Max Barrows is Outreach Director for Green Mountain Self-Advocates, a position he has held since 2007. He mentors youth and adults with developmental disabilities to speak up for themselves and become leaders. GMSA is a lead partner of the Self-Advocacy Resource and Technical Assistance Center (SARTAC). Max leads SARTAC’s technical assistance team assisting local and state self-advocacy organizations across the nation. Max connects with people on all levels advocating for true-inclusion of people with developmental disabilities. In his work, he advances the message that when you meet an individual with a disability, presume competence. He received a White House Champions of Change award for this work in 2015 and Champion of Equal Opportunity award from the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities in 2019. Max is an accomplished self-advocate from Vermont who served as a board member for Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered from 2008 to 2016. On a personal level, Max has a very high interest in extreme weather and he likes to watch college and professional sports.
Director Rahnee Patrick
Rahnee Patrick is 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.
Dr. Patrick Schwarz
Dr. Patrick Schwarz is a dynamic and engaging professor, author, motivational speaker and leader in Education and Educational Leadership for all students. He is the President of Creative Culture Consulting LLC and Young Professor Emeritus at National Louis University, Chicago. He is the author of From Disability to Possibility®, You’re Welcome, Just Give Him the Whale, Pedro’s Whale and From Possibility to Success. His amazing colleague, Dr. Paula Kluth, co-authored three of his books. His new book is Reimagining Special Education: 101 Makeover Ideas. Patrick has presented, consulted and coached in school districts all across the world, impacting a significant number of schools with his progressive work. Patrick’s professional mission is to promote education and human services that advance the status of people of all ages with diverse support needs. This will enable individuals to be successfully engaged, find meaning and be respected members of their learning, working and living communities.
Breakout Session Presenters
Liza Pereira Curiel
Liza Pereira was first introduced to Autism when her son was diagnosed 22 years ago. As her son grew older she realized the limitations he would face as an ASD adult. Therefore, with that in mind, she created Unique Sweets, cupcakes and pastries made by young ASD adults. She created this as a safe space where her son, and other young adults could develop job skills, socialize with others and develop meaningful relationships, while practicing important life skills. In addition, Liza is the President and Founder of Latinas United in Love for Autism (LULA). LULA is a peer support group for women. Members are women from varied backgrounds whose commonality is caring for individuals with Autism.
Unique Sweets Life Skills/Baking Program: Unique Sweets provides opportunities for individuals living with Autism and/or Intellectual Disabilities to develop job skills, socialize and expand their skills across family, community, and professional worlds. Through participation in baking events, virtual cooking classes, social outings and peer support groups, Unique Sweets provides opportunities to develop skills needed to promote independence, achieve employment and provide a creative outlet, while cultivating meaningful relationships
Sherry Healey graduated from The Ohio State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management. She worked as Human Resource Manager for NCR and AT&T Corporations for eight years, when her eldest son developed epilepsy and autism at the age of 2. Subsequent to his diagnosis, Ms. Healey transitioned to a career in special education and social services. She has worked as a Job Coach, Special Education Substitute Teacher, and Job Developer. She served as Employment Services Director with UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago, where she led a team of professionals to facilitate community employment for individuals with a variety of disabilities in the Chicagoland area. She was among the first in Illinois to be recognized as a Certified Employment Support Professional with the Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE). As Statewide Employment First Manager, Illinois Department of Human Services, she worked to create systems change that resulted in increased community-based, integrated employment opportunities for individuals with significant disabilities.
Ms. Healey also volunteers her time and expertise as Board President of Community Access Naperville, a local nonprofit providing individuals with limited communication and social skills an opportunity to volunteer in, contribute to and enjoy their community. In 2021, she launched CAN Consulting to facilitate increased community integration for individuals with I/DD in school, employment and recreation.
For most of his life, Russel Houser knew that he wanted to help others have access to the opportunities that they need to be happy and successful. Diagnosed on the autism spectrum at three years old, Russel was motivated to work hard towards achieving this goal. He later graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology with Bachelors Degrees in Psychology and Sociology, and received an M.Ed from Valparaiso University. While Russel was in graduate school, he had found his passion for helping others in the adult disability services field through work as a DSP. He later became a QIDP and case manager at UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago, and has also served as the agency’s Intake Coordinator. Russel has enjoyed utilizing both his professional and personal experiences to help make a positive difference in the lives of those he has supported.