Promoting Health and Leadership in Project SEARCH® Programs


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Date and time: Thursday, October 12, 2017 2:00-3:00 pm (EST)
Duration: 1 hour

For people with intellectual/developmental disabilities, maintaining health and wellness is essential to achieving and maintaining independence, participating in society, and preventing the onset of secondary health conditions. Yet, people with disabilities (PWD) experience poorer health than the general population and alarmingly higher rates of obesity and related conditions. The University of Cincinnati UCEDD and Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities at University of Rochester implemented and evaluated the evidence – based HealthMessages Program curriculum with Project SEARCH students. HealthMessages Program is a 12-week health promotion program which uses peer-to-peer facilitation to learn about physical activity and hydration; as well as making healthy choices, lifestyle changes, and setting goals. This presentation will provide a summary of lessons learned from the pilot project.

CEUs: There will be no CEUs provided for this presentation.


Julie Christensen, PhD, LMSW, Director, Center for Disabilities and Development (UCEDD), University of Iowa, Iowa. Julie is the Director of Iowa’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD), Center for Disabilities and Development (CDD), at the University of Iowa. Prior to joining CDD in May 2016, Dr. Christensen served as the Director of Employment Programs at Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD), at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Dr. Christensen’s background encompasses work in schools, not-for-profits, government and higher education. For the past 14 years, her career has centered around improving quality of life outcomes for at-risk youth, including youth with intellectual and development disabilities, through promoting employment and access to leisure and recreation opportunities in inclusive settings. She has considerable experience developing, administering, and evaluating federal, state and local grant-funded projects with an emphasis on cross-systems collaboration and systems change. She currently maintains a research faculty appointment in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and adjunct appointments in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics and the University of Iowa School of Social Work. Her research is in the areas of employment, quality of life, and leisure and recreation participation of adolescents and young adults with IDD.

Melissa Pennise, M.P.H., Sr. Health Project Coordinator – Health Disparities, University of Rochester Medical Center, Golisano Children’s Hospital. Melissa joined Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics in 2014. She previously worked at the Monroe County Department of Public Health where she worked in the Communicable Disease Control and Prevention Division. Melissa’s public health interests include data-driven quality improvement, and access to healthcare for vulnerable populations..


Maryellen Daston, PhD, Program Specialist, Project SEARCH, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Cincinnati, OH. Maryellen is is a technical writer with a background in biomedical research. Prior to her current position with Project SEARCH, she was involved with research in the field of developmental neuroscience. In her current position, Maryellen works with the Project SEARCH central administration team at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Maryellen manages the Project SEARCH database and is responsible for editing and writing content for the Project SEARCH website, articles for professional journals, and other communications. She is also involved with researching funding opportunities, writing grant proposals, and overseeing research related to Project SEARCH. In addition, Maryellen co-authored the book on the history, philosophy, and practices that define the Project SEARCH model, “High School Transition that Works: Lessons Learned from Project SEARCH”, Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.


These webinars are hosted by the HealthMatters ProgramTM in partnership with Project SEARCH® and funded by The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Developmental Disabilities and Health (RRTCDD). The RRTCDD is funded through United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Community Living (ACL), National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), Grant # 90RT5020-01-00 and the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council, Grant # 17CH03FA19.

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