Monday, October 3, 2022

Special Sparkle


Bridget Brown



Hello again


I hope you are having a fun Fall so far. Wow, can’t believe that 2022 is flying by.

 I love fall! 


My last blog was an interview with my friends Kelly & Karen Neville. I learned so much about their life, and their business “Special Sparkle”.   I hope you enjoyed reading about them.


Today, I thought I would give you an update about my new college experience. Maybe some of you are thinking about a post- secondary college experience or some of you might already be in college.   I am excited that some of you might be considering college for your future.


I went to College of DuPage for a number of years. That is my local community college.  They have lots of exciting classes there but I was hoping for something more inclusive.  I also did a summer college program during Covid at John Wood Community College online.  That was fun!


 So you might be wondering what is my college experience like now.   I currently am a student at UIC (University of Illinois CHICAGO). I am in a new inclusive program called the CO-OP program, under the Disability Studies College.  This program just started up and it is very exciting.


I also have an internship in the School of Nursing at UIC.


I started last Spring and my first class was called Radical Inclusion.  This was a perfect class for me because I am an inclusion advocate and it gave me information about the history of inclusion so I know how to be a better advocate for people with disabilities. It was very interesting. 


 I also took a class called Career building.  This was to help me prepare to get an internship and employment.  I learned how to make a cover page and learned the difference between formal vs informal questions. I also learned how to get a paid internship. Because of this class I now have a paid internship at the nursing simulation lab in the nursing department at UIC.    

During that time, I even made friends because I worked with a team of my peers who were also in the CO-OP program. Being part of this class I learned the importance of being professional in my relationships.


Now this Fall I am studying Disability in American film.   I am learning how people with disabilities are portrayed in movies and how that describes their life to people. That can be positive or negative.  I am learning that it is important to hear real voices of people with disabilities so they can share their stories about their lives.


I love my internship at the Nursing department.  I have an internship working in the simulation lab. I am also an actress and I work as a patient with a disability so the students can learn about how to work with individuals with disabilities in a health care setting.  It is very exciting and a new program for the nursing department.  I love it!


For me college life is wonderful!   Being part of a college and being included in general education classes is great.  I love working in a team with other students who are also in the program and some who are general college students.   I am looking forward to getting to know more students and professionals.  I just love being a student at UIC and working in the nursing department.


Life as a student is different but I am learning the ropes of being safe and using self-determination by speaking up for myself and for helping others out. I also learned that classmates are very kind, respectful and that I can trust them.


I hope you enjoyed my thoughts about my college experience.  If you are thinking about college, I encourage you to check it out and see what is available in your area and throughout the country.  There are lots of great programs!  I am available to share my experience with you so if you are interested you can contact me and we can talk more about my experience.



Have a great October and dwell in the possibilities!!
Bridget Brown

Thursday, August 25, 2022



How is your summer going? I hope you are doing fine and that you had a good summer.

I am back at home from my summer vacation. This summer I had fun working at a camp in the candy and Ice cream store. I also went to Traverse City in Michigan and to a YMCA camp in Colorado and stayed in a YURT. I am excited to start my classes at the CO-OP program at UIC. 

Today I had the chance to interview my good friend Kelly Neville. She is an amazing self-advocate who is turning 31 in a few weeks.  She was in her sister’s wedding recently and is going to a lot of her friend’s weddings. She loves getting dressed up, getting her nails done and of course, loves anything that sparkles. She loves high fashion, shoes, puppies, baking cookies and following color trends.

Kelly has a bunco group and paints in her free time.  She is very creative and one of her favorite things to do is to make Diamond Paintings. She is a true artist!

