ProActive Caring Advisory Council

In its first three years, the ProActive Caring team was guided by regional Advisory Councils made up of key stakeholders who provided important insights and feedback. Now, a statewide Advisory Council, drawn in part from the regional Advisory Councils, is providing leadership in supporting the ProActive Caring program.

The Advisory Council’s responsibilities include:

  • Providing guidance in the implementation and fine-tuning of sustainability measures for ProActive Caring and helping identify resources for long-term funding and support;

  • Promoting the availability and benefits of the ProActive Caring program, so it reaches the maximum number of caregivers, and under-served communities; including caregivers in un- and under-served communities;

  • Helping to mobilize communities in support of individuals with intellectual, developmental, and other disabilities — and their caregivers.

The following individuals are members of the statewide ProActive Caring Advisory Council:

Luis Abramson
Sandra Brownsey
Lisa Currao
Marcus Daitch
Nancy DeSando, BS, RN
Theresa Drum
Elisa Gwilliam
Joseph Munisteri
K. Elizabeth (Kayliz) Oakes, Ph.D., NCC
Stacey Orzell
Fiona Rattray
Barbara Russell, M.Ed.
Mindy Scirri, Ph.D.
Jennifer Sutton

Luis Abramson, As.Arch., is a retired NYPD Officer with a son on the autism spectrum. He participated on the Family Advisory Council for LIFEPlan CCO NY and in 2019 received an award for outstanding advocacy from PULSES (Parents United Learning the Special Education System); he currently serves as the Central Hudson Region NYS PTA Diversity Chair, participates in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for the Special Olympics, and supports and represent several other community organizations and initiatives.

Sandra Brownsey is a Certified Special Education Teacher and a School Administrator who has worked with children on the autism spectrum and their families for over 30 years. She is currently
Educational Program Coordinator at the Center for Spectrum Services in Ellenville, NY, where she oversees the teaching staff, consults with school districts, and assists in the development of new classes. She is also a certified yoga instructor with a background in yoga for children with autism and special needs.

Lisa Currao is the parent of a 19-year-old on the autism spectrum. She is a graduate of the 2012 NYS Partners in PolicyMaking project and the 2016 Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and
Related Disabilities (LEND) program, and the proud coach of a Thunderbolt Special Olympics team in track and field. She is passionate about transition planning for young people with
developmental disabilities as they grow into adulthood.

Marcus Daitch is a self-advocate who graduated from Mount Saint Mary College. With the support of Capabilities Partnership, Inc., he currently works in the reference department of the college library,
where his role is to assist faculty in developing research projects and programs. One of those projects has been the ProActive Caring Program (a program of the Center on Aging and Disability Policy), for which he has been summarizing literature and fitting his analyses to meet the needs of faculty.

Nancy DeSando, BS, RN is a nurse with 32 years of experience working with individuals with developmental disabilities. She is Article 16 Clinic Director, Autism Resource Coordinator and Health Systems Analyst for the Arc Lexington. Ms. DeSando brought Positive Adult Development Stress Reduction classes from Vanderbilt University to Lexington, where many caregivers learned strategies for stress reduction, and later introduced ProActive Caring classes for caregivers.

Theresa Drum is the Quality Improvement Manager for Parent Network of WNY. She has extensive experience collaborating with area school districts, service providers, and community organizations, and supporting children and their families. As the mother of a young adult with multiple disabilities, she has also been a parent educator for over 18 years and has served for many years on her district’s Committee on Special Education (CSE) and as an officer in their Special Education PTSA.

Elisa Gwilliam is the founder and owner of Hudson Valley Healing Center. She holds an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Concordia University and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the
Northcentral University program in Transformational Learning. Trained in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) through Jon Kabat-Zinn, she offers instruction in meditation and mindfulness practices, as well as classes and workshops focusing on holistic health.

Joseph Munisteri is a compelling self-advocate who is passionate about helping others. He holds an associate’s degree in human services and social work and has worked for a number of years as a
Direct Support Professional (DSP) and support broker, while also nurturing his creativity as a poet and podcaster. A resident of Long Island, he attended a conference about ProActive Caring and
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) because of his interest in preventing burnout.

K. Elizabeth (Kayliz) Oakes, Ph.D., NCC, is a published author and retired associate professor of clinical pastoral counseling with a broad background in executive business management, professional
development training, addiction recovery counseling, and public administration. She has previous experience as a member on several governing and advisory boards. Presently, she is the owner of an online course, and co-leader of a podcast.

Stacey Orzell is the proud parent of two boys: one a FUNny, inspiring, smart Special Olympics Athlete, the other a Special Olympics Assistant Coach and Honor Student. She is also the consummate advocate — a graduate of the 2012 NYS Partners in Policymaking project and recipient of the MHA-NYS 2016 Family Advocate of the Year Award. She now serves on her county’s Think Differently committee and was recently certified as a Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement Ambassador.

Fiona Rattray is currently employed as a Parent Training & Information Specialist at Putnam Independent Living Services. She is also mother to two children on the autism spectrum. A former Special Education teacher with a passion for raising awareness and promoting advocacy, she has facilitated ProActive Caring Caregiver Support classes in her community and translated the ProActive Caring Caregiver Support Manual into Spanish.

Barbara Russell, M.Ed., has had over 25 years’ experience in the field of developmental disabilities, providing case management and family support services and serving as director of day and community habilitation programs. The adoptive parent of a young man with Down syndrome, now 33, she has also served as a facilitator for several ProActive Caring caregiver support classes and has been a committed member of community advocacy groups for both developmental disabilities and mental health.

Mindy Scirri, Ph.D., is a learning (dis)ability specialist/consultant in private practice and former Chair and Professor of Education. In addition to training future and current special education teachers, her career has centered around working with children and young adults and their families to successfully navigate school and special education systems, develop lifelong academic and career strategies
and skills, and, most importantly, build confidence and the capacity for self-knowledge and self-advocacy.

Jennifer Sutton has been a parent advocate for her daughter with a developmental disability for 26 years. She has also had professional experience in the provision of services for persons with developmental disabilities for over 20 years. She engages in both personal and professional advocacy for the rights and supports of children and adults with disabilities through raising awareness, fundraising, and providing services.