Meet Liner Legal’s 2022 Top 20 Disability Warriors

Liner Legal is so proud to announce Liner Legal’s Top 20 Disability Warriors in Ohio YOU Need to Know!

All employees at Liner Legal are called Disability Warriors. This term is more than just branding or marketing. Each person who works in the office has the motivation and drive to help clients as well as the community at large. But there are many others in Cleveland who fight in their own way and should be recognized as Disability Warriors. That is why we asked the community to nominate Disability Warriors every day. .

Who is a Disability Warrior? A Disability Warrior advocates for those with disabilities, raises awareness or funds for those with disabilities or has a disability themselves and enriches their community. After many nominations, we are proud to introduce you to the top Disability Warriors in Ohio that were chosen for this year!

Name: Lisa M. Marn, M.Ed.

City: I live in Willoughby, Ohio and work for Services for Independent Living, Inc. in Euclid, Ohio.

Tell me about your work in the disability community: 

I have worked for Services for Independent Living, Inc. (SIL) for almost 25 years.  I have a Master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling.  I have dedicated my life to improving the lives of people with disabilities.  Currently, my work at SIL is facilitating the Personal Care Assistance (PCA) Program for 11 counties in northeast Ohio and advocacy surrounding long-term services and supports.  The PCA Program enables people with disabilities to hire their own caregivers.  My advocacy work includes sitting on various state and federal level committees and advocating for better services for those Ohioans who need direct care to remain in the community.

What is your goal for the work that you do? 

My goal for my life is to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.  I am blessed to have the opportunity to do this each and every day at work.

Name: Matt Gesicki

City: I live in Lakewood. The NAMI Greater Cleveland office is based in the Ohio City area of Cleveland. My work with NAMI keeps me active throughout Cuyahoga County.

Tell me about your work in the disability community: 

I am the Community Outreach and Education Coordinator with NAMI Greater Cleveland. NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness and is a grassroots mental health organization focused on improving quality of life for individuals with mental illness and their family members by providing education, support, information and referral, and advocacy. In my role, I partner with NAMI volunteers, many of whom are “peers” who have mental health conditions, to share their personal stories of mental illness and recovery with diverse audiences including but not limited to college students, law enforcement officers, and healthcare professionals to increase mental health awareness and reduce stigma in the greater Cleveland community. I am also responsible for organizing monthly virtual or in-person education, open to the public, on special topics related to mental health and community resources that are relevant and helpful to individuals affected by mental illness and their families. Previous topics organized under my direction include the mental health benefits of nature, understanding local crisis services, coping with grief and stress around the holidays, treatment options for tardive dyskinesia (an adverse side effect of some antipsychotic medications), and mental health and housing options.

What is your goal for the work that you do? 

My goal for my work is twofold. Firstly, in my work with peer and family volunteers who are touched by mental illness, I want to empower them to share their stories with various audiences, bring the truth of their lived experience and improve mental health awareness of critical segments of our society including students, law enforcement, and healthcare professionals. Secondly, my goal is for NAMI to continue to be a leading voice on mental health and serve as a vital and relevant resource both for peers/clients and their families and remain abreast of current trends in the field. 

Name: Leah Houser

City: I live and work in Painesville.

Tell me about your work in the disability community: 

Extended Housing serves individuals in Lake County with a serious mental illness who are homeless or at imminent risk of being homeless.  In 2001 I was first hired by Extended Housing as a Homeless Outreach Worker, where I coordinated the County’s only year-round homeless outreach program.  In this position I newly identified those who were homeless or at risk and in need of mental health services.  I would frequent the streets, bus stops, parks, shelters and soup kitchens to engage and build rapport for those who were in need.  I assisted clients in obtaining non-cash benefits, housing (applications), mental health services and everything in between. 

In 2019 I began my new role as the Director of Housing Services where I supervise a team of six.   I oversee four rental assistance programs, a loan program and the Homeless Outreach program.   Our team serves over 300 households a year in our community by providing safe, decent and affordable housing.

What is your goal for the work that you do? 

I believe in Extended Housing’s mission which is to prevent and end homelessness for individuals in Lake County with serious mental illness.  There is a lot of stigma and stereotyping around mental illness and the homeless population, it is important to address this in our community.  When a person is labeled they are no longer seen as an individual but as part of a stereotype group.  Negative attitudes and beliefs toward this group create prejudice which lead to negative actions and discrimination.  It is a goal to help break down the negative stigma around mental illness and homelessness.