Kelly does many amazing things but her superpower is making jewelry and having her own business called Special Sparkle. She is very creative and makes beautiful heartfelt jewelry with love and passion.  Kelly likes to say her mother, Karen is special and she is sparkle. She has a studio in her home and makes jewelry every day. She loves working, having her own business, making jewelry and selling it.  She works very hard and is super focused. Her wonderful business has grown so much and she is very busy right now preparing for Christmas. She sells her jewelry at craft fairs, The Hope Gallery in Indiana, BEST shop in Virginia and Artful 21 in Ohio. She donates some of her jewelry to Catholic Charities and organizations that work with folks with disabilities.   Owning her own business gives her great joy and makes her happy.  She has dedicated her life to making a difference in this world, sharing her gifts with others, inspiring other self-advocates to have their own business and follow their dreams.

She is a successful public speaker and is proud that she was the graduation speaker at the Ray Graham Training Center High School.

I asked Kelly what are some things that make her successful and she said:


·         She works hard and never quits when things are difficult.

·         She works every day.

·         She is focused and dedicated.

·         She is organized.

·         She plans ahead.

·         She has a great partner.

·         She followed her dreams.

·         She asks a lot of questions.

·         She always looks for people who encourage others.

·         She is positive and loves her job.

·         She knows that she can do it !!

·         She is always learning new things.

·         She sets things up for success.

Her motto is: Work hard and play later !

She would like for all self-advocates to have their dreams come true Kelly always encourages others to follow their dreams!!

You can learn more about Kelly and Special Sparkle by checking out her website: You can see her jewelry and all the names she gave them and you can put an order in if you find something you love. Kelly is featured in the book Looking Up: The Truth About Down Syndrome by Flinkow, Brianna Book


Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Aubrie Westmaas by Bridget Brown


Bridget Brown


Hello again.  I hope your summer has been a blast. I hope you are doing well and having fun.

Today I talked to one of my good friends Aubrie Westmaas, a bright young woman who gives great smiles and has had an extraordinarily life.


Aubrie is an amazing self -advocate who is successful because she always expects extraordinary things in life.  She is a big dreamer and advocate. She has a lot of spunk!


She grew up in Pittsfield Illinois and was included all the way through high school. For her transition years she went to the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired. When she graduated, she went to Helen Keller National Center for Deaf Blind Youths & Adults in Long Island New York.

She loved NEW YORK!  Aubrie loves ALL kinds of theater and her big dream in life is to be a Broadway actor, so living in NEW YORK was a dream come true for her.

She just moved into her own apartment in Quincy, Illinois and is looking forward to getting settled and meeting new people. It is in a friendly community and she likes all the neighbors she has met so far.  She hopes to develop a circle of support in Quincy and in her community.  I plan to interview her in a few months and see how things are going on her journey.


Aubrie is an incredibly successful self-advocate. She does presentations with her organization called Expect Extraordinary.  Aubrie was recognized as the 2014 Illinois Statewide Transition Conference Student of the Year. In 2019, Aubrie was a top finalist in the NPR Student Podcast Challenge. Her podcast is featured in an episode of NPR's Code Switch. 


Aubrie has been an advocate as long as she can remember. After learning about Martin Luther King, Jr. in third grade, Aubrie said, "Martin Luther King, Jr. said we should treat everybody equal. But we're not doing a good job of that   She once visited the state capitol and sat at the governor's desk. She's attended statewide conferences, rallies at the capitol, and met Temple Grandin. In June 2019, Aubrie graduated from Illinois Partners in Policymaking.  

 When I asked Aubrie to share some thoughts about what makes her successful, this is what she said:


·         Find good and supportive people in your life. You might have staff that helps you but also you need to find friends and family who are in your circle of friends.


·         Be true to who you are so people know the real you.  You need to be who you are so people can help you create a life that works for you!


·         Accept your disability as a whole and accept who you are at the moment.


·         Ask for help when you need it. Have a team to help you problem solve. It is difficult to know when to keep trying and when you need to speak up and ask for help.

·         Always be dreaming about your life in some way. Aubrie knew she loved theater and wanted to be an actor on Broadway and she needs people in her life who will honor her dream.


·         Keep going and never give up!!!


·         Surround yourself with people who “get you” and make them a part of your life.


·         Don’t be afraid to try new things.


