Volume 1 Issue 5
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The Director's Corner

ASPIRE staff are up and running! All 56 staff gathered in Salt Lake City last month for our biennial training. While a week away from the youth and families can be tough, it’s also important that staff are prepared and able to complete their work. This meeting helps us to be consistent in our delivery of ASPIRE. Sessions included learning about American Tribes, communication with youth and families, development of SMART goals and ASPIRE services plans, as well as some time to learn about compassion fatigue and caring for ourselves. We also heard from a panel of parents who shared their stories of successful transitions and the challenges they still face. Within all this training, we also had time to get to know each other and welcome the 13 staff who hadn’t attended a previous meeting. We left energized and ready to continue our work!

May recognizes many people including, teachers and public service employees. Thank you for all your work. You make a difference! May is also Mental Health Awareness month. Often an invisible disability, we can all take action to end the stigma often associated with mental illness.

With summer fast approaching, ASPIRE continues to recruit and enroll youth! Reach out to your state listed below or contact us at (844) 880-9172.

Carol Ruddell
ASPIRE Project Director
May 15, 2015

In This Issue:

The Director's Corner

ASPIRE Enrollment Update

Wisdom from Parents about Transition


North Dakota
South Dakota
Formative Evaluation Team

Staff Highlight - Shonna Thomas
Staff Highlight - Chris Fosdick

ASPIRE Website

"Include Us in YOUR Newsletter!"

ASPIRE Partners

ASPIRE in 3 Minutes

Contact Us

State Updates:

Arizona began recruitment and enrollment mid-February, and has enrolled 105 youth and families so far! We currently have 7 ASPIRE staff members enrolling families, with our Northern and Southern ASPIRE Case Managers gearing up with promotions and getting ready to join recruitment and enrollment in the upcoming summer months. ASPIRE promotions are continuing state-wide, as well as participation in many Tribal Council Meetings.

The ASPIRE team participated in the recent State Advisory Council meeting, held at the Governor's Office of Children, Youth and Families. The ASPIRE team presented on the recruitment and enrollment process, as well as shared stories of challenges and successes. There was extensive conversation surrounding the interventions and opportunities ASPIRE brings to families enrolled in the ASPIRE project.

We are pleased to welcome our newest Case Manager, Claudia Lopez, who will be working out of our Phoenix Office. We now have 8 Case Managers based in the Phoenix area, 2 Case Managers serving Southern Arizona, and 1 currently serving the Northern Arizona Region. If you have any enrollment questions, please contact us toll free at (844) 260-2890.


ASPIRE Colorado is working on Recruitment Wave 5 outreaching to Lincoln, Logan, Delta, Eagle and Garfield in addition to the 12 other counties where we continue to recruit.

ASPIRE Colorado would like to welcome Peak Parent Center, Ability Connections Colorado, and Mpower to provide four of our core interventions.  Peak Parent Center will be offering Parent Education and Training as well as Self-Determination Training, Mpower will provide Financial Literacy and Education Training and Ability Connections Colorado will deliver Benefits Counseling. These interventions will be a great benefit to our Colorado Youth and Families.

The ASPIRE Colorado Case Managers are working diligently to reach our targeted enrollment number of 400 and thank you to Brandan Slattery, ASPIRE Office Specialist for keeping us organized.

Montana's first group of recruitment letters was mailed out on March 23rd to youth eligible to participate in ASPIRE in Lewis & Clark, Jefferson and Broadwater counties. Since then, Montana has been busy meeting with families, following up by phone and enrolling youth. Currently Montana has enrolled 11 youth into the study.

Montana will begin recruitment in Cascade and Missoula counties this month and is working hard to continue promotion of the project to schools, partner agencies and community organizations. ASPIRE Montana is also spreading the word through press releases, participation at transition committee meetings, fairs and various conferences. We are also continuing to present the project at Tribal Council meetings.

We are excited be working with youth and their families in accomplishing the goal of ASPIRE to empower them to dream, to imagine and to strive for a better life. We are ready to answer your enrollment questions. Contact us toll free at (844) 442-3167.

