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Last week, 31 exceptional disability advocates graduated from the Texas Partners in Policymaking program. For the past eight months, the class participants have gained knowledge from nationally recognized speakers, honed their leadership skills, and learned strategies to impact policy. These advocates leave the program equipped to lead positive change at the local, state, and federal levels. We extend our congratulations to the following graduates and look forward to seeing what they achieve for their communities next.

  • Nilam Agrawal, Little Elm 
  • Angel Arellano, San Antonio 
  • Patrinia Baksmaty, Houston 
  • Kathryn Broadwater, Houston 
  • Kate Chapple, Austin 
  • David DeAnda, Houston 
  • Kathryn Doty, Fort Worth 
  • Katie Fruge, Houston 
  • Rebekah Gillespie, Tulia 
  • Jennifer Gracia, Corpus Christi 
  • Catherine Harwood, Houston 
  • Marsha Kocurek, Caldwell 
  • Alyson Landry, Houston 
  • Marissa Mahon, Houston 
  • Mary Mecham, Katy 
  • Kelley Mindrup, Coppell 
  • Soha Mohammed, Sugar Land 
  • Shontay Olson, Austin 
  • Marie Marks O’Bryan, Cedar Park
  • Tracy Parks, Kerrville 
  • Zelma Petty, Tomball 
  • Travis Rand, Houston 
  • Christine Reyes, Laredo 
  • Daisy Reyes, Corpus Christi 
  • Annette Sankowski, Houston 
  • Caralou Smith, Houston 
  • Kimberly Sutton, Houston 
  • Brianna TenBrink, Rosharon 
  • Michelle Vasquez, San Antonio 
  • Julie Westerman, Austin 
  • Suzanne Wilson, Austin

The program curriculum included the history of the disability rights movement and an in-depth study of the policies that determine how current systems work. Class members examined our state’s education, housing, and employment systems and identified how, as advocates, they can influence policy and systems change at local and statewide levels. Each graduate completed a capstone project that created real and necessary change in their community. As a result of their hard work, more people with developmental disabilities are fully included in their communities and exercise control over their own lives. You can learn more about each participant and what they achieved while in the program, on the graduates section of the Texas Partners in Policymaking website.

Creating Positive Change

Through their capstone projects, the graduates of the class of 2022 worked diligently to impact their communities through advocacy. Across the state of Texas, class members expanded inclusion, awareness, educational rights, and career opportunities for people with disabilities. Below are a few examples of the extraordinary work done this year by the Partners class of 2022.

Project LEAH (Leaders Ending Abuse and Harm) 

Brianna TenBrink of Rosharon created Project LEAH for her capstone project. The mission of Project LEAH is to ensure proper protection for students with disabilities within the Texas public school system. Specifically, Project LEAH seeks amendments to the “cameras in the classroom” bill, demands a new protocol for mandated reporting, and furthers the agenda of restraint, seclusion, and assault safeguards. Through educational legislative training and connections with statewide advocacy organizations, Project LEAH aims to ensure all Texans with disabilities can receive a safe and inclusive education. 

Living Advocacy 

For her capstone project, Kathryn Doty developed a presentation, “Living Advocacy,” to share her journey as a self-advocate. The presentation tells Doty’s experience through self-advocacy, finding her community, and why disability advocacy is vital in all areas of our communities. Doty also shares information about United Advocates, a self-advocacy group formed over 40 years ago. Doty serves as the president of United Advocates. With the presented information, Doty hopes to encourage others to engage in disability advocacy work.

Disability Book Week 

Disability Book Week is a collaborative project between class members Mary Mecham, Kelley Mindrup, and Caralou Smith. Held from April 23-29, Disability Book Week is a time in which individuals all over the world are invited to become more inclusive with what they read. Community members are encouraged to read a book that either features a main character with a disability or is written by an author with a disability. The goal of Disability Book Week is to open a world of literary contributions to better understand and appreciate the disabled community. During this year’s Disability Book Week, multiple Partners 2022 class members contributed as panelists. 

Meet Our Alumni

Graduates of the program join an impressive network of over 27,000 graduates worldwide, with over 750 alumni in Texas. Alumni are the disability advocacy leaders in their communities and often serve on boards, councils, task forces, and advisory committees. Some alumni run for elected office.

Partners graduates use their knowledge and advocacy skills to build community capacities, increase resources for families, improve accessibility, foster community connections, and create systems change in the education, employment, judicial, and transportation systems. To learn about our alumni visit the graduates section of our website.

Texas Partners in Policymaking is coordinated by the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities.