Past Spotlight Award Winners:

Brad McCann - September 2022

Brad was nominated by Elsa Warren. Their nomination can be read below.

Brad McCann is known for celebrating successes large and small, both for the people he serves as well as his colleagues, and he views his work with a positive, can-do attitude. He always goes above and beyond and is happy to pitch in wherever needed, even outside of his job description
While Brad helps many people, there is one individual who epitomizes the effect Brad has. This individual has autism and is nonverbal. He used to be very shy and had a hard time interacting in group activities. With Brad’s help, he is now happy and exuberant, and he loves to join in group activities. Brad’s colleagues credit him for this individual’s growth.

It doesn’t matter what the situation is, Brad makes it fun for his coworkers and the people he serves. He creates an environment where everyone is empowered to do their best.

 Heather Weber - August 2022

Heather was nominated by Linda Van Dyke. Their nomination can be read below.

Heather has served in multiple capacities to advocate for the Developmentally Disabled Community.  She is currently finishing her LCSW Masters at Western University in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Heather demonstrates excellent empathetic listening and attends to all involved in the support team. I always appreciate Heather listening to my son (despite some rambling and difficulty in getting the complete story told from his perspective). Heather facilitates meaningful goals for my son's life and enrichment rather than 'rubber stamp' common or familiar goals encountered in the DD population.  Her attention to detail is very encouraging!  Heather is also FLEXIBLE.  I have appreciated her willingness to adjust times for meeting, especially given medical appointments I have recently needed to prioritize, resulting in needing to change our meeting times with very little notice. She brings to the table a plethora of community resources and other valuable information to consider in tailoring a plan for my son. Heather is the epitome of "Person Centered Planning" at its best.

Heather lives several realms above a common quip "It's not my job." Heather welcomes questions and never repeatedly checks the time as a hint to end the meeting. Attention to the individual is not sacrificed by the EXTREME demands of her job. Heather continually maintains eye contact with my son and speaks directly to him as opposed to speaking only to other team members.

 Sofia Phillips - July 2022

Sofia was nominated by Theresa Alexander. Their nomination can be read below.

Simply put, Sofia Phillips finds a way. Like many agencies during the pandemic, we've struggled with staffing at our Youngstown location. The shortage has put a strain on the system and meant that everyone has had to work harder to provide the care the children and families we serve depend on. It's been stressful and scary, but you wouldn't know that at all if you were fortunate enough to work with Sofia.

Sofia volunteers to help wherever help is needed. She covers a variety of shifts, and she does it with a smile because she knows that's what the people we serve need. The number of compliments she receives from families is overwhelming. They see her as a caregiver in the truest sense of the word, and that positivity is contagious.

When we don't have much control over complex and shifting situations, how a DDP approaches a challenge matters a great deal. Sofia is a role model in that sense. Her positivity and willingness to step up encourages others to do the same.

Carrie Surface - June 2022

Carrie Surface, a program director with DRCC, was nominated by Jeanette Curry.  The bulk of the nomination was submitted by an anonymous community member (see excerpt below).   

In a day and age where people can be cruel and mean, and forget what empathy and being a good human to each other are. I had the opportunity - not once but 3 times in the same week - to watch a DRCC employee give the utmost discreet help and encouragement in line at Walmart in Virginia.  When it was time to pay, her client had a little trouble paying because the card machine wasn't cooperating that day. The client started getting frustrated and loud. She offered her assistance just at the right time and was professional and empathetic to her client, stating that the same thing happened to her yesterday and when it comes to electronics they glitch out just like the client's TV does sometimes. That made her client realize it wasn't heir fault and that things just happen sometimes. She walked the client through the steps once more not just doing it for them. She asked, should we try it together once more? The client agreed with a smile, they crossed their fingers together and it worked. As they walked out she gave her client a pat on the back saying something I didn't catch, but knew it was good because of the smile that came from her client. And they drove away together. This staff impressed me so much at at on the 3rd time seeing her at the bowling alley, I knew someone would know the company and her name. I knew I wanted to write something to let her and the company know. I asked someone her name and it is Carrie Surface and she has worked at DRCC for many, many, many years. So please bring this to her attention and take pride in what a great employee you have. You could see she took pride in her job and enjoyed it. I learned a lot about patience and just being a kind person in line that day.

Vernon Appleton - May 2022

Vernon, a case coordinator with Ardmore, Inc., was nominated by Brook Stallings.

Vernon is a genuinely happy and positive man who always shows up to work with a can do attitude. When crisis situations arise Vernon is that calm positive person who assists the people he supports in looking at things in a positive manner and helping them come up with a solution to the problem in a way that makes the person supported feel respected, valued and heard. Vernon will advocate for the wants and needs of the individuals he supports and is their biggest cheerleader when they want to try something new. Vern is always to take a call or text to help someone talk through a bad day or to just listen to something that has made a person happy or excited in their day. Vern will go the extra mile for the people he supports in obtaining self sufficiency. He has taught individuals how to build their credit score in order to purchase a new home and car. He has also supported and taught individuals how to work with Ohio jobs and family services and social security so that they are able to manage benefit maintenance own their own and we no longer need our services due to being self sufficient.

Eva Kelly - April 2022

Eva, a supported living coordinator with Orchard Village, was nominated by  Kasey Ornelas.

