Tahani Mafnas and Ruth Ann Torres are student employees at the CNMI University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the Northern Marianas College. Mafnas began her work study at UCEDD last fall semester, while Torres joined the team this Spring semester.
On February 26 at the Fiesta Resort in Saipan, Mafnas and Torres conducted a presentation about the UCEDD program to disability stakeholders including high school students with disabilities. The mini workshop was designed to reinforce what is being taught at the Center for Living Independently. According to Mafnas, her presentation covered the UCEDD’s four core functions, which are interdisciplinary pre-service training and continuing education, community services, research, and dissemination of information, and explained the unique relationship the CNMI UCEDD has with the University of Hawaii’s Pacific Basin University Centers for Excellence, or PBUCE. All 67 UCEDDs in the states and territories (some have more than one UCEDD) are associated with a major research university, and for this reason CNMI UCEDD falls under the umbrella of and is a recipient of technical assistance from the PBUCE.
So far, Mafnas is enjoying learning about disabilities including hot topics such as “assistive technology, universal design, and inclusiveness.” The best part, she added, “is working with some of UCEDD’s partners like the Council on Developmental Disabilities, Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy Systems, Inc., Family to Family Health Information Center, and the Commonwealth Office of Transit Authority,” to name just a few.
Torres co-presented alongside Mafnas during the February 26 workshop. For her part, Torres emphasized the importance of collaboration in the work that UCEDD does. Primarily, UCEDD works in partnership with the DD Council and NMPASI. “Known as the CNMI Developmental Disabilities Network, these 3 federally-mandated programs together make up the tri-agency with a focus on advocacy, capacity building, and systems change,” said Torres. On a larger scale, UCEDD continues its active membership in the CNMI Disability Network Partners, or DNP, to promote other focus areas (e.g., independent living, special education, health, emergency preparedness, etc.) that help to enhance the lives of individuals with disabilities.
Grateful and optimistic, Torres shared that though she is “still quite new to UCEDD...the experience has truly been a thrill. I’ve learned many new things about advocating for those who feel like they do not have a voice, and I met many new wonderful people including members of UCEDD’s Consumer Advisory Committee (CAC) and advocates from NMPASI, DD Council, and various other organizations.” Moreover, Torres expressed gratitude for the “opportunity UCEDD has given me, and I look forward to a future of personal and professional growth.”
Other topics covered during the workshop spearheaded by the CLI and supported by UCEDD and numerous other programs included transportation, assistive technology, transition, vocational rehabilitation, consumer rights, health information, and advocacy.
Mafnas and Torres are both pursuing a degree in Rehabilitation and Human Services under the School of Education at the Northern Marianas College.
Ruth Ann Torres