FIND is a project of ASK Resource Center


January 2018

2016 Presenters

Lioness Ayres, PhD, RN is an Associate Professor at the University of Iowa College of Nursing. Dr. Ayres is also a nurse researcher at the University of Iowa studying families and chronic illness. She has a special interest in children and young adults with mobility impairments, especially how children learn to think of themselves as independent, competent, and valuable members of their social groups. Dr. Ayres is also interested in how young adults with physical disabilities make the transition from an integrated pediatric health care system to a fragmented adult health care system. She believes social skills, especially competence, autonomy, and strong relationships make a big difference in the success of that transition.

Brenda Bassingthwaite has worked with the Iowa educational system in various capacities since 1998. Positions have included a School Psychologist, Behavior Interventionist, and trainer. She pursed her doctorate at the University of Iowa to strengthen skills in Applied Behavior Analysis. Dr. Bassingthwaite is currently the program manager for contracts obtained through the Iowa Department of Education to teach challenging behavior teams from Area Education Agencies and school districts to conduct quality functional behavior assessments. She and her team of trainers at the Center for Disabilities and Development have been working to train 19 teams in Iowa.

Patricia Behar is the Director of ICATER (Iowa Center for Assistive Technology Education and Research) in the College of Education at the University of Iowa. ICATER provides assistive technology and universal design for learning and training through college classes and professional development institutes. ICATER also provides technology consultations for students across the lifespan. Patricia holds degrees in Biomedical Engineering and Biomechanics from the University of Iowa. Her work prior to ICATER was in a hospital setting for 24 years as a Rehabilitation Engineer and supervisor of an outreach clinic. Patricia is also the treasurer on the Board of Directors of the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America.

Danielle Butterfield is a self-advocate who chose the option of living in a host home provided by Mosaic. She is very involved in promoting self-advocacy and has been to Washington D.C. to meet with elected officials to share her story and the issues she has experienced as an individual with an intellectual disability. Danielle loves reading and being involved in her community.

Julie Clark-Albrecht works at Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parents Association as a Training Coordinator. She enjoys developing and coordination trainings across the state of Iowa to foster, adoptive, and kinship families. Julie has facilitated train-the-trainer trainings and developed and modified training curriculum. Prior to her work at IFAPA, Julie worked for Iowa KidsNet as a Resource Family Licensor, PSMAPP Trainer and PS-MAPP Coordinator. She has over 19 years of experience working in the child welfare system including four years supervising transitional living programs for homeless youth and young mothers. Julie is also a parent of two preschool aged children and one young adult giving her daily humor and perspective in her parenting journey!

Melissa Cloud is a Mosaic host home provider and has supported Danielle since June 2015. Melissa obtained a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Drake University with an emphasis in Public Policy. Her previous position was as the Leader of Wells Fargo’s Diverse Abilities Team. Melissa is very involved in her community supporting a variety of organizations through volunteerism with volunteer hours. Her current works includes weekly volunteer activities, and serving as a Board member at ASK Resource Center and involvement as a member network in of the Central Iowa Diversity and Inclusion Council.

Elizabeth Delsandro is a clinical professor in the Department of Communication Sciences at the University of Iowa. Her primary responsibilities are supervising student clinicians in working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Wendell Johnson Speech and Hearing Clinic. Elizabeth teaches graduate level courses and develops quality programming for individuals with Autism, and speaks at both the national and state level. Her interests include using best practices for individuals with Autism, motivation in learning, social and functional communication; she feels honored to have learned from so many individuals with Autism and their families over the past 20 years.

Michelle Dickerson is a Counselor for Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS). She holds a Master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from Drake University. Michelle’s work primarily focuses on transition aged youth at several local high schools. Prior to her work at IVRS, Michelle was a case manager and home supervisor at ChildServe.

Dee Gethmann is a Consultant at the Iowa Department of Education in area of Early Childhood Special Education. She has worked at the Department of Education for 19 years on projects involving Least Restrictive Environments (LRE), Early Childhood Outcomes, Inclusion, and Iowa Quality Preschool Program Standards. Dee holds a Master’s degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Early Childhood Special Education.

