2004-1999 Graduate Updates

2004 Graduate Updates

Winter 2016:

I've been teaching theater classes with Friends In Action/Wildcat Friends. We're going on five years now, and the theater program has grown to more than 30 participants. Also, this summer we filmed a music video to promote the partnership between Friends In Action, and Echo Thrift Shop in Durham. Here is the link to view the video on YouTube:


2003 Graduate Updates

Dan Habib, Betsy McNamara and sons

Samuel's Story

We have two children, and our vision for them is the same: We hope they will enjoy a lifelong enthusiasm for learning, have strong relationships with family and friends, experience success in school, and, someday, have the ability to earn a living doing fulfilling work and, if they so choose find, we hope they will find a loving partner and have children of their own.

Our younger son Samuel was still a baby when we learned the reason he wasn't developing according to the charts in the baby books: a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, apparently caused by an underlying metabolic disorder. Learning this didn't change the way we felt about him, of course. It didn't even change our vision for him.

What this diagnosis did change was our ability to imagine how Samuel could ever become what we hoped for him. How can a child who needs help with everything from walking to holding a pencil succeed in school? How can a child who may never talk make friends? How can a child who will probably always need the support of a trained person ever be independent of his parents? The problem was that we couldn't imagine how to fulfill this vision.

Participating in the Leadership Series (Betsy in 2002 and Dan in 2003) helped us figure out the "how-to's" of Samuel's life. We met a teenager who communicates using facilitated communication, and learned that it IS possible for someone who can't talk to express thoughts both profound and funny. We met adults with significant cerebral palsy who live independently and have fulfilling careers, personal relationships and great marriages. We met other parents who've helped their children to succeed in their local public school, have meaningful friendships, and be involved in extra-curricular activities.

We also learned that none of this is easy and that we will be called upon often to advocate for Samuel. The Leadership Series taught us great advocacy skills that we have already employed.

Samuel is fully integrated into a preschool program, the same one his older brother attended. He'll be fully integrated into the school system and we expect him to be able to pursue the many interests he is already demonstrating.

Samuel's diagnosis has not changed who he is, his value as a person, or how much we love him. But it has changed his experience in the world. Through the Leadership Series we gained the knowledge and skills to support Samuel in fulfilling our vision for his life. And when he's old enough, we'll support him in his own vision for his life.

2002 Graduate Updates

Kirsten Murphy

Winter 2016:

I am currently working as the Senior Policy Analyst and Planner for the Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council.  My two favorite projects:

  1. Working with Vermont's family support organization and Green Mountain Self-Advocates to expand the Vermont Leadership Series.  We just graduated 18 new leaders at a State House ceremony.
  2. The Inclusive Healthcare Partnership Project, a one year planning grant to develop a plan for improving the health outcomes and healthcare experiences of Vermont adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. As a bonus, I get to work with NH's own Susan Covert, who is our Project Coordinator.

2001 Graduate Updates

Jeff Williamson

According to Jeff Williamson, we should "treat a person as a treasure first and forget what is not possible." This was not always the case for Jeff. Until age 19, he attended a segregated program and lived in an eight-person group home. He was miserable, according to Janet - Jeff's mother. "He could only use his body language to communicate and he clearly hated where he was living and how he was being educated. Jeff was not given choices about any aspect of his life because it was assumed that he was incapable of making decisions." Janet wished there were other options for Jeff and she wished the bureaucratic tangle of funding sources gave them both choices.

In 1988, Janet attended the first New Hampshire Leadership Series sponsored by the Institute on Disability. Today, following ongoing training and support from the Institute and others, Jeff's life is filled with the experiences typical of most 30-year-olds: memories of his school graduation and recent vacations, a growing bank account, a resume of volunteer and employment experiences, application information for the local college, bulletins from his place of worship, a home of his own, and friends of his choosing.

Jeff hires the people who provide his support. He defines his life based on his dreams. Jeff has a voice and his words are being listened to. Jeff and Janet are working to make sure that the innovative supports and service delivery system they experience are available to all people with disabilities. The Institute on Disability is proud to be part of the movement toward inclusion, community supports, and consumer-directed services.

1999 Graduate Updates

Judy Kuczwara

Summer 2013:

Judy lives in Derry with her family consisting of two of her triplets, Matthew and Sara. Daughter Susan lives in Exeter with her aunt and is in close contact with her family. Judy works in a catering business and is a Parent Advocate. In fact, her journey to become an advocate led her to join the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, http://www.copaa.org/ . As part of her training, Judy took on line courses and completed 16 weekends in New York and over 200 hours working on cases with an attorney from Portland Maine.

She considers herself a strong advocate and feels that that was a powerful emphasis in the NHLS. She believes that her two big “take away messages” from the Leadership Series were to advocate for the right thing and work toward full inclusion. She stays in touch with fellow alums over the NHLS List Serve.

Recently, her son Matthew made news in the Derry newspaper as people from his school created a broom that could be pushed by someone using a wheel chair.  Click here for the news article.

Although the connections to peers were helpful and the article was exciting for Matthew, Judy hopes that, going forward, putting more energy into helping him access his preferred activities will be the focus. Matt likes to ski but needs an adaptive ski that works for his body type and size. Judy is working to get more people to focus on his interests and passions, and hopefully find a ski that works for him this year at Gunstock!

Judy’s daughter Sara is doing well in school and uses an AAC device to communicate. Sara is a bright girl and they are looking for ways to help her communicate that aren't quite so taxing on her body so that she can continue to advance academically.  Judy was recently told by Sara’s regular education math teacher that her daughter 'Sara is being under-served in lower level classes and we need to figure out a way for her to get out what she has in there. She needs to be challenged more!' "I cried!!” This has been Judy’s hope all along and she felt the teacher got it just right. “It has been my fight all along! To have it validated by a regular education teacher just hits home!”" It has been a lot of work to get there, but well worth it when a teacher sees the potential and shares in those feelings!"

You can stay in touch with Judy via email at msjfkuczwara@yahoo.com