Breaking Ground 108 - In Their Own Words: The Personal Side of Lasting Impact

by Lynette Porter, Council Deputy Director

Lynette Porter is the Deputy Director for the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities. She has been with the Council for 21 years, since June of 2000.

Councils on Developmental Disabilities exist to create lasting change through a culture of innovation within the disability service system. Wanda leaves us with a legacy of long-term positive impact for Tennesseans with disabilities and their families for generations to come. 

It has been an honor to watch the impact of groundbreaking programs the Council has established through the years under Wanda’s visionary leadership. I’ve witnessed countless Tennesseans with developmental disabilities participate in higher education programs on college campuses, find careers in their chosen fields, own homes, participate in community book clubs, and use their advocacy skills developed in our training programs to make a difference in their communities, as well as impact policymakers.

Having been a part of Council programs designed for individuals across the lifespan, I can’t help but reflect on youth with disabilities that I met during our high school leadership trainings. I met many of them again at our post-secondary programs or Partners in Policymaking® Leadership Institute. I’ve seen those same people, now adults, meet with their legislators, participate in community advisory boards, and use the skills gained through the Council to become mentor/trainers to other people with disabilities. It is the best example of Wanda’s legacy I know.

How do you capture the lasting impact of the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities under Wanda’s careful guidance?  We thought one way is through the voices of people who have been a part of programs created by the Council under Wanda’s leadership. These ongoing programs have equipped thousands of individuals across the state with knowledge and tools to use their voices to the impact policies and practices that affect all areas of their daily lives.

We hope you enjoy these thoughts from people who have participated in Council trainings and programs through the years.

an older photo of Wanda and the daughter of the introduction’s author Lynette Porter. Wanda is shown hugging Hailey, who is a young child with osteogenesis imperfecta. Hailey is now in her mid-20s.
A photo of Wanda and Lynette's daughter Hailey when she was a child. She is now in her early 20s. Hailey participated in various Council programs as a young adult with a disability.

In Their Own Words…

Our Members:

  • “My time on the Council enlightened me with wonderful new relationships, opportunities and experiences I will cherish for as long as the Good Lord allows me to stay on this earth.” – former Council Chair
  • “For me, being on the Council, I feel like I’ve learned a lot of tools, and even though I have been in the disability world for a long time, it’s different on the other side of learning policy things and how we can affect change, and how important our story is. I think that’s been really empowering for me.” – Current Council member
A photo of Wanda standing between two women talking to them as they sit at a table in a meeting room
Wanda chats at a 2019 Council meeting with members Sarah Kassas and Jennifer Coleman.
Wanda, wearing a black dress and grey shawl, has her arm around Clancey, a young woman with Williams syndrome in an Opry tour guide uniform, and they are both smiling on the Grand Ole Opry stage, with other people in the background
The 2016 Expect Employment report presentation to then-Governor Haslam was held at the Grand Ole Opry, and featured Clancey Hopper, who worked there as a tour guide. Here, Wanda poses on the Opry stage with Clancey – now a member of the Council.

Partners in Policymaking ®Leadership Institute graduates:

  • "There are no words to describe how much Partners has helped me to realize that my life may never be the same as it was before my accident, but with my knowledge from Partners, I have hope.”
  • “Being a part of Partners has been a life-changing experience for me. Partners networking is incredible.”
  • “Partners in Policymaking taught us acceptance of all people with disabilities, taught us that there is hope for all those who have a disability, taught us that we are not alone and that one person can change the system, and then showed us how to plan to make those changes.”
  • “This is an amazing program, and I am truly thankful to have participated. My life and my family have been forever changed.”

Youth Leadership training graduates:

  • "I have started thinking positively about my disability.”
  • "I am able to do a lot more than I thought I could.”
  • "I learned how to look at my disability in a different way. People say I’m limited, but here I feel like the possibilities are endless.”
  • "What I especially liked and learned at the Forum was the feeling of independence, how to live on my own, and how to be more active in advocacy.”

Scholarship Fund users:

  • “My experience with the conference was a great experience. I benefitted from the conference in the way that it would better help me understand the disability I am living with, be a strong voice in self-advocacy to others, and better gain knowledge and understanding of the many different types of disabilities in people across America and around the world.”
  • “We met several other families, made connections, learned about resources and services available to us. These skills/knowledge can be used for our child and also to help other families that we may encounter in the future. Educating ourselves is the key to being a successful advocate for our child.”
  • “I found resources to help me have a better life. Now I feel better about my future.”
Wanda and a young woman with a disability sit beside each other in a classroom; Wanda is wearing a bright blue shirt representing the youth leadership program she is visiting in Paris, TN
Wanda poses with Keri Dougherty at a Council youth training held at the TARP Center for Independent Living.
Wanda poses on one side of Megan Hart, a woman with a physical disability who uses a wheelchair, with former Council staff Ned Solomon on Megan’s other side. Ned is holding a graduation certificate with Megan’s name.
Megan Hart celebrates her graduation from Partners in Policymaking® in 2011 with Wanda and Ned Andrew Solomon, Director of Partners for many years. Megan is director of Tennessee Disability Pathfinder – more about Pathfinder later in this issue.

TN Disability Pathfinder callers:

  • “I actually see a glimpse of hope.”
  • “I’m very happy to know about this service because it is something that is very needed and I will be calling it again.”

Our readers (emails, magazine, social media, etc.):

  • “You are doing a great job and the information you share is incredibly valuable and important!”
  • “Love the weekly email newsletters!   I read them from top to bottom every time.  I am new to the disability world and the newsletters allow me to see all the ‘ponds’ that are available to cast multiple fishing poles into. I am casting as many poles as possible as fast as possible into as many ponds as possible to see what information I can catch.  some helpful; some not helpful. The newsletter is the map to the ponds.  Without the newsletter, I would have no idea where to start to seek information and help.”
  • “The Council's Breaking Ground and newsletters focus/angle is so positive and shines the light on persons with disabilities (and when appropriate, their families or other care providers) and highlights the strengths and successes of living with a disability.  The view is up close and personal and diverse in the coverage of all types of people with all types of disabilities.  As a parent of a child with a disability, the information is helpful and encouraging, and I truly appreciate it.”

Other people impacted by the Council’s work during Wanda’s leadership:

  • “I like coming to book club and it is one of my goals to get out in the community. I like reading and having fun with everyone." - Next Chapter Book Club member (local inclusive reading clubs started by the Council)
  • “The most important accomplishment for my children was developing empathy for others. They…talked about other club members and how they admired their positive attitudes regardless of their disabilities.” – Parent participant in an inclusion project at Chattanooga’s Creative Discovery Museum
  • “I made so many great friends. I always had people who were looking out for me, and I felt like I belonged to something.” – Graduate of the first class of Next Steps at Vanderbilt, TN’s first inclusive higher education program on a college campus, funded by the Council