top of page

About the
2023 Self-Direction Conference

rainbow people .png
2023 SDC Logo .png

Keynote: Dr. Jennifer Johnson

Dr. Jennifer Johnson is the Deputy Commissioner of the Administration on Disabilities (AoD), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Community Living. She is also the Director of AoD’s Office of Disability Service Innovations. AoD’s mission is to equip individuals with disabilities of all ages with opportunities, tools, and supports to lead lives of their choice in their community.  Its programs are working to create change and improve the lives of the estimated 61 million individuals with disabilities living in the US by advancing opportunities for inclusion and participation in the community, employment and financial well-being, and independence and self- determination.


Dr. Johnson has served as the Deputy Commissioner since September 2019, with a focus on improving the quality, accountability, and evidence base of AoD’s programs and initiatives. She supports planning and oversight of AoD’s $330 million budget that funds a number of disability programs and projects across the US and its territories. Her 30-year career in government, academia, national organizations, and local school systems demonstrates a clear commitment to improving opportunities for people with disabilities to lead full lives in the community, with emphases on diversity, inclusion, and advancing a diverse array of programs for underserved and unserved individuals and communities.


Keynote: Val Bradley

Ms. Bradley is President Emerita of the Human Services Research Institute.  Prior to January 1, 2017, Ms. Bradley was the President of HSRI since its inception in 1976.  Ms. Bradley has directed numerous state and federal policy projects that have contributed to the expansion, enhancement and responsiveness of services and supports to people with disabilities and their families.  Ms. Bradley is a past Chair of the President’s Committee on Persons with Intellectual Disabilities and a Past President of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.  She is the lead author of the book Self-Direction:  A Revolution in Human Services published by SUNY Press.  She has also edited books on quality assurance and improvement, individual supports, and deinstitutionalization.  She is currently a senior advisor to National Core Indicators, provides  technical assistance to Living Well grantees, and is advocating for enhancing the status, pay and respect for direct support professionals.


Keynote: Paul Aronsohn

Paul Aronsohn is currently serving as New Jersey’s statewide Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and Their Families – a position to which he was appointed by Governor Phil Murphy in April 2018. As such, he serves as the administration’s lead advocate and ally for New Jersey residents in need of critical services and supports ranging from early childhood through adulthood.


Paul was also appointed last year by President Biden to serve on the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, which serves as a federal advisor to the President and the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.


Paul currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Bergen County Branch of the NAACP as well as on the Bergen County Disability Services Advisory Board. He has also recently been actively involved in a range of volunteer activities focused on food security, social justice, and disability rights.


Paul can be reached via email ( or phone (609) 984-7764.

Keynote: David James “DJ” Savarese is co-chair of The Alliance for Citizen Directed Supports where he designed and directs the Lives-in-Progress Collective,  a national, grassroots project focused on expanding and transforming self-direction. An author, poet, and essayist, he teaches multigenerational, global poetry writing classes through Listen2Us and poetry writing courses for alternatively communicating autistics through the LYNX Project in Chicago. A practicing optimist, he has learned to smile inwardly at who he is and who he is becoming as he creatively improvises a way forward.

Afternoon Greeter, Angela V. McKnight, elected as the first African American Assemblywoman for the 31st District of the New Jersey State Legislature in 2015 is now serving her fourth term. She is a Democratic lawmaker representing towns in Hudson County, New Jersey to include Bayonne and Jersey City. As a member of the General Assembly, McKnight is the chairwoman of the Aging and Senior Services Committee, Vice Chair of Women and Children Committee and a member of the Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee. In addition, Asw McKnight is a Deputy Majority Leader in the Assembly. 

She is also the founder and Chief Executive Officer of AngelaCARES, an advocacy and support organization for senior citizens, senior caregivers, and youth, based in Jersey City. She is also an entrepreneur running a few businesses and a self-published author. She is an advocate for senior care, social justice, and cultural fairness in Black communities as well as women’s health amongst a plethora of important matters affecting New Jerseyans. 

As a mentor and educator, McKnight serves as an adjunct faculty member at New Jersey City University (NJCU), and as an instructor at the Rising Tide Capital Community Business Academy. She holds a B.S. in Business Management from the University of Phoenix and has 30 years of experience in the customer service and technology arena. 

As an activist and social advocate, McKnight serves as a Board Member on several boards to include the Jersey City Community Charter School, the United Way of Hudson County, Alliance Community Healthcare, I Love Greenville, & the NJCU Health Sciences Undergraduate & Keyes Red Door Realty & Associates Advisory Boards. She is the chair of New Jersey Black Legislative Caucus Foundation and the President of the Hudson County Black Caucus. She has received several honors for her advocacy and accomplishments to include, but not limited to the US Senator Robert Menendez 2019 Community Outreach Award, and the 2022 Community Impact Award from Trinity Faith Church of the Living God.


