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Doug Flutie, NFL Alumni and President/Co-Founder of the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism | Keynote Speaker

Doug Flutie is a former professional QB, who is originally from Natick, Massachusetts. He played college football at Boston College, where he was notoriously known for his Hail Mary Pass in 1984 and winning the Heisman Trophy. He began his professional career with the New Jersey Generals in the USFL before moving onto the NFL where he spent time with the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots.

Flutie then transitioned to the CFL where he had an extremely successful career winning three Grey Cups, three Grey Cup MVPs, six CFL most outstanding player awards, and throwing for 41,355 yards and 270 touchdowns in just eight seasons. In 1998 Flutie returned to the NFL with Buffalo Bills where he was selected to the Pro Bowl and received the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award after leading the Bills to the playoffs. He was inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007 and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

Off the field, Flutie has raised over $14 million for his foundation that supports people and families affected by autism. Flutie now spends his time in Melbourne Beach, FL where he enjoys spending his free time surfing and golfing.

Gordon Hartman, Founder of Morgan’s

Native San Antonian Gordon Hartman sold numerous successful businesses in 2005 to devote his energies to helping the special-needs community and thus making the world more-inclusive. Daughter Morgan, who’s dealt with physical and cognitive special needs since birth, inspired Hartman and wife Maggie to create nonprofit Morgan’s Wonderland, still the world’s first and only theme park designed with those with special needs in mind and built for everyone’s enjoyment. The tremendous success of Morgan’s Wonderland beginning in 2010 prompted Hartman to pursue additional Ultra-Accessible™ , fully-inclusive ventures including award-winning Morgan’s Inspiration Island splash park (named by TIME Magazine to its list of World’s Greatest Places), Morgan’s Sports complex (featuring fun and fitness for people of all abilities) and Morgan’s Camp (offering a summer-camp-type experience year-round to those with and without special needs on a scenic, 102-acre site on San Antonio’s northern outskirts).

Moreover, knowledge gained by Morgan’s Wonderland through countless interactions with individuals with disabilities and special needs led to establishment of a revolutionary approach to caregiving – the new, $54 million, Morgan’s MAC (Multi-Assistance Center). It’s a unique facility that provides coordinated medical and non-medical services to children and adults with special needs from more than 30 provider organizations. Headquartered in a colorful, multi-story, 165,000-square-foot structure, Morgan’s MAC utilizes the MAC Care Model™ and specially-educated team members known as Navigators to guide clients, or MAC members, to an array of life-improving services. Navigators not only serve as single points of contact for MAC Members but also track progress and schedule follow-ups via a cutting-edge electronic platform.

Additional endeavors by nonprofit Morgan’s, the umbrella organization founded to coordinate future initiatives to benefit the special-needs community, are either under construction or in planning stages. Cumulatively, all Morgan’s ventures since the debut of Morgan’s Wonderland have served approximately 350,000 children and adults per year for a grand total of 4.1 million since 2010. In addition to spearheading Morgan’s, Hartman has served as a trusted, much-in-demand advisor to innumerable nonprofit organizations to help them achieve success in serving those in need. And, he has been in constant collaboration with governmental, civic and business leaders to improve accessibility and inclusion throughout San Antonio in keeping with the city’s growing reputation as “Inclusion City, USA.”

Ashley Kim Weiss, Executive Director at Together For Choice

Ashley is a social entrepreneur and disability advocate who currently serves as the Executive Director for Together for Choice. She is also the President & CEO of Elevare Community, which provides consulting services in housing development, residential placement and life planning for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Prior to Elevare, Ashley was the co-founder and Executive Director of Villa de Vida, a non-profit organization building an affordable housing community for adults with developmental disabilities in San Diego.

Ashley is a National Certified Guardian and licensed California Professional Fiduciary. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Finance and Management from the University of Illinois, Chicago, and a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the Claremont Graduate University’s Drucker School of Business.

Jennifer Nicolaisen, Co-Founder and Executive Director at SeekHealing

Jennifer Nicolaisen is the co-founder and Executive Director of SeekHealing, an Asheville-based non-profit pioneering a novel “social health” protocol to address the loneliness epidemic and its widespread impact on burnout, non-profit turnover and overall mental health. SeekHealing works with social change organizations around the country to mitigate the effects of burnout by activating resources for emotional support within the workplace community, while its non-profit services deliver programming directly to at-risk community members. At the grassroots level, SeekHealing provides facilitated, meaningful experiences of human connection, mutual aid and healthy social interactions; working alongside mental health providers in order to reduce deaths of despair like overdoses and suicides.

