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Bio – Fellow – Past Fellows

John Rukeyser, Nonprofit Management Fellow

National Leadership Program, Spring 2020

John “Jack” Rukeyser smiling in front of the RespectAbility banner

John “Jack” Rukeyser

John “Jack” Rukeyser is a Nonprofit Management Fellow in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program for the Spring of 2020. RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.

Rukeyser was born in Brooklyn, New York, where he lived for five years before moving to the coastal town of Rockport, Massachusetts. However, Washington, D.C., has become his new home during the school year since he started college there in the fall of 2017.

That school is American University, where Rukeyser is currently a junior on track to graduate in the summer of 2021. There, he studies Communications, Law, Economics, and Government in addition to pursuing a minor in History.

From a young age, Rukeyser worked alongside people with disabilities, volunteering at his local food pantry and community meals center. There, he realized that the most prevalent commonality among people who regularly came to the evening dinners was having a disability. Rukeyser hopes that his time at RespectAbility will help him understand the barriers and misperceptions that the disability community faces in a society that measures people on their profitability, not their individual strengths.

Rukeyser is happiest when he is road-tripping. Driving is his passion. He loves exploring new places and everything about the automotive world. He is fascinated by the underappreciated diversity of environments, neighborhoods, and cultures that can be experienced within just a short drive or on the way to a destination that flyers miss by about 30,000 feet.

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RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact BenS@RespectAbility.org for more information.

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Demetrious Lara, Communications Fellow

National Leadership Program, Spring 2020

Demetrious Lara smiling in front of the RespectAbility banner

Demetrious Lara

Demetrious Lara is a Communications Fellow in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program for Spring 2020. RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.

Lara is from Englewood, New Jersey. He currently is attending American University and is expected to graduate in May 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications Studies. He also is minoring in Cinema Studies. After graduation, Lara hopes to seek employment within the entertainment industry as a social media manager, or in digital communications.

Lara’s professional experience includes a part-time communications internship at Friendship Place, a nonprofit organization focused on combating homelessness in Washington, D.C.  At Friendship Place, he worked alongside the development team’s social media and outreach manager to create effective promotional materials designed to gauge interest in their various programs aimed at many of the district’s homeless or housing-insecure residents. A key part of Lara’s tenure as an intern with Friendship Place was the promotion of Friendship Walks, a 1.5 mile walk around the National Mall aimed at raising money for their ongoing fight against homelessness.

Lara’s work as an intern for Friendship Place also helped him identify a prevalence of disability, be it nonvisible or visible, among individuals experiencing homelessness compared to the general population, which led him to join the RespectAbility team. His goal in completing the Fellowship is to hone his online content creation skills, which includes writing blogs and producing infographics.

In his spare time, Lara enjoys playing video games. Some favorites of his include classic DOOM, Metal Gear, and Metroid. He also considers himself something of a cinema aficionado. He enjoys science fiction movies such as Blade Runner and The Fifth Element. He takes great pleasure in pursuing these passions with his friends and family.

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RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact BenS@RespectAbility.org for more information.

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Baksha Ali, Community Outreach Fellow

National Leadership Program, Spring 2020

Baksha Ali smiling in front of the RespectAbility banner

Baksha Ali

Baksha Ali is a Community Outreach Fellow in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program for Spring of 2020. RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.

Ali was born in Bangladesh. Her family moved to the United States when she was six years old because she was diagnosed with Retina Pigmentosa. Ali attained her associate’s degree in Business Administration in LaGuardia Community College in New York City in June 2017. Recently, she graduated from Queens College with her bachelor’s degree in Sociology. During summer 2019, she was a Work Force Development Intern at Vision, a nonprofit organization that assists people with disabilities attain employment and find alternative ways to live an independent life. Her role consisted of conducting online research and locating job fairs and networking events for a client case load of 30 job seekers with disabilities.

Ali is interested in working for nonprofit organizations that work with people with disabilities because she is passionate about helping others. She will eventually pursue her master’s degree in Vocational Counseling.

Ali’s passions include listening to audio books and 90’s music. Her all-time favorite book is Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire by JK Rowling. She loves chocolate and spending time with her friends and family. Ali loves to meet new people and wishes to travel around the world one day.

JOIN OUR TEAM!

RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact BenS@RespectAbility.org for more information.

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Karolyne Kim, Public Policy Fellow

National Leadership Program, Spring 2020

Karolyn Kim smiling in front of the RespectAbility banner

Karolyne Kim

Karolyne Kim is a Public Policy Fellow in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program for Spring 2020. RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of the community.

