. He is a 1988 graduate of the University of Illinois College Law, where he also received his undergraduate degree in 1985. 


Sharon Anderson

Sharon Anderson is the Quality Enhancement Manager at Ray Graham Association. Ray Graham Association is a not for profit organization that supports more than 2,000 people with disabilities and their families to Reach, Grow and Achieve their dreams. With over 30 years of experience, Sharon has held various positions within the organization that include Occupational Therapy Assistant, Program Specialist/Manager, Qualified Intellectual Disabilities Professional, Community Learning Center Administrator, Training Coordinator, and Employee Development Manager. Sharon is dedicated to advancing person centered practices and responsible for leading, coordinating, and facilitating organizational wide quality enhancement and strategic plan activities.

Tammy Bedford

Tammy is the Project Coordinator for Quality Lives in Geneseo. Tammy is responsible for coordinating meetings and participating in team meetings to help us be more effective in implementing the ICDD grant. She is also a trained PATH Facilitator and has facilitated several PATHs in Henry County. Tammy is a proud wife and mom of two children and is a lifelong president of Geneseo, IL. Her oldest son, Tyson, is on the Autism Spectrum. While enjoying life in a small community, she has a passion for learning about new possibilities, options and supports to help her son and others with disabilities in the community live fuller, happier lives. She believes advocating and making connections are key. The ICDD grant in Geneseo was initiated due to her advocacy efforts and she’s excited about the future of Quality Lives, Inc. and the work in Henry County.

Stephanie Behlke Leigh

Stephanie Behlke Leigh Ed.D, LCPC has been in the field of mental health since 1996. For the past eighteen years she has been employed at Trinity Services undertaking a variety of roles. Stephanie has served as Trinity’s Vocational Program Director; the Director of Trinity’s Family Counseling Center, Residential Network Director and is a past resident of the Illinois Rehabilitation Association, and a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. Presently Stephanie is a Network Director with nine community day service programs, school, employment program, home based services, respite services, two support businesses, and equestrian program under her purview. She has a Masters in Marriage and Family Counseling and a Doctorate in Counselor Education Training and Supervision. Stephanie also served as an Adjunct Professor at Argosy University (2011-2019) teaching courses in Career Development, Marriage and Family Therapy, and Group Counseling Techniques. In 2016, she was honored to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award. Stephanie has spoken extensively in her career, some of the subjects she has covered during her seminars include: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, leadership skill development, team building, relationship counseling, career psychology, and family systems. Most recently she has presented for the following organizations: Care Providers of Oklahoma, Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities, Illinois Counseling Association, and served as the keynote speaker for Argosy University’s graduation in 2016.

Shannon Benaitis

Shannon Benaitis has worked in disability services for 20 years, in positions ranging from direct support, to QIDP, to mental health counselor, to program manager and director, to nursing home monitor.  Most recently, she was the Director of Staff Training and a project manager at Clearbrook in Arlington Heights IL.  Currently, Shannon is a consultant and independent contractor for her company, Albatross Training Solutions.  She brings her experience in IDD, mental health, ICF/long-term care, CILA, and home-based services to the classroom and the boardroom, where she strives to make trainings, meetings, and projects dynamic, enjoyable, and relevant.  Albatross specializes in curriculum development and instructional design for both in-person and e-learning formats. Shannon has undergraduate degrees in Psychology and English from Cornell College and a Master’s Degree in Social/Criminal Justice from Lewis University.  She is Professional in Human Resources certified, a happily married stepmom to three wonderful humans, a service dog-mom to Gordon, and a lupus patient.

Sarah Blackledge

Sarah Blackledge is a former teacher and mom to her sprited son Christopher who turned 22 in August 2019 and lives with autism and IDD. Sarah and her husband Eric, along with their three other young adult children have worked as a team to create the best life for Christopher. They have fostered and nurtured relationships and admit to others that their son is not easy to care for, yet because of these relationships, people who were once paid supports in their lives have become friends of the family and volunteer to be with Christopher. Sarah admits that they would not have had this full life so far had it not been for the work they did in building this engaging infrastructure of supports for their son, and as a bonus, the family. The COVID-19 shutdown meant the end to his day program and Sarah has become the full-time support worker again, and a frequent visitor to the Arboretum. She also admits she would not get through the days without humor and friends to laugh, and sometimes cry with. 

Diana Braun

As a eight year old child, Diana Braun found herself living in a state-run nursing home in Freeport, Illinois. Taken away from an abusive family, Diana and her brothers and sisters were scattered. At 12, she was sent to the Dixon Developmental Center. She vowed to one day close state run institutions and has devoted her life to doing just that. In her own words, “Institutions are not a safe place to be.” At 19, Diana left Dixon. After meeting Kathy Conour at a sheltered workshop, a friendship began that lasted 42 years. She took on the ambitious job of personal assistant to her friend and housemate, Kathy Conour. In 2008 Diana and Kathy received the Justin Dart Award from the Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities in Illinois. Since that time, Diana’s activist commitments have led her to be president of People First, a self-advocate group, and a member of the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities. Recently, she served on the board of the Illinois Arc, an organization involved in advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities. Illinois is one of the states that still has a large number of people living in institutions, so Diana has her hands full with her advocacy work.

Reagan Carey

Reagan Carey is an Associate Director at CTF Illinois. She has been employed with CTF for 20 years. For the past 8 years, she has been the director of The Autism Program (TAP) at CTF. Reagan is a recent Partners in Policymaking graduate and is the project director of The Southern Illinois Transition Program which is funded through the ICDD.

Kathy Carmody

Kathy Carmody is the CEO of the Institute on Public Policy for People with Disabilities. Kathy has 35 years of experience in the Illinois and national I/DD arena, including leading ground-breaking research, demonstration and evaluation efforts which substantially improved the nature and quality of services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as direct support, clinical and executive management roles within community agencies. At the Institute, Kathy is involved in a wide array of policy and practice issues affecting people with I/DD and serves on and leads multiple committees and task forces impacting the I/DD service system. Kathy co-chairs the ANCOR Alternate Payment Model (APM) workgroup, co-chairs the CQL/Mosaic/Institute workgroup on Building the Framework for I/DD Quality Measurement and leads the Illinois state team in the Business Development Learning Collaborative (BDLC) as part of the NASUAD Business Acumen Center. Kathy is a frequent speaker on the topic of alternative payment models in the I/DD service delivery system at state and national forums. Kathy has a graduate degree in Social Service Administration and Policy from the University of Chicago and is a graduate of the National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities at the University of Delaware.

Matt Cohen

Matt Cohen is a private attorney with 35 years experience representing children and adults with disabilities and has represented thousands of students in disputes with public schools and higher education institutions in Illinois and other states. He is founding board member of COPAA (and currently serves on the COPAA board) and served as the chair of the Illinois Attorney General’s Committee on Special Education for over 25 years, as well as serving on many other not-for-profit boards. Matt has conducted hundreds of trainings for parents, advocates and educators throughout the United States. He is the author of “A Guide to Special Education Advocacy: What Parents, Advocates and Clinicians Need to Know” and has authored many articles on special education and mental health law.

Tara Conley

Tara Conley has been working in the field of ID/DD for more than 25 years. She started as a support worker, QIDP, and has been an Independent Service Coordinator. Through her work as a QIDP and Independent Service Coordinator, she helped people with disabilities and their families understand and navigate the state and national service system. Tara’s realization of the need for support of siblings came when she met other siblings, like herself, while doing support work. Tara is a certified Sibshop facilitator who has mentored other Sibshop facilitators to start their own programs in Illinois. Tara is the visionary and original co-founder of Supporting Illinois Brothers and Sisters (SIBS), and was involved in the inception of the Sibling Leadership Network (SLN) also founded in the same year. Tara has served on the Arc of IL Board, the UIC consumer advisory/LEND committee, the Sibling Support Project’s Advisory Committee, and serves as the current Vice President on the board of SIBS.  Tara received the Arc of IL Outstanding Family Advocate Award in 2005, not only for her advocacy with her brother but also for the development of sibling support in IL. Her most recent endeavor includes acting as an independent consultant for the SIBS Sibling Support Project in partnership with the SLN with an investment from the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities. Tara shares her sibling experience in the book Thicker than Water: Essays by Adult Siblings of People with Disabilities.   

Brad Dembs

Brad Dembs joined Matt Cohen & Associates in 2017. Brad’s passion for disability rights, and special education in particular, comes from his experience working with and advocating for individuals with disabilities in various contexts over the past two decades. Prior to joining MCA, Brad worked as a Staff Attorney for Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service, Inc., where he focused on special education law. His duties include representing families of children with disabilities at IEP meetings, Section 504 Plan meetings and disciplinary hearings to filing Due Process complaints and subsequent appeals. Brad also has experience arguing cases in federal district court and in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Brad is licensed to practice law in Illinois and Michigan.

Lisa Fegert

Lisa is the Director of Program Services. Ms. Fegert works with our participants and teams to assure the quality of all programs and works to establish strong links between the work done at PACTT and the communities we serve. Focusing on the quality and growth of the day to day operations of PACTT, Ms. Fegert works to make sure that adults and children with autism can live, learn and work in their communities.  Ms. Fegert has over twenty years’ experience in social services and educational organizations serving people with developmental disabilities.  She has been with PACTT since 1999 and helped found the Vocational Services Program.  She has a B.A. in Psychology and Sociology from The University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Laura Fine

Laura has been working with individuals with autism and developmental disabilities and their families for over 20 years, developing functional curriculums and vocational programs within private day programs and schools.  In her current role as the NSSEO Transition Specialist she has been instrumental in opening and running of the Parent Education Resource Center which focuses on providing education and training to help families become empowered to plan for the future earlier.  Additionally, Laura has helped re-defined the Transition Planning process by developing a Transition Action Planning meeting process that engages families in meaningful conversations outside the IEP meeting. Laura is a board member with the Arc of Illinois and is continually seeking to work key stakeholders and legislators to change the landscape in Illinois for individuals with disabilities.

Susan Gardner

Susan holds a graduate degree in anthropology and has completed extensive coursework in special education. She has worked in the field of developmental disabilities since 1985 as a DSP, QIDP, therapeutic day school principal and administrator at several Chicagoland agencies. Susan joined Envision Unlimited in 2009 and currently serves as Envision’s Division Director of Day and Employment services.

Kathy Haberer

Kathy Haberer is the co-owner of the Agency for Inclusive Learning and Living and is presently working with Lewis and Clark Community College as the project manager of the L&C’s to improve transition services in Southern Illinois through a grant provided by the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities’ Southern Illinois Transition Project. She has helped replicate College for Life program at L&C’s Edwardsville campus and is working with partner agencies that serve transition age persons with developmental/intellectual disabilities to improve outcomes for this population. Kathy is the retired Director of Student Development and Counseling at L&C and has worked with persons with disabilities for over thirty years in both K-12 settings and in higher education.

Amy Halm

Amy Halm truly enjoys her position as the Project Manager for the Sibling Leadership Network (SLN.) In this role, she brings together her professional passion and personal commitment to the sibling experience. Amy is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and graduate of Illinois LEND (Leadership and Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities.) Amy’s work is positively influenced by her experience of being the big sister to Emily, her wonderful sibling who has Down Syndrome. 

Mariel Hamer

Mariel Hamer is an experienced human service professional with administrative experience in special education, home services, vocational rehabilitation, and state and federal benefits counseling. Mariel started out working in the Department of Human Services, Division of Rehabilitation Services Home Services Program as a Case Manager. A short time after, she accepted a position as a Community Work Incentive Coordinator (CWIC) under the Social Security Administration (SSA) Work Incentive Planning and Assistance Program (WIPA). She became very interested in special education transition services and pursued a position as a Transition Specialist for Chicago Public Schools. She was promoted to Transition Manager in 2016. Mariel is currently the Associate Director of Program and Policy for the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities. She received her Master’s degree in Human Service Administration, Social Services in 2015 from the University of Illinois at Springfield.

Richard Harrington

Richard Harrington has worked with people with disabilities for approximately 20 years. He joined Trinity Services in 2016 to develop and lead their assistive technology initiative. Prior to coming to Illinois, he served as a leader and mentor to young adults who were volunteers at a summer camp for people with disabilities. In addition, he was employed by a community support provider for 14 years, fulfilling a number of roles from direct support to case management to assistive technology. In his AT position, he was responsible for researching, developing and implementing a wide variety of assistive technologies. Richard is a self-proclaimed “gadget guy,” who has a passion for helping people be as independent as possible. His open-minded approach and extensive knowledge of assistive technology make him a highly sought after resource for the people served, families and staff members. Richard is an experienced speaker at regional and national conferences.

Trevell Jordan

Trevell began attending community day services in 2004 with the formerly named, Neumann Family Services (now Envision Unlimited). He has been an active member of the Erickson Part District Special Olympic Team for the last eight years. Trevell works at Envision Unlimited’s Diversey Center performing clerical and janitorial support tasks. He independently founded and was then elected president of the Diversey Council Committee (DCC). He runs monthly meetings with the committee and advocates the needs of the members he represents from Diversey. A natural performer; Trevell likes singing and acting for his peers and participates in choir at his family church. He also holds the prestigious tile of Junior Deacon in his community church, providing support to other members who attend services. In his sparetime he enjoys providing his musical Disc Jockey services throughout other Envision programs. Trevell is currently taking a computer class in the community to enhance his clerical job skills and plans on working in a community office setting soon.

