Speakers

Dr. Nabil Abou Baker
Tara Ahern
Tara Ahern is the Project Director for The IL Self Advocacy Alliance, a statewide network of self advocacy groups that supports individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to learn advocacy and leadership skills as well as engage in legislative and awareness initiatives. Tara serves as co-chair for IL Imagines, a statewide project to improve services to people with disabilities who are survivors of sexual violence. In her spare time, Tara serves on the Miss Amazing Advisory Board and facilitates activities for people with disabilities at Center for Independent Futures in Evanston, IL. Tara received degrees from New York University (B.A.) & DePaul University (M.S. Public Service Management).
Meg Ahlgrim
Meg Ahlgrim is a Case Manager and Special Education Teacher at Glenbrook South High School. Ms. Ahlgrim’s interests include vocational exploration and student-centered planning.
Dr. Natalie Andzik
Dr. Natalie Andzik is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Special and Early Education at Northern Illinois University. Natalie’s research focuses on supporting communication independence among individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. From her perspective, as a former special education teacher, she believes that teachers, paraeducators, and other school-based practitioners benefit from support when implementing evidence-based practices. Natalie has published numerous articles in special education and applied behavior analysis journals including Exceptional Children and Teaching Exceptional Children.
Rachel Arfa
Rachel Arfa is a staff attorney at Equip for Equality, Illinois' governor-designated protection and advocacy organization, responsible for advocating for the civil and human rights for people with disabilities. Ms. Arfa is also the Project Manager for the Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security (PABSS) program, which represents clients who want to work and may experience barriers to employment. Ms. Arfa also manages the Illinois ADA Project, which provides information to businesses about the Americans with Disabilities Act and also offers trainings on the ADA. Ms. Arfa's work focuses on employment discrimination and civil rights violation. She represents clients in self-advocacy, negotiation, and representation in administrative forums and in federal court.
Katie Arnold
Katie Arnold is the Executive Director of the Sibling Leadership Network, the national organization bringing together siblings of people with disabilities.
Lore Baker
Lore Baker is a highly respected supportive housing and homeless services expert. She managed HUD Continuum of Care programming for persons experiencing homelessness for eight years, creating interventions to address the complex myriad of issues that conspire to create and maintain homelessness (i.e. transportation, education, employment, health care, behavioral health care, supportive housing, etc.). She then moved into the public policy arena as the Executive Director of the Supportive Housing Providers Association, educating legislators about the efficacy of supportive housing provision for vulnerable populations and successfully advocating for increased supportive housing funding for five years. Recognized as a leader in her field, Ms. Baker was recruited to become the Statewide Housing and Employment First Coordinator in the Office of the Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services where she was responsible for the implementation of two Section 811 Project-based Rental Assistance program awards, the management of the Statewide Referral Network and partnered with community service agencies throughout the State to support access to affordable housing for persons with disabilities, experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. As of October 1, 2018, Ms. Baker is the incoming President and CEO of the Association for Individual Development (AID) headquartered in Aurora.
Chance Balleza
Chance Balleza has been working with disabled youth and adults for the past 18 years. He was a Paraprofessional in a Life Skills classroom for 15 years working with special needs students as they learned a variety of life skills such as working with money, counting change, cooking and transitioning from high school life into adulthood. Currently, Chance is the Intake/Recruitment Coordinator for Challenge Unlimited. He works closely with the Illinois Division of Rehabilitation Services and Developmental Disabilities Services to assist adults with a variety of Employment Service opportunities. As a member of this community, he is able connect with local businesses and other human resource service agencies to create lasting partnerships. Challenge Unlimited's mission is to provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities which will assist them to live, work and participate in their community.
Krista Bauman
Krista Bauman attended Bradley University and graduated in 2008 with a Bachelor of Social Work and a minor in sociology. Following her undergraduate degree, she graduated in 2009 with a Master of Social Work from Jane Addams College of Social Work at University of Illinois at Chicago. She worked for Rush University Medical Center in the Early Intervention program prior to starting her job at Shriners Hospitals for Children Chicago in 2011. Currently Krista works as a social worker at Shriners Hospital with the rehab team, craniofacial team, urology, and spine service. Krista is a licensed social worker and accredited case manager. In addition, she volunteers for The Kids Equipment Network and Arthritis Foundation.
Diane Becker
Diane Becker is currently with UIC/Division of Specialized Care for Children, Home Care Quality Improvement and Enrollment, as part of administrative team ensuring access and excellence of care for technology dependent children throughout the State of Illinois. As a Nationally Certified Juvenile Treatment Specialist, Illinois Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and Illinois Licensed Clinical Education Provider for Professional Counselors and Social Workers, she has over 30 years of experience working in community mental health, school systems, hospitals, addiction treatment, life coaching, case management, and private practice. Consultation for best practices empowering youth and young adults has occurred throughout Illinois and internationally with England and Germany.
Calli Bodie
Calli Bodie is currently the first ever President of the Independent CruSaders of Options CIL. As a young person with a disability, she has had first-hand experience with aspects of youth transitions. In addition to her President role, she is also a volunteer receptionist at Options Center for Independent Living and works at the local Culvers. She is a 2014 graduate of Manteno High School.
Sharice Bradford
Sharice Bradford, MDiv, EdD, works with the UI Health STAR program. She holds a certificate in Health Policy and Administration from the School of Public Health at UIC, and an EdD in Counseling Psychology. Sharice has worked with the Sickle Cell program at UI Health for over 13 years.
Jill Bruington
Jill Bruington is the CTE Principal at the Illinois School for the Deaf. Jill earned a bachelor of science degree in Deaf & Hard of Hearing Teacher Education from MacMurray College and a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Illinois at Springfield. Prior to becoming the CTE Principal, Jill was the Transition Coordinator at ISD for 12 years and is currently a licensed sign language interpreter. In addition, Jill is a member of several transition related groups such as the Jacksonville Area Transition Planning Committee and IPATH group. She also serves on the Illinois Foundation for Deaf Children board.
William Burroughs
William Burroughs has been in the special education department at Stevenson High School for the past 12 years. He has a Bachelor’s of Science in Anthropology as well Master’s degrees in Special Education and Educational Leadership. He has been a part of the Stevenson Highs School Transition program for 2 years where he has developed and taught Life Skills curriculum in addition to his work to strengthen the program's community opportunities, socialization partnerships, and agency linkages.
Dr. Rachel Caskey
Rachel Caskey MD, MAPP is an Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She is board certified in both pediatrics and internal medicine and is a primary care provider for all ages. Dr. Caskey is a health services researcher and her research interests include improving adolescent vaccination; transition of care for children who age-out of the pediatric health care setting and exploring ways to modify preventive health behaviors among young adults. Dr. Caskey has an appointment at UIC’s school of public health, in the division of maternal child health and is a member of the UIC Cancer Center where she collaborates on efforts to examine the use of the HPV vaccine to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer. From 2011 to 2013 Dr. Caskey also served on the planning group that oversaw and helped develop the Transitioning Youth to Adult Health Care Provider Training Curricula through the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr Caskey participated in the triennial review of the curricula which was last updated in 2018.
Maria Castillo
Maria Castillo is a parent volunteer with Family Resource Center on Disabilities. Ms. Castillo has worked extensively with the Hispanic community in the Chicago area and across the State of Illinois. Ms. Castillo has trained hundreds of Spanish Speaking parents on how to seek appropriate services for their children with disabilities.
Dr. Mary Ciccarelli
Dr. Mary Ciccarelli is a Professor of Clinical Medicine-Pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine. She is the founding director of the Center for Youth and Adults with Conditions of Childhood (or CYACC), which is the Indiana Youth to Adult Transition program funded through Indiana Title V. The CYACC multidisciplinary team has provided comprehensive assessment and transition care coordination for over 2,000 youth with complex transition needs. She also provides primary care for children and adults at the Eskenazi Health North Arlington Health Center.
Darcy Contri
Darcy Contri is a Statewide Transition Coordinator, Registered Nurse, Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Master of Public Health. She has 33 years’ experience in direct patient care and service coordination for children and youth with special health care needs. She has led the Specialized Care for Children’s transition project since its inception in 1998. Darcy participates in many outreach activities to establish and strengthen collaborative relationships with outside agencies and transition projects. She provides training on health care transition for youth/young adults, families, staff, health care professionals and school providers.
Meg Cooch
Meg Cooch brings a passion for disability, aging and health policy, advocacy and organizing to her new role as Executive Director at The Arc of Illinois. Meg also served as the first Executive Director of the Illinois State Alliance of YMCAs, and prior to moving to Chicago, Meg worked on federal level disability policy in Washington, DC as the Director of Policy and Advocacy for Lutheran Services in America Disability Network and as the Deputy Field Director for the Alliance for Retired Americans. Meg has served on the Board of Directors of The Arc of Illinois and has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia and master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Dr. Kamala Cotts
Dr. Kamala Gullapalli Cotts is a general internist who specializes in caring for adults with developmental disabilities. She founded and directs the Adults with Developmental Disabilities Clinic (with 280 patients in the registry) within the Primary Care Group at the University of Chicago Medicine. She served as an advisor to the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics in developing their training courses for the Illinois Healthcare Transition Project. She authored "Transition Care of Teens with Chronic Health Conditions", a chapter in Handbook of Outpatient Medicine, and lectures extensively on caring for individuals with chronic childhood conditions.
Dr. Stephanie DeSpain
Dr. Stephanie DeSpain is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Special Education at Northern Illinois University. Prior to coming to NIU, she was a high school teacher in an at-risk program, K-1 educator in a beginning communication development program, preschool diagnostician, and an Instructional Assistant Professor in the Department of Special Education at Illinois State University. Dr. DeSpain currently teaches coursework in early childhood special education related to assessment, methods, and collaborating with families; although she has also taught coursework in transition. Her research interests include methods for preparing educators to meet the diverse needs of children with special needs, preparing families to meet the needs of children with disabilities, and promoting engagement of learners with Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) in inclusive settings.
Adrienne Dimopoulos
Adrienne Dimopoulos is an accomplished public relations professional with expertise in developing and implementing strategic communication programs to support marketing and business objectives. She has been with Teachability as a consultant not only as a corporate spokesperson but also as someone new to the world of disability who offers a fresh set of eyes to help solve problems for both the companies and families. She has an M.S. in Communications from Northwestern University and a B.A. in Journalism from Drake University.
Kathryn Dittemore
Kathryn Dittemore, LCSW, CRSS serves as the Public Service Administrator for Wellness and Recovery for the Illinois Department of Human Services/Division of Mental Health (DMH). Ms. Dittemore’ s interest in mental health wellness and recovery stems from both personal and family experience. She is a Certified Recovery Support Specialist and trained WRAP facilitator. She is also a Family to Family educator with NAMI IL. Ms. Dittemore began her career with the State of IL Division of Mental Health in 1999 providing in-patient social work services to individuals with serious mental illness. Since 2016 Ms. Dittemore she has been working to further the development of recovery-oriented services within the mental health system. In her role as Public Service Administrator she assists in advancing many of DMH’s successful recovery initiatives including WRAP (Wellness, Recovery Action Planning, CRSS (Certified Recovery Support Specialist) training and development, and providing recovery oriented education and technical assistance to a variety of community and mental health organizations throughout the State of Illinois.
Ronisha Edwards
Ronisha Edwards, MSW, is a sickle cell patient and professional, that provides social work services and peer support for young adult sickle cell patients, transitioning into adult care at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System. Ronisha also assists minority young adults with securing employment, post secondary education, and obtaining their goals in life. In her current role at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System, she has created educational material for patients in transition and co-piloted a peer patient advocate program to strengthen peer relationships in the sickle cell community. Ronisha has extensive knowledge in mental health, disability services, trauma informed care, and workforce development. Her ultimate focus is empowering patients and changing health care policies and disparities for patients around the world.
