Leadership

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When Mary Jane Williams learned her three-year-old had autism, she determined that a diagnosis would not steal her son’s dreams. By the time her second child was diagnosed, Mary Jane had started a parent group and served as a board member for her local ARC chapter. This was the beginning of her future as a champion for all families – not just her own. Mary Jane graduated from Texas Partners in Policymaking, a statewide leadership program focused on improving the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities. Later she became Assistant Coordinator for that same program overseeing training for seven disability leadership and advocacy classes. For the past decade, Mary Jane has served as executive director of Family to Family Network in Houston. In this role, she worked with the Texas Education Agency to create Texas Project FIRST, a special education website for parents, and has overseen numerous other disability projects. She regularly provides trainings around the state, serves on parent committees, and spends countless hours helping families access services. Most recently, Mary Jane has devoted herself to families by coordinating with other non-profits to replace disability-related items and provide assistance to families devastated by Hurricane Harvey.

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Mary Jane believes that a child’s future should not be dictated by a disability label. Having raised two children on the autism spectrum, she is extremely knowledgeable of the complexities of the special education process and accessing services. She is also acutely aware of the overwhelming feeling of isolation many families experience as they tend to the physical and behavioral needs of their children while seeking resources in the community. Since the day her oldest child was diagnosed, Mary Jane’s personal mission has been to learn everything she can about ensuring success for children with disabilities and sharing that knowledge with others. Under her leadership, Mary Jane provides the tools parents need to ensure their adult children can live as independently as possible and will not have to sacrifice quality of life when the inevitable happens and their parents are gone or lose the ability to care for them.

Mary Jane has touched the lives of thousands of families by helping them create a vision for their child’s future – a vision that includes education, meaningful employment, independent living, and quality of life. Through trainings and one-on-one assistance, she helps families connect to resources and access services so that their child can find success, regardless of their disability. She knows firsthand how scary the future can look when parents take this journey alone. She takes families out of isolation and connects them to inclusive communities, where all children are valued and accepted. Mary Jane has modeled “what can be” by raising her own children to be successful adults working and living in the community. She is a true leader in improving the lives of individuals with disabilities - whether it is by educating parents about the special education process, guiding teens through transition, or helping a family recover from the storm.

Mary Jane is a visionary who is admired by all who know her. As a former CPA, she combines an eye for detail with a heart for helping others. Her accounting background helps her stretch Family to Family Network’s non-profit finances to meet the needs of many, while her creativity helps her identify new programs to promote success for children and adults with disabilities. She has the ability to process information quickly and see the big picture. Mary Jane leads by example and is admired for her selflessness and tireless efforts to assist families in need.

A donation of this magnitude would help Family to Family Network assist so many more families of children with disabilities. While we have provided a number of outstanding training programs over the past 20 years, we have been limited by our operating budget. We are a non-profit that is tiny but mighty. We are staffed by parents of children with disabilities, and much of the work we do is from the heart. With this additional funding, we can provide families with additional opportunities for education empowerment. Houston is the 4th largest city in the U.S. and there are thousands of families we have not been able to reach. The opportunity to expand the number of lives we touch would be monumental!

It is my sincere hope that I have captured the true spirit of Mary Jane Williams as a leading advocate for families of children with disabilities. She exemplifies all the qualities of a true leader and more. She is an inspiration to her co-workers and the families she serves. She is a guiding light in the Houston community and beyond!

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