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Speaker Biographies

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Julie Bayer-Ville earned a bachelor’s degree in clinical laboratory science from Salisbury University, a master’s degree in clinical laboratory science from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, and a master’s degree in genetic counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University. She spent the first ten years of her career in clinical laboratories, including over two years in the molecular diagnostics laboratory at VCU Health. She has been with VCU Health since May 2021, working in the pediatric and adult medical genetics, multidisciplinary craniofacial, and ophthalmological genetics clinics.

Ann Bevan oversees the policy and operations related to services provided to those with developmental disabilities in her  position as the Division Director for High Needs Supports at the Department of Medical Assistance Services.  She has more than 35 years of experience working with individuals with disabilities in a variety of settings including case management, residential, day support, hospice, behavioral health, substance abuse, and crisis services in the private sector as well.  Ann holds a Master’s in Rehabilitation Counseling and Bachelors in Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she also received the Stalnaker-Wright Award for outstanding achievement in academics and community service.

Todd Bryant is the Managed Care Ombudsman at the Virginia Bureau of Insurance.  The Office of the Managed Care Ombudsman assists consumers with all facets of their managed care health insurance plans, but specifically assists with appealing adverse decisions.  Mr. Bryant is a native of Virginia, and a 1999 graduate of Longwood University.  Mr. Bryant has worked for the Virginia Bureau of Insurance since June of 1999.

Lisa Coates is the director of Children and Youth with SOAR365; a former 23-year-veteran special education teacher leader. As a professional in the field, and as a sibling of two brothers with disabilities, she understands the many complexities that siblings and families face. She has worked at the federal level on disability policy as a School Ambassador Fellow with the United States Department of Education and was appointed a White House Champion of Change Educator by President Obama for work with individuals with disabilities. Lisa is a member of the National Center of Advancing the Person-Centered Practices and Systems Leadership Collaborative (NACCPPS).  Her passion is empowering youth to self-advocate for their futures and developing pre-employment programs that prepare youth with disabilities for integrated employment.

Lisa Coons served in multiple leadership roles in K-12 education before being appointed Virginia superintendent of public instruction. She most recently served as chief academic officer for the Tennessee Department of Education, where she led all birth to grade-12 academic programming, including K-12 teaching and learning in language arts, mathematics, science, and fine arts; early childhood education; voluntary pre-K and Head Start. Coons also worked as an executive officer of division priority schools for Metro Nashville Public Schools, executive director of instructional leadership at the Tennessee Department of Education and middle school supervisor in Sumner County, Tennessee. She holds a doctorate in education from Lipscomb University.

Nikida Cromartie-James currently holds the position as an Outreach and Inclusion Specialist for Virginia Down Syndrome Association. Daily she is deemed with the task of supporting our youngest children ages 0 through 6 years old and the important adults in their lives who teach, support, and give them love in the greater Richmond area. The goal of her work is to facilitate and increase the inclusion of these young children who might be experiencing behavioral concerns, developmental delays, or any type of disability by providing coaching and technical assistance support to childcare centers, in-home daycare providers, and early childhood home visitors. Nikida brings her experience and expertise from her social work background, which she has over 20 years of experience in the field and received her master’s degree in social work from Virginia Commonwealth University. Nikida on a personal level, loves spending time with family, vacationing, online shopping, and maintaining a healthy and spiritual lifestyle. She and her husband are the proud parents of their three children, Titan (11), Tyler (7), and Trinity (4).

​Sensei Carla Dannouf is a 4th Degree Black Belt and the Director of Student Affairs for the International Silkisondan Karate Association. Her wealth of experience in education and her degree in psychology make her an invaluable resource for instructors, students and parents. Sensei Dannouf has been training in martial arts for over 20 years. She has been a black belt since 1993. Carla teaches the children’s and women’s classes. Carla has been a competitive fighter and Kata enthusiast since the late 80’s. It is clear to anyone watching her classes that she enjoys teaching and has a great time with her students.