·         Tell someone if you are afraid so they can help you work through the issues. Don’t give up because of fear.  In her family their motto is “WE DO HARD THINGS”.


·         Dream big! One of Aubrie’s superpowers is that she is a spectacular dreamer. She would like to bottle dreaming so she can give it to other people.   


·         If you get discouraged or disappointed, just accept it as part of life.  If she tries something and it doesn’t work out it can be devastating but she just realizes that she did all she could and then the decision isn’t about her any more – it is about others.  She lets it go and it helps her deal with disappointment.


Aubrie says,

"People with disabilities should be treated ordinary. But we do have some extras."


Our ExtraOrdinary dream is a world where...


People with disabilities take charge of their own lives.


People with disabilities live, learn, work, play, and worship in ordinary places with everyone else.


Old ideas and attitudes are replaced with open minds and welcoming hearts.


You can get in touch with Aubrie through her email



Friday, July 29, 2022

Social Skills to Social Success Virtual Support Group


Social Skills to Social Success

Virtual Group


Family Matters Parent Training and Information Center will be offering The Social Skills to Social Success virtual support group. This group is designed for youth ages 14-22.

It is not always easy for children with disabilities or special health care needs to make friends or build social skills. It takes work. In addition, it can make such a difference in their lives to be able to connect with other children and people outside the family.


See this testimony from our friend Zoie.

It has not always been easy for me to learn social skills. I have a diagnosis of NVLD and it makes social situations more difficult for me to navigate. Sometimes it feels like there are all of these social rules and I don’t know them. I have learned a lot since I was younger and have gained a lot of social skills. Social skills are important when it comes to making and keeping friends, carrying on a conversation, finding and keeping a job, and asking for help. A lot of people have helped me build my social skills. I feel like I learn the most from my friends. I also think it is helpful when I practice using my social skills when I talk to my doctor about my health or when I order food at a restaurant. I have been looking for a job and recently applied for a job and I was contacted for an interview. I had to use my social skills during the interview. Thankfully I was offered the job and will start soon. Building strong social skills have helped me become more independent.


The objective of social skills training is to teach students to acquire healthy social relationships by improving their social skills and social problem-solving skills. 

In our new virtual support group, we will explore different aspects of social skills and improve those skills through educational materials and group discussion.

These meetings will take place on the third Thursday of each month. You must first contact our office to receive information to join the group. This allows youth to have discussions in a safe environment. For more information, contact us at Family Matters at 1-866-436-7842


Thursday, June 30, 2022

Happy Summer

 Happy summer to all of you! I hope you are enjoying your summer so far.

In the summer I work at a camp as a general worker and in an ice Cream & candy store.   It is lots of fun and a little less busy than the rest of the year.

This month I interviewed my friend Kari Winters. She is an amazing self- advocate and she has had lots of interesting adventures in her life.  I was in special Olympics gymnastics with her for many years.

Kari helps her sister make jewelry for her business.  She sings with a glee club and is a member of Aktion Club. Aktion club is part of the Kiwanis but run by self-advocates.  It is a service organization so the goal is to help others. They have lots of great activities locally and around the world. I am also a member of our Aktion club and so I get to see Kari a lot at the meetings. She also coaches kids in gymnastics at Flying High and she works at the Humane Society with cats.  She has 4 cats and loves them very much .

Kari went to Elmhurst college for 4 years in the ELSA Program. It is now Elmhurst University.  Her group had the same learning opportunities every other traditional student had but things were adapted. She loved going to college.

I asked Kari what helped her be successful in college and she said that she knew that she wanted to go to college and had confidence in herself. She had support from others especially her parents.  She said “I could stand up for myself and I knew my limits”.  Kari believes that you can only fail at something if you don’t try it.  I love that philosophy.

In college she was thrilled when her professor encouraged her to go to Springfield as a guest speaker.  She talked to legislators about post-secondary education. It was very exciting and an honor.

