President’s Message – Winter 2018

Barbara Butz, President

Barbara Butz, President PolicyWorks

It has been a great beginning to 2018! We have trained 119 Florida Vocational Rehabilitation Community Service Providers to implement the statewide rollout of Peer Mentoring Services in Florida in the month of January.

We are also working with partners in California to explore the development of a peer mentoring program that would be aligned with the California Youth Leadership program.

In total, we now have four states engaged in the WINTAC Peer Mentoring Pilot Program – Alaska, Mississippi, Iowa Blind, and Florida.

Our work with Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0 continues to grow and development a national presence. 2018 events include sessions in New York City, Boston, and Washington D.C. this spring. Later sessions will include Chicago and Los Angeles. Preliminary discussions are also being held with Disney World in Orlando.
Our partner, Tari Hartman Squire, continues to lead this national initiative — bringing young people interested in careers in film, TV, Interactive Media, and Advertising to key sites for one day Summits that connect youth to industry professionals and workshops related to networking and job search issues.

Last, but certainly not least, our College to Career program continues to thrive in Florida with the partnership of Stand Among Friends at Florida Atlantic University.
Florida Atlantic, Beacon College, University Central Florida, and University of South Florida at St. Petersburg are all working on developing their models for their campus. Currently the Professional Development and Disability course is being taught at eight universities in three states – Florida, California, and New Jersey. Discussions are underway with Minnesota to help them jump start a program sometime in 2018-19.

We thank all of our partners for their contribution in the success of these programs.

Barbara A. Butz

Renzo Burga: Peer Mentoring in Action


Being a Peer Mentor for PolicyWorks has taught me to become more than just a leader. I’ve gained responsibility in making sure that I meet my mentee’s needs by realizing where I am able to serve as a resource towards others based on my own personal experiences. By taking initiative to provide possible solutions to their problems, I have been able to help mentees as they pursue their career and/or educational goals.

In addition to my Peer Mentoring experiences, I’ve also used my technical expertise to assist our participants with projects like setting up iPads for educational purposes. I also have assisted in the implementation of our online Peer Mentoring Works Course by translating our course content into Spanish and supporting other technical areas as needed. I look forward to continue making a positive impact on others in a way where I can influence my mentee’s potential future success.

Additionally, I have recently expanded my work as a Peer Mentor with Brillico, a Ft. Lauderdale Vocational Rehabilitation Provider.


Renzo Burga, Peer Mentor

PolicyWorks Collaborates with AbiliTrek

AbiliTrek Logo

PolicyWorks is now working with AbiliTrek, a startup created by former board member Daman Wandke. AbiliTrek is preparing to launch a Yelp-like review service for people with disabilities to rate and review the accessibility of any public place. They understand the needs of people with disabilities and making more information accessible when it comes to IT. AbiliTrek is now helping PolicyWorks produce a quarterly newsletter to keep members of the PolicyWorks community more informed on what we are doing. Additionally, AbiliTrek is helping PolicyWorks keep their social media updated frequently.

For more information on AbiliTrek please visit

Daman Wandke, Founder & CEO, AbiliTrek



PeerMentoringWorks – Online Course

We are excited to share that in 2018, our Peer Mentoring program is growing and expanding in many directions. Last year, we were busy working out the kinks and developing the finished product of our very first state-customized course. We created a polished, user-friendly course and made it available through BlackBoard Collaborative’s Moodle Room as a way to train and educate Peer Mentors, Mentor Coordinators, and other VR professionals on the background, guidelines, and techniques needed to deliver mentoring services in their respective states. Upon completion of the course, participants receive certification based on their achievements.

Once our curriculum gained its foundation, we quickly began adding new elements and tools to our “Moodle Room” – the online platform that hosts our PeerMentoringWorks Online course. Each of our “PMW” courses have been customized with our pilot states in mind. We continue to collaborate with VR leaders across the United States to customize our curriculum to meet individual States’ needs. For instance, for PeerMentoringWorks Online – Alaska, our curriculum needed to work in conjunction with their summer youth program. Due to limited time and connectivity restraints of some of the Alaska participants, the PolicyWorks team developed a 30-minute webinar with the strongest and most influential elements of our 21-hour online training curriculum. The webinar was used as a tool to provide a quicker, downloadable way of reaching people.

Another pilot state implementing our Peer Mentoring program is Florida, where training is underway to deliver the curriculum statewide. Our courses for Florida include additional versions of the Peer Mentor and Project Coordinator courses translated into Spanish to accommodate their high population of Spanish-speaking participants.

