Germaine Collins is a teacher in the Human Development Center’s Early Learning Center (ELC). Located on the first floor of the Human Development Center (HDC) building, the ELC provides high-quality, inclusive early care and education for infants and toddlers. Our teachers are highly qualified professionals who are trained to implement a developmentally appropriate, evidence-based curriculum for infants and toddlers, including those with disabilities and special health care needs.Read more >
DeafBlindness affects more than 10,000 children between birth and 21 years of age in the United States, and has over 70 known causes, including Usher’s syndrome, CHARGE syndrome, meningitis, and rubella. Nicky Gillies, MS, NIC and the Louisiana DeafBlind Project (LADBP) work with families and school districts to ensure that they are providing the best supports for children and youth that address deafblindness as a unique disability as well as any other disabilities that may be present.Read more >
Michael Curry helps young adults with disabilities transition from high school into an independent life through the Human Development Center’s Postsecondary Apprenticeship for Youth, better known as the PAY Check program. Since joining the PAY Check team, Michael helped kick-start the first PAY Check program on the Northshore, which includes 4 young men from St. Paul’s high school.
Ms. Courtney Bissonnette, RN, MSN recently began working at the Human Development Center (HDC) as a Health Specialist for HDC’s Early Head Start Child Care Partnership (EHS-CCP) project and a member of the core faculty of the Louisiana Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) program. Before joining HDC as a Registered Nurse (RN) and Health Specialist, Courtney worked as an acute care pediatric nurse on pediatric medical surgical units for five-years. She also spent a year at a pediatric primary care clinic as a pediatric triage nurse. Courtney left the hospital setting and earned a Master of Science in Nursing Education, while simultaneously working full-time as a nurse at a childcare center that served young children with special needs. Courtney has a personal relationship with developmental disabilities. She is the mother of a child with cerebral palsy and epilepsy. Courtney’s professional training and life experiences make her uniquely able to notice small details that can impact a family or child’s health, wellness, and quality of life. Courtney uses this lens in her daily work to make sure that faculty, staff, teachers, families and children possess the wellness tools they need to reach their full potential.
Ms. Ali Kowitz recently joined the staff of HDC’s K-12 Educational Initiatives as an educational facilitator. Ali coaches special educators and regular education teachers to better serve students, including those with disabilities in several school districts across South Louisiana (i.e., Iberville, East Baton Rouge, ReNEW-New Orleans, and Belle Chasse Academy). According to Ms. Julie Riley, HDC’s K-12 Education Initiatives director, “Ali may have only been in this role for three-months, but her expertise in instructional strategies and transition has added greatly to our team.” In fact, Ali has already developed professional development materials focusing on instructional strategies and accommodations/modifications to assist students with disabilities function within school-wide and classroom norms. Happily, these strategies work for students of all abilities!
Because October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), this spotlight has a special focus on employment. Visit the NDEAM homepage to learn how you can help build an inclusive workforce.
Donald “Ray” Leger has worked as a Certified Work Incentives Counselor (CWIC) for the Human Development Center’s Work Incentives Planning and Assistance project (funded by the Social Security Administration) since 2006. Ray is passionate about being of service to others and has loved every minute of his role helping people understand how work affects their benefits. Today, he is Project Manager of the West South Central Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WSC WIPA) program.
Maria Blanco, M.Ed. has worked at HDC for 15-years. She designs projects that increase access to quality early learning experiences for young children and families; she supports early childhood staff to implement projects with a high level of excellence; and she represents HDC’s interests, and those of children and families, on state and local policymaking bodies. Maria is currently the Director for the Early Head Start Child Care Partnership (EHS-CCP) and the Director for HDC’s newest program, Inclusive Practices in Early Childhood (IPEC).
As a Transition Specialist, Carmel Polk helps PAY Check participants transition to life after high school by teaching them community and work-related skills that are crucial for independent life. PAY Check’s mission to nurture young people’s abilities for full community participation is what attracted Carmel to the position.
It is important that we ensure students have the tools and skills to live independently in society. We want young people to be the best version of themselves in every capacity.– Carmel Polk, MS, CESP
Trainees in the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) program are generally knowledgeable about their respective disciplines. However, many don’t realize the ways in which public policies directly affect families and individuals with disabilities (IWD). As the Policy Coordinator for the Human Development Center and Louisiana LEND program, Liz Gary educates LEND trainees on policy and helps them feel comfortable connecting with elected officials and policymakers. Liz teaches trainees to remain neutral while educating elected officials and policymakers about the perspectives and priorities of the disability community. That is, LEND trainees do not directly advocate; rather, they provide elected officials and policymakers with the information related to how public policies and/or legislation may impact members of the disability community.