Jennifer’s journey as a pioneer and thought leader in the emergent field of social health began with their own recovery from Substance Use Disorder and burnout working as a corporate consultant in the oil & gas industry. In the seven years since then, they have facilitated hundreds of “Connection Practice” meetings and dozens of “Listening Training” workshops in communities hard-hit by the mental health & opioid epidemics in Western North Carolina. Jennifer is a master facilitator and practitioner of social health techniques; teaching experiential & mindfulness-based techniques around interpersonal communication, social power dynamics, group facilitation, and how to democratize non-clinical trauma healing work through community relationships. They spearheaded the development of this unique curriculum in collaboration with Dr. Gabor Mate, Dr. Rachel Wurzman, Sara Ness of Authentic Revolution, the Board of Directors at the Circling Institute. Under their tenure as Executive Director of SeekHealing, the organization has grown from a small band of volunteer community organizers to a staff & leadership team that work across two brick-and-mortar locations. SeekHealing serves over 3,000 people annually in Western North Carolina, 92% of whom had a documented mental health history and 37% of whom were either unhoused or housing insecure. To make that work possible at the community level, they now support other organizations and nonprofits implementing social health programs like SeekHealing’s in order to reduce burnout and accelerate organizational impact; both internally at workplaces and within the communities those workplaces serve.

Molly Denny, Director of Community Life at Daymark Living

Dr. Molly Denny is the Director of Community Life for Daymark Living. She has been instrumental in starting this 5 year old community for adults with IDD. She has an undergraduate degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Baylor University, a Master’s degree in Child Development and a Doctoral degree in Family Studies from Texas Women’s University.

Dr. Denny has written for several publications including peer reviewed articles and several books. She has a passion for serving others, working with families in challenging situations and figuring out solutions to issues that surround the IDD population.

Luke Ellis, Executive Director at BiG: Grace Place

Luke graduated from Texas A&M in 2013, after having spent four years in the Corps of Cadets and eventually serving as a Drum Major for the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band his senior year. More importantly, Luke took his first tour of the Brookwood Community that Spring and immediately decided to move to Houston for Brookwood. Over a 6 year period, Luke worked across many departments, including as a house parent to 12 Brookwood men. In 2019, Luke moved to Georgetown to help BiG launch a residential program. In 2021, he stepped into the role of Executive Director and has enjoyed seeing Grace Place come to life!

Debra Caudy, Founder/CEO of 29 Acres

Dr. Caudy, originally from upstate New York, came to Dallas in 1982 for training at UT Southwestern Medical School in Internal Medicine and Medical Oncology. After a successful career with Texas Oncology, she returned to UT Southwestern Medical School where she specialized in the treatment of breast cancer. Debra ultimately retired from the practice of medical oncology. She accepted the challenge of immersing herself in the process of connecting her son with ASD to the best technologies and people to support his growth, including direct teaching in a
home-based therapy and educational program. As her son aged out of the school system, Dr. Caudy turned her attention to the adult space and in 2016, founded the 501C3 , 29 Acres. In 2019, she launched the 29 Acres residential Transition Academy and in 2020, the 29 Acres Living Community in Cross Roads, TX opened its doors.

Dr. Caudy also worked with the President of UT Southwestern Medical School, Dr. Kern Wildenthal, to raise money for the successful establishment of the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities (CADD) at Southwestern.

Barry Hamilton, Chief Operating Office at Down Home Ranch

Barry began his professional journey supporting individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) in 2003 volunteering with a small non-profit. Barry started at Down Home Ranch first as a volunteer then as a Weekend Direct Support Professional. Since that time, he has held a few other positions and is currently the Chief Operating Officer for the organization.

During Barry’s professional career, he has provided consultation to families, licensed residential providers, direct support professionals, institutional settings and interdisciplinary teams in a variety of settings. Barry received his Bachelors of Science in Biology from Texas A&M University at College Station, and his Masters in the Science of Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin. He continued his professional development by becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, specially focusing his clinical experienced supporting people with IDD.

Barry has received specialized training and is recognized as having expertise in the behavioral health needs of individuals with IDD. Barry has also presented on a variety of topics at national and local professional conferences, supporting a movement toward mental health wellness for those with IDD. You’ll find Barry camping with is wife and four boys on weekends not already filled with soccer games and swim.

Steve Vetrano, CEO of Avondale House

Steve Vetrano assumed the role of Chief Executive Officer at Avondale House in 2017, bringing with him a wealth of leadership experience and a passion for serving the community. In his capacity, he provides strategic direction and oversight for the organization’s comprehensive programs, including the year-round private school, adult day program, employment services, and residential program.

Prior to joining Avondale House, Steve dedicated 25 years to the American Red Cross, where he held various leadership positions of increasing responsibility. Most notably, he served as the Regional Chief Executive Officer for the Texas Gulf Coast Region, overseeing operations, fundraising, and community engagement across 51 counties and 7 Red Cross offices. During his tenure, Steve played a pivotal role in orchestrating the response efforts for significant disasters, including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, housing over 24,000 evacuees in the Dallas Area Chapter. Before his tenure in Texas, Steve served in leadership roles in Red Cross Chapters in Pennsylvania and New York City.