Angela resides in her hometown Jersey City, NJ. She is married to her high school sweetheart Anthony McKnight Sr. They have two children Ana’jah 29 & Anthony Jr. 21 as well as an amazing 5-year-old grandson named Jordan!

Mercedes Witowsky

Mercedes became Executive Director of the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities (NJCDD) in July of 2018. Under her leadership at the NJCDD, she focuses on efforts that enable individuals with I/DD and their families to have a voice in access and delivery of their supports and services.


These efforts include forums, coalitions and ‘think tanks’ to support the NJCDD’s work on employment, housing, transportation and a host of many other critical topics for individuals with I/DD. Mercedes also led the creation of the NJ Developmental Disabilities Advocacy Network (DDAN), bringing together stakeholders to establish and implement a collective advocacy agenda and the New Jersey Legislative Disability Caucus, the bipartisan gathering of New Jersey’s legislators focused on disability matters. 


Prior to becoming Executive Director at NJCDD, she championed multiple statewide family advocacy efforts. She was a driving force in establishing the New Jersey Family Advisory Council to the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) and the Children’s System of Care Collaboration Committee within the Children’s System of Care. These family advocacy efforts continue today and provide state officials with valuable input. 


Equity, citizenship, choice and control for people with disabilities are at the core of her values and beliefs that extends beyond her professional life and includes what she strives for as her adult daughter with disabilities leads her own life.   


Christina Rappisi

Christina Rappisi is the Director of Support Coordination for Values into Action NJ. Within her role, she leads the VIANJ team to ensure each person that accepts supports from VIA lives the life of their choosing using a family-centered, person-directed approach. Over the last decade, Christina has worked in various roles within the disability sector including as a Teacher’s Assistant & Outreach Consultant Tutor for children with an autism diagnosis as well as a Support Coordinator, Program Coordinator & Direct Support Professional for people who experience disabilities. Christina is an ambassador and presenter for the Charting the Life Course Framework and a member of the National Association of Case Management. She is a member of The Collaborative for Citizen Directed Supports of NJ and facilitates community-based webinars for The Collaborative. Christina is known nationwide for presenting on topics of Support Coordination and Self-Direction.

Jan Lampman has worked in the field if IDD for 38 years, starting as a direct support professional, then group home manager, then employer of record for those who employ their supports to live in their own homes.  Jan spent 27 years at a local chapter of The ARc where she was at the table for every step of Michigan’s efforts to bring Self Direction to people served.  She is the sister of a woman who survived the state institution and the mother of 3 sons, two of whom came to her from the foster care system.

Herb Collman – Account Manager for the DDD program at Public Partnerships. As the father of a Special Needs child, he made the decision to switch career in 2017 and began working at PPL for the past 6 years. He worked as a Financial Consultant with the Personal Preference Program and was later promoted to Lead Supervisor. He later transitioned to the DDD program where he managed the enrollment process. He was later promoted to Account Manager. Not only is he working as an employee at PPL, but he is also an advocate for all consumers and their families.  “I do what I do with a passion, because this is my purpose.”

Kristen Mathews​

Kristen has been working in the sector since she was a young adult, but really found my footing about 10 years ago. She is blessed to have a wonderful brother, Richard, who experiences a developmental disability. Richard has been living independently in his own home since 2012 and continues to live his life to the fullest. He is a touchstone for Kristen, as it understands what is possible for others to lead a great and fulfilling life Eiros Group is one of the first agencies to provide Supports Brokerage in New Jersey. For the last 3 years Kristen has worked with the team to navigate this exciting area of supports for individuals across New Jersey. She is grateful to have the opportunity to work alongside CEO and Founder, Jennifer Brown, in assisting people find their way to a life they want in their communities.


Sheldon Schwitek

Sheldon brings more than 30 years of experience supporting people who experience disability which began with the birth of his youngest brother when he was 13 years old. With a firm grounding in Person Centered Work through long associations with Inclusion Press and the Toronto Summer Institute, Sheldon’s focus has always been on encouraging people to “dream bigger” as a pathway to true citizenship. He is passionate about people living meaningful lives of contribution in their communities. In 2011, Sheldon began to work with The Center for Positive Living Supports and their implementation of a Culture of Gentleness in Michigan. This work solidified his knowledge that relationships and community connections are fundamental to a safe and happy life. Lately, Sheldon has been working nationally and internationally weaving together his experience in Person Centered Work and mentorship as exemplary tools to assist people to realize full potential as citizens. Sheldon is the Co-Founder of In the Company of Others and Director of People & Culture at the Eiros Group in New Jersey. The key message in Sheldon’s work is that all people can lead lives that are rich and meaningful and that this is our most important work. He continues to find ways to deepen his practice and understanding of this work.

