ADDPC Council Member, Andrew Robinson & Staffer, Michael Leyva

DDNN Winter 2016/17

Each DD Network Newsletter will highlight a staff member from one of the partnering agencies to recognize their hard work and dedication in exemplifying the mission of the Network to work collectively and collaboratively to foster the independence, advocacy and community integration of individuals with developmental disabilities. This edition spotlights a council member and staffer of the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council.

Andrew Robinson, Council Member
Andrew Robinson, ADDPC council memberAndrew Robinson admits to being a bit anxious about being chair of the newly established Inclusion Committee at the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council.

“My first goal is to understand what it means to be a leader,” Robinson said. “Learning the position, I’m supposed to answer questions that (Council members) ask. That’s part of what being a leader means.”

Several projects fall under the inclusion category of grants the Council manages. Robinson is particularly interested in focusing on one called “Picture of a Life” that helps kids with disabilities in foster care plan for their futures.

It’s an issue close to his heart. Robinson spent a total of 13 years in 15 different foster homes as a child. He is a self-described “late bloomer” which “is pretty typical for autistic people,” he said.

Robinson has served on the Council for two years, working on the employment committee prior to joining the inclusion group.

Robinson was born in Dougherty, California, and moved to Arizona in 1979 when he was 18 years old. He earned a degree in computer information systems, and has worked at EF Data and General Dynamics. He speaks fluent Cantonese thanks to his wife Heidi, a native of southern China. They are the proud owners of two birds: Forest and Buddy.

Robinson also has written two self-published books, “The Boy Who Lived” and “How the Autistic Mind Doesn’t Work.” And he feels he offers a unique perspective to the Council. “I’m autistic, I was a ward of the state, I have MS,” Robinson explained.

For him, writing is a way to express his thoughts and experiences, especially through his blog, http://www.theboywholived.me

Ultimately, his primary goal lies in building bridges of understanding in the wider community.

“I want to make some kind of progress when it comes to helping people understand people with disabilities, more specifically autism since I’m more familiar with that,” Robinson said. “I always feel like I’m making some difference, but not as much as I’d want to,” he added, noting his time on the Council.

“I’m still hoping I can make a bigger difference so that people like me won’t have to go through what I did growing up. Or even after they grew up. There is a lot of misunderstanding about autism and autistic people. I want to eliminate that misunderstanding as much as possible. It’s a very grandiose goal.” 

Michael Leyva, ADDPC stafferMichael Leyva, ADDPC Staffer
Michael Leyva is a bit of a rarity in Arizona: He’s lived in the Grand Canyon State nearly his entire life.

Leyva joined the Council as a grants coordinator in 2012 after a prior state government career and three years in the banking world.

But what the lifelong Arizonan really cares about is people. “I just have this spirit of wanting to help and serve,” Leyva said. The relationship-building and people skills Leyva brings to the Council shines through his day-to-day work overseeing employment-related project grants.  “I was looking for something I could be passionate about,” Leyva said. “It’s a whole new opportunity for me.”

Growing up in South Phoenix, Leyva was raised alongside several cultures. “My parents were grocers and my mom was half-Mexican, half-Chinese,” he said. “We were sort of isolated in the community as a result. The grocery store was everything for me—it was my play; it was my education.”

His passion for people drives the work Leyva puts into the Council’s efforts to encourage meaningful employment for individuals with developmental disabilities.

“I oversee the employment projects,” he said. “I like working behind the scenes making things work, and building and cultivating relationships.”

Those projects include the Employment First initiative, the Work Incentive Information Network, and Untapped Arizona.

“They are all systems change projects, they are all cultural change projects,” Leyva said. He is proud of the strides made to get people with developmental disabilities competitive jobs.

“Together and in partnership we are making a positive difference,” he said.