People

The Tarjan Center Advisory Committee (TAC), provides advice and assistance to the Center on program objectives, and project development. A key function of UCLA Tarjan Center is to disseminate knowledge to the community in areas of mutual interest. In turn, we rely on feedback from the community to help inform our work. Our TAC is composed of key stakeholders, including persons with disabilities, family members of persons with disabilities, representatives of community agencies, Disability Rights California. USC UCEDD, the CEDD at UC MIND Davis, and the State Council on Developmental Disabilities.

If you are interested in joining our TAC please email Beth Stoffmacher, Center Coordinator, bstoffmacher@mednet.ucla.edu

Tarjan Advisory Committee Members
Debbie Ball

Vice President of Easter Seals Southern California

A former business owner, Debbie has spent over 20 years advocating for societal change and creating pathways to make it happen. In addition to building vision and aptitude within Easterseals Southern California’s Employment Division, she works with stakeholders throughout the country to build capacity, and create urgency, around customized employment and employment first. Her concurrent roles as an Easterseals Vice President, board member on both CA APSE and Foundation for Developmental Disabilities boards of directors, and membership in numerous coalitions connect Debbie with some of the country’s best minds and allow her to continue working with, and on behalf of, others committed to ending segregation and building brighter futures for people with disabilities.

Laura Brody

Founder of Opulent Mobility

Laura Brody received her MFA in costume design from the California Institute of the Arts in 1992. Since that time she has been a professional costume maker, designer, and teacher. Her costume and craft experience gave her the skills needed to turn wheelchairs, walkers, and mobility scooters into sculptural works of art. Her mobility art began in 2009, when she re-imagined her first wheelchair for a show with Cannibal Flower. Since then, her artworks were shared by Frances Anderton on NPR, on The Improvised Life, through Voyage LA, and in Create Magazine. She developed and co-curated Opulent Mobility, a group exhibit dealing with mobility and disability, with Anthony Tusler. The show is now in its fourth year and is seeking out venues for next year exhibit.

Aaron Carruthers

Executive Director of the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities

Aaron Carruthers is the Executive Director of California State Council on Developmental Disabilities. Appointed by the Council in 2015, he is the Chief Administrative Officer and responsible for the carrying out the Council’s mission, goals, and policy objectives. Aaron has worked in civil rights policy and programs for over twenty years, including in the State Senate, for California’s Attorney General, and as an appointee of two Governors. During his tenure, SCDD advanced self-determination, employment, school bus safety, and active shooter standards. Last year, SCDD’s work impacted more than 2.5 million Californians and SCDD was named Employer of the Year for people with disabilities. He is a graduate of the National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities and was a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs, which trains “ethical leaders for uncommon times.”

Connie Huang Chu

Managing Attorney with Disability Rights California

Connie Huang Chu is a Managing Attorney at Disability Rights California, where she directs a state-wide group of attorneys and advocates who work to remove barriers to employment, including increasing access to competitive integrated employment for people with significant disabilities. Previously, Ms. Chu was a staff attorney at Bet Tzedek Legal Services, and an Irmas Fellow at Public Counsel in Los Angeles.

Ms. Chu received her B.S. in Gerontology and her J.D. from University of Southern California. She currently serves as a board member of the Legal Aid Association of California (LAAC) and as a Lecturer in Law at UCLA.

Deaka Monique McClain

Self Advocate

Deaka McClain is a lifelong advocate for the disability community, using her platform to continuously make positive changes, whether through public speaking, volunteering, storytelling and poetry, or simply connecting with people on an individual basis. Having been born with cerebral palsy, Ms. McClain knows firsthand the power of positive change and the value of using one’s voice.

After receiving her BA in Journalism from CSULB in 2009, Ms. McClain went on to receive her Master’s Degree in Public Administration in 2016.

Ms. McClain is Co-Founder & VP of Public Relations of the newly established nonprofit organization Divine Victory Ministries, Inc. Divine Victory Ministries strives to bring the elements of awareness, education and empowerment to the community, providing practical tools resources within the creative arts genre to address urban social issues. Through this organization, Ms. McClain has codirected and produced a short documentary about being a survivor of domestic violence titled ‘Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired.’