Eva has worked in Home Based Services for the past 30 years supporting Orchard Village families. Her work is meticulous and she is a wealth of knowledge on the ins and outs of waiver services. For her families: Eva is a staunch advocate who will fight for coverage of services tirelessly. She works over her contracted billable time for all of her cases to make sure each individual gets what they deserve and she does it without any complaints. Her families love her. For her team: Eva is a mentor to all of her team mates. She assists with training new QIDPs on the details of ACCES$, attends CoP meetings to learn new information from her peers to bring back to the team, and does a great deal of critical thinking when it comes to the service process. She continues to advance the home based model of service by acting as a life-long learner. Eva has grown up in this service model but never stops finding ways to ensure her caseload has the most current information and applies it to her management. In the past year, a family struggled to fund a critical need for a home alarm to assist a family monitor a safety risk for their child. They did not have the money to cover the expense and through much on the ground learning and struggle, Eva was able to get it funded through the state. As most things go, more challenges emerged with the vendors and getting them set up for payment with IMPACT. Eva communicated with the family, multiple vendors, IMPACT, and even went so far as to find and work connections at the state to get this family the security system they needed. After tirelessly working this system and finessing communications with vendors who were unsure about the state system, she negotiated an agreement and is getting the family the system they need. After so many road blocks, unreturned emails/phone calls, most people would have given up but Eva pushed through and got her family what they needed to be safe in their home. She is an amazing advocate who knows no limit to her care for individuals with ID/DD. 


Laura Del Real - March 2022
Laura, a case manger with Community Alternatives Unlimited, was nominated by Paula Bruce. 
Laura is a selfless giver. She is always seeking resources and ways to support the families on her caseload. She has spent her own time and money to help the families on her caseload when they are in need. She won't turn her back on those who need help and is always willing to problem solve to help find the best solution. Laura takes her work seriously. She is a profoundly dedicated worker who is always willing to share her resources with families and peers on our team. She is dedicated to helping her families, her coworkers, and is also an advocate and guardian for her sister who also has a disability. Laura lives what she gives. She is a model of the Golden Rule. She treats everyone with respect and dignity, regardless of where they live and what their story is. 

Alita Birn - February 2022

Alita received two nominations - one from her employer and one from the parent of a person she supports.  The following are excerpts from her nominations:

The pandemic has caused significant challenges, especially in day programs, and Alita has never waivered from her commitment to create meaningful days for individuals with disabilities. When programs had to close, she was an important part of creating solutions to keep individuals and staff connected and engaged. She held weekly learning opportunities for staff and led several virtual programs for individuals. When the program re-opened, Alita was again at the table helping make this possible. Our program continues to provide a hybrid of programming and Alita has played an important role on our leadership team. She took a 10 week course on financial wellness and used what she learned to bring this information back to our program. She leads weekly financial wellness classes for several of our in-person cohorts. She also leads both in-person and virtual social skills classes. In addition to her QIDP responsibilities, she also oversees our virtual programming that consists of a morning hello, book club, drama, social skills, music and current events. Recently, she also took on additional managerial responsibilities in the absence of a program manager. Alita has exceeded the typical expectations of someone in a QIDP role and has not only made a difference in the lives of those who are part of our program, she continues to inspire others in our community and the field.

Alita has been part of the life of my son who has autism and many other individuals at Keshet for 30 years. She started out as staff at Keshet Sunday School and summer camp. She is kind, patient, committed, and creative. She has had a positive impact on so many individuals and families over the years, including ours.

Katie Powers - January 2022 

 Katie was nominated by Phillip C. Garner, CEO of Buffalo River Services.  The following is an excerpt from her nomination.  

I have had the pleasure of knowing Katie Powers for several years as a colleague and professional peer.I have the greatest respect for her caring and compassion which she has for the people she supports, the employees that she works with and in general for the community at large. She is a professional social worker, but she has cared for people for 40 plus years through various roles. Katie has managed an Arc, a Independent Support Coordination company and more recently been assistant Executive Director for the agency she now works at. She works by example. Katie fills in as direct support for her people in supports. She is on call all the time for emergencies and critical issues.

Katie comes to tears easily when she sees the pain and suffering that people go through. She steps into action even more quickly to help anyone that she encounters. She is connected to the sufferings of the human condition and especially when the person is someone who is vulnerable. She can deliver dignified, impassioned advocacy when she observes someone being mistreated or neglected. She is assertive and demanding but also can and will, just as quickly, find empathy for anyone.  She is a red headed, whirlwind of passion for the right cause. And her cause, whatever it is, is always for the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of those she cares for and about. The cause is always justified. She takes charge and makes good things happen. But the one thing she never accepts is the credit. 


Julie Pedigo- December 2021

Julie Pedigo, a QIDP with Westview Cottages was nominated by Riki Redus:

When Julie began at Westview the active treatment consisted of a workshop where the individuals spent the day learning prevocational skills such as numbers, reading, sorting skills which for some individuals was appropriate but the was a need for higher functioning individuals to excel in the workforce.  She took her desire to enrich the lives of the individuals served and developed a commercial laundry, thrift store, and town wide recycling program for the individuals to engage in meaningful employment and be an active part of the community.    Julie works with each individual we serve to place them at a worksite that not only are they happy with but that they are able to excel at in order to perform at the best of their capabilities and to make the most income possible. 

