DRNC’s Board of Directors is a diverse group of individuals who are passionate about the rights of people with disabilities. All or most of our board members are disabled or have a family member with a disability. The DRNC Board of Directors seeks to reflect the ethnic, racial, geographic, socioeconomic and disability diversity of North Carolina.
Selection of board members is based on current diversity and skills needed, as well as knowledge, connection and commitment to advancing the human and legal rights of people with disabilities.
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DRNC Board Members
James Booker is originally from West Virginia and graduated from West Virginia Wesleyan College. He moved to North Carolina a little more than a decade ago. His work in the field of disabilities began when he worked as a counselor at a summer camp for children with disabilities. After graduating, he became a teacher’s assistant in public separate schools, working primarily with children with profound medical needs. He has since become a clinical supervisor to a direct care provider, and he has served on the Deaf-Blind Advisory Council. He and his wife have spent the last several years as foster parents to children with disabilities. The biggest influence in James’ life is his son, who he adopted at the age of three. His son suffered a TBI as a result of Shaken-Baby Syndrome and is deaf and blind. Not a day goes by that James doesn’t learn something new from his son, and he will do anything to make his life just a little easier.
Dr. Crystal Bowe
Vice-Chairperson (Western Region)
Crystal is a family physician from Ahoskie, NC. She attended North Carolina A&T University for her undergraduate studies, University of North Carolina – Greensboro for graduate studies in romance languages, and East Carolina University for medical school and residency. Prior to becoming a physician, she was a teacher in the Greensboro area. Crystal’s interest in disability rights stems from her experiences caring for her aunt and uncle, who both have intellectual and developmental disabilities. She is a strong advocate for her patients (young and old) and works to help them achieve the goal of full inclusion and independence in life.
Edward G. (Woody) Connette
Woody Connette has practiced law for more than 40 years, representing clients who have suffered catastrophic personal injuries, loss of family members by wrongful death, and long-term disability benefit claims. He also has a long history of mental health and disability advocacy, ranging from individual incompetency and guardianship matters to large disability rights class actions. Among his volunteer and community activities, Woody has served on the national Board of Trustees and as President for United Cerebral Palsy in Washington D.C., as President of Easter Seals/UCP of North Carolina, as Executive Board Chair for the National Patient Advocate Foundation, and as Chair of the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Presbytery of Charlotte. He has also served on the boards of the Charlotte Light Factory, the Mecklenburg Medical Society’s Bioethics Resource Group, Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, Carolina Legal Assistance, The Council on Adolescent Pregnancy, Bare Bones Theater Group, and other nonprofit organizations.
Bola relocated to Raleigh from the northeastern part of the United States for a management position with Sprint’s RelayNC program, a service that facilitates telephone calls for people with hearing impairments. She travels the state and has heard many frustrating tales of discrimination against deaf people. Bola, who has a hearing impairment, has volunteered with national and state organizations serving people who are deaf. Upon learning about Disability Rights NC, she felt a connection to its cross-disability mission as a way to put critical mass behind issues of civil rights, advocacy/law enforcement, and policy development. She has degrees in PR and social work, using the latter in an earlier career counseling people with mental illness.
Tina is a North Carolina native and currently resides in Hope Mills. She has worked at Legal Aid of NC for more than two decades. As a litigation paralegal, she assists eligible clients in the areas of disability and public benefits. In addition, as a certified Navigator, she provides consumers with enrollment and post-enrollment assistance regarding affordable healthcare matters. Tina also served as a judge and chief judge on the Administrative Court of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina and later served as a justice on the tribe’s Supreme Court. Tina understands the needs of persons with disabilities on a personal level as she has survived cancer on two separate occasions and also manages a rare lung condition. She is a true advocate for ensuring equal justice for all and is extremely excited to serve on the Board of Disability Rights NC.
Chairperson (Piedmont Region)
Bryan has cerebral palsy and is an advocate for people with disabilities. While earning a degree in history at Guilford College, he won numerous leadership awards and scholarships, wrote for The Guardian newspaper, and worked as a diversity coordinator. Bryan is now a journalist and columnist with Camel City Dispatch and a board member at The Adaptables Center for Independent Living in Winston-Salem. He began advocating from a young age, earning state and national awards by high school, including the Yes I Can award in assistive technology from the Council for Exceptional Children and the Matthew Graziadei Achievement Award. He participated in the Youth Leadership Forum and numerous youth groups, including the National Youth Leadership Network and the American Association of People with Disabilities. He completed the NC Council on Developmental Disabilities Partners in Policymaking program in 2014 and actively participates in the Advancing Strong Leadership in Development Disability Initiative, NC Post-Secondary Education Alliance, Community Emergency Response Team, and the Centerpoint Consumer and Family Advisory Committee.
