State Administrator

Melissa Ann “Mellie” Santora is the State Administrator at Arizona Statewide Independent Living Council, where she is responsible for collaborating with a variety of stakeholders to ensure successful outcomes for the statewide initiatives she manages. Mellie acquired the first of her disabilities as a young adult, and actively embraces those she has more recently acquired. For over 30 years, Mellie has served people who have disabilities in a myriad of capacities, and is highly regarded for pioneering projects, programs, and practices that promote access, inclusion, and engagement. Although she has lived in the West for decades, Mellie is proud to be a native New Yorker, and is grateful for the experience of being raised in an Italian neighborhood, surrounded by rolling hills, autumn leaves, and the sun and swim of Lake Ontario. In addition to the growing number of youth who consider her their “otha motha,” she and her husband have a dozen children between them, and the most adorable grandson ever. Mellie loves people, cooking, sports, entertaining, writing, Africa, and the 1980’s.

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Disability Access Educator

Sara Ann Joehnk joined the Arizona Statewide Independent Living Council team in August 2017. As a Disability Access Educator, Sara Ann works with governmental agencies, nonprofits, and other partners to include individuals who have disabilities in all aspects of emergency management. Sara Ann represents AZSILC on Arizona’s Access and Functional Needs Taskforce, which since 2012 has gained national recognition for their work to provide caches of durable medical equipment to all shelters rather than opening separate shelters for people who need additional support; for their biennial Partners in Preparedness Summit which promotes dialogue between the public and emergency managers, and for Arizona’s Emergency Response Interpreter Credentialing Program (ERIC). Sara Ann is excited to be next in a long line of AZSILC inclusive emergency management pioneers.

Sara Ann is an Arizona native and graduate of Arizona State University. Outside of work, Sara Ann enjoys living in Chandler with her husband and a houseful of pets. While pursuing a Master’s Degree in Public Health, Sara Ann suddenly developed small nerve fiber neuropathy. She was twenty-three years old when severe pain and fatigue put a dramatic halt to career plans and life dreams. It took five years before medical professionals discovered that Sara Ann had an autoimmune disability called Addison’s disease, which was the underlying cause of both the nerve damage and fatigue. Equipped with a diagnosis and proper treatment, Sara Ann returned to work and began her life long journey of living with a disability.

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