A look at our first annual
The 2014 Ms. Wheelchair Kansas (MWKS) was recently crowned during a weekend ceremony held March 16, 2014, at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka, Kan. Bridgid Schwilling of Leavenworth received her crown after participating in four judging sessions, as well as many other activities, throughout the three-day event held March 14-16. The weekend concluded with a formal crowning, where Bridgid was chosen as the new titleholder and fellow contestants Keara Hockman of Wichita and Jessica Soderlund of Oakley were recognized for their accomplishments.
Bridgid Schwilling, Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2014, poses for a photo with her plaque and flowers after being selected as the new titleholder.
Keara, Bridgid, and Jessica take a photo on stage after the crowning.
Bridgid gets emotional while saying her thank you's after being crowning Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2014.
Bridgid takes a photo with Angel Shaver, MWKS '13.
The three contestants sit on stage during the crowning with their escorts behind them.
Jessica introduces herself at the beginning of the crowning ceremony.
Keara introduces herself to the audience at the crowning.
Bridgid shares her platform speech at the crowning.
Angel expresses joy and thankfulness as she gives her farewell speech during the crowning ceremony.
Eight former MWKS titleholders introduce themselves on stage during the 10 Year Anniversary recognition.
Celebrating 10 years strong... the display table to recognize 10 former MWKS titleholders.
Former MWKS titleholders pose for a group photo with the newly selected titleholder.
(front row, l-r) Bridgid Schwilling, MWKS '14; Jennifer Kreutzer, MWKS '11; Ranita Wilks, MWKS '06; JoAnne Fluke, MWKS '05
(middle row, l-r) Amanda Steiner, MWKS '08; Marie Clement, MWKS '09; Angel Shaver, MWKS '13; Carrie Greenwood, MWKS '04
(back row, l-r) Tiffany Nickel, MWKS '10; Rebecca Branam, Former Contestant & Committee Member
The 2014 judges take time out during their orientation to pose for a photo.
(l-r) Alice Zhang, Jamie Slack, and Kenny Foust
The 2014 MWKS Steering Committee gathers for a picture with the new Ms. Wheelchair Kansas.
(front row, l-r) Marie Clement; Bridgid Schwilling, MWKS '14; and Carrie Greenwood
(back row, l-r) Amy Gudmens, Mandy Smith, and Aleece Johnson
Keara, Jessica, and Bridgid take a picture during some down time of the weekend.
The 2014 contestants, their guests, and steering committee members gather for a photo while volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House.
Contestants, their guests, and committee members act silly and have some fun while volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House.
The 2013 Ms. Wheelchair Kansas (MWKS) was recently crowned during a weekend ceremony held March 17, 2013, at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka, Kan. Angel Shaver of WaKeeney received her crown after participating in four judging sessions, as well as many other activities, throughout the three-day event held March 15-17. The weekend concluded with a formal crowning, where Angel was chosen as the new titleholder and fellow contestant Jessica Soderlund, of Oakley, was chosen as the runner-up.
Angel Shaver, Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2013, poses for a photo with her plaque and flowers after being selected as the new titleholder.
The 2013 MWKS contestants pose
for a photo with MWKS 2012 after the crowning ceremony.
(l-r) Emily Evans, MWKS '12; Jessica Soderlund, '13 Contestant; and Angel Shaver, MWKS '13
Jessica and Angel take a photo on stage after the crowning.
The whole MWKS team of titleholders and committee members gather for a photo on stage.
(front row, l-r) Stacy Greenwood, Amy Gudmens, and Mandy Smith, Committee Members and Volunteers
(middle row, l-r) JoAnne Fluke, MWKS '05; Ranita Wilks, MWKS '06; Angel Shaver, MWKS '13; Carrie Greenwood, MWKS '04
(back row, l-r) Emily Evans, MWKS '12; Aleece Johnson, Committee Member; Rebecca Branam, Committee Member; Marie Clement, MWKS '09
MWKS titleholders and committee members pose for a photo after the crowning.
(front row, l-r) Carrie Greenwood, MWKS '04; Angel Shaver, MWKS '13; and JoAnne Fluke, MWKS '05
(back row, l-r) Rebecca Branam, Committee Member; Emily Evans, MWKS '12; Ranita Wilks, MWKS '06; and Marie Clement, MWKS '09
Angel speaks to the audience after being announced as Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2013.
