Community Support Network 2020-21 ‘Virtual’ Transition Institute

The Community Support Network is pleased once again to offer our annual conference on post-secondary transition covering topics ranging from employment options, inclusive college programs, social and recreational programs, systems navigation, self-advocacy, and policy issues with several breakout tracks to choose from.

To register, please visit:

If you have already registered, please scroll down and select sessions and choose “Click here to join” to access the meeting links.

Explore the strands below:

  • Self Determination: strategies to empower young adults to be more personally responsible and independent
  • Post-Secondary Pathways: opportunities after high school including college, employment, and day programs
  • Systems Navigation and Financial: accessing state and federal benefit systems and other important planning tools and tips
  • Self Advocacy:  areas of interest for individuals with disabilities
  • Wellness/Mental Health:  strategies to cope with stress and live up to your happiness potential

For an “at-a-glance” agenda for our 3-day event, please click here.

Contact the Organizer
  • Monday 11 Jan 2021
  • Tuesday 12 Jan 2021
  • Wednesday 13 Jan 2021

Monday 11 Jan 2021

Monday Late Afternoon Session: Keynote (4:00-5:30pm)

Charting the Lifecourse

Jane St. JohnClick here to join

Charting the LifeCourse is a framework that was developed to help individuals and families at any age or stage of life explore their vision for a good life, identify how to find or develop supports, and discover what it takes to live the lives they want to live. This keynote presentation will highlight the key principles of the Charting the LifeCourse framework. The audience will learn about how the framework and related tools can be used for planning for a good life, and a successful transition experience.

Mon 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

Monday Evening Session (7:00-8:00pm)

Employment Services Post High School

Shari Lewitt & Jacie FeurerClick here to join

Information session to learn about ACCES-VR and OPWDD Supported Employment services. Topics will include eligibility for these services, job development and retention supports.

Mon 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Post-Secondary Pathways

Financial Planning Strategies

Stuart FlaumClick here to join

In this session we will explore ways to develop a financial plan that seamlessly coordinates with transition planning and matures with the whole family. Discussion topics include: incorporating state and federal benefits into financial planning, managing the risk of loss or reduction in state and federal benefits, and how the crumbling of the medical model for identity along with the growth of self determination changes financial planning.

Mon 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Systems Navigation and Financial

Navigating Sibling Relationships

Danielle Roma, Daniel Barone & Kim BrennanClick here to join

In the session, parents and professionals will explore the dynamic and unique bond siblings share. We will discuss how sibling relationships evolve with age, how to best support children in developing autonomy within their relationship with their siblings, and how to facilitate deep connections between siblings.

Mon 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Wellness/Mental Health

Using a Mindfulness and Chakra Meditation Practice for Self Regulation

Susan VarsamesClick here to join

Use of Zoom to teach the chakra system, breathing techniques and how to follow a guided meditation for calming and regulating for emotional balance and functioning your best.

Mon 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Tuesday 12 Jan 2021

Tuesday Morning Session (9:30-10:30am)

Guardianship and Supported Decision Making

Marna Solarsh & Janine BelfastClick here to join

Marna Solarsh, Special Needs Attorney, will examine the legal protections and issues to be addressed when considering guardianship, advance directives such as health care proxies, and other legal instruments.

Tue 9:30 am - 10:30 am
Systems Navigation and Financial

Introduction to Navigating Housing for People with Disabilities

Michele Lawton, Sue Carr & Musa KlebnikovClick here to join

What is a Housing Navigator and how can they help you? What are your independent living housing options as an adult with I/DD or other disabilities? This is a broad view presentation on general options for independent living for people with disabilities including Certified and Non-Certified settings. This presentation will also describe how Housing Navigators can assist with access to services and interactions with the OPWDD, Care Coordination Organizations (CCO's), Social Security Administration, Medicaid, Provider Agencies, and others.

Tue 9:30 am - 10:30 am
Systems Navigation and Financial

Transition to College

Carin HorowitzClick here to join

This session will guide attendees as they navigate the transition from high school special education to college disability services. Differences in applicable laws will be discussed, as will accommodations at college, questions to ask when you look for the right match, and support programs available in higher education.

Tue 9:30 am - 10:30 am
Post-Secondary Pathways

What Does Transition Look Like?

Lynn Giles-Harris, Rick Healy & Judy HarringtonClick here to join

The presenters will describe the transition related work they do for and with students to prepare them to be career and college ready. They will explain the importance of collaboration in providing best practices and comprehensive opportunities for post high school success inclusive of community agencies. Additionally, they will discuss the ways in which they help students prepare to enter the world of work.

Tue 9:30 am - 10:30 am
Post-Secondary Pathways

What I've learned so far: My story of Self-Advocacy for OPWDD services

Hannah Badain & Mariela AdamsClick here to join

In this session, I will take the audience through my journey of self-advocacy as I tried to understand how to best support my independence and achieve my life goals. I will share the lessons I learned that have helped me navigate challenges and opportunities along the way.

