Grace B. Hou has served on Governor JB Pritzker’s Cabinet as the Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) since March 2019. The mission of IDHS isstrengthening Illinois by building up lives and communities which is achieved through an integrated network of mental health, substance use prevention and recovery, rehabilitation, developmental disabilities and family and community services. IDHS operates seven psychiatric hospitals, seven developmental centers, one treatment and detention facility, 76 local offices, and four schools.
Grace also previously served as the Assistant Secretary at IDHS from 2003 to 2012, and during that time she was an architect of Illinois’ Immigrant Integration New American’s Gubernatorial Executive Order which was nationally recognized.
Grace has dedicated her career to advancing equity and social justice by working in the non-profit and public sectors systems for change improvement through public policy development and implementation, social services provision, community organizing and engagement, and philanthropy. Grace most recently served as the President of Woods Fund Chicago from February 2012 to March 2019. Woods Fund Chicago is a bold grantmaking foundation that finds —and funds —projects that draw on the power of communities to fight the brutality of poverty and structural racism.
She had served as the Executive Director of the Chinese Mutual Aid Association (CMAA) and as the Development Manager at the Chinese Mutual Aid Association where she became an advocate for immigrants’ rights. Grace is a child of immigrants from Taiwan, studied at the University of Illinois – Champaign and Springfield campuses, and has two teenage sons. She is on the board of the Healthy Communities Foundation and a board member of The Chicago Network; she is a 2001 Leadership Greater Chicago fellow, a member of The Commercial Club, and a German Marshall fellow. In her role as Secretary of IDHS, she chairs the Adult and Youth Redeploy Boards, chairs the Interagency Working Group on Poverty and Economic Security, co-chairs the Interagency Housing Working Group, and is a commissioner of the Early Childhood Funding Commission.
Allison Stark started as the Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities in September 2019. Prior to her current role, she served as the President and CEO of a community based nonprofit organization serving individuals with developmental disabilities in the Chicagoland area. She has a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder and a Master’s Degree from the University of Chicago. Having been a part of the community system for her entire career, Allison is passionate about expanding opportunities for individual with developmental disabilities to live self-determined lives in their communities.of Chicago.
Emily Ladau is a passionate disability rights activist, writer, storyteller, and digital communications consultant. She is the author of Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to be an Ally, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Emily’s career began at the age of 10, when she appeared on several episodes of Sesame Street to educate children about her life with a physical disability. A native of Long Island, New York, Emily graduated with a B.A. in English from Adelphi University in 2013 and now serves on their Board of Trustees. In 2017, she was named as one of Adelphi’s 10 Under 10 Young Alumni. In 2018, she was awarded the Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award from the American Association of People with Disabilities.
Emily provides communications and social media strategy consulting as well as editorial services for multiple disability-related organizations and initiatives. She is the Digital Content and Community Manager for the Disability & Philanthropy Forum. Previously, she served as the founding Editor in Chief of the Rooted in Rights Blog, a platform dedicated to amplifying authentic narratives on the disability experience through an intersectional lens.
Emily’s writing has been published in outlets including The New York Times, SELF, Salon, Vice, and HuffPost and she has served as a source for outlets including PBS NewsHour, NPR, Vox, and Washington Post. She has spoken before numerous audiences, from the U.S. Department of Education to the United Nations. And, she co-hosts The Accessible Stall Podcast, a show that dives into disability issues. Central to all of Emily’s work is harnessing the power of storytelling as a tool for people to become engaged in disability and social justice issues.
Adiba Nelson is the woman who brings as much truth to power in her writing, as she does in her speaking. Having been referred to as “inspirational” on more than one occasion, Adiba shares her deepest secrets with her audience, at the same time giving them the courage to live their most authentic, purpose driven life. She has written, without pause, about her life long struggle with food addiction, her disdain for her daughter’s communication device, and about watching her mother transition from a vibrant, throw-caution-to-the-wind woman, to a woman who struggles to find her words, and smiles a little crookedly as the result of traumatic brain injury.
Adiba has traveled the country speaking on various topics, but she really shines when discussing the importance of diversity/ inclusion/accessibility and women’s rebellion as an act of self-love and power. Her signature keynote, “The Beauty of Adult Rebellion” has been greeted with standing ovations time and time again, as it seamlessly meshes the topics she’s passionate about with hilarious, touching, and deeply personal stories. Her debut memoir, Ain’t That a Mother, will be published in May 2022.