Julie not only runs our vocational programs but she also spends each day interacting with individuals and helping them with their wants and needs as well.  Julie encourages the individuals to be themselves and supports them in that journey. Julie is the reason I have continued in this field for the past 20 years.  She sets an example each day in the way that she treats our individuals. She never expects them to be perfect or have the best behavior.  Instead she supports them through the tough times and encourages then during the good.  She has formed bonds with individuals and their families that have lead to many successful outcomes with individuals who have had troubles at prior placements due to behaviors.  Julie is kind, caring, understanding, and above all consistent with her expectations and follow through all which makes her successful and our individuals successful. 

Abigail Pena Sureda - November 2021

Abigail Pena Sureda, IDD Services Coordinator I (SCI), was nominated by Arnold Ferguson:

Abigail is an example of excellence and commitment, with a long list of success stories to share. Abigail has always gone above and beyond to support the needs of individuals in Safety Net as well as in her previous role in the Home and Community Based Services Program. Abigail has been with the agency since 2016 and she has not lost her drive or determination in what she does and who she does it for when it comes to meeting the needs of our IDD community. She has created a positive impact on the lives of individuals, who would otherwise have limited to no access to resources due to barriers such as communication, technological, language, and immigration status, etc.,. Currently she is the only Spanish speaking SCI in the Safety Net program and has a greater and more complicated caseload then the rest of the team.

Abigail has made a difference in the lives of many, as she helps them navigate through systems that many do not understand.   She helped a family who struggled for months trying to get the right educational supports for their son.  Not understanding her rights and her son’s rights, her son struggled emotionally and academically.   Abigail worked with the school and a parent advocate to find the right supports.  Today, he is a success story doing well in school and happily riding the school bus. 

Abigail is a person that finds it difficult to say "No" or conform to someone saying "it is impossible". She is a true team player and morale builder as she often brings in home made baked goods to sweeten all of our difficult workloads. Abigail is punctual with her tasks/meetings and timely in all her documentation. Abigail is often the tester for all our new equipment and software as well as with implementation of new processes and/or forms. Abigail also has been the lead for providing the Community First Choice services to her eligible clients as well as assisting her peers in how to complete the enrollment as well as assisting her supervisor with the upcoming renewals for the entire team. But the most significant support that exceeds the QIDP role is her willingness to open and enroll new individuals as she trains new staff and maintain her current caseload.  


Ramona "Mone" Tate - October 2021

Ramona Tate, Case Facilitator, has been nominated by Michele Gilbertson:

Mone is fantastic with bringing hope and positivity to those individuals around her. She believes in community and wants her clients to have opportunities to build relationships and increase their circle of support. She is a strong advocate for clients when they have medical concerns and doesn't accept mediocre answers from professionals when they don't understand the client's specific needs. She supports her field staff by finding creative ways to demonstrate she values and appreciates them. Once she purchased a large candy bar for every field staff on her team and wrapped them in gold foil. She attached a thank you note and let every field staff know that they are the golden ticket. She brings her staff coffee and when they have a loss of a loved one, she organizes and sends them care baskets. Mone is a very giving and loving leader ensuring equality to all of her team members. She understands and recognized that that her clients are impacted by their direct support staff. Ensuring support staff are valued and appreciated by their employer is key.

Mone is usually the first one to step up and go the extra mile for her team and those around her. She is always willing to work overtime and work long hours to ensure new clients have staff and that they are established in their own homes. Recently Mone assisted her supervisor with bringing on a new client from a residential home into their first apartment with 24/7 staffing support. Mone believes that her clients deserve to have the life they want to live and to have the freedom to make their own choices. She demonstrates this by providing them opportunities to make their own decisions, by taking time to listen to them when they express their wants and needs and she empowers them to succeed by believing in endless possibilities.

Abreya Jacobson - September 2021

Abreya Jacobson, a Program Director has been nominated by Kelsey Kittleson:

Abreya, started her career with REM as a direct support staff member. As she finished her degree, she moved into her Program Director position. She understands the importance of staff training. Abreya, is constantly working to empower her staff, who then in turn provide quality services. She ensures meaningful plans are prepared and she is always looking for different opportunities within our community for the people we support to attend.

One example of how Abreya exceeds expectations is, a person supported had their family as their guardian for many years. The family unfortunately, doesn't visit, doesn't attend annual plan meetings or call. Abreya went above and beyond by petitioning to the courts, the person supported deserves more. The deserve visits, phone calls and check-ins from a guardian. After months of work, the person supported received a new court appointed guardian. The individual is much happier and gets so excited for his annual meetings. 

Jaimie O'Leary - August 2021


Jaimie O'Leary, a QIDP of Residential Services has been nominated by Jillian Gonzalez:

Jaimie has committed time to ensuring the individuals in CILAs enjoy meaningful activities. She has personally coordinated several meals on wheels volunteer events, reading clubs, and assisted individuals in registering for and participating in special recreation activities. Jaimie consistently goes out of her way to support individualized choice in the CILAs by assisting the adults in printing out photos and purchasing items to decorate and personalize their space. The residents light up when she enters the home as they know she will be coming with some type of meaningful activity with them. Jaimie applied for a grant to obtain donations for the studio to ensure the adults had access to high quality materials for their practice. Her passion and commitment extends even to the individuals' family members, Jaimie consistently goes out of her way to assist in home visits, obtaining signatures, and ensuring the adults are able to enjoy celebrations and make memories with their loved ones.

