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



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...