Advisory Council Members Bios
The Council currently consists of parents of youth with DD; youth/young adults with DD; and representatives from Vocational Rehabilitation, Disability Rights Montana, PLUK (Parents, Let's Unite for Kids), the Montana Youth Leadership Forum, schools, MonTECH, the Social Security Administration, and Children's Special Health Services. All five regions of the state are represented. The Advisory Council meets quarterly.
Isaac Baldry graduated from Custer County District High School in 2010. He is self-employed in his own company, Isaac Baldry Consulting. He works nationally as a public speaker focusing on youth issues and assistive technology. Isaac’s use of technology was featured in the 2012 Spring edition of Apostrophe Magazine. He has since continued to write periodic articles for the magazine. Within the state of Montana, Isaac does contract work in the area of youth disability issues. He attended the Montana Youth Leadership Forum in 2008 and works as the Region 1 Facilitator for MYTransitions. He has been a member of the Rural Institute Consumer Advisory Council since 2008 and has presented on multiple webinars for the Rural Institute. He is also a private contractor for the Rural Institute through his company. Isaac enjoys his work with the state protection and advocacy organization, Disability Rights Montana, sharing his knowledge of assistive technology to improve access for those with disabilities. He believes in a balanced life, carving out time for activities he enjoys. He is a sports enthusiast and will often be "at the game" whatever the sport. In the summer time, Isaac is busy with his raised garden beds. He enjoys all aspects of caring for his plants and eating what he grows.
Theresa is based in Miles City and is the Project Coordinator for the Montana Deaf-Blind and the Children’s Special Health Services Transition projects. She has worked as an assistive technology consultant for MonTECH and Project Coordinator for the Pre-Employment Transition Services Technical Assistance Center at the Rural Institute. She is a parent of six children, including a son with a disability. She began her work in the disability field due to her need to understand information and systems that would directly impact her son who is now a young adult. His need for assistive technology including systems for communication created opportunities to learn and share. Transition was a particularly impacting period of time and has remained an area of focused interest. Theresa’s belief that “knowledge is power” has directed her areas of employment in the disability field. Over the last 25 years, she has worked to impact and develop relationships with the programs and services which support individuals with a disability throughout their lives. She has worked for PLUK, Parents Let’s Unite for Kids, and was a member of the Leadership Team. As a parent, she serves on the Disability Rights of Montana Board of Directors. Theresa has been a member of the Rural Institute Consumer Advisory Council since 2010 and has presented at numerous conferences and webinars as a Council member.
Maclaen Burningham is a 2002 graduate of Polson High School. He has been employed at the North Lake County Library since graduating. He also works a variety of part-time positions including Office Management, Pet Sitting, Laundry Services and Public Presentations dealing with disabilities. Maclaen has had several years of experience working as a literacy tutor at the elementary school and as a courtesy clerk at a local grocery store. He is a published author and volunteers in his community. Maclaen is an active member of the Rural Institute Consumer Advisory Council. He served as a representative for the State of Montana regarding national advocacy. Maclaen lives in his own apartment and enjoys his independence. He is an avid local sports fan and loves animals, music and WWE wrestling.
Valerie Burningham is a native of Montana. She has experience as a literacy teacher for kindergarten through 4th grade, Even Start Family Literacy Director for the Salish-Kootenai Tribe, and Montana State Even Start Quality Specialist. Valerie is a licensed Barber and a Premier Designs Jeweler. Her most treasured “work” is with her own son who has a disability. Valerie has served on the Rural Institute Consumer Advisory Council since 2010
Jenn Conners is a Quality Improvement Specialist at the Developmental Disabilities Program (DDP) in the Missoula Regional office. She graduated from the University of Montana with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Social Work in 2002. While completing her degree, Jenn worked at Opportunity Resources, Inc. in various positions providing residential support to adults with disabilities. In 2004, Jenn began her career at DDP as a Case Manager for adults with intellectual disabilities. In 2012, she accepted a position as QIS and now works with children and adult providers in Western Montana. Jenn joined the Consumer Advisory Council in 2012. Jenn lives in Stevensville, Montana with her husband, young son and their Labrador. She is the President of the 406 Family Aid Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to families in Western Montana that have experienced an unexpected illness or tragedy.