Katherine McLaughlin, M.Ed., AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator, is the Founder, CEO and Lead Trainer for Elevatus Training. As a national expert on sexuality and I/DD she trains professionals, and parents as well as individuals to become sexual self-advocates, and peer sexuality educators. She is the author of, Sexuality Education for People with Developmental Disabilities curriculum. She has developed two online courses: Developmental Disability and Sexuality 101 for professionals and Talking to Your Kids: Developmental Disabilities and Sexuality for parents, and a 3-Day certificate training: Becoming a Sexuality Educator and Trainer. She has spent her 25+ year career committed to elevating the status of all people, which is why the name of her growing company is Elevatus Training. Contact Katherine at elevatustraining.com.
Ruth Aguilar has over fifteen years of combined experience advocating for people with disabilities. She holds a B.S Psychology from the Illinois Institute of Technology and Professional Graduate Studies in Non-Profit from Harvard University. Ruth’s professional experience stems from working previously in an ISC Agency and then as a Self-Directed Assistant serving the community with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Moreover, with her personal expertise as a mother of a teen girl with Rett Syndrome and Seizure Disorder, Ruth brings a wealth of knowledge to the families by assisting them in how to obtain services and understanding their options by being assertive, yet professional. Ruth is inspired by her husband and her daughter to be a servant leader who helps those around her without hesitation.
Katie Arnold is passionate about supporting people with disabilities and their families to live full lives. Katie is dedicated to community collaborations through her role as Director of Community Education at the Institute on Disability and Human Development at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), Illinois University Center of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. She works to get people involved in social justice to make positive change and teaches an undergraduate course at UIC on Disability Activism: from the local to the global. Katie is a Doctoral Candidate in Disability Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Katie has helped to grow the sibling movement across the country in her role as Executive Director of the Sibling Leadership Network (SLN), a national nonprofit with state chapters that provides information and support to siblings of people with disabilities throughout the lifespan. Katie grew up in New Jersey as the second oldest of four, including her sister with intellectual disabilities. Her sibling experience has shaped her worldview in many ways.
Shannon Benaitis has been working in social services for 20 years. She has experience working with adults and children with both intellectual/developmental disabilities and mental illness and has worked in jobs ranging from direct support staff to department director. Positions and settings include Child and Family Case Manager in Community Mental Health; Administrator in 20-bed post-jail/post-hospital residential facility for adults with mental illness; Counselor/Mental Health Professional then Manager of Sertoma Centre’s Psychosocial Rehabilitation Program; Director of Developmental Training and Vocational Services at Sertoma Centre; and Director of Staff Training at Clearbrook. Currently, Shannon is a consultant and independent contractor for her company, Albatross Training Solutions. Albatross specializes in curriculum development and instructional design along with strategic planning, leadership, and special projects. Shannon has undergraduate degrees in Psychology and English from Cornell College and a Master of Science Degree in Social/Criminal Justice from Lewis University. She is Professional in Human Resources (PHR) certified, a happily married stepmom to three wonderful humans, a service dog-mom to Gordon, and a lupus patient.
Jay Bohn began working for the State of Illinois Department of Public Aid- KidCare Program (now AllKids) in 1999, then transferred to DHS-DDD in 2011. He is currently an analyst in the Medicaid Waiver Unit. Before his state employment, he worked for ten years in the private sector for Mental Health (MH) and I/DD community residential agencies in Illinois and Oregon.
Molly graduated from Butler University with her B.A. in Communication Sciences and Disorders in 2019. Since graduating, Molly has worked primarily with adolescents with disabilities. Molly joined the CIF team in 2021, she is now working as a Certification Class Instructor, My Full Life Consultant, and the CIF support person for Evanston Township High School. Molly is extremely passionate about helping people with disabilities achieve their fullest potential.
After receiving his BA from NIU, he advanced in the field, engaged in roles such as Life Skill Instructor, Case Manager & Administrator – eventually assuming the role of Director, overseeing Community Day Services and Employment Programs at several large Chicagoland organizations. Casey is a champion of Employment First, a Certified Employment Support Professional (CESP) and part of several efforts to enhance the availability, quality, and scope of employment related supports for individuals with disabilities. Casey currently serves as the Director of Employment for Little City Foundation and a contractor for the Division of Developmental Disabilities.