Kim was born and raised in Virginia. She received her B.A. in Public Health and minored in Visual Arts at The Johns Hopkins University.

Her interest in public policy started at the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Prevention where she assisted the principal investigator by gathering research on current driving policies for teen driving across the United States, conducting experiments and analyzing the data to find any interesting statistical patterns. Her passion for public policy developed further at the Institute for Global Tobacco Control. Health policy efforts against Big Tobacco always have interested her, and she used this opportunity to research how South Korean tobacco companies changed their marketing methods to best combat government policies designed to decrease tobacco use. In South Korea, she optimized the data collection process by using socioeconomic data, research on where people are most likely to buy their cigarettes, and logistics data such as where tobacco companies are likely to advertise new packaging.

During her senior year at Johns Hopkins, Kim took a full year of masters’ courses focusing especially on policy research at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and realized that she wanted to help create public health programs that educate and influence equal opportunity for people with disabilities. At RespectAbility, she will further her education about public policy and people with disabilities.

Kim has lived abroad during her middle school and high school years in South Korea and in Vietnam. Consequently, she loves to travel and has traveled to more than 25 different countries. Once a member of the Ho Chi Minh City Ballet Symphony Orchestra and Opera as a violist, she now enjoys playing viola occasionally at home. During her time at Johns Hopkins University, she enjoyed debating as a member of the Johns Hopkins Undergraduate Debate Council and ice skating with the Hopkins Figure Skating Club. She is honored to have won first place with her public health scholar bowl team in the 2018 National Public Health Quiz Bowl competition. In her free time, Kim enjoys curling up with her cat and reading a good book.

JOIN OUR TEAM!

RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact BenS@RespectAbility.org for more information.

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Chris-Mike Agbelie, Public Policy Fellow

National Leadership Program, Spring 2020

Chris-Mike Agbelie smiling in front of the RespectAbility banner

Chris-Mike Agbelie

Chris-Mike Agbelie is a Public Policy and Employment Fellow in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program for Spring 2020. RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.

Agbelie has a Bachelor of Science degree in physical therapy from the University of Ghana. He also studied for a Master of Science degree in Disability, Rehabilitation, and Development at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana and received an Advanced Graduate Certificate in Disability Studies from Stony Brook University. Currently, Agbelie is a Ph.D. candidate in the Health and Rehabilitation Sciences program at Stony Brook University where he focuses on disability policy and programs and health outcomes research in the U.S. and other countries.

Agbelie joined RespectAbility to advance his knowledge of public policy and employment programs for people with disabilities in a bid to achieve his professional goal of using disability policy and program research to support services for people with disabilities. He is excited about the opportunity to learn about the intersection of public policy, disability employment programs, and disability advocacy while at RespectAbility.

Before joining RespectAbility, Agbelie worked on interdisciplinary disability studies, health sciences and disability policy and program research. As a Graduate Assistant at Stony Brook University in New York, he taught disability and health sciences and assisted in related research. As a 2016 Summer Research Fellow of Social Security Administration’s Disability Research Consortium with Mathematica Policy Research in Washington, D.C., he learned about the evaluation of disability and health policy, services, and programs at state and national levels. In 2017, he collaborated with a clinical research team to examine determinants of access and successful participation of children with and without disabilities in a community-based inclusive obesity management program in New York State.

Agbelie is a sports enthusiast, avid music lover, and “freestyle” dancer. For leisure, he plays soccer or puts on his dancing shoes to check out some of the diverse music venues in the nation’s capital.

JOIN OUR TEAM!

RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact BenS@RespectAbility.org for more information.

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Geoff Hoppe, Communications Fellow

National Leadership Program, Spring 2020

Geoff Hoppe smiling in front of the RespectAbility banner

Geoff Hoppe

Geoff Hoppe is a Communications Fellow in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program for Spring 2020. RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.

Hoppe has Nonverbal Learning Disability, a diagnosis he received in adulthood. He is interested in disability advocacy because he believes there’s tremendous untapped potential in the disability community, and that spreading awareness of this fact is the first step toward workplace inclusion.

​Hoppe is interested in framing discussions about diversity and inclusion through the lens of neurodiversity. He is interested in helping employers (and, frankly, everyone) understand that diverse styles of cognitive processing can be a source of strength that may be well suited for certain roles and tasks. He is interested in advancing disabled inclusion for the shared benefit of both employee and employer. ​

​His interest is a blend of practicality and idealism. On one hand, disabled people face devastating unemployment rates. On the other, he believes neurodiversity and disability are often important elements of American history (Madison was epileptic, and Jefferson is believed to have had dyslexia, or another learning disability). In this sense, different styles of thinking are an inseparable part of the American experiment. ​

​Hoppe has a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame, and M.A.’s in English literature from the University of Virginia, and Southern Methodist University. He has experience teaching at the college, high school, and middle school levels. He also has been employed as a content marketer for a small business software directory. ​

​Hoppe has a brother with Down syndrome, who has influenced his outlook about disability issues.

