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HDI Staff Spotlight on Adam Potter

For much of his college career, Adam Potter struggled to find the right path. Despite being an avid musician, he didn’t feel like his initial music performance major was a good fit. After changing his major several times, something clicked when he found Broadcasting and Electronic Media. 

“I don’t like things with one answer. I’m not a math or science guy because you’re finding one specific answer,” he said. “My favorite thing about video was that you could be as creative as you wanted with it as long as you met the parameters of the [assignment]. And I definitely took advantage of that a few times, especially with my friends.”

Potter’s creativity and passion for video and sound has given him lots of opportunities since graduating, including becoming the Senior Video Coordinator for HDI.

“Any time there’s a video, podcast, or digital media product that any HDI project creates, it will usually go through me,” he said. “So I’m either making it or coordinating it, or making sure that once it’s made, it’s accessible and it’s ready to be posted.”

During his time with HDI, Potter has worked on a wide variety of content from interviews about people’s lived experience to educational and instructional videos. He’s also produced in collaboration with outside organizations.

One of his favorite projects was the 2020 video celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Another was a course on community health and safety during COVID that his team constructed from its conception.

“I have staff who support me and a supervisor who’s really helpful to me and helps me meet my goals,” he said, commenting on the creative freedom and positive office culture at HDI. “I get to meet a ton of really nice people…we get a lot done, but it’s cool knowing everyone will support each other and be nice to each other, too.”

Outside of work, Potter enjoys exercising creative freedom in other ways. He’s a drummer for two Lexington-based bands: Three Arm Thief, a progressive metal band, and Family Dog, a funk rock band. If you hang out in places like The Burl and Green Lantern, you might have the opportunity to hear them perform.

Staff spotlight of Carolyn Wheeler

HDI staff spotlight on Carolyn Wheeler

Carolyn Wheeler’s heart broke when she came across a book called Christmas in Purgatory on her mom’s bookshelf. 

The book was a photographic essay on the conditions in large, state institutions in the Northeast for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It was first published in 1966. She later had a job in such an institution in the summer of 1972. Wheeler found the conditions tragic and abhorrent. Ever since, she’s been fighting to ensure that no one ever has to spend a Christmas in that purgatory or anything like it again.

These days, Wheeler works with HDI in a variety of capacities. She is involved in creating training and providing technical assistance for the staff in the Supports for Community Living and Michelle P waivers, dispelling misinformation around disability benefits and work, and connecting people with tools to help them navigate life. 

When asked for a unifying theme around her work, she said, “It’s helping people to understand what resources are available, to help people think beyond the service system, how to have a good life. I think of the service system as a means to an end. It’s not an end in and of itself.”

She also noted that she works to ensure that the people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have unpaid relationships in their lives. 

“I went to college in Washington, DC and worked for an organization where I learned about radical thinkers for the time,” she said. “That led to my going to graduate school at Syracuse University, which created some phenomenal learning opportunities.”

Then, in the 80s, she returned to Kentucky and started working with HDI.

Today, she’s seen some monumental changes in the field – and been directly involved in causing a few of those changes and writing some of the legislation that enacted them. In her view, there’s a lot of problems to address still, but we’ve come a very long way.

So what happens that makes monumental change like that possible?

“Your heart has to be broken,” she said. “I think it’s important you have to be part of a larger organization. There are organizations that formed in the fifties and sixties to help address many of the injustices. One needs to always learn. You have to do this in community.”

It’s also important, she said, to get to know the people on whose behalf you’re working. Wheeler has had multiple friends with intellectual and developmental disabilities over the years. When she talks about how people need friends in their corner who aren’t paid to be there, she speaks from the experience of having been that friend for several people.

Beyond work, Wheeler enjoys a good book and a good live performance. She’s been fortunate enough to see Miss Saigon at the Kennedy Center and has seen Hamilton twice.

Over her life, Wheeler feels fortunate to have made a career of work she loves with people who believe in it, and to have helped shepherd real change into the community.

“I’ve had a phenomenal, phenomenal work life through HDI,” she said. “I hope other people have that, whether it’s here or somewhere else, that you have people who are friends, but also colleagues that you journey with throughout your career. 

Read Christmas in Purgatory here:

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50th Anniversary Spotlight on Kathy Sheppard-Jones

HDI expertise is found throughout the counties of Kentucky. I am proud of our strong network, and of our ability to find common threads upon which to build even stronger coalitions.

