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2018 Together for Choice Conference


David Axelrod

Keynote Address

David Axelrod is a veteran of American politics and journalism and the former chief strategist and senior advisor to President Barack Obama. He currently serves as director of the University of Chicago's non-partisan Institute of Politics; senior political commentator for CNN; and host of The Axe Files, a top-rated podcast jointly produced by CNN and his Institute. Axelrod, a former political writer for the Chicago Tribune and, later, media strategist for 150 state, local and national political campaigns, is also the author of the New York Times best-selling memoir, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.

Rodney Biggert

"The Trials and Unanswered Questions of the 14(c) Certificate"

Rodney Biggert is the Director of Adult Services for the Seneca County Opportunity Center and the Liaison for Seneca Re-Ads Industries in Ohio.  Mr. Biggert has been in this position for 6 years.  Prior to that Mr. Biggert was a Service and Support Administrator for the Seneca County Opportunity Center for 4 more years.  Seneca Re-Ads Industries provides work opportunities for nearly 200 adults with Developmental disabilities.  In 2015 Mr. Biggert and Seneca found themselves at the center of the national debate over the utilization of the 14(c) Certificate, (which allows for the payment of a Special Minimum Wage).  Mr. Biggert believes that the elimination of the 14(c) certificates would take an option off of the buffet of services for people with disabilities; and as an advocate for Choice, Mr. Biggert continues to fight for the Special Minimum Wage Certificate and all Choice in both Residential and Employment Services.

Taylor Brose

"The DSP Workforce Crisis: Finding Solutions"

Taylor Brose, M.Ed. attended Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY. He received his master’s degree in special education at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia and began his career as a Special Education Teacher at Phillips Programs, an accredited private day school dedicated to serving students with emotional and intellectual disabilities outside Washington, D.C.  Taylor moved back to Central New York and began teaching individuals with profound autism spectrum disorder, and later elementary school students with learning disabilities. Taylor joined Pathfinder Village as the Residential Director in 2016. During his time with Pathfinder Village, he has created and sustained an internal credentialing program, restructured the framework of the direct support professional (DSP) positions to create a tiered employment model, and has introduced a refugee workforce. Taylor is focused heavily on the changing demographics in Central New York and the DSP workforce, and is devoted to altering the mindset of the frontline supervisor so that they may better meet the needs of young DSPs.

William Choslovsky

"Protecting the ICF Entitlement: the Real Meaning of Olmstead"

William Choslovsky calls himself the “accidental advocate,” meaning he never planned to practice any form of disability law. “It found me,” he says, “I didn’t find it, and sadly, because of all the work to be done, it hasn’t let go.”


Bill comes by the work honestly, as he likes to say his main credential is his sister Stacie, a longtime resident at Misericordia. Bill has worked pro bono for Misericordia and its residents for more than a decade, first getting involved with the Ligas class action case in Illinois. In Ligas, Bill organized thousands of families and effectively defeated the State of Illinois, the Department of Justice, the ACLU, and Equip for Equality, which were all aligned against the interests of ICF residents. Since then, he has worked with groups around the country to defend the ICF choice.


After obtaining his bachelor’s degree with highest honors from the University of Illinois (summa cum laude), Bill graduated from Harvard Law School (JD, 1994), and then clerked for two judges. Bill is a partner at the Chicago law firm Ginsberg Jacobs, where he handles a variety of commercial litigation.

Sr. Rosemary Connelly, RSM

Conference Opening Statements

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.

Michael Diaz

"Creating Sustainable Community Partners to Enhance Service Options"

Michael Diaz is the Administrator of Community Day Supports and Employment Services at Misericordia Homes, located in Chicago, Illinois.  Michael has been at Misericordia for 25 years, and has worked as a DSP, QIDP, Supervisor, and Director, and has been in his current role for 11+ years.  Misericordia supports more than 70 individuals in competitive integrated employment, and provides campus employment opportunities at or above minimum wages, and campus employment under 14(c) certification, supporting individuals across the total employment pathway.  Michael chairs the Employment Subcommittee of the Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities.

Jill Escher

"The National Council on Severe Autism: What is an Essential Care Non-Profit?"

Jill Escher wears many hats in the autism world. As president of Autism Society San Francisco Bay Area Area, she advocates for the lifespan needs of adults with autism. As owner of Claradon Properties, LLC, she provides affordable housing to adults with developmental disabilities. As an autism research philanthropist (Escher Fund for Autism) she funds cutting edge research on causation of neurodevelopmental disorders, focusing on genetic toxicology. She is also the president of a new organization, the National Council on Severe Autism. The mother of two children, Jonny (19) and Sophie (12) with nonverbal forms of autism, Jill lives in San Jose, California, and can be reached at

Melissa Harris

"HCBS Regulation and Implementation"

Melissa Harris has been with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) since the summer of 1995, and is currently a Senior Policy Advisor for the Disabled and Elderly Health Programs Group (DEHPG).  DEHPG administers the Medicaid benefit package, oversees the managed care service delivery infrastructure, and implements a myriad of policies advancing home and community-based services as an alternative to institutional placement.


Prior to her current position, she was the Acting Deputy Director for DEHPG in 2015.  This was after her role as the Director of the Division of Benefits and Coverage from 2012 to 2014, in which she was responsible for overseeing implementation of most Medicaid benefits, including benefits provided to individuals in the Medicaid expansion population, and the establishment of national benefit policy.

Rob Johnson

Keynote Address

Rob Johnson is the weekday anchor of the CBS 2 Chicago evening newscasts at 5, 6, and 10 PM. Rob has covered many major news events during his career including most of the Presidential Campaigns over the last 25 years. Rob also had a front row seat to some of our Chicago sports teams’ special moments, having chronicled the Blackhawks three Stanley Cup Championships, and the Cubs 2016 World Series victory. During his career, Rob has been at the scene of other major news stories including Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Hurricane Andrew, the Centennial Park Bombing during the Atlanta Olympics, the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in Houston, and 2000 Florida vote recount.


