Staff Spotlight Richelle Gabbard

People make her happy!

Richelle Gabbard calls herself a people person.

She considers herself an extravert. She loves to learn about people, and loves to help them solve their problems. And as a part of HDI’s HR team, those are good traits to have.

“When I’m around people and I get to talk to people and get to know them personally outside of their position…I get to know them for them,” she said. “For me, that’s important. I love that I get to do that.”

Gabbard is HDI’s Human Resources Payroll Assistant. That means that she helps ensure that everyone receives their paychecks in a timely and orderly manner. But that’s far from all she does.

“I am the go-to person for STEPS positions, temporary positions, student positions,” Gabbard said. “Any type of HR question, you can come to me. Any payroll question, you can come to me…I’m basically the person to go to other than Jessica [Whiting, HR Manager].”

Gabbard started working with UK through a STEPS position, which refers to a type of temporary position filled through the university’s staffing agency. Prior to that, she’d worked in management, a very different place from where she ended up. At the time, she’d been off work for eight months following the birth of her son.

“I wanted to find something that was more suited to his schedule. I wanted to not work weekends. That was a big thing for me,” Gabbard said. “I started shopping around on the jobs posting at UK. I ended up landing a position with STEPS.”

She started working in an accounting setting in the administrative team, starting part time at 10 hours a week. She steadily graduated to 20 hours a week, but then COVID hit.

“My position completely changed because I was doing filing. Obviously you can’t do filing from home,” she said. “That’s when Jessica started changing things…She became my supervisor and my position has done nothing but grow since then.”

Gabbard has liked the experience she’s had working at HDI. She feels like it’s a good, supportive workplace where people respect one another.

“I feel like we’re all connected. Nobody really feels higher than anybody else,” she said. “I feel like I can have a conversation with anyone here…I don’t feel like I’m a number.”

She also feels like HDI is a diverse workplace – something that is to its advantage.

“We have our own projects and our own needs, but I feel like it’s all one unit,” she said. “At the end of the day, we’re here for one mission.”

At home, Gabbard is working on finding balance in her life. With her son headed to preschool, she finds herself with a lot more free time and is using that time to discover new hobbies, find a balance in her life, let herself be introspective, and spend more time with her friends. And that’s a good life for her.

“I’m a minimalistic person. I don’t need a lot to make me happy. I definitely don’t think financial success is a motivating factor,” Gabbard said. “I would rather love what I do and not be a billionaire than have all the money in the world and be unhappy.”  

Two women in a room sitting at a table

Community Health Workers make connections across Kentucky

Community Health Workers (CHWs) are front-line workers that serve as the bridge between our communities and the healthcare system. CHWs work across our state to achieve their role as connectors. With the goal of increasing the capacity of CHWs to support Kentuckians with disabilities, the Human Development Institute (HDI) has partnered with the Kentucky Office of Community Health Workers (KOCHW) to provide a series of trainings and interactive workshops on Universal Design (UD).*

 The statewide trainings were the result of lessons learned from previously hosted listening sessions. Insight from CHWs helped identify areas of need and allowed HDI to develop CHW-focused training on various disability and health topics. Training includes Disability 101, Disability and Health Resources, UD in Community Health Work, and Guardianship and Supported Decision-Making. HDI created the regional workshops to reinforce the inclusive principles of UD and empower CHWs to implement their learned inclusion strategies.

The workshops are hosted with KYOCHW’s regional meetings and engage CHWs to apply UD strategies to health messages, programming, and environments. The universally designed workshops feature numerous interactive activities focused on engaging participants to apply strategies to maximize accessibility and inclusion.

Workshop activities include:  

  • Jeopardy: Review content from previous trainings with a trivia styled game.
  • Role-play: Use supported decision-making to act out different community scenarios.
  • UD Redesign: Small groups work together to apply UD strategies to provide examples of inaccessible materials.
  • Social Media: After learning about the importance of UD and accessibility on social media, write alt text and image descriptions.
  • Adapted Physical Activity: Identify ways to modify exercises to be inclusive of the different ways people move their bodies.
  • Kitchen Equipment Demo: Try out different adaptive kitchen equipment that help empower individuals to prepare their own healthy food.

