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Virtual Conference Agenda

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Zoom Links & Descriptions

Keynote 9:00 - 10:00 AM

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"Disability and Human Flourishing: Challenges and Solutions in the Body of Christ"

Mark Bradford

Fellow for Persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Word on Fire

For over 20 years, Mark has been blessed to serve in leadership positions in various church ministries, including as the founding president of the Jerome Lejeune Foundation in the U.S. Mark and his wife Denise are parents to Thomas, their 6th child (and first son), who happens to have been gifted with an extra 21st chromosome. Mark is a passionate advocate for those born with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. He especially advocates against the threat of abortion following a prenatal diagnosis at every opportunity. The Bradfords reside in the Philadelphia suburbs.

10:10 - 11:00 AM

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"Autistic Prayer"

Fr. Matthew P. Schnieder, LC SThD

When we pray, we communicate with God. Our brain structure can radically affect how any communication happens, including prayer. Autism is a difference in brain structure, so it should affect how we pray. However, there is little written on how autism affects our prayer life. This talk will examine autistic prayer from the inside, based on various autistic people's experiences. This can help autistics to pray deeper and help others learn ideas for leading autistics in prayer.

Fr. Matthew P. Schneider, LC, is a priest with the Legionaries of Christ and visiting assistant professor of theology and bioethics at Belmont Abbey College. In 2022, he completed a SThD in moral theology. The same year he published God Loves the Autistic Mind: Prayer Guide for Those on the Spectrum and Those Who Love Us. He writes extensively on disability and moral theology topics in both academic and more popular publications: he has been published in Nova et Vetera, The Journal of Disability and Religion, The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, Catholic Moral Theology, America, Public Discourse, Crux, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, ZENIT, Aleteia, and NCR.

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Cultivating Growth: 45 Minutes to Empower Your Child’s Mindset

Christina Eppink, BCBA, M.Ed

Our presentation focuses on helping students focus on their strengths, acknowledge their challenges, and develop resilience and perseverance. We will share tips and strategies to cultivate this mindset at home and in the classroom, including how to move away from a fixed mindset, set learning goals, and praise effort over ability.

Christina has been passionate about working with people of all abilities since childhood. Her experience is comprehensive, and she has worked with young children, teens, and adults throughout her career. Her passion focuses on fostering independence and meaning in the lives of the individuals she serves. She has worked in Applied Behavior Analysis since 1999 and received her master’s degree in Special Education at George Mason University in 2006. She obtained her BCBA certification in 2008.

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Future Planning: Navigating Resources and Supports for Your Child's Adult Life

Joyce Kelly, SPRED Coordinator, Nativity Church & Diane Monnig, Director of Programs, ARC of NoVA

Diane Monnig, Director of Programs, The Arc of Northern Virginia (not pictured)

Early planning for your child’s future will create a smoother transition from high school to adult life. Parent involvement and building a support network are critical to navigating this process successfully. Participants will gain an understanding of the public benefits available and how to access them, financial tools to safeguard financial eligibility for benefits, employment, day support, and post-secondary options, transportation options, social and spiritual opportunities, and housing options.

Joyce Kelly served as a Transition Coordinator for Arlington Public Schools from 2000 to 2022, until she retired. Joyce holds a master's degree in education from the University of Virginia and a postgraduate professional license to include Vocational Special Needs. Her career in education has spanned over 30 years. Joyce was awarded the 2021 Rusty Garth -You Are The Change Advocacy Award from the Arc of Northern Virginia and the 2023 Lumen Gentium Award from Nativity Parish. Joyce, a member of Nativity Parish in Burke, serves as the Coordinator of its SPRED program, which is in its 5th year. Joyce's husband, Richard, is a Permanent Deacon with the Diocese of Arlington.

Diane Monnig is the Director of Programs for The Arc of Northern Virginia. In this role, Diane oversees Transition POINTS (Providing Opportunities Information Networking and Transition Support) that provides information and resources to individuals with disabilities and their families at critical decision points across the lifespan and the Tech for Independent Living Program that provides customized lessons using their own Arc2Independence app that fosters independence in travel, daily living, safety, and employment skills. Diane has worked with The Arc of Northern Virginia for over 20 years. Diane was awarded the 2020 Martha Glennan Inclusion and Equality Individual Advocacy Award and the 2021 Community Champion for Special Education of the Year Award from Fairfax County Public Schools SEPTA.

