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Fellows Blog Series

Disability as a Philanthropic Niche

A Conversation with the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation’s Kevin Webb

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

Kevin Webb with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Aug. 21 – Armed with a long history in nonprofit work, Kevin Webb gave a group of RespectAbility National Leadership Fellows key information about the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF). Not only is he donating his time to speak to and empower a group of young disability advocates, but he also is representing one of the few foundations that focuses its grantmaking toward youth with disabilities. The match is unparalleled.

He describes a picture on his powerpoint to make it more accessible for visually impaired attendees: “Here we have [an example of the employee volunteer program in which] people with disabilities work alongside employee volunteers installing solar panels for low income housing.”

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The Value of Being Unbiased

Lessons from USA Today’s Richard Wolf

Richard Wolf pictured with RespectAbility Fellows and staff seated and standing in front of a RespectAbility banner

Richard Wolf speaking to RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Aug. 6 – In a country where two political parties constantly battle for power, it can be difficult for some to choose a side. One might wonder why it is so hard, given the sheer amount of news sources we have at our fingertips. Many news sources tend to have a specific political party leaning, therefore ultimately having a biased opinion when it comes to their stories. It has become almost impossible to find an unbiased news outlet, leaving little to no room for people to formulate their own opinions about an issue or idea. Although it is rare to find an unbiased journalist these days, it is not impossible to do. Richard Wolf is the perfect example of this.

Richard Wolf has been a USA Today reporter and editor for three decades, covering all three branches of the federal government. He has been the Supreme Court correspondent since 2012. Wolf covered the White House during the Bush and Obama administrations, traveling with and interviewing both presidents. He spent a decade reporting on Congress, as well as five years as the newspaper’s congressional editor. In addition, Wolf has reported on the federal budget and economics, health care and welfare policy, state and local governments and national politics.

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Finding Your Place in the Melting Pot of Diversity

A Conversation with the Council on Foundation’s Floyd Mills

Floyd Mills pictures with the whole RespectAbility team, so the staff, and all of the fellows are posed in front of the wall that has the RespectAbility logo printed on it. The photo is in color.

Floyd Mills with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Aug. 2 – Growing up, Floyd Mills, the vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion for the Council on Foundations, pictured his dream job in any field but diversity. Yet, Mills has been promoting workplace diversity and inclusion for the past two decades.

Everyone’s path is different,” Mills said. “This is just my story.”

Image of a few fellows sitting at the conference room table. Mills is resting his elbow on the table and the fellows' computers and laptops are visible on the table.

Floyd Mills speaking to the Fellows

Upon graduation at the University of Maryland, College Park, Mills started his career with Accenture, where he specialized in informational technology. Working for Accenture gave Mills the chance to travel around the country and the world. Living and working in Atlanta, San Francisco, London and Melbourne provided Mills with amazing experiences. Upon being assigned to a city that, for Mills, did not offer the same level of appeal, he realized that the job was not his passion and made the decision to pursue a position elsewhere. His job search led him to apply for a Human Resource position at the same firm. Little did Mills know that application would completely alter his career path in the long-term.

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No Pity: Employment Advice for People with Disabilities

Learning from the Office of Personnel Management’s Michael Murray

Michael Murray with Fellows sitting and standing around him

Michael Murray with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Aug. 2 – “My father was a great father not in spite of his disability but in part because of his disability.”

Michael Murray’s involvement in the disability community stems from his personal and unforgettable childhood experiences. After sharing a touching story about his memories with his father, as well as revealing his own confrontation with a disability, Murray told the fellows: “My disability, although it came with struggles, brought value into my life.”

Since then, he has become a committed and respected advocate for people with disabilities.

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Leaving Life in a Better Place Than We Found It

Advice from Jewish Family Service’s Linda Burger

Judith Creed and Linda Burger with the fellows sitting and standing around them

Linda Burger with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., July 26 – Channeling her humble demeanor and the Jewish values she was raised with, Linda Burger has grown to be a leading ambassador for disability in the Jewish community of Houston, Texas. Burger believes in the Jewish thought that all people are created B’tzelem Elohim (In God’s Image) and as inhabitants of this earth, it is our responsibility to “leave life in a better place than when we found it.”

Through these ideals and morals, Burger has devoted her professional life to shaping significant social service programs that work toward eliminating stigma associated with disability and mental health issues. Burger is the current CEO of Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Houston, expanding the agency’s resources and ability to respond to safety net basic needs, community emergencies and individuals who need ongoing help with counseling and other services.

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Leadership: Empathy, Failure, Respect

Lessons from David Trone, Founder of Total Wine & More

David Trone with Fellows sitting and standing around him

David Trone with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., July 25 – David Trone, the founder and owner of Total Wine & More strode into RespectAbility’s office along with his assistant, Eric. Trone shone coming down the hallway with a bright canary yellow tie and a full head of glistening salt and pepper hair, a little more salt than pepper these days. As Trone made his way to his seat at the head of the table, he personally greeted RespectAbility fellows and staff.