Kathy Sheppard-Jones – Executive Director

How did you come to know HDI?
I had just graduated from UK and was looking for a job. I got hired on as a STEPS employees on the Kentucky Employment Initiative. It was in the final month of grant funding.

How long have you been at HDI and what is your role?
I have been at HDI for over 20 years in a variety of roles. I’ve been fortunate to work for and learn from Barney Fleming, John Hancock, Carolyn Wheeler, and Harold Kleinert. I have worked across projects that emphasized – agriculture, assistive technology, universal design, health and wellness, preservice training, quality of life, driver rehabilitation, and return to work. I’ve been the Community Education Director, Adult Services Director, and Training Director. Now I am fortunate to be the Executive Director.

During your time at HDI, of which accomplishments are you most proud?
I’m proud to have played a small part in Employment First in Kentucky, and so proud that many HDIers are leading the way in helping to fulfill the promise of Employment First. I’m proud to have coordinated efforts to bring the Certificate in Universal Design to the University of Kentucky. But even more so, I’m proud to be part of an organization that means a great deal to the Commonwealth. I’m proud to highlight the accomplishments of our staff and proud that the HDI is considered a good partner that builds inclusive communities.

Do you have any advice for current and future staff and students at HDI?
Bring the best of yourself to the work that you do. Dream big. Work hard. Do good. Be kind. Book now for the HDI 100th anniversary gala.

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50th Anniversary Spotlight on Jeff White

HDI is a place where opportunity and possibility meet to make change possible; a place where collaborators of varying backgrounds and perspectives join to address challenges that none of us alone could conquer; a place where disappointment goes to perish.

Jeff White – Project Director

How did you come to know HDI?
My first exposure to HDI was incidental to exploration of the Agribility Program with an eye toward replicating it in another state.

How long have you been at HDI and what is your role?
I came to work for HDI in July 2001 as an Area Administrator for the SCL program.

During your time at HDI, of which accomplishments are you most proud?
I am most proud of the fact that after failing to receive a Partnership in Employment Grant during our first attempt we remained bold, positive, and aggressive and were successful with our second attempt.

Do you have any advice for current and future staff and students at HDI?
You are fortunate to work in a place where dreams can come true. Be bold but realistic and work hard to make your mark on your community.

What do you think the future holds for HDI?
I think that HDI will soon be recognized as Kentucky’s leader in advocacy and support for people with all disabilities.

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50th Anniversary Spotlight on Lou-Ann Land

As long as there are barriers to a fully inclusive society, HDI will be around to knock them down! In an odd way, I look forward to the day HDI does not need to exist.

Lou-Ann Land – Technical Assistance Specialist

How did you come to know HDI?
As a teacher, I participated in SPLASH training in the late 80s. This was my first introduction to Harold Kleinert and Jacqui Kearns. I was invited to act as a support teacher for new SPLASH participants, attended several days of training on inclusion, participated in the KY Alternate Assessment Project’s State Advisory Board and assisted with the training and scoring of alternate assessments. Eventually, I was hired on the ILSSA project.

How long have you been at HDI and what is your role?
I have worked at HDI since September of 2002, initially as a disability specialist for various states, providing technical assistance on the development of alternate assessment programs and access to the state’s standards through the general education curriculum.  Since 2013, I have worked on the TAALC Communication Project, the KY Peer Support Network Project, and the KY Post-school Outcomes Center as a trainer and facilitator. These projects provide access to grade-specific academic content and a reliable communication system that are indicators for successful post-school outcomes. Using this information, I can assist school districts with interpreting data and identifying how that data can inform school-age programs and instruction.

During your time at HDI, of which accomplishments are you most proud?
Because I continually learn and grow personally and professionally in this job, I have had the opportunity to work on projects that I love. I am most proud of the work on the TAALC communication project. We have seen immediate, meaningful results.

Do you have any advice for current and future staff and students at HDI?
Take advantage of the all the knowledge at HDI through the people who work here.

What does HDI mean to you?
HDI means opportunity! For me, the opportunity to continuously learn from the expertise and experiences of all my colleagues, past and present, at HDI. For those served by the various HDI projects over the years, opportunity to access education, work, health, housing, recreation, and relationships to live a life of their choosing. Opportunities are opened and expanded because HDI holds respect and inclusion of all individuals as part of its mission and core values.