In 2020 Kari won first place in the state for the Miss Amazing Pageant for girls and women with disabilities.  For her talent she sang and signed “SPEECHLESS” by Naomi Scott from Aladdin.  Then as MS. Queen, she went to the national pageant in Nashville. She performed her talent, had an interview with judges, and she was in a formal gown.  SO exciting!!!! She might do it again but she is not sure.

Kari has advice for other self-advocates.  First, she thinks it is important for people to find their passion because it is good to do what you love. She believes successful people try new things and take risks. She knows that It is important to have courage and confidence in yourself.  So don’t be afraid, just go out and try it and find people to encourage you in your life and support you when you need it.

What an amazing person!! I am so glad to have her as my friend.

I hope she encourages you just like she encourages me!

Happy July !!!

Bridget Brown

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Lisa is living her best life





 Lisa is living her best life. .



I hope everyone is enjoying spring! This is a wonderful time of year.

I just finished my first semester in college at UIC. Now I am planning for next school year.  I have an internship at the UIC nursing simulation lab that starts in the fall.  I will be a patient actor in the lab and I am very excited about this opportunity.


I just went out to lunch with a friend of mine named Lisa.  She is a very courageous woman and I thought it would be great to interview her and share her story with you.

She lives a fabulous life and uses some of the person-centered planning tools I talked about to design her life.



Lisa was born with Cerebral Palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around. She never let the fact that she had CP limit her ability to dream of an inclusive and full life.
Lisa describes herself in her book like this “ I have never walked a step in my entire life. I can’t move my legs, my hands have limited usage and my speech is impacted as well.”  


As a child, she was an ambassador for Easter Seals.  She even knows the Precious Moment’speople really well because they were very involved in Easter Seals.  They designed a Precious Moment’s figurine who used a wheelchair and that made her very proud.

She went on a wilderness canoe trip with her dad and went to many fabulous camps. 


Lisa was included in school until the district took her out of her school in 6th grade and sent her to a functional life skills class at  another school far away & completely segregated from her peers and neighbors. She became sick and hated school.  She was completely isolated and her class was in a separate wing closed off from the rest of the students.  Educators forgot to teach her academics and they even forgot to teach her how to read. They prepared her for a life at  a sheltered workshop.


She was in a segregated setting through high school. She and her mom advocated fiercely for many years to get her into general education. . Finally, she was mainstreamed into a  woodworking class.   She has limited use of her hands so woodworking was a cruel joke of some kind. Lisa finally got into some inclusive classes in transition.


During all the segregated years, Lisa never let go of her dream to be included!! She said her dream never faded.


Then Lisa hired someone to teach her how to read. In a very short time, her reading ability sky rocketed.  She went up about 5 levels in reading in one year.  People just forgot to teacher her to read in school because she said they were babysitting her.


Her courage and commitment to make her dreams come true took off.

She went to College of DuPage and then on to Whitewater University. Whitewater has excellent supports for people with disabilities. She was there for 5 years and got a degree in Womans studies and Family Health. She made great friends who did not see her disability. She went to concerts and out for pizza and had study aids and note-takers. Her RA was right near her room so she could get help when needed.  Her PAs, aids, & caregivers were some of her peers and the program was through Lutheran Social Services. 
She had a fabulous time at WW.

However, in the beginning, it was hard to transition. She was afraid no one would come and get her.  On the first night, she was so nervous and she ended up in the hospital.  Her mom and Lisa decided that the worst is over and they survived so why not stay and see how it goes.

Talk about COURAGE!
I went to visit her at Whitewater and I could she how she fell in love with the place!


Now Lisa is on Two statewide boards, she is a Partners in Policymaking graduate, a LEND graduate and an author. She wrote two books: Take a Ride with Me and They Said We Couldn’t.  She is finishing up  a cookbook called HOT AND TASTY cooking with a partner.  She has recipes and will have videos showing how a person with CP can cook with a friend or companion.  I think this is just amazing!


So I asked her how she did it all and what advice can she give us on our journey.

Below are some of her thoughts.


·         When she was 12 she had a dream that God told her to help other people with DD by using her voice to make a difference.  She followed that as her North star her whole life even in the darkest times.