Trone and his brother, Robert, created the largest U.S. alcohol retailer more than 25 years ago. On July 10, 2017, he joined RespectAbility Fellows and staff to share his advice on leadership, philanthropy, service, and his nephew’s struggles with opiate addiction and the impact on his family. Recently, following his nephew’s overdose, Trone published an important and potentially life-saving op-ed on the opioid crisis.

Leadership and emerging leaders have become passions of the Trone brothers in recent years.

“We have to recognize each person’s skills and what they can offer to society,” Trone said. “We are all leaders in different ways, not just the captain of the football team. Each person can offer their own perspective to help move us all together in society as a team.”

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Listening is an Act of Compassion

Advice from Bipartisan Policy Center’s Calvin Harris

Calvin Harris with Fellows sitting and standing around him

Calvin Harris with with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., July 25 – As a native from St. Louis, Missouri, Calvin Harris is no stranger to disability advocacy. Harris’ mother worked in the neuromuscular lab at the Washington University School of Medicine, which created a path for Harris’ passions for disability advocacy. Harris volunteered with disability groups, most notably, serving as a camp counselor for the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Camp for Kids, where he befriended many kids with MD.

Calvin Harris smiling and facing the camera with crossed arms and wearing a striped tie color photo

Calvin Harris, RespectAbility Chairman

“The work of RespectAbility is critical to ensuring that my friends from MDA Camp, as well as the 56 million Americans living with a disability, have an opportunity to participate in all aspects of our community,” said Harris, who became the Chair of RespectAbility’s board earlier this month.

As the current senior manager of public affairs at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Harris has not strayed too far from disability advocacy. He was the first treasurer of RespectAbility and continues to embody the spirit of an advocate. As treasurer, Harris oversaw fundraising efforts, approved budgets and ensured the organization was compliant with state laws and regulations. As a new set of board of directors and advisors transitioned earlier this month, it was Harris’ spirit and dedication to ensuring opportunity for people with disabilities that propelled him to become the new chairman of RespectAbility.

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The Value of Listening

Learning from The Gates Foundation’s Pras Ranaweera

Pras Ranaweera with all the fellows sitting and standing around her

Pras Ranaweera with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., July 21 – “People love to talk about themselves, but it is more important to listen,” Pras Ranaweera expressed to a room full of energized RespectAbility Fellows.

Ranaweera practiced her sage advice by using the majority of time to hear personal stories and suggestions from the Fellows and staff. She listened to their experiences with inclusion in the public and private school systems. During the sharing session, Ranaweera carefully took notes, demonstrating her commitment to promoting the next generation of leaders – the most treasured part of her work at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

As the Senior Portfolio Officer of K-12 Education at the Gates Foundation, Ranaweera is able to impact the lives of young people nationally on a daily basis. Prior to her work with the foundation, she served as Chief of Staff for Data and Accountability at D.C Public Schools where she was quickly promoted to Deputy Chief of Assessments. There, she oversaw the district’s assessment portfolio for more than 40,000 students, managed 115 schools’ transition to online PARCC testing, overhauled the district’s student report cards and oversaw the collection and reporting of timely, accurate data on student achievement for the district.

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Using Technology to Improve Accessibility

Conversation with Dana Marlowe of Accessibility Partners

Dana Marlowe with the Respectability fellows standing and sitting around her

Dana Marlowe with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., July 21 – “Accessibility is the nexus of where people with disabilities interface with technology,” said Dana Marlowe, an architect of inclusion and accessibility. She spoke with the RespectAbility Fellows on July 5, 2017 on the importance of including people with disabilities in technology’s use and development.

In addition to being a member of the RespectAbility Board of Advisors, Marlowe is the principal partner and co-founder of Accessibility Partners LLC, which is an accessibility advocacy and IT consulting firm. They hire people with disabilities to audit a variety of technology products created by their clients to ensure how usable they are to people with disabilities. It’s a productive cycle that empowers people with disabilities at all levels.

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Fail at Something at Least Once

Advice from Political Fundraiser Fran Katz Watson

Fran Watson with Fellows sitting and standing around her

Fran Katz Watson with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., July 20 – Fran Katz Watson, founder and president of The Katz Watson Group, has known since she was young that she has wanted to change the world. In college, Katz Watson recalls pleading with her political science professor after feeling compelled to move to Washington, D.C., to become involved in politics.

After a summer of interning in D.C., Katz Watson remembers “catching the political bug,” causing her to rearrange her schedule her senior year of college to work 30 hours per week on political campaign fundraising in addition to her college coursework. Some twenty years later, Katz Watson is a leader in her field of donor relations, having worked on political fundraising in the last ten presidential and senatorial election cycles.

Although many people today have become dependent on social media to communicate with others, Katz Watson stresses the importance of still calling and establishing a personal relationship with donors. Katz Watson also believes it is important to meet one-on-one to discuss all facets of a candidate’s motivation to run for office. By getting to know candidates on a personal level, Katz Watson believes she is able to effectively build their donor base to be successful during a campaign.

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