Noel Ann King

Noel King is the sister of David Ferry, a man who lives his life with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Noel began caring for while they were still children to help their parents and for the past 30 years David has lived full time with Noel and her husband Rich. Though David does not communicate with words and requires behavior supports, Noel committed herself to including David in the celebrations of life held for both of their parents and has supported him through his grief following those and other losses including the loss of his health.

Dawn Lamp

Dawn Lamp is the Executive Director of Coleman Tri-County Services, Inc. where the focus is creating more opportunities for individuals with disabilities. She holds a Master’s Degree in Behavior Analysis and Therapy from Southern Illinois University and has been a co-presenter at the following Annual Conventions: American Psychological Association, Southeastern Psychological Association, and The Association of Behavior Analysis.

Janet Larson

Janet has been married for 25 years to Jim (Farmer) with three children: Lucas (TX), Abigail (CO) and Ian (MN). Educated at Illinois State University with a BS in Special Education, Northern Illinois University with MS in Education and post-masters classes at Western Illinois. She taught special education classes K-12 for a span of 34 years. She has been involved in mission work with Roma/Gypsy families in Romania since 2010. Janet is currently the Program Coordinator for Quality Lives, Inc. in Geneseo as well as a trained PATH facilitator. Many of her former high school students and their families are currently involved with the Quality Lives cooperative. Most recently, she has another position at Black Hawk College as an adjunct instructor for the adult ESL program. Her philosophy of education is to work with the strengths given to each individual and to help each person find success in those strengths.

Craig Laskowski

Craig Laskowski is the Director of Quality and Training at Human Support Services. He joined HSS in 2017 and has more than 30 years of experience working with individuals with disabilities. Craig has a B.A. degree in Psychology from McKendree University. He has an M.S.Ed in Counselor Education from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, and recently earned a M.A.Ed. in Coaching from Greenville University. Craig worked for 28 years with the Illinois Department of Human Services’ Division of Developmental Disabilities. While there, he was a trained facilitator in essential lifestyle planning, personal futures planning and other similar models. Also, while at IDHS, Craig had the opportunity to be trained by Michael Small, the pioneer of person centered planning. Small’s message struck a chord, and person-centered care has been his passion ever since; Craig became the division’s spokesperson for person-centered planning and service enhancement. Since starting at HSS, Laskowski has introduced an array of initiatives aimed at bringing the organization in line with state and federal mandates pertaining to person-centered services.

Nafia Lee

Nafia Lee is the Going Home Coalition Manager for the Arc of Illinois. Nafia has previously worked for the Arc of Central Alabama as a QIDP, an Employment Representative for the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities and a Program Leader for an adult day program at the Fox Valley Special Recreation Association. She also has a professional background in the nonprofit sector with a focus in communications. Nafia participated in the prestigious James H. Dunn Fellowship program in the office of former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn as a press assistant when closures of some of Illinois’ state operated development centers were introduced. Her interest in working in advocacy stemmed from the fellowship.  She is excited to learn from advocates across the state about community living and work to make the desires of all Illinoisians a reality reflected in public policy and budget priorities. 

Kathy Lyons

Director of New Futures Initiative Training & Consultation Services

Kathy combines experience in business, law, and education with a passion for social justice. She works with families and organizations to create inclusive housing solutions and build more inclusive communities. Previously the Executive Director of the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, Kathy has also worked at the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, and as an employment lawyer in private practice.  As a parent advocate for her son with disabilities, Kathy began work with the Illinois State Board of Education and with Evanston schools more than 20 years ago. Kathy received her JD degree from Loyola University Chicago School of Law, and her Bachelors of Business Administration (BBA) from the University of Michigan.

Ryan McGraw

As Access Living’s Health/Home and Community Based Services Community Organizer, Ryan facilitates two groups: Taskforce for Attendant Services, and Independent Voices. He moved to Chicago from Michigan in 2008 and received his master’s degree in disability and development from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Since then, he’s held several positions in the disability advocacy field. Ryan is passionate about home- and community-based services because everyone should have the right to live in the community with the services they need. Ryan also teaches accessible yoga, and loves to run, bike, and travel in his free time.

