References and Testimonials

In caring for my brother with an intellectual disability, who I love so dearly and have a deep responsibility for, sometimes I find it all so very overwhelming and daunting. Even accessing the incredible resources that can help my brother can feel intimidating due to all the paperwork and the high stakes involved. I knew that Self-determination with the Regional Center was the right path, and I thought I could write the Person Centered Plan (PCP) and budget alone.  I am a professional grant writer so I thought I could do it.  But I soon realized I needed help. The most lucky day was finding Sandra and EMPOWER.  She wrote a PCP that was surprisingly beautiful and powerful, and  made me so happy to see my brother and his work, his hopes and dreams, just  beaming at me from the plan. It was an unexpected gift.  It allowed me to relax and recognize this could be a positive process.   I had been actually a bit scared and intimidated by the process.  Rather, working with Sandra was actually fun and embracing of my brother and me. In his PCP he shines.  I want to thank her for her kindness and caring, while at the same time being so incredibly talented and competent!! I am deeply grateful to Sandra.

Some people don’t understand that while it is worrying in so many ways to be a caregiver of a loved one… can bring so much light and love and wisdom  into the caregivers world. THANK YOU  Sandra.  I always say that my brother is an angel finder…..true yet one more time!!! Obviously, I highly recommend Sandra to anyone looking for help with writing these plans, or any other service  she provides!!!


We would like to recommend Empower Person-Centered Plans to you to provide the Person-Centered Plan for your adult who is transitioning into the Self-Determination Program.

Our 26 year old son is extremely unique and has never fit into any ‘program’ offered by our Regional Center. Since our transition from high school at 22 years old we have paid out of pocket for art classes and created his own ‘day program curriculum’ with a Regional Center Funded Aide and LVN accompanying him into the community. Finally with Self—Determination these classes are being paid for now with his annual budget.

He is very artistic, truly has great talent even though he needs modified equipment to allow him to physically be able to paint.  He also uses a wheelchair to ambulate and as we began the Person-Centered Plan with Sandra at Empower we were waiting for his first power chair to be delivered.

During the Person-Centered Plan we developed a great vision of my son’s future art business with ideas from his team of items to put his art on, ways to monetize his art and even the name of his business, “Rays-Of-Light-Production.”  We were even able to hire a job coach to help him with his business, develop a website for him, and a social media engagement/marketing strategies expert that has expetise and experience in product develop/design/and business models. Currently underconstrution.

While Self-Determination is funded through the HSBS Waiver, we discovered that my son’s nursing services are funded through the HCBA Waiver—and it turns out you can’t be on both waivers at the same time. Sandra contacted DDS, contacted our Regional Center’s Federal Contract’s Person and called a meeting to discuss this before we presented the Person-Centered Plan to the Regional Center. Ultimately the decision was made that my son would stay on the HCBA Waiver, and our Regional Center would fund the Self-Determination Program through their budget instead of through the HCBS Waiver. While this extended the amount of time that it took for my son to enter Self-Determination, Sandra stayed with us and didn’t hesitate to continue supporting him.                                                                    While our son has good support Monday through Friday during the day, I still felt like I was drowning in the amount of his care I needed to provide in the evenings and on weekends .  Sandra also wrote the Person-Centered Plan to make the case that we needed more support on the weekends and we now have nursing care on the weekends too.    Regional Center had provided the modifications to a van we drive, but we had no idea that they would also help provide the Access Accomindations he needed for Home Accessibility so he could navigate our home independently with his new powerchair with saftey and to meet his PCP goals. We were required to receive a bid from a Regional Center Contractor which turned out to be the best, since he pointed out many things we had not even considered. We are still working out the details with Regional Center through the Traditional System, and can’t wait to have our home accessable for saftey and access to his least restrive envirmented completed in 2021. Once modifited our son can navigate and access every room in the house and, his outside exit for saftey in case of a fire where we live. Our area is not accessable for Access car services pick up at our home.

Sandra at Empower Person-Centered Plans is an experienced and knowledgeable expert in the processes and logistics of the services systems and available resources for children and family’s needs. She is excellent in follow through, responsible, proactive and passionate about providing the perfect direction and consultation to make life accessible and compassionate for others. We are grateful and blessed to
have her on our team.



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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