Moving forward, we are currently customizing our Peer Mentoring program for Mississippi and Iowa, with plans of launching programs in both states in 2018. Our Peer Mentoring program has also recently expanded beyond the core course to include add-ons such as handbooks created specifically for Peer Mentor Coordinators, Peer Mentors, and Mentees as a way to share additional tools, resources, and guidance in providing mentoring services to youth. Our team is also working on enhancing our curriculum to incorporate a stronger emphasis on self-advocacy. Our programs remain focused on the influence and power of peer mentoring relationships, and we are committed to making our curriculum adaptable to work for an ever-evolving number of purposes and populations.

By Nicona MacDonald and Ciara Calsita, Placement Specialists with the College to Career Transition Program, PolicyWorks

“CollaborationWorks!” For Three Nonprofit Organizations

CollaborationWorks Man in WheelchairPolicyWorks, Stand Among Friends, and Autism After 21 continuously conduct business with the concept of collaboration in mind. “CollaborationWorks” has become the motto and motivation for two employment conferences and an impressive online education gateway for disability-related programs and services.

CollaborationWorks is more than a concept. It is actually a dynamic educational and training gateway developed by PolicyWorks, Stand Among Friends, and Autism After 21 to improve the lives and opportunities of people with disabilities nationally. Current educational and training offerings include Peer Mentoring Works, Attitudes are the Real Disabilities, and Summer Opportunity Adult Readiness (SOAR). Peer Mentoring Works has evolved into a tool for technical assistance and programming for transitional youth and young adults as a result of recent legislation called the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The act was designed to provide pre-employment services to young people who are in school, vocational rehabilitation, the workforce and the Juvenile Justice System. Such services are key to career development and eventual employment.
Florida and Alaska have already adopted the CollaborationWorks’ Peer Mentoring Works course and have begun to launch Peer Mentoring Programs. More states plan to follow.

To find out more about the educational gateway and Peer Mentoring Program, please email Ms. Barbara Butz at To login as a guest to the CollaborationWorks gateway, type into your browser or click here. Select “login as guest” near the bottom of the page and use password Moodleroom2018 to gain access.

Barbara A. Butz

President’s Message – Spring 2017

Barbara Butz, President

Barbara Butz, President PolicyWorks

What a year! 2016 was full of opportunities, partnerships and innovation for PolicyWorks.

We completed our first year of work as part of San Diego State University’s Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center. Funded by the Rehabilitation Services Administration, the five-year, $1.4 million grant allows PolicyWorks staff to provide technical assistance to the majority of the state Vocational Rehabilitation agencies, both General and Blind, in the Southeast and Puerto Rico. We are teamed with the National Disability Institute and the University of Arkansas CURRENTS to provide training and technical assistance on topics related to implementation of the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act. What an honor and a privilege to work with this team of outstanding professionals committed to improving the lives of people with disabilities.

We also partnered with our colleague Tari Hartman Squire on the work she has championed over the years, helping youth with disabilities connect to careers in the entertainment sector, including film, television, interactive media and advertising. In 2016, we partnered on three Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0 events held at CUNY’s John Jay’s School of Criminal Justice campus and the White House. Each session brings together young people and employers in the entertainment industry for resume reviews, speed interviewing and flash mentoring. Short workshops on networking, mentoring and disclosure are also key to the success of the events. The White House event also featured an after-hours film viewing of documentaries written, produced, directed and starring members of Inclusion Films and the Deaf Film Camp with segments of ABC’s hit “Speechless.”

More recently, we partnered with CBS News, Entertainment, Sports and Business groups for a March 2017 event in Hollywood that engaged 52 young people. The event was held on the CBS lot in Hollywood. In partnership with the National Disability Mentoring Coalition, the Deaf Film Camp, Inclusion Films, Signmation and others, we have developed several funding proposals to that would allow to continue to offer these opportunities and to expand the number and geographic reach of the program.

We are continuing to partner with Florida Atlantic University on our Florida College to Career Transition program funded by The Kessler Foundation and the Millbank Foundation. This project is a replication of our work in California at SDSU, University of California Fulton and the University of California Berkeley. In 2016, we served 20 students and piloted a summer boot camp style version of Paul Hippolitus’ course which was modified for use in this format with young people on the Autism Spectrum. In 2017, we are partnering with Broward College, University of South Florida/ St. Petersburg, University of Central Florida and Beacon College.

We are also piloting our Peer MentoringWorks online class in Florida in partnership with Florida Vocational Rehabilitation. The pilot serves several counties in South Florida and more than 30 pilot coordinators have been trained and 17 mentors have taken the course. Completion results in a certificate which allows them to work with Florida VR clients. This program is set to be expanded to serve the Tampa Bay and Orlando areas. It is very exciting to see the program get this high level of commitment and involvement with our partners. We expect the project will serve 150 students and place 75% of those young people who are available for work.