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Managing Family Dynamics and Developmental Transitions 

Frank J Moncher PhD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist

This session will discuss the impact on parents and other family members who live with or provide care for students with disabilities. We will review how family dynamics can shift as a child and their siblings go through different developmental stages, and will discuss the challenge parents face in balancing the need to protect and advocate for their child, while also facilitating opportunities for growth. A particular focus will be on the anxieties that are commonly experienced by the student themselves as well as their parents as they encounter new learning environments or other challenges.

Frank Moncher received his Ph.D. in Clinical-Community Psychology from the University of South Carolina in 1992, following which he spent several years on faculty of the Medical College of Georgia. From 2000-2010 he was on the faculty of the Institute for the Psychological Sciences/Divine Mercy University. Since 2010, Dr. Moncher has worked for the Diocese of Arlington and Catholic Charities as a psychologist and consultant to the Office for Catholic Schools, Permanent Diaconate Formation, Family Life and Victim Assistance ministries.  In addition, Frank consults with diocesan tribunals and religious orders to provide psychological evaluations.  He is licensed as a clinical psychologist in Virginia and Washington, D.C., and lives in Mount Vernon with his wife and three adolescent children. 

11:30 AM - 12:20 PM

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The Power of TEAM: Partnering with your Child’s School for Success

Laura MacDonald, NCEA Director of Professional Learning &

Jessica Roberts, NCEA Business Relationships manager (not pictured)

This session offers a unique approach to partnering with your child’s school. Key aspects will include, goal sharing, monitoring academic progress, strategic advocating, and showing grace. Participants will gain valuable insights and skills to create a positive and impactful partnership with the school.

Laura MacDonald is the Director of Professional Learning for the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), where she supports Catholic educational leaders across the country in their professional learning. She has been an educational leader at regional, county and district levels and has had extensive experience mentoring, coaching and leading teachers since she began her career in teaching in 1998. Before she came to NCEA she served as an administrator in the Diocese of Sacramento. Ms. MacDonald holds a bachelor's degree in liberal studies from California State University and teaching and administrative credentials, including a master's degree in leadership and policy study. She currently resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with her husband of thirty years. 

Jessica Roberts is the business relationship manager for NCEA. Ms. Roberts’ most recent position was advancement director for three Catholic schools. During this time, she supported principals by developing and establishing enrollment plans, marketing plans and fundraising plans at each of the schools. Prior to being an advancement director, Ms. Roberts was a Catholic school educator, teaching across multiple grades from preschool - 8. She has a master's in educational administration and a master's in education with a focus in curriculum and instruction from Santa Clara University, a bachelor’s in child and adolescent development from San Jose State and a certificate in blended learning, certificate in teaching also from San Jose State, and a site supervisor permit for early childhood education.

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How to Support Executive Functioning Skills When Stress Takes Over

Sarah Schmitt, M.Ed., Director of Witness to Dignity

Everyone has Executive Functioning but why do some kids, teens, or adults experience more difficulty with it than others? Executive functioning is the center of the brain that accomplishes more involved thinking tasks like Emotional and Response Regulation, Planning, Memory, and Organization; however, it’s the first system to be impacted when we experience stress, frustration, overwhelm, or fear. In this presentation, participants will learn more about this system and how to support skills like Emotional and Response Regulation, Planning, Memory, and Organization when stress becomes difficult to manage.

Sarah Schmitt is a Behavioral and Educational Consultant with 20 years of Disability, Inclusion, Behavior, and Ministry experience. She is the Founder and Director of Witness to Dignity, a non-profit that equips and empowers Churches and Private Schools to become more accessible and inclusive, specifically in regard to Disability and Mental Health. Sarah began her career by helping start a Private School for Autism and its Inclusive Preschool Program out West.  Sarah attended Catholic School from middle school through college and even as a very social, distracted learner, experienced an invaluable sense of belonging and faith formation.  Sarah has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and loves to find accessible ways to do the things she loves like gardening, cooking, and art. She lives with her husband, Adam, in Richmond.