Rosalia Fajardo, is a Colombian Lawyer, Community leader for more than a decade has dedicated her efforts to achieve the growth of the multicultural community of the Metropolitan area of Washington DC. A dreamer, an achiever that believes that only access to a great education and health is the key to the sustainable development of the Hispanic community, the family and society. Dr. Fajardo has tirelessly worked for the past 25 years to create partnerships between families, schools, government agencies, and nonprofit foundations to promote equality, access, and social justice to the Latino community, including disability rights and those in need of special education. She has been working dedicated to help Latino students with and without disabilities to succeed

in their dreams to achieve college education, families to obtain health benefits, co-founder of the Latina Entrepreneur program at the Shirlington Employment and Education Center, which provides direct technical assistance for women to create their own business, more than 800 hundred Latina women have graduated from the program ,many of them mothers of children and youth with disabilities, a percentage of 70% have started their own small business that they have kept active by being part of the economic development of Northern Virginia.

Curt Gleeson, formerly a middle and high school teacher completed his Masters of Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Lynchburg College in 2012. He began his clinical career that year with Region Ten Community Services Board as a full-time prevention specialist and a part-time Certified Preadmission Screening Clinician. Finding his passion in crisis intervention, he ultimately became the Director of Emergency Services at Region Ten in 2016. This July he moved to the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services as the Assistant Commissioner of Crisis Services.

Allison Goodwin completed her undergraduate degree in Biology at the College of William & Mary. She received her master’s degree in Genetic Counseling from CSU Stanislaus in the San Francisco Bay Area. In her 11 years of experience as a genetic counselor, she has worked in multiple clinical settings, including prenatal genetics, familial cancer, cardiovascular genetics, and general/pediatric genetics. She is employed by the Clinical Genetics Department at VCU Health, where she has worked since 2015. Currently, she sees both pediatric and adult patients in the General Genetics Clinic at VCU, as well as via a multidisciplinary Genetic Cardiomyopathy Clinic in collaboration with VCU Cardiology.

Ellen Harrison was appointed by Governor Youngkin in August 2023. Ellen is an outcomes-focused and collaborative leader who adds executive-level public community expertise to DBHDS.  


Ellen was previously the Executive Director at Harrisonburg-Rockingham Community Services Board, where for over six years she has managed 250 employees and a $17 million budget, implemented short and long-term strategic plans, and strengthened relationships with external stakeholders both locally and statewide. She was previously the CSB’s Director of Acute Services. Prior to working at the CSB, she spent six years as the Director of Quality Assurance at Western State Hospital. Ellen has also held other positions within the regional CSB and private hospital system and is a licensed counselor. Through these years of experience, Ellen gained the ability to conceptualize and implement programs that require large-scale integration and to lead multi-year system transformation efforts.

The division led by the Chief Deputy Commissioner is the epicenter of external transformation for DBHDS. As division director, Ellen supports the implementation of key agency priorities including, crisis system transformation, DOJ compliance, substance use disorder initiatives, licensing improvements, performance contract reform, and other key service areas and initiatives. 

Kathy Hayfield has been Commissioner of the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services since 2018. As an appointee of the Governor, she leads agency efforts to provide and advocate for resources and services to improve the employment, quality of life, security, and independence of older Virginians, Virginians with disabilities and their families.  Immediately prior to her appointment, she served as Assistant Commissioner and Director of the Vocational Rehabilitation program at DARS, directing the agency’s efforts to secure employment for thousands of Virginians with disabilities. In all areas of Commissioner Hayfield's work, she has been a strong voice for consumer directed services, independent living, aging in place, access to assistive technology, financial literacy, and informed choice. Commissioner Hayfield holds a bachelor’s degree in social work from Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Susan Henderson is the Associate Executive Director at Hope House Foundation. Susan began her career with HHF in October of 2003. She works with Admissions and coordinates resources for the individuals they support with developmental disabilities. She also participates in the Hope House’s tireless efforts to create and deepen partnerships with landlords, developers, rehabbers, housing authorities, housing financing agencies, city/county/state government officials, and other advocacy organizations through their 501(c)(4) organization to develop high-quality, affordable, accessible and integrated community housing for HHF’s clients. Susan earned her M.A. in Student Affairs in Higher Education from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She spent five years at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pennsylvania as the Director of the Lutz Center for Community Service/Service Learning, and also served as an adjunct professor in Ethics. Susan is an Endorsed Positive Behavior Support Facilitator through Virginia Commonwealth University. 