Jaimie consistently comes to work incredibly positive. She also consistently advocates for the individuals even if it would mean more work or additional time. Jaimie participates in trainings to improve her skills and shares what she learns with her peers.

Kristen Smith - July 2021

Kristen Smith, a Senior Residence Manager/QIDP has been nominated by Lisa Giglio:

Kristen goes above beyond. In the residence she manages, the individuals affectionately refer to her as "house mama". Kristen was instrumental in the development of an Agency wide in House Orientation Manual. She is an investigator and conducts investigations along with her numerous responsibilities. During the Pandemic she secured N95, Surgical masks and sanitizer for the agency, traveling to different donation locations on Long Island to ensure that there were enough supplies when there was a high demand. Kristen even moved in to residence during the height of the pandemic to ensure the utmost care was provided to her individuals and that her staff were provided with the support they needed.

She has spearheaded a curriculum for QIDP paperwork as well as assisted in training other QIDP’s responsible. She developed numerous forms and charts to simplify and maximize billing.


Laetitia Senjo - June 2021

Laetitia Senjo, Program Manager with Community Residences, Inc., was nominated by Marsha Smith.

Laetitia impacts the individuals of our program every day by ensuring their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are met with compassion and dignity. Laetitia started at the program as a Lead QIDP. She exemplified the qualities of a true leader by not only stepping in as acting program manager, but also stepping in when needed to support staff on the floor, work odd hours to cover shifts, and find innovative ways to address challenges the program faced. Once promoted to program manager, she continued to put structure in place to maximize staff potential and growth. She oversaw the improvement of documentation collection and ISP goal completion. 

During the pandemic, Laetitia rallied staff at the program to cover open shifts internally. She made sure to make the newest and most accurate COVID information available to staff, and implemented all relevant COVID protocols at the program. Lastly, she secured donated masks at the beginning of the pandemic to ensure staff had face coverings to use until medical grade masks became available. In part to her and staff efforts, the program remained COVID free during the pandemic. Last but not least, she made sure that individuals thrived during the pandemic by utilizing virtual programming, video calling loved ones, and increasing participation in recreational activities at the home.


Jonathan Smith - May 2021

Jonathan Smith, a Facilitator with Harbor Supported Living Services, was nominated by Rebecca Donofrio.

Jon has repeatedly impacted the lives of the people he supports and assists. He has always been not only reliable, but eager and available to do his every day responsibilities as a Facilitator. Just a few weeks ago, Jon was planning to travel to Lake Tahoe with one of the people he supports and he extended the invitation to others in our agency. In the end, three people and their support staff went on a weekend trip to beautiful Lake Tahoe. They stayed in cabins on the beach, went on a cruise of the lake, and listened to live music in Heavenly Village (ski center in the winter). Jon never has to be asked to think about people's quality of life he just always DOES! He is a person who seeks out important resources and he searches for activities that people genuinely want to do.

He has exceeded expectations always for all the reasons stated above and many more. He has helped people on very fixed incomes save money to buy various items that may need or want. He accomplishes this with a high amount of respect for the person and their individual needs, gifts, and abilities. The quality of training that he provides to staff is thorough, respectful and very intuitive to the needs of the person hiring those staff. He is always person-centered and person directed. He reminds everyone around him, if we ever lose sight of those values in even a small way, "But what about...” which is often what he says to reorient the person he is interacting with in a staff training mode.

We so appreciate Jon and his smile and positive instincts regarding the life quality for ALL people. He is a social justice advocate.


Siham Mahamood - April 2021


Siham Mahamood, a Case Manager Supervisor with New Path Services, LLC, was nominated by Sheyhan Gelle, Executive Director of New Path Services, LLC for the Spotlight Award!

Siham has recently evolved in her role as a supervisor and manages a staff of 6 case managers, who manage caseloads close to 200 people. Siham has gone above and beyond to ensure that her staff are not only well prepared, trained and actively involved in their day to day lives, but she also provides a nurturing environment during these hard times. Siham is efficient and makes sure that person waiver services are person centered, and ensures that case managers are working as a team with the person they serve and their support network.

As a new supervisor, Siham has quickly been able to serve as a mentor to new staff and existing staff. Siham rolls up her sleeves and helps with no questions asked. Siham has been a great addition to our growing agency and as a result, we have seen staff morale increase. Her staff are eager to take on additional duties, and that goes to show that their leader leads by example.

Jeanne Cullison - March 2021 

Jeanne Cullison, Sponsored Coordinator with Support Services of Virginia, Inc was nominated for the Spotlight Award by Andie Plumley, Vice President of Support Services of Virginia, Inc.

Jeanne has been in the ID / DD field for over 4 decades - and she has not lost one ounce of her passion for supporting people in living their best lives. Jeanne walks the walk of advocacy, equality and social justice for the people she supports. As head of the Sponsored Residential Program for SSVA, Jeanne mentors and supports people as they develop in the role as QIDPs, continues to support a case load of people receiving sponsored residential supports, and acts as an internal Human Rights Advocate.