Tue 9:30 am - 10:30 am

Tuesday Late Morning Session (11:00am-12:00pm)

Ask the Experts

CSN STAFFClick here to join

CSN Staff will be available to answer any of your individual questions about transition and/or adult services.

Tue 11:00 am - 12:00 pm

Tuesday Afternoon Session (1:00-2:00pm)

Can Self-Direction Enhance My Kids Life?

Karen Healy & Brendan KleinClick here to join

This session with give an overview of Self-Direction: what you can use your budget dollars to pay for and advantages and challenges of SelfD. Brendan Klein will share his personal experiences of self directing and how he has come up with creative ways to use his budget.

*This session will run for 90 minutes.

Tue 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Systems Navigation and Financial

Health and Safety: Resources to Navigate the Adult World

Marilyn VitaleClick here to join

Individuals entering adulthood must deal with their own health and safety needs in order to live more independently. For example, they should learn how to take responsibility for health and wellness activities, the transition from pediatric to adult health care and how to advocate for their own health. They should learn how to prepare for emergencies and how to stay safe in their home. There are many resources to help them, including materials and a website developed at WIHD. This discussion will highlight important health and safety considerations while reviewing these resources.

Tue 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Keys to Success for Transition Age Youth in Employment

John BrysonClick here to join

The transition from school to adulthood is often one of the most stressful and challenging life stages for a student with autism and other disabilities. Educators and parents spend close to a decade, if not the entire life of a student, equipping them with the skills to live and work as independently as possible. There are several keys to success with employment that will help students achieve the outcomes they desire. During this session, a corporate inclusion consultant will discuss soft skills and other keys that contribute most to employment for youth, why they are an important part of being a good employee, and other tips for improving soft skills.

Tue 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Systems Navigation and Financial

LIFEPlan CCO NY: Care Management Explained

Joanna Wolff, Donna Marie Santoro & Tara KrisaClick here to join

This session explains how Care Management is the key to coordinating OPWDD supports and services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Families and people with IDD benefit through connection to a care manager who is assigned to help them find, coordinate, and access services, including healthcare, social supports, disease and chronic condition care, and access to preventative care.

Tue 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Post-Secondary Pathways

Transitioning to College: Preparing for Success

Lauren Griener & Robin KaufmanClick here to join

This session will focus on the transition to college and how to prepare your student for success, specifically around academics, self-advocacy, navigating college support services, independent living, executive functioning, socialization, and mental health. The format will be a Q & A, rather than a formal presentation, which we expect will result in a lively discussion. We invite participants to ask questions and bring up issues and concerns that impact their family members.

Tue 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Tuesday Late Afternoon Session (4:00-5:30pm)

Ask the Experts

CSN STAFFClick here to join

CSN Staff will be available to answer any of your individual questions about transition and/or adult services.

Tue 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

Tuesday Evening Session (7:00-8:00pm)

Effective Transition Planning and Post Secondary Placement Considerations for Students with Significant Disabilities

Stephanie Bellantoni & Debbie GoddardClick here to join

This guided discussion will include consideration of meaningful transition planning in the last year or two of high school, as well as important considerations for meaningful life planning and post-secondary placement for students with significant cognitive and developmental disabilities. Discussion leaders will support exploration of factors relevant to the exploration of post-secondary programs (including but not limited to day habilitation programs).

Tue 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Systems Navigation and Financial


Michelle NeustadtClick here to join

Michelle Neustadt will provide an overview of OPWDD, the benefits of OPWDD services and the process of gaining eligibility.

Tue 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Systems Navigation and Financial

Putting the Function Into Executive Function: Tips and Tools for Student Success

Leslie JoselClick here to join

Executive functioning skills are essential to how we learn and act. They're the brain's ability to filter and "screen out" incoming information (including our thoughts and reactions) that "get in the way" of our ability to self-regulate and complete tasks. When the brakes are not working we have difficulty attending to the "correct thing", at the right time, intensity and flexibility. Leslie will break down the six core Executive Functions, explain how they control EVERYTHING we do, and detail specific scaffolding, strategies and systems to offer support. She'll provide practical solutions to help conquer organization, time management, procrastination and focusing challenges.

Tue 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Social Media - How to Make Connections for Self Advocates

Brendan KleinClick here to join

We will explore social, group and internet safety.

Tue 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Wednesday 13 Jan 2021

Wednesday Morning Session (9:30-10:30am)

Becoming a Sexual and Relationship Self Advocate

Katherine MacLaughlinClick here to join

People with developmental disabilities are often left out of the conversation about sexuality, almost as if they are incapable of having thoughts, feelings, and needs. In reality, they, too, are sexual beings that need information and skills for making healthy decisions about sexuality and learning ways to stay safe as they navigate relationships. During this workshop, professionals, parents, and self-advocates will learn what is sexual self-advocacy, examine what knowledge and skills are needed to be a sexual self-advocate, and explore ways to support others in speaking up for what they want and need.