Steve’s commitment to disaster relief and community service spans his career, with notable contributions to disaster responses such as the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the TWA flight 800 crash in 1997, and the aftermath of Hurricane Ike in 2008, among others. His extensive experience has equipped him with invaluable insights into crisis management and organizational resilience.

Steve holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Manhattan College and a Master of Business Administration from Penn State University. He currently resides in Houston with his wife and three children, where he continues to make a profound impact on the lives of individuals and families affected by autism through his dedicated leadership at Avondale House.

Kelly Baughman, Founder and Executive Director of Project Beacon

After 25 years as an owner and director in an Architecture and Design Firm, Kelly decided to walk away from her highly successful position and step into her calling. She launched her leadership consulting firm, Beyond Next Leadership, and her non-profit Project Beacon Texas in 2020. With an unwavering belief that we must raise the leadership level in our communities to serve others, she has set out to grow leadership potential in others and to build safe homes and vibrant futures for adults with Autism. With her skills once used to build client relationships and teams, she is now building community relationships and partnerships to solve disruptive systemic problems and creating new solutions and offerings to serve neurodiverse adults.

She is a certified speaker, coach, trainer, and facilitator with the Maxwell Leadership Certified Team. She has worked with many C-suite and executive-level leaders, guiding them through often complex changes. Through the building and leading of a successful Business Transition Consulting team, she worked within organizations to guide individuals and groups through change.

Kelly is now the Full-Time Executive Director of Project Beacon Texas and is a wife, mother, and grandmother.  She is married to Mark Baughman, a retired law enforcement officer who lives on the shores of Lake Conroe.  She is the mother of Mason, a 27-year-old son who is on the autism spectrum with intellectual disabilities.  She and her husband enjoy giving back to their local community through their church and other volunteer opportunities.

Mike Painter, President/CEO of New Danville

Mike is an honors graduate of the University of Alabama and Texas Tech Law School. Mike graduated in the top 15% of his class, and was named his graduating class’s “Top Gun,” the top advocacy award for all graduating law students.

After law school, Mike was an equity partner at Orgain, Bell & Tucker where he worked as a trial lawyer in the Medical Malpractice division. He worked on numerous multi-million dollar cases and appeals.  In 2009, Mike left his law practice to serve as CEO and General Counsel of a multi-office, franchised home health company.  During his thirteen years with the company, Mike was elected to serve on the company’s National Advisory Council and was later elected as its Chairman where he advised more than 500 national offices on corporate practices, key performance indicators, and employee retention.

Mike Painter’s nonprofit experience began at the Montgomery County Food Bank as the Director of Programs. In that position, he oversaw all of the Food Bank’s outside partnerships in the community, including its more than 80 Partner Agencies, 70 schools, and multiple senior living facilities and apartment complexes.  Mike also coordinated large events for MCFB, including its annual Partner Agency Conference, Share Your Holidays, and the Summer of Sharing. 

When not working, Mike serves in the Civil Air Patrol as a Wing Legal Officer and as a National Activity Director of the Special Operations Pararescue Orientation Course.   Mike is married to Margie Seber Painter, an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Texas.  They have two boys, JW who is a cadet at West Point, and Travis, who attends The Woodlands Christian Academy. 

Arthur Westover, MD, Director of Adult Autism Services, UT Southwestern

Dr. Westover earned his medical degree at Baylor College of Medicine. He completed both his residency in psychiatry and master’s degree in clinical sciences at UT Southwestern. He joined the UT Southwestern psychiatry faculty in 2006. As an associate professor, he is the Director of Adult Autism Services, the Medical Director of the Richardson/Plano Clinic, and the Associate Medical Director of Multispecialty Outpatient Psychiatry at UT Southwestern.

He has been the recipient of research grants and published many studies, primarily in the area of stimulant medications. He has delivered many lectures and presentations on Autism and Intellectual Disabilities. He has three children including a 19 year old autistic son. He serves on the Board of the National Council on Severe Autism.

Ruth Thompson, Founder and President of Hugs Café, Inc.

Ruth is the Founder and President of Hugs Café, Inc., a 501c3 organization that provides training and employment to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

She moved to McKinney, Texas from Colorado in 2004. In 2012, with the support of her husband, Chris, and other members of the McKinney community, she began the journey of Hugs Café, Hugs Greenhouse, and now Hugs Training Academy.

Since opening Hugs Café in 2015, Ruth has been humbled to be the recipient of many community and state awards and recognitions. She was recognized by Congressman Sam Johnson, Representative Scott Sanford, and McKinney City Council for her work in the disability world. She received the Community Builder Award from St. John’s Lodge in McKinney. In 2017, she was honored to receive the McKinney Quality of Life Award presented by the McKinney Community Development Corporation and 2019 received the Lex Frieden Employment Award. In 2022, the Texas Restaurant Association awarded Ruth with the first ever Community Impact Award.

She is married to her biggest supporter, Chris. They have three children, all now living in Texas, along with four beautiful grandchildren.