North Dakota
April was busy for ASPIRE ND. ND ASPIRE partners had the first parent education training and youth self-determination workshops with youth and guardians enrolled in ASPIRE Services. ASPIRE ND, are partnering with Pathfinders – Parent Training Information Center and two NDCPD staff, Melissa Naslund and Hilory Liccini, who are providing the self-determination training for youth. Youth participated in several activities to help them better understand what it means to be self-determined. They appreciated the training saying, “It was not like school and just being talked to!” One youth asked when the next workshop would be scheduled, indicating he would come again! Parents were appreciative of the information and were also planning their next meeting for the month of August.

ASPIRE ND recently mailed recruitment letters to eligible youth and families in the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Staff are beginning recruitment there in early May; calling families and setting up meetings. Staff will continue promoting ASPIRE; meeting with staff at the schools and community agencies.

So far, case managers have met with ND families enrolled in “ASPIRE services” up to four times, if they enrolled early this winter. Staff are beginning to help coordinate services with the schools and various community resources. Case managers are beginning to help youth and families identify important goals, big and small, and are seeking out assistance where needed and to help families find what works best for them to help achieve their goals.

Recently, a part time Case Manager was hired! ASPIRE ND welcomes Ashley Dhuyvetter to the ASPIRE ND team! She has begun the orientation, training, and background clearance process as of May 1st. Ashley has been working at NDCPD for several years assisting students at Minot State University in the A-STEP college program for students with intellectual disabilities.

South Dakota
Congratulations go out to two of the South Dakota ASPIRE staff, Tynell Kocer, Enrollment Specialist and Barry Gravatt, Case Manager. Tynell and Barry have completed the CWIC Community Partners Certification.  A Community Work Incentives Coordinator or CWIC is a person who can assist individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and/or Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) who are either working or planning to work. They can assist individuals to understand how part-time, full-time or seasonal work affects disability benefits and other federal, state, and local benefits. Having this expertise within the South Dakota ASPIRE staff will benefit the families with whom ASPIRE is providing case management services.  

South Dakota ASPIRE is currently recruiting and enrolling youth who are living on the Pine Ridge and the Standing Rock Reservations. Informational sessions have been completed with several of the schools in these communities. On May 12, ASPIRE staff are partnering with the Tribal Voc Rehab staff in Pine Ridge to do a segment on one of the local radio station to promote ASPIRE.

Contact us at (800) 224-5336 for information about eligibility for ASPIRE or how you can help promote ASPIRE.

Congratulations are the order of the day!  Two of our four Utah case managers graduated with advanced degrees in Rehabilitation Counseling.  Saara Grizzell, one of our three case managers in Salt Lake City, completed her schooling and received her PhD in Rehabilitation Counseling!   Moreover, DJ Bartschi, our St George case manager, was awarded his Master’s degree and also passed his CRC exam to become a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor.  Kudos to Saara and DJ!

As we know, with advanced degrees also come opportunities for advancement.  That’s right!  Saara accepted a position instructing Master level students in the Rehabilitation Counseling Program at Utah State University.  DJ also is taking the opportunity to apply his skills and schooling as the latest counselor in the St George Vocational Rehabilitation office.  Beginning May 18th, these two team members will be sorely missed.  We wish them the best and hope our paths will cross again.  The process to fill their vacancy is well on its way for a smooth transition and introduction of two new case managers.

Seven months into the process, the Utah team has enrolled 153 of our goal for 250 youth by March, 2016.  This represents 61% of our goal.  We’re well on our way! 

ASPIRE in 3 Minutes:

Check out ASPIRE. Get an overview in just 3 minutes.


For more information about ASPIRE promotions, send a request to aspire@aspirewest.org

ASPIRE Enrollment Update

As of May 15, 2015, ASPIRE has enrolled 627 youth and their families in the ASPIRE study.

Enrollment by State

Arizona ............................................105
North Dakota ....................................24
South Dakota ....................................72

Wisdom from Parents about Transition

A highlight of the April ASPIRE staff training was a panel discussion with parents. The panel members were parents of teens and young adults with disabilities who are in transition. The parents shared their joys and sorrows of assisting their son or daughter to move into adult roles -- and provided valuable advice for ASPIRE Case Managers.