Ms. McClain currently sits on ten boards that serve the disability community, including the Citizen’s Advisory Commission on Disabilities for the City of Long Beach. Ms. McClain has served as the Chair for this commission, and currently serves as Vice-Chair. Other boards include CSULB Disabled Student Services Advisory Board (Alumni), Harbor Regional Center Client Advisory Committee (Co-Chair), Harbor Regional Center Self Determination Advisory Committee (Member), Harbor Regional Center Client Service Committee, L.A. Care Coordinated Initiative Council Region 4 of Long Beach (Vice- Chair and Member-at-Large), Disability Rights California Program & Planning Committee (Public Member) Termed out March 2018, Department of Developmental Services Consumer Advisory Committee (Chair), UCLA Tarjan Center Advisory Committee (Member), LB Transit Paratransit Advisory Committee. (Vice-Chair) Ms. McClain also finds time to volunteer at Disabled Resources Center and Zoe Christian Fellowship of Whitter where she attends church. At Zoe, she is a volunteer in the Media Ministry serving as an Administrator, Technical Director, and Camera Operator. Ms. McClain enjoys reading, listening to music, public speaking, acting, telling stories through film and going to movies.

Steve Ruder

Community Health Program Supervisor at the MIND Institute/UC Davis

Steve Ruder worked as a direct service staff in the areas of supported employment and supported employment for over 30 years before coming to the UC Davis Center on Excellence in Developmental Disabilities as a Community Program Supervisor in 2013. He established and has been the facilitator for the Northern California Business Advisory Council (BAC) in 2015. The BAC hosts events for businesses to provide in-service trainings to other businesses about pathways they use to hire people with disabilities, supports and services they receive from our partner agencies, the skills of the employees they have hired, and the benefits of having disability represented as part of their workforce diversity. Steve has been a member of California’s Employment First Committee (EFC) since 2014. After being the project lead on a two-year grant on supported decision-making, Steve has served on numerous projects working to overhaul the conservatorship process, prevent unnecessary conservatorships and promote the supported decision-making process in California.

Debbie Sarmento

Family Resource Center’s Network of California Coordinator

Debbie Sarmento’s experiences in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) with her very premature twin daughters were a catalyst to joining with other parents to create a community-based NICU support group that was active for over 25 years. This grew into work with the Family Resources Centers Network of California, the California Association of Family Empowerment Centers, Partners in Policymaking, and numerous boards and committees. Becoming the grandparent of an Early Start services recipient has provided a bookend to her parenting experience and renewed her commitment to the importance of family support.

Wesley Witherspoon

Self Advocate from USC UCEDD

Mr. Witherspoon serves as a representative with self-advocates and their networks and the programs and activities of the USC UCEDDD. He represents the USC UCEDD at local meetings as requested by the Director. He currently serves on the State Council of Developmental Disabilities. With the State Council, Wesley is the chair of the Employment First Committee. He also involved with other committees .In addition, he is the representative for the USC UCEDD for the Self-Advocacy Statewide Network. He also serves on the Community Voter Outreach Committee for the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk for voting. He also serves on the Voter Accessibility Advisory Committee for the voting in Los Angeles County. Wesley is committed for the full inclusion of people with intellectual/developmental disabilities. Wesley volunteers with the City of Culver City in August, Special Olympics Summer Games in June, and with the Festival of Books at USC in April.

Vanda Yung

Board President of the Chinese Parents Association for the Disabled

Vanda Yung, MA, MSW is a trilingual (English/Mandarin/ Cantonese) parent of a daughter with Down syndrome. She is the Board President of Chinese Parent Association for the Disabled (CPAD) and Co-Project Director for Office of Special Education & Rehabilitation Community Parent Resource Center with Fiesta Educativa Inc. She is also currently serving as a Board member of the Westside Regional Center. In partnership with the Tarjan Center and Fiesta Educativa Vanda is administering the Family Mentor Partner Program, a Developmental Disabilities Disparities Fund Project to increase access to services by Chinese and Latino Families who are clients of the Eastern Los Angeles and Frank D Lanterman Regional Centers.

Gina Semenza, M.S.G.