Rob has won multiple Emmy Awards. He has also received awards recognizing his service and charity to people with disabilities, including from the North Shore Special Education, Neumann Family Services, UCP Seguin of Greater Chicago, and St. Coletta’s of Illinois. On September 22, 2011, Governor Pat Quinn proclaimed it “Rob Johnson Day” in Illinois as recognition for his advocacy for people with disabilities. Rob also serves on the Board of Directors for Special Olympics Illinois and Concussion Legacy Foundation.

Jim Kokoris

Keynote Address: "A Special Life"

Chicago-native Jim Kokoris is the author of four novels: The Rich Part of Life, Sister North, The Pursuit of Other Interests, and most recently, It’s. Nice. Outside., a fictionalized memoir of his life with his special needs son Andrew. A graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a proud product of the Chicago Public Schools, his works have been translated into 15 languages and have been optioned for film consideration by Columbia Pictures and Fox Searchlight. In addition to his novels, his humorous essays appeared regularly in the Chicago Tribune's Sunday Trib Magazine and USA Today for years. When he is not writing, Jim is an executive vice president of LC Williams, a Chicago public relations agency. Jim lives with his wife Anne with their son Andrew in La Grange, Illinois.  Their two older sons live in the Chicago area.

Paul C. Landers

"The DSP Workforce Crisis: Finding Solutions"

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.

Christopher B. Lowther

"CMS's Medicaid Home- and Community-Based Settings Regulations: How We Got Here and Where We're Headed"

Chris Lowther is an associate in Covington & Burling's Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation practice group. His practice covers tax-qualified retirement plans, health and welfare plans, equity compensation, executive compensation and individual retirement arrangements. He has advised on litigations, government investigations and corporate transactions.

Crystal Makowski, Ed.D.

"Where Do We Go From Here? Best Practices!"

Crystal Makowski serves as the Vice President of Special Projects for The Arc Jacksonville in Jacksonville, FL. She has served in various capacities within this organization over her 12 year tenure. Dr. Makowski helped create and served as director of Florida's postsecondary transition program, called, "The Arc Jacksonville On Campus Transition at the University of North Florida" for 8 years, which she still remains as a Steering Committee Member. She then transitioned into a consultant position to develop the operations of The Arc Jacksonville Village and became its Vice President to implement its initial first year of having residents. Currently, Dr. Makowski's position focuses on researching and identifying national best practices of service delivery models for persons with I/DD in employment, work readiness, adult day training, postsecondary transition, independent living, and health/wellness., where she enacts as an internal consultant to various departments. Previous to her work with The Arc Jacksonville, Dr. Makowski served as an employment specialist for another service provider for two years. Dr. Makowski is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor and has a doctorate in Organizational Leadership.

Patrick Mannix

"America’s Workforce: Empowering All – Updates from the Office of Disability Employment Policy"

Patrick Michael Mannix is a Senior Advisor in the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) at the U.S. Department of Labor. He was appointed to this position in October 2017. He previously served as a Special Assistant to Secretary R. Alexander Acosta. Mr. Mannix was part of the President’s initial team at the Department of Labor. Mr. Mannix has on the ground knowledge of disability employment. He was active in helping individuals with significant disabilities move out of sheltered workshops into competitive integrated employment in his native Rhode Island. Mr. Mannix worked in financial services for 10 years, 5 of them at one of the world’s largest mutual fund companies. As a political consultant, he was named one of the top 500 Influencers in American politics by Campaigns and Elections magazine. Mr. Mannix studied at the University of Rhode Island and holds a B.A. from Colby College in Maine.

Molly Nocon

Housing Model Discussion

Chief Executive Officer since 2008, and past Noah Homes Board President, Molly oversees all aspects of the financial and operational well being of Noah Homes, a nonprofit in San Diego that provides housing and services to adults with developmental disabilities. She is also leading efforts to collaborate with community partners nationwide in advancing care and gaining funds for people with developmental disabilities. This includes serving as a member of the California Health and Human Services Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Advisory Committee, work with the Lanterman Coalition, ANCOR, the LEAD Coalition, an NIH grant and more. Molly maintains a climate that attracts, keeps and motivates a diverse staff dedicated to maximizing each individual's independence in a community environment that fosters dignity and respect, as well as personal and spiritual growth. In 1996, Molly was introduced to Noah Homes in a quest for care for her brother Herb, affectionately known as the “Sheriff.” He called Noah Homes his home for 14 years before he passed away of Alzheimer’s. Prior to joining Noah Homes, Molly successfully served as a small business consultant for 28 years in the private and nonprofit business sectors. Molly has a bachelor’s degree from San Diego State University in Telecommunications and Film Management, and a minor in Business Administration Accounting.

Philip J. Peisch

"CMS's Medicaid Home- and Community-Based Settings Regulations: How We Got Here and Where We're Headed"

Phil Peisch is a co-founding partner of Brown & Peisch.  He helps health plans, providers, state agencies, investors, and other clients navigate complex issues and disputes arising out of government-sponsored health care programs. He has particular expertise regarding Medicaid, Medicare, the Children Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the Affordable Care Act’s regulation of private insurance (ACA). He also counsels technology companies and users on digital health issues, including with respect to the application of Medicaid and Medicare regulations to new technology, state regulation of telemedicine, and the certification and use of Electronic Health Records.

Prior to forming Brown & Peisch, Phil was a Special Counsel in, and the Vice-Chair of, Covington & Burling’s Health Care regulatory practice group. 

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