APSE Conversations with the National Board: Kie O'Donnell
6:15PM Nov 18, 2020
Hi, this is Julie Christensen with APSE. We're excited to launch the APSE Employment First employment for all podcast as a new way to connect with you. This podcast is a way to provide updates, real time advocacy alerts, and information related to all things Employment First, be sure to subscribe so you don't miss an episode. And thanks for listening.
Welcome to national APSE's series on welcoming our new national APSE board members. We're excited to talk with each of our four members that started actually back in June. But we've been so busy with conferences, webinars, everything related to COVID that we're finally getting a chance to sit down and talk with our new members. So today I have Kie O'Donnell joining me and I'm going to start off just asking him a few questions about themselves. So Kie, how would you introduce yourself and let us know where you're from?
Sure. This is Kiernan Kie O'Donnell from Rhode Island. And I'm so glad to be here. I currently serve as the CO president of the Rhode Island APSE chapter and on the national board.
Okay, how long have you been on the board in Rhode Island?
Well, I was part of a small group that helped found you put it in as a chapter in development. And we have been a full blown chapter for the better part of five years now.
That's right, I thought I thought you would just help start it up. So that's pretty exciting. Was it a lot of work?
Well, Big shout outs to I call the big three Vicki Ferrara, Christine Egan, and also Karen Flippo, some APSE namesakes for you, that really helped going, I would say I was early on window dressing, but glad to help read now as co chair and co president.
Oh, that's exciting. Um, so when you're not doing all things APSE, besides the board in Rhode Island and the National Board, what do you do for your job.
So, um, I'll probably start on how I got to the job because I've been very blessed and enriched in life where inclusion was introduced to me at a very early age, I do have some family with disabilities. But most specifically, I was blessed to have a mom who worked as a community resource advocate for an ark. So in the days before daycare, it was pretty common for me to be in a sheltered workshop, doing things alongside people with disabilities, and gained a little bit from that experience, also fortunate enough to have opportunity with programs like best buddies, YMCA, and also Special Olympics and develop some friendships with people with disabilities where and not to date myself here, but ended up being that the only really issues is that we are arguing over the same GI Joes.
It's so interesting. I didn't know that. That's what your mom did.
Yeah, I owe a lot to her. And I'd also say in the days before, what we call respite, it was just my mom's friend Donna spending the weekends with us. So again, I'm very blessed to have a nice, natural, organic introduction to the disability world. And that really propelled me to try to seek a career in this field. And so about 14 years ago, I started off specifically in supported employment as a community job coach, and now have the opportunity of leading an entire team that supports both employment specific as well as some Day hab stuff. It's been quite an interesting experience in Rhode Island, which also is under a federal consent decree. So I also have the honor of saying that I've helped transform a sheltered workshop and in turn the participants that had worked there and to majority of community based positions that are to their liking, and really, to their interest and skill sets. So it's been quite a journey. I feel like I'm just getting started. Hopefully, my body agrees with that. And I'm just so blessed and fortunate to be in a community that is as knowledgeable as they are passionate. And that really is absolutely.
I would agree. I was actually kind of curious being in Rhode Island, what it looks like, when all those changes did happen. From your perspective, was it very challenging? For my perspective? It seemed like it probably was, but I wasn't raised there like you were.
Yes, certainly. And You know, there still is a lot of work to be done, just because expectations are set and compliance is now a target doesn't mean that expectations can't continue to rise in that the target was just a baseline. So I've been very blessed to really be in the company of like minded folks who don't just see what can be, I think, expectation for change to meet a federal consent decree, but really the intent of the consent decree and how that can open up and really just be the baseline for people receiving federally paid funded services in the state of Oregon go on further to say that, you know, person by person, which really is the response to this question, in my mind, but certainly vary, but I'm finding a lot of strength and support within models such as peer mentoring, embracing success, large and small, the importance of social capital. And also, I would say the importance of siblings.
Yeah, no, that makes sense. And I think that is key, the fact that just because there is a mandate doesn't mean that you don't need to adjust and make changes to actually make improvements on that as well. So it's good that it sounds like people are adjusting and moving even past what is mandated.
Yeah, we really don't know how good life can be for people. And really, one goal that I'm looking to build within capacity is to support people that have enviable lives. So it's not just about participation in the community. It's about contributions. It's not just about integration, which in my mind is a numbers game. It's about inclusion. So those types of things, keep me moving and keep my team moving forward, in which I'm so blessed to have people around me professionally at an organization called the Fogarty Center, which was actually one of the first organizations in the country to help liberate people from institutions and offer a shot at real life. And what I would say, apples to apples, the transformation is Ben is years ago, people made arguments that there's no way that people with disabilities could be our loving neighbors that we would trust and build community with. And sure enough, they did. Unfortunately, I feel as though nowadays, that same argument is being made, that they can't be contributing taxpaying members in the community. And that's why I'm just so jazzed up to do the work that I'm paid to do.