Kelly Gibbs holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa and is currently pursuing a MBA from the University of Dubuque. She has over ten years of experience working on behalf of individuals with disabilities and advocating for disability rights. Kelly is a Certified Employment Support Professional and is in the process of receiving an ADA coordinator designation. She currently works under the Work Incentive Planning and Assistance (WIPA) program, sponsored by the Social Security Administration. All of the Iowa WIPA staff are employees of Disability Rights Iowa and Certified Community Work Incentives Coordinators through Virginia Commonwealth University.

Dakota Johns is an Arizona-based motivational speaker who travels the country educating people on disability advocacy, and empowering them with his message of how to live your dreams. Dakota certainly doesn't allow his disability to get in the way of his dreams, as evidenced by his extensive list of accomplishments: national keynote speaker, business owner, college student, disability advocate, Best Buddies ambassador, and Special Olympian.

Gina Johns offers support to her son, Dakota in a variety of roles: business manager, personal assistant, and chief cheerleader! Gina has lived experience parenting a young adult with intellectual disabilities, so Dakota has the support he needs to live his dreams. She is the wind beneath his wings!

Mistie Johnson is a graduate of Kaplan University with a Bachelor’s degree in Management Business Administration. Mistie has a strong background in the disability and advocacy arena. She has provided support to the disability community through a variety of roles, including as a direct care provider, Employment Network Coordinator, Disability Program Navigator, and Employment Specialist through Work Force Development.

Kim Karwal is a Rural Rehabilitation and Assistive Technology Center Support Specialist at Easter Seals Iowa. She obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from Iowa State University. Kim supports farm family members with disabilities and provides assistive technology supports statewide for children and adults with disabilities and other special needs.

Nathan D. Kirstein is a graduate of Drake University Law School and a staff attorney at Disability Rights Iowa. He provides representation and advocacy to individuals with disabilities focusing on special education and juvenile justice. Nathan previously worked as a contract attorney for the Public Defender’s office in Des Moines. He is very involved in community activities, especially those relating to children and youth.

Melissa Lehan Mackin is an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Iowa. She conducts research that seeks to examine and address disparities in reproductive and sexual health. Dr. Lehan Mackin’s current research seeks to fill a gap by developing sexual education resources that consider both strength and socio-communicative needs of youth with Autism Spectrum disorder. She also teaches undergraduate public health nursing and partners with organizations that serve youth with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Amanda Lewis will bring her personal experiences as a student with Specific Learning Disabilities who successfully navigated college. To add color and clarity to her breakout session presentation, Amanda shares her experience as a high school teacher with a background in School Psychology and assistive technology. Betsy Lin is a consultant at the Iowa Department of Education in the area of Early Childhood Special Education. She taught for over 13 years in preschool settings for children with special needs and has worked at the Department of Education for four years on projects involving Autism, Specially Designed Instruction, Inclusion, and Assessment. Betsy has a master’s degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Early Childhood.

Jayme Mews has worked in the field of developmental disabilities for over 18 years and within the Iowa school system for the past nine years. Her positions within the school system have included a School Social Worker, Behavior Consultant, and trainer. Ms. Mews pursued her Master’s Degree at the University of Iowa and obtained her Board Certification in Behavior Analysis. She is currently an assistive trainer for the challenging behavior teams for school districts through a contract with the Iowa Department of Education. Ms. Mews teaches challenging behavior teams to conduct quality functional behavior assessments.

Kelli Noveshen is employed with Youth and Shelter Services (YSS) as a Self-Sufficiency Advocate and Supervisor with the Iowa Aftercare Services Network, a position she has held for over nine years. Kelli serves Aftercare participants in Story, Boone, Dallas, and Greene counties. She has over 15 years of experience in the human service field. Before coming to YSS, Kelli worked in the areas of domestic violence, in-home therapy and skill building, and licensing of foster/adoptive homes. In addition to her work in Aftercare, Kelli has been a leader of PS-MAPP classes for prospective foster/adoptive parents in Iowa for over ten years. She graduated from the University of Iowa with degrees in Social Work and Psychology. Kelli is also a Licensed Social Worker.

Maggie Pickett is a Certified Speech-Language Pathologist and Iowa native. She obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders and a Master’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa, specializing in Child Language Development. Maggie’s experience as a Speech-Language Pathologist, Early Literacy Consultant and Assistive Technology Consultant with Grant Wood Area Education Agency expanded her professional repertoire. As the Program Consultant for Assistive Technology with the Iowa Department of Education and Accessible Instructional Materials Coordinator, Maggie is committed to ensuring each and every Iowa learner has access to the appropriate tools required to increase, maintain and improve functional capabilities to support learning at high levels.