JOIN OUR TEAM!

RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact BenS@RespectAbility.org for more information.

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Natalie Dunaway, Public Policy Fellow

National Leadership Program, Spring 2020

Natalie Dunaway smiling in front of the RespectAbility banner

Natalie Dunaway

Natalie Dunaway is a Public Policy Fellow in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program for Spring 2020. RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.

Dunaway majored in Math and minored in Geography at Virginia Tech, where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in May 2019. She hopes to continue her formal education in the future.

Dunaway applied to RespectAbility because of her interest in the disability community and in advocating for the rights of others. She was raised by a civil rights lawyer who ingrained in her the need for more advocates for those who cannot advocate for themselves. Dunaway hopes to gain more knowledge and experience in disability public policy and to become a better ally to those in the disability community.

Before joining RespectAbility, Dunaway volunteered with different nonprofit organizations including United Saints Recovery Project, Llipin Yahaur, ARCAmazon, and Anathoth Community Garden and Farm. She has volunteered both locally and internationally through Virginia Tech’s service organization VT Engage, which is Virginia Tech’s center for service-learning and civic engagement by working with a variety of nonprofits to create community-driven service programs. She spent school breaks working with underprivileged communities in New Orleans, New York, North Carolina and Peru.

During college, Dunaway balanced going to school with two part-time jobs as a project manager in the Living Learning Community Orion (LLC) and working at a 3D design studio. As a project manager for 40 students at Virginia Tech’s Orion LLC, Dunaway promoted teamwork and group cohesion while maximizing efficiency within the LLC. She delegated tasks among the students after making a detailed assessment of their progress. She also motivated each student to improve productivity by ensuring optimal workflow, effective communication and timely results.

Dunaway is knowledgeable and experienced in working with a variety of 3D printers, including Lulzbot Taz 5, Lulzbot Taz 6, Lulzbot Mini, Prusai3 MK2 and Prusa i3 MK3. These 3D printers transform mathematical data into vibrantly visual depictions of engineering and architectural models for students and staff members at Virginia Tech.

In her free time, Dunaway likes to volunteer at animal shelters and teach Sunday school at her church. She also enjoys kayaking, whitewater rafting, knitting, crafting and spending time with her dog Teddy.

JOIN OUR TEAM!

RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact BenS@RespectAbility.org for more information.

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Liam Itgen, Nonprofit Management Fellow

National Leadership Program, Spring 2020

Liam Itgen smiling in front of the RespectAbility banner

Liam Itgen

Liam Itgen is a Nonprofit Management Fellow in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program for Spring 2020. RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.

Itgen, originally from Long Island, New York, is a junior at Temple University, where he is majoring in Political Science. At Temple, Itgen is a member of the Model United Nations club and has participated in several bands where he plays the tuba. During several of his classes, the faculty introduced The Washington Center program, which provides immersive internships and academic seminars to students from hundreds of colleges and universities and young professionals from across the U.S. and more than 25 countries. The program was of great interest, and he got into the program with a position as a Fellow at RespectAbility.

He first became interested in advocacy for those with disabilities after working at Nassau-Suffolk Services for Autism in the summer of 2019. Itgen worked as a Direct Support Professional in the Day Habilitation Program at NSSA. Here, he worked with adults with autism ages 22-30. Through this work, he developed an interest in advocacy for those with autism and other developmental disabilities.

After he completes his undergraduate degree, Itgen would like to attend St. John’s Law School in Queens. There, he would like to pursue a law degree, which he would use to either advocate for those who can legally receive services but do not, or work as an entertainment lawyer and make sure musical artists are compensated fairly for their creative output. He believes strongly in the rights of all people, regardless of ability, and stands by the notion that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Besides his passion for helping others, Itgen has spent a large part of his life working at his father’s ice cream parlor, Itgen’s. The family business has left him with skills that would most likely only be useful in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, like making chocolate rabbits.

JOIN OUR TEAM!

RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact BenS@RespectAbility.org for more information.

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Ilya Zhitomirskiy, Nonprofit Management Fellow

National Leadership Program, Spring 2020

Ilya Zhitomirskiy is a Nonprofit Management Fellow in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program for Spring 2020. RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.