Victoria (Tori) is an assistant professor in the School of Media and Journalism at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, where she teaches media law and researches web accessibility for people with disabilities as a First Amendment issue. She spent ten years teaching at Bowling Green State University in Ohio after receiving her Ph.D. from UNC in 2003. Before that, she worked for The Associated Press in New York for nearly a decade; her last position there was as director of Corporate Communications. Tori has students, colleagues, friends, and family members with various physical and mental health disabilities. She shuns “inspiration porn” in media stories about people with disabilities and firmly believes that disability law and policy must be crafted with and by those it affects: “Nothing About Us Without Us.”
Robert “Hoppy” Elliot
Hoppy joined DRNC’s Board in March of 2019. He has previously served the ACLU of North Carolina on the board and as president and general counsel, and has served on the Human Relations Commission in Winston-Salem, including a year as Chair. Hoppy has been practicing law for 40 years, with his primary practice focusing on civil litigation in employment law, disability (LTD) claims, civil rights work, personal injury claims, and commercial and business issues. He currently resides in Forsyth County, and has received multiple awards for his work, including Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year in North Carolina by the North Carolina Bar Association, and the Frank Porter Graham Award by the ACLU of North Carolina for 2011 for longstanding and significant contributions to the fight for individual freedom and civil liberties in North Carolina. Hoppy also joined with two other lawyers to represent Guantanamo detainees. Hoppy is proud to support DRNC’s excellent and critically important legal work.
Rachel is a partner with Henson & Fuerst, a law firm founded in eastern NC by her father and two friends. Much of her professional work involves clients who have been abused, neglected, or injured in group homes and nursing facilities. She represents clients before the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Social Security Administration. As the granddaughter of a person with sensory and age-related disabilities, she is keenly aware of the challenge of disability on the family and wider community. Rachel appreciates Disability Rights NC’s focus on systemic change as a way to proactively impact institutions and policies. She is especially interested in improving conditions in group homes and nursing homes, saying “If more North Carolina citizens are involved with disability rights, then we have a better chance of convincing those who make the laws that more is needed to protect those who are most vulnerable.”
Kim Lan Grout
Chair-Elect (Central Region)
Kim Lan is a writer, photographer, and disability advocate in Durham. She is the founder of the Redefining Disabled Project and a co-founder of the Accessible Icon Project–Durham, NC. When she was 18 years old, after a long saga with a congenital vascular syndrome, Kim Lan elected to have her left leg amputated above the knee to save her life. What most people would consider her disability, she considers her liberation. Now, 15 years post-amputation, Kim Lan lives a full life alongside her husband and their two daughters, the younger of whom was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at just two years old. It is with this love for life and love for her “broken” body that she works to make our world more inclusive and aware; fights the able-istic status quo; and seeks to show our community that disabilities don’t have to be the end of one’s life, but rather can be a source of love, tolerance, patience, and determination.
Evan joined our board in March of 2019 and has also been a pro bono attorney volunteer for DRNC. He opened his own law practice in 2014 and resides in Beaufort County. Evan graduated with a B.A. in Economics from the College of William & Mary, earned his law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law, and has a great deal of experience in negotiating and litigating fair housing-related disability claims, including filing the first federal lawsuit to enforce the U.S. Department of Justice’s regulations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. He represents people with disabilities regarding their social security and VA disability claims. Evan has mobility impairments after sustaining injuries from high school and college sports. He admires DRNC’s board and staff members’ commitment and determination to achieve equality for all, and hopes to ensure that North Carolina’s residents with disabilities have a voice and champion across the board.
