The Arizona Statewide Independent Living Council (AZSILC) is a Governor-appointed 15 member group, the majority who are people living with disabilities. They volunteer their time to develop and monitor a Statewide Independent Living Plan (SPIL) to ensure people with disabilities in Arizona have access to services and support for living well in their communities with maximum independence. This is achieved by the five (5) Centers for Independent Living (CILs) throughout the state. The Full Council meets four times per year.
Sarah Kader is the Director of Operations at Arizona Statewide Independent Living Council. Sarah is a native of Arizona, attended college in Tucson at the University of Arizona, and law school at Syracuse University in New York. Sarah worked as an attorney at the Arizona Center for Disability Law for 8 years, advocating for families in the areas of healthcare, special education, and employment. Sarah is active in the community, recently ran for office, and as the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, has always possessed the values of seeking justice for all. She lives in Tempe with her husband Ross and two year old daughter, Aviva.
Melissa Ann Santora is the Director of Innovation 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. Melissa acquired the first of her disabilities as a young adult, and actively embraces those she has more recently acquired. For nearly 30 years, Melissa 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, Melissa 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. Melissa loves people, cooking, sports, entertaining, writing, Africa, and the 1980’s.
Sara Ann Joehnk joined the Arizona Statewide Independent Living Council team in August 2017. As the Disability Integration Specialist, 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.
Tahneesha Smith joined the Arizona Statewide Independent Living Council as the Administrative Support Specialist in November 2018.Tahneesha brings a distinct set of skills and expertise to the AZSILC team having provided administrative support in various roles since 1998. For a decade she helped support small business owners and nonprofits working as the Principal and Owner of a virtual assistance business. Prior to operating her business, she held roles such as: Staff Assistant for a Veterans Services office, Legal Secretary and Presentation Support Specialist for a joint military school having served four years in the United States Air Force. Tahneesha holds a Bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies with a Minor in Business.Tahneesha is married to her high school sweetheart. They have lived in several different states but really enjoy raising their four children in the West Valley.