·         She had perseverance and kept fighting for her life.

·         She had a fabulous support system and found people who understood her vision and did not stop her from Dreaming.

·         Communication is first and foremost for a successful life.

·         Don’t let people put boundaries in front of you and tell you what you can and can’t do.

·         She thanks GOD every morning for her life and lives with gratitude

·         In Lisa’s book, TAKE A RIDE WITH ME, she describes how she turns her dreams into reality by visualization and manifestation. She creates a strong emotion, and attaches it to a clear and focused vision or dream.



Lisa is such an amazing person. She has a lot of courage and determination. She uses so many of the tools I have shared with you so she can live her incredible life.

There is so much more to learn from Lisa.  You can find out more about her by at LISA.CECAL.COM.


As I continue my Blog I would like to interview many people who have disabilities so I can share their stories with you. I think we all can find hope from each other. If you would like me to tell your story,  or if you know anyone who you think would be a great person for me to interview,  let me know. Send me a note on my website.   


Looking forward to checking in with you next month!

Bridget Brown 

Nancy Brown 

Inclusion Consultant 

Norman B Barr Camp 


"May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder". J. O'Donohue
"Math may not teach me how to add love or subtract hate , but it gives me HOPE that every problem has a solution "


Monday, May 2, 2022



Hello again from Bridget

Happy April!!

I hope that your spring is giving you a positive outlook. We are already into our spring season and that makes me very happy. I can’t believe how fast spring moves along and summer is not far ahead of us.


I spent a lot of time with family this past week to celebrate my tradition of Easter.  My nieces and nephews were very excited about looking for eggs and eating candy.  I love enjoying the moment with family members and seeing the smiles on the children’s faces.


We have been talking about Person Centered life Designs for the last few months. It is a powerful and positive planning process.  I will take a moment to review the information. 

First, we start off thinking about our celebrations and what we are proud of at this moment. We then identify our BIG dreams and hopes in our life. We brainstorm and think about all our gifts & strengths – Like our super powers-  and the things we love to do that make us smile.

The next part is writing down and sharing the things we are afraid of and the things that make us worry. We call them the nightmares.


When we do a FUTURE SEARCH we have to pretend that it is a year from now and we are telling someone that it was the best year ever in our life.  Everything we describe is a way to visualize a great future but it has to be POSITIVE AND POSSIBLE.  Clear attainable goals is the most import thing to remember when we are doing the future search.

Today we are ending with the final step in our Person-Centered Life Design. It is the Action plan.  Take each item in the Future Search and decide how we are going to make that happen.  Decide as a group what the action is and who is going to do it and when will that happen. Think of this step as a way to make a “TO DO” list but you have to be very specific about what needs to be done to make things happen.  Who do you need to help you? It is important to include people like your family, a personal assistant, friends, job coaches and others who can help you.  You can get started by putting down the people in your life that you want involved your process.


Think of the people in your life that can help you out.  Think of this Action plan like a map that helps you get where you want to go.


 For example:

My future search is to get a paid internship starting in September.



·         Get in touch with a person who runs the place where I want an internship at

·         Set up a JOB TASTING with her where we just talk about what they do and discuss if it might be something that I would be good at doing.

·         SET up a time to do a job shadowing this coming Friday. I will go there for about 4 hours to see what it is all about. 

·         Decide the next step.

·         WHO? I had to involve my parents, the head of the department, my support person and a few other people in my action plan to get this done.

·         WHEN? Friday

So that is the last step in the Person-Centered Life Design!  It really comes together at the end if you keep it positive and possible!  I hope this makes sense when you see how it all works together to help you make dreams come true.

Next month I am going to start interviewing some people who are doing some fun and amazing things in their life.  I think we can all learn from them!

Sending good thoughts your way! Bridget Brown

Special Sparkle

  Bridget Brown     Hello again   I hope you are having a fun Fall so far. Wow, can’t believe that 2022 is flying by.   I love f...