BACKBONES Leaders Program equips individuals with spinal cord injury and disability (SCI/D) with a skill set that will position them to become leaders and contribute in building a strong community. Ten participants with SCI/D who are driven and demonstrate commitment were selected from all over the country for a year-long development program. The cohort meets monthly via video conferencing to check-in, learn from guest speakers, and participate in educational in-services on topics such as Public Speaking, Advocacy, Event Planning, Social Media, Cross-Disability, Self-Care and more.
This program is made possible by the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation.
2022 LEADERS PROGRAM PARTICIPANTS
Ashley Llorens | Illinois
Ashley Llorens is a writer, advocate, creator, and entrepreneur. In 2016, she graduated from college with her Bachelor of Arts. She majored in Mass Communications with a concentration in Broadcasting. She enjoys writing, music, TikTok, and sharing her interests and life via her socials. In 2019, she was in a car accident that left her and her twin sister paralyzed. She sustained a spinal cord injury and broke her neck at the C4 vertebrae, leaving her a quadriplegic. Since becoming disabled, advocating for the disability community has become extremely important to her because she sees the lack of knowledge on disabilities and the lack of disability representation in media and all aspects of society. She uses her voice to educate on spinal cord injuries and disability rights, and to also share her personal experience of living life as a disabled woman and all that comes with it. Ashley is determined to create a legacy she’ll be proud of.
Cory Moses | New York
Cory Moses was injured October 25th, 2020 as a result of a cycling accident. Since returning home from rehab, Cory has strived to give himself the best recovery possible, through activities such as regularly attending physical therapy, and participating in adaptive sports such as hand cycling and para fencing. While this accident also ended his career in construction, it gave birth to one of his new passions in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence.
Jason Leuck | Nebraska
Jason Leuck is an entrepreneur and has a passion for developing products to enhance the quality of life for individuals with spinal cord injuries. Jason was born in Omaha and graduated from the University of Nebraska with a degree in Business. He’s now a paraplegic who lives with a spinal cord injury from a car accident in 2008. Which inspired him to create the CushPocket Wheelchair Storage Bag in 2019. He received his first patent and trademark for his CushPocket bag this year and has another product that's patent pending targeted to help spinal cord injury people. Jason keeps busy working on his website, developing products for wheelchair users and spending time with his fiance.
Jose Alzati | Illinois
Jose Alzati is the owner of a medical supply company called My Choice Medical; but also works part time in customer service. He is a peer mentor as well. Jose completed his GED program and received his diploma in 2002. He returned to school and took computer classes on technology and customer service. Jose has 5 years of experience working with Humboldt Park Vocational school. He has 10 years of experience working as a medical supplier and 15 years mentoring people with disabilities. Jose has been married for 20 years. He is very social and likes to go out with his family and friends. He loves to cook and he is part of the handcycle team at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab (formerly RIC) in Chicago.
Maria Sutter | Ohio
Maria Sutter is a peer support specialist at Linking Employment, Abilities and Potential (LEAP), a center for independent living in Cleveland, Ohio where she connects to people with disabilities needing someone with an open ear, welcoming spirit, and creative intellect. She provides individualized support and referral services, hosts educational webinars, and recently formed the agency’s first peer support group. Maria also serves on statewide committees focusing on advocacy efforts to improve the health and well-being of people with disabilities. Maria’s conviction toward advocacy is the reason she uses her professional voice to fight for inclusion, equality, and human rights and why she urges her clients to recognize their self-worth and to speak up for their own needs. Maria is passionate about her work, knowing she would not be the proud wheelchair user she is today without the peer support she continues to cultivate along her own disability journey.
Matt Ludolph | Illinois
Matt Ludolph is an Office Assistant/Information and Referral Specialist at RAMP Center for Independent Living in Freeport, Illinois. While Matt was an intern at RAMP, he was able to work with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to overhaul and standardize the accessibility information section on Illinois State Parks web pages . Matt is a 2020 graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with a BS in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences and a concentration in Health Diversity. He is passionate about disability rights and accessibility, environmental causes, sustainable food systems, and has a strong desire to be a part of progress made on all fronts. In his free time, Matt likes to read, spend time with friends and family, and to be outdoors – especially in the garden.
Nicole Llorens | Illinois
Nicole Llorens is a teacher, disability advocate, content creator and a motivational speaker. She was born and raised in Chicago, IL. She has her Bachelors in Early Childhood Education from Roosevelt University. Nicole also has a T6 spinal cord injury from a car accident in 2019 that resulted in her and her twin sisters injuries. Nicole enjoys creating content that helps people with disabilities; you can find her content on instagram and youtube spreading awareness on disabilities. She is passionate about supporting the disabled community and educating on her personal disabilities and disabilities as a whole. She enjoys helping people, sharing her story, working out, music, and spreading beautiful messages of love and positivity. Nicole believes that being a leader is providing a voice to those who may not have one and being a helping hand and a light within the communities she serves.
Sergio Muñiz | Wisconsin
Sergio is a lifelong community mobilizer in the south side of Milwaukee. He is currently a sales and marketing director where he has scaled his family owned business, Triple E’s Autobody Shop. He is passionate about entrepreneurship, using his lived experience and knowledge in business operations and most recently as a real estate investor, to encourage his people to obtain economic empowerment. As a believer of self determination for people of color and all abilities; He has equipped those around him with the necessary tools to obtain that freedom by structuring workshops and panels that deal with financial literacy, business development and community building. This has led to multiple minority-owned start up companies. As a means to maintain an empowered lifestyle, Sergio competes in wheelchair basketball, is an active gym goer, and enjoys cycling along accessible trails in his city. He also values family and the investment towards a better future.
Shannon Chisholm | North Carolina
Shannon Chisholm is a resident of Fletcher North Carolina, is 46 years old, a wife, a mother of three sons, two biological and one foster, and a grandmother. Since her accident in 2011, Shannon became involved with the disability by helping others and distributing medical supplies, while working as a physical therapist assistant. She was crowned Ms. Wheelchair NC in 2015 and is currently the State coordinator. Shannon is also an accomplished Adaptive Athlete. She enjoys rock climbing, kayaking, hand cycling, surfing and became a World Champion Wheelchair bodybuilder in 2016. She also completed obstacle course races of 5-15 miles achieving her Spartan Trifecta in 2018. Shannon is an inspiration to all with her fiery attitude and a willingness to overcome obstacles. She is an active peer mentor in her area and takes on the challenges of advocacy for her peers in her community.
Vanessa Osman | California
Vanessa Osman is a voice-over artist, actress, model and writer. She was a subject in the book, "Scarred for Life", featured as a writer for New Mobility and can be seen in the Emmy-winning film “Any One of Us” on HBO. Vanessa’s voice has always been her greatest asset: she contributed to the nationally acclaimed, award-winning radio station WERS 88.9 FM as both producer and DJ. In 2020 Vanessa was featured in a performance for DIVERSEartLA at the 25th LA Art Show. Later that year, she became the curator of the first Los Angeles Monthly Salon. Vanessa is also an Ambassador for Triumph Foundation and Artists For Trauma. Born in New Jersey and raised in Dubai, she is a graduate of Emerson College where she majored in Communications and earned her Bachelors. Vanessa currently resides in LA where she's writing and starring in a series with her partner.