Jill Hrinda-Patten is the founder and current Executive Director of Mission Empower and is also an accomplished individual with significant visual impairment and physical disabilities. Jill leads the organization with a perspective centered on independent living, inclusion for persons living with disabilities, and family empowerment. Ms. Hrinda-Patten earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Edinboro Pennsylvania University. Jill started her professional career within the Independent Living movement at a local center of independent living called Voices for Independence.