Connie Melvin

Connie Melvin joined Trinity Services in 2016 to develop their assistive technology program as well as to direct and promote the future growth of NAQ. Prior to coming to Illinois, she developed an assistive technology program from the ground up for a large community-based provider. She also spearheaded the initiative for assistive technology adoption in another state, which resulted in a number of successful pilot programs as well as the implementation of highly regarded best practices. In addition, Connie has designed and hosted several regional conferences dedicated to providing current assistive technology information and training to disability professionals. In addition to her work in the area of assistive technology, Connie has served as case manager, staff trainer, and supervisor of residential services. A graduate of the National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities, Connie has an MA in Counseling Psychology & Education. A highly sough speaker and consultant, Connie focuses on helping people with disabilities live their dreams.

Phil Milsk

Phil Milsk, J.D. is an attorney from New Lenox. He has worked tirelessly over the years on behalf of people living in poverty as well as people with disabilities. For many years, he worked for Land of Lincoln Legal Services in Carbondale. Since 1990 he has been a champion in Springfield working with legislators to ensure that legislation for disenfranchised people is passed to help them better their lives. The many groups he has worked for includes: The Arc of Illinois, Illinois Association of Social Workers, School Social Workers, Gifted Education, the Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities, the Illinois Assistive Technology Program, the March of Dimes, Community Schools (to mention just a few). He has served on numerous committees and councils over the years including the Attorney General’s committee on special education and the Governors’ Employment First. He is a past Due Process Hearing Officer and is currently a consultant for Legal Council for Health Justice and in the past has often represented families involved in due process.

Caren Musembi

Caren Musembi is the Chief Services Officer at Ray Graham Association. Ray Graham Association is a non for profit organization that supports more than 2,000 DuPage County residents and their families to Reach, Grow and Achieve their dreams. With over 21 years of experience, Caren has held various positions with the organization that included Direct Support Professional, Qualified Intellectual Disabilities Professional, Administrator, Director for Community Living Resources and Director of Community and Family Support Services. Caren is responsible for all RGA Programs, Services and Supports that impact the lives of people the organization serves and attends to multidimensional issues affecting all levels of service delivery. She take the lead in facilitating the RGA Council and chairs the Advocacy Committee, both focused on advocacy on all issues that are important to the people receiving services. Caren currently serves on the Human Services Advisory Committee at College of DuPage, and Bloomingdale Township Employment Task Force. Caren holds a BA in Human Services Administration and a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership.

Kristen Noonan

Kristen holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Art Therapy and Psychology and has over ten years of experience supporting individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. As a member of the Envision Unlimited team, she has worked to develop progressive programming, first as a QIDP, then a Program Director and now as the Day and Employment Administrator.

Teresa Parks

Teresa Parks, MSW, is the Director of the Human Rights Authority, a division of the Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission. In this position, she oversees a state-wide program that investigates allegations of rights violations committee against persons with disabilities by disability service providers. Parks hols a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana and is National Certified Guardian through the Center for Guardianship Certification. Parks has been at the Commission for 30 years working in its human rights programs before becoming the Human Rights Authority Director. Parks has prior work experience with a nursing home ombudsman program assisting nursing home residents with rights complaints, a case coordination service for senior citizens setting up in-home services to prevent premature nursing home placement and the Mental Health Association of Illinois Valley serving as program manager for mental health programs. She has also served on various disability-related boards, including the Heart of Illinois Down Syndrome Association, a Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Disease Association, a Parent Advisory Committee for an Interagency Council for Early Intervention, the Illinois Guardianship Association and Family Matters Parent Training and Information Center, a statewide organization that educates parents on special education rights. She also serves on Committees for Illinois Imagines, an organization addressing sexual violence against women with disabilities, the Woodford County Special Education Association and Aces for Woodford County, a county-based parent support group for parents of children with disabilities. Parks is the parent of two children, including a son with disabilities. Parks is also a recent graduate of Partners in Policy Making and was recently appointed to the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities. She also services on the board of the Illinois Association of Microboards and Cooperatives.

Bob Peterson

Bob Peterson is well known in Illinois disability circles as a seasoned and impassioned advocate for community living. Many don’t know that he lived for several years at Shapiro Developmental Center in Kankakee. He served 9 years on the board of The Arc of Illinois, is now an Arc Mentor, and is an officer for the Arc’s National Council for Self-Advocacy. He has been involved with many advocacy organizations including Partners in Policymaking, The Self Advocacy Alliance, the Going Home Coalition, SABE, and UIC. He has served on advisory committees, testified at hearings, and spoken at rallies and press conferences. He can be found at numerous events talking to legislators and other movers and shakers in the disability field.  Bob has been interviewed, quoted, recorded, and filmed by a number of Media outlets. Bob likes movies, eating out, socializing with friends, time on his computer, and always advocating! Because he uses a wheelchair, transportation takes planning, but as he pointed out, “I didn’t have to worry about PACE when I was living in an institution because I didn’t go anywhere!”