Name: Marla Berkowitz

City: I live in Columbus, Ohio and work as a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) and am a Senior Lecturer of the ASL Program at OSU. In addition, I co-authored a book called Deaf and Hearing Siblings in Conversation (https://www.siblingconversations.org/)

Tell me about your work in the disability community: 

In the disability community, my work entails providing American Sign Language (ASL) interpreting services in various settings including courts, medical, education, business, and for Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. In addition, I teach various courses for the ASL program. I am also a consultant for a not-profit agency, Deaf World Against Violence Everywhere (DWAVE) in their service to Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, Hard of Hearing and/or Late Deafnened survivors and/or co-survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Lastly, I do various projects on ASL translations which English-printed information is translated into ASL via live class and/or videos. 

What is your goal for the work that you do? 

Deaf representation matters so I strive to be a role model to Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, Hard of Hearing and Late Deafened people by assuring my service providing access to information in the capacity I give them 100% access impacting every aspect of their lives.

Name: Jamal Henderson

City: Campbell

Tell me about your work in the disability community: 

Jamal faces challenges with his learning disability, he is 18 years old and is a Junior in high school. Jamal has an IEP that allows him an interpreter and more time for testing and studying. Jamal overcomes his challenges by staying involved with his community family by being Captain of the Campbell Red Devils Football team and on the track team. Jamal is also a leader in school and his job at the Texas Roadhouse. Jamal plans on going to college to play Football while studying to go into the USA Army Reserves.

What makes Jamal a Disability Warrior? 

Jamal is a Disability Warrior because he is determined to succeed and not let no one or nothing get in his way, Jamal is an example to others on doing things the right way.

Name: Kerry Agins

City: I live in South Euclid, Ohio and have an office in Lyndhurst, but I do my work throughout the State of Ohio.

Tell me about your work in the disability community: 

I am an attorney with a practice focused on special education law and related civil rights cases for individuals with disabilities and their families. I represent students with disabilities in a wide range of educational matters, including special education eligibility, services and placement issues under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act and related state and federal laws. We provide representation at all levels of negotiation and litigation associated with these laws.

What is your goal for the work that you do? 

To be so effective that my services are no longer needed.  As much as I love what I do, I wish no family had to retain me to do it.  Ideally, all students with disabilities would have their unique educational needs met using evidence-based instructional interventions in the most inclusive and supportive setting possible.

Name: Bishop Christian Omar Medina

City: Cleveland, Ohio

Tell me about your work in the disability community: 

Community of Faith’s work in the disability community includes connecting our elderly population as well as our disabled community to programs and institutions that can provide them with much needed services that they may need. We also serve as an advocate for that sector of the community. During this pandemic, we have had numerous massive food distribution events and have made sure to deliver boxes of food to apartments or houses of those who are elderly, disabled and could not come to the actual event to pick up their box of food. We have also done multiple vaccination clinics throughout the region and have ensured that our elderly and disabled community have easy access to the vaccination sites.

What is your goal for the work that you do? 

As a faith-based, community organization, our goal is to continue to express our faith through action. To serve our community with compassion and in love, be a voice to the voiceless, an advocate for the forgotten and the downtrodden and ensure that EVERYONE has a seat at the table and have access to anything that they may need to obtain the quality of life that they deserve.

Name: Katie Jenkins

City: I live and work in Painesville, Ohio.

Tell me about your work in the disability community: 

I have been working in the mental health field since 2004.  What started as taking a job just to have a job became a field that I am proud to be part of!  Specifically in Lake County, I had the joy of working in a transitional housing program for over 4 years.  In that role, I was able to advocate for individuals with a mental health condition and support them in pursuing their recovery and obtaining housing.  And now, for over 3 years, I have been part of NAMI Lake County!  Here, we are trusted to provide education and support to everyone who is affected by a mental health condition – whether it is by having the condition or loving someone with it. One of the things I love most about being at NAMI Lake County is the fact that I am my own content expert!  Our programs are completely based on our lived experiences, so I get to talk to people about my own depression and anxiety that was diagnosed at the age of 19.  I get to talk about my family’s experiences with mental health conditions and substance use disorders, and how these experiences have affected and shaped who we are.

What is your goal for the work that you do? 

I feel like my goal is the same as anyone else who works in the mental health field – to have a positive effect on someone’s life.  If I can have one person remember that they are not alone because of the messages that we share with them, have one person think about being here tomorrow, and know that there is help – then I will have done my job.  We talk about this a lot in our programs for parents of minor children.  It’s difficult to fill a class because of the stigma that surrounds mental health conditions, but if we can get just one person engaged – we will have helped their entire family live a better life.

