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Partners in Policymaking 25th Anniversary

Congratulations and Testimonials

We appreciate the notes of congratulations and testimonials that have been received about the impact the Partners program has had on the lives of so many individuals over these twenty-five years:

On behalf of the Board of Directors and staff of The Arc of the United States we would like to express our appreciation for the Partners in Policymaking program on the occasion of its 25th Anniversary.

Peter V. Berns, The Arc

Congratulations Colleen! Your visionary efforts have been producing well informed and skill leaders around the world for 25 years! I personally have benefitted so much from all the active, informed advocates who have made all the difference in the world at the state capitol and at state agencies. You and those who understood the power of your vision have my deepest appreciation and highest accolades.

Congratulations! Anne Henry

Surviving Above the Timberline – My 25th Anniversary Tribute to Partners in Policymaking

Deborah A. Whitfield

A Letter of Tribute From The North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities

Holly Riddle, J.D., M.Ed. Executive Director

Sending boatloads of congrats up to MN and out to all Partners nationally and internationally!

Charlene Comstock-Galagan
Families Helping Families Training & Development Coordinator

Congratulations from US Representative Betty McCollum on the 25th Anniversary of the Partners in Policymaking® program.

Partners changed my life! I will never forget the lessons I learned from Partners!

Karen Larson…Partners Year 2

We don't celebrate often enough and the anniversary is definitely something to be celebrated. Partners has helped so many of us make changes for ourselves or our family members with disabilities, but also for others with disabilities.

Pam Taylor Minnesota Partners Graduate, Class 3

I wish I could be there to celebrate this achievement on Saturday, May 12th, but my sister is graduating from college, and I must be at her reception. It's hard to believe that it has been 14 years since I graduated from Partners (class of 1993, year 7). Partners changed my life and my son Brenden's life. Partners gave me the knowledge, confidence, ability, and courage to advocate for my son and to testify at the Minnesota Legislature.

When Brenden was in early childhood and I told the "experts" that Brenden had to be in full inclusion in "regular" education because Brenden was going to college and I was told that I was in "denial" about Brenden's disability. Well, Brenden graduated from South High School with a 3.2 grade point average, graduated from Augsburg College with a BA and majored in Communications and minored in Political Science. He is now working at Kraus-Anderson Construction Company. He is also associate precinct chair for our local DFL precinct. He is doing very well, thank you very much, despite what the experts had to say.

Partners in Policymaking has changed many lives over the past 25 years, and it is indeed a wonderful accomplishment. Partners in Policymaking will change many more lives in the future. I am very grateful and proud that I am a Partners in Policymaking graduate. The life lessons will stay with me for the rest of my life.

With much affection and respect, Doreen Nickels

Congratulations to the Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, to Colleen Wieck, to all fellow Partners graduates, and to all staff and faculty members who have been involved with Partners in Policymaking these past 25 years! It's impact on individuals around our state, nation, and internationally is immeasurable! Partners has given people hope, dignity, self confidence and self esteem, and a vision for their future. I was fortunate to graduate from one of the early classes and then involved for a number of years as a Council member and Chair of the Council. I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for Colleen Wieck, and her vision for all individuals with developmental disabilities! Congratulations to Partners in Policymaking - 25 years!!!

Best Wishes!
Dr. Paul Odland

I have thought so much about this major milestone of Partners, a fourth of a century of people with developmental disabilities and parents of sons and daughters with developmental disabilities from different corners of the earth becoming equal partners with those who make policy. What a powerful statement! My life was forever changed when I graduated from Partners in 1996. I have never looked at the world the same. I am confident in working with policymakers at all levels and use the tools I obtained from my Partners training every day. I have worked with schools and universities, government agencies, non-profits, playground planners and parks and recreation in creating accessible and accepting places and best practices for everyone. I will be forever grateful to Dr. Colleen Wieck and the Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities. Let's all celebrate this time while recognizing our work is not over.