We also continue to work with the World Disability Institute and the National Council on Independent Living to help change the definition of disability used by Social Security for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. The initiative called CareerACCESS is designed to serve SSI youth, 18-30 in their career building years, change the definition of disability from “inability to work” to a definition based on a functional ability as well as provide career coaching and counseling and support services to allow SSI youth to reach their highest potential and achieve independence through employment. Independence Through Employment is our vision and it so exciting to be part of these efforts that are helping individual young people make the vision a reality in their lives. We look forward to seeing what promise 2017 continues to hold!

PolicyWorks Builds Careers

Shawn Fiala

Shawn Fiala, M.S., CRC

I found in PolicyWorks (PW) an organization that achieves its aims through reliance on collaboration, partnership and teamwork, as well as a desire to continue the vision and work of Susan Daniels in everything that they do. This team approach started at the top – from President Barbara Butz, national services coordinator Steven Allen and Eric Glunt of SDSU’s Interwork Institute – and flowed seamlessly down to the PW ambassadors on our respective college campuses throughout California. Our team contact through conference calls, our online presence, social media efforts, email and in-state meetings made all the difference in the cohesive and successful partnerships that we created over the years and across projects.

While my work for PW was personally rewarding, it is not an understatement that it would become a vital part of building and shaping my own career in vocational rehabilitation (VR). This was most clearly realized in one of PW’s strategic partners in California, SDSU’s Interwork Institute. It was here that my work for PW would lead me to collaborate with professionals in the VR counseling field (in trainings, meetings, and other work), many of whom were graduates of one of the nation’s leading programs in VR, SDSU’s Rehabilitation Counseling Program (RCP). In 2013, this led me to enter graduate study myself in the RCP. My work with PW would go on to become an integral aspect of my graduate experience. This was particularly true of work related to the “Bridging the Gap from College to Careers” program funded by the Kessler Foundation and in implementing the “Professional Development and Disability” (PDD) curriculum of Paul Hippolitus at SDSU in 2014.

For four semesters, the PDD course at SDSU was open for enrollment. My role was as a peer mentor to students as well as collaborating with the PW team (I was also a graduate assistant to the instructor for two semesters). This team consisted of placement specialists who assisted PDD students with locating internships, volunteer sites and paid employment opportunities. We had a very diverse group of students in the course, ranging from freshman undergraduates, to graduate students, to community college students. This diversity was also highlighted in having not only students with disabilities enrolled, but also graduate students entering the VR field who would ultimately be serving this population. PDD students learned about essential employment topics, including disclosure, accommodations and soft skills. Students gained a new perspective on the workplace, disability, removing barriers to employment and maximizing their potential for success in conducting their job search. The overall positive results of the PDD course and “Bridging the Gap from College to Careers” at SDSU, California State University, Fullerton and the University of California, Berkeley have been reported at professional conferences such as the California Association for Postsecondary Education and Disability (CAPED) and the National Conference on Rehabilitation Education (NCRE).

While working on PW initiatives in graduate school, I also worked with transition age youth in the San Diego Community College District (SDCCD) and for a comprehensive transition program within Disability Support Programs and Services (DSPS). In 2016, I became a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) and graduated with my master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. I received an additional advanced certificate for work done in the area of cognitive disabilities. After graduation, I would stay in DSPS in the SDCCD where I was hired to work as a vocational counselor in an adjunct faculty position for the WorkAbility III program.

As I look back on my journey and the hurdles and challenges that I faced in establishing my career, I can only express gratitude to the organization that gave me my start: PolicyWorks! I stand among so many who can attest that PW changes lives through its projects and programs. In the process of changing lives, PW truly builds a foundation for and creates careers…it most certainly helped to create mine.

Shawn Fiala, M.S., CRC

Shawn Fiala is a Vocational Specialist and Adjunct Faculty member with the WorkAbility III program in the San Diego Community College District. He became the newest member of the PolicyWorks Board of Directors in February 2017.

Motivational Mentoring

Denzel Thomas Picture

Denzel Thomas

Denzel Thomas is a man who makes things happen. Just three years ago, he was working in banking. He was in the barber shop for his regular hair cut when he began chatting with a man next to him. This man just happened to be a mentor. Denzel shared a bit about himself, the draw he feels toward helping others, and talked about a family member with autism. The man saw the spark in Denzel that carries through his smile and voice and invited him to become part of his company as a project coordinator. Three years later, Denzel is President of the Brilloco Institute and lead on one of the first disability peer mentoring programs in the state of Florida.

The Brilloco Institute is an Orlando-based nonprofit that devotes itself to matching unemployed individuals with disabilities to employment partners in the private sector. They also help high school students with disabilities in all grades to navigate the ever-challenging transitions to both college and their first employment. These new workers learn via on-the-job training and are supported to create portfolios that dazzle rather than two-dimensional resumes. Part of what sets these students and employees apart is the strong support system Thomas and his colleagues have created. They help their clients travel the often-confusing landscape with confidence by offering them the backing of training, counseling and a team that believes in their work and thoroughly invested in their success.

