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Fellows Blog Series

Seanese: A Talk with Sean and Sandra McElwee of A&E’s Born This Way

All of the fellows and staff standing in a large group against the wall with the RespectAbility logo all over it

Sean and Sandra McElwee with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Oct. 7 – Sean and Sandra McElwee walked into the conference room and handed out brightly colored brochures for Seanese, Sean’s new t-shirt company, to RespectAbility staff and fellows on Wednesday morning. Sean asked a few Fellows what their favorite shirt design was as they looked excitedly at the brightly colored sayings in Sean’s trademark language.

Sean and Sandra had a busy week visiting the Washington, D.C., area, which included lobbying for the National Down Syndrome Society on Capitol Hill and participating in the Northern Virginia Buddy Walk. They also visited the site of the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War.

“That’s where the first civil rights battle was fought,” Sandra said.

The battle for Sean’s civil rights started when he was born, and the doctors’ first words to Sandra were, “I’m sorry.” Sandra thought Sean was dying when they said that.

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Telling a Compelling Story of Something You Overcame

Learning from Political and Investigative Reporter Jonathan D. Salant

All of the fellows and staff standing in a large group against the wall with the RespectAbility logo all over it

Jonathan D. Salant with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Sept. 24 – “What is really a news story?” asked Jonathan D. Salant, an award-winning political and investigative reporter who graduated from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He posed this question to a group of Summer Fellows at RespectAbility, a nonprofit fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities.

Salant is the Washington correspondent for NJ Advance Media serving NJ.com and The Star-Ledger. His connection to disabilities developed at a younger age when his mother became the founder of a school for children with disabilities in Long Island.

Salant was the former president of The National Press Club (NPC), also known as “The Place Where News Happens.” NPC began 100 years ago as a place for male reporters to get together after work to socialize. Now it is a place to receive training and a gathering spot for social activity. Two to three times a week, national figures are invited to address the NPC during a luncheon that airs live on C-SPAN.

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A “Chutes & Ladders” Career Trajectory

Lessons from multihyphenate Geoffrey Melada

All of the fellows and staff standing in a large group against the wall with the RespectAbility logo all over it

Geoffrey Melada with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Sept. 18 – Geoffrey Melada is an outgoing and demonstrative man, a personality that has no doubt served him well as he moved from courtrooms to newsrooms during a diverse career as a journalist, trial lawyer and now communications director for Hillel International.

Geoffrey Maleda speaking to RespectAbility Fellows seated around a large brown table

Geoffrey Melada speaking to RespectAbility Fellows

As he entered the room, you could see his face light up and his excitement to be speaking in front of a group of interested young advocates, mixing advice and anecdotes in his hour-long talk.

Like many of the speakers RespectAbility featured this summer, Melada has not had a ‘traditional’ career journey. However, his winding career path taught him many lessons along the way, and he argued that the fellows shouldn’t accept the conventional wisdom that there is only one path to a profession.

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What it Means to be a Leader in a Nonprofit

A Conversation on Building a Board with Debbie Ratner Salzberg

All of the fellows and staff standing in a large group against the wall with the RespectAbility logo all over it

Debbie Ratner Salzberg with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Sept. 18 – Debbie Ratner Salzberg has a sincerity that shines, and she starts the conversation by encouraging the RespectAbility Fellows to ask questions and participate in the discussion. She adds color to the conversation and engages us with her experiences in development and community building.

Debbie Ratner Salzberg speaking to RespectAbility Fellows seated around a large brown table

Debbie Ratner Salzberg speaking to RespectAbility Fellows

As past chair and current board member with the DCJCC, Ratner Salzberg envisions a community within the Washington, D.C., area where Jews and non-Jews can meet, socialize and help each other and the community. This is accomplished through community service planning, a theater company, a gym, educational classes and children’s programming, as well as welcome parties and family events.

“The DCJCC was trying to touch all parts of the community, and that was exciting for me because it was what I was looking for when I first arrived in DC,” she said.

Ratner Salzberg says that she watched this organization grow out of a small classroom in a synagogue and that the work that DCJCC is doing is something that she is very proud of.

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A New View of Obstacles

Learning from K Street Coaching’s Gideon Culman

All of the fellows and staff standing in a large group against the wall with the RespectAbility logo all over it

Gideon Culman with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Sept. 18 – Gideon Culman runs and operates K Street Coaching®, an executive coaching firm that supports business, government and nonprofit sector leaders as they weave their ingenuity and influence into a visionary legacy. Basically, Culman helps people get to where they want to go in their careers.

Gideon Culman speaking to RespectAbility Fellows seated around a large brown table

Gideon Culman speaking to RespectAbility Fellows

Culman’s discussion with all of the RespectAbility Fellows was similar to his coaching sessions with business and government executives. As a group, we began by making a list of the things we need to succeed.

The list contained some of these words: goals, vision, determination, patience, planning, support, guidance and passion.

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Viewing the World Through a Kaleidoscope

Learning from The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Patrick McCarthy

All of the fellows and staff standing in a large group against the wall with the RespectAbility logo all over it

Patrick McCarthy with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Sept. 13 – Do you remember playing with a kaleidoscope when you were a child? Or even recently? How about the excitement as the image changes and you gain a new perspective?