Strategically developed to promote the real-world application of UD by CHWs, the interactive experience from the workshops has been met with enthusiasm from KYOCHW and CHWs across the state. One participant noted, “I learned a lot about how to present information in different ways so that everyone is able to understand and have access.”  Many attendees have affirmed they will use UD to better communicate with their clients. One participant said they will share the experience from the workshop with their staff and encourage “them to follow this structure for work they are doing with clients.”

The four workshops have hosted over 120 CHWs from across the state.  Two workshops were held in western Kentucky at Kenlake State Resort Park and Barren River State Resort Park. The central regional meeting, which included CHWs from Lexington, Louisville, Frankfort, and beyond, was hosted at the Kentucky Historical Society. HDI staff joined KYOCHW in eastern Kentucky on August 24th (Pine Mountain) and will meet again for the final regional meeting on November 2nd (Jenny Wiley). If you are interested in attending a workshop, please contact the Kentucky Office of Community Health Workers.

* UD is Universal Design and Universal Design for Learning.

Staff Photo of Sally Dannenburg, UK HDI Logo top left

Quilting a Life of Learning

Sally Dannenberg loves to learn and watch people learn. Maybe that has something to do with why she enjoys working with children so much – after all, for them, every day is an opportunity for new lessons and new adventures.

“I’ve always been interested in working with children,” she said. “I enjoy all the things that they’re learning every day all the time, and every day is kind of like a challenge for them. It’s something new. They see things a lot differently than we do.”

Dannenberg, a research and development associate with HDI’s Child Care Aware program, has been involved in childcare across multiple states for about 15 years. She started as a pediatric nurse before getting involved with childcare, including the Child Care Aware program in Minnesota. It’s part of what brought her to HDI – she saw a lot of the good work that the program did there, and saw a chance to continue the good work she’d already been doing.

“My original position was with Race to the Top, which was a grant to improve child care in Kentucky,” she said, adding that there were a number of equivalent grants across the US. “I was interested in that because I’d seen some of the changes they’d made in Minnesota through this grant.”

By now, she’s been with HDI for nine years. She’s been involved in a number of childcare-related projects within HDI, including courses for childcare providers – something she says she’s really proud of. Part of what’s kept her here is that she has the chance to constantly learn and grow as she works.

“There’s always something new to learn,” she said. “I learn constantly from all the other projects at HDI.”

The other part? She says it’s the people.

“They all have the same focus,” she said. “We care about people from birth to death…Childcare Aware is trying to help people get that best start that we can.”

While Dannenberg gets plenty of chances to learn on the job, she also loves to learn at home. She has a list of skills she wants to learn. One she’s best known for is quilting and sewing, to the point where she created a quilt that was raffled off as part of HDI’s 50th anniversary. If you ask her about it, though, she’ll tell you she’s not talented, she’s persistent. She’s stayed persistent since junior high.

She has a list of skills that she wants to learn beyond that. And through her persistence, she has learned a few – caning chairs, upholstering furniture – including a chair that was falling apart. Currently, she’s working on learning stained glass.

“It’s just kind of like a bucket list,” she said. “Usually, it’s something I want around my house that I couldn’t go out and buy. I want to say ‘I did that.’”

She also mentions that her family is the most important thing to her – and with them, she can put all that childcare experience to use to make sure they get the chance to grow up right.

“Even though my grandkids live far away, I still make the time to drive or fly to see them,” she said. “Just letting them know about how I grew up and teaching them things they can use the rest of their life too.”

Quilt with blue and white UK branding
Quilt by Sally Dannenberg

Austin wearing a green, linen shirt smiling in front of trees. She has long, brown wavy hair

Nugent appointed to National Disability Rights Network Board of Directors

Austin Nugent has built bridges between many different parts of the disability community, and she’s about to put those connections to use. 

Nugent, who is a Disability Program Administrator at HDI, has been named an At-Large member for the National Disability Rights Network’s (NDRN) Board of Directors. That means that she’ll help provide oversight to an organization that protects and advocates for people with all sorts of disabilities nationwide, focusing on ensuring that people’s rights are protected.

“I will be not only helping to provide oversight to NDRN to make sure that their mission is in line with their services, but it’s also to make sure that the NDRN is aware of the issues happening in our communities,” she said.

