Our Speakers

Morning Keynote Speaker

Bill Gaventa

M.Div., Founder of the Collaborative on Faith and Disability & The Institute on Theology and Disability

Bill Gaventa served as Director of Community and Congregational Supports at the Boggs Center in NJ until June 30, 2013. He now lives in Austin, Texas and works as a national consultant, trainer, speaker and author. He has been Director of the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability, and Director of the Collaborative on Faith and Disability. His recent book from Baylor University Press is Disability and Spirituality: Recovering Wholeness.


In his role at The Boggs Center, Bill worked on community supports, initiatives in cultural competence, aging/end of life issues, supervision of a program in Clinical Pastoral Education, faith community leadership, and inclusive congregational supports. He has been active in initiatives in workforce development, support of direct care staff, clergy and congregational training, self directed supports, and staff training.


Bill has served in a variety of professional and volunteer roles. Before coming to New Jersey, he was Coordinator of Family Support for the Georgia Developmental Disabilities Council. He moved to Georgia from New York, where he served as Chaplain and Coordinator of Religious Services for the Monroe Developmental Center. He is a graduate of Stetson University in Florida and Union Theological Seminary, New York City. As writer and author, he served as Editor of the Journal of Religion Disability, and Health from 1996-2010.

Breakout Session #1 

Parent Panel

Rhoni Golden, MPT

Rhoni has worked as a physical therapist treating the brain and spinal cord injury population for over 21 years. She is also a special needs mom who has spent the last 13 years navigating the complex web of care for her own son. Rhoni serves as a parent advocate with Therapeutic Movements in East Dallas. She is on the Board of Trustees and chairs the Youth Inclusion Initiative at Temple Emanu-El.


John French

Parent of an adult child with special needs, Lovers Lane United Methodist, Dallas, Texas.

Beth Susens

Parent advocate for persons with disabilities, primarily autism. Community Volunteer and Board Member of Autism Treatment Centers of Texas.

Nagla Moussa

Parent of adult with special needs, President of National Autism Association of North Texas.


Educator Panel

Whitley Coulier, M.S., CCC-SLP

Whitley is a speech pathologist and treated in all areas of the field (school, school for special needs, hearing clinic, feeding/swallowing, dementia unit, OT clinic), in addition to being a behavior technician. Whitley currently works at an autism treatment clinic combining applied behavior analysis and speech pathology, as well as serving as the Lomdim (“Learners”) Coordinator at Temple Emanu-El.


Eileen Kriesler, M. Ed.

Founder of the Lomdim Program at Temple Emanu-El and taught Special Education 30+ years, educational diagnostician, One of the founders of the Inclusion Experience at JFS Dallas.


Cheryl Vandiver, RN, MSN.

Retired Director of Special Needs Ministry at Highland Park United Methodist Church (now Belong disAbility Ministry) where she was employed for 18 years. Previously, she served as Pediatric Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist at Children's Medical Center, and as faculty at Baylor University School of Nursing.

Witek Nowosiad, M.Div.

Director of Pastoral care at Children's Medical Center Plano Hospital. Clinical Pastoral Educator (CPE) Faculty. Founder and Chief Instractor at Beyond Karate - Martial Arts School open to individuals of ALL abilities.

Faith Leader Panel

Rabbi Amy Ross, M.Ed., R.J.E.

Rabbi and Director of Learning and Innovation at Temple Emanu-El. Oversees Lomdim (Learners) Program, which serves families with children who have special needs, and officiates at Shabbat B'Yachad, Temple's Shabbat service for individuals with special needs and their advocates, caretakers, and friends.


Tom Hudspeth

Pastor of the Deaf, Lovers Lane United Methodist Church, President of the United Methodist Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries, father of a Deaf teen.


Melissa Walden, M.S.

Melissa Waldon is the Associate Director of Ministry to Persons with Disabilities, Caregivers and the Deaf for the Catholic Diocese of Dallas where she helps parishes to welcome all people into the full life of the church. She sits on the Council for Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities for the National Catholic Partnership on Disabilities (NCPD) and helps to foster a sense of belonging for persons with disabilities through her work.


Rev. Justin Hancock

Cofounder and lead instigator of the Julian Way, author, and disability advocate


Afternoon Keynote Speakers

Vance Gilmore

Director Belong disABILITY, Highland Park United Methodist Church. Vance is an Undergrad in Special Education from The University of Oklahoma, Masters degree in Therapeutic Recreation. Long time organized Camp Professional. Eleven years at Camp Soroptimist, twenty-seven years at Camp John Marc. Currently the Director of belong disABILITY Ministry at Highland Park United Methodist Church. Vance is married to Karen and they have a daughter Allison Faith and a granddaughter Lucy Noel.

Reverend Ramsey Patton

Rev. Ramsey Patton serves as an associate pastor at Highland Park United Methodist Church and leads a weekly worship service with and by the disability community called The Feast.  Prior to entering seminary and vocational ministry, Ramsey practiced law in Dallas for five years.  She is the proud mother of a five year old son, Noah, and, in her spare time, enjoys reading, running, cooking, and spending time with family and friends.


Breakout Session #2 

Parent Panel

Sherry Pearson 

Parent of adult with special needs, Special Needs Ministry at Chase Oaks Plano


Mike Schuback

Father of daughter with special needs. National and state awards for coaching in Special Olympics for 25 years. 

Allison Schuback

Allison Schuback is an speaker and advocate for people with special needs and challenges. In 2008, Allison won Entrepreneur of the Year for Inc. Magazine for Invisi-bib - the first invisible adult bib, sold at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. She also won an Every Day Edison's contest on public television in 2008. 


Barry Rosenberg

Barry Rosenberg is the co-founder of R2 Partners, a family development office. He is the parent of a son with Down Syndrome, and an active board member of Rise School of Dallas, on the Advisory Board for DISD Sped and works on several vocational training initiatives for kids with special needs. He is married to Shelly and they have three children, Brinson, Campbell, and Ronen.

Educator Panel

Amy Kelton, M.Ed., L.D.T.

Amy is the Head of Upper Elementary at Shelton School. She has been at Shelton for the past 25 years and has great depth of experience working with bright minds who learn differently. Amy teaches so that all children will have a space and a place in her classroom, in their school and in their world.


Sherry Pearson

Parent of adult with special needs, Special Needs Ministry at Chase Oaks Plano


Hillary Stern, M.Ed.

As an educator for the past 20 years in public, private, secular, and religious schools, Hilary's new role as an ADHD Life Coach and Consultant allows her to guide clients to reach their full potential.


Nagla Moussa

Parent of adult with special needs, President of National Autism Association of North Texas.


Faith Leader Panel


Imam Nadim Bashir

Imam East Plano Islamic Center


Ken Kellam

Ken, an adult with autism, has been the Worship Leader at a Church of Christ in the Dallas-area for over 30 years. He has worked at the Autism Treatment Center since 2003, and volunteers with the National Autism Association of North Texas as facilitator for a self-advocates group.

Shannon Pugh

Director of Arise Special Needs Ministry at Irving Bible Church. Prior to working at the church Shannon taught special education for 9 years in Lewisville ISD, Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD, and Grapevine-Colleyville IBC. She has been volunteering and working with individuals of all ages with special needs for over 20 years.

Deacon Charlie Stump

Deacon Charles Stump is the Director of Pastoral Services for the Catholic Diocese of Dallas overseeing the Hospital Chaplains, Prison Chaplains, Disabilities Ministry, Deaf Ministry, Grief Ministry, and a representative of the Diocese to the Physician’s Guild.

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