Dr. Marc Fagan
Marc Fagan, PsyD. is the Vice President of Clinical Operations and Youth & Young Adult Services at Thresholds in Chicago. Marc oversees comprehensive programs for transition-age youth with mental health needs and histories of complex trauma, child welfare and juvenile justice involvement, residential care, adolescent pregnancy and parenting, homelessness, and poverty. These programs are developmentally-attuned to a variety of transition-age youth mental health needs and systematically blend evidence-based practices from both child and adult mental health fields. Programs within the Thresholds transition-age youth continuum of care have been described in numerous scholarly journals, and were featured in the SAMHSA sponsored book: Residential Interventions for Children, Adolescents, and Families: A Best Practice Guide. Dr. Fagan facilitates interactive workshops locally and nationally regarding youth in transition to adulthood, and participates in numerous workgroups dedicated to improving transition-age youth outcomes. As a Certified Consultant for the National Network on Youth Transition, Dr. Fagan also trains audiences and supports organizations in implementing the Transition to Independence Process (TIP) model, which is an evidence-informed approach to engaging young people with mental health challenges in their transition to adulthood.
John Fallon
As a Senior Program Manager with CSH’s Illinois Program, John Fallon works on the implementation of several Olmstead consent decrees for persons with mental health and developmental disabilities as CSH assists the State in transitioning to use supportive housing as an option for housing instead of institutional care. John also works on integrating health care providers into supportive housing, frequent user initiatives, and Medicaid Capacity Development for service providers and developers adapting to a changing health care environment. John earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Corey Fineran
With his new media expertise, Corey Fineran is a pioneer in vocational rehabilitation. As a co-founder and the Director of Content for NextUp, Corey delivers pre-employment and on-the-job skills to transition-age youth through an innovative and interactive transition curriculum.
Rob Fleming
Rob Fleming is the vocational coordinator for NSSED where he has worked for the past 14 years. Mr. Fleming has a Master's in Rehabilitation Counseling from Illinois Institute of Technology and he is also a certified Rehabilitation Counselor. He has a passion for creating individualized employment opportunities for students with disabilities.
Dr. Evisha Ford-Sills
Dr. Ford-Sills has a passion for marginalized youth which began at an early age. She earned a Masters of Social Work from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and began serving inner-city homeless youth providing therapeutic intervention and linkages to community resources. She worked with various community agencies to build their capacity to support the needs of vulnerable youth (via training, resource development and program evaluation). She was recruited by Chicago Public School (CPS); during her tenure within the Early Childhood Department she came to understand the complex needs of young children and the critical nature of early intervention.

Later she served as a Response to Intervention (RtI) Coach for the CPS Office of Specialized Services. Subsequently, she was appointed Director of Special Education in Bremen High School District. Dr. Ford-Sills completed her doctoral studies at Aurora University in Educational Leadership in 2010. Her research focus is students with disabilities, youth resiliency, and critical race theory. She supported the development of other professionals in her role as an Assistant Professor and Special Education Leadership Program Coordinator at Concordia University Chicago, in the Graduate College.

Dr. Ford-Sills and her husband (Rob) conceptualized and founded iCan Dream Center after recognizing the complex needs of families who have a child with special needs and the growing number of youth who become involved in the criminal justice system. iCan Dream Center provides a positive, affirming, and inclusive environment where all youth are encouraged to dream.
Dr. Lynn Gallagher
Dr. Gallagher is the Director of the Lynch Learning Center at Loras College-Dubuque IA. She is the past president of IL TASH, former board member of the Illinois Council on Development Disabilities, the Illinois Think College Task Force as well as the Illinois Education and Employment for Individuals with Disabilities Task Force. An advocate for over 25 years, Gallagher's Doctoral Dissertation "The Book of David: Living, Learning and Loving with Autism" details the many highlights and obstacles individuals with disabilities face in the K-12 educational system.
Linda Gibbons
Linda Gibbons, MSN, RN, IL PELSN, NCSN, was a School nurse for 20 years in PreK - 8th grade district and a school nurse educator for 15 years. She is the Director of the School Nurse Certificate program at Lewis University College of Nursing and Health Professions. She has published on transition planning, school nurse leadership, The legalities of school nurse practice, and various other school nurse topics. Mrs. Gibbons has presented on the above topics and various other school nurse topics for families, school professionals, and school nurses.
Colleen Goldenberg
Colleen Goldenberg has taught in Plainfield as a Special Education Teacher for the past 18 years. She has taught at the Elementary, Middle and High School levels. For the past 5 years, Colleen has worked as a Vocational Coordinator at our Transition Program. She is also a member of our NEXT STEPS Team for approximately the past 10 years. Colleen enjoys time with Special Olympics and Special Ed. Rec.
Dr. Carol Greenlee
Dr. Greenlee FACP, FACE is board certified in Internal Medicine and in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism with 30 years’ experience in private practice endocrinology. She co-chaired the American College of Physicians (ACP) Medical Neighbor workgroup and was a lead author of the ACP position paper “The Patient-Centered Medical Home Neighbor: The Interface of the Patient-Centered Medical Home with Specialty/Subspecialty Practices”. She chaired the ACP workgroup on High Value Care Coordination and the Pediatric-to- Adult-Care Transitions initiative. She currently chairs the ACP Council of Subspecialty Societies (CSS) with a seat on the Board of Regents. In 2014 her solo endocrinology practice achieved tier 3 NCQA Patient-Centered Specialty Practice (PCSP) recognition as an early adopter. She currently serves as faculty for the Transforming Clinical Practice initiative (TCPi).
Shelle Hamer
Shelle Hamer retired following a 35-year career in special education, with the last 20 years coordinating programs for multiple districts. She holds a M.Ed. in Special Education and a MA in Educational Leadership. Shelle chaired the IVLC (Illinois Vision Leadership Council) for 19 years, served on the Governor's Advisory Board for students who are hearing/vision impaired, currently serves as secretary for the IABDB (Illinois Advisory Board for persons who are DeafBlind), consults with various school districts and manages the Children/Youth Enrichment Program and Youth Transition Program at the Chicago Lighthouse. In her spare time, Shelle loves to travel, hike and spend time with her family and friends.