Regarding contacting families:

  • Parents can be overwhelmed. Even if this month is not good, next month might be better.
  • Be respectful and understanding of the demands families have. They are not only dealing with their child with disability, but may have other siblings, work, health concerns, and life in general.
  • Do not give up on them! Families are in it for the long term; they are not going anywhere. Keep contacting them.
Regarding offering ASPIRE services:
  • ASPIRE services are very important to families. Even if they don’t act like it at first,
  • Families appreciate receiving information and emails about training opportunities even if they do not always respond.
  • Parents said help advocating for meaningful classes and supports at their kids’ schools would have been great!
  • They are excited that someone else has high expectations for their youth.
Other considerations:
  • Watch out for “momma-bear!” If parents feel a situation is threatening to their family, such as a professional who insists on a course of action the parent is wary of, they can react with strong emotion.
  • Treat parents as experts. They know their child better than anyone else.
Overall, the parents on the panel were enthusiastic about the opportunities the ASPIRE study offers to teens and young adults with disabilities.

ASPIRE Website - www.aspirewest.org
The ASPIRE website is a great place to find resources for youth and their families in your area, as well as contact information for all six of the ASPIRE states, and information about ASPIRE and the PROMISE Initiative. If you received this newsletter from a friend or colleafue and would like to be on our mailing list, click on the "Subscribe" link to sign up for our newsletter.

Staff Highlight - Shonna Thomas

Shonna Thomas

Shonna Thomas is a Training Specialist for ASPIRE. As a Board Certified-Human Services Professional (HS-BCP), Shonna holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, a Master’s degree in Human Services, and is working on a second Master’s in Criminal Justice.

Shonna worked with the Juvenile Justice Services (JJS) in Utah for five years, advocating for, mentoring, and rehabilitating juvenile offenders. She was also an ICR Trainer for JJS, training employees from across the state in Integrated Crisis Response, including de-escalation techniques, personal safety, and physical take-down skills.

Certified in Adult Learning Theory and techniques, Shonna utilized this training and experience when she moved to Pennsylvania. Shonna worked as a Behavior Specialist Consultant and Mobile Therapist (BSC/MT), for Children’s Behavioral Health, an agency centered on children and teens with mental health diagnoses and behavioral problems. Shonna worked with youth and families, in their homes, schools, and communities, to address and correct maladaptive behaviors.

After gaining valuable experience in the Pennsylvania system, Shonna took the position of Program Coordinator, within the same agency. In this role, she covered Western PA, and supervised all employees in the region, including training new staff, conducting ongoing training, auditing case notes and treatment plans, and serving as the liaison between direct care staff and management in the cooperate office. Shonna also became certified as a Functional Behavior Assessment Practitioner and Trainer, and a Behavior Analyst Technician.

Shonna and her husband have been together since they were 15 years old (20+ years). They currently live in Springville, UT, with their three cats. Shonna is an avid animal lover, and she enjoys reading, hiking, disc golf, and family games of Ballooney Ball (think volleyball with a balloon).

Shonna Thomas
ASPIRE Trainer

Staff Highlight - Chris Fosdick

Chris Fosdick

Chris Fosdick is a Training Specialist for ASPIRE. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a Master’s of Science degree in Rehabilitation Counseling. He is a Licensed Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor with the State of Utah and holds a national Certification of Rehabilitation.

Before coming to ASPIRE Chris worked directly with adults and high school students with disabilities for over seven years as a vocational rehabilitation counselor. He provided direct vocational guidance and counseling, soft and social skills training workshops at the VR office and in schools, and facilitated on-the-job training arrangements, job shadowing opportunities, informational interviews, and work experiences for students for disabilities. He worked with individuals with neurological disorders, Traumatic Brain injuries, mental illness, autism and others.

Chris and his wife have three kids, and one more on the way. After work, you’ll find Chris outside playing and being goofy with his kids. When his kids are finally asleep, he enjoys watching Netflix with his wife or reading. He also enjoys cooking/eating Asian food and exercising.

Chris Fosdick
ASPIRE Trainer

ASPIRE Partners

ASPIRE is excited to partner with the following agencies:

If you would like to be included in our next newsletter, email us at aspire@aspirewest.org or call 1-844-880-9172.

Include Us in YOUR Newsletter!

Do you connect with youth and their families through a newsletter, or know of an agency that does? Let us know if you would like information about ASPIRE or PROMISE to include in your newsletter. We will gladly provide you with a brief article and additional information. Simply email us at aspire@aspirewest.org or call 1-844-880-9712.