And that is a position that Nugent is well-suited for. She has friends and family in multiple corners of the country and is connected to numerous diverse disability communities. Nugent brings a number of different skill sets to her role, including expertise in disability policy – a field in which she’s currently working on her master’s. She’s excited for the opportunity to be involved in helping build supports for her family, which is not based in Kentucky.

“My north stars are my brothers, and sometimes it feels like I’m so far removed from the systems that are supporting them,” she said. “The fact that I get to be involved with NDRN feels like I get to be a part in shaping the systems that are ultimately impacting their lives in Arizona.”

For now, she’s serving as an alternate, meaning that she votes on issues when other At-Large board members aren’t available. However, in October, the terms for the other At-Large board members end and she becomes a full board member.

“Like HDI, NDRN is a cross-disability organization focused on a variety of issues – education, healthcare, supported decision-making, etc. They support people with all types of disabilities, including Down syndrome, mental health disorders, and various health conditions, she said. “All things that are part of my life or the life of someone I know. So the fact that I get to bring together all my experiences, and wear all my different hats at a national level is so exciting!”

Current board member, and Executive Director of Kentucky Protection & Advocacy (P&A), Jeffrey Edwards, who nominated Nugent, said that he worked with her as part of the mental health advisory council for P&A. Frequently, Edwards looks at those boards for NDRN candidates.

“All of us can be self-advocates, but there are those of us who are born with it inside,” Edwards said. “It’s just that fire in your belly to make the world a better place, and I think that’s what Austin brings to it…That’s who she is.”

And for Edwards, those traits exemplify what Nugent is capable of – and the kind of attitude she’ll bring to the board.

“Those are people who bring something to the table,” he said. “They’re a known advocate, they’re passionate, they’re willing to go the extra mile, they share their experience and disclose the things that impact them. Austin does all those things in spades.”

Group picture of camp attendees at the UK Student Center steps

Summer Leadership Experience 2023

What comes next after you graduate high school?

When students toss their caps in the air, a whole new world opens up and they’re faced with a number of new choices that could have a profound effect on their future. Choices like that are hard to make. How do you further your education? Do you go straight into the workforce? It’s difficult for everyone, with added stresses for students with disabilities.

But the UK Human Development Institute’s Summer Leadership Experience Camp exists to help make those decisions a little less scary and make it easier to adjust to that next step in the educational process which could lead to a career. The camp invites speakers who can help young adults find the right choice for the next stage in their lives and how to take advantage of accessibility resources available – and how to push beyond challenges like getting academic accommodations and dealing with social stigma.  

July 2023 was the seventh time the camp has been held, and according to HDI Disability Program Administrator Teresa Belluscio, who leads the team that makes the camp happen, it went wonderfully this year.

“I thought we had a really good group of campers. We had a total of twelve,” Belluscio said. “We had some really good speakers. Speakers were really compelling and engaging.”

Speakers ranged from perennial favorite Cody Clark, an autistic magician who did a special show one day, followed by a talk on resilience the next, a panel college disability service offices to talk about how to access vital accommodations, support and resources, to Travis Freeman, a Kentucky pastor who, in high school, became the first blind football player in America and was the inspiration for the film 23 Blast.

“We packed this camp with so much,” Belluscio said. “There’s more we could do, but we don’t want to make it so busy to where campers are just sitting and sitting in session after session.”

To that end, this year’s camp departed from previous years – fewer speakers, but more fun activities. Students visited the UK Esports Lounge, held dance parties, relaxed at bookstores, and even more. Belluscio thinks this gave the camp a better balance of useful information and fun and made it more effective.

“We made it a little less busy. We built in a little more time in between sessions,” she said. “Even though we were busy, we didn’t feel as rushed.”

Isaiah Jones, one of the campers who attended this year, said that he enjoyed his experience and got a lot out of it.

“It was great,” he said. “The speakers are really helpful because they get to tell you what career you get to choose, how you can get help from your disability center, and what majors to expect you can take.”

He will be attending UK as a freshman soon and felt like he especially benefitted from learning to navigate the campus. But as useful was a taste of the college experience – living in a dorm and with a roommate.

For some, the camp was a powerful experience, giving them the opportunity to see a potentially great future for themselves.

“One of the campers told me after engaging in Cody Clark’s session on reliable resilience, ‘It was like I was looking at myself from the outside,’” Belluscio said. “They connected so much.”