Making ‘Civic Connections’ for Leaders with Disabilities

Civic Connections project matches people w/disabilities to leadership opportunities across Chicago Tweet This

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Approximately one in five Americans has a disability of some kind. Like employers, civic organizations are quickly recognizing that disability is an element of diversity they need on their committees, boards and task forces if they are going to successfully serve their consumers, clients, donors and constituents.

ADA 25 Advancing Leadership aims to create a civic landscape where leaders with disabilities are included and engaged at every level of the conversation.

In only its second year, Advancing Leadership’s Members Network has grown to include 65 leaders with disabilities, who will continue to connect, convene, mentor and lead change in Chicago in the coming year. Its Civic Connections Project has made more than 100 connections for members to networking, volunteer and professional growth opportunities.


What Our Members Are Doing

“I had hoped to serve on the Pace ADA Advisory Board for years, but it was becoming a member of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership that made it happen. Since joining, I’ve brought critical issues to the attention of the Pace board that relate to the clients, drivers, and overall program operation. I’m grateful and excited for this opportunity to lead and serve.”

Francine Bell

“The Red Theater company initially reached out to me after hearing about the 2017 Advancing Leadership Fellows announcement as part of their ongoing efforts to bring more people with disabilities onto their board, staff and productions. In January, I joined as a board member. Stepping into this role gave me the opportunity to use what I learned to create fundraising events that are mindfully accessible and able to be enjoyed by everyone.”

Caity-Shea Violette
2017 Fellow

“I am a passionate advocate for captioning. Through my experience with Advancing Leadership, I was able to leverage this passion into action, and recently, was awarded the Hearing Loss Association of America’s Marcia Dugan Advocacy Award. In addition to this national recognition, thanks to Advancing Leadership’s connection, I am a proud member of the Advisory Board of the Chicago Hearing Society.”

Kevin Knabe
Inaugural Fellow

How the Region Is Benefitting

“Stephanie [Anderson, vice principal at Vaughn Occupational High School and part of the ADA 25 Advancing Leadership Inaugural Class] brings incredible commitment and drive to ensure that all Vaughn High School students have opportunities to engage within the community. She has been instrumental in developing several initiatives that provide college and career access to our students. A tireless work ethic and attention to detail enables faculty and external stakeholders to engage in authentic advocacy and ‘true’ support. Thanks to her ADA 25 Advancing Leadership network we’re making new connections to community resources like Wright Community College and local businesses that will help our students reach their full potential.”

Noel McNally
Principal, Vaughn Occupational High School

“To make our regional land conservation organization’s work truly inclusive, we know that we need volunteers with disabilities to serve on our board, committees and other capacities. We are delighted to learn that Advancing Leadership can help connect us to members who share our passion for nature conservation, and know that this nationally unique organization will be a great resource for building our diversity.”

Jerry Adelmann
President and CEO, Openlands

“I am proud to be a board member of Advancing Leadership and have the opportunity to mentor Michele Lee of Aon to support her interests and the civic leadership plans she developed at this year’s Fellows retreat.”

Shelley Stern Grach
Director, Civic Engagement Chicago, Microsoft
Read more about Shelley’s mentoring experience