References and Testimonials

We are heading toward Thanksgiving and I have so much to be thankful for during this crazy year of 2020. Number one on my list is that I reached out to Sandra McElwee of Empower Person-Centered Plans for assistance with Self Determination for my Daughter Hannah.Hannah was chosen in the California Self Determination (SD) Lottery and we were 2 years in without attempting to start the process. I attended all the trainings with the regional center, including Person-Centered Planning, but I didn’t feel adequately equipped.

Sandra was the answer to our prayers. She took a huge elephant and broke it down into small bite size pieces that were easy to understand and not overwhelming.

The most amazing thing happened the first time she spoke with Hannah. She was able to tap into what motivates her and spurred her into dreaming big and taking action. Hannah never wanted to get a job, but by the time our discussion ended Hannah agreed that she could miss her beloved day program on Wednesdays. She was also excited about having chores. She has been consistently completing her chores since that day. I went to tuck her in tonight and she had folded her laundry without being asked.I have learned a lot from Sandra, including how to keep my mouth shut when the SD team is offering money for the budget. Sandra wanted to virtually kick me. LOL! Speaking of virtual, Covid and the new normal made it possible for me to enlist her services. I initially reached out to ask for a name of an Independent Facilitator in Northern California. Sandra had been doing all her meetings virtually and she offered to work with us. Working virtually did not hinder our progress or the plan’s success.The Self Determination team from the Regional Center was impressed with the level of detail and stated that they’ve never seen such a thorough plan. We also had our budget and spending plans drafted. It made their job easier. Usually people show up with nothing prepared and they must start from scratch. Sandra’s hard work enabled us to move from the IPP to budget and spending plan discussions.Sandra said we should put everything into the plan, and to remember that we wouldn’t get everything. She was wrong! The Person-Centered Plan, drafted by Sandra, was well organized, services were tied to goals, and she justified the substantial increase in budget due to Hannah’s unmet needs. All told, it was about 2 weeks from the IPP meeting for an approved budget and spending plan.We are forever grateful for everything Sandra has helped us set in place for Hannah to dream big and achieve so much more than we ever thought she would.November 1st is the go live date for SD and Hannah is already beginning to live her dream. Thank You Sandra!

I would like to recommend Sandra McElwee of Empower Person-Centered Plans. She prepared My daughter’s Person-Centered Plan. In the process of learning about my daughter’s dreams she had some creative ideas that have come to fruition. After identifying the unmet needs in my daughter’s services she advocated for the additional services she would need to achieve her goals.
Previously she was in a Day Program that had her traveling around town in a group—most days she didn’t even want to go. They just killed time in the community and it wasn’t individualized to her needs or meaningful to her at all.
She had been working at our local Dickies Pit BBQ and this program wouldn’t even provide a job coach to allow for her to work more than 2 hours a week.
In the near future she will be attending community college classes with the Support of her job coach. We were able to hire a past ABA direct support professional to be our daughter’s job coach for 40 hours a week and she has already provided the support for my daughter to earn her FoodSafety Certificate online. Now Her hours at Dickies Pit BBQ are going to increase with her support. My daughter’s dream has been to start her own Dog-Walking business. But she has some stamina issues so Sandra suggested she have another dog-related business at the same time. During her person-centered plan her team came up with the idea and now she’s going to be baking dog biscuits between walking dogs too!
Once things are safer she will have booths at our local Farmer’s Markets and other Events, as well as a website to sell her treats.  Also once things open up we are transitioning her Respite hours to a Personal Assistant who will be accompanying her to activities in the community and planning fun things for her and her friends to do on the weekends.
We were even able to purchase a Tandem bicycle so now she can join the family on our weekend bike rides.
We boldly went where few had gone before with Sandra’s help. My daughter was the 8th person to enter the Self-Determination Program at our Regional Center. Sandra identified many unmet needs and was able to increase my daughter’s budget by 64% above the 12 previous months expenditures. We also added Independent Living services and it has been amazing How her willingness to help with household chores has improved now that someone other than myself is teaching her to do them.My daughter’s staff are supporting her at our home temporarily until it’s safer in the community. She is testing new dog treat recipes on our dog and loving baking them with her staff.
She is feeling Empowered and is truly living a self-determined life!


July 1, 2020

I was so excited that my son was selected for the Self Determination Program October 1, 2018; he was among the first 10 participants at our regional center to reach Self-Determination.  However, we struggled for 1.5 years to build an adequate PCP. In February 2020, we still had nothing to show for it.

I was not intending to hire an Independent Facilitator.  After I realized I didn’t have the time or knowledge to do it myself, I asked our RC Service Coordinator to step in and he assured us he could do the work. That was a big mistake.  Dedicated as he was, our service coordinator was over-worked and unreliable. He was not well-schooled on the breadth of the Self Determination Program.  He was focused on the Regional Center’s role, which often competed with our focus. We needed the help of an Independent Facilitator, a certified professional trained to create to Person Centered Plan for my son.

Fortunately, the Regional Center now provides $2500 for the initial Person Centered Plan (which is paid directly to an Independent Facilitator).  I was happy to hear I could hire an IF without out-of-pocket costs.

Sandra (EmpowerPCP) came highly recommended by a mutual acquaintance; I was relieved to have a reference because I had no more time to waste.

Here are the things I would do differently if I could start over:

  1. Hire an Independent Facilitator who is a certified professional trained to build a thorough and effective Person Centered Plan. Sandra quickly assessed where we were in our broken process and put us on a schedule.
  2. Create the Person Centered Plan as soon as possible; do this even before you enter SDP orientations. Writing the PCP was a paradigm shift for us, a completely different [and wonderful] perspective on my son’s promising future. Sandra took the time to understand my son’s dreams and how to build the plan to achieve his goals. She provided detailed justifications for services in support of his goals. Sandra helped us translate these goals into a funded spending plan. This involved advocating for ‘unmet’ needs; we had to justify funding that was initially denied because we couldn’t get adequate services from the RC vendors in the past. Sandra’s effort amounted to a $37,000 increase to our budget!
  3. Don’t underestimate the importance of the IPP. The IPP is a business contract; it’s not a status report. Your Independent Facilitator understands how these interlocking dependencies work which is critical to acquiring approval for your budget.  Sandra connected us with advocacy counsel, tapped into her sources, and guided us through a complex and relatively uncharted process.  We needed the help local advocacy agenciesRegional Centers have been learning the rules and laws along with the rest of us, so it was important to have the help of someone with the experience that Sandra was able to provide.

We are now Self-Determined.  I am so grateful that my son is on the path to achieving the goals he wants, thanks to Sandra’s help. 

Sandra’s passion for a thriving community including people with special needs has helped us immensely–First by showing us it was possible for our daughter to live independently with supports–Sandra knows the process first-hand. She educated us on how a Person-Centered-Plan would help our daughter with Down syndrome. Today–2 years since our daughter moved into her own place, she is thriving, has lost 40 pounds, is learning new skills and maturing. Thank you Sandra for helping us through the Person-Centered Plan process and helping us to give our daughter a new positive home environment where she is thriving. Life is good! 

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