To help implement the ProActive Caring Project, The Center on Aging and Disability Policy at Mount Saint Mary College is drawing on the wisdom and experience of a Statewide Advisory Council composed of self-advocates, practitioners, and family members.

The Advisory Council, which meets quarterly, is vital to ensuring the success of the project.  The Council’s responsibilities include the following:

  • Nominating community-based agencies that are known or recommended by their networks as possible hosts for the caregiver trainings.
  • Promoting the availability and benefits of the trainings, so they reach the maximum number of caregivers, including caregivers in un- and under-served communities.
  • Helping mobilize communities in support of individuals with intellectual, developmental, and other disabilities--and their caregivers—by recruiting trusted and well-connected community leaders as advocates of the trainings.
  • Providing feedback about the roll-out and implementation of the ProActive Caring project. Recommending adjustments to the trainings and collateral materials based on evaluations by participating caregivers and organizations.
  • Assisting with exploration of sustainability measures and long-term funding and support resources for continuation of the trainings following the initial three-year period.

Statewide Advisory Council 

Luis Abramson is a retired NYPD Officer with two children in public schools. He participated on the Family Advisory Council for LIFEPlan CCO NY and in 2019 received an award for outstanding advocacy from PULSES (Parents United Learning the Special Education System); he currently serves as the Central Hudson Region NYS PTA Diversity Chair, participates in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for the Special Olympics, and supports several other community initiatives. 

Sandra Brownsey is a Certified Special Education Teacher and a School Administrator who has worked with children on the autism spectrum and their families for over 30 years. She is currently Educational Program Coordinator at the Center for Spectrum Services in Ellenville, NY, where she oversees the teaching staff, consults with school districts, and assists in the development of new classes. She is also a certified yoga instructor with a background in yoga for children with autism and special needs.

Lisa Currao is the parent of a 19-year-old on the autism spectrum.  She is a graduate of the 2012 NYS Partners in PolicyMaking project and the 2016 Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) program, and the proud coach of a Thunderbolt Special Olympics team in track and field. She is passionate about transition planning for young people with developmental disabilities as they into adulthood.  

Marcus Daitch is a self-advocate who graduated from Mount Saint Mary College. With the support of Capabilities Partnership, Inc., he currently works in the reference department of the college library, where his role is to assist faculty in developing research projects and programs. One of those projects has been the ProActive Caring Program (a program of the Center on Aging and Disability Policy), for which he has been summarizing literature and fitting his analyses to meet the needs of faculty.    

Nancy DeSando, BS, RN is a nurse with 32 years of experience working with individuals with developmental disabilities. She is Article 16 Clinic Director, Autism Resource Coordinator and Health Systems Analyst for the Arc Lexington. Ms. DeSando brought Positive Adult Development Stress Reduction classes from Vanderbilt University to Lexington, where many caregivers learned strategies for stress reduction, and later introduced ProActive Caring classes for caregivers. 

Theresa Drum is the Quality Improvement Manager for Parent Network of WNY. She has extensive experience collaborating with area school districts, service providers, and community organizations, and supporting children and their families. As the mother of a young adult with multiple disabilities, she has also been a parent educator for over eighteen years and has served for many years on her district’s Committee on Special Education (CSE) and as an officer in their Special Education PTSA.  

Elisa Gwilliam is the Founder and Owner of Hudson Valley Healing Center. She holds an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Concordia University and is currently an Ed.D. candidate in the Northcentral University program in Transformational Learning. Trained in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) through Jon Kabat-Zinn, she offers instruction in meditation and mindfulness practices, as well as classes and workshops focusing on holistic health. 

Joseph Munisteri is a compelling self-advocate who is passionate about helping others. He holds an Associate’s degree in human services and social work and has worked for a number of years as a Direct Support Professional (DSP) and support broker, while also nurturing his creativity as a poet and podcaster. A resident of Long Island, he attended a conference about ProActive Caring and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) because of his interest in preventing burnout.  

K. Elizabeth (Kayliz) Oakes, Ph.D., NCC is a published author and retired associate professor of clinical pastoral counseling with a broad background in executive business management, professional development training, addiction recovery counseling, and public administration. She has previous experience as a member on several governing and advisory boards. Presently, she is the owner of an online course, and co-leader of a podcast. 

Stacey B. Orzell is the Proud Parent of two awesome boys: one a FUNny, inspiring, smart Special Olympics Athlete, the other a Special Olympics Asst. Coach. She is also the consummate advocate—a graduate of the 2013 NYS Partners in Policymaking project and recipient of the MHA-NYS 2016 Family Advocate of the Year Award. She now serves on her county’s Think Differently committee and was recently certified as a Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement Ambassador. 

Fiona Rattray is currently employed as a Parent Training & Information Specialist at Putnam Independent Living Services. She is also mother to two children on the autism spectrum. A former Special Education teacher with a passion for raising awareness and promoting advocacy, she has facilitated ProActive Caring Caregiver Support classes in her community and translated the ProActive Caring Caregiver Support Manual into Spanish.

Barbara Russell has had over 25 years’ experience in the field of developmental disabilities, providing case management and family support services and serving as director of day and community habilitation programs. She is also the adoptive parent of a young man with Down syndrome, now age 33. She has served as a facilitator for several ProActive Caring caregiver support classes and has been a committed member of community advocacy groups for both developmental disabilities and mental health.

Mindy Scirri, Ph.D., is a learning (dis)ability specialist/consultant in private practice and former Chair and Professor of Education. In addition to training future and current special education teachers, her career has centered around working with children and young adults and their families to successfully navigate school and special education systems, develop lifelong academic and career strategies and skills, and, most importantly, build confidence and the capacity for self-knowledge and self-advocacy. 

Jennifer Sutton has been a parent advocate for her daughter with a developmental disability for 26 years.  She has also had professional experience in the provision of services for persons with developmental disabilities for over 20 years.  She engages in both personal and professional advocacy for the rights and supports of children and adults with disabilities through raising awareness, fundraising, and providing services.

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