Dawn Hendricks, Ph.D., is the Early Childhood Special Education Coordinator for the Virginia Department of Education. In this role, she provides technical assistance to local school divisions, agencies, private facilities, and parents on the provision of special education and related services, federal and state requirements, as well as effective practices for implementing students’ Individualized Education Programs. Prior to the VDOE, she spent five years as Director of Training at the Virginia Commonwealth University Autism Center for Excellence, provided consultative services to families and schools through her private practice, and worked in both private and public school systems. Dr. Hendricks has a Ph.D. in Special Education Policy and Leadership and over 28 years of experience educating young children with disabilities and supporting their families.

Meghan Hyatt has 12 years of experience working with students with disabilities across various needs. She graduated from James Madison University with a degree in Media Arts and Design and quickly found she had missed her calling working with students with disabilities while substituting and working as an instructional assistant. Meghan obtained her Master of Education in Special Education, General, and an Endorsement in Severe Disabilities from Virginia Commonwealth University. Anti-ableist diversity-affirming education is Meghan’s passion and she strives to help professionals, families, and students utilize Assistive Technology to provide access in all environments.

Jacqueline "Jacquie" Johnson is Director of Professional Development at the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities (VCIC), an organization that works with schools, businesses, and communities to achieve success through inclusion. Jacquie has a diverse background that includes workplace diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) strategy, instructional design, and underrepresented community outreach and engagement. Jacquie is especially interested in how DEI practices, adult learning, and inner self-work help organizations recognize the full humanity of its workforce and foster communities where everyone thrives. Before joining VCIC, she managed special projects and training programs for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity, and Morgan Lewis, a global law firm. Jacquie received her Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Old Dominion University and her Master’s degree in Anthropology from George Washington University.

Monica Karavanic has 25 years in human services and is a self-described passionate advocate for advocate for social justice and inclusion for people with developmental disabilities and mental health issues.  She has worked in various roles for 14 years at The Arc of Southside, where she was key to the agency's successful transformation of facility-based congregate services to an array of inclusive, best in practice Home and Community Based Services.  In May 2022 Monica was appointed Executive Director of The Arc of Southside.  She is active in many organizations in Danville and the Commonwealth.   She graduated from Marshall University with a degree in Counseling and Rehabilitation.


Dom Kelly is the Co-Founder, President & CEO of New Disabled South, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and New Disabled South Rising, its 501(c)(4) arm. Until November 2022, he served as both the Georgia Fundraising Director and the Senior Advisor for Disability for Stacey Abrams’ campaign for governor of Georgia. Previously, he was Senior Fundraising Manager and a Strategic Advisor for Disability at Fair Fight Action, the voting rights organization founded by Stacey Abrams, where he also created and led the organization’s Disability Council composed of prominent disability advocates and policy experts from across the country. Dom is one of a set of triplets born with Cerebral Palsy and has been a disability advocate since he was four years old. Starting when he was a young teenager, Dom and his brothers played around the world with their rock band, touring and collaborating with artists like Indigo Girls, Joan Baez, Toad the Wet Sprocket, The Bangles and more and releasing 6 records over 15+ years. He is retired from music, but with a decade of additional experience in digital and editorial strategy, nonprofit development, and community building, he has devoted his life to disability justice advocacy, progressive policy, and nonprofit leadership. He received a Master of Science in Nonprofit Leadership degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice where he also received the Excellence in Social Impact award. Additionally, he holds a bachelor’s degree in music production, a master’s degree in journalism, an executive certificate in social impact strategy, and a graduate certificate in interdisciplinary disability studies. He was a 2021 New Leaders Council fellow, serves as a board member for The Kelsey, Society for Disability Studies, Neighborhood Access, Disability Victory, and University of Pennsylvania’s Nonprofit Leadership Alumni Association, and is a member of the NationSwell Council. Dom also works as a consultant under The Tattooed Jew LLC, helping both political campaigns and nonprofit organizations with strategy. He’s currently consulting as Campaign Manager for Bianca Motley Broom’s re-election campaign for mayor of College Park, Georgia, and consulting for philanthropic organization Voqal. Dom currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife Catie, their daughter Mahalia, their dog Vivi and their cat Pippi Longstocking.