Angel gathers with her family after the crowning.
The 2013 contestants, as well as Emily Evans, MWKS '12, sit on stage with their escorts during the crowning ceremony.
Emily prepares to hand Angel her flowers and plaque after she is announced as the new Ms. Wheelchair Kansas.
Jessica gives her platform speech during the crowning ceremony.
Angel introduces herself at the beginning of the crowning ceremony.
The MWKS contestants and 2012 titleholder pose with their escorts before the crowning.
(front row, l-r) Emily Evans, MWKS '12; Jessica Soderlund, Contestant; and Angel Shaver, Contestant
(back row, l-r) Curtis Vincent Sneden, Curtis S. Sneden, and Tony Cruise
Jessica and Angel pose for a photo in between sessions on Saturday.
The 2013 judges take time out during their orientation to pose for a photo.
(l-r) Keith Wiedenkeller, Joann Leslie, and Shanti Ramcharan
The 2013 MWKS Steering Committee gather for a picture as the contestants arrive on the first day.
(front row, l-r) Aleece Johnson, Carrie Greenwood, and Marie Clement
(back row, l-r) Mandy Smith and Amy Gudmens
The 2012 Ms. Wheelchair Kansas (MWKS) was recently crowned during a weekend ceremony held March 11, 2012, at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka, Kan. Emily Evans of Bucklin received her crown after participating in four judging sessions, as well as many other activities, throughout the three-day event held March 9-11. The weekend concluded with a formal crowning, where Emily was chosen as the new titleholder and fellow contestants Shanell Nieves of Leavenworth and Jessica Soderlund of Oakley were recognized for their accomplishments.
Emily Evans, Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2012, poses for a portrait after being selected as the new titleholder.
The 2012 MWKS contestants pose
for a group photo after the crowning ceremony.
(l-r) Emily Evans, Shanell Nieves, and Jessica Soderlund
The contestants with 2011 MWKS
titleholder, Jennifer Kreutzer, and crowning escorts.
(front row, l-r) Emily Evans, Shanell Nieves, Jessica Soderlund, and Jennifer Kreutzer
(back row, l-r) Anthony Davis, James Findley, and Delano Thomas
Emily speaks to the audience after being announced as Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2012.
Seven MWKS titleholders gather
after the crowning for a photo.
(front row, l-r) Carrie Greenwood, MWKS '04; Ranita Wilks, MWKS '06; Emily Evans, MWKS '12; Jennifer Kreutzer, MWKS '11
(back row, l-r) Tiffany Nickel, MWKS '10; Amanda Steiner, MWKS '08; Marie Clement, MWKS '09
Emily poses with special guest, Dani Carter, Miss. Black Kansas 2012, and flower attendant, Delaney Murphy.
The 2012 MWKS judges, Dr. Glen White, Tim Wood, and Kim Borchers take a break from their important work to pose for a picture.
The MWKS contestants and steering committee listen as Jenny Kreutzer, Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2011, shares about her year and her platform.
Shanell Nieves, Emily Evans, and Jessica Soderlund, 2012 contestants, pose for a photo during the MWKS weekend.
The MWKS contestants, titleholders, and steering committee enjoy some fun down time one evening during the weekend.
The 2011 Ms. Wheelchair Kansas (MWKS) was crowned during a weekend ceremony held April 23, 2011, at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka, Kan. Jennifer Kreutzer of Wichita received her crown after participating in four judging sessions, as well as many other activities, throughout the two-day event held April 22 and 23. The weekend concluded with a formal crowning, where Jenny was chosen as the new titleholder and fellow contestant Emily McCulley, also of Wichita, was chosen as the runner-up.
Jenny poses for a portrait after being announced as the new Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2011.
The 2011 MWKS contestants, Jenny Kreutzer and Emily McCulley pose for a picture on stage after the crowning.
The contestants take a photo
with Tiffany Nickel, Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2010.
(l-r) Tiffany Nickel, Jenny Kreutzer, and Emily McCulley
Wheelchair Kansas titleholders take a group photo.
(back row, l-r) Amanda Steiner, 2008; Carrie Greenwood, 2004; Marie Clement, 2009; and Tiffany Nickel, 2010
(front row, l-r) JoAnne Fluke, 2005; Jenny Kreutzer, 2011; and Ranita Wilks, 2006
Not pictured: Lorraine Cannistra, 2007
Jenny presents her platform speech during the crowning ceremony.