*This session will run for 90 minutes.

Passcode for Zoom: training

Wed 9:30 am - 10:30 am

The Effectiveness of Yoga for Special Needs

Yael SunshineClick here to join

In this workshop we will explore the effectiveness of yoga in addressing the concerns of the Special Needs population. Learn why it's helpful for managing anxiety, improving focus and sensory regulation as well as increasing relatedness and cognitive function. Discover how yoga can be adapted to different diagnoses to promote physical and emotional wellbeing. Some simple techniques will be demonstrated so you can experience this powerful healing modality directly.

Wed 9:30 am - 10:30 am
Wellness/Mental Health

Think College New York! College Options for Students with Intellectual Disabilities

Martha Mock, Beth A Myers, Bud Buck, Nathan Bach & Kaine RobinsonhoutClick here to join

Come learn about college options for students with intellectual disabilities. We will discuss options in New York as well as how to conduct a college search (or help students conduct a college search) and other tools from our colleagues at UMass-Boston's Think College website. We will also hear from a student who goes to Syracuse University and is part of InclusiveU. Before this session, if you would like to become more familiar with college options for students with intellectual disabilities in the U.S., watch the 25-min video Rethinking College

Wed 9:30 am - 10:30 am
Post-Secondary Pathways

Wednesday Late Morning Session (11:00am-12:00pm)

Intro to Transition Planning

Laura PetersenClick here to join

In this session you will hear an overview of the basics of transition planning. This session will cover the initial assessment, the IEP components, post-secondary planning and all the pieces that fall in between. This session will also cover graduation and diploma options available to students with IEPs. Participants will leave this session with a general understanding of the basics of transition planning.

Wed 11:00 am - 12:00 pm
Post-Secondary Pathways

What Housing Model is right for you?

Michele Lawton, Sue Carr & Musa KlebnikovClick here to join

A discussion of Macro Concepts including community, group, and individual housing options for people with disabilities. We will illustrate ways to determine what housing model is right for you and discuss how decisions on housing and community can be made based on an individual's needs, wants, and resources. We will discuss intentional communities as well as some examples of creative housing models. We will also discuss what is realistic based on today's services and supports landscape in NYS which can involve many levels of government funding, Medicaid funding, State funding, private funding, and supports from provider agencies.

Wed 11:00 am - 12:00 pm
Systems Navigation and Financial

Wednesday Afternoon Session: Keynote (12:30-2:00pm)

Town Hall session with Elected Officials

Tom AbinantiClick here to join

Wed 12:30 pm - 2:00 pm

Wednesday Afternoon Session (2:30-3:30pm)

Ask the Experts

CSN STAFFClick here to join

CSN Staff will be available to answer any of your individual questions about transition and/or adult services.

Wed 2:30 pm - 3:30 pm

Wednesday Late Afternoon Session: Keynote (4:00-6:00pm)

Keynote: Genetic Disorders and the Implications for Transition Planning

Dan Habib, Samuel Habib, Makayla & Shannon Richard, Angela Lindig, Laurie SimoneClick here to join

Wed 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Dan Habib

Dan Habib is the creator of the award-winning documentary films Including Samuel, Who Cares About Kelsey?, Mr. Connolly Has ALS and many other films on disability-related topics.  Habib is a filmmaker at the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability. 

His latest documentary, Intelligent Lives, examines our society’s narrow perceptions of intelligence. The Intelligent Lives project also contains four short films focusing on effective practices in transition for youth with disabilities from high school to higher education and employment.

Habib received the Champion of Human and Civil Rights Award from the National Education Association, and the Justice for All Grassroots Award from the American Association of People with Disabilities.  In 2014, Habib was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.  

Habib and his wife, Betsy, live in Concord, NH, with their sons Isaiah, 24, and Samuel, 21.

Jane St. John

Jane manages LifeCourse fidelity and provides content and product development for the LifeCourse Nexus team at UMKC-Institute for Human Development. She specializes in supporting families, supported decision making, and family leadership and training. Jane was instrumental in the development of the Charting the LifeCourse framework and related products. Additionally, she serves on the Missouri Guardianship Statutory Reform Task Force, and leads the Missouri Consortium for Supported Decision Making. Jane is the parent of three young men. Her son Ben, 30, has a developmental disability, and is supported to make his own choices and decisions in his good life.

Nathan Bach

Nathan, a student at InclusiveU, is the youngest of 3 and has always aspired to do what his older siblings do which includes going to college, getting a job, and having an apartment. Nathan was very active in high school particularly with sports and art. He has had many opportunities to be involved in the community and volunteers with many organizations. His favorite volunteer work continues to be delivering meals for Meals on Wheels. Nathan enjoys social activities and being around people.