Patrick McCarthy speaking to RespectAbility Fellows seated around a large brown table

Patrick McCarthy speaking to RespectAbility Fellows

Patrick McCarthy, the CEO and President of The Annie E. Casey Foundation, brought RespectAbility Fellows and staff back to their childhoods. McCarthy reminded Fellows that the image changes as you turn it.

“It is all about how you use it and how you see it,” he said.

The ‘Kaleidoscope Perspective’ has played a significant role in how McCarthy guides The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The Baltimore-based foundation is one of the largest in the United States, giving away more than $99 million dollars in 2015. As the website states, the foundation focuses on “strengthening families, building stronger communities, and ensuring access to opportunity, because children need all three to succeed.”

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Role of Storytelling in Development

Learning from Nancy Bocskor

All of the fellows and staff standing in a large group against the wall with the RespectAbility logo all over it

Nancy Bocskor with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Sept. 12 – When I applied to be a Development Fellow for RespectAbility, I was under the impression that development was a synonym (and a more sophisticated name) for fundraising. But throughout the Fellowship, I have enjoyed learning about the nuances of development, specifically the intensely personal form that it often takes and the unique role of storytelling.

While speaking to the summer cohort of RespectAbility Fellows, Nancy Bocskor punctuated each bit of development advice with a story, weaved from personal experience and an appreciation for the connection that storytelling can create.

Bocskor, tagged a “Democracy Coach” by a major German newspaper, teaches citizens in the United States and internationally how to communicate with passion to affect change in their communities. She has raised money for more than 100 Members of Congress and candidates, trained activists and leaders in all 50 states and 26 countries and helped non-profits craft a story that resonates with donors and volunteers. Her areas of expertise include presentation skills, speech coaching, fundraising, grassroots advocacy and women’s leadership training.

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Breaking Out of Inequitable Practices in America

A conversation with Professor Steven Eidelman on the sheltered workshops movement, the value of work and the importance of enforcing the rights for people with disabilities

All of the fellows and staff standing in a large group against the wall with the RespectAbility logo all over it

Steven Eidelman with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Sept. 8 – “What do you do?” Professor Steven Eidelman identifies this as one of first questions many of us Americans ask or get asked when we meet a person for the first time. He links this question to the way we define work in our country and how it affects the way we view others, especially those with disabilities.

People who work contribute and find meaning in life; unfortunately, not all people work in America, he said. Eidelman’s impassioning spirit encouraged RespectAbility Fellows to step up as advocates as he talked about the journey of workforce integration for people with disabilities. It is a journey that he has witnessed and participated in throughout his life that has yet to achieve full integration.

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Investing in Inclusive Growth

JPMorgan’s Chase & Co., Corporate Responsibility Manager, Rodney E. Hood, talks about his efforts that are advancing successful disability inclusion.

All of the fellows and staff standing in a large group against the wall with the RespectAbility logo all over it

Rodney Hood with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Sept. 6 – You may be familiar with the phrase, “nothing about us, without us,” a powerful message that symbolizes the disability rights movement and stance on disability inclusion. However, more than two decades have passed and disability oppression still is present today. It is relevant that acknowledging a problem and its solution does not compare to doing something about it, Rodney E. Hood shared with RespectAbility Fellows.

Rodney Hood speaking to RespectAbility Fellows seated around a large brown table

Rodney Hood and RespectAbility Fellow Ricky Rendon

“People with disabilities need to be present because it’s the right thing that needs to happen,” said Hood, who joined RespectAbility Fellows on the day before Independence Day.

Despite his impressive career as a banker and policy maker, Hood takes most pride in his work engaging in the disability space around financial inclusion. An opportunity he says began by saying “yes” to the question, “Would you have an interest in doing this?” has turned into a job he is deeply passionate about and invested in.

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How to Make Real Change: Philanthropy & Nonprofit

Learning from Meyer Foundation Program Officer Julian A. Haynes

All of the fellows and staff standing in a large group against the wall with the RespectAbility logo all over it

Julian A. Haynes with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Sept. 6 – How is it that income for Wisconsin’s wealthiest one percent grew by 120 percent between 1979 and 2013, while the income for the remaining 99 percent grew by just 4 percent? Why is it that 12.8 percent, twice the national average of 6.7 percent, of Wisconsin’s African-American men are incarcerated in state prison or local jails while only 1.24 percent of white men are imprisoned? More importantly, how can I help solve these problems of inequality?

Julian A. Haynes speaking to RespectAbility Fellows seated around a large brown table

Julian A. Haynes speaking to RespectAbility Fellows

The courage to ask these uncomfortable questions is what led Julian A. Haynes, a passionate advocate from Madison, Wisconsin, to pursue work focused on addressing the unfortunate reality of racial and economic disparities.

Haynes began his work in the nonprofit sector as a project coordinator with the United Way of Dane County in Madison, Wisconsin where he worked to ensure county residents had ready access to a variety of social services and programming. He later continued his career as a program associate on the education team at the Kresge Foundation, and then as an associate director of programs and policy at Achieving the Dream, a national reform network dedicated to community college student success and completion. He is currently a program officer at the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation.

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