Jeanne is constantly working to improve processes, systems, AND the lives of the people supported by SSVA. Additionally, she has created a model for a single user, short stay residential location, similar to an Air B and B, but with fully trained support staff, with options for vacation (it is by the beach), short stays for emergencies and scheduled events, and transition stop between places of residence.

Kristen Conard - February 2021

Kristen Conard, Assistant Director and Adult Day at the J, was nominated for the Spotlight Award by Ashley Stockman, Director of Adult Day at the J.

Anyone who knows her, personally or professionally, will undoubtedly agree that Kristen is among the warmest, most sincere, and caring people on this earth. She exudes dedication, compassion, and positivity in every interaction and all that she does. A true team player, Kristen is down-to-earth, genuine, and always readily available to give of her time, talent, and energy to the benefit others. Kristen has an otherworldly sense of awareness and extraordinary ability to anticipate when another person needs an extra show of support and always knows exactly how to fulfill that need. Kristen brings substance to the concept of kindness with her unwavering selflessness. She possesses an abundance of love and compassion and does not hesitate to share these with anyone who crosses her path. If ever there was a person who could be defined as truly kind, it is most certainly Kristen.

Kristen advocates for families to ensure access to necessary resources and services, including coordination and facilitation of medical and speech therapy virtual appointments for onsite participants while attending ADJ. Whether securing a new walker to improve a participant’s posture, spear-heading fundraising efforts or volunteering through ITN to personally transport an older adult to medical appointments, Kristen’s commitment to serving others is unwavering. Within the first week of reopening our ADJ program Kristen recognized that many of the participants with Down Syndrome, despite a multitude of tying options, were struggling with properly fitting masks. Kristen, readily stepped into action to address this resource gap and develop a plan for resolving this very real struggle for our participants. Over the course of a few months and input of a lot of time and talent, Kristen has successfully developed customized face masks that comfortably fit and stay on the faces of nearly all of the participants who needed them. This is but one of countless examples of the subtle, behind the scenes yet tremendously impactful ways that Kristen makes an enormous difference in ADJ, The J and her community.

 Derek Quesada - January 2021 

image of derek in front of red background wearing gray shirt smiling at camera

Ashley Wilcox, Director of Day Services at Active Visions, Inc. nominated Derek Quesada. Derek is the QIDP/Residential Director at Active Visions, Inc.

Derek has been working at Active Visions for over 3 years now. Originally hired on as a DSP, he quickly moved up to QIDP, and now has the role of Residential Director. Derek's motivation and joy for this work is easy to see upon meeting him. Derek brings an extraordinarily positive attitude to work with him every day. Derek brings his gift of performing arts to share with those he serves-- he can often be found singing and dancing with them at their homes or in the car, bringing joy to monotonous activities like going to the doctor. The individuals are always thrilled to see him and spend time with him. Derek takes extra time to get to know them, and finds ways for them to pursue their passions and interests. Derek understands and exceeds in advocating for his clients, so they can live the way they want. He has assisted clients in learning to use online dating apps and facilitated discussions to advocate for a safe "dating" plan. He has helped individuals apply for community employment-- when other supports haven't been effective.

Derek has mastered the endless paperwork that our QIDPs need to complete, but most importantly he has exceeded in building trusting relationships with even the most difficult clients, who may not typically form bonds with staff. Derek is also great at working with parents-- which is another difficult part of the job. He is able to give comfort and reassurance to parents who are new to CILAs and learning to trust an agency with their loved ones. Derek has often been assigned to newly opening CILAs for these reasons, as he has extraordinary skills in helping clients transition and get comfortable in the residential setting.

 Nikki Weaver - December 2020

Tom McQuillan, Director of Services at The Providence Center, nominated Nikki Weaver.  Nikki is the Assistant Director of Services at the Providence Center in Maryland.    

Nikki oversees supports for 120 people with disabilities and a staffing team of 35. These supports include people in Employment, Community Development Supports, Personal Supports, and Day Hab. Ensuring that each person receives the supports in the most person centered manner requires significant coordination and organization on a daily basis. Nikki holds her team accountable at all levels and rolls up her sleeves right along side her team to get the job done. Titles are not important to her, only working as a team. Due to her enthusiasm and hard work, many people are living their best possible life. She demonstrates flexibility, willingness to change approaches as needed, and love for the work that she does, which then holds each staff member accountable for the same approach. Now people receiving supports are increasing the amount of time that they spend in their communities and working towards inclusion.

Nikki's strengths were proliferated during the Covid-19 pandemic. Leading her team during unchartered territory, Nikki ensured that services resumed for as many people as possible who wanted their services to resume, which meant daily restructuring of schedules, and assignment of vehicles and PPE equipment to staff. During the early part of 2020, the Director who was overseeing Personal Supports for the agency left. Nikki took it upon herself to take over that area and within a few months, had people receiving services who had not received services for over a year, due to previous staffing issues. Also in 2020, due to budget cuts we were not able to replace a Case Manager position that was vacant. Nikki has also taken over that caseload and works diligently to ensure that each person on her caseload receives person-centered services. She rarely shows stress, or the appearance of being overworked, and she always approaches problems with "we can figure it out."  

Emily Unthank - November 2020 

Michele Phelps, Compliance Director of IDD Facilities, nominated Emily Unthank.  Emily is a QIDP with New Vista Oakwood in Somerset, KY.  

