Greater Houston disability chamber of commerce
The Greater Houston Disability Chamber of Commerce is committed to the success of businesses which are owned and operated by individuals with disabilities, as well as businesses that have demonstrated a commitment to hiring, training, and offering supported employment, and competitive wages to individuals with disabilities.
Ultimately, our goal is to ensure employment opportunities that will result in economic independence for individuals with disabilities; as well as to impact Houston's environment of commerce so that it benefits from the diversity that those with disabilities bring to the workplace.
To establish a network of businesses which are ready and willing to employ individuals with disabilities who are work place ready; and to bring to the forefront the diverse talents and strengths of those individuals who will contribute significantly to the Greater Houston community.
The Greater Houston Disability Chamber of Commerce is committed to supporting businesses with an interest in providing career and employment opportunities for Houstonians with disabilities. It will establish for individuals with disabilities a pipeline that will present employment opportunities and increase their independence, self-determination and inclusion within the community.
Our Core Values
We believe that every individual deserves the opportunity to work in an inclusive environment and to enjoy the dignity of financial independence.
We believe that individuals with disabilities can contribute meaningfully to society and have skills, experiences and abilities that will enhance their communities.
We presume competence and capability for individuals with disabilities and are establishing a system that will help to provide employment that is matched to their competencies and strengths.
We believe that working age individuals with disabilities who have access to integrated employment with competitive wages feel a greater sense of dignity and are empowered in their personal lives, as is true of their non-disabled counterparts.
We believe in the benefit of career development for all.
We believe in the education, empowerment and self-advocacy of transition-age students.
We believe that the inclusion of people with disabilities in the work place increases profitability for employers.
We believe that society benefits from diversity of all types, and that inclusion fosters financial advantages for the employed person and economic benefit for the community.
Meet Our Founders
Jaishree Ellis is a native New Yorker, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Illinois College of Medicine. She is married, a mother of 3, a Board Certified Obstetrician-Gynecologist; and has empowered women through public speaking, seminars, and medical correspondence television. She studies autism in order to help her son, Jimmy, to be all that he can. She is a disability advocate; has completed the Houston Disability Leadership Network; is a member of Texas Partners in Policymaking; the Jack And Jill “We Are One” National Task Force to promote inclusion; and the LoneStar LEND Advisory Board. She founded the Greater Houston Disability Chamber of Commerce to promote employment and competitive wages for all Houstonians with disabilities. She is a volunteer for the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council where she is a Troop leader for Troop 106282, and also serves as the Event Chair for Region 2 of the council. She has also volunteered with the Sam Houston Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America. She has served as Pack Committee Chair, Troop Trainer and Merit Badge Counselor for the Medicine and Disabilities Awareness Merit Badges. She is a member of the Gulf Coast Parliamentarians Unit, and has served as the unit’s Secretary and Vice President. She is active in the Penn (Alumni) Club of Houston, and has served as the club’s secretary for the past 2 years. She is a member of Fallbrook Church, and serves there.
Jaishree is serving as the Executive Director for the Chamber.
Caroline Bordelon is a single mother of four children ages fifteen, six, five and four. Caroline has a B.A. in Hotel and Catering Management with ten years experience in Community Relations and Public Relations. She is a founding member of the National African American Autism Community Network (NAAACN) in Partnership with Autism Speaks. Caroline also served as Director of Publicity and Community Relations for the Fort Bend Service League(FBJSL). Caroline has spent several years in various leadership positions representing the best interest of abused and neglected children. She brings her passion of advocacy to the disability community as a Texas Partners in Policymaking graduate class of 2018.
Caroline is serving as the Development Director for the Chamber.
Meet our Board of Directors
Jeremy Angus was born in Humble, Texas and raised in the Houston area. At a young age, a series of seizures left him with Optic Atrophy in both eyes. As a result, his performance in grade school and college were negatively affected as focused on what he was not able to do. After dropping out of college and working with his family, a bookkeeper and small business consultant, this began to change. Returning to college with a new-found confidence, he began self-advocating and found the supports he needed to maximize his success. This resulted in his GPA rising from a 1.5 to a 3.78 and eventually graduating Suma Cum Laude from Sam Houston State University. Jeremy remained at SHSU to pursue a Master’s degree and obtain his License in School Psychology. Since then, he has worked as a LSSP assisting parents and students learn to maximize their success despite their disabilities. This has helped him understand a variety of struggles faced by those with disabilities and inspired him to join the GHDCC. Jeremy plans to use this position and his personal experience to help the community avoid the pitfalls that slowed his progress in the past.