Brian Kelmar has vast experience as an entrepreneur, and business executive at medium and Fortune 500 size companies but most importantly he is the father of an Autistic son.  He is the co-founder of Legal Reform for the Intellectually and Developmentally Disabled. LRIDD is a national non-profit with a mission of advocating for people with disabilities who are involved with the criminal justice system.  Currently, he is the Director of Engagement for CA Human Services. In his free time, he volunteers as an advocate for legal reforms for people with developmental disabilities based on his own personal experiences in making a positive impact on Virginians and their families. He is a tireless advocate for legislation that will improve the lives of people with DD at the Virginia General Assembly.  Brian is a retired Navy Commander and Naval Aviator, with over 500 landings on the aircraft carrier. As a marathon runner and you may see him running all around Virginia. 

Beth Kessler is new to Virginia. She moved here from Oregon in March 2021 with her husband, daughter, and dog after spending nearly 12 years working for the Oregon Council on Developmental Disabilities. She is a Part-Time Project Leader with The Arc of Virginia since November 2021.  As Project Leader, Beth leads The Arc of VA's work with Quillo Connect as we explore how leaders within Virginia can educate, inspire, and encourage our community through technology. With a background in public relations, community development, and strength-based frameworks such as Person Centered Planning and Charting the LifeCourse, Beth values the need for effective and meaningful communication. She believes we are most successful when people feel heard and understood, and when we solve problems by identifying and amplifying our strengths. 

Beth Klein is a Disability Right Advocate with the disAbility Law Center of Virginia and works in
the Resource and Vocational Access Unit (RVA). She has worked in the disability services field
for the past twenty-five years in a variety of roles including Advocate, Job Mentor, Certified
Benefits Planner, Sign Language Interpreter, adjunct professor and Outreach Specialist. She
spent the majority of her career working with individuals with who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing or
Deaf Blind. Beth is also hard of hearing, a hearing aid user and fluent in American Sign

Neli Latson is an autistic self-advocate whose horrifying experience in Virginia’s criminal justice system brought national attention to the intersection of race, disability and criminal justice, galvanizing a movement for much-needed change locally and throughout the country. When Neli’s journey began in 2010, he was an 18-year-old high school student. “Black Lives Matter” was not yet a movement, and the nation had not yet been introduced to people like Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland or George Floyd. A police encounter arising from blatant racial profiling –  illuminated numerous systemic problems and sparked a national conversation on disability, race, policing, prosecution and incarceration. His advocacy focused federal and state government officials on the need for mental health crisis supports rather than policing for people with disabilities; resulted in civil rights lawsuits against the local jail and state corrections systems; and paved the way for new Virginia laws that aim to protect people with disabilities who are arrested. 

Sarah Lineberry, PhD is an Evaluation Associate at the Partnership for People with Disabilities at Virginia Commonwealth University. Sarah’s research focuses on promoting equity and inclusion for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). She grounds this research in her work as a case manager for adults with IDD with L’Arche Chicago and in her time as a direct support professional in the United States and abroad. As a Program Evaluation Associate at the Virginia Partnership for People with Disabilities, Sarah works with project PIs to develop and implement evaluation plans to ensure project fidelity and monitor outcomes.