Community Member

Gina is passionate about improving the lives of people with disabilities. She is a proud person with a disability and uses a power wheelchair. She is married and has one adorable young daughter. Gina is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University, Coro Public Affairs Fellowship, and California State University, Long Beach. She serves as Board President of Friends of Californians with Disabilities, which supports the California Youth Leadership Forum for High School Students with Disabilities. Her background is in government, strategic planning, and meeting facilitation.

Maria Marquez

Community Member

LEND Self Advocacy Faculty since January 2019. Have over 25 years of experience of self-advocacy in developmental and intellectual disability Appointed by governor Brown, then appointed by governor Galvin Newsom for my second term for The State Council on Developmental Disability member at LARGE. Committee that I am appointed to for the State Council: Executive committee Positioned to the consumer advisory committee, self-determination(co-chair), legislation committee I also sit on the self-determination advisory committee as well as the self-determination work group. Sit on Developmental Disabilities Services task force.

I am also involved in varies presentation to help roll out the self-determination program for Department of Developmental Services I am also on the self-advocate of Los Angeles committee for the State Council in the Glendale office. Consulting with adults with developmental and intellectual disability Key Note Speakers for conferences in states wide on developmental and intellectual disability.

Adam S.U. Gottdank

Community Member

Adam S.U. Gottdank is the Director of Disability Support Services (DSS) for North Orange Continuing Education (NOCE). He is on the following regional and statewide committees: California Association for Postsecondary Education and Disability (CAPED) Executive Committee, CAPED Intellectual Disability – Autism Spectrum Disorder Interest Group (CIG, Southern Chair), Orange County Local Partnership Agreement (OCLPA) Steering Committee, OCLPA Sub-committee on Inclusion in Postsecondary Education and Employment (Chair), Postsecondary Education Transition Consortium (PSETC, Chair), North Orange County Regional Consortium (NOCRC) for Adult Education DSS Workgroup (Workgroup Leader), and Cypress College Diversity-Equity-Inclusion-Anti-racism (DEI-A) Committee. NOCE provides numerous instructional and service programs that support the inclusion of students with disabilities in postsecondary education and employment. Adam has family members who have disabilities. He has been a counselor, instructor, and director at NOCE for 17 years, and he was part of the Regional Center of Orange County leadership team for 10 years prior to NOCE. Adam has a Ph.D. in Special Education and Disability Policy, and a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology.

Aaron Carruthers

Executive Director of the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities

Aaron Carruthers is the Executive Director of the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities. He has worked in civil rights policy and programs for over twenty years, including in the State Senate, for California’s Attorney General, and as an appointee of two Governors. He is currently carrying out the Council’s goals: housing, employment, and safety. Last year, SCDD’s work impacted more than 1.9 million Californians and SCDD was named Employer of the Year for people with disabilities. He is a graduate of the National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities and was a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs.

Geri Fuchigami spent 32 years in public education (LAUSD) working as a general education teacher, special education teacher, specialist, and coordinator to support high quality, rigorous instruction, focusing on students with extensive support needs. Her passion has been on developing transition programs and services that support students to make smooth transitions to successful independent post-secondary lives. Geri continues to work with university teacher preparation programs by supporting teacher candidates. (I prep- CSUN, CSUDH) She has served on state committees (Autism, High School Diploma) university/college advisories (LMU, CSUN, CSULB, Harbor College) and professional organizations as well as presented at many conferences on behalf of students with extensive needs. (Cal TASH, TASH, CA Transition Alliance, Regional Center, Department of Rehabilitation, Bridge to the Future Conf)

Desiree Boykin is native of Los Angeles, California graduating from Dorsey High in 1997. After high school started El Camino College in Torrance California later transferring to Cal State University Dominguez Hills in Carson California. Desiree Boykin learn about South Central Los Angeles Regional Center applied for services and started attending there local Self advocacy group in 1998. In 1999 she ran won the sit of President of SCLARC Self- Advocacy group Serve as President from 1999- 2003. Desiree Boykin was recommended to the SCLARC board of Directors in 2000. She became highly involved in her community as advocate in 2001. She served on the board on the board of directors at SCLARC. Ms. Boykin earned her B. A. degree in Health and Human Services in 2008. Desiree was apart of the Advocates Advisory Committee in 2008. She continues to help AAC members speak up for themselves.