Emily has positively impacted the people she supports.  This year, she helped someone move this year from an institutional setting to community placement, assisted several individuals in learning how to use iPADS (which has helped tremendously during the pandemic), and provided personal care to an individual during their cancer treatments and advocated for their colostomy reversal, which was successful.  

Emily also spearheaded a project to improve treatment planning. She created a peer review tool for QIDPs to review each other’s treatment plans prior to submission and developed a review schedule. The peer reviews have helped improve the monthly compliance scores.  In addition, she collaborates with her team members to address challenging issues, including creating behavior modeling videos. Emily created training materials for IDT members to improve program writing and conducted refresher training. 

When the pandemic began, Emily revised active treatment strategies/schedules to account for COVID precautions. She took a lead role in ordering supplies, games, etc. to increase activity in the homes and in the outdoor areas, implemented home cooking programs and worked beyond regular hours to provide direct coverage. 


Meredith Mueller - October 2020

Lee Ann KramerTeam Lead of Care Coordination of IDD Crisis Prevention and Response Services, nominated Meredith Mueller.  Meredith is a Care Coordination Team Member with NorthKey Community Mental Health Care Center in Covington, KY.  

Meredith Mueller is a case manager in the trenches daily working for the betterment of her client's lives.  Having worked in crisis case management for the past 5 years, Meredith has positively impacted the lives of hundreds of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  The majority of these individuals also have had co-occurring mental health diagnoses.  Meredith never knows what her day will hold, yet she comes in ready to face the day every day!  She hits the ground running early in the morning and doesn't stop until she knows that the individuals she serves are safe.  This may mean traveling great distances, working over a typical workday, going into homes that are not places anyone else would dare go, and/or working with people who others would think have no value.  She is asked daily to assume roles that are not hers to assume and she does so with ease. She works tirelessly with other agencies and the state advocating for the rights of her clients.  This has led to countless individuals receiving waiver supports in the Northern Kentucky region.  Meredith also advocates with agencies to better train their staff, work with other agencies as a team, and to strive for a higher quality of life for the individuals they serve.  She goes into heated team meetings and brings calm to the situation, helping teams to debrief and come up with an action plan that will bring about collaboration and success.  She is diligent in her efforts and those efforts definitely pay off for all involved.  


 Hannah Eldridge - September 2020 

Laura Mitchell, CEO of Grand Care Systems, nominated Hannah Eldridge.  Hannah is a Change Manager at LADD, Inc. in Cincinnati, OH.  When LADD started exploring a new and better service model for the disabled, we knew there would be challenges. One of the challenges that is often overlooked is having the right people, with not only the right skills but the right attitude. If you have a real "doer" who believes in the vision, the project will be unstoppable. If you do not have such a person, the project is in jeopardy from the start. Hannah Eldridge is exactly the right person to pioneer these new ways of supporting the developmentally disabled. She embraced the technology on day one and is always asking how each and every piece of it can benefit the people they serve. She is an inspiration, and all people who are subsequently helped by the success of this project have her to thank for it.  When there are technical challenges, and with ambitious projects there are always challenges, most non-technical people fold. They give up and put it on the technologists to figure it out. Not Hannah. She's part of the solution every time. This kind of team player is exactly the kind of person you want to work with.

Amber Carey-Navarrete - August 2020

Dawn Beigel, Executive Assistant with Easterseals Southern California, nominated Amber Carey-Navarrete.  Amber is the Director of Person-Centered Services at Easterseals Southern California.  

Amber supports the entire Adult Day Services program at Easterseals Southern California.  During COVID-19 and distance programming, she and her team developed a "Safer at Home" newsletter that goes out to our ADS Program Directors & Associates twice a week and a newsletter that goes out to our ADS participants and their families twice a week.  The newsletters provide a wide variety of programming resources curated for all different interests, abilities, and environments.  Resources for Associates provide them with fun and interesting ways to connect with their participants, whether the person is tech-savvy or not.  Also provided are opportunities for professional education.  The resources for the Participants and Families are for the individuals to do on their own, with their families.  There have been virtual museum and geographical tours, poetry slams, sing-a-longs, concerts, trivia games, standup comedy, plays, readings, crafts, exercise opportunities resources on voting, nutrition, managing stress, advocating for self and others, games, magic, conversation starters, fashion, body image, visual and performing arts, history, and MORE! 

In addition, Amber created an Empower Hour meeting on Zoom for participants and families on topics that they have requested.  It is a chance to connect with others who might have similar questions or challenges.  Often there are guest speakers with lived experience sharing what they have learned in order to support others.  While attendees are encouraged to ask questions, they may listen or contribute in any way that is comfortable for them.


Melissa Skappel - July 2020 

Colleen Haley, Director of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, nominated Melissa.  Melissa is a House Coordinator with Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota in Winona, MN.  

Melissa has attracted a loyal staff to the program for which she is the house coordinator, so there is low turnover. The individuals in the group home for which she is the house coordinator are treated sensitively and in a nuanced way. Melissa makes sure staff are maintaining an environment that is most helpful for the individuals they support. Melissa is expert at identifying what does not work well for individuals who have sensory issues.