Zhitomirskiy was born in Moscow and now lives in Rockville, Maryland. Zhitomirskiy is in his second semester at University of Maryland Global Campus studying for a master’s degree in nonprofit management. In addition to his studies, he is a high school sports official overseeing baseball, basketball, football, and volleyball games. In 2019, he was hired to officiate college football games and professional basketball games for the American Basketball Association (ABA), the biggest professional basketball league in the U.S. not affiliated with the NBA. He also has received multiple MPSSAA (Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association) playoff assignments in baseball and volleyball.

Even though his major may not be directly relevant to working with people with disabilities, Zhitomirskiy plans to create a nonprofit that will combine his interest in officiating, his background in nonprofit management, and his interest in helping other people with disabilities. This proposed organization intends to help other people with disabilities become sports officials by providing training and mentorship opportunities, as well as assisting them with advancement up the officiating ladder.

In his free time, he enjoys playing video games, working out, and improving his officiating skills and knowledge of the rules. He also attends officiating camps in the offseason for exposure and to improve his skills.

JOIN OUR TEAM!

RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact BenS@RespectAbility.org for more information.

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Mireille (Ray) Pioppo, Jewish Inclusion Fellow

National Leadership Program, Fall 2019

Mireille (Ray) Pioppo smiling in front of the RespectAbility banner

Mireille (Ray) Pioppo

Mireille (Ray) Pioppo is a Jewish Inclusion Fellow in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program for Fall 2019. RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. Originally from New York, Pioppo graduated in 2018 from Elon University in North Carolina with a bachelor’s degree in Human Service Studies. She chose to study Human Services because she knew it would equip her with the skills required to serve clients in a variety of public outreach organizations. Pioppo recently moved to Potomac, Maryland and is pursuing a career in nonprofit management. She hopes to work with marginalized populations in the Washington, D.C. area.

Determined in her goal to advance human rights, Pioppo is dedicated to many social justice causes. She aims to empower others to become leaders in their communities and believes that every individual has the potential to create meaningful change. Pioppo is especially passionate about promoting the rights of women and children, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Pioppo is a dedicated public servant. She has interned at domestic violence and human trafficking agencies, helping women and children escape violent situations. She hopes to effect change in these communities on a policy level. Pioppo also spent much of her time as an undergraduate student working with homeless populations, both in Washington, D.C., and North Carolina. A primary focus of Pioppo’s was helping homeless individuals with disabilities find housing and employment, as well as to access public benefits. She is especially proud of her role in helping to establish a temporary shelter for homeless women and children.

Pioppo cites her experience working at the Kilmer Center as a primary influence informing her desire to work with the disability community and intern at RespectAbility. The Kilmer Center is a Fairfax County Public School for students with disabilities, ages 5-21. In recognizing the importance of physical activity for all, Pioppo chose to focus on normalizing the experience of the students by assisting with their physical mobility. Working with students in the gym was a rewarding opportunity for Pioppo. A large number of students were in wheelchairs. Her roles at Kilmer included facilitating the students’ gym activity time by pushing the students in wheelchairs, demonstrating stretches, and encouraging them to experience full body movement.

Pioppo’s personal experience with learning disabilities is an additional motivation to advocate for inclusion. Pioppo attended a high school for students with learning differences and attributes her skillset to an education that provided her with tools that helped her identify her strengths and classes that catered to her unique learning style. She hopes that this Fellowship opportunity will jumpstart an exploration of how opportunities such as the ones she was afforded can be shared with the larger population.

Pioppo’s decision to be a Jewish Inclusion Fellow at RespectAbility stems from her work in the Jewish community after her recent Birthright trip to Israel. Birthright is an educational organization that provides free trips to Israel for Jewish young adults. Pioppo enjoyed exploring Tel Aviv, hiking Masada and sleeping in a Bedouin Tent. The trip helped Pioppo strengthen her Jewish identity and values. Pioppo comes from a lineage of strong, educated Jewish women and is determined to help other Jewish women find their voice.

Beyond her interests in social justice, equity and inclusion, Pioppo is also a certified yoga instructor and hopes to teach yoga to people with disabilities. Travel is also one of her passions. Some of her favorite countries include Turkey, Greece, Zimbabwe, Ireland and Holland. She also has been fortunate to study abroad in Cannes, France and Copenhagen, Denmark. Pioppo appreciates learning about other cultures and customs. In her free time, Pioppo enjoys tennis, cooking, yoga, snowboarding and playing with her very cute and naughty Havanese puppy, Bodhi.

JOIN OUR TEAM!

RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact BenS@RespectAbility.org for more information.

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