Emily gives her platform speech on stage during the crowning.
The flower attendants, Delaney and Elizabeth, along with their personal escorts, enjoy their time on stage.
Jenny reacts to being announced the new Ms. Wheelchair Kansas as the escorts look on.
Tiffany, Jenny, and Emily, as well as escorts Eric and Ryan, listen as the emcee wraps up the crowning ceremony.
Jenny gives her thank you speech after being named Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2011.
Jenny with her husband LeRoy and two little girls, Kelsie, 8, and Karlie, 5.
The MWKS Steering Committee, former titleholders, and volunteers pose with the new MWKS titleholder.
The 2011 judges pose for a
group photo before the interview sessions begin.
(l-r) Dot Nary, Debby O'Neill, and Eugene Williams
The 2011 contestants, Jenny and Emily, take time for a photo during the morning sessions.
The contestants gather with the steering committee for the Contestant Orientation on Friday.
The 2010 Ms. Wheelchair Kansas was crowned during a weekend ceremony held March 14, 2010, at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka, Kan. Tiffany Nickel of Wichita received her crown after participating in four judging sessions, as well as many other activities, throughout the three-day event held March 12-14. The weekend concluded with a formal crowning, where Tiffany was chosen as the new titleholder and fellow contestants Sharon Joseph of Topeka and Brooke Ziegler of Wichita were recognized for their accomplishments.
Tiffany poses for a photo on stage after being announced as the new Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2010.
Five out of seven Ms.
Wheelchair Kansas titleholders take a group photo.
(l-r) Tiffany Nickel, 2010; Carrie Greenwood, 2004; Amanda Steiner, 2008; Marie Clement, 2009; and Ranita Wilks, 2006
The three 2010 MWKS contestants
pose for a picture on stage after the crowning.
(l-r) Sharon Joseph, Tiffany Nickel, and Brooke Ziegler
The contestants take a photo
with Marie Clement, Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2009.
(l-r) Sharon Joseph, Tiffany Nickel, Marie Clement, and Brooke Ziegler
Tiffany spends some time after the crowning with her youngest admirers.
Tiffany gives her thank you speech after being announced as the new titleholder as the other contestants look on.
Tiffany speaks to the audience after being announced as Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2010.
Brooke gives her platform speech as the contestants look on.
Tiffany gives her platform speech on stage.
Sharon gives her platform speech during the crowning.
The judging panel takes a photo
while waiting for the crowning to start.
(l-r) Lou Hara, Jim Leiker, Marshanna Hester, and Tony Peterson
The 2010 contestants enjoy
their time during weekend activities.
(l-r) Brooke Ziegler, Tiffany Nickel, and Sharon Joseph
The 2010 MWKS contestants, previous titleholders, and committee members listen to JoAnne Fluke, MWKS '05, as she presents a wheelchair dancing session.
Marie Clement takes a photo on stage
2009 Ms. Wheelchair Kansas Crowning Ceremony.
Marie reacts to the new titleholder
announcement during the
crowning ceremony, as Cherie Armstrong looks on.
Marie was named Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2009.
The 2009 contestants pose for a photo
(l-r) Cherie Armstrong of Edwardsville, Marie Clement of Mayetta,
and Ashley Wagner of Manhattan and Leoti.
All six Ms. Wheelchair Kansas
titleholders pose for a group
photo at the 2009 crowning.
(back row, l-r) Carrie Greenwood, MWKS '04; Marie Clement, MWKS '09;
Amanda Steiner, MWKS '08; and Lorraine Cannistra, MWKS '07.
(front row, l-r) JoAnne Fluke, MWKS '05, and Ranita Wilks, MWKS '06.
The 2006 Ms. Wheelchair Kansas was crowned during a weekend ceremony held March 5, 2006, at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka, Kan. Ranita Wilks of Lawrence received her crown after participating in four judging sessions, as well as many other activities, throughout the three-day event held March 3-5. The weekend concluded with a formal crowning, where Ranita was chosen as the new titleholder, and Angel Shaver of Satanta was named the runner-up.