Melissa handles challenging behaviors of individuals she supports expertly, including behaviors that get pretty extreme physically. She has good instincts and a good rapport with individuals she supports. Melissa regularly helps individuals to de-escalate and to get to a better and safer state, so they are not harming themselves or others. Melissa's staff trust that Melissa will assist them if they are scared or cannot handle providing support on their own.  


Erin Drozd - June 2020

Rachel Keyho, Case Management Coordinator with UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago, submitted the following nomination:

Erin Drozd is an exceptional Case Manager. She goes above and beyond for her clients and is always looking for ways she can do more. Over the course of the past year, she has been helping one of her clients find a provider that would accept his insurance for a much needed surgery. She called hospital after hospital, and when they wouldn't accept his insurance, she looked into the possibility of switching his insurance. After months of searching, she finally found a doctor that would see him. She took him to the appointment and when he was told he would need to lose weight before surgery, she didn't let it discourage her, and continues to work with him to get him there. In addition to making sure her clients are safe and healthy, Erin also advocates for them to have good quality of life. To Erin, being a case manager is all about the lives she can help make better. She always puts her clients first and will not hesitate to do what is best for them, no matter what.


May 2020:  Jamie Saturnino


Randy Hendrick, Director of IT and Education at Quality Life Systems, submitted the nomination for Jamie Saturnino.  Excerpts from that nomination include:

Jamie has positively impacted the lives of those she serves in a manner that is unique to her trade mark of love, care and compassion.  With rare exception, the individuals that Jamie serves have experienced at least 12 weeks of confinement, and isolation from physical interaction from family and friends. During this time Jamie has done all that she can to prevent or minimize the associated pain in many ways. To add to the perils of everyday life, we recently experienced a Power Outage lasting nearly twenty four hours. During this time Jamie stepped up and stepped in to help lead outdoor activities, secure take-out meals and secure alternative sources of lighting for bedrooms and bathrooms.

Some might grow weary with the repetitive nature of daily challenges. However such is not the case with Jamie who remains steadfast in demonstrating consistent advocacy, belonging and care for all!  For example, Jamie has implemented an unwritten protocol of promoting an environment of “Spare the Drama” if you can! As a result, the clients she serves know that they can voice any and all concerns while sparing the drama so often associated with the frustrations of daily living. 

While it would be wonderful to have an entire work force of individuals just like Jamie, to do so may be a Trade-Mark violation. Fortunately for Quality Living Systems, New Century Support Services and Group Living Facility will all have the opportunity to borrow and emulate her.  In conclusion, it has been so reassuring to have just the right person, in just the right place at just the right time, in the embodiment of Jamie Saturnino.

April 2020:  Aimee Morrison


Aimee was hired as a House Manager for HGH over ten years ago where she is directly responsible for two residential group homes (LRW and Castillo). These homes have a combined resident profile of 12 clients and up to fifteen direct support staff. During the fourth week of March, Aimee decided that even though neither she nor any of the six residents living in the LRW  group home were showing any symptoms of being ill, it would be in their best interests to stay together during the new shelter in place orders that came out. The LRW group home is residence to six women, all who have been diagnosed with an IDD, and four of whom are in a vulnerable age category.  

Aimee exceeded any expectation when she voluntarily decided to be sequestered with the LRW residents for fourteen days, despite having a husband and 10 year old son at home. With the support of her family, she made the decision to stay with he residents to help them and the staff adjust to the new lifestyle they were suddenly placed under. With the pandemic becoming increasingly worrisome, Morrision said, “I felt like I needed to be here not just for the residents but for the employees so they would feel they had some direction and so they weren’t alone. I can offer support and guidance.” Aimee ended her quarantine yesterday and returned home to her family. She is deserving of recognition for the personal sacrifices she made. She truly is an HGH Hero. 

March 2020:  Carol Skeese 

Jackie Householder, Program Director at Echoing Hills Village submitted Carol's nomination.  "Most Q's work 9-5 jobs. Carol does not.  She is not afraid to work late or early hours and even weekend days. Not only that, but Carol picks up shifts on the floor to make sure that all the needs of the individuals we support are met. Carol goes the extra mile by spending quality time with the individuals and their families to make sure that their needs and desires are met. She takes on any task that is given to her regardless of whose job it is. She has helped people visit their families they haven't seen in years, move into their own homes, and helped people who others would consider "behaviorally challenging", really excel and reduce these challenges."  

February 2020:  Matt Buxton

Deborah Roberts, a fellow QIDP from the Utah State Developmental Center, submitted the nomination for Matt.  "Matt is a participatory manager....and is actively involved in the daily lives of the individuals he supports. He seeks opportunities to make individuals’ lives better, helping them to grow and fulfill their wants, needs, and desires.  In addition to the great job he is doing as a QIDP, Matt also serves in our community’s Autism network by serving on the Autism Resources of Utah County Council, coordinating activities with other agencies and programs to better meet the needs of persons with Autism in our county."

January 2020:  Nicci Upton 

Jeff Patton, CEO of Arc of Wabash County, Inc. submitted the nomination for Nicci.  "Nicci is an "advocate by nature," meaning she is naturally caring, attentive, and in tune with the personalities, preferences, and needs of those she serves. She always speaks and interacts with those we serve with gentleness, patience, and respect. Her caseload is composed of all 13 clients who live in our supported living residences and so she is current with the minute, daily intricacies of each person, delivering a holistic service to each individual that addresses his/her medical, social, mental, and employment needs and preferences. She is upbeat, positive, bubbly, and encourages each person she serves to pursue avenues and decisions that promote the greatest independence and self-sufficiency while at the same time promoting inclusion and integration into community social groups. She is absolutely where she wants to be and should be in her career-calling, and it shows!"  