JJ Hanley
JJ Hanley is Director of IL ABLE for the Office of the State Treasurer Michael Frerichs, where she leads a 16--state, bi-partisan alliance to build ABLE programs in Illinois and around the country. She is a parent-advocate and professional who has dedicated most of her career to creating innovative programs that foster economic and community participation by people with disabilities. JJ produced the multiple award-winning PBS documentary, “Refrigerator Mothers,” about the generation of mothers who were unfairly blamed for supposedly causing autism in their children through cold mothering. She founded JJsList.com, a yelp.com-style review platform where businesses promote their brands and disability-aware features to the disability market, with a blog that ranks in the top 25 disability blogs on the Internet. She also founded and directed the Disability Awareness Players, who have trained more than 7000 staff of corporations, non-profits and schools in how to interact comfortably and confidently with employees and customers who have disabilities. Hanley created and launched Internet safety and workplace skills training programs for teens and young adults with disabilities, as well as a public transportation training program with Pace Suburban Bus that has so far reached more than 4000 Chicago-area students and teachers. JJ chairs the Banking Committee for the Financial Advisory Council for the Empowerment of People with Disabilities (FACED), serves on the steering committee for Equip for Equality’s Illinois ADA Project and is a member of the Executive Committee of the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities.
Jeff Hobbs
Jeff Hobbs was born with cerebral palsy and a love of sports, his greatest ambition was to someday become an athlete. Unfortunately, Jeff’s road map to achievement was anything but easy – not because he has cerebral palsy, but because of the limits placed onto him by others. Raw, real, and authentic are all words associated with Jeff’s presentation. Jeff uses his own battle scars, illustrative storytelling, and innovative teaching strategies to expand your ideas of what is possible.
Ryan Iberle
Ryan Iberle is a special education teacher at Bartlett High School. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Communication from Marquette University and a Master’s in Arts and Teaching from National-Louis University. He has been in the education field for 9 years, teaching transition programs in District 211, District 220, and U-46. Currently, he is piloting the new Bartlett Transition Program.
Dr. Jesse Johnson
Dr. Jesse (Woody) Johnson is an associate professor of Special Education at Northern Illinois University and the coordinator of the Board Certified Behavior Analyst program in the Department of Special and Early Education. He received his M.A. from East Carolina University and his Ed.D. from Northern Illinois University. His research interests include using mobile technology to support students with ASD, cognitive disabilities and interventions for individuals with behavioral challenges in school and community settings. His research has been published in Education and Treatment of Children, The Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, Journal of Behavioral Education, Research in Developmental Disabilities, Preventing School Failure, Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy and Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities. He has made more than 70 presentations at national and international level conferences.
Dr. Mary Keen
Dr. Keen is married to Chuck, and they are proud parents of 5 young men.
She is the medical director of Pediatric Rehabilitation at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital. Dr. Keen is board certified in four specialty areas: physical medicine and rehabilitation; pediatrics; physical medicine and rehabilitation--pediatrics; and pediatrics--neurodevelopmental disabilities. She is dedicated to serving pediatric patients and their families especially those with complex care needs.
Colleen Kelly
Colleen Kelly is the Plainfield School District Project SEARCH teacher. She previously taught in the Plainfield School District P-STEP (Post-Secondary Transition and Education Program) program for 4 years (2011-2015). Colleen graduated from Lewis University in 2011 with a degree in Special Education and Elementary Education. She has been a member of the Plainfield School District Next Steps team for 2 years.
Dr. Vanessa Klodnick
Vanessa Klodnick, PhD, LCSW, Senior Researcher. Dr. Klodnick oversees YAYAS research, evaluation, and quality improvement efforts. Dr. Klodnick leads the Thresholds YAYAS Evaluation, Research, and Quality (ERQ) Team with the vision of using data creatively to improve the quality, effectiveness, and sustainability services and to translate knowledge generated within and beyond Thresholds. Dr. Klodnick is also is a co-investigator with the University of Massachusetts Transitions ACR and a faculty affiliate at The University of Texas at Austin TEIMH and the University of South Florida where she examines multidisciplinary team-based engagement and adapts evidence-based practices, including Assertive Community Treatment and the Individual Placement and Support Model of Supported Employment (IPS), and develops and evaluates programs that incorporate Supported Education and Peer Support. Dr. Klodnick uses both her research and practice experience to consult nationally with state and providers on how to better meet the needs of transition-age youth. Dr. Klodnick’s research has been funded by various foundations, SAMHSA, NIH and NIDILRR. She speaks frequently at local and national conferences.
Samantha Kolkey
Samantha Kolkey is a licensed clinical social worker and the Executive Director at Options for College Success. She began her career working as a case manager and then a clinician for children, youth, and families in the child welfare system. She began her work at Options for College Success as a part-time resident advisor. She began working full time for the organization in 2017. Samantha is passionate about helping individuals develop the skills, self-assurance, and courage to live their best lives.
Samantha received her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Women’s Studies from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and her Master’s Degree in Social Work from Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Angel Lawrence
Angel Lawrence is a Medical Social Consultant with the University Of Illinois at Chicago, Division of Specialized Care for Children. Angel’s has spent the bulk of her professional career within the public school system as a therapist attending to children with social-emotional healthcare needs. Presently, in her position, Angel consults and provides care coordination services for children and their families. Angel enjoys the work that she does, while effectively working with impact and passion. She has an M.S.W. from Roberts Wesleyan College and a B.A. in Political Science from Wilberforce University.
Heather Long
Heather Long is currently a Transition Coordinator at Options CIL in Bourbonnais, IL where she runs the CIL's Youth Transition Program Independent CruSaders. Previous to that Heather worked as a Complex Director at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater where she worked with transitional youth to safely and successfully live in the residence halls on campus. She also advised a student group there comprised of students with disabilities and their allies. Heather holds a Masters of Art in Adult and Higher Education.
