Together for Choice is a 501(c)(3) organization (Tax ID No: 82-2128631) with a mission "to unite to protect and advance the rights of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to live, work and thrive in a community or setting of their choice."
Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) – like every other member of society, deserve a full array of options in their residential, vocational and recreational choices. Their diversity and individual needs must be respected, honored and celebrated with the offering of a broad array of quality residential, vocational and recreational choices; expanded choices that will enrich each of their lives.
We are joining together, representatives of organizations that serve individuals with I/DD, family members and loved ones, in recognition of the work that needs to be done to advance these individuals’ rights and expand their choices.
We are spurred by the increasingly complex array of federal Medicaid and state agency rules that govern these critically important and personal housing and employment choices. Compounded by fiscal 'pull-back', these regulations and sub-regulatory guidance(s) are effectively reducing choices and availability of long-term care services for the I/DD community.
We are excited and optimistic about the promise of coming together to ensure choice, options and appropriate resources for these individuals so that they can all live, work and thrive in a community or setting of their choice.
2015 Together for Choice Conference @ Misericordia in Chicago, Illinois
Scott M. Mendel is a parent of a daughter with a developmental disability who lives at Misericordia. He is a retired partner of the international law firm K&L Gates. At K&L Gates, Scott concentrated his practice in complex antitrust litigation, including class actions, the antitrust aspects of mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures, and counseling clients on antitrust compliance with respect to pricing, distribution and other matters. He also counseled the firm’s healthcare clients on antitrust matters. During his 40 years of practice, Scott has been involved in a number of pro bono matters involving individuals with disabilities, indigent clients and incarcerated individuals.
Robert M. (Bob) Brown is the President and CEO of Opportunity Village, Nevada’s largest habilitation organization providing a variety of services to people with intellectual and related disabilities. Bob is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. He and his bride of 30 years Melinda have 4 children, one of whom has an intellectual disability. Bob is the former Publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and has recently served as the Board Chairman for the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce. He was appointed to the National Council on Disability by Congress. He is also on the boards of directors of Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, the Public Education Foundation and was appointed by Governor Sandoval to serve on the State of Nevada 150th anniversary committee.
Treasurer, TFC National Coordinator
Ashley Kim is the President of Elevare Community, a non-profit organization whose mission is to create communities that enable connection, growth and contribution by creating residential and service options for adults with developmental disabilities. In addition, Ashley runs ADD Housing, a private real estate development and consulting company that builds supportive homes for adults with developmental disabilities. Previously, she was the co-founder and Executive Director of Villa de Vida, a non-profit organization building an affordable housing community for adults with developmental disabilities. Ashley has held various positions in corporate development, litigation and valuation consulting, equity research, securities compliance and investor relations.
Ashley holds a bachelor’s degree in Finance and Management from the University of Illinois, Chicago, and a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the Claremont Graduate University’s Drucker School of Business.
Geana started her career at Misericordia 24 years ago after graduating from St. Norbert College in DePere, WI, with a bachelor’s in Psychology. She received her master’s in Psychology with a specialty in Counseling from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology and is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. Geana currently is the Administrator of Clinical Services, Strategic Development and Quality Assurance at Misericordia. She acts as a liaison, advocating for choice for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. She also serves as Chairperson for the Intersect for Ability Network in the Chicago metropolitan area, striving to move services for the intellectually and developmentally disabled population forward. Through her coordination and leadership, Misericordia held its first national conference in October 2015, “Together for Choice,” which included more than 100 participants from 25 states.
Susan Axelrod is Founding Chair of CURE (Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy). Susan's daughter, Lauren, was born in 1981 and at the age of seven months, was diagnosed with epilepsy. In 1998, Susan and a small group of mothers—frustrated by their inability to protect their children from the severe impact of uncontrollable seizures as well as the intolerable side effects of medication therapy—joined forces to spearhead the search for a cure for epilepsy.