Kish Pisani

Kish joined IAMC as Executive Director on April 1, 2019. She comes to IAMC with over 30 years of experience in marketing, non-profit management, public relations, and advocacy. She graduated from Partners in Policymaking in June 2019. Kish and her husband Paul are parents to Danielle (25) and Louis (21). Danielle is a gradutate of Saint Louis University and currently working for Nestle-Purina. Louis is active in too many Special Olumpics sports to count, including Unified Sports, helps manage an AAU basketball team, will start Project Search at Delnor/Northwestern September 2019 and has his own micro-business Logs by Lou. A native of Arizona, Kish has lived in all US time zones and has created circles of support three times with her son Louis, including French-speaking Montreal from 2008-2012.

Barb Pritchard

Barbara Pritchard, from Urbana, IL, has a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Barb retired in 2002 from her position as Director of Programs at PACE Inc., Center for Independent Living after 16 years with the organization.  In her retirement, she focuses on disability-centered advocacy on the local, state, and national levels.  Barb serves on the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities and the Going Home Coalition in addition to several state-wide boards and three local not-for-profit boards, where she ensures the disability perspective is taken into consideration.

Melissa Regan

Melissa Regan is an experienced self advocate who is passionate about helping others. Melissa is an experienced presenter having presented about self advocacy at conferences in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas and Minnesota. Melissa was an active member of the Illinois Self Advocacy Alliance as the Vice-President of the Ray of Hope Self Advocates group. Melissa took a break from her advocacy work while working full time as a receptionist but is returning with her usual wisdom and enthusiasm.

Monica Regan

Monica Regan is Melissa Regan’s sister and supporter. Monica, her mother and the rest of the Regan family included Melissa in every aspect of their father’s illness and passing and the grief that followed. She supports Melissa to live her life to the fullest keeping company with their mom on travels and adventures.

Sara Riechert

Sara Riechert is an associate attorney with Chamberlin Law Group in Oak Brook, Illinois. Sara obtained a B.B.A. from the University of Cincinnati in 2003. She graduated from Salmon P. Chase College of Law in 2007 and was admitted to the bar in Ohio that same year. After relocating to Illinois, she became licensed to practice law in Illinois in 2011. Sara practices in the areas of estate planning, estate and trust administration, and guardianship. Prior to joining Chamberlin Law Group in January 2018, Sara primarily practiced in the area of family law in the western suburbs.

Benji Rubin

Attorney Benjamin (Benji) Rubin, Brian’s youngest son, Mitchell’s “little/big” brother, has been a member of the Law Firm since 2010. Benji graduated from the University of Illinois College of Law, Magna Cum Laude, received his undergraduate degree from Northwestern University, and his Graduate Law Degree, an LLM (Tax), with honors, also from Northwestern University. Benji is a member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners, a member, by invitation, of the Special Needs Alliance (the national not for profit association of special needs planning attorneys with membership by invitation only), is Chairman of the American Bar Association Special Needs Planning Committee, serves as the President of SIBS (Supporting Illinois Brothers and Sisters), the Illinois chapter of the national Sibling Leadership Network, an organization of adult siblings of individuals with intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities and/or mental illness. Benji is a member and officer (Treasurer) of the Board of Directors of The Arc of Illinois, is a member of the Clearbrook Associate Board, an organization serving more than 8,000 individuals with disabilities, including his brother, Mitchell, serves on the Board of Directors of DayOne PACT, which serves as Trustee of Special Needs Trusts as well as Guardian for individuals with intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities and/or mental illness, serves on the Board of Directors of the Foundation of The Special Education District of Lake County (SEDOL Foundation), serves on the Advisory Council of Encompass (Encompass in partnership with Jewish Child & Family Services, Jewish United Fund, JVS Chicago, JCC Chicago, Keshet, and The Center for Enriched Living and Center for Independent Futures). Benji is also a Faculty Member for the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education (IICLE) on the topic of special needs planning, as well as a Speaker for the American Bar Association and the Illinois State Bar Association on those topics. Having Mitchell as a brother profoundly shaped who Benji is today, and thus the type of law he chose to practice. His personal experiences as a sibling offer a unique perspective into the responsibilities that come with caring for a sibling with special needs. Now as an adult, those sometimes present and future responsibilities he has regarding his brother’s care are a concern that he shares with all brothers and sisters of individuals with special needs.