Amanda Meyer
Amanda Meyer is newer to the world of transition, but not new to the field of special education. She holds a B.S. in Special Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, an M.S. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of St. Francis, and an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership from Lewis University. Amanda served as a Primary (Kdg.-2nd) Multi-Categorical Special Education teacher for Orland School District #135 for 19 years. This is her third year with the LaGrange Area Department of Special Education (LADSE) as the Multi-Needs Program Coordinator. Amanda has been working closely with Karen Steffan, LADSE Vocational Coordinator, to assist students and families from the Multi-Needs Program with the transition process and to create additional connections and resources to serve the unique needs of this population.
Terri Michaels
Terri Michaels is the Division of Rehabilitation Services Transition Specialist at NSSED. She has dedicated the last 30 years to the fields of Special Education, Social Work and Transition. Her interests include creating collaborative relationships with families and linking students to valuable community resources.
Cindy Montgomery
Cindy Montgomery is the founder and CEO of Teachability and a prominent thought-leader in invisible disabilities and youth employability. She is available to speak at conferences, corporate trainings, Fortune 500 corporations, mid-level and startup businesses, and currently speaks throughout North America on social entrepreneurship, job readiness for persons with invisible disabilities and traditional job seekers. Cindy is passionate about leading the untapped workforce into work and educating corporate America on what businesses can do to ready the workplace and tap into the potential of these dynamic young people to increase operational synergy and the bottom line. She has a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Michigan and an M.B.A. in Finance from DePaul University.
Douglas Morton
Douglas Morton is the manager of the Strategic Management Section for the Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). In that role he is responsible for the strategic planning, program evaluation and quality assurance functions of DRS. His responsibilities include acting as liaison with the U.S. Department of Education around vocational rehabilitation issues. Since 2014 this has included acting as the primary representative of DRS at the state level around the requirements of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). His background is in social psychology, receiving a Ph.D.
from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Dr. Shubhra Mukherjee
Dr. Mukherjee is a pediatric physiatrist who has focused on transition issues for youth with disabilities over the past 20 years. She has conducted research on outcomes for youth with disabilities, which demonstrates that increased community participation is associated with improved QOL and transition outcomes. She is the medical director for rehabilitation at Shriners Hospitals for Children –Chicago. She was formerly the medical director for the adult SB Clinic at Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
Ron Mulvaney
Ron Mulvaney has 12 years of experience in Benefits Planning/Work Incentives Planning and Assistance. Ron has also served as an Employment Specialist/Job Coach for the Department of Human Services/Division of Rehabilitation Services in Mt. Vernon. Ron has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Organizational Leadership from Greenville College and holds certifications in public benefits from Virginia Commonwealth University as a Community Work Incentive Coordinator and through Cornell University’s Employment and Disability Institute as a Benefits Specialist.
Julie Nelson
Julie Nelson has over 15 years’ experience in health care and services for people experiencing homelessness. As a Senior Program Manager for the Illinois Team at CSH, Julie is working on increasing supportive housing options for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as Medicaid initiatives and using supportive housing as a health intervention. Prior to joining CSH, Julie was Program Director at Together4Health, a Medicaid managed care option for seniors and people with disabilities in Illinois. In this role she led care coordination implementation and program development with the goals of improved health outcomes, improved participant experience, and reduced costs through addressing social determinants of health and increased activation. In addition to managed care, Julie has extensive experience in health care for the homeless as well as Medicaid and SSI/SSDI eligibility. Julie earned a master’s degree in public health from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Kathleen Nicholson-Tosh
Kathy Nicholson-Tosh has worked with workforce development programming for over 35 years with a focus on providing consistent support services for all youth and adults through contextual and work-based learning. As a consultant through NIU, she has supported the implementation of the Disability Employment Initiative 5, funded by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Kathleen and DEI V project experts who have been involved in implementation of the Disability Employment Initiative at the local level will present.
Lyndsay Palach
Lyndsay Palach is the Transition Facilitator for the Special Services Department at Barrington High School. She graduated from Lewis University with a Bachelor’s degree in Special Education. She then attended the University of Kansas and obtained her Masters in Transition Education and Services and then attended the University of Illinois-Chicago and obtained her Learning Behavior Specialist II as a Transition Specialist. Lyndsay obtained her Cooperative Education Certification from Illinois State University and her Vocational Coordinator Certification from the University of Kansas. She coaches Girls Cross Country and Girls Lacrosse at BHS.
Crystal Patil
Dr. Patil has a PhD in medical anthropology from The Ohio State University. Motivated by social justice and health equity, her global health research centers on how the social world becomes embodied and expressed as health, illness or suffering. She draws on methods and theories from the social sciences and uses ecological and social determinants of health frameworks to make sense of complex health problems. She applies these frameworks as she develops and test strategies to reduce health disparities and strengthen health systems. She pioneered the adaptation of the innovative Centering Healthcare model to two specific contexts in which group care is especially appropriate - prenatal care in low-resource contexts in sub-Saharan Africa and for sickle cell disease in the US. She was recently awarded an NIH R01 to conduct a randomized clinical trial comparing group prenatal care to usual prenatal care in Malawi.
Krista Paul
Since moving into her role as High School District 214’s District Internship Coordinator in 2008, and in 2015 earning her title of Assistant Director of Career and Technical Education, Krista Paul has devoted time elevating Career and Technical Education across the district, specifically focusing on District 214’s mission to ensure all students are college, career and life ready. As the founding leader of District’s Center for Career Discovery, she has assembled an amazing team of 32 part-time and full-time staff members that meet students where they are socially, emotionally and academically to equip them with relevant workplace learning experiences that prepare them for college and career success; and ensure all students have access to sequential and systemic career development opportunities. Ms. Paul played a key role in the creation, development and continued enhancement of District 214’s Career Pathways model, which provides early college credit opportunities, workplace learning opportunities and career credentials for District students across 45 specific career programs of study encompassing the 16 career clusters. This is a continued effort; as new opportunities are identified for students. Ms. Paul co-led the development of a comprehensive Career Pathway handbook that serves as a guide and resource for students, parents and educators as they look to build cohesive and purposeful paths from high school coursework to college to careers. In partnership with colleagues, Ms. Paul took a lead role in developing workplace learning criteria for embedded field experiences in both curricular and co-curricular programs -- a model adopted by the Illinois State Board of Education. Of District 214’s more than 12,000 students, approximately 2,500 annually receive customized workplace learning experiences aligned with their interests. Ms. Paul built a system for thoughtful outreach to new business partners and stewardship for existing partners, ensuring increasing opportunities for our students in the area of workplace learning experiences. The result has been an internship experience rivaling that of a college campus. To date, she has engaged more than 950 industry partners to support the creation and maintenance of workplace learning experiences and career skill development for all students across High School District 214.