Hannah Badain

Hannah is a young woman on the autism spectrum living in NYC. She graduated from Scripps College in 2011 with a degree in psychology. She works for a JCC as a program coordinator. She is a fierce advocate, both for herself and others. She is also a lover of animals, and is especially fond of her service dog, Sasha.

Daniel Barone, Sibling Society

I have a MSW and am the Program Director for the Nicholas Center, a non-profit organization that supports adults with DD in obtaining work readiness skills. I have an older brother (30 yrs.) with ASD and ID.

Stephanie Bellantoni, Community Support Network at WIHD

Stephanie has been a family and community educator at the CSN at WIHD since 2016, and is the parent of a teenager with I/DD. Focus areas for Stephanie include inclusion and community integration, self-advocacy and self-determination, and meaningful post-secondary options for students with I/DD.

Kim Brennan, Supporting Special Families Inc.

Kim started a business, Supporting Special Families Inc., to help parents of special needs children get support and guidance in Westchester County. Kim has also supported parents in their Annual Review Meetings in the Edgemont School District. After graduating from the LEND Program, Kim plans to continue as a Family Advocate in her community. Attending the LEND Program has taught her, among other things, family-centered approaches, cultural competency and systems of care which will make her a more knowledgeable and effective Family Advocate in her Community.

John Bryson, MS Ed, CESP, NEXT for AUTISM

John Bryson, Senior Manager, Corporate Consulting, creates partnerships with businesses, providers, and school districts to develop and enhance effective employment services. John specializes in school-to-work transition services and has implemented innovative strategies to develop career pathways for workers with disabilities. John is a former educator and public sector leader with over ten years of experience supporting students and adults with disabilities while addressing other employment barriers. His use of direct instruction and cooperative learning strategies has led to consistently successful outcomes. He is committed to exploring innovative strategies and using his education experience to help companies hire and retain individuals with ASD. He holds a Bachelor of Arts, Communications degree and a Master of Science, Education degree from The University of Akron.

Sue Carr, Westchester Institute for Human Development

Sue Carr has an extensive background in educating, assisting and advocating for those with developmental disabilities. In her previous professional and volunteer roles, she served as a job coach, academic advisor and parent advocate. She is an experienced Self-Direction Broker and Certified Housing Navigator for New York State. Sue’s passion and energy for what she does stem from what she has learned and experienced working with her own daughter who has Autism, lives independently and is Self-Directed. She is also a board member of Autism Directory Service, Inc.

Jacie Feuer, The Arc Westchester

Jacie Feuer, Transition Services Director, at The Arc Westchester assumed her current role September 2019. As Transition Services Director, Jacie works closely with Westchester County high schools special education personnel and other community based organizations to identify and assist students during their transition years. Jacie has been working at The Arc Westchester since 2016 and prior to her present role was a Coordinator of Supported Employment where her involvement in the partnership with Project SEARCH and Employment Training Program (ETP) was initiated and continues. Jacie has worked with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities since 2012. Prior to joining The Arc Westchester she was a Program Coordinator at a sensory gym where she developed programming, procedures and policies for the after school and summer programs as well as scored assessments and developed sensory plans for children aged 3-16. Jacie’s experience also includes providing in-home behavioral therapy in accordance with the students’ Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) plan. She received a BA in Applied Psychology, with honors, from Pace University in 2013.

Stuart Flaum, ChSNC, Stuart Flaum Advisors

Stuart is personally motivated and sincerely dedicated, helping individuals live self determined and financially secure lives. To that end, Stuart has spent the past twenty years advocating and designing financial plans for families and people in which intellectual and developmental disability is present. Stuart serves on the New York State Developmental Planning Council, a Federally funded, New York State Agency working under the direction of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. Stuart has served as treasurer of Parent to Parent New York State, secretary National Autism Association Metro NY, vice president of Strokes of Genius and on the Planning and Advisory Committee Devereux Glenholme School. Stuart is a graduate of Hobart College and received a Chartered Special Needs Consultant Designation from the American College.

Lynn Giles-Harris, Nyack Public Schools

Mrs. Giles-Harris has been working in the field of Special Education for 30 years. The past ten years have been spent in her current role as a Transition Coordinator. She is a graduate of SUNY Geneseo with a bachelors in Elementary and Special Education. She completed her master’s degree at City College of New York. She is the mother of four grown children.

Debbie Goddard

Debbie is a Family and Community Educator at the Lower Hudson Valley FACE Center at WIHD where she works collaboratively with the team to improve outcomes for children and families with disabilities. Debbie served for many years as a Parent Member in her district and was always available to parents and families with resources and encouragement. As the founder and president of the Ossining School District SEPTO she coordinated with professionals to lead workshops, presentations and Q & A sessions on a variety of relevant topics to the disability community. She is the mother of two sons one of whom has autism and who was the impetus for the work she continues to do. Her passion about Life Skills is evident in her work and is prominent in conversations with families about the future of young people with disabilities. In additional to a college degree, Debbie is a graduate of the Certified NYS Partners in Policymaking.

