Project Advisory Committee

Headshot of Peter Berns

Peter V. Berns

Peter is the Chief Executive Officer of The Arc of the United States, the world’s largest community-based organization of and for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), with 600 chapters across the country. Under his leadership, the 70-year-old organization has charted an ambitious course of progress, innovation and change as it aims to achieve its mission of promoting and protecting the human rights of people with IDD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.

Before joining The Arc, Berns served as Executive Director of the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations for 16 years, as Deputy Chief/Assistant Attorney General, Consumer Protection Division, Maryland Attorney General’s Office, and as Staff Attorney/Fellow, Institute for Public Representation, Georgetown University Law Center. 

Berns served on the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities from 2011 – 2017. He also sits on Comcast NBCUniversal’s Joint Diversity Council. He has been named six times to the Nonprofit Times’ Power and Influence Top 50 list. Berns received his JD, cum laude, from Harvard Law School, an LLM in advocacy from Georgetown University Law Center, and a BA in psychology, magna cum laude, from University of Pennsylvania.

Headshot of Jason Billehus

Jason Billehus

Jason is a member of the Missoula Valley People First chapter and is part of the Montana People First Senate. He sits on the Self Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE) board and is also on the Montana Council on Developmental Disabilities (MCDD). He’s worked on a variety of advocacy issues – from defending Medicaid to trying to end Social Security’s marriage penalty.

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Lydia Dawson

Lydia is ANCOR’s Director of Policy, Regulatory & Legal Analysis. She formerly served as the executive director for the Maine Association for Community Service Providers and the Idaho Association of Community Providers, representing agencies supporting individuals with behavioral health and developmental disabilities. Prior to her work as a state association executive, Lydia served as a staff attorney with Maine’s protection and advocacy agency, representing individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Lydia obtained her Juris Doctor from Roger Williams University School of Law with a concentration in public interest and her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Maine. She has been engaged statewide and nationally as a speaker and trainer on topics related to guardianship and supported decision-making, access and rate reimbursement methodology, and due process in Medicaid.

Headshot of Tawara Goode

Tawara Goode

Tawara is the Director of the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at Georgetown University Center for Child & Human Development. She’s an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. She has been on the faculty of the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development (GUCCHD), for over 30 years and has served in many capacities. She has degrees in early childhood education, and education and human development. Professor Goode has extensive experience as a principal investigator for federal and private sector grants and contracts. She is the director of the National Center for Cultural Competence (NCCC) at GUCCHD. She is the new Director of the GUCCHD’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities and focuses on national level efforts to advance and sustain cultural and linguistic competence in this field. In November 2016, Professor Goode was appointed by President Obama to be a member of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

Headshot of Crystal Hernandez

Crystal Hernandez

Dr. Hernandez is a proud Cherokee, psychologist, inpatient psychiatric hospital administrator for the State of Oklahoma, Tribal disabilities expert, researcher, and autism mother. She serves the DEI Officer for the State of the States in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. She believes in service to others and works relentlessly to improve clinical treatments, diagnosis, and equitable access to care for all. Culturally rooted supports and services are central to Dr. Hernandez and she embeds this principle in every aspect of her life.

Headshot of Donna Meltzer

Donna Meltzer

Donna is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD), a national non-profit organization that supports the nation’s 56 governor-appointed Developmental Disabilities Councils that work within state government to promote independence, productivity, and integration of people with disabilities through systems change activities. In this capacity Ms. Meltzer oversees the organization’s public policy and advocacy agenda as well as technical assistance to the members. Ms. Meltzer joined the NACDD in October 2012. Previously she was the Senior Director of Government Relations for the Epilepsy Foundation. She rejoined the Epilepsy Foundation in July 2005 after having previously worked for the Foundation from 1987 – 1993. She also served as Director of Legislative Affairs for the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) from 1995-2005. Ms. Meltzer began her career on Capitol Hill working for the Honorable Tony Coelho (D-CA), a former Congressman and House Whip from California who is the father of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and a person with epilepsy. Ms. Meltzer also spent two years as the Government Affairs Director for the National Health Council where she directed the advocacy agenda for the Council’s Voluntary Health Agency (VHA) members. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland’s School of Journalism.

Ms. Meltzer also provides tremendous leadership through multiple Board and Coalitions. She is a past president of the Board of Directors of the Coalition for Health Funding. She is also a former Chair and former long-time member of the Board of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD). She currently services on multiple Boards and Advisory groups including UnitedHealthCare’s National Advisory Board on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and the National Advisory Board for the College of Director Support/Direct Course.

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Rachel Patterson

Rachel is the Senior Director of Federal Relations & Policy for the Epilepsy Foundation, where she advocates for people with epilepsy and their families in federal policymaking. Her family is affected by rare epilepsy; her younger sister was born with Wolf-Hirschhorn (4p-) syndrome. Rachel focuses on access to health care and disability rights policy.

Headshot of Greg Robinson

Greg Robinson

Greg is the Deputy Director of Public Policy at ASAN’s national office. He holds a Master’s Degree in Public Health Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to ASAN, he worked in community program development around housing and community health for under-served communities in Philadelphia as an Americorps VISTA, and in inclusive career development and employment supports for undergraduate students as a graduate assistant at Drexel University. His passion in policy centers around the intersections of social determinants of health in marginalized communities.

Headshot of Mary Sowers

Mary Sowers

Mary is the Executive Director of NASDDDS. She has worked at both the state and federal levels. Ms. Sowers led Maryland’s efforts around home and community based services for individuals with I/DD in the early 2000s, and later served in multiple leadership roles within the Disabled and Elderly Health Programs Group within the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, focusing on Medicaid long-term services and supports. Immediately preceding her time at NASDDDS, Ms. Sowers provided consultation to state governments on many aspects of LTSS through her work with Mercer Government Human Services Consulting. Since joining NASDDDS in 2014, Mary has worked to provide technical assistance to many state members on their systems of support for individuals with I/DD. She also continues long-standing partnerships with Federal agencies, providing input on and suggestions for national policy strategies to further opportunities for individuals with I/DD to live and thrive in their homes and communities.  Ms. Sowers also has had the opportunity to regularly work closely with a number of key research and policy partners on projects essential to the field of I/DD nationally.

Headshot of John Tschida

John Tschida

John is the Executive Director of AUCD. He has spent more than 20 years using data and research to drive policy change and service development for individuals with disabilities. Before joining AUCD in February of 2017, he was appointed as director of the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. NIDILRR is the federal government’s premier applied research agency impacting individuals with disabilities.

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