Rachel Loria is a Senior Disability Rights Advocate at the disAbility Law Center of Virginia, where she has worked for nine years. She works particularly on cases involving Vocational Rehabilitation services, Pre Employment Transition Services, and Assistive Technology. Rachel also leads the voting work for the disAbility Law Center of Virginia. She was born and raised in Richmond, where she began her journey as a self-advocate. She had the privilege of working with both the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities and the Partnership for People with Disabilities in her 15-year career as a self-advocate working to help individuals who have disabilities.



Dr. Zipporah Levi-Shackleford is Founder and the Behavior & Education Consultant for Creative Approach Development Center in Richmond, VA. Inspired by her experiences of being a special needs sibling and parent she is a strong advocate in the fields of disability, mental health, and education. She assists individuals and families with setting up systems and learning new skills to overcome challenges and behaviors that interfere with reaching goals and increasing independence. She also provides training to businesses and organizations to help them better understand how to support people with disabilities and mental health impairments and those who support them. Zipporah has a Doctorate in education and certifications in Positive Behavior Supports, Disability Leadership, and Autism Spectrum Disorders. She has spoken and trained across the country on these topics and serves on several non-profit and state boards.

Tia Marsili oversees The Arc of Northern Virginia's Trust department and works one-to-one with families and individuals to plan futures and establish SNTs throughout Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC. She educates the community, professionals, and agencies about comprehensive Futures Planning and SNT services. Under her stewardship, the program has established over 2,250 trusts and, in collaboration with KeyBank, manages over a combined $50 million in cash and assets. Tia is a multi-lingual, well-traveled professional with over 32 years of experience in the world of disabilities. She's the mother of two daughters with disabilities and is passionate about creating systems that provide equality.

Nichole Martin is the Director of the Office of Community Living at the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services where she is responsible for the administration of home and community-based waiver services. She has been with DMAS for 11 years focusing her efforts on long-term services and support. Prior to joining DMAS, she spent over a decade working to achieve health equity in positions at the Virginia Department of Health, American Heart Association, and the Fan Free Clinic. Mrs. Martin is a registered nurse and also holds a master's degree in education from Virginia Tech and a bachelor's degree from Virginia Commonwealth University. She enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters.

MaryAnn McNeil is a graduate of West Virginia School of Pharmacy, currently serving as the DMAS Pharmacy Manger with over 12 years of experience in state Medicaid programs.



Jesse Monroe was born 44 years ago with a physical disability called Arthrogryposis, which severely constricts the movements of joints and muscles. Although he has full feeling, he has no use of his upper or lower extremities, except for his head and neck.  Since 2017, he has lived independently in an apartment in Norfolk Virginia with DD Waiver services.  He is an advocate both statewide and locally for people with disabilities – including as a past board member for The Arc of Virginia, as a member of a state self-advocacy alliance called “A Life Like Yours” and as a member of a local advocacy group, Our Voices. Over the years he has worked alongside fellow self-advocates on many issues, with some important successes including increasing Medicaid waiver slots and raising the reimbursement rates for providers of services. His aim is to fight for what is right.


Kris Meyers began working at the Virginia Department of Education in May 2020, as the Associate Director of Quality Measurement and Improvement. She came to the Department from the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation where she served as the Director of Quality for 5 years, being primarily responsible for co- administration of the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System. Prior to working at the state-level, Kris worked on local-level school readiness initiatives in Roanoke, Virginia, and as a K-2 teacher and Reading Specialist in Maryland and Colorado. Kris has a B.S. degree in Early Childhood from James Madison University and a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Colorado. Throughout her education career her primary focus has been on supporting quality teaching practices and creating opportunities for all young children to develop the skills needed to be successful in school and life.

Deanna L. Parker is the Director of the Office of Community Network Supports at the VA Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS). In her position, she has oversight of DD Community Supports and Services, including the Individual and Family Supports Program (IFSP), Employment, Supported Decision-Making, and HCBS Policy/HCBS Settings Regulation implementation. Deanna received her BA and MPA degrees from Howard University and Old Dominion University respectively. She received her Post Baccalaureate Certificate in Disability Leadership from VA LEND and has served as adjunct faculty to VA LEND since 2020. Deanna has over 25 years combined advocacy and policymaking experience in both the public and non-profit sectors. Deanna and has been active in the special education and disability community since 2000 as parent, advocate, volunteer, and mentor. Deanna is married and the mother of two adult children: one daughter and a son with autism.