Lauren Greiner, Ph.D, ASD Groups Westchester

Lauren Greiner, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist who received her doctorate from Fordham University. She completed a pre-doctoral fellowship in neuropsychology and DBT at Yale University School of Medicine and a post-doctoral fellowship in college mental health. From 2008 – 2016, she developed and ran a college support program for students with ASD at Purchase College, SUNY. Dr. Greiner is currently in private practice, specializing in the treatment of teens, young adults, and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders and co-morbid mental health diagnoses. She also has a general mental health practice with a particular focus on depression, anxiety disorders, OCD, chronic illness, BPD, and self- injury. In addition to providing individual psychotherapy, Dr. Greiner has been running groups for individuals on the spectrum through ASD Groups Westchester for seven years.

Samuel Habib

Samuel Habib is a high school graduate and community college student currently pursuing a career as a multimedia storyteller. He interned at the local community access television station in Concord, NH and had a paid job at a video production studio. In 2016, he created a film about disability rights leader Judith Heumann, that was featured in the Breaking Down Barriers Film Festival in Moscow, Russia. Samuel also helped Dan create the nationally broadcast film Mr. Connolly Has ALS. Samuel uses a wheelchair for mobility and a communication device (as well as his voice) to express himself. In addition to exploring his current and future academic and career options, Samuel also navigates significant, chronic health challenges.

Judy Harrington, Summit School at Nyack

Ms. Harrington is a Transition Coordinator & Vocational Counselor at the Summit School (Recognized NYS Private School) in Nyack. She graduated from SUNY Oswego with a bachelors in Communications Studies and earned a masters degree in School Counseling from Long Island University. She is the mother of three college students.

Karen Healy, Westchester Institute for Human Development

I hold a Masters Degree in Business and Marketing with over 20 years experience working in a business environment. I have been a Self Direction Broker with WIHD for 7 years helping over 60 families to develop, implement and maintain a person centered Self Direction Plan and budget. I supervise a team of 7 brokers at WIHD and oversee 160 self directing individuals and families who WIHD serve in Westchester County.

Rick Healy, East Ramapo Central School District

Mr. Healy has served as the district-wide Transition Coordinator for the East Ramapo Central School District since 2007. He graduated from SUNY Cortland with a bachelors in Communications, minor in Sociology, completed a master’s degree in Guidance and Counseling from the College of New Rochelle, and earned a Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Administration from SUNY New Paltz. He is also a proud father of a nine month old baby boy.

Carin Horowitz, LMSW, Bedford Central School District

Carin Horowitz has been a transition specialist for just over for years, first at The Arc Westchester, and now with the Bedford Central School District. She has a background supporting students with disabilities in college as the former Director of Disability Services at Manhattanville College and Bronx Community College.

Leslie Josel, Order Out of Chaos

Leslie Josel, an ADHD-academic and parenting coach, is an award-winning entrepreneur, having founded Order Out of Chaos – a virtual company whose mission is to help parents guide their students to success in learning and in life – when her son was first diagnosed with ADHD. She is also the creator of the award-winning Academic Planner: A Tool for Time Management®, a planner that helps students develop time management skills, and the award-winning author of 3 books including the recently published, “How to Do it Now Because it’s Not Going Away: An Expert Guide to Getting Stuff Done.” A respected resource on ADHD and Executive Functioning, Leslie writes the weekly “Dear ADHD Family Coach” column for ADDitude Magazine, the premiere magazine for adults and children with ADHD and LD. She speaks to audiences all over the world helping them utilize their resources to best navigate the task-driven world in which they live. This past October, Leslie’s line of student organizing products – a collaboration with organizing products company, Samsill Corp – was released. And for the last four years, Leslie has been named by Global Gurus one of the top 20 Time Management experts in the world.

Robin Kaufman, ASD Groups Westchester

Robin Kaufman, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist in practice for over 25 years. She spent 18 years at Purchase College, SUNY, first coordinating their supported education program which provided services to students with psychiatric disabilities, then directing their Counseling Center, and finally assuming the position of Vice President for Student Affairs. Dr. Kaufman oversaw the disabilities services program and served as the 504 Compliance Officer.  She was awarded a grant “Aspergers Syndrome: College and Beyond-Preparing for the Future”. Dr. Kaufman is currently in private practice with a specialty in college-age students and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Musa Klebnikov, Special Needs Advisors LLC       

In New York City I have been involved in numerous volunteer organizations including the Mayors Office for People with Disability’s Housing Panel, NYC Fair, the Manhattan Developmental Disabilities Council and Citizens Committee for Children. As an advocate I have testified at OPWDD meetings, attended Statewide conferences and visited elected politicians. I have participated in the Yang Tan Institute and Partners in Policymaking programs at Cornell University, and am a trained facilitator for Supported Decision-Making Agreements. My education includes a Master’s degree from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University and a BA from the University of Pennsylvania. I am a board member of numerous organizations and have worked in both Federal and State governments in urban design and development, as well as created and ran a foundation now merged into the Harriman Institute at Columbia University.