Janet Peters
Janet Peters if the Project Coordinator for Education and Assistive Technology at the Great Lakes ADA Center.
Consuelo Puente
Consuelo Puente is the attorney/bilingual trainer for Family Resource Center on Disabilities. She has expertise in disability related fields, including educational and community services. Ms. Puente is also knowledge about providing services to immigrant services.
Caitlin Reichert
Caitlin Reichert is a Case Manager and Special Education Teacher at Glenbrook South High School. Ms. Reichert’s interests include community-based instruction, life skills instruction, and self-advocacy.
Amy Richards
Amy Richards is the Coordinator of Services for students who are deaf and hard of hearing at Williamson County Education Services. She was previously the Principal Consultant at Illinois State Board of Education for students who are deaf and hard of hearing.
Heather Riggs
Heather Riggs is a Special Education Teacher at the Hinsdale District 86 Transition Center in west suburban Chicago. Heather obtained her LBS I from Bradley University, LBS II (Assistive Technology and Multiple Disabilities) and Assistive Technology Certificate from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has been teaching for 12 years and has spent six of those years working with young adults in the Transition program. At the Transition Center, Heather is a member of the Family Group committee and the Transition Tidbits Committee. The Family Group is committed to bringing current and alumni District 86 families together to learn about and gain confidence in accessing adult services, government benefits, and post-school options for students with disabilities through monthly evening meetings. The Transition Tidbits Committee sends out weekly emails to parents on Tuesdays that explain in layman’s terms the many special education and adult service topics and acronyms, as well as local resources, services, and opportunities that families should take advantage of to optimize post-secondary success.
Dr. Angela Rivers
Dr. Angela Rivers' research interest has always focused on sickle cell disease. Her postdoctoral fellowship project investigated folate deficiency in the sickle cell mouse model. Angela's initial K01 and fellowship project used transplantation in the sickle cell mouse model to develop AAV vectors. In the second year of my K-award she made the decision to leave the University of Florida. She made this decision because of her devotion to the goals of sickle disease and service of the underserved. Although she was already pursuing the goals of excelling in biomedical research and mentorship at the University of Florida, she knew that University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) would provide her with the environment and the tools needed to excel in this field. The goal of her K01 research model was to provide a safe vector for transfer of an antisickling globin. Patients treated with such a vector would still have to undergo a stem cell transplantation which is currently not a viable option for global treatment of sickle cell disease.

In 2015 Angela became the Director of the UIC Adolescent Transition Program. In that role, she ran a co-localized clinic where the pediatric clinic occurs in the adult clinical facility. Angela has observed the limitation of our current healthcare delivery models and is interested in developing new models of care. She coordinates an adolescent transition fair each year. The transition fair is an annual patient and family event that includes lectures on transitioning and presentations from social service agencies who highlight available resources for patients during their transition. An important feature of our fair is the chance to meet the adult providers one-on-one in a relaxed, non-medical setting as well as a chance to tour the Sickle Cell Center and Acute Care Center. Angela has developed a group care program for pediatric to adult transition period.
Dr. Rita Rossi-Foulkes
Dr. Rossi-Foulkes is an experienced general internist and pediatrician with expertise in transition care and medical education. She has extensive experience with student and resident curricular development and evaluation, inter-professional education and collaboration, practice management and quality improvement in primary care training. Since 2006, Dr. Rossi-Foulkes has served as the Program Director of the University of Chicago Med-Peds Residency program and in 2017 was awarded the inaugural Program Director of the Year award from the Graduate Medical Education Committee. Her excellence in quality improvement was recognized in 2007 awarding her the Department of Medicine Excellence Award in Clinical Care and Education. She was inducted into the Academy of Distinguished Medical Educators in 2009. She served as an advisor to the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics in developing their training courses for the Illinois Healthcare Transition Project and has served on the Illinois Department of Public Health Immunization Advisory Committee since 2005. Nationally, Dr. Rossi-Foulkes serves on the Transition Care Committee for the Med-Peds Program Directors Association and was elected and served for four years as Secretary-Treasurer for that organization. She has conducted workshops and been invited to lecture on medical education, quality improvement, and transition care for local, regional and national meetings. She volunteers for the Community Health Center, Washington Park Clinic, Pitchfork Music Festival Medical Tent and raises money for the International OCD Foundation with her classic rock band, Elementary Penguins.
Benjamin Rubin
Benjamin Rubin, Brian’s youngest son, Mitchell’s little/big brother, graduated from the University of Illinois College of Law, Magna Cum Laude, received his undergraduate degree from Northwestern University, and currently is pursuing his Graduate Law Degree, an LLM (Tax) at Northwestern University. Benji, a partner in the law firm, joined the practice in 2010. 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 will share with his older sister regarding his brother’s care are a concern that he shares with all brothers and sisters of individuals with special needs.
Brian Rubin
Brian Rubin, a practicing attorney since 1976, is the parent of three children, one of whom, Mitchell, has Autism. Brian’s law practice, since 1982, has been dedicated to serving the legal and future planning needs of his fellow families of children and adults with intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities, and/or mental illness. Brian has served on numerous board, advisory groups and commissions over the years. Brian feels the tremendous responsibility of not only being the parent of a child with special needs, but also as an attorney with the knowledge and ability to assist others in special needs future planning needed to secure the future of children and adults with special needs.
