Northeast Arc is proud to be a women-led agency. To mark Women’s History Month and Developmental Disability Awareness Month, we asked our leaders to name women who have inspired their work. We’ll share stories about these inspirational women all month long, so check back regularly to see who we are highlighting.

Ann Turnbull
Chosen by Jo Ann Simons, Northeast Arc’s President and CEO

Ann Turnbull is the Marianna and Ross Beach Distinguished Professor Emerita in Special Education at Kansas University. She co-founded and co-directed the Beach Center on Disability. Ann’s research focuses on family support, family-professional partnerships, and community inclusion for individuals with disabilities across the lifespan. "She was my inspiration for creating the Family Support Division in the 1980s at the Northeast Arc," says Northeast Arc President and CEO Jo Ann Simons. "And Ann has been an inspiration for my lifelong advocacy efforts."

Jane Ryder
Chosen by Joanne Plourde, Northeast Arc’s Chief Operating Officer

Jane Ryder is the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (DDS). Ryder first joined DDS in 1995 as the Director of Northeast Residential Services. In this role she worked closely with Joanne Plourde, Northeast Arc's Chief Operating Officer. At the time, Plourde was Division Director for Day Services, and Ryder made an immediate and positive impression. "Jane is and was so approachable and always willing to collaborate, and discuss any issue no matter how difficult, approaching these conversations honestly and with an open mind, always having the best interests of the people we support at the forefront," says Plourde. "I admire her dedication, always positive attitude and willingness to listen and be open to change. I admire her as she, as I did, grew up in this industry and she has never lost sight of why she does the job she does and the people she supports."

Julie Rainer Cummings
Chosen by Mara Kaufman, Northeast Arc’s Chief Human Resources Officer

Julie Rainer Cummings is a member of the Northeast Arc Board of Directors, and her family has a long history with the Northeast Arc. Her parents, Carol and Ron, created the agency's program for deaf individuals, and Julie's sister, Lisa, who is deaf, lives in one of Northeast Arc's residential homes. Mara Kaufman, Northeast Arc's Chief Human Resources Officer, says Julie's advocacy for and support of the disability community inspired her to apply. "Not only does she support the disability community, but remains a strong advocate of our staff and ensures that are acknowledged and appreciated for their hard work, dedication and commitment," Mara says. "Julie remains an 'unsung hero' as all that she does is without a need for fanfare or personal recognition, a quality to admire."

Heather Patton
Chosen by Jess Moore, Speech-Language Pathologist at Northeast Arc

Heather Patton is currently the Outreach and Training Coordinator at Northeast Arc Early Intervention-North Shore. "Heather Patton has inspired my work with families of children with developmental delays.," says Jess Moore. "When she was my supervisor, Heather provided the information and ideas I needed to better support families, and she contributed greatly to my learning and growth as a clinician. Heather is exceptionally warm, empathetic, communicative, and knowledgeable about child development, and she uses these skills to empower caregivers to teach and advocate for their children."

Jo Ann Simons
Chosen by Gloria Castillo, Director, Northeast Arc Family Support Centers

"In the late 90’s I was a fresh new hire at the Northeast Arc Autism Support Center when I attended a presentation by Jo Ann Simons (at the time she was the executive director of another non-profit), writes Gloria Castillo. "Jo Ann’s presentation was around independence, teaching, and helping your loved ones with special needs to become self-sufficient. Her slide show had pictures of her son Jonathan living independently in his own apartment, unloading the dishwasher, preparing his meals and making friends.  "I was so elated to have attended her presentation that day, it made a profound impact on me, it changed me. I was blown away by the idea that my son Fabian and many others could have a future like Jonathan’s. This new notion empowered me and gave me hope for a better future for my own child. Jo Ann inspired me in ways that were very valuable to me as a mother with a child with special needs, and as a professional advocating for other families.  "Jo Ann Simons has raised the bar at the Northeast Arc. Our organization is leading the way in innovative ideas designed to help people with developmental disabilities (no surprises here), Jo Ann’s whole career has always been creating and innovating and making the world a better place for people with special needs. She is one of the most respected leaders in Massachusetts and beyond. Her achievements on behalf of people with special needs are countless. Jo Ann Simons undeniably has already made a prolific mark on the disability community.  "How can you not be inspired?"

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