The weekend event itself started off with a Welcoming and Contestant Orientation for the four contestants that were present. The women arrived on Friday afternoon and were able to enjoy a fun, relaxing half-day without the judges. On Saturday morning the judges arrived and the interview sessions began. The contestants were taken through two personal interview sessions with the four judges where they were asked questions on a variety of topics. While each contestant was doing their interview session, the rest of the group experienced other informative sessions. They heard from JoAnne Fluke, Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2005, on her experiences with being a titleholder and advocate in the past year. They also participated in a Wheelchair Dance session, where they learned the dance piece that would be performed at the crowning. Other sessions, throughout the day, included a Self Defense workshop, as well as a session on Advocacy. The day ended with a party in the titleholder's suite, where the contestants and committee members were able to share some down time and really get to know each other.
Sunday started off very calm with an optional church service for those who chose to attend. After breakfast, the contestants ran through a practice of the crowning ceremony. Once over, the women were able to get pampered and dressed for the big event!
The crowning ceremony was attended by more than 100 family and community members. The event included platform speeches by each of the four contestants, as well as two on-stage questions. The audience enjoyed a dance performance by the contestants, as well as a slide show of memories from the weekend. The event also included a motivational speech from Melissa Ortiz, judge and Ms. Wheelchair New York 2005, as well as a farewell from the 2005 MWKS titleholder, JoAnne Fluke of Ottawa. The crowning event concluded with the announcement of Angel Shaver as the Runner-Up and Ranita Wilks as the new Ms. Wheelchair Kansas!
Ranita left the weekend event with a goal to serve as a role model and spokesperson for people with disabilities in Kansas in the coming year, focusing on women who are wheelchair mobile. She will strive to educate, advocate, and empower all people in our state. Ranita will have the opportunity to travel throughout Kansas educating various groups about the issues of importance to people with disabilities. She will share her platform of “Career Development Opportunities for People with Disabilities,” which focuses on thinking outside of the box and exploring “creative career development” opportunities for people with disabilities. Ranita will ultimately represent Kansas in the Ms. Wheelchair America competition, held in Little Rock, AR in August, where she will compete for the national title alongside 30 other women from varying states.
Miss. Stacy Ritt, 29, is no stranger to the disability community. Stacy, who has had Cerebral Palsy since birth, has worked in the disability field and participated in various advocacy groups for the past ten years. While living in Wisconsin, she obtained her Bachelor’s degree in 1999 from the University of Wisconsin. Also while in Wisconsin, Stacy worked as a WDRC Coordinator for Wisconsin Coalition for Centers for Independent Living, a Voter Education Project Coordinator for IndependenceFirst, and a Volunteer Instructor for United Cerebral Palsy. Stacy moved to Kansas five years ago and currently lives in Garden City. She has worked as a Project Coordinator/IL coordinator for the Center for Independent Living of Southwest Kansas since 2002. Stacy has been involved with ADAPT, the National Council on Independent Living, the Big Tent Coalition, the Voter Registration Project, and has volunteered at the Kansas Youth Leadership Forum for four years. She has attended two gubernatorial inaugurations and has met President and Nancy Reagan on the White House lawn. Stacy describes herself as a self-starter, creative, a leader from the middle, an idealist, and goal-oriented. She is the oldest of four children and enjoys working on the computer, creating websites and other graphic designs. Her current goals are to return to school to work on a Master’s degree in Disability Studies and to eventually pursue a law degree to fight the injustices that prevent people from full participation in our society. Stacy states that she has always wanted to make a difference in the world and has been drawn to fight for the under dog.
Mrs. Angel Shaver, 31, considers being a mother as one of her greatest achievements. Angel, who currently lives in Satanta, is a wife and mother of two children. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Science and Bible and Theology from Mid-America Bible College, as well as a Master’s degree in Family Therapy from Friends University. Angel previously lived in Pennsylvania and worked as a family therapist and mobile therapist. In 2004 she sustained nerve damage and traumatic brain injury from an accident, but still gave birth to her second child that very night of the accident. Angel has lived in Kansas for one year and spends her time volunteering with the youth and with Bible School at her church. She loves music and scrapbooking, and describes herself as a mom, smart, a Christian, determined, and organized. Angel has many future goals which include getting her kids raised to be productive, independent adults; working as a family therapist after her kids are in school; helping others get organized; learning violin; and reading a book a month.