"Nicci lives outside her official job description; she will do whatever it takes to help those she serves achieve their goals or receive what they need. She chaperones trips with her clients, she sits with and nurses sick clients in their own homes, she advocates in "the gap" with case managers, employers, and community stakeholders on behalf of her clients. Nicci recently volunteered to do 16 weeks of on-call duty per year, which entails being ready at the phone 24/7 to solve problems and help her clients in times of their greatest need, thus often sacrificing her own free time. Last year, Nicci turned down an advantageous job offer from another company because she just "couldn't leave her clients" and co-workers. Nicci works in the lunchroom every day for an hour, helping clients prepare and eat their meals. Nicci is not "just" a Case Coordinator QIDP - she has chosen to be a part of the lives of those she serves: family gatherings, birthdays, funerals, trips, vacations, medical appointments, problem-solving, and personal counseling and encouragement. As her President/CEO, I would do whatever is necessary to keep her at Arc Wabash County - we would not be the same without her."

 December 2019:  Mary Therese Conway

Lina Workman, Director of ICF at Koinonia Homes in Independence, OH, submitted the nomination for Mary Therese:  "Mary Therese embraces quality, teamwork, and excellence – when in turn, enhances the performance of her core team. She creates a collaborative environment that empowers and motivates people – staff and people served - to do their best every day.  Mary Therese is a shining star and all of us who work with her know how special she is and that she can be counted on, even when the going gets tough. Mary Therese digs her heels in deeper, rolls up her sleeves and just does it!"

 November 2019:  Kristena Partridge

Stacie Bradley, Program Director at PremierCare in Naperville, IL, submitted the nomination form for Kristena:  "Kristena has been a Q for many years. She has brought experience, knowledge and resources to the people we support and their families. She is has been providing presentations to people supported and their families on various beneficial topics such as self-advocacy, community activities, recreation, safety, work and vocational issues, resources and benefit explanations. She wants people supported and their families to know what they can do and offers them the knowledge of resources to give them the help they desperately need."

October 2019:  Sandy Weaver

Gena Boyle, Program Center Manager at Annandale Village in Suwanee, GA,  submitted the nomination form:  "Sandy has been working at Annandale for 30 years in a variety of capacities. In her most recent role as Assessment and Curriculum Coordinator, Sandy provides residents with opportunities to learn new skills in a fun and exciting way, utilizing the Assessment of Functional Living Skills Program. She works hard to ensure that residents have every opportunity to enjoy activities out in the community - whether for religious purposes, volunteer opportunities, skill building or just to have fun."  

September 2019:  Elizabeth Lutmer

John Pingo, CEO of Goldie B. Floberg, submitted the following nomination.    In our experience, change happens when someone rises up to champion a specific cause. Liz has risen up to become our champion for each person's right to be a part of their community. In the past year, she has helped nine people served take their first vacation in their adult life. She has supported people to become involved in a local book club, an Aktion Club with Kiwanis, a gardening club, and sports such as baseball and bowling. She is also helping people served give back to their community by organizing volunteer days for the Kiwanis Brat days, volunteering at a local recycling center, working a spaghetti dinner for the Aktion club and holiday bell ringing for the Salvation Army. She has also taken the lead in organizing an internal get out the vote campaign to support people served to exercise their right to vote in the last elections. She has worked to help people served take advantage of activities put on by our local park district that include movie events, going to see hockey games, dances, cooking classes and going to see the local community college put on a play.  None of this was required of Liz. She wasn't told she had to do it. She saw a need. The basic human need to be a part of our larger communities. To belong. The basic human need for enrichment by trying new things. Liz saw these needs and has become the champion of supporting the people we serve to be a part of and to experience all their community has to offer.

 August 2019:  Ashley Van Huis

Ashley Van Huis, a disability professional from Illinois, was nominated by a parent of a person she supports - Alice Roth-Dean.  "Ashley makes me feel respected as a parent.  She lightens the stress - from explaining paperwork to simplifying things to giving concrete suggestions for goals - which, in turn,  makes me a better mother.   I'd like to see her acknowledged for her professionalism and kindness."      

 July 2019:  Dawn Knights


Dawn Knights, a disability professional from Illinois, was nominated by a parent of a person she supports - Alice Roth-Dean.  "Dawn makes a profound difference to our daughter and to us as a family.  She keeps me up to date on changes and does it professionally and kindly.  She is on time for meetings and never cancels. Dawn has seen Taylor go from a child to an adult and is a positive constant in my daughter's life."   

 June 2019:  Rumond Taylor

Rumond Taylor, a disability professional from Tennessee. was nominated by Lisa Izzi - an Administrator with RHA Health Services.  "Romund thinks outside the box.  For example, he recently began creating PowerPoint presentations for people to show at their annual meetings.  This allows the team to visualize and celebrate the person's accomplishments over the previous year.  Rumond also serves as a mentor to new Qs.  He has 20+ years working in the field and is the true definition of an advocate for those in our care."