Colleen A. McLaughlin, MEd is the Associate Director of The Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities. Ms. McLaughlin is responsible for directing the Center’s Disability Policy and Community Training and Technical Assistance initiatives. In collaboration with the Executive Director, Ms. McLaughlin coordinates the Center’s UCEDD related functions and strategic planning.

Ms. McLaughlin received her MEd from Temple University and a BS in Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh. Her work has focused on inclusive community supports and services for people with intellectual disabilities. With more than twenty years working in the field of developmental disabilities, Ms. McLaughlin brings expertise in self-directed services, direct support workforce development, service coordination, quality improvement, systems change, and disability policy.

Frank Latham has 20 years of social work and disability advocacy experience. He is currently the Advocacy Coordinator /Principal Presenter for the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities prior to his current position Frank was program Coordinator for the Youth Leadership Project and Youth Leadership Institute of the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities.

Before coming to the Council Frank worked for the Self Advocacy Project of the ARC of New Jersey and was the Director of Social Worker for Genesis HealthCare in Jackson NJ. He also served as the Director of the Public Assistance for a group of communities in South Jersey. 

A longtime coach and mentor for young people, Frank has been a high school and AAU basketball coach for the past 20 years, and is current and Associate Head Basketball Coach at (RCBC) Rowan College At Burlington County and has also served as a golf coach for the Special Olympics. Frank holds, CSW from Rutgers University.

Michael Brower

Michael Brower serves as the Legal Director at Disability Rights NJ, the private non-profit agency designated as the Protection and Advocacy system for people with disabilities in the state of New Jersey.  He has worked as an attorney there since 2016, and has represented clients and worked on systemic issues affecting individuals with I/DD, brain injuries, physical disabilities, and mental health conditions.  Before joining Disability Rights NJ, Michael represented people struggling with medical and consumer debt in NJ and PA. Michael received an undergraduate degree in history from The College of New Jersey in 2009 and his law degree from Rutgers Law School in Camden in 2012.

Tashaya Daniels is the Director of the Easterseals NJ, Agency with Choice program. Before coming into this role, Tashaya was a support coordinator and regional program manager under the Division of Developmental Disability Waiver provider programs. Currently she helps provide direction over the state’s fiscal intermediary self-direction program and has dedicated her life’s career to the advancement and advocacy for disabled and mentally challenged individuals. For the last 15 years she has helped develop and push for the betterment of their lives and community integration. While enjoying life as a mother of 1 and avid traveler she currently serves as a board director for Auress NJ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.

She brings her knowledge not only from her years of professional experience in the industry but through a personal aspect as being a co-guardian to a person living with disabilities. She believes that everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect and have access to resources and education to improve their lives.  

Pamela Brooks has more than 20 years of program management and operations oversight to state and federal healthcare programs. She joined Public Partnerships in 2022 and is the primary point of contact for New Jersey’s three self-direction programs and five managed care clients. Pam is passionate about the families she serves and uses her leadership and management skills to ensure a positive experience for all stakeholders of the program.  Pam is passionate about the communities she serves and has provided numerous webinars and presentations to participants, employees, support coordinators and vendors. 

Patty Kowalchuk has worked helping people and families since 1987.  Starting as an unpaid intern at a local group home when she was in college, she got the best (free) education there, which she has built upon through a variety of roles throughout the last 30+ years.  From working directly with individuals to leading large teams of others to positively impact lives, Patty has always worked to respect the civil rights of all people.  Through the good fortune of having some wonderful mentors along the way, Patty has kept a secret mantra of "why not?" when it comes to people living the lives they choose, whether disability is or is not a part of those lives.  Her best teachers have been people who rely on funding from DDD, and she is forever learning.  Currently, Patty works for Royal Community Support where she works to be an asset to individuals and families.  Patty also represents Royal to the Collaborative for Self-Directed Services - NJ.     

Claribel Guzman has been an independent soul from the get-go!  With a mother who she credits for making her speak up, Claribel has never let her physical disabilities get in the way of her pursuits.  Having lived through the evolution of self-directed services in NJ, she has a plethora of lived experience as a person who directs her life and her services.  She has learned many things along the way and has taught many professionals what kind of “service” is, and is not, helpful.  Claribel has worked for the last 24+ years at Drew University as a desk assistant.  Her other title is “Aunt”, and she cherishes this title the most.