Jayne Chase, 1996 Graduate, Alabama

I wanted to congratulate you on making to your 25th anniversary! I have gone through both the online courses and the eight-month training (between September 2008-May 2009, Class 26) in Minnesota and I have learned lots of new things that have made me a better self-advocate in the process. Currently, myself and Katie McDermott (Class 28 graduate) are working together as the two Self-Advocate Mentors for Merrick, Inc. Congrats again for reaching this huge milestone.

Roberta Blomster, Class 26 graduate

What a huge influence you have had. Congratulations. You should be very proud. I am for you.

John McKnight

Congratulations on the 25th Anniversary of Partners in Policymaking. Best wishes for continued success with all of the Council's endeavors.

Jackie Mlynarczyk

Congratulations to Partners on their 25th Anniversary. We have had the good fortune to benefit from the impact that partners has made not only in North America, but also in the UK. Your very good efforts have been a gift to so many. Thanks for all that you do.

Maria and Charlie Girsch

Partners in Policymaking has been a tremendous service to parents and people with challenges from the first efforts thorough the 25th anniversary year. You and those involved have been able to continue the vision while remaining flexible as the need required. Would say "job well done" but you have more to do. I am appreciative of the opportunity to have been involved and provided support to the program over the years.

Jim Stone

What a joyous occasion to celebrate 25 years of Partners in Policymaking! There is nothing that Brian and I would like to do better than to see everyone again and rejoice in the information, education, and supportive friends we made through Partners and the Governors Council. We miss you, especially, Colleen, but our spirits will be there with you. We would love to connect with everyone and celebrate the success of Partners in helping so many in a positive way on our journey of life. Thinking of all of you.

Gratefully yours, Sharon and Brian Heuring

Greetings! I am sorry that I will not be able to attend this incredible celebration! I know what an amazing opportunity Partners has been for the participants. I have so enjoyed participating in the MN Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities events and programs. I value how Partners has helped empower so many people with disabilities and their families and friends. Thank you for continuing to offer this program and the lives that have changed in so many positive ways!

Nancy Miller, MS, LCP, HS-BCP
Associate Professor of Human Services
Metropolitan State University

What a great achievement and wonderful reason to celebrate! Have a great celebration! Again, way to go!

Lynne Megan

Congratulations! You should be very proud of what you have accomplished.

Dave Dunn

It is wonderful to get a chance to say hi and thank you--i look back upon my partners training with great fondness and respect--when i first heard lou brown talking about inclusion ( in 1993 ) the fear that it fostered in me on behalf of my little fragile x boy was palpable--but my wife geri and i decided that though here on long island this was truly unheard of we simply had to bring joey home from "special school " and eventually to attend no more "special ed " classes in the district from 7th gr thru his hs graduation with his age appropriate peers--and though most people in time grew to understand and accept what we fought so hard to accomplish we have always been saddened that it did not really change the culture and policy in a permanent way - joey ( just turned 27 ) still lives with us but has had a self determination plan ( with budget and employer authority ) since July 1 2006 - has been a supported employee at CVS since 12th gr again thanks for all you've done and best wishes on behalf of all my LI old timer colleagues

Joe Gerardi, NY 1993
Summer Leadership Institute 1994

Hi there, here are my thoughts…use all or none… I am so proud of you and what you've accomplished.

We were heavily involved in advocacy groups and honestly feared they were running out of steam. Leadership positions seemed to be like musical chairs, with the same old people getting elected or appointed year after year. We didn't see new leaders emerging. The next question, how did WE get here, led to us reflecting on how incredibly lucky we were to be in the right place at the right time--to know people on a first name basis who in 1987 were the most forward-thinking in their fields. They had helped us to see the possible, what COULD be, and to know it was possible for everyone!

Until then all of the arguments for exclusion, for segregation, rested on the premise that there are "some" people who have to be with "their own kind." The belief among many professionals and policy-makers was that there are some people who can't go to regular schools, who can't do real work in real work settings, who can't live in typical homes; but those beliefs were simply not supported by what the two of us knew.