Yeah, absolutely. I really like that enviable. I like that. That's a good idea. I'll probably steal that from you and use it in the future
from somebody else. So you know, if they say to me, once it's mine, show me twice, it's yours. And we'll just count that as twice. And I'm also big on socio economic intersectionality, I had the opportunity of speaking at the national conferences a closer with Wesley Anderson, Jan and others around this topic, and also why a couple of years ago, when being sought out by a pretty well known filmmaker Dan Habib wanted to focus on youth in transition towards employment. We honed in on a young woman from Providence, who came from a recent or came from a family that recently immigrated from Haiti, and did have a number of other barriers I would consider other than her disability. So we really wanted to show, I would say the struggle in strategy to success, instead of sometimes, as I think we commonly do, in this practice, might show kind of the end result, or someone actually working in only highlighting that facet of success. It has been so empowering to help people see that success can be large and small. And for some people just wanting to be open towards a career search, or start defining and drumming down their interest through the discovery process is as important as other people getting hired, I feel.
Yeah, and it looks different for everybody. So I agree. I think oftentimes, we see those highlighted success stories, but we don't see the process that it took to get there. And yeah, something that might be a huge gain for one person might be, you know, something different for another on when you worked with him. What was the title? I think there was a documentary, right that was created. Sure.
Yeah, it's been shown nationwide. It's called intelligent lives. You can actually go to his website intelligent lives.org. There's a whole host of really cool vignettes and other resources. He's building a community of practice here. And some people might know Dan, also from his earlier works. This first one called including Samuel, which was about His own Son Samuel, who has cerebral palsy being included in early education, following that almost chronologically, highlighted a young woman named Kelsey in a film called, who cares about Kelsey, which I, in a nutshell call the dichotomy of being kind of a goth cheerleader, who also has some behavioral support needs. So intelligent lives was kind of the next step, so to speak, is actually narrated by award winning actor, Chris Cooper, and his wife, Mary Leone, Cooper, who had a son with disabilities, who actually passed away.
That's right, we had a screening at the conference a couple years ago with the documentary I know it was very well received. I feel like sometimes we need to go back and revisit things that we've shown or, you know, taking a look at in the past. So thanks for that reminder, I had, you know, forgotten that we had done a bunch of with it in the past. And it was it was really good. So
yeah, thanks for the prompt. You know, again, I think it captures a lot of the things that whether we look at attention being placed on equality and civil rights currently, again, those are all really strong notes and themes within the film. So I agree, I keep going back for more. And I'll also say it's my back pocket when I'm having a bad day, and need a little pick me up. Because when you see how much many job seekers with disabilities in their families have overcome towards that success. It's always empowering.
And I would agree, we definitely need those reminders. It's been a long couple of months. So there's always room for things that can cheer us up and encourage us to move forward. So in terms of Employment First, and I think probably most people tuning in know that our big focus at MC both nationally and at the state chapter levels, is really promoting Employment First. So I just wondered if you could touch on maybe things you're doing or projects that would include Employment First policy or moving forward in terms of a state level and a national level?
Absolutely. So on behalf of APSE, and with a lot of partnership in the state, we've found the app c model of take your legislator to Work Day approach to be very effective. I know some apps IE heavy hitters, like Reily Newport, Chaz Nicholas, and Ross Ryan have also been pretty effective with this strategy. And we found that this is an awesome way to bring cross I'll support Connect legislation locally, with people out making a difference, that are providing economic stimulus to the communities that they work in workforce development. And then I would also say, alleviating and reducing dependency on federal and state type subsidies in systems and actually paying into the system via taxes. It's always been a win win for anyone who's been involved, we've actually taken that model and promoted, it actually helped make the ABLE Act a part of Rhode Island as like some other legislation items, and would also say that most recently with the COVID epidemic, Rhode Island APSE, he hosted a take your legislator to Work Day virtually, and focus in on essential people with disabilities working in the community and their essential supports.
Thanks, I was actually hoping you would comment on the fact that you did it virtually because I know that there are a lot of states that have done take your legislator to workday as well. But in the situation, I know some may have fallen off the grid just because it's been tricky. So could you talk a tiny bit about how you did it virtually? Sure.
