Karen Gaffney is the President of a non-profit organization dedicated to championing the journey to full inclusion in families, schools, the workplace and the community for people with developmental disabilities. She is doing this by creating awareness and calling attention to the tremendous capabilities of people with disabilities. Karen accomplishes this through presentations and workshops delivered to audiences all over the country.
In addition to her non profit work, Karen also works part time at Providence Health Systems in a clerical role.
Karen graduated from St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Oregon and earned a two-year Associates of Science degree from Portland Community College.
Karen travels the country speaking to a wide range of audiences about overcoming limitations and about what can be accomplished with positive expectations. She advocates for inclusion in schools, for students with intellectual disabilities, sharing her own experiences. Karen also advocates for physical fitness and regular exercise and healthy nutrition as well. She is the first person with Down syndrome to deliver a TED talk. She presented to one of the largest TEDx venues in the world in Portland Oregon in 2015.
Karen has received numerous awards and recognition for the work that she does, including an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Portland and induction into the CYO Athletic Hall of Fame in Portland, Oregon.
In her free time, Karen is a swimmer. She is a long distance open water swimmer with some incredible achievements to her name; a relay swim across the English Channel, a 9 mile solo swim across the width of Lake Tahoe, an 8.5 mile swim across Lake Champlain and a 5 mile swim from Molokini to Wailea Beach in Maui, Hawaii, just to name a few.
Karen tackles any challenge she faces with determination and commitment, knowing she has limits, but not allowing them to limit her drive to succeed. Oh, and by the way…. Karen Gaffney has Down syndrome.
John Cronin is a 22-year-old man full of life and aspirations who happens to have Down syndrome. He is the co-founder and Chief Happiness Officer of John’s Crazy Socks, a social enterprise with a mission to spread happiness.
John is a graduate of Huntington High School, were he studied life skills, and Wilson Tech High School, where he studied office skills and retailing. Wilson Tech named John their Outstanding Student of the Year. In the summer of 2016, he worked in the kitchen of a local day camp, Camp Alvernia. For several years, he worked as the mail clerk at a local laws firm. John has also participated in MassChallenge, one of the world’s leading business accelerators.
Since an early age, John devoted himself to Special Olympics activities. He engages in snowshoe, basketball, track, soccer, floor hockey and bowling. His efforts have won John numerous medals and invitations to the New York State Games for soccer, track and snowshoe. In fact, John was named an alternate to the U.S. National Snowshoe Team for the Special Olympics World Games in March 2017.
John is an advocate for people with Down syndrome and all people with differing abilities. He has testified before Congress and regularly makes lobbying visits to Congress. John has spoken at events across the U.S. and Canada and has appeared on numerous television and news broadcasts including CBS National News, Fox and Friends, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) and PBS’s Nightly Business Review. His work has been honored by numerous social service and advocacy organizations including Heartshare USA, the National Down Syndrome Society and the Association for Children with Down Syndrome.
Mark X. Cronin
Mark X. Cronin’s career combines public service, technology and innovation. He is the President and co-founder of John’s Crazy Socks. Mark has a history developing digital offerings. In the 1990’s, he founded New Gutenberg software which produced one of the first baseball informational titles.
Mark spent most of his career in the health care field building innovative organizations focused on improving the delivery of health care particularly to the poor and Medicaid recipients. Mark served as Chief Operating and Technology Officer for two health care management firms that empowered doctors and hospitals to better serve patients. As the head of a leading health care consulting firm, Mark advised hospitals, health centers and physician organizations to improve care and he worked with hospitals and health centers as they created some of the best-known managed care organizations in New York State.
Earlier in his career, Mark served as the Director of Medicaid Health Services in New York City where he led a major Medicaid reform initiative that included groundbreaking legislation in Albany and improvements in care while restraining costs. While with the City, Mark worked under two mayors and won an award as Manager of the Year.
He has a background in education having taught graduate studies at NYU and lectured on management at Columbia’s School of Public Health. Early in his career, Mark taught school in Queens and worked for Congressman Joseph P. Addabbo.
Mark received his undergraduate degree from Holy Cross and a Masters of Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He has also studied literature at the Graduate Center for the City of New York and spent a year studying at Trinity College in Dublin.
Mark was the co-leader for the Barack Obama Grassroots Campaign on Long Island and served as one of President Obama’s appointees on the Rules Committee at the Democratic Convention in 2008.
He has been active in the Huntington community as a coach, volunteer and community advocate. For several years, he served on the board of a local youth organization. He is also an avid reader and published author of short fiction, movie reviews and political analysis.
Johnny Collett is the assistant secretary in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the United States Department of Education. In this capacity, he serves as the advisor to the U.S. education secretary on matters related to the education of children and youths with disabilities, as well as employment and community living for youths and adults with disabilities. The mission of his office is to improve early childhood, educational, and employment outcomes, and to raise expectations for all people with disabilities, their families, their communities, and the nation.
Prior to joining the department, Collett served as the program director of special education outcomes at the Council of Chief State School Officers. Collett also served at the Kentucky Department of Education as the state’s special education director, as an assistant division director, and as an exceptional children consultant.
Collett, a former high school special education teacher and church pastor, graduated from Georgetown College in Georgetown, Kentucky in 2005 with a Master of Arts in education. In 1994, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Clear Creek Baptist Bible College and in 1991 he received an associate degree from Southeast Community College, at that time a part of the University of Kentucky college system. Collett also holds a certification in learning and behavior disorders from Kentucky.
People have approached me many times since I have become an ambassador. Some people have wanted direction or help on topics ranging from inclusion, finding therapists, or extracurricular activities. There have been circumstances where people have come to me to question the role of disability rights in human rights. Yesterday, a lady approached me because she read that I was named ambassador of the year. She explained to me that she lost a baby with Down syndrome when she was six months pregnant many years ago. The lady wanted to talk about her pain. My ambassadorship allows me to pass on this guidance. It allows me to be an ear for people who need to talk. I am given the opportunity to serve others.— Steve Slack