In 1987, people like Karen Green-McGowan had shown how to serve people with really severe medical needs in typical homes. Wade Hitzing was proving that one doesn't have to inflict punishment or pain to change self destructive behaviors. Lou Brown demonstrated beyond question that all children could be served in regular schools, if they were given support. Wolf Wolfensberger, Gunnar Dybwad, Bob Perske, John McGee--some of the leaders who repeatedly taught how important it was to live in the community, to work side by side with co-workers without disabilities, and enjoy a regular life surrounded by people who are just plain friends and neighbors - parents like Eleanor Elkin and Delores Norley who showed that systems can be changed.

We asked ourselves what would happen if the same people who taught us about what was possible could teach parents and self advocates the same? Would they not draw the same conclusions we had drawn? What if we could provide the necessary supports to allow parents and self-advocates to come to a kind of "Academy?"

We ultimately agreed that that was the first step, to know what's possible and to be able to say you saw it with your own eyes. The next step was a lot harder… to learn how to make that world a reality for everybody. And the best way was to ask the policymakers. Better yet, encourage participants to become a policymaker. In the end, the question we asked was, "If we were so lucky to have known these people who were on the cutting edge, what would happen if we gave that same opportunity to others?" Our guess was that they'd arrive at the same conclusions we did about what the world should look like for our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters who have lots of different labels assigned to them but who share the same needs.

Thanks to you and the Minnesota Governor's Council, for making this a reality!!

Ed Skarnulis

I would like to extend my personal congratulations to Partner's as it celebrates 25 years of building leadership for our future.

I have been privileged to be a Partner's instructor in a number of states and territories for many years. I am always thrilled to present to new participants who are eager to learn, advocate, and to make a positive difference in societal acceptance of people with disabilities and their families.

The Partner's program provides participants with the knowledge and skills needed to make a difference at the personal, community, national, and even societal level in bettering the lives of people. For me Partners provides the opportunity for participants to proceed down the road of citizenship and not the road of "clienthood" and dependency.

Today there is even a greater need for Partner's as again there are major threats to the lives and well being of people with disabilities. Partner's harnesses the passion of it participants to make a difference and has provided and will continue to provide future leader. Way to go Partners! I know you will continue the necessary and important work of leadership development for the next 25 years and beyond.

Thanks Partner's

Dr. Guy Caruso

How exciting is this! I continue to be amazed at the difference this program made in my life, my son's life, and the lives of so many others I have come to know and love.

Just the other day I was talking with my husband about one more way this program made its impact in our lives. Our son David has his own business, now in its 4th year of operation, thanks to the vision painted for and with me by Cary Griffin, David Hammis, Dale DiLeo, and others.

So…not only did I get the vision for self-employment from my Partners experience…but when I ran into a roadblock I had immediate access to national experts who could help me teach the SSA about its own policies, which support self-employment and do not count the resources of the business as a personal asset. Needless to say, the SSA now owes us money. Gotta love that.

Congratulations! You have truly left a mark in a way few are able.


I have used what I learned through Partners so much in talking with families and the teachers I work with. I've given presentations in our school district at back to school workshops, and am a Disability Awareness merit badge counselor in Boy Scouts. The class gave our family a new way of thinking and impacted our course in life as it gave a passion to continue to help others self-advocate after Jack passed away. My oldest is holding his Eagle Project this weekend in memory of Jack. If you have a moment here's the article that ran in our local paper about Andrew.

I continue to tell parents I meet about Partners. It is such an amazing and life changing class.

Karen Erickson

Twenty-five years ago, our son, Benjamin, was born prematurely, and was then diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a tiny baby. Like most parents, I was made to feel fearful and hopeless, based on all the negative things I was told by so many professionals.

Then, when Benjamin was three, I heard about Partners in Policymaking in Texas (where we lived at the time). By this time, I was involved in a couple of parent groups and was trying to learn about education and other things that would be important in our son's life. And I thought I was a pretty good advocate. (Boy, did I have a lot to learn!)