Elizabeth is mother to two children, including a teenager with a complex disability. She is a Life Skills teacher and the Special Education department head at Kalispell Middle School. Elizabeth has a MS in Special Education with an emphasis in autism. She previously served as a parent representative on the Family Support Services Advisory Council, and is involved with Special Olympics and adaptive recreation programming in her community. Elizabeth has a special interest in supporting literacy development for youth with learning differences. Her family enjoys traveling, swimming, and music activities. She is excited to help build school and community partnerships!
Doug Doty is the Statewide Coordinator for the Montana Autism Education Project (MAEP) of the Montana Office of Public Instruction. The MAEP has autism specialists and trainers across Montana who provide training and consultation to public schools. Doug has also served as a special education compliance monitor for the Montana Office of Public Instruction, providing technical assistance and training in compliance with state and federal regulations. Previously he worked for the Montana Developmental Disabilities Program as a trainer, advocate and compliance officer. He began his career as a behavior specialist and staff trainer at a sheltered workshop for adults with cognitive disabilities and behavioral difficulties.
Karen Graf MSN, RN-BC, APHN-BC is the manager for the Public Health School Based Nursing Program at RiverStone Health and has 30 years of various nursing experience from 3 international countries. Karen is the mother of a student with Down Syndrome which brought her to specialize in school nursing 12 years ago with a focus on students with disabilities. She currently serves on the NASN Board of Directors, National Down Syndrome Congress, Executive Board of the Montana Public Health Association, past vice president of Montana Association of School Nurses and many other state and local boards.
Carol Lode worked for the Helena School District in the Transportation Department for 19 years and in the after-school program for 3 years before retiring. She found working with children to be extremely rewarding and most interesting. Carol has served on the Rural Institute Consumer Advisory Council since 2010. She is the proud parent of a successful young woman who has disabilities.
Sierra Lode learned to use augmentative/alternative communication at the age of three that enabled her to be competitive in the educational setting despite her quadriplegia and being non-verbal. Through her sheer tenacity she achieved an Associate of Arts Degree in 2012 from the University of Montana College of Technology at the age of 28. Sierra is an advocate for youth with disabilities, and serves on the University of Montana Rural Institute Consumer Advisory Council. Sierra was a delegate at the first Montana Youth Leadership Forum in 2000. She continued to support the Forum as a volunteer for the next 10 years. Sierra was appointed to the National Youth Leadership Network in 2002 in Washington, D.C., and appointed to the National Youth Leadership Network Advanced Institute in 2005. Sierra was awarded the 2005 Emerging Leader Award from the Montana Council on Disabilities, Montana State University. Most recently Sierra attended the Pacific Leadership Academy’s training conducted by the Pacific Alliance on Disability Self Advocacy in San Francisco. Sierra is passionate about mental health issues as they affect youth who have disabilities and are transitioning into the adult world. Sierra has a website that promotes her motivational speaking business: http://www.speakingoutofthebox.com/.
Thomas Sprunt is married with three children. He has lived in Utah for most of his life with the exception of a two-period that he spent living in Argentina as a missionary for his church. Thomas began his career with the Social Security Administration in May 1994. He has held various positions in his 20 years of service, each specializing in the area of disability. Thomas replaced Esther Medina and is currently the Area Work Incentives Coordinator (AWIC) for Area I of the Denver Region, which covers Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah. His responsibilities include promoting the understanding of Social Security disability programs and the use of employment supports. He serves as a resource for beneficiaries and their families, coworkers and the public. Thomas is stationed in the Murray, Utah Social Security office.