Brenden Klein, Westchester Institute for Human Development

25-year-old Brendan Klein is the Coordinator of Self Advocacy & Community Engagement at the Westchester Institute for Human Development (WIHD) in Valhalla, NY. Hired in 2018 with a grant from the Taft Foundation, Brendan’s mission is to engage and empower his peers in integrated community service projects and expand inclusive social opportunities for young adults with disabilities in Westchester County. Brendan uses his social media/tech/video skills and personal outreach to help connect young people with disabilities to each other and integrate them into meaningful social activities in a way that is innovative and unique to the special needs community. In addition to his work at WIHD, Brendan is also a passionate self-advocate at both the local and state level, participating as a WIHD Board member, as an officer in Hear Our Voices group, as a peer facilitator at Youth Power and as a member of Self Advocacy-New York State, or SANYS. He will receive the SANYS 2019 Media Innovator award at their October conference. Brendan also serves as a self-advocate on the Family Advisory Committee at Life Plan NY, a NYS Care Coordination entity. Brendan will be presenting to his first national audience in November at the AUCD Conference in Washington, DC. This fall, Brendan was the first person with an intellectual disability accepted into the Volunteer NY Leadership Development training program. Brendan is actively engaged in the community, both personally and with his social network. He volunteers at the Mt. Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry as well as the Pleasantville Community Garden, where he received the volunteer of the year award in 2017. Brendan was so inspired by the garden work and its mission that he decided to bring its therapeutic benefits to WIHD, spearheading a campaign to revive the garden with the WIHD Child Welfare program. This goal was accomplished through a grant from, and with the support of, his partners at the Pleasantville Community Garden and St. John’s Episcopal Church where the garden is located. Brendan and his social groups regularly participate in the Volunteer NY annual 9/11 Serve and Remember project as well as the 914 Cares Empty Bowls project to help feed food insecure families in our local communities. Brendan is the youngest of four brothers and a lifelong resident of Pleasantville NY as well as a cancer survivor. He is a proud graduate of the PUFSD/Pace University Lab School program and was the recipient of the 2013 Overcoming the Odds award from Student Advocacy in Elmsford, NY. In addition to be named a 2019 Millennial honoree, Brendan was also just awarded the 2019 Volunteer Rock Star by United Way.

Tara Krisa, LIFEPlan CCO NY

Tara’s role within Life Plan CCO is an Associate Director of Care Management in the Hudson Valley, specifically Westchester county. Tara has been in the I/DD field for 13 years. In her early years in the field, she was a Direct Support Professional in a Day Habilitation program and provided direct support to a child with autism in his home. Tara has spent the past 12 years working in Medicaid Service Coordination/ Care Coordination. She has supported members who live in a variety of settings including Supportive IRAs, Supervised IRAs, and members who live on their own or with family.

Michele Lawton, Specials Needs Advisors, LLC

I founded Special Needs Advisors after a career in accounting as a Certified Public Accountant and Accounting Consultant. Creating a group home for my severely autistic son in Westchester County, NY, led to a new path as a full-time housing and services advisor for the I/DD population. I have worked as a consultant/advocate assisting clients in finding and creating housing and residential supports and as a consultant in assisting with access to all services for individuals with disabilities for the past four years and I remain active in statewide discussions on issues facing the Autism and I/DD population. With agency partners, I was able to set up a model home for high needs individuals with challenging behaviors, and my dream is to have it duplicated around the state. My education is a B.S. in Accounting from St. John Fisher College. I hold a certification as a NYS Housing Navigator and an Independent Self-Direction Broker and completed the Cornell Course in Work Incentives for Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare Benefits Navigation. I am a member of the Westchester Institute for Human Development Community Taskforce on Disabilities, the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health Advisory Committee, GROW, Inc., and a former Board Member of Cardinal McCloskey Community Services. I have also given presentations on Housing and Self-Direction in New York City, Brooklyn, Westchester County, Rockland County, and Orange County.

Shari Lewitt, Arc Westchester

Shari Lewitt has worked in the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities for the past nineteen years. Currently in her leadership position as Director of Career Development and Supports at Arc Westchester, her primary focus is to assist individuals to obtain and maintain community based employment. In addition, she oversees the Project SEARCH Autism Enhancement program which creates career exploration opportunities for young adults on the Autism Spectrum interested in entering the workforce. Also, Shari oversees Transition services for Arc Westchester. Shari pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology at the University of Delaware. She continued her education at Long Island University receiving her Master of Science in Education. Shari is the recipient of the Business Council of Westchester’s Rising Stars 40 Under 40 award.