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Building Social Connections to Promote Self-Esteem and Protect Mental Health

Dr. Jane Barbin, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, BCBA

Children and teens with IDD are at a higher risk for experiencing other mental health conditions and distress. Social challenges experienced by these individuals can lead to frustration, loneliness, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, bullying and trauma. A positive social environment both within and outside of school, can serve as a protective mechanism against onset of these conditions. In this session, the role of social connections will be explored with discussion of interventions across home, school and the community to build positive experiences for individuals with IDD to promote and protect mental health.

A leading professional in autism and behavior disorders, Dr. Barbin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Board Certified Behavior Analyst – Doctoral, and Licensed Behavior Analyst.  She founded Behavioral Directions, LLC in 2001 and currently serves as Executive Director consulting to parents, educators, and school districts, including schools in the Arlington Diocese, while collaborating across disciplines to promote successful outcomes for those with developmental and behavioral disorders. Through her work, she advocates for disability awareness and provides training to parent and professional groups at the local and national level.

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Fostering Opportunities to Learn, Work, and Recreate

Patrick Graveline, Psy.D., BCBA-D

Each and every person can learn. The learning may vary in the pace and intensity. The session will define and provide examples of evidence-based strategies shown effective in teaching and maintaining the skills necessary for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities meet academic, vocational, and recreational success.

Patrick Graveline is a licensed psychologist and board certified behavior analyst-doctoral. He received his doctorate in clinical psychology from the Institute for the Psychological Sciences.  Over the past 20 years, Patrick has worked in a wide range of community-based and educational settings. In these settings, he has supported services within residential, employment, and educational settings for individuals with autism spectrum disorder, developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities, impulse control disorders, and emotional disorders. Currently, Patrick is a Supervisor of Special Education with a public school district in Maryland.

12:30 - 1:20 PM

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Gen Z and Mental Health - What You Need to Know

Lincoln Snyder, President/CEO National Catholic Educational Association

It's not easy to be a kid these days, as evidenced by data on the mental health of our youth. In this talk, NCEA president, Lincoln Snyder, will talk about the mental health of America's youth; what trends are of greatest concern; and how this data can inform parents' and educators' ministry to our children and students.

Lincoln Snyder is the president/CEO for the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). Lincoln was selected to lead a revitalization of the association coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic and has returned the organization to fiscal stability, along with significant growth in member benefits. Prior to his appointment at NCEA, Lincoln served as the superintendent and executive director of schools for the Diocese of Sacramento from 2015-2021. Before his appointment as superintendent, he was a teacher and board chair at Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento. Lincoln also has served as vice chair of the NCEA NSBECS Advisory Council (NNAC) and has been a member of several Catholic school boards. Lincoln holds a bachelor’s degree in international politics from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a master’s degree in Lasallian Leadership from St. Mary's University of Minnesota. Originally from California, Lincoln lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and their 3 teenage sons. When he is not working, Lincoln enjoys 20-mile walks and learning new languages.

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How Special Needs Parents and Parishes Can Work Together To Create A More Inclusive Church

Kelly Mantoan, Author and Founder of Accepting the Gift

In this breakout, we'll discuss how to tap into the knowledge parents of children with disabilities have, in order to create more welcoming parishes. Parents will learn how to advocate, and parish leaders will learn how to effectively listen and support. Working together, and with more accessible buildings, religious education and support networks in place, parents and parishes create more opportunities for disabled Catholics and their families to contribute and serve, as well as be served.

Kelly Mantoan is the author of Better Than OK: Finding Joy As A Special Needs Parent, and the founder and executive director of Accepting the Gift, a ministry for Catholic special needs parents. Accepting the Gift provides resources and support to help the parents of children with disabilities thrive in their unique vocation.

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Why Work? The Porto Experience: Building Inclusive Communities through Inclusive Work

Christine Fowler, MS in Nursing, Director of PortoWorks

Customized Employment is a framework for developing employment solutions for individuals with significant barriers to employment in the community. We will discuss the Porto Experience utilizing Customized Employment strategies to develop inclusive jobs and the benefits of work that individuals with IDD and their families experience. We will also discuss the positive impact on the work community and the employees.

