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Heather’s passion for children began in high school when she worked as an after-school care giver at a school for pre-school children with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Her senior year, she also taught sign language to children in the Hearing-Impaired program in the Topeka Public Schools. Heather’s mom was disabled. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis as a young woman and eventually was confined to a wheelchair. Heather watched her mother fight for inclusion in her community when people with disabilities were not welcomed. Life, marriage and children took Heather all over the country but she always had the desire to work with children with special needs. Heather’s Step-Son was among the first group of children identified in the 80s with the then relatively unknown Asperger’s Syndrome. She has watched Jonathan grow and develop into the remarkable young man he is today. He is living proof that people with Autism can lead productive, valuable lives and be a great asset to their community. For the last 11 years, Heather has worked in the Blue Valley School District as a Special Education Teacher. She is certified to work with children in grades K-12 who have adaptive (learning disabilities and high functioning autism) and severe to profound disabilities. Her beliefs and values which guide all aspects of Emma’s Place is that every child has strengths and abilities and discovering what those are and helping them build on those strengths is the key to their successful development.
Isleen Gimenez Wilson is an attorney by training, advocate at heart – and mother to three children with special needs. She moved to Kansas City just 3 years ago to access a coordinated care clinic for one her children who has medical complexities. Isleen also has 14 years’ experience in the nonprofit sector reducing barriers to employment for employees with disabilities. Isleen also recently served as the Director of SpecialCare at HighPointe Financial Group where she helped individuals with disabilities and their caregivers develop financial special needs planning strategies. Isleen understands both personally and professionally how challenging it can be to navigate resources for individuals with disabilities and the caregivers who serve them.
Isleen recently founded Advocate at Heart, LLC to empower individuals with disabilities and their caregivers through education, strategic person-centered, strengths-based planning, and plan implementation in partnership with an extensive community based resource network that Isleen has painstakingly identified and vetted herself with the help of many other special needs families in the community.
Isleen graduated with a double bachelor of sciences major in Japanese and Political Science as well as a Juris Doctorate from the University of Iowa. She is conversationally fluent in Japanese and can hold her own in Spanish. Isleen loves to cook and bake. She also enjoys masters swimming and Latin dancing in her spare time.
Kassidy Evans has always loved working with children. She knew she could see herself pursuing a career in working with children with special needs from a very young age. While growing up, she accompanied her mother, who was a pediatric speech pathologist, to many home health care appointments and developed close relationships with her clients and their families. She began her work with children with disabilities at Lee Ann Britain Infant Development Center during college as a their physical therapy intern. It is there that she found her true passion in working with special needs children. As she pushed towards a career in physical therapy she began to realize that it was in the education world that she truly belonged. She is currently applying to masters programs in the Kansas City area to keep moving forward towards her goal of becoming a secondary special education teacher. While applying she continues her job as a para educator at Blue Valley Northwest High School where she finds new joys with her incredible students and colleagues everyday. Kassidy also spends her days after school with “THE Emma”(of Emma’s Place fame). She assists Emma at her basketball practices or through her afternoon routine or sometimes on special trips in the community. Kassidy graduated from the University of Kansas with a bachelors degree in exercise science and pre-physical therapy studies. In her free time she likes to run, read, and spend time with loved ones.
Taylor has always loved working with children, and has eight years of experience working with individuals with exceptionalities. Taylor was a peer tutor at Blue Valley High School for four years, where she served as a role model and formed friendships with students with special needs. It was this experience that led Taylor to pursue a career involving children with exceptionalities. In college, Taylor provided respite care for a number of families with children with disabilities, including one of our very own Emma’s Place friends. She also served as both a paraprofessional and a substitute teacher for the Blue Valley School District Extended School Year program. Taylor previously served as a buddy for Special Olympics of Missouri and volunteered as a leader for the Mizzou Adapted Gymnastics program. Taylor also teaches swim lessons for children with autism through Mizzou’s SWIM for Children with ASD program. Her favorite part of each day is seeing the smiling faces of the children with whom she works—watching them learn and grow reminds her of why she loves her jobs. Taylor graduated from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor of Health Science in Pre-Occupational Therapy and is currently working towards her Master of Occupational Therapy degree. Taylor is also in the process of completing her Registered Behavioral Technician certification through the University of Kansas. She hopes to continue working with children with special needs in the future. In her free time, Taylor likes to run, binge-watch Netflix shows, and spend time with her family and friends.
Corinne is a talented artist, advocate and Smile-Bringer to all! Corinne is a graduate of Gardner Edgerton High School and has just completed her final year of classes at Johnson County Community College in the CLEAR Program. Corinne is an entrepreneur and has created Corinne’s Creations, an art based company that does graphic novels, children’s books, social stories, calendars, t-shirts and many wonderful drawings for businesses and personal use.
Corinne was in Special Olympics for 11 years, has been in many pilot study programs throughout the Kansas City Metro for those living with autism. She is in the ASD Club at JCCC and loves to work out, play video games, listen to music, especially 80’s music and create her artwork that tells stories of her animal friend characters in their daily lives.
While in High School, Corinne’s job skill training was based on her wanting to be a teacher assistant in an elementary setting and with students with special abilities.
Corinne is no stranger to the political field as she has traveled to Topeka many times to speak to legislators about disability rights such as the ABLE Bill, Autism Awareness Education and attended the Kansas Youth Advocacy Leadership workshop. Her art work has also graced many legislators desks. Corinne is the co-founder of The Corinne and Cameron YES I CAN Scholarship Fund for students of Gardner Edgerton High School that have disABILITIES.
Jack McCabe is a junior at Blue Valley Southwest High School, where he is plays percussion in the school’s marching band and serves as the manager for the school’s JV and varsity basketball team. Outside of school, Jack began his work experience as an intern with Special Olympics Kansas, completing data entry projects. He currently serves as a weekly volunteer for the Blue Valley branch of the Johnson County Library. Jack is an avid basketball enthusiast. He participates as an athlete for BVSW’s Unified Sports/Special Olympics team and regularly cheers on the Kansas Jayhawks. Many people know that Jack is a twin. He and his twin brother, Matt, have collaborated on many projects together. The two were named delegates at the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games Global Youth Leadership Summit in Austria, earning a grant to fund the start of their media production company, enterpriZe Media. enterpriZe Media employs people with and without intellectual disabilities.
Misty Clark is a Registered Behavior Technician as well as an Autism Instructional Assistant. She has worked with children that have special needs for over 10 years including the Blue Valley and Olathe school districts in Kansas and the Liberty school district in Missouri. Misty has had the privilege of working closely with Emma’s Place founder, Heather Barboza, and worked one on one with Emma of Emma’s Place for over three years. She has many years of experience providing private in-home specialized therapies including speech therapy, occupational therapy. social therapy, ABA/Autism therapy, and behavior therapy. Misty is a very patient, caring, creative and regularly thinks “outside the box”. She believes that all children learn differently and enjoys helping them reach and exceed their potential. Misty has always had a special place in her heart for our wonderful kiddos. Misty has a daughter, Sagelynn, who keeps her busy when she’s not working. They love spending time outside, swimming at the pool, visiting the animals at the zoo, and making music together.