Angela Lindig

Angela is mom to Amber who is 24-years-old and who was recently diagnosed correctly with an HNRNPH2 gene mutation, an ultra-rare disorder with approximately 100 individuals diagnosed worldwide. Angela’s is also the executive director of Idaho Parents Unlimited, Idaho’s Parent Training and Information Center and Family to Family Health Information Center for parents raising children with disabilities. Angela is also a former Chair of the Idaho State Independent Living Council, the current Chair of the Idaho Infant Toddler Coordinating Council, and she also spearheaded the effort to create Idaho’s first universally accessible playground – the Adventure Island Playground. Angela holds a Bachelor of Science in Human Services (BSHS) with a Concentration in Family and Children Services.

Katherine McLaughlin, Elevatus Training

Katherine McLaughlin, M.Ed., AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator, is the Founder, CEO and Lead Trainer for Elevatus Training. As a national expert on sexuality and I/DD she trains professionals, and parents as well as individuals to become sexual self-advocates, and peer sexuality educators. She is the author of, Sexuality Education for People with Developmental Disabilities curriculum. She has developed two online courses: Developmental Disability and Sexuality 101 for professionals and Talking to Your Kids: Developmental Disabilities and Sexuality for parents, and a 3-Day certificate training: Becoming a Sexuality Educator and Trainer. She has spent her 25+ year career committed to elevating the status of all people, which is why the name of her growing company is Elevatus Training. Contact Katherine at

Beth Myers, Syracuse University Taishoff Center

Beth Myers is the Lawrence B. Taishoff Professor of Inclusive Education and Executive Director of the Taishoff Center for Inclusive Higher Education. She is a tenure-track faculty member in the Teaching and Leadership Department in the School of Education at Syracuse University, teaching in the Inclusive Elementary program where she started in 2014. She oversees InclusiveU, a federally-recognized model program for college students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Martha Mock, University of Rochester – Center for Disability                                                                                                

Martha Mock, PhD, is a professor and director of the Center for Disability and Education at the Warner School of Education and Human Development at the University of Rochester. Mock has worked alongside and on behalf of individuals with disabilities and their families as a special education teacher, professor, and advocate for over two decades. Mock is widely known for her work in the area of college options for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Laura Petersen, Mamaroneck High School

Laura Petersen is the Transition Counselor at Mamaroneck High School. Laura has been in this role since 2013 and works most closely with students with developmental disabilities. In her role, she works with families in assisting with transition planning, including applying to state agencies and navigating post-secondary options. In addition, her work with students includes overseeing a vocational program that allows them to build their vocational skills for success in their lives after high school.

Makayla Richard

Makayla is a 15-year-old loving, funny, and energetic teenager. She is currently participating in 8th-grade virtual homebound instruction. Makayla loves playing buddy basketball, soccer, and tennis. Makayla is always on the move and eager to be a part of the action. She also participates in adaptive skiing and a fishing club. Makayla loves her dance classes and shines in the yearly recital. Makayla has participated in Team Impact and spent 4 years as an honorary VCU lacrosse teammate. Makayla loves Ipad time and watching Youtube channels. She loves spending time with her family, especially her sister Ariana, and participating in church. Mostly, Makayla loves to give hugs and reminds us to find the good in others.

Shannon Richard

Shannon Richard is a pediatric physical therapist. Her oldest daughter, Makayla, was born with a rare genetic syndrome. Smith-Magenis Syndrome results in cognitive, behavioral, sleep, and medical implications. She tirelessly works to create positive changes within her community and provides training and ideas for inclusion and adapting activities for a local nonprofit organization that provides opportunities for kids and young adults with different abilities to be included in sports and community activities just like their typical peers. Shannon is a strong advocate, supporting Makayla’s complex medical, educational, and emotional needs. She is always seeking opportunities to learn and grow to help Makayla be the happiest and most independent individual that she can be.

Kaine Robinson

Hello, my name is Kaine Robinson and I’m a senior at Syracuse University in the InclusiveU program. At Syracuse, I’m studying sport management. My dream goal/ career is to become a personal trainer to help people get fit and eat right. I am a kind, caring and a friendly person, once you get too know me. I care about everybody in my community.  I would love to meet all of you in person. Thank you for your time and wellbeing.

Danielle Roma, Sibling Society

I am a 26 year old sibling of a brother (25yrs.)  diagnosed with ASD. I have run sibling groups for children and adults throughout the Hudson Valley. Currently, I am running an adult sibling group through Spectrum Designs’ Sibling Society. I work as a speech language pathologist, specializing in AAC and literacy.