Name: Anthony Spano

City: I live in the city of Youngstown, I work in Hermitage, PA for FNB of PA and I do my work in the Mahoning Valley for the Hope foundation. (Trumbull, Mahoning, and Columbiana Counties in Ohio)

Tell me about your work in the disability community: 

I started the Hope Foundation of the Mahoning Valley back in 2007 with the main goal to serve those children and families that need assistance in some shape or form. Our mission is to enhance the quality of life for families with children experiencing chronic and/or terminal conditions in the Mahoning Valley. We have served so many children, families and programs over the years, it is hard to keep up. I have been doing this for over 16 years, volunteering, using my own money and attending donor meetings to make sure we were able to serve these families and programs that can help serve and make their lives better one day at a time; treatments, medication, equipment, etc, just to name a few on the things the foundation has done over the years. In the last couple of years, we created a program called the DreamCatchers for Kids, with the singular purpose of enhancing the lives of Mahoning Valley children with life-threatening medical conditions by creating amazing experiences that will bring them joy and hope.

What is your goal for the work that you do? 

The goal is simple, to serve as many children and families as we can because our entire foundation is volunteer. I have a full time job and have never received compensation from the foundation at all during my 15 years as Founder/Executive Director. 

Name: Krist Mounts

City: I live in North Royalton, Ohio.

What makes Kris a Disability Warrior: 

Kris is a neurodivergent diagnosed with autism. He experiences the world from a different social, sensory, and emotional perspective.  He performs on an emotional level as well as an intellectual level that catches beauty and pureness that others often miss. He not only accepts and celebrates his differences but embraces them.  He continuously educates himself on all Neurodiverse conditions and advocates for the need of support and understanding. He is determined to educate the world with awareness and compassion. He loves people and sees the good in everybody.  His positive and caring nature radiates to all those around him.  He is a disability warrior because he has mastered the word kindness and expresses it in all he does.

Name: Dr. Mark Pellegrino

City: I work in North Canton, Ohio at Ohio Pain & Rehab Specialists.

What is your goal for the work that you do? 

My goal is to increase awareness of chronic pain and fibromyalgia in the community by diagnosing, educating and treating individuals and trying to help each one successfully manage the pain.

How does it feel to be selected in our top 20 Disability Warriors?

I am grateful that my efforts as a pain specialist has allowed me to connect with so many wonderful people/patients.  I have been fortunate to be able to help a number of these patients, but just as fortunate to have been helped by them as well. 

Name: Crystal Ezzo

City: I work in North Royalton.

Tell me about your work in the disability community: 

I work as a Middle School Intervention Specialist and work with grades 5-8. I am a teacher in the Bridges Room which supports students with their social-emotional needs. We work a lot on different strategies that can be used both in and out of school to help them regulate their emotions. We also work on independent and self-advocacy skills.

What is your goal for the work that you do? 

My goal is for all my students to feel accepted and cared for. I see them for seven hours a day, this is their home away from home and when you build a meaningful relationship with them, it makes all the difference. I want to make a difference in my student’s lives. If I could provide just a glimpse of sunshine into their lives, it is all worth it.

Name: Douglas Blecher

City: I live in Lyndhurst.

Tell me about your work in the disability community: 

There is such a lack of support for autistic adults and teens. The goal of my organization’s work at Autism Personal Coach is to provide coaching to autistic adults and teens to get their needs met and desires fulfilled with our services.

What is your goal for the work that you do? 

Autistic people are the true experts of the autistic experience. I hope my work continues to elevate the vibrations of as  many autistic people as possible so they truly can get the things they want in life that are important to them.

Name: Eric Hibinger

City: I currently reside in Lakewood, Ohio but I perform services all across  the state of Ohio as a Regional Manager for You Belong, LLC.

What is your goal for the work that you do? 

My goal for the work that I perform is to help level the playing field for individuals with disabilities to become more independent by working competitively and successfully in the field of their choosing. I truly believe that advocation comes both from the self and the individual’s support system and if I can be a part of that, truly amazing things can happen!

What does the future look like for your work in the Disability Community?

My goal is to create a state that leads the nation in hiring individuals with disabilities not only because it makes them feel good but because it is the right thing to do. Across the state, multiple employers are seeing the benefits of bringing our consumers on board as their own employees and it is truly recreating the landscape of workforce development, one individual at a time.

Name: Jake D’Orazio

City: Strongsville Ohio.

What is your goal for the work that you do? 