Cheryl Poe holds a Masters's in Urban Education and Counseling, has completed over 15 credit hours of postgraduate hours in psychology, and in June of 2004, she completed the National Group Psychotherapy Institute at the Washington School of Psychiatry in Washington D.C.   Mrs. Poe is the founder and Executive Director of Advocating 4 Kids, Inc a Special Education Advocacy organization that provides resources, information, and workshops to parents and professionals with a special focus on addressing the needs of Black and Brown children with disabilities. Mrs. Poe has been a presenter at various national disability organizations, such as the Autism In Black Conference, Dyslexia Alliance for Black Children presentation, Council of Parents, Advocates, and Attorney's Philadelphia Conference, and the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities Alumni Development Program (ADP) training session The Arc of Virginia and many many more national and local organizations.  Ms. Poe has work experience that includes over 20  years of working with children with various disabilities and their families as an In-home clinician and a therapeutic foster Case manager.  Ms. Poe is the mother of two boys with learning disabilities & prides herself on understanding the struggles that black parents face when dealing with special education issues. Ms. Poe was diagnosed with ADHD and learning disabilities and received special education services as a Child!

Cheryl Roberts is the Interim Director of the VA Dept. of Medical Services (DMAS)  Previously she was the Deputy of Programs and Operations providing executive leadership and direction.  She has been at DMAS since 2007 with experience in maternal child health, quality, oral and behavioral health, pharmacy and long-term services.  Prior to joining DMAS, Cheryl was Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Virginia Premier Health Plan and was with Emblem Health as Assistant Vice President of Operations.  She holds a Doctor of Law from Rutgers Law School and a Bachelor's degree in Sociology from The City University of New York. 

Shay Ruff is a Radford University graduate with a Bachelor’s in Social Work. She has been a self and community advocate in Roanoke, VA for nine years. She has worked in the field of Disability Rights professionally working with individuals and groups in a variety of roles for six years. Currently, she works as a Peer Mentor for The Arc of Southside. She is a member of the self-advocacy Alliance “A Life Like Yours". She has over 40 years of lived experience as an individual with Cerebral Palsy. Advocacy in all forms is important to her because she believes that everyone should be seen as equal and have equal access to services that will help individuals to build the lives they want.


Greg Santucci has been a Pediatric Occupational Therapist for over 24 years. He graduated from Penn State with a degree in Exercise and Sport Science and received his Master's in Occupational Therapy from Thomas Jefferson University In Philadelphia. He is the founding director of Power Play Pediatric Therapy, and a Supervisor of Occupational Therapy at Children's Specialized Hospital in New Jersey. Greg is the creator of the Model of Child Engagement, a developmentally informed approach to improving regulation and engagement in children of all levels of ability. He is certified in Sensory Integration and presents nationally and internationally on topics related to sensorimotor development, sensory processing, regulation and behavior. He recently received the Award of Merit from the NJ Occupational Therapy Association for his advocacy work related to neurodiversity-affirming care, and his most important credential is that he's the proud father of two teenagers, Isabella and Luke. 

Matthew Shapiro, as a person with a disability, has spent most of his life motivated to teach those he has met how to better understand the disability community and inclusion. Through this work it has become his life’s mission to educate others regarding disability related issues. With this thought in mind, in December of 2014, he created 6 Wheels Consulting. Working with those in both the private and public sectors he hopes to expand their understanding of disabilities and inclusion to give them the tools they can use in any environment. Matthew has had the privilege of sitting on numerous disability boards and speaking at a variety of conferences both locally and nationally.