I was excited about the possibilities of the Partners program, and was thrilled when I was accepted for participation in the very first class of Texas Partners. Little did I know that it would be an extraordinary life-changing experience. I quickly realized (and have shared this to many, whenever possible) that besides getting married to my hubby, Mark, and having our two children, Emily and Benjamin, being in Partners is the most important thing I've ever done in my life (and I'm now 61)!

Partners exceeded my expectations—the very first session with Colleen, Ed Roberts, and others is etched in my memory. I learned so much from all the great presenters, as well as from my classmates—especially the adults with disabilities, who shared their life experiences with me. All that I learned put our son's life, as well as our family's life.

Based on what I learned in Partners, we made sure Benjamin was always included in general ed classrooms; learned to use the natural supports and generic services in our community to meet Benjamin's needs and ensure his inclusion, instead of being dependent on traditional services and segregated in special programs; and we routinely agitate for change in many ways.

As a child, Benjamin participated in Cub Scouts, Campfire, 4-H, T-ball, karate lessons, children's theater productions, and more. As a teenager and young adult, he's won writing contests via C-Span and other entities; served on the Youth Advisory Panel to the President's Committee on the Employment of Adults with Disabilities; wrote, produced, directed, and starred in an award-winning short film; presented at Youth Leadership Programs; participated as a volunteer and delegate in national and state elections; and more.

In May 2012, he'll earn his Bachelor's degree, with honors, from Arizona State University, in political science and communication. He'll begin working on his Master's degree in the fall. Benjamin doesn't write with a pencil, he does all his work on a computer. He uses a power wheelchair and other devices. Through Partners, I learned that disability should not be a barrier to a person's success; we've never let Benjamin's diagnoses get in the way of his living the life of his dreams.

In the meantime, I "accidentally" became a public speaker as a result of my participation in Partners, when the Texas Coordinator asked me, as a graduate, to do some short presentations for the next class of TX Partners. She was kind enough to "spread the word" about me, and soon other Partners programs invited me to present. Colleen also honored me by inviting me to be part of the faculty at the Partners replication conferences in the 1990s. One thing led to another, and I was soon presenting (and continue to do so) at conferences across the United States and Canada. Several years ago, I was hired to coordinate the first year of ID Partners and NV Partners, and to train the coordinator for each of those programs. I am a Partner, through and through—it's in my blood!

There never seemed to be enough time during a presentation to say everything I wanted to say (much of it what I learned during Partners, as well as what I continued to learn from Colleen, Ed, and other leaders in the field associated with Partners), so to fulfill that need, I wrote my first book in 2001, and launched my website, Other books and a line of products to promote new ways of thinking about disability followed. Finally, my husband and I have created a non-profit, in addition to our other home business. One of our goals for the non-profit is to create a replication model of Partners in our home state of Colorado. I'll keep you posted!

Life is good. No, life is grand.

I would not be where I am today without Partners. My son would not be where he is today without Partners. The same is true for my entire family. We owe our success to the extraordinary vision of Colleen, the MN DD Council, and others who helped create and sustain a one-of-a-kind training program that breathes hope into its participants and gives them the powerful tools to create positive change in their own lives, as well as in everyone they touch.

My son was born 25 years ago (January 8, 1987). Partners in Policymaking was born 25 years ago. This makes Partners even more dear to my heart!

One last personal note. When I met Colleen at the first session of Texas Partners in 1990, I was awestruck, and frequently told people, "I want to be just like her when I grow up!"

Later, I discovered that Colleen and I were the same age! We've known each other for almost 22 years, and I'm still awestruck by her, and still want to be just like her when I grow up.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for creating Partners in Policymaking, and for your continued support, and expansion of it for everyone, via the Online Training Courses. Twenty-five years ago, you created a state-of-the-art leadership development training program, and your ongoing efforts have maintained and enhanced the phenomenal Partners experience. Congratulations on your 25th anniversary!

With the deepest heartfelt thanks and appreciation,
Kathie Snow
Woodland Park, CO