At Jacob’s Ladder Special Needs Fitness, we are improving the lives of people in the special needs/disability community through regular fitness and fellowship. We want our students and parents to practice fitness as a family lifestyle. Fitness improves health, promotes positive self image and demonstrates the ability to follow through and accept coaching. We are also training individuals in the community of people with disabilities to take leadership roles as fitness leaders. We currently have 2 individuals, including Jake, who are certified group fitness instructors.  Our work is an extension of our Christian faith. Jake is also a certified boxing instructor for people with Down syndrome.

What does the future look like for your work in the Disability Community?

Here are our goals: To come along side of parents, especially newer parents in the disability community, and encourage them and demonstrate how to foster a lifestyle of fitness, and to have expectations for our kids; Continue to have people like Jake, Amanda and Sara from our group lead this effort, and be good examples of service to others; Working on a fitness study to demonstrate the positive effects of exercise for people with disabilities.

Name: Mary Verdi-Fletcher

City: I live in Sagamore Hills, I work in Cleveland.

What is your goal for the work that you do? 

My goal at Dancing Wheels is to utilize the arts and education programs that we offer to inspire, educate and uplift people with and without disabilities worldwide.

What does the future look like for your work in the Disability Community?  

My goal is to build a legacy built upon the mission of the Dancing Wheels Company & School …to educate, integrate and entertain through inclusive arts.

Name: Marlaina Tucci

City: I live and work in Mentor, Ohio

Tell me about your work in the disability community:

I work at Crossroads Health in Mentor, where I am the Supervisor of Supported Employment Services. I am also certified as a WIP-C (Work Incentive Practitioner) and assist our clients with navigating SSA and other local benefits, especially when they are working or looking for work.

What is your goal for the work that you do? 

My goal is to make sure that those in our community have access to the information they need about working while on benefits in order to make an informed decision about going to work. I am a very hands-on Benefits Specialist and will assist with making calls and visiting agencies until all of my client’s questions are answered. As a former Employment Specialist, I know that work is recovery for many of our clients and having this information for those interested in work who are also on benefits can be a game-changer! I also make sure that those who have questions about applying for benefits get the answers and assistance they need. Often, I will refer them to Liner Legal, to work with their amazing team!

Name: Tim Stallings

City: I live in Shaker Heights and I work out of several offices in NE Ohio (Independence and Akron).

Tell me about your work in the disability community:

As an estate planning and elder law attorney, I frequently work with individuals who have significant health issues.  We help families navigate through the complex maze of Medicaid and other government benefits, and work with attorneys like Michael Liner to help our disabled clients obtain eligibility for Social Security Disability benefits.  

What is your goal for the work that you do? 

My goal is simple….to take complicated legal topics, like estate planning, special needs planning, and Medicaid planning, and explain them in a straightforward way that the average person can understand. I want to continue to expand our footprint and help more families plan proactively for their disabled family members.  Far too often, we are contacted in a crisis situation. While we can still help, I have a lot more tools available when we plan ahead of time.

Name: Erica Boslay

City: I live and work in Painesville, OH.

Tell me about your work in the disability community:

I am a Housing Support Worker for Extended Housing .  Our agency serves individuals with severe mental health disabilities obtain and maintain housing.  I assist my client’s with maintaining their housing needs,  engagement with mental health services and obtaining income.   A lot of times income involves applying for Social Security Disability, referral to attorney, completing and obtaining documentation,  support for interviews and transportation to appointment

What is your goal for the work that you do? 

To assist my clients in meeting their needs and goals.   Maintaining stable housing and consistent mental health services gives our clients security and allows them to focus on their other needs. In the future, I want to continue to support my clients in obtaining and maintaining their housing, mental health and income needs.

Name: Jared Daly

City: I live in Lakewood Ohio and work for the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities supporting local businesses in adding diverse talent to their workforce.

What is your goal for the work that you do? 

My goal is to educate as many businesses as possible about the value employees with disabilities can add to their organizations.

What does the future look like for your work in the Disability Community?  

I would love to see our unique model of business engagement combined with provider collaboration expanded throughout the state of Ohio as well as the country. We really pride ourselves on making it very easy for businesses in Cuyahoga County to hire people with disabilities. I hope to see other businesses in different parts of the state and country gain access to this untapped workforce with similar support from the disability service community.

At Liner Legal, we are so proud to recognize these Disability Warriors throughout Ohio. We truly believe that these are the people making lasting change in the disability community. Our team is always looking to recognize Disability Warriors in our state. If there’s a disability warrior you think deserves to be recognized, email our Marketing Director Katie Nobles at knobles@linerlegal.com.

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