Linda Sandman

Linda Sandman has over 30 years of clinical experience working with adults with disabilities, including mental health, intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD). She is an experienced trainer and consultant to agencies and organizations working with people with disabilities. Linda is passionate about promoting inclusion and full participation in community life for people with disabilities. She is bilingual (Spanish/English) and bicultural and is also deeply committed to promoting diversity and empowerment for all.

Amber Smock

Amber Smock has served as the Director of Advocacy at Access Living since 2010. Amber is responsible for executing Access Living’s advocacy vision through policy, community organizing, leadership development, and issue education. She stewards Access Living’s strategic advocacy partnerships and significant networking efforts at the local, state, and national levels across a range of disability topics, including healthcare/home and community based services, housing, education, transportation, racial justice, immigration, and incarceration of people with disabilities in jails. She has also been part of international learning exchanges for disability rights. Amber is the facilitator of the federal-state working group Disability Power for Community Integration. Amber is a skilled presenter and trainer, a member of ADA25 and Leadership Greater Chicago, and a recipient of numerous local and national awards for her disability advocacy. Amber is also a proud member of the Deaf community who grew up in mainstreamed schools, learned ASL as a young adult, and now relies on ASL interpreters and video relay technologies as well as lipreading for communication access.

Samantha Stockman

Samantha Stockman is the Director of Employment Services at Trinity Services, Inc. in New Lenox, IL. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Concordia University (2014) with a double major in English and Women’s & Gender studies as well as a master’s degree from DePaul University in Women’s & Gender Studies (2017). Samantha’s education and career pursuits have centered on ensuring people are given equal opportunities to live a full life despite any societal barriers they may encounter.

Kelly Stumme

Kelly Stumme is currently the Director of the Community Living Resources Department at Ray Graham Association (RGA). Kelly has been a team member at Ray Graham Association for over 15 years, starting her career at RGA as an Administrator. Kelly currently works with the RGA team to focus on person centered practices for people with disabilities and fostering a team culture that promotes those practices. Kelly is a 2018 graduate of the IARFutures program and has also been a Quality Enhancement Specialist with the Council on Quality and Leadership.

Cindi Swanson

Cindi has been a resource specialist for the Illinois Lifespan/The Arc of Illinois for the past 18 years. In that time, she has also practiced community building as a Disability Minister for Holy Spirit Catholic Community and Our Saviors Lutheran Church both in Naperville. She is an active advocate for access in all parts of life believing strongly it is a civil right. She was one of the co-founders of We Grow Dreams, a greenhouse, and nursery in West Chicago, a job training site that provides real community employment. She and her husband have three sons. 32 year old Adam, their middle son, has Down Syndrome. He works three jobs in the community and has an enviable active social life. Cindi is a Licensed School social worker.

Bob Taylor

Bob is the CFO for Trinity Services, an organization providng the highest quality person-directed services and supports to people with developmental disabilities and mental illness so that they may flourish and live full and abundant lives. He has more than 20 years of financial leadership experience and has previously served as CFO of a creative agency, an educational publishing company, and a global communications agency. He is an active volunteer for social service organizations and has coached special needs hockey teams for more than a decade. He was named 2018 Coach of the Year by Chicago Blackhawks Special Hockey and 2013 Volunteer of the Year by Sabre Hockey Association. Bob has an accounting degree from the University of Minnesota and is a certified public accountant. He lives in Naperville with his wife and daughter, who has Down Syndrome and enjoys an inclusive and full life in the community.

Vivian Villers

Vivian Villers is President of Sage Planning, an independent financial planning firm in Northbrook, Illinois. She has been in practice as a financial planner for over 35 years. Ms. Villers is credentialed as a Certified Financial Planner™ practitioner, an Accredited Investment Fiduciary® and a Certified Wealth Strategist®. Vivian serves as a member of the Board of Directors of The Arc of Illinois. She has taught numerous seminars on a variety of financial planning topics and is a former instructor for the National Center for Financial Education. Ms. Villers is a Registered Representative with Sigma Financial Corporation and an Investment Advisory Representative with Sigma Planning Corporation, both in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She holds insurance and security licenses in several states. Vivian has been providing financial planning advice for families and individuals with special needs for over twenty-five years. Her involvement in helping special needs families is personal. She has two family members with developmental disabilities. Ms. Villers has personally experienced the tragedy and chaos within her own family due to lack of timely planning and is a strong advocate for the need to plan to avoid complications.