Dani Chitwood currently serves as the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago. She hold a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the Unversity of Illinois and is currently a PhD candidate at Concordia University Chicago where she is pursuing a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership. Dani has worked in the disability profession for her entire career. Previous to her position at UCP Seguin, she served as the Director of Community Engagement and DEI Chair at Special Olympics Illinois. Dani resides in Oak Park, IL with her husband of 21 years, Michael Chitwood, and their amazing seven-year-old son, Cruz.
Erin and Diane Compton
Erin Compton is a sophomore at Westmont High School. She is one of the youngest members to serve on the IL State Rehabilitation Council, representing students who are transitioning from high school to their futures. Erin was the 2020/2021 National Miss Amazing Runner Up and enjoys dancing at both Jofrey Ballet and Expression Dance.
Diane Compton is a graduate of Partners in Policymaking and is currently supporting her daughter in Homebound and virtual education. Diane’s background is in Instructional Design and Technology.
Andy Conover has worked for the past 34 years in the non-profit sector in both Missouri and Illinois with agency professionals, parents, schools, teens, adults with developmental disabilities, and community leaders, specializing in disabilities, substance abuse prevention, community development, training, family support, and parenting education. Andy currently serves as the Executive Director of St. Louis Life, a nonprofit organization that provides residential, educational, social, and employment supports to adults with developmental disabilities in O’Fallon, MO. Prior to joining St. Louis Life in 2004, Andy was the Executive Director of the Family Support Council (an initiative based initially at the United Way of Greater St. Louis and then at Family Resource Center) for 9 years, an organization that provided training and consulting to area nonprofits serving families and children. Andy is also an adjunct faculty member at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis (since 1997) and Lindenwood University (since 2018). A St. Louis native, Andy completed a Bachelor of Science in Education degree and Master of Education degree in Educational and Counseling Psychology, both from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He and his wife, Deb, live in O’Fallon, MO, and are the parents of 6 children and 1 grandson.
Kelly Ewing has worked in social services for 23 years in different capacities. Her current position is the Program Manager of the Choice Program at Park Lawn. Starting out in social services as a DSP she was immediately hooked and loved working with this population. Kelly loves programming and finding joy in the little things that can enhance other qualities of life. Kelly has participated in several grant collaborations throughout her years of service. She has been part of the Current since the beginning as a core team member and as an author. Kelly has a BA from Saint Xavier University and in her free time enjoys reading, baking and hanging out with her family.
Emily Fencl has worked at Clearbrook for 13 years in several positions and programs. In her current role as the Assistant Vice President of Clearbrook West, Emily oversees the services and supports offered in 7 different counties. Services and supports include residential, community day services, home based services, and more. Emily has been a part of The Current since the beginning as part of the development team, an author, and as part of the Core Team that guides the project and discusses the future of The Current.
Megan Forristall is a Public Affairs Specialist for the Social Security Administration. She has been with the agency for over 17 years and in the Public Affairs Position for 5 years. Megan is based out of Peru, IL and covers a wide territory of Northern and North Central Illinois.
Phil Gazzolo has lived independently as part of the Center for Independent Futures (CIF) community for 15 years. He worked as a dishwasher in the Northwestern University cafeterias for nearly 30 years. He is proud of his career. Phil has a passion and talent for creating art. He has produced handmade wooden pens, his graphic art has been featured on the Magnificent Mile, and he is currently learning to play the banjo. Phil enjoys playing poker with his friends and comically bantering with them. Phil displays his kindness in his interactions with those around him and his affection for animals. Phil loves food and enjoys cooking.
Michael Greene is an avid sports fan with a passion for community involvement. He has worked for his community’s park district for many years. He enjoys his role in leading after school activities for children, as well as his summer camp counselor position. Michael describes himself as being an advocate for as long as he can remember. He believes it is important for the community to accept each other’s differences, then set them aside in order to achieve a better world for all. He hopes to see more politicians in office that have the rights of people like him in mind.
Katherine is a veteran of developmental disability services, thanks to her sister, Margaret, who has lived 63 of her 77 years in Illinois state operated developmental centers. Because of Margaret, Katherine volunteered at the Howe Developmental Center in Tinley Park and then worked there for 11 years as an employee in various departments. Margaret’s transition to a CILA home was Katherine’s transition to The Arc of Illinois and the opportunity to connect with individuals and their families who wanted to explore moving from SODC’s to the community. She is Director of the Family Transition Project and proud to facilitate the Arc Transition Mentors.