PAIMI Advisory Council Chairperson (Eastern Region)
Jeff is the current chair of the Disability Rights North Carolina PAIMI Advisory Council. He previously served on the Disability Rights NC Board of Directors from 2007 – 2012, including a year as board chair in 2012. Jeff also chairs the NC Mental Health Block Grant Planning & Advisory Council, and is a member of the NC DHHS Money Follows the Person Stakeholder Advisory Committee, and the Cherry Hospital Human Rights Committee. He served as a contract consultant for the Substance Abuse, Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 2006 – 2016 on both the national PAIMI and Mental Health Block Grant state monitor. He is currently pursuing a masters in business administration at East Carolina University and lives in Kinston with his golden retriever, Lucky.
Ed Rizzuto joined the DRNC Board of Directors in February, 2020. He initially became involved with DRNC in 2017 as a pro bono attorney, providing assistance to clients seeking to pursue discrimination claims with the EEOC. He obtained his law degree and law license in California where he practiced employment, civil rights, personal injury and child abuse law. Since moving to Durham in 2015, Ed has devoted a great deal of his time and energy to embracing, supporting and advocating for North Carolina’s community of people who are blind or visually impaired. Together with a couple of friends, Ed organized Durham’s vibrant and thriving Vision InSights Support and Advocacy Group in 2017. He currently serves on Durham’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission and Durham’s Long Term Comprehensive Plan Outreach Team, both of which he volunteered for to lend a greater voice to Durham’s community of people with disabilities on matters of public policy. Ed teaches self-advocacy, Accessible Technology and Independent Living Skills classes with the North Carolina Division of Services for the Blind. He is a firm believer in the concept that people with disabilities are the best authorities on their own experience and that their voices should be prioritized on matters of public policy that impact them. Ed lives in Durham with his wife, Kennedy; sons, Brendan and Benjamin; daughter, Annabelle; and Seeing Eye dog, Gifford.
Juvencio Rocha-Peralta, Jr., a native of Veracruz, Mexico, has lived in North Carolina since 1980 and has been a community leader and advocate for the past 35 years. Juvencio is the founder and, since 2001, executive director of the Association of Mexicans in North Carolina, Inc. (AMEXCAN). He serves on a number of other boards addressing community needs, including the Eastern North Carolina Latin-American Coalition, North Carolina Latin American Chamber of Commerce, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, North Carolina Rural Center, North Carolina Complete Count Commission, Counselor Advisor of the Mexican Institute Abroad, and Rural North Carolina Latino HIV/AIDS Task Force Initiative.
Jill Britton Scercy
Jill has lived in North Carolina for more than 35 years. She lives in Greenville with her husband and has three grown children. She graduated from East Carolina University and is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She has worked in public mental health and private practice with families and children with mental health and developmental disabilities. Eleven years ago she began working for the UNC-Chapel Hill TEACCH Autism Program and is now the director of the Greenville center. Jill has been involved both locally and on the state level with advisory councils for public education. As the mother of a son with Autism, she co-led a parent support group for 14 years. Jill is honored to serve on the board where abilities are emphasized and all rights for individuals are protected.
Cheryl Mulloy Villemagne
Treasurer (Western Region)
Cheryl is a Registered Nurse with a master’s degree in nonprofit organizational management. She lives with her husband, Dick, in Waynesville, in the beautiful Smoky Mountains. Most recently, Cheryl was VP of Quality Management for Easterseals UCP NC & VA, retiring in 2016. Cheryl is returning to the DRNC board after a five-year absence, having previously served as secretary and treasurer. In the interim, she remained on the Finance Committee in the interim. Cheryl began working with children with intellectual disabilities as a teenager during summer camp. She is passionate about self-determination, individual choice, and advocacy for people of all ages with developmental, intellectual, physical and mental health disabilities.
Sheila joined our board in March of 2019. Her education includes a Bachelor’s of Science, with a Biology major and Chemistry minor, from Johnson C. Smith University; a NC Teacher Certification from UNC-Charlotte; an Associate’s Degree in Human Services from Central Piedmont Community College; and a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Duke University. She is also currently a candidate for a Master’s of Divinity at Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury. She is the proud parent of a son with dual developmental disabilities, and she has worked as a parent and family advocate since 2002, when she started a support group for parents of children with disabilities in Mecklenburg County. Sheila founded ParentVOICE in 2004, a program that provides education, support and resources for parents of children with disabilities, and has also served on several mental health collaboratives, including two terms on DRNC’s PAIMI Advisory Council where she served as chairperson and liaised with DRNC’s Board of Directors. Sheila is motivated by the zeal of our board, council and staff, and appreciates the importance of the board’s work to DRNC’s mission.