Akili Atkinson holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Administrative Leadership from the University of Oklahoma. She received her Master of Business Administration from Southern Nazarene University. Akili has served the needs of adults with various disabilities for over 20 years with an emphasis on employ-ability and self-sufficiency. Currently she is the Director of Training at Advance Houston, a comprehensive training organization focused on training and supporting young adults with social and learning differences. Previously Akili worked for the oldest and largest Training Center in Oklahoma as an Employment Training Supervisor. During her tenure, focus remained on gainful employment. She worked in partnership with several programs including Project Search to reach employment goals. Akili also uses her time in Toastmasters International to strengthen both her leadership and speaking skills. A top competitive speaker she has traveled throughout the south helping businesses train their employees about working with individuals with disabilities. What started as advocacy for her now adult son turned into a passion for the many she would come to serve. Akili believes when you find what you love, it’s no longer work.
Oziel Casanova was born in Galveston, Texas. At Houston Community College Oziel earned two A.A.S. degrees in Biomedical Electronics and Computer Networking. In 1994 Oziel started with Compaq Computers developing leadership and technical skills. Ambitious, in the 90’s, Oziel opened a carpet cleaning company, Pro-Serv 2000, serving the Houston community.
In 2005 Oziel began a position at Houston Community College leading them toward the digital age converting their student transcript and employee records into a digital format. In April 2007 he saw an opportunity as a Server Technician at Hewlett Packard at night as he continued working for Houston Community College in the day. Simultaneously, he worked at HCC and HP where he grew into a lead tech and he continued his career.
In 2010 Oziel was promoted to Production Control Management at HP and in 2011 Operation Supervisor. In May 2016, he continued growing his career as a Store Manager at Gessner Goodwill Computer Works. In May of 2018, Oziel was promoted to Training Specialist and took over Google Digital Career Accelerator initiative successfully growing the program and providing members of our community a free career pathway into IT Desktop Support and the opportunity to develop a professional career.
Andrea Dore has spent the last 20 years advocating on behalf of her son in public school, private school and in the workplace. She was heavily involved in the local PTA including chairing events, organizing projects and working on the boards. She organized the first resource fair for the Katy ISD Special Education Conference and found and presented resources to educate Katy ISD staff about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder. Andrea spent 6 years working as an In-Class Support and Behavioral Paraprofessional in Katy ISD where she gained much insight on how Special Education works in the school district. Andrea completed the Wrightslaw Special Education Advocacy and Training and received certification in the Parent Training Program through Partners Resource Network. She’s spent time assisting parents in preparing for and attending ARD meetings. For the last several years she’s been the Director of Marketing and Promotions for Connolly Dance Arts and the Dancer’s Closet. Andrea has a passion to seek out opportunities for those with disabilities to find training and employment in Houston and the surrounding areas.
Andrea is serving on the Development Committee.
Paula Evans, M.A., C.C.C., is a retired educator who worked her whole career supporting and training families with children with special needs. She received her master’s in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Tulsa. She later completed additional courses and received her Diagnostician and Principal certifications. During her career, her experiences have included being a Speech Pathologist in a clinic, school, and private practice. She was a parent trainer for several years working with parents of children with hearing impairments and with parents of young children with special needs. During her last ten years in education, she was a Diagnostician where she was able to ensure all children were being educationally successful. She is married and has 2 grown children. She also has 3 grandchildren and loves spending time with them going to the movies and attending their sport activities.
Paula is serving on the Education Committee.
Rachel Heallen, is from Waller, Texas and a mother of a precious 4 year old son. She holds a Bachelors degree in Special Education from Prairie View A&M University, Masters degree in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment from Walden University, and an Educational Specialist degree from Walden University. She has been a Special Educator for 12 years serving 3, 4 and 5 year old's with disabilities. She is now an assistant principal in Klein I.S.D. She is passionate about helping individuals with special needs and providing the necessary tools and resources for parents and caregivers to be successful. Developing positive relationships between all community stakeholders including children, parents, and community members is a goal she continuously works towards.
Brenda Nelson, M.S., is uniquely qualified in the ARD/IEP process having first-hand experience advocating for her young adult son who began receiving special education services at the age of three with a diagnosis on the Autism Spectrum. Brenda has dedicated much of the past 15+ years to helping other parents successfully navigate the special education process by providing training and one-on-one support, both professionally and as a volunteer. Her experience includes: developing and presenting training sessions for organizations and at statewide conferences for both parents and professionals; working in the special education department for a large school district; working for nonprofit parent support organizations; serving on the Special Education Advisory Board for a large school district; and organizing and managing a large special education conference for parents. Brenda recently completed her Master's degree in Educational Human Resource Development with a specialization in Adult Education from Texas A&M University. She is the owner and founder of Nelson Educational Consulting which specializes in providing disability education and support for families and professionals.