Kevin Connelly has worked at Misericordia since 1992. As co-assistant executive director, Kevin assists the executive director with Financial, Development and Legislative Affairs. Kevin was named CFO I 2000 and, prior to assuming this role, he was the controller. In his role as CFO, Kevin has made management responsibility for the Finance, IT and Purchasing Departments. In addition to his duties as CFO, Kevin oversees major gifts and planned giving for the Development Office, as well as assists with Special Events and Legislative Affairs. He also serves as a member of the Board of Directors for Misericordia.
Kevin received his Bachelor’s degree in accounting from Marquette University in 1991 and his M.B.A. from DePaul University’s Charles H. Kellstadt Graduate School of Business in 2001. He received his CPA designation in 1992, and was a past recipient of the FEI Chicago CFO of the Year Award for mid-size not for profits.
Sister Rosemary Connelly
Sister Rosemary is a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy. A native Chicagoan, she attended parochial schools and taught in several Chicago Archdiocesan schools while continuing her studies. She earned a B.S. in Social Science in 1959, a Master of Arts in Sociology from St. Louis University in 1966, and a Master’s in Social Work from Loyola University Chicago in 1969. Over the years, she has received nine honorary doctorate degrees, and numerous awards and honors. In 1969, Sister was appointed Administrator of Misericordia Heart of Mercy when it had only 36 children and 39 staff.
Sister Rosemary has received numerous awards and honors throughout the years. She has gratefully received all of them on behalf of everyone who is involved with Misericordia.
Paul C. Landers
Paul C. Landers, President and CEO, Pathfinder Village, an internationally renowned community in upstate New York supporting children and adults with Down syndrome and intellectual disabilities. As the chief executive at Pathfinder Village, Paul has initiated a new era of growth, both for Pathfinder’s physical campus and through innovative programs. Paul has devoted his career in human services to organizational transformation and community living choices that include congregate settings. He is a graduate of Boston University and Cambridge College, with 30 years of experience in the disability field. Paul is married to Kathy Landers, a senior vice president at New York Central Mutual Insurance, and has two grown children, one grandchild, who make their homes in the Memphis and Boston areas, respectively.
Jim Whittaker is the President and CEO of The Arc Jacksonville and The Arc of Putnam County. He has held the position in Palatka since 1975 and began his leadership role in Jacksonville in 1999. Both organizations provide services, supports and advocacy to hundreds of individuals with intellectual and developmental differences throughout the two NE Florida communities. He has provided consulting services nationally for the development of quality, inclusive housing options and actively promotes community-based employment opportunities.
Jim is a graduate of the University of Florida and is actively involved in local, state and national organizations that focus on disability issues. Jim’s most recent innovation in the field is the development of The Arc Jacksonville Village, an affordable rental housing community in suburban Jacksonville that opened in May 2016. This apartment-style neighborhood is comprised of 97 one and two bedroom units and is home for 121 individual and has become a national residential prototype of independent living for adults with cognitive differences. Jim promotes individual and family choice while providing an array of options for services and supports in quality community settings which value each individual with dignity and respect.
A career educator, Joe spent 33 years as a classroom teacher. He taught high school Spanish teacher for most of that time, but broke from that routine to spend two years teaching fifth grade at Colegio San Carlos in Bogotá, Colombia. Now retired from the classroom, Joe serves as the director of the International Cultural Center in Tiffin, Ohio where he resides with his wife, Linda. They have three children, the eldest of whom has developmental disabilities and is the motivation for Joe’s advocacy work on behalf of individuals with I/DD. On the state level, he has offered testimony before various legislative committees in Columbus, Ohio, specifically regarding day services. As an ardent advocate for choice, he has also travelled to Washington, D.C. on several occasions to speak with legislators in defense of the rights of individuals to have a choice about where they work, live and receive services.
Joe holds a B.A. Ed. from The Ohio State University and a M.A. Ed. from Bowling Green State University.