Mentoring is a critical part of their success. Their team has mentored 60 youth to date. Given the variety of individual experiences, their approach is far from cookie cutter; mentors instead tailor each person’s experience to their goals. Mentoring relationships are built on trust and a genuine desire to see the mentee thrive, a part of the work Thomas loves. He views the possibilities for mentees as virtually limitless, saying, “if you put in the time and work, you will get where you want to go.”

Brilloco mentors helping them to learn about a variety of fields and industries, from agriculture to technology, banking to media animation. They assist their mentees in identifying goals and in outlining the concrete steps to achieve them. Mentors help their mentees build on successes and learn from obstacles, instill confidence in them as they go. But lessons transcend the page and the individual. The movement is about inclusion, Thomas says, about employing individuals with disabilities in stable, rich positions and careers. “It is possible,” Thomas says, “there are individuals out there who have your back.”

While humble about his and other mentors’ impact, he describes the work as extremely rewarding. Former mentees often reach out to keep him posted on their successes as they continue their journey. In his mid-20s when he began this career, Thomas acknowledges that he has grown immensely from the work himself. “You get a chance to watch somebody grow,” he says of the beauty of the mentoring experience, adding “you never know the impact you can have on somebody’s life.”

Thomas speaks at high schools monthly. He says that 99 percent of the students in the audience do not have mentors. If he had his wishes, the entire working world would adopt the mentoring approach. Given his passion for the communities he serves and his belief that we all can do anything, Denzel Thomas might just make it happen.

Contributed by: Kristen Willard, PolicyWorks Board Member

Implementing Alaska PeerMentoringWorks

Nicona MacDonald, PolicyWorks Project Development Specialists

Nicona MacDonald, Project Development Specialist

Implementing Alaska PeerMentoringWorks: A Workforce Innovation Pilot Project for WINTAC

PolicyWorks staff have been busy collaborating with leaders from the Alaska Division of Rehabilitation, Alaska Department of Labor and the National Disability Institute to develop and implement a comprehensive peer mentoring program for the state of Alaska. Beginning in 20127, the program will be delivered via the University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) in Juneau as well as at regional Alaska Division of Rehabilitation locations.

The PolicyWorks Peer Mentoring Program is one of three Workforce Innovation Pilot Projects (WIPPs) for the Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center (WINTAC). WINTAC’s goal is to assist state vocational rehabilitation (VR) programs and related professionals in meeting the federal workforce guidelines set in place by the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA).

Alaska VR has demonstrated their sincere enthusiasm for adopting a statewide Peer Mentoring Program by committing top staff to this project. Jim Kreatschman, Statewide Youth Transition Coordinator for Alaska Department of Labor, Division of VR, and Windy Swearingin, Disability Employment Initiative (DEI) Statewide Leads for Alaska’s Department of Labor, Division of Employment and Training Services, have contributed their expertise on issues specific to Alaska’s unique geographic layout. Nikki Powis, Technical Assistance & Training Manager from the National Disability Institute and a prior resident of the state of Alaska, provided insight to the development of our the Peer Mentoring Pilot program. Working together has been an invaluable experience for all involved and has played a key role in creating a program model that will effectively meet the needs of Alaska’s youth located in both larger cities and rural areas.

PolicyWorks staff have been collaborating creatively with these and other local experts to establish the best possible program. Ciara Calsita and Nicona MacDonald, PolicyWorks Project Development Specialists , worked with Cindy Murphy-Fox, Assistant Chief for Alaska Department of Labor, Division of VR to establish a comprehensive resource database that works in tandem with the Alaska-specific online PeerMentoringWorks training course; this inspired coupling ensures the team provides peer mentors and peer mentor coordinators the knowledge and background necessary to deliver mentoring services in the state of Alaska. The course includes 13 modules designed to provide a solid understanding of peer mentoring basics; resources and mentoring techniques; an overview of program guidelines and expectations; as well as an understanding of mentor, mentee and mentor coordinator roles and responsibilities. The course includes pathways tailored towards both mentors and mentor coordinators, and upon successful completion participants receive a certificate.

The pilot PolicyWorks Peer Mentoring Program targets consumers receiving services at VR agencies is to assist young individuals with disabilities to transition from secondary education to postsecondary education and employment. Peer mentoring will be used to empower young people with disabilities through influence; teaching skills including communication, self-determination, and self-advocacy. The expected outcome of this project is a measurable increase in engagement and service to Alaska’s youth, with emphasis on those who are traditionally underserved.

For additional information on Alaska’s PeerMentoringWorks course please contact Ciara at or Nicona at For those interested in bringing the PeerMentoringWorks program to your state, please contact Barbara at