Kathleen Sanabria
Kathy Sanabria joined the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (ICAAP) in July 2004 as Director of the Illinois Medical Home Project. In 2009-2010 she assumed responsibility for co-directing the Coordinating Care Between Early Intervention and the Primary Care Medical Home project and directed the Building Community-Based Medical Homes for Children program. In 2009 she became Project Director and Principal Investigator for the Integrated Systems of Services for Illinois Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs, Transitioning Youth to Adult Health Care Project, which was grant funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB). Through this grant ICAAP and DSCC collaborated to develop an online CME and MOC Part 4 QI transition training curricula for pediatric and adult providers. In 2011, Ms. Sanabria applied for and received an innovative models grant from the MCHB to assist the Ambulatory and Community Health Network of Cook County, IL to build medical homes. In 2011, Ms. Sanabria became ICAAP’s Associate Executive Director of programs and oversees CME activities. From 1985 to 1998 Kathy worked with the national AAP, serving ten of those years as Director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Health. Kathy holds a double BA in Public Relations and Spanish from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a MBA from Dominican University, IL. Ms. Sanabria is the parent of three children, one of whom has complex medical needs and is undergoing the transition process to adult care.
Linda Sandman
Linda Sandman has 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 and is a Co-Director with Blue Tower Solutions, Inc. Linda is a member of the Illinois Imagines state planning team, a federally funded project to address prevention and response to sexual violence against women 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.
John Sajdak
John Sajdak has worked in the field of human services for the past 27 years as a Special Education Teacher, Caregiver, Supervisor, Professional Trainer, and Volunteer Guardian. As the International Training and Accounts Manager for Attainment Company, John specializes in presentations and trainings on Attainment curriculum and products while meeting the diverse and unique needs of students with moderate to severe disabilities – all while following the current state standards. John’s diverse background, combined with his passion to bring positive outcomes and experiences to people with disabilities, is sure to keep things interesting, and entertaining.
Sherri Schneider
For over 35 years, Sherri Schneider, President of Family Benefit Solutions, Inc., QDDP, and the mother of a child with some special needs, has been tirelessly dedicated to helping individuals with special needs and their families. Her career began as a social worker in a CILA, where she helped those with developmental disabilities acquire the government benefits they so desperately needed, including SSI, Medicaid and food stamps. She helped launch one of the first CLF facilities funded under a Medicaid waiver. As her career flourished, she supervised personnel in Illinois, Missouri and Nevada to assist hospitalized patients apply for and obtain the government benefits for which they appeared eligible, with a strong emphasis on SSDI, SSI, Medicare, community and long-term care Medicaid.
She now meets with families to thoroughly assess their situations and pursue appropriate benefit assistance programs by personally guiding them through the application process. Her vast experience has enabled her to establish and maintain open, productive relationships with government agencies involved in the entire decision-making process. Sherri is Vice President of The Arc of IL and routinely teaches attorneys at The Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education.
Gene Seaman
Gene Seaman is a Human Rights Authority Coordinator for the Peoria Region. Our agency investigates rights violations committed against individuals with disabilities in the state of Illinois.
Dr. Parag Shah
Parag Shah, MD MPH is a general pediatric hospitalist working at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. He serves as the medical director of the Chronic Illness Transition Program, which runs a life skills program, a transition clinic, and a workforce development program for young adults to help them ease their transition to adulthood and adult healthcare. In addition, the team conducts consults to other medical divisions and collaborates with community organizations to enhance transition to adult care services.
Cheri Sinnott
Cheri Sinnott is the Director of the Illinois Service Resource Center, a statewide technical assistance center of the Illinois State Board of Education that provides behavioral support for students who are deaf, hard of hearing, and visually impaired.
Julie Smith
Julie Smith is a Transition Specialist at Glenbrook South High School. Mrs. Smith’s interests include supporting students beyond high school and coaching Varsity Poms.
E-Shawn Spencer
E-Shawn Spencer is the Program Director of IPS Supported Employment, Thresholds. E-Shawn has over 10 years of direct practice experience with transition-age youth with serious mental health challenges. During her time as a Supported Employment & Education Supervisor at the Thresholds Young Adult Program, E-Shawn helped to design and implement an adaptation to the Individual Placement and Support Supported Employment (IPS) for young people in residential care. E-Shawn currently oversees 10 IPS teams, two of which specifically serve transition-age youth. E-Shawn has partnered with the Chicago Public School system to bring IPS to high school students and has been invited to share her experiences in engaging at-risk young people in supported employment and supported education with mental health providers, state-level workshops, and conferences across the country.
Karen Steffan
Karen Steffan is the Program Coordinator of the Transition and Vocational Services Unit of the LaGrange Area Department of Special Education, a special education cooperative of 16 districts with 46 schools.

Karen has held direct service and administrative positions over the past 30 years in Illinois. She has worked in adult services as a job developer, program administrator and Associate Director for 14 years before moving to the high schools where she has spent the last 15 years working with students in transition.
Crystal Steidley
Crystal Steidley is a veteran special education teacher, with experience teaching students with a wide variety of learning needs. She has been facilitating student-led IEP meetings for years and is looking forward to sharing ways in which all students can be involved in planning and leading their IEP meetings.
Lynette Strode
Lynette Strode is the Special Program Coordinator. She has work for IATP for 15 years in various programs at IATP such as Device Loan, Demonstration Center, trainings, information and referral as well as outreach to support groups, other agencies and educational organizations. Lynette has presented on topics as “What is AT?”, “Intro to AT” “AT and Autism” and other topics.

Lynette is married with 2 children and has lived all over the world. She enjoys her job and putting people in touch with assistive technology devices and services.