Brenda is serving on the Membership and Communication Committees.
Robin Rettie, M.Ed., has a life-long history of supporting individuals with neurological and genetic differences. Her sister, Laurie Lorraine Rettie (LLR), was challenged in her life due to microcephaly. In her honor, Robin founded Lighthouse Learning Resources (LLR), an online specialty business providing training and services to families raising a child with unique needs.
Robin’s professional training includes a BA and Master’s in General and Special Education, extensive training in autism, curriculum, sensory processing, behavior, 8 neurological constructs of learning, learning differences, Mediation and Negotiation Training, and Special Education Law. Areas of concentration include educational consulting with families navigating public education, employment training, coaching, and company disability training, educators and parent training utilizing research-based strategies to manage behavior due to sensory challenges for the purpose of increasing access to all aspects of life; school, community, and employment.
Robin actively serves on the Advisory Board for Attention Deficit Disorder Association, Board Member of PAWSAbilities, and hosts an annual conference, Breaking Barriers, and rescues animals in her spare time.
Robin is serving as Board Secretary and chair of the Education Committee for the Chamber.
Meridith Silcox, completed a B.A. in Psychology with focus in child development and family studies from University of Houston and a Master’s degree in Psychology from University of Houston Clear Lake. During graduate school she began working with special populations at an ABA (applied behavior analysis) clinic. After graduate school she continued to work with special populations in clinics, adult transition programs as well as rehab/ recovery centers. Meridith has worked with many populations of all ages with various diagnosis from autism and other developmental delays, to brain injuries including TBI and acquired. In her current role as Director of Adaptive Programs for the YMCA of Greater Houston, she provides adaptive sports and social opportunities for children and young adults with diverse abilities across the city. Meridith serves as a Diversity and Inclusion Global Leader for Y USA. She consults on special committees within the YMCA to make sure community events and programs are accessible. She also travels nationally to train on creating diverse and inclusive communities and work environments. Meridith completed the Wrights Law Special Education Law and Advocacy training in 2014. This training has helped her advocate for her own children in school as well as help others through the ARD and 504 process. Meridith has been in the field for 13 years and is the parent to a child with Autism. She brings her passion to the field as a professional and as a parent.
Jennifer Lynn Swanson, Esq., has experienced firsthand the true power of education. An unremarkable student, Jennifer was inspired to academic achievement by a positive high school math teacher who insisted students write quotations at the top of their math journals. “Good, better, best. Success never rest, until good be better, and better be best!” – Mother Goose.
After high school, Jennifer attended Baylor University receiving a B.A. in history. Prior to attending law school, Jennifer spent a decade in public school teaching special education. She instructed children with both intellectual and learning disabilities. In addition, she received training and provided dyslexia instruction. Her motto: “My teacher thought I was smart, so I was!” While attending South Texas College of Law Houston, Jennifer made the Dean's list, was inducted into the Phi Delta Phi Legal Honor society, received a Pro Bono Honors award, participated in three legal clinics and submitted two research papers. Jennifer currently works locally as an attorney, enjoys running, being vegan, and reading about neuroscience.
Taresa Vigil, is from Washington State, and is a graduate of Washington State University and Concordia University, Online. She has her Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting and is a Certified Public Accountant. She worked in the accounting field in Washington state for 13 years before moving to Texas, where she taught high school math for 4 years while earning her Master’s Degree in Education with a concentration in eLearning. She has recently started her own business, doing bookkeeping and taxes for small businesses and individuals. Taresa is a member of several networking groups, and enjoys meeting other people who own their own businesses. Her passion is helping other single mothers who are business owners, especially those who have children with disabilities. She wants to start an online eLearning program to help more women to start their own businesses. She is a single mother of 2 daughters. Her youngest daughter has had Type 1 Diabetes for 7 years, and the oldest was recently diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. Taresa has served as a PTA Treasurer, Destination Imagination Team Manager, and currently, volunteers at SLHS, including with Project Prom, an organization that raises money and plans the after-prom party for seniors so that they have a safe place to spend time with their friends.
Taresa is serving as Board Treasurer and chair of the Budget and Audit Committee for the Chamber.