Kate Short is originally from Fairfax, VA and has a master’s degree in theology from Emory University in Atlanta, GA.  Prior to her work supporting individuals with Intellectual Disabilities, Kate served as a chaplain and coach where she created programs about inclusivity, diversity, and building lives of character. Since beginning her work in the field, Kate has been a day support supervisor, staff trainer, disability advocate and community builder. She is most passionate about her work directly supporting individuals as they become architects of their own lives. She is deeply committed to protecting and strengthening a place where all people, regardless of ability level are recognized and celebrated as contributing, essential members of society.

Kyle Smiddie is a Trial Attorney at the U.S. Dept. of Justice, Civil Rights Division. “Smiddie” is well known by the developmental disability community in Virginia because of his work on the enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the DOJ Virginia Settlement Agreement to ensure that people can live in with the supports they need. Smiddie’s educational background includes a degree in Political Science, Master’s of Social Work and Juris Doctorate from Rutgers University in 2011.  Always at the Convention, Smiddie tells us where things are going and he comes to listen and learn from individuals and families to inform his work.

Dr. Nancy Taylor, BS, DC - is the parent of an autistic adult, who has an extensive post-doctoral studies in brain and gut health related to nutrition and behavioral health She has been an active advocate in VA on the IFSP Council, Waiver Redesign, autism legislation and prevention of crisis situations. Taylor and her son continue to experience traumatic consequences of Virginia’s inadequate community-based services system through involvement with law enforcement, Community Services Boards, mental health hospitals, and the Medicaid Waiver system. Taylor is passionate about being a part of the solution so that all people with DD will receive the care and supports they need.

Sara Thompson has over 14 years of experience working with children and adults in the areas of mental health and developmental disabilities. Prior to joining DBHDS as the Supported Decision-Making Community Resource Consultant for the state of Virginia, Sara worked in the Developmental Services Division of a community services board as a support coordinator, intake coordinator, and quality specialist. Sara is a Charting the LifeCourse Ambassador and a Person Centered Thinking trainer. She is excited to be able to use her passion for person-centered practices and advocacy at the state level in order to identify and resolve barriers to more inclusive living for people with developmental disabilities. 

Saundra Ward is the State Director of DD Waiver Services with Dominion Care. Dominion Care’s DD Waiver Services Department provides residential, in-home support services, group day and community-based services across the state of Virginia.  Dominion was the pilot provider for Shared Living with Saundra leading the project with much support of Deanna Parker. Saundra received her BA degree in Human Services from Old Dominion University in 2017 and has worked in the disability services field since the late 1900’s. Saundra is married and has two adult sons and a dog that is possibly immortal.

Angela West graduated with her Master's degree in rehabilitation counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Angela serves as the Disability Engagement Specialist at the Partnership for People with Disabilities. This position enables her to connect with people with disabilities to engage them in different projects at the Partnership. This ensures that the voices of people with disabilities are at the center of the projects. She leads and coordinates multiple steering committees and works on multiple projects that benefit the community.

Pendle Whisnant spent over twenty-five years with Wachovia/Wells Fargo in Finance. With her and her husband’s jobs, they moved up and down the East coast before settling in Henrico to raise their two sons. Her older son is a musician in Los Angeles and her younger son is a rock star in his own right. On the spectrum, he lives independently with support from the Building Independence Medicaid Waiver and Shared Living program.

Ashley Wright has been working with the Virginia legislature for the past 13 years. She first served as Legislative Director for a Virginia State Senate office for over five years, where she focused on constituent services, legislative process, education and health policy, and acting as liaison with other state agencies and departments. During this time she also gained extensive experience with political campaigns, serving in both coordinating and Campaign Management roles. Since 2015, Ashley has worked in legislative consulting and state lobbying - and has had the privilege to be a partner of The Arc of Virginia since the 2017 General Assembly Session. She is a graduate of both the Virginia Community College System and Regent University. 

Kendra Wormley is a native of Newport News, VA, and the RSA Project Coordinator with the Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center (PEATC). She is a proud graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University where she received a degree from the School of Education in Therapeutic Recreation in 2002. For over 18 years she has worked with families, professionals, and organizations to provide support to students and adults with disabilities to increase their independence and improve opportunities to actively participate in their community.

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