Susan Walter

Susan Walter is an independent transition consultant. She recently retired from the Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports (MTSS) Network, administered by Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). Prior to merging with the Network, Susan was the Statewide Transition Consultant for the ISBE, Special Education Services Division and worked in that capacity from 2007 through 2014. Prior to this position she was the Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator for the Transition Outreach Training for Adult Living Project (TOTAL) and the Illinois Systems Change Transition Project, both of which were federal secondary transition grants administered by the Illinois State Board of Education. Over the past 20 years, she has developed a variety of transition-related training materials including person-centered planning, self-determination, transition-focused IEP’s and collaborative teaming and has traveled around the state to reach educators, parents, students and community providers. Most importantly, Susan is the parent of a young adult who has a disability that requires significant supports and services and she adds that perspective to enhance her work.

Kathy Ward

Kathy Ward has been the Assistant Director/Chief of Staff for the Division of Developmental Disabilities since October 2015. She served as Acting Director from January – September 2019. She first joined the Division in May 2014 as Associate Deputy Director for State Operated Developmental Center Operations. Prior to joining the Division, she spent 20 years in the Office of General Counsel, starting with the Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities in 1994. When DHS was created in 1997, she continued to concentrate on issues concerning individuals with developmental disabilities. At various times, she served as Privacy Officer, FOIA Officer and Ethics Officer for DHS, but has always had a special interest in the intellectual/developmental disabilities field.

Tavarus Wesley

Tavarus Wesley is President of the self advocacy group PossABILITY Partners at Newstar Services in Chicago Heights, IL. He also serves as the Alliance board chair, is an Alliance Ambassador and a Partners in Policymaking-IL graduate. In June 2018, Tavarus did 2 presentations at the National Self Advocates Becoming Empowered conference in Birmingham, Alabama. He loves detective shows and cooking and dreams of going to Paris.

Susy Woods

Susy Woods is the Public Policy and Education Liaison for the Illinois Assistive Technology Program. In this job she attends I.E.P. meetings with families to support them and is a lobbyist at the state level for several disability groups including I.A.T.P., the Arc of Illinois, Social Workers, Gifted Ed, March of Dimes, and Community Schools.  She also does trainings for both schools and parent groups on IEPs, Assistive Technology, Transition, and Sex Ed. She has been involved in disability advocacy for 34 years and has also worked in Early Intervention and as Director of Disability Services at the University of Illinois Springfield.  She has a master’s degree in Women’s Issues and Public Policy where her research was on Sexual Abuse against Women with Disabilities and Public Policy and a doctorate in Educational leadership, concentrating on the way female students with developmental disabilities are educated.  She is past chair of the Illinois State Advisory Council on Special Education and continues to serve on the Council as chair of legislation and comprehensive withdrawal, public policy chair on The Arc of Illinois board, public policy chair and past president of Impact CIL, program chair on the Statewide Illinois Transition Conference, legislative chair of NAMI SW and serves on the Illinois Imagines state team. She has a son with a developmental disability and health issues and a granddaughter with a psychological disability. Susy has attended numerous trainings over the years to stay on top of changes in the law and best practices. She also does numerous tranings each year on both educational rights and sex education and why it is important and necessary for both parents and professionals. She has done training not only for schools and staff and parents but also for such groups as Department on Aging, DRS staff, and Public Health departments.

Kim Zoeller

Kim Zoeller is the President and CEO of Ray Graham Association. Ray Graham Association supports more than 2,000 children and adults with intellectual and other developmental disabilities through DuPage County and the surrounding communities. Ray Graham Association provides a variety of services and supports that include residential, life skills development, recreation, and family support that empower people to reach, grow, and achieve. With more than twenty-five years of experience, Kim has worked to create positive change with a focus on innovation. Kim is the managing Board member for Life’s Plan, a pooled trust options for people with disabilities. Presently, Kim is the immediate past Chair of the Institute on Public Policy for People with Disabilities, serves on the Executive board for the Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities, President of The Arc of Illinois Executive Forum, and Chair of the Statewide DHS Division of Developmental Disabilities Quality Committee. Kim holds a BS in Psychology and a Master’s degree in Public Administration. Kim also worked for CQL for more than fifteen years as a Quality Enhancement Specialist.

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