So we figured in the digital world, let's use technology to our advantage. So we actually and also recognizing the fast moving federal items, policy wise, including the cares act included people from our federal and state legislation. So typically, we use some media as a partner to help build interest in steam. Also, we use our state DD Council that has had a strong relationship with this with the state legislation in Rhode Island to help with recruitment. You know, we do a little balanced approach where we start with communications about a month out, find out what are good times for overlap for both employees working in these positions as well as legislators. And then what we do is we do a simple press release and then we will Basically host a meeting, I would probably say the key there, Erica is that make sure you can get people to start 15 minutes earlier. Because considering all the things that legislators do, whether that's federal or state side, they're very busy people with a lot of schedules. And I know time is important for everybody. So I found that little tips like that have worked well, and also offering for that particular event we did on a zoom platform. So it also just offering a couple little vignettes and training videos, because as we can assume everyone's skilled with virtual platforms, I certainly would not want a legislator who is coming to really become informed and to potentially get behind our cause being alienated with technical difficulties.
That's a good point. And I think you're right, I think we're quick to think that everybody is on a zoom platform or some sort of virtual platform consistently, but that may not be the case. Yeah,
I've definitely seen that.
And then, uh, then I also do, I, just recently, with the CO president of Rhode Island APSE, see Kim Einloth had served as co chair of the state employment first task force, which I still remain a member on. And that's a pretty interesting body, because how that relates with promoting employment. First is, well, we're in a, we're in a state that has a federal consent decree around employment. First, we have an Employment First initiative. And yet, we still find that there has to be a significant amount of change. That body actually provides recommendations to the state directly into Department of Justice, and is comprised of really the stakeholders that I think we would want to see in that type of group, including family members, people from education, people from providers, specific advocacy roles, and we're looking to magnetize more people from the business community to that group as well. It's been really challenging, but I think empowering to be able to take federal guidance in lead in legislation and overlap them. But I am finding that the process is really magnetizing people to, I'll just say simply focus on the person. And then anything that gets in the way of that person in their goals is a barrier that's identified and mapped out and troubleshooted on how we may be able to overcome those particular challenges or concerns.
Hmm, that makes sense. Absolutely. So thanks for chatting with us for a few minutes. But I did want to ask, before we end, I was wondering if there's any fun facts you would like to share with her nationally? I do know that you mentioned you like the green m&ms. So I'm in the process of hopefully sending
Oh, I'm sorry, that that was actually from my time as a sound engineer at a nightclub, where I have a lot of very demanding bands that would really just be glorified local acts. And so I would always joke around and that was actually an extension to that to that I needed a bowl of green m&ms, like I was in Aerosmith or something,
Absolutely, so this, so
if you'd like fun facts. And this may be unique to the board, the past, present or forever in the future. But I was actually a vice president of a motorcycle club for many years and still continue that brotherhood and cherish that have have served in a number of different capacities themselves, including the armed forces. And also, since 1996 have produced for full length hip hop albums. And that is one of my biggest points of pride and actually one of my best kept secrets. So although I have a pretty significant stage presence, and at one point in my life, did that as a career and got paid fully for it. I found that actually my advocacies very well channeled through that creative art form. And all I can say is just circle around with me on the side, and I'll hit you up with the tracker too.
I was just gonna ask if you'd be sharing that with me, because that's pretty awesome for Wow, I never would have guessed. Oh, that's a great fun fact.
And I will say my bane is that I am infamous for starting songs that I cannot finish. So that's where I'm trying to try to build a little bit more capacity and skill with so
I would say I am like that with numerous projects around my house so
well don't don't even get to the house. I will also I'll probably just say as a fun fact, too. I'm very blessed to have a wife who was a special educator for many years in a lot of the same urban environments that I currently serve in. She teaches me a lot. I have a daughter with some significant allergies. But I would not say disabilities. And it's been interesting to see the human's experience unfold in front of me, where now I have a three and a half year old daughter who is steadfastly going to become my CEO within the coming year. So, yeah, life life, life moves fast. And one thing I would probably just say in closing is, and this relates to my daughter and really life in COVID right now, I almost I always promised myself I would never say I can't wait for with my daughter, right, because life moves too fast. And one piece of advice I would say to everybody is, we're all waiting for change with COVID that is making time move faster. Please hold on to the people you love, find ways to have fun, even if it is a little irresponsible coming from the guy on the motorcycle, but really treat yourself to what really this this life owes you which is still even in COVID good times, but be safe.
Thank you. Kie.
thank you, Erica.