Donna Marie Santoro, LIFEPlan CCO NY

Donna Marie Santoro is employed as a Care Manager Supervisor with LIFEPlan CCO NY. Donna has been with LIFEPlan since July 2018. Prior to LIFEPlan, Donna’s background encompasses more than 35 years in the field of human services, including 15 years as Licensed Mental Health Counselor, supporting special populations of all ages. Donna’s expertise in the areas of care management and service coordination, counseling, and casework, includes resource coordination related to benefits and entitlements, housing and housing subsidies, education services and advocacy. Donna is a proud mother of 3 successful and resourceful young adults, including her 21 year old son who is living with Autism.

Marna Solarsh

Marna Solarsh is an attorney in Scarsdale who for over 25 years has concentrated in the areas of special needs planning, guardianships, special education and elder law. As the mother of an adult daughter with autism Marna is fully aware of the challenges and issues families face in raising a child with a disability and the importance of future needs planning. Marna has presented to many parent groups about special needs planning and advocacy. She is a member of the New York State Bar Association Section on Elder Law and Special Needs Planning and its Committee on Disability Rights. Marna is also on the Board of Directors of the Westchester Independent Living Center and a member of the Westchester County Committee on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

Yael Sunshine

Yael Sunshine holds a Master’s in Teaching with certifications in Early Childhood, Childhood and Special Education, teaching both neuro typical and atypical children. With over 15 years of experience, She’s helped 100+ students with Autism, Downs syndrome, sensory regulation/processing issues, ADHD/ADD, traumatic brain injury, Cerebral Palsy, speech and language delays as well as high functioning people with learning disabilities/differences. Yael is also a certified Yoga Teacher and Yoga Therapist (C-IAYT) who uses yoga techniques to address her student’s physical, mental and emotional needs. In addition to her work in Yoga for Special Needs, she piloted the Yoga for Breast Cancer class at Montefiore Nyack Hospital, and has developed yoga programs for addiction and trauma.

Susan Varsames, Holistic Learning Center, LLC

Undergraduate Degree: New York University: 1983 in Educational Psychology and Special Education; Graduate Degree: New York University: 1988 in Early Childhood Special Education. Founder and owner of Holistic Learning Center in White Plains, NY combining nutrition, special education, oral motor speech therapy, Applied behavior Analysis, Cranio Sacral Therapy, Reiki, Holistic Ocean Therapy, and sensory integration OT for children birth through adulthood. Founder and owner of the Holistic Learning Center of Maui offering Cranio Sacral therapy, Reiki, floating therapy, meditation classes, parent consultation for special education and behavioral intervention and consultation in essential oil use for health and wellness goals. Both sessions and training classes offered. Staff trainer for special education programs/school districts for 35 years. School district consultant for special education programs for 30 years with emphasis on opening classrooms and supporting staff where ABA, Floortime, and TEACCH methodology are utilized, specialty in behavioral interventions. Trainer for Applied Behavioral Analysis for Westchester County Dept. of Health/ Early Intervention Unit as well as several public and private schools including college courses for over 30 years. Cranio Sacral Therapist for ages birth through adults: trained at Upledger Institute: Courses of Study include CST 1 and 2, Somato Emotional Release 1 and 2, CST for Pediatrics, Visceral manipulation 1, and Bio Aquatics for Dolphin Assisted Therapy. Reiki Master: Trained at The Open Center in NYC for for Usui and under William Rand, Founder of the International Center for Reiki Training, for Karuna and Holy Fire: Able to teach Reiki Levels I and II and Karuna. Reiki Researcher for ICRT for Harvard Study.

Marilyn Vitale

Marilyn Vitale has a M.A. degree in Social Sciences and Humanities with a concentration in Ethics and a M.A. in Counseling Psychology. She worked in the counseling field for 20 years and as a research assistant at Fordham University prior to completing a LEND fellowship at WIHD. Ms. Vitale is the parent of a 44-year-old young woman with intellectual and physical disabilities. Before retiring, Ms. Vitale was a Program Coordinator at WIHD where her focus has been on the health and safety of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, guardianship, and supported decision-making. She developed training programs on health self-advocacy entitled My Health, My Choice, My Responsibility and on emergency preparedness entitled My Safety, My Responsibility, My Plan, and she collaborated on a transition website entitled Taking Charge of My Health. Ms. Vitale served on the Westchester Medical Center Ethics Committee for 18 years. She is presently on the Board of Directors of Community Based Services, an agency that supports individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Joanna Wolff, LIFEPlan CCO NY

Joanna has over 10 years of experience supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Joanna currently oversees LIFEPlan’s enrollment and outreach department. LIFEPlan has 18 dedicated Enrollment Specialists who support all members enrolling into Care Management Services within the agency. LIFEPlan’s outreach team works to educate and inform the communities served about services offered through Care Coordination Organizations (CCO) and Health Homes.