Judy Russell is currently the Director of Drake University Head Start, which serves 926 at-risk children in a six county area. Before joining the Drake team, Judy worked for the Iowa Department of Education as an Early Childhood Coordinator. Prior to joining the Iowa Department of Education, Judy lived in Arizona and served as a school administrator overseeing early childhood special and general education programs. Judy’s background, grounding, and love go back to her roots as special education teacher.

Beth Rydberg is a graduate of Iowa State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Family Services. She is a Senior Advocate at Disability Rights Iowa (DRI). Beth has worked at the DRI for 14 years advocating for individuals with disabilities in areas including education, juvenile justice, community integration, prisons, and abuse and neglect. Prior to her employment at DRI, Beth worked as part of the Parent Educator Connection at Heartland AEA and as a social worker for children with significant disabilities. She is the parent of two adult children with intellectual disabilities.

Rik Shannon joined the Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council in June, 1997 as a Public Policy Program Planner. He has over twenty years of experience in human services and disability. Mr. Shannon also has more than fifteen years of experience in planning, policy development, and mobilizing constituency response to issues that affect Iowans with disabilities and their families. He managed the Council’s ID Action project and is responsible for providing recommendations and guidance on policy development and collaborative efforts within grassroots organizations across the state.

Marcus Sikora is a 25-year-old creative soul who has Down syndrome. He has followed his dreams of acting on stage with both local and national companies, and has written a short, one-act play, as well as his first children’s book, “Black Day: The Monster Rock Band.” He has also just finished directing an animated short that accompanies his book. When Marcus is not pursuing his passion for theater and singing, he is working on his latest project, a book sequel that stills needs a title! Mardra Sikora is an author, speaker, advocate, and Marcus’s mom. She believes in the power of words and uses both fiction and nonfiction to advocate for and with Marcus. Several of Ms. Sikora’s published work includes: “Essay: Arguing Eugenics” and “The Future and Other Twists: A Collection of Short and Super-Short Stories”. In addition, she is a co-author of The Parent’s Guide to Down syndrome: Advice, Information, Inspiration, and Support for Raising Your Child from Diagnosis through Adulthood. Ms. Sikora’s body of work is included in a variety of anthologies and national websites. She also shares her latest thoughts on social media and her website,

Emmanuel Smith attended Drake University where he completed his Bachelors in Political Science. Born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, he has held a lifelong interest in disability and political action to improve the rights of people with disabilities. Emmanuel is a Benefits Planner and Advocate at Disability Rights Iowa. He believes employment offers the security and purpose all people deserve. For Emmanuel, his experience living with a disability is a privilege and one which prompts endless discovery.

Karen Thompson is the Executive Director at ASK Resource Center. ASK serves as Iowa’s F2F HIC and PTIC, and houses other projects that promote family leadership and advocacy support. Karen holds a degree in Psychology from Nebraska Wesleyan University, and has worked in human services and public administration professionally for 19 years. Her experience in disability advocacy spans from individual-level work as a job coach and rehabilitation counselor to program administration and policy development at the local, state and Federal levels. Personally, Karen has experience with disability in many life roles including being the daughter of stroke survivor, a person with Dyslexia and the mother of two children with ADHD – one of whom also has a non-specific learning disorder.

Faye Van Roekel is an the Iowa IDEA Systems Coordinator at Northwest Area Education Agency, an Iowa intermediate educational service agency that provides quality, student-centered support services through relationships with families, schools and communities. She coordinates all aspects of the Iowa IDEA system (a web-based IFSP, IEP, Child Find, and data management and reporting system) within Northwest AEA, and supports over a one thousand users. She is also involved in advancing the effectiveness of the system statewide. She is passionate about helping special educators and data entry staff make effective and efficient use of the Iowa IDEA web system, along with other technology, data, and social media for communication of special education processes, practices, and procedures. In her time off Faye keeps busy with her three children and their activities. She also enjoys teaching Zumba® and step aerobics.

Jen Zajicek has been working with adults with intellectual disabilities for over 20 years. She is the Associate Director of Mosaic and oversees all admissions. Jen loves working with families to find the right placement for their loved ones.

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