Director of Stakeholder & Policy Development
Melissa has both professional and life expertise in advocacy for children and families with disabilities.
Melissa comes to her position from her own life experience. Melissa has two sons with Autism, and one with co-occurring bi-polar disorder. Given the disjointed system of care she encountered (in three different states), Melissa had no choice but to advocate for them personally–oftentimes challenging our educational and regulatory systems. From that personal life challenge, she became a professional disability advocate, first as a credentialed First Steps Coordinator and then as a graduate of the Governor’s Planning Council’s Partners in Policy Making. Melissa is also a former member of the Board of Directors of both Families Searching for Rainbows and Mental Health America of Hancock County, where she served on both the Public Policy and SAMI (Strategies to Assist the Mentally Ill & Developmentally Disabled) Committees.
In 1990, Melissa began what she expected to be a career in business as the co-owner/operator of Edelberg and Tye Dye Brewing companies, where she handled marketing and operations for both of these privately held contract brewing companies. As her life changed with the diagnosis of her sons, her professional career path changed as well.
Melissa began her professional advocacy career as a former Parent Mentor for the Illinois Federation of Families and was a Trainer for Respite Care Workers for the DuPage County Illinois Mental Health Department. She served as a Regional Parent Resource Educational Advocate for INsource, and collaborated on rule promulgation for Article 7 through the Indiana Department of Education. Melissa developed extensive experience working with disability programs and regulations as a caseworker for First Steps. In that capacity, she assisted families in negotiating their way through our fragmented care delivery system. Melissa has testified before Indiana and Illinois legislative and regulatory committees; and while in Illinois, served on the Child and Adolescent Advisory Board to the DuPage County Board of Health.
This experience gave Melissa the background necessary to work in Alliance Development on behalf of Pfizer in Indiana and Kentucky. In this position, she developed relationships and collaborations with a broad array of patient advocacy groups in an effort to develop coalitions for policy change. In addition, Melissa collaborated with national staff and contractors to develop Pfizer’s strategic communication and public education efforts in Indiana and Kentucky.
Melissa was a Family Advocate for the Arc Network, a program of the Arc of Indiana. In this role, Melissa provided individual, group and systems advocacy for families with developmental disabilities. Most recently Melissa served as the Director of Patient and Family Advocacy for The Third House, LLC, which has subsequently joined with Sextons Creek.
Throughout her career, Melissa has focused on advocacy and public education that has included writing articles for disability newsletters, serving as a featured speaker at workshops and conferences, and providing trainings on legislative and administrative advocacy. She has also served as a spokesperson for “Ask Me About Asperger’s” and has been featured in a training video. Melissa is a former Board Member of Choices and currently sits on the Board of Directors of the Autism Society of Indiana, where she serves as Secretary of the Board.