Desiree Boykin then applied to work as volunteer in at Cedars Sinai Medical Center . She started in February 2009 organizing over 500 magazines in their magazine program until 2012. December 2011 South Central Los Angeles Regional Center hired Desiree Boykin as the Advocate. She likes when the individuals reach their goals.

Desiree serves on Association of Regional Center Agencies Client Advisory Committee (CAC) as the representative for SCLARC as the Advocate . This board is made of self- advocates of the regional centers and consumers who serve on their local board of directors at their regional center. Desiree is the chair for Statewide Self- Advocacy Network (SSAN) 2020- 2022.

Nicole Patterson has had the pleasure of working in the field of empowering people with disabilities for the past 25+ years. Her experiences include having Cerebral palsy, working with people with all types of disabilities providing assistance, advising people on their rights, and help educate people providing services to people with disabilities. She currently works for the California State Department of Developmental Services, as the Advocacy & Self-Advocate Liaison Specialist. She provides a voice, to the Director and the Department, on issues/problems that people with disabilities may be facing in California and helps come up with solutions. assisted in the coordination and implementation of the relocation plan for over 700 consumers at multiple facilities subject to closure. She has conducted several trainings internationally, nationally, and statewide. She also does the coordination for the Department’s Consumer Advisory Committee, in their work on self-advocacy projects.

Dr. Alina Sala is currently working as a DSPS Counselor/Faculty at San Joaquin Delta College. During her 5 ½ years at Delta college Dr. Sala has expanded the summer transition learning community program for incoming HS students with disabilities (Transition for Academic Success is Key – TASK). Dr. Sala is co-lead for the Chicanx/Latinx Task force advocating for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion while implementing multidisciplinary strategies for the Delta college district. Advocating for the DREAMers Success Center on the San Joaquin Delta College for the DREAMer students.

She is an active member of California Association of Post-secondary Education and Disability (CAPED) and is the Northern Co-Chair of the CAPED Interest Group on Autism Spectrum Disorder and Intellectual Disability.

Dr. Sala has a passion for teaching and is a strong advocate for hands-on and Appreciative Inquiry learning. She practices and created Compassion learning and teaching strategies Additional interests focus on working with individual with behavioral health diagnosis, autism spectrum and intellectual developmental disabilities. Previous projects include working with the Atkinson Family Services (foster youth group homes) and transitional age youth.

Dr. Sala worked with the State Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) as a Bilingual/Bicultural Rehabilitation Counselor and District Manager. During her time at DOR she worked in collaboration with Sacramento County Behavioral Health, NAMI, Women’s Empowerment (An agency for Homeless women with children), Sacramento Workforce Development Broad, Sacramento Training and Employment Agency (SETA) and the Homeless consortium in Sacramento. Dr. Sala served a as liaison with community mental health business partner and establish innovative practices to serve this population of individuals.

Dr. Sala has 25 years as a business owner and entrepreneur. She successfully operated and expanded her vocational rehabilitation corporation through California and Mexico.

Dr. Sala is a recipient of the fellowships:
CAPSES Fellowship and Carlos J. Vallejo Research Fellowship for her contributions to transitional age youth with disabilities.

Katty Rakfeldt

Owner / CEO of Adrian’s Place Santa Monica
Founder and Executive Director of Growing Side by Side

Katty is the mother of a son with Cerebral Palsy. His journey has served as the inspiration to build bridges and create opportunities for our special needs families in the Los Angeles area. Most recently, she created two organizations as springboards to reach deeper into the special needs community, not just for the individual, but for the families, caregivers and medical / service providers who form the foundation of the support network.

Adrian’s Place Santa Monica is a community hub and facility offering recreational and social programs for teens and transitional aged adults tailored to meet their abilities. Growing Side by Side, a 501(c3) organization, develops opportunities to build strong peer-to-peer bonds for those with special needs & their families. Together, these organizations support the development of not only needed services, but serve as an organic way to develop friendships and bonds for all.

Born and raised in Peru, she is a native Spanish speaker and one of her key missions is to support the special needs Latino community by providing information and resources that will enable this community greater access to services for their family and loved ones.