Peter Marks has been an International Mindfulness Facilitator in Canada, USA, Mexico and Australia for over 30 years and has trained over 20,000 people in that time. He is also an Academic Program Instructor with the University of Toronto, Co-founder, Director and/or Consultant to 42 Autism and Mental Health and Addictions Services’ systems throughout Ontario. In addition, he has 30 years of Human Services’ Volunteering experience, including in 5 Maximum Security Prisons and 25 Indigenous Peoples’ Communities. He is also a Guest Lecturer and Keynote Speaker at Universities and Conferences.

Kelly McGuire, a staff attorney at Disability Rights NJ, represents adults with various disabilities who live in the community in matters including less restrictive alternatives to guardianship.  Previously, Kelly worked as a student intern with the organization in 2018.  She graduated from the Temple University Beasley School of Law in 2020, then represented clients with disabilities in their probate, estate, and tax matters in California before returning to Disability Rights NJ in January 2023.  She earned her bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in political science from West Chester University in 2016.

Ashley Ritchey, MSW, LSW is a Family and Advocate Education Liaison with the NJ Division of Developmental Disabilities. Ashley has more than a decade of experience in program leadership, training and resource development, and group facilitation, which has taken on many forms throughout her career including panel discussions led by adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) for professionals in education, policymaking, law enforcement, and healthcare. Prior to joining the Division, Ashley served as Director of the NJ Self-Advocacy Project where she supported the state’s largest self-advocacy organization, the NJ Statewide Self-Advocacy Network. Ashley regularly collaborates with members of New Jersey’s thriving self-advocacy community to develop and present workshops, networking sessions, and peer education programming for adults with IDD statewide as well as family members and professionals. Driven a keen awareness of how systems impact people and families, Ashley believes that lasting, positive change happens when decision makers seek out and center the perspectives of people with lived experience. She remains committed to amplifying the voices of people with IDD in all spaces, as well as creating opportunities for meaningful engagement from people with disabilities and intersecting identities.

Pamela King is a Self-Advocate from Gloucester County who is her own guardian and uses Supported Decision Making. Pamela is a Graduate of the Partners In Policy Making Program and serves as a member of: NJ Transit Citizens Advisory Committee; The Arc of New Jersey’s Statewide Self-Advocacy Network (NJSSAN) Council 4; The Boggs Center/NJ DDD Steering Committees; Abilities Solutions’ Safety Committee and Community Options Inc. Center for Leaders. 

Patricia Tucker Brennan, MSW is the Director of the Office of Education on Self-Directed Services, Waiting List, and Special Projects at the New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities.  Ms. Brennan received her Masters in Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania and her BS in Psychology from Ursinus College.  Ms. Brennan has been involved with New Jersey Self-Directed Services since 2002.  She is the NJ team lead for the Community of Practice for Supporting Families and one of the lead team Members for the “Bridging the Gap” grant between aging and disability services.  Ms. Brennan has over twenty years working in the field of developmental disabilities focused on statewide systems change and person-centered practices implementation.

Jessica Licona, MSW is the Assistant Director of the Office of Education on Self-Directed Services, Waiting List, and Special Projects at the New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities. Ms. Licona received her Masters in Social Work from Fordham University and her BS in Social Work from Stockton College. Ms. Licona has been involved with New Jersey Self-Directed Services since 2013. She is an ambassador for the Community of Practice for Supporting Families and one of the team members for the NCAPPS nationwide learning collaborative. Ms. Licona has over 18 years working in the field of developmental disabilities and is focused on statewide systems change and person-centered practices implementation.

Joshua Bradley

Josh has over 25 years of experience in the public and nonprofit sector. He has worked at Community Access Unlimited for the last 14 years. Josh had worked in a variety of roles at Community Access Unlimited including Residential Services, Quality Assurance and Training, Facilities and Information Technology. Most recently he served as the Managing Assistant Executive Director of Facilities and Information Technology. Josh has a passion for getting to know those that he supports and finding simple solutions to complex issues.

Josh Godown, a dedicated professional, has been actively engaged in the disability community since the winter of 2011/2012, following his graduation from East Stroudsburg University. Over the years, he has amassed valuable experience working in diverse environments such as group homes, schools, and communities. In 2015 he contributed significantly to the founding of Bridges Supports Coordination. Throughout his journey, he has held various roles in Support Coordination and currently holds the position of Executive Director. Josh also represents Bridges as a member of The Collaborative for Citizen Directed Supports and is an active member of the Project Advisory Team for Finally Home NJ. 

bottom of page