Jeanne Stone-Shedden has been employed with Montana Vocational Rehabilitation for 6 years, working for Blind and Low Vision Services as a support staff for 4½ years and then as a counselor for the past 1½ years. Jeanne is based in Missoula but travels to Sanders County several times per month to provide services. Prior to joining VR, Jeanne worked for 10 years in various capacities at a small facility in Plains that provided work services for adults with developmental disabilities. She is the single mother of four children. Her oldest son is a military policeman in the Army and recently got married. Her middle son is a single father of one, and does air transportation in the Air Force. Her youngest son is married, has one child, and does road construction in Montana. Jeanne’s daughter has autism and lives successfully on her own with her two cats and one dog. She works part-time in a sheltered workshop and part-time at a local restaurant as a dishwasher and prep cook.
Jan Stroethoff has served on the Rural Institute Consumer Advisory Council since 2010. As a Council member and parent of Mathalia (an Emerging Leader and also on the Consumer Advisory Council), she has presented at Parent-to-Parent Webinars. Jan started working with Ellen Condon, Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects Director, in 2009 and has been Mathalia’s primary `transition’ coach ever since. Jan has explored volunteer and non-paid work experiences for Mathalia at the Missoula County Public Library, Missoula Children's Theater, and the Department of Mathematics at the University of Montana. She has served her daughter with job development and job coaching since 2011. In her free time, Jan is studying Biblical Hebrew, Koine and Homeric Greek.
Mathalia Stroethoff has served on the Rural Institute Consumer Advisory Council since 2010. She has participated in a variety of work groups and presented in various venues, most frequently at the annual Montana Youth in Transition Conference. She graduated from Big Sky High School in Missoula, June 2013. Mathalia enjoys her three jobs: Bean & Boutique, The Writing Center, and Ink Realty Group. She keeps up with selling her pot holders in local businesses. She stays active through Adult Swimming and Rec. Center classes such as Oula, Oula Power, Barre and Pilates. In her spare time Mathalia enjoys reading and the Fiber Arts. She likes the Narnia and Lord of the Rings series of books; she enjoys spin-ins with her Mom and is learning to knit the yarn she has spun.
Rural Institute Staff
Kim Brown started her human services career in 1982. She has worked at vocational programs and group homes for individuals with developmental disabilities and/or mental illnesses, a nursing home for the elderly and people with severe physical disabilities, and a psychiatric hospital for children. In 1990, Kim earned her BSW and spent the next 11 years with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services in the public assistance arena. In 2001, Kim was hired by the Bitterroot Valley Education Cooperative to provide children’s mental health services. She joined the University of Montana Rural Institute as a Transition Project Coordinator in July 2003 and provided technical assistance, training and on-site support to schools, agencies, families and students in the areas of transition, employment, and Social Security Work Incentives. Kim currently serves as Co-Director for the Children’s Special Health Services Transition Project; lectures and consults on transition and customized employment; and develops Internet-based knowledge translation materials for the Southeast TACE. She completed her Master of Social Work degree in May 2007, and has taught both on-campus and online undergraduate-level social work classes in the United States and Canada. In addition, Kim is a Crisis Counselor/Mental Health Counselor with the Pender Islands Health Care Society and is a founding partner of the Healthy Reflections Eating Disorders web site.
Ellen Condon, M. Ed. is the Transition Projects Director at the University of Montana’s Rural Institute on Disabilities where she has worked since 1996 on Transition and Employment for youth with significant disabilities. She is also a consultant with Marc Gold & Associates (MG&A), Griffin-Hammis Associates, and she serves as a Subject Matter Expert for the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor on the Employment First Leadership State Mentoring Project. Ellen has worked in the field of Developmental Disabilities since 1986. Prior to coming to Montana her experiences included hands-on service delivery, program development and program management in community residential and supported employment programs. She received her Master’s degree in Special Education from Boston College in 1990 after completing course work in Transition and Supported Employment. At the Rural Institute she has served as the Principal Investigator and Project Director for numerous Federal and state-funded grants. She provides technical assistance, training, and on-site support to schools, agencies, and individuals and families predominantly in the areas of employment, transition, and Social Security Work Incentives. She lectures and consults with schools and adult service agencies. She and her staff have produced numerous publications on Transition issues and employment.