Susan Hoekstra is Special Education Teacher with over 29 years of experience. She has a BA in Education and a MA in Special Education. She currently teaches at an elementary school. She is a mother of 4, and enjoys focusing on health and wellness.
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.
Amy currently lives in Evanston, IL. She has a brother and sister-in-law, and a mom and dad. She sees them often. Amy likes to draw, do jigsaw puzzles, collect pandas and watch TV. Amy had a job for fifteen years where she cleaned, sorted and organized. She lost her job when Covid came, and moved back in with her parents for a year and a half. She has now returned to her condo where she lives independently. Amy did volunteer work with Rainbows For All Children that recently turned into a job. She does mailing, shredding, laminating, organizing and sometimes cleaning. Amy was glad when CIF started zoom activities because it gave her something to do. Amy enjoys CIF’s social hour, slow cooker class, “Fun, Easy Drawing” and bingo.
Sheila Lullo, Clearbrook’s Executive Vice President of Program Services, is responsible for the operation of Community Day Services, CILAs, Quality Assurance, Community Employment and Admissions. She began her career serving individuals with developmental disabilities as a house parent in the Chicago area, including opening the first group home for children in Illinois. Ms. Lullo joined Clearbrook in 1979 as a Licensed Social Worker. In 1980, Lullo helped establish Clearbrook’s first residential group home. While living in Irvine, California from 1988-1990, she served on the Board of Directors for the city’s child welfare agency before returning to Clearbrook. Along with overseeing many programs, Ms. Lullo initiated and developed many of Clearbrook’s adult services operational processes including quality outcome measures. She has been instrumental in the expansion of services, including the Employment Services Program which partners with businesses to provide vocational training and employment, CHOICE Services which offers community based, choice driven day services, and Pursuit which offers community based social and recreational day services in partnership with NWSRA. Ms. Lullo has taken the lead on many large grants during the past several years which have focused on developing leadership skills among managers and curriculum developed for Community Day Services. Graduating from Western Illinois University with a B.A. Early Childhood, Ms. Lullo later attended the University of Chicago where she earned an M.A. Social Work with an Administration emphasis. In addition to being a member of various professional organizations, Lullo has taught Disability Studies at the college level and has served on the statewide Quality Committee for 10 years and currently serves on the statewide DD Advisory Committee.
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 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 a private practice. As a parent advocate for her son with disabilities, Kathy began work with the Illinois State Board of Educate and with Evanston schools more than 20 years ago.
Before joining Center for Independent Futures as Executive Director, Richard “Dick” Malone most recently served as the President and CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. Prior to that, Dick was a senior executive at Tribune Publishing and the Chicago Tribune. A graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology, he also holds a M.B.A. from Northwestern University. As a parent of an adult with disabilities, Dick is highly motivated and invested in Center for Independent Futures’ mission.
Jeff began working at Center for Independent Futures in 2007 as a Personal Assistant and Life Skills Tutor, using his background as a Certified Nurse Assistant to support individuals with disabilities in reaching their health-related goals. For the last 11 years, he has served as Community Life Coordinator for one of our Community Living Options. As Activities Director, Jeff coordinates the monthly calendar of social, cultural, and physical activities that build connections in the community.
Karen and Kelly Neville
Karen Neville is a mom and business partner with Kelly for Special Sparkle. My background is in merchandising and fashion, so creating this type of company was made a bit easier because of my previous work history. I have 3 grown children and we live in Naperville, Illinois. Having a business with my oldest daughter has been a great experience and allows us to be creative together and to learn and grow. This business allows us to advocate and bring awareness to individuals with different abilities and to highlight our achievements and success. We enjoy helping others along the way and sharing our knowledge on entrepreneurship. Kelly Neville is 30 years old and has been the CEO and creator for Special Sparkle for 10 years. She enjoys fashion, style and bling and all things creative. She is also a public speaker and has been the keynote speaker for the National Association for Down syndrome’s annual fashion show, the graduation ceremony keynote speaker for The Ray Graham Training Center High School, and has been to Washington D.C. to speak with legislators about laws concerning individuals with disabilities. Kelly has spoken to countless schools, hospitals, police and firefighters and continues to spread awareness and further the acceptance and inclusion of all individuals. In her free time Kelly enjoys her dog, Charlie, hanging with friends and participating in Special Recreation activities. She can often be found painting, coloring or baking while watching her favorite movies too.
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.
Rahnee is the Director of Illinois Department of Human Services’ Division of Rehabilitation Services. Her father is an Air Force Academy graduate who met her Thai mother during the Viet Nam Conflict. Rahnee was raised in North Liberty, Indiana, population over 900 people. She acquired her disabilities starting at the age of eight. Rahnee graduated from Indiana University, where she co-founded a group of disabled students. In 2005, she conceived the ADAPT Youth Summit and received the 2008 Paul Hearne Award of the American Association of People with Disabilities. Today she and her husband Mike Ervin live in downtown Chicago, where they try to make each other laugh every single day.
Shirley A. Perez is the Program Director of the Ligas Family Advocate Program and the Family Support Network. Ms. Perez has thirty-five plus years of advocating and working with individuals and their families living with disabilities. She is a business graduate of Metropolitan Business College and Kaplan University. She operated her own business, worked at an ISC Agency where she advocated for and assisted families in locating services by navigating the State system. In conjunction with the City of Chicago, Federal Home Loan Bank and The Illinois Housing Development Authority, she implemented a home-buying program for individuals with developmental and physical disabilities. She has worked as a Special Project Advocate with the Illinois Life Span Project; met with families/guardians to explain the transition process and listen to their concerns as their family members’ transition into the community from State Operated Developmental Centers. She continues to share updated information with families, sell-advocates and providers through presentations and conferences so that they can be both an informed and effective advocate!
She currently serves on the Quality Care Board of Directors and various Department of Human Services Committees and is an active volunteer in both her community and church. She is the proud mother of an adult daughter (Tamekia), who lives in the community with supports. Her philosophy is, “everyone can succeed with the right supports!” She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kish Pisani, National Disability Institute Kish Pisani is a Project Coordinator at the National Disability Institute and is the Illinois Trainer Support Network Liaison supporting the over 90 NDI-Financial Wellness trainers across Illinois. An Illinois resident, Kish Pisani attended the first Financial Wellness training session in Springfield in February 2020 and became an active member of the Trainer Support Network. Before joining NDI, Kish was Executive Director of the Illinois Association of Microboards and Cooperatives and helped promote and support individuals and families in creating circles of support, microboards and cooperatives so individuals with I/DD can live full and inclusive lives in their communities. Kish has over 30 years of experience in marketing, public relations, nonprofit management, organizational development, creative writing, and advocacy. Kish is a 2019 graduate of Partners in Policymaking, trained in both PATH and MAPS person-centered planning tools. In February 2021, she became the first and only certified Charting the LifeCourse Ambassador in Illinois. Kish’s most important job is being a parent of an adult son with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Kish has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Broadcast Communication from Marquette University.
My name is Barbara Pritchard, and I’m a Caucasian woman with Cerebral Palsy and visual impairment. I have lived for more than 47 years as a resident of East Central Illinois, where I settled after attending college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I graduated with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Business Administration, but went on to discover my true passion is in disability rights. Professionally, I worked for more than 16 years at PACE Center for Independent Living in Urbana, Illinois. I retired in 2002 to do national and statewide systemic advocacy in disability rights, particularly in deinstitutionalization and equitable healthcare. Currently, I serve as a volunteer on 20 different boards and commissions relating to disability rights and healthcare. In many of these groups, I am an office-holder such as chair, steering committee member, or secretary. Presently, I find myself deeply involved in and concerned about the safety of people with disabilities living in various settings during the COVID-19 pandemic and other disasters.
Consuelo Puente is a retired attorney working with Family Matters as their multicultural trainer. Ms. Puente has many years of training experience in the disability field. Consuelo enjoys making the Americans with Disabilities Act law fun for all audiences.