Christine is a Registered Nurse with a Masters Degree in Critical Care and Adult Health Nursing. Before realizing that she was meant to be an advocate for individuals with disabilities, she worked as a Clinical Nurse Specialist, a Clinical Case Manager and a Nurse Educator. She served on the Parent Education Committee of The Down Syndrome Association of Northern Virginia for 5 years. She is currently a Special Olympics Coach and serves on the Northern Virginia Council for Special Olympics Virginia. Her son Zach, who is 25 years old, has Down Syndrome and her youngest son Ben, 23 years old has Autism. Zach's experience at Paul VI motivated her to become involved with Porto Charities to help insure the continued expansion of Inclusive Catholic education and employment. In 2019 she became involved in the Porto Charities Pilot program developing jobs for individuals with IDD in the diocese of Arlington. Since the pilot, she has become immersed in developing customized solutions to employment for job seekers with IDD and employers who wish to capitalize on the gifts of individuals with IDD as employees. The Arlington diocese now has 19 paid employees with IDD and 6 volunteers with IDD working in schools, parish offices and the chancery.

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Casting Our Nets into the Sea of Mental Illness

Mrs. Charleen Katra, Executive Director NCPD

Christian Bentley, member Council on Mental Illness and Wellness NCPD (not pictured)

Learn what the Church can do to include, not isolate, individuals experiencing mental illness. Ministering to the entire family’s need to be heard, understood, and supported transforms faith communities into places of belonging for all. Discover resources, best practices, and training to do so!

Charleen Katra has served as the Executive Director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD) since December of 2019. She previously served as an Associate Director in the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. For over twenty years her primary responsibility was directing the Ministry with Persons with Disabilities. Katra is the co-author of The Adaptive Teacher: Faith-Based Strategies to Reach and Teach Learners with Disabilities (Loyola Press, 2019) and the author of How to Talk to Children about People with Disabilities (Twenty-Third Publications, 2019). She has extensive experience in systematic and sacramental catechesis and has served as a national consultant, author, and speaker on the topic of inclusion for various Catholic publishers. Katra is currently a member of the Loyola Press Speaker Corp. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Special Education and Elementary Education and a Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies.

Christian Bentley is a resident of the City of Alexandria, a descendant of John Parker and member of the Historic Parker, Dogan and Bentley Families. A mixture of enslaved and freedman devout Catholics. For over 5 years, Bentley has been a noteworthy advocate for mental health and social justice within Virginia and the National Catholic Church by using his own experiences with managing a Bipolar 1 diagnosis and how faith, community and proper care can lead to a fulfilling life. Bentley currently serves as the Regional Mental Health Representative for VOICE, an interfaith social justice community advocacy group. He is the Chair of the Bishop's Advisory Council on Racism, The Diocesan Pastoral Council for Arlington, and an active participant with the USCCB in Young Adult and MultiCultural projects to name a few. When he is not busy in his faith community, you can find Bentley walking his dog Epi through the streets of Old Town Alexandria or on the Polo Fields of Middleburg, VA.

1:30 PM - 2:20 PM

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Panel Presentation: Establishing Communities of Belonging: Challenges and Successes

Moderated by Susan Rinaldi, Director of Expanded Services Bishop O'Connell High School & 

Dr. Adam Bigbee, Dean of Exceptional Learning Paul VI High School

This panel discussion will highlight the personal stories of individuals with disabilities and their families as they navigate the often challenging task of creating communities of belonging. We bring together a panel of parents and individuals with IDD/DD to hear about the challenges and successes they have had in building positive relationships at school/work, church, in recreational activities, and in the broader community.

Adam Bigbee began his educational career 21 years ago as a teacher in the Options Program at PVI. Since then, he has served as a special educator in Catholic and public schools throughout Northern Virginia. After serving the Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School community as the Assistant Principal for Academics, Dr. Bigbee helped start Loudoun County’s newest high school, Lightridge, during the pandemic. He is proud to return to PVI, this time as Dean of Exceptional Learning. Dr. Bigbee earned his B.A. in Religious Studies at the University of Florida. After getting married, he relocated to Virginia and completed his M.Ed in Special Education and Ph.D. in Special Education Leadership at George Mason University. He and his wife of 24 years, Yvonne, have two sons, Ethan and Gabe. Dr. Bigbee is eager to help exceptional learners thrive at PVI.

Susan Rinaldi has been the director of expanded services at Bishop O’Connell since it was developed in 2015. She is a graduate of Villanova University and the University of Kansas. She taught at Fairfax County schools before transferring to Paul the VI Catholic High School until she formed her family through adoption. She lives in Northern Va with her husband and three children. Disability is close to her heart both professionally and personally. She has a sister with Down Syndrome and has experienced neurodiversity in her family.

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