Megan Sugrue
Megan Sugrue has been a special education teacher at Stevenson High School for the past nine years. Among her credentials, Megan is Nationally Board Certified with her Masters in Educational Leadership. As her district pulled out of their Cooperative, she was selected to develop and lead the school's current Transition Program. In four years, she has developed a program encompassing life and vocational skills, community opportunities, socialization partnerships, agency linkages, and a business located inside the school. Creating Social, Professional, and Community Partnerships across Neighboring Transition Programs Stevenson District 125, Barrington District 220, and Lake Zurich District 95 have created a partnership that has utilized multiple service providers, community resources, and experience to provide students with an integrated socialization education. Presenters will provide information on the planning, costs, and implementation of creating various community based socialization opportunities.
Taylor Sweeting
Taylor Sweeting is a 29-year-old autism advocate with a BS in Social Work and National Certification as an Activity Professional for Psychiatric Mental Health. Diagnosed with Aspergers/Autism at the age 3, Taylor became aware of his diagnosis at age 12 and promptly began advocating for himself. He began work as a paraprofessional 1:1 aide in the local school district, served as a Qualified Intellectual Disability Professional for a residential service provider of adults with developmental disabilities. Taylor is now the Activity Director at Illini Community Hospital in Pittsfield, IL. As a child, Taylor didn’t realize that not everyone saw the world the same way he did. Once that reality set in, he made it his goal to share his personal experience with autism so that others can empathize with those on the spectrum. Taylor’s life goal is to share his experience of autism with any and all who will listen to share a glimpse of what their loved ones are living through each day.
Kathy Thomason
Kathy Thomason has been in education for 25 years and has been employed by Plainfield District 202 for 13 years. She is currently the Vocational Coordinator for the Work Training Partnership housed at Joliet Junior College in Joliet, Illinois. Our purpose is to assist students with disabilities in a work environment at the college.
Hannah Thompson
Hannah Thompson graduated from Elmhurst College with a B.A. in Communication. She graduated with honors and was an active participant of campus life. She is currently a motivational speaker; she has spoken at Alexian Brothers Hospital, at the Illinois Transition Conference, the Illinois Chapter of American Pediatrics Association, to parent groups, and to any other audience that would benefit from being exposed to her story. She also serves on the Federal Communication Commission’s Disability Advisory Committee. Hannah is pursuing her master's degree in social justice at Loyola University Chicago; she is a proud Rambler!
Toni Van Laarhoven
Toni Van Laarhoven is a professor in the Department of Special and Early Education at NIU. Her research interests include: video-based instruction, using mobile devices as prompting systems, Assistive Technology, supporting individuals with disabilities in employment settings, and transition planning.
Traci Van Laarhoven-Myers
Traci Van Laarhoven-Myers is a vocational coordinator at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, Illinois. She has over twenty years of experience working with individuals with disabilities and specializes in vocational and transition planning.
Aubrie Westmaas
Aubrie Westmaas is an 18-year-old student enjoying a busy life as an active member of her community. Despite a long list of challenges related to Kabuki syndrome, Aubrie is determined to enjoy the same opportunities and experiences as her peers. She has been fully included in her neighborhood school for all of her educational career except 2 years when she chose to commute daily to nearby Illinois School for the Deaf. She attended several summer camps, was a top cookie-selling Girl Scout, has received a variety of school awards, is active in her church, and participated in high school drama productions, Quiz Bowl team, chorus and marching band. Aubrie is passionate about musical theatre.
Michele Westmaas
Michele Westmaas had been an elementary school teacher, a preschool teacher, a day care provider, and was mom of a blonde, snake-loving young boy when Aubrie was born Michele and her husband, DJ, were shocked to find that the baby girl they'd long anticipated was born with a host of medical problems due to a genetic syndrome. Michele became a full time learner - about medical issues, early intervention, balancing the needs of two very different children, navigating the special education system, and understanding disability rights.
Janice Williams
Janice Williams started benefits planning on the Spy Grant, which was the predecessor to Benefits Planning Assistance and Outreach (BPAO). She has 17 years in Benefits Planning/Work Incentives Planning and Assistance services. Janice is certified through Virginia Commonwealth University as a Community Work Incentives Coordinator (CWIC) and as a Benefits Specialist through Cornell University.
Susy Woods
Susy Woods is policy and educational liaison for the Illinois Assistive Technology Program. She has also worked for Early Intervention and as Director of Disability Services at UIS. She has 34 years of experience supporting families in the IEP process and fifteen years of experience in doing public policy. She serves on the Illinois State Advisory Council on Special Education, NAMI Southwest, Impact CIL, the Arc of Illinois and the committee for the transition conference. Her areas of research have included sexual assault against people with disabilities and public policy and education of females with developmental disabilities.
Chris Wright
Chris Wright has worked with individuals with intellectual disabilities for over 16 years. During that time, he has worked with Shepherds Ministries in various roles. In 2006 he was named to be part of the development team for the Shepherds College program that opened in 2008. During his time at Shepherds College he served as the Director of Admissions and the Director of Financial Aid and Enrollment. Since January of 2018 he has served as the Assistant Director of Bethesda College at Concordia University Wisconsin. He has a BA in Christian Studies with a minor in Sociology from Campbellsville University. He received a M.Ed. with a focus in Career and Technical Education from Concordia University-Portland. He has had the opportunity to speak on the subject of post-secondary education for students with intellectual disabilities in a number of states as well as Hong Kong.
Lindsay Zerull
Lindsay Zerull earned her undergraduate degree from Northern Illinois University and holds a Master’s Degree in Teacher Leadership from St. Xavier. Ten years ago, Lindsay volunteered to take over her high school’s transition program. With no prior experience in transition or vocational rehabilitation, she created a model program that has been recognized at the state level for creative training experiences and remarkable community employment.
Marcella Zipp
Dr. Marcella Zipp is the Director of Grants and Special Programs for High School District 214. She oversees grant development and administration for federal, state and private partnerships. The district has received over $3 million in grant funds over the past three years for expansion of Career Pathways initiatives. She is a member of the Public Policy Committee for the Illinois Association of School Business Officials, and served on the Illinois Disadvantaged Youth Task Force where the District 214 Career Pathways Initiative is recognized as a model program for skill development in youth.
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