Prior to becoming The Going Home Coalition Manager, Carole served as a Governor appointed member to The Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities from 2014 until 2020. While serving on the Council, she served on its Executive Committee and chaired the Community Housing and Inclusion Committee. Her diverse background in advocacy also includes serving on the board of Collaborative Community Housing Initiative, a grassroots collective comprised of families who have young adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. She has also served on New Trier Township’s Funding Committees and has organized community-wide events promoting affordable community-supported inclusive accessible housing. Her driving belief is that Community is strengthened by diversity and inclusion. In addition to her Masters of Interior Design degree, she is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist with additional coursework in Universal Design. Recently, Carole became certified as a Financial Wellness Trainer for people with disabilities through the National Disability Institute. She is an award winning photographer with work having been shown in numerous regional and national photography exhibitions. Carole and her husband, William, have a daughter who has developmental disabilities and a nondisabled son.
Michael R. Roush, MA, AFC, National Disability Institute Michael Roush, M.A., AFC is the Director of the Center for Disability-Inclusive Community Development at National Disability Institute (NDI) and has served as Project Director for the Financial Wellness for People investment from the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities for the past three years. In addition, he serves as a subject matter expert on financial capability strategies for people with disabilities, provides training and technical assistance across the country on Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), financial education, financial coaching/counseling and other asset development strategies to empower individuals, organizations, and other stakeholders on the importance of economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities. Michael is the coauthor of multiple financial education/asset building curriculums for students and adults with disabilities and has trained more than 2,000 individuals on how to integrate the curriculums into their organization’s delivery of service. He is an Accredited Financial Counselor and a Community Partner Work Incentives Counselor. Michael has a Master’s degree in Human Behavior.
An attorney, “little/big” brother of Mitchell, who has Autism, and a partner in Rubin Law, a firm whose practice is limited to future planning for his future planning for his fellow families of individuals with special needs. 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, and 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.
Attorney Brian Rubin is 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 45 years, and is the parent of three children, one of whom, Mitchell, 41, has Autism. Brian’s law practice, for four decades, since 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.
Erica J. Stearns is a researcher, podcaster, writer, and advocate. Growing up with disabilities and now the mother of two children with disabilities and complex medical conditions; she believes in the richness of lived experiences and the power of a person’s story. Erica’s life experiences have motivated her to pursue a career in the field of disability advocacy. Erica works as an Information and Outreach Special with The Illinois Life Span Program (through The Arc of Illinois), and is the host and creator of the podcast, Atypical Truth.
I was diagnosed with Asperger’s when I was 3 year’s old, from that point on I saw the world in my own unique way and perspective but I had no idea other’s didn’t share in that view point. When I turned 12, I was made award of my diagnosis and that I saw the world differently than others., this lead me to explore autism and what is was and how it influenced my personality and perspective. I quickly became enthusiastic about my diagnosis and the world of autism, as I grew up I would discover an entire culture dedicated to autism and a bigger view point and acceptance of it. I have now dedicated the rest of my life to being an advocate and voice for autism and to express my enthusiasm of autistic culture and to share my personal journey with others so that it may help them understand and accept autism for what it truly is, a unique and original view point and way of life for so many!!!
Kimberlie Taylor joined DSC in 2020 as a Direct Support Professional after spending years in the customer service field. She became a member of the Rights Committee and began supporting groups of people in advocating for themselves and others while exploring their interests. In her new role as a Supported Employment Specialist, she develops community job sites for the people she supports, in addition to expanding the department’s Career Readiness program. In this program, Kim provides soft skills training in a classroom and field setting that leads to integrated employment. In addition to her fulltime job, she is studying Psychology at Eastern Illinois University. She moved to the Champaign, Illinois area shortly after her start at DSC, and spends her free time exploring her newfound community with her two dogs.
Danielle Washington, a member of the Advocacy Community Leaders, describes herself as kind and fun. Previously, she worked in the childcare and food industries, both of which she enjoyed. She values being involved in the community for leisure and employment. She’s an active member of her church and is quick to volunteer to help her congregation in any way she can. After completing the Career Readiness program, Danielle is taking the next steps towards reentering the workforce to earn money and make new friends. She wants to live in a world where people are nicer to each other.
Darren Wolken is a member of the Advocacy Community Leaders, a team involved in developing meaningful relationships and advocating for disability rights and inclusion in their community. They’ve spoken to mayors, chiefs of police, university leadership, and more in an effort to ask the hard questions that ignite change. Darren has worked in his community’s park district for many years as a receptionist and office assistant. He is also an actor, musician, and athlete. He values putting his best foot forward in everything he does, and his work ethic is unmatched. His hope is to one day make it big as a country singer while continuing to advocate for the rights of everyone.