Miss. Amanda Trei, 28, believes in setting goals to reach your dreams. Amanda, who sustained a spinal cord injury in 1992, has accomplished many goals over the years. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education K-9, Special Education K-9, and English as a Second Language K-9 from Emporia State University. Amanda, who currently lives in Lawrence, has worked as a K-2 Special Education and English as a Second Language teacher in the Lawrence Public School system since 2003. She has a passion for educating others about teachers with disabilities teaching students with disabilities. Amanda lists many other accomplishments over the years including being a speaker at her high school graduation, graduating from an accredited university with honors, living in her own house, and owning her own vehicle. Amanda describes herself as determined, passionate, happy, dedicated, and inspiring. She says that she lives everyday to inform people about living with a spinal cord injury and letting them know that living with this disability is not the end of life, but only the beginning.
Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2006!
Mr. Zach Coble is from Winfield, KS and currently attends the University of Kansas where he is studying political science and applied behavioral science. At KU, he is Vice-President of the campus disability group AbleHawks. Zach has also been involved with the Kansas Youth Leadership Forum where he was a delegate in 2002 and presently serves as the Vice-Chair of the Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy’s Board of Directors.
Mrs. Melissa Ortiz, a resident of Queens, New York, was diagnosed at age three with Cerebral Palsy as a result of birth trauma and contracted meningal coxal disease at the age of nine months. She was re-diagnosed in 2003 as having congenital neurological malformation rather than Cerebral Palsy.
Melissa is active in raising disability awareness on local, state and national levels and was named Ms. Wheelchair New York 2005 in October 2004 in Albany, New York. She has also managed political campaigns since the age of 19 on the local, state assembly, and Congressional levels.
Melissa was born in Atlanta, GA, and resided there until 1975 when she moved with her mother to Jerusalem, Israel. She returned to Atlanta in 1977 for a brief period then moved to the Nashville, TN, area where she lived most consistently until relocating to Queens in 2002.
Melissa holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice/Broadcast Communications from Belmont University and teaching certification from Union University. She was a schoolteacher for the Tennessee Public School System and private schools in NYC from 1995 to 2003. Melissa is currently employed as a voice artist with On Air Voices.
Mr. Jaryl Perkins has over 21 years with the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. Most of those years were with Rehabilitation Services, serving in several capacities. He is currently the Assistant Director of Integrated Services for the South Central region of SRS, a 17 county area around Sedgwick County.
Jaryl has a bachelor’s degree from Bethany College, Lindsborg in Psychology and Sociology. He has a master’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, specializing in rehabilitation counseling.
Jaryl is currently on the board of the United Way of the Flint Hills, the Topeka AIDS Project, the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, and on advisory councils for the University of Arkansas and Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness.
Jaryl’s avocation is community theatre. He has received four Renna Hunter acting awards from Topeka Civic Theatre. He has also been fortunate to perform abroad in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway with a Swedish dance group, in Sweden and Germany with a choir, and in the St. Petersburg, Russia region with a musical performing group. Jaryl is also an avid Wizard of Oz fan. He lives in Emporia with his eighteen year-old daughter Danielle, and his fourteen year-old son, Grant.
Ms. JiaoJiao Shen is the anchor for 27 News Early Today and 27 News Today. JiaoJiao first came to Topeka as a general assignment reporter in July 2003. She was promoted to weekend anchor a year later, then promoted to morning anchor in January 2005. JiaoJiao graduated cum laude from the University of Missouri School of Journalism with a Bachelors in Journalism in May 2003.
JiaoJiao is very active in the community. She is the co-PR Chair for the Arthritis Walk 2006. JiaoJiao is also a Youthfriend for Topeka 501. She has also worked with Junior Achievement and will start volunteering with the Capper Foundation this spring. JiaoJiao is also a proud member of the Leadership Greater Topeka class of 2006.
JiaoJiao's family is spread out all over the country, and the world! Her parents and little brother live in Littleton, CO, where JiaoJiao went to Wheat Ridge High School. She also has family on both coasts, and in China! JiaoJiao was born in Xi'an, China and came to the United States when she was only two-years-old. Even though she was not originally from the Mid-West, JiaoJiao now considers Topeka her home and is proud to be a part of such a caring community.
Ms. Wheelchair Kansas: Yes, we can
Topeka Capitol Journal- editorial, 3-7-06
Lawrence woman wins wheelchair title
Topeka Capitol Journal, 3-6-06
Featured on 6 News Lawrence
Ms. Wheelchair candidate hopes to inspire Kansans with disabilities
Lawrence Journal World, 3-3-06
Lots of laughs were had and lasting friendships were made among four women who just happened to be competing against each other at this year's first-ever Ms. Wheelchair Kansas event. It's called a competition, but what was discovered at Kansas' first event, is that a Ms. Wheelchair weekend is really a time of bonding and empowerment for the contestants and all involved!
This year's event was held at the beautiful Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka, KS. Contestants and judges arrived on Saturday and were greeted by excited board members ready to get the weekend started, yet a little anxious as to how this first-ever event would turn out. Once checked in, the contestants, judges, and board members were all introduced and explained further directions during Welcome and Orientation sessions. Throughout the rest of the day, participants were able to witness a performance by dance company Ryanstrati & Co., which includes performers of all abilities. Contestants were then judged during the first Interview Judging Session, during which, those contestants not being judged, were able to practice a dance routine themselves. The evening concluded with a great dinner and a slumber party open to the contestants!
Sunday proved to be a busy day with nerves running high for the contestants and all involved. The four women bonded during an empowerment session, where they were able to relax and prepare for the upcoming crowning ceremony. All contestants were judged once again during the second Interview Judging Session. Hair and makeup specialists were on hand to pamper the girls and prepare them for the upcoming ceremony. As family members, guests, and media began arriving, it became clear to the board members that this was not going to be a small, intimate event...
The crowning ceremony was attended by over 100 people and five to six media outlets were present to capture the magic of this great event in our state. The crowning ceremony consisted of an introduction of each contestant, as well as a platform speech and two on stage questions for each. The contestants provided the entertainment for the afternoon as they performed a dance routine choreographed by Ryanstrati & Co. All those present heard from keynote speaker, Terri Rathbun of Blue Springs, MO, as the judges deliberated. Once the scores were tallied, the winners were announced. Stacy Ritt, of Garden City, was chosen as the first runner-up and JoAnne Fluke, of Ottawa, was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Kansas 2005!
As the reception carried on into the late afternoon, and the contestants packed their luggage for home, it became obvious that this was one powerful weekend. It WAS a weekend of empowerment. It WAS a celebration of a group of wonderful women. And it WAS an event to remember!
Mrs. Rebecca Branam, 39, lives her life as an example of independence. Rebecca, who was born with Caudal Regression Syndrome, has used her independence through the many activities that she has participated in over the years. She has been a member of the family selection committee for Habitat Humanity, worked as an ILC at Three Rivers Independent Living Center for two years, and currently works as a Sales Representative for Social Security Administration in Manhattan. In 2002 Rebecca won the Social Security Regional Commissioners Outstanding Customer Service Award. Rebecca is married and has one son, DeMarco. When she is not working, Rebecca is active at her son’s school and enjoys volunteering from time to time. She describes herself as a mother, wife, humorous, spiritual, and honest. Her goal is to keep her family healthy and happy. Rebecca also enjoys making speeches on a variety of topics including disability, sexuality, transition, faith, and much more. Rebecca, who lives in Ogden, KS, holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Rehabilitation Services from Emporia State University.
Miss. Clarissa Cooper, 30, wants to make a difference in the world and live life to the fullest! Since the onset of quadriplegia caused from a spinal cord injury in 1995, she has done just that. Clarissa, who currently lives in Independence, KS, enjoys sharing her story and has spoken to various groups including an education class at Emporia State University and an RCIA class at her church. Clarissa attended Emporia State University from 1992 to 1999 where she graduated Suma Cum Laude with a Bachelors degree in Independent Studies and an emphasis in Elementary Education. She currently works as a Sales Associate at Bath and Body Works and enjoys volunteering at St. Andrew’s Catholic School where she helps out in the 3rd and 4th grade classes. Clarissa also recently became a board member for the Resource Center for Independent Living and spends time promoting Durrie Vision’s “Focus on Independence” program through her website and a video. Clarissa describes herself as family oriented, honest, compassionate, inspired, sincere, and enthusiastic. Some of her future ambitions include becoming a counselor, traveling, and enjoying all that life has to offer.
Miss. Stacy Ritt, 28, has had many years of experience in the disability field. Stacy was born with Cerebral Palsy. For many years, she lived in Wisconsin where she obtained her Bachelors degree in 1999 from the University of Wisconsin. She worked in the Services for Students with Disabilities Office and was a student senator for two years. Also while in Wisconsin, Stacy worked as a WDRC Coordinator for Wisconsin Coalition for Centers for Independent Living, a Voter Education Project Coordinator for IndependenceFirst, a Volunteer Instructor for United Cerebral Palsy, and Partner of Scanning Ink. Stacy currently lives in Garden City, KS and has lived in this state for four years. She worked at LINK, Inc. as a Systems Change Specialist for two years, and now works for the Center for Independent Living of Southwest Kansas as a Project / Peer Coordinator. Stacy is currently involved with the Working Healthy Board, was a member of the National Council for Independent Living (NCIL) for two years, has been an organizer for ADAPT for the past five years, and has volunteered for the Kansas Youth Leaership Forum as a Group Counselor for three years. She has always been strong advocate and describes herself as having integrity, being determined, empowering, honest, and trustworthy. Stacy enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, and playing computer games. She would one day like to own her own business and see the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Mr. Alexander holds a Masters
of Science Degree in Guidance & Counseling (1970) and a Bachelor
of Arts Degree in English (1967), both from Long Island University,
Brooklyn campus. He has had a life long direct acquaintance with services
for the blind with the first half of his life as a full time consumer
and the second half as a consumer and provider in the field of work
with the blind. Mr. Alexander was born in Wichita, KS, but spent his
early years in Philadelphia and New York. Since returning to Kansas,
Mr. Alexander has worked with a number of community agencies and held
several appointed or elected positions including a board member of the
Statewide Independent Living Council of Kansas; President of the Kansas
Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired; President of Guide
Dog Users of Kansas; member of the Advisory Committee for the Department
of Services for the Blind, Kansas SRS; and advisor to Kansas Specialty
Dog Services (KSDS). Currently, he serves as president of The Wichita
Association for the Visually Handicapped; member of the State Rehabilitation
Council; member of the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind Board of Directors,
Smithtown NY; and member of the Assistive Technology Project site three
Miss. Leahy understands disability
from three unique perspectives. She was born with Spina Bifida, was
diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis at age 11 (a form of Muscular Dystrophy),
and was hit by a tow truck at age 23. Michele recently completed her
reign as Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania 2004, where she promoted disability
awareness throughout the Commonwealth and even had the opportunity to
speak on the PA Senate floor. Michele is currently a Service Coordinator
for Liberty Resources, Inc. (a Center for Independent Living in Philadelphia,
PA). As a freelance writer, Michele has written for such publications
as the feminist magazine “Off Our Backs” and the Pennsylvania
Assistive Technology Financing Program quarterly newsletter. Until 2004,
she wrote the monthly column “Chelly In the City” for Disabled
Dealer Magazine. She campaigned for independence through sales of accessible
and adaptive equipment by being a Certified Mobility Consultant. Michele
holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Humanities from Penn State University.
She has independently traveled throughout the United States and Western
Europe, and has even had a private audience with the Pope.
Mr. Peppers was born in Salina,
KS. In May of 1988, he graduated, with honors, from the University of
Kansas. Rob is currently a meteorologist for WIBW-TV in Topeka, KS and
has served in this position for the past 17 years. He was named to the
“Best of Topeka” list by the Topeka Capital-Journal in 2002,
2003, and 2004. Rob serves on the Board of Directors for the NE Kansas
Parkinson’s Association. He also has been a co-host of the Children’s
Miracle Network Celebration in 2002 and 2003, and was the keynote speaker
for the Kansas Youth Leadership Forum in 2002 and 2003.
Mr. Vega has worked for the State Government
for over 30 years. He currently holds the position of Director of Human
Resources for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
George also holds an adjunct position at Friends University and Mid-America
Nazarene University, where he teaches graduate and undergraduate business
courses. George was born and raised in Topeka, KS. He holds a Bachelors
degree in History from Washburn University and a Masters degree in Management
from Baker University. George is married with four children and two
pageant with a cause: Women with disabilities relay powerful messages
Topeka Capitol Journal, 3-7-05
Featured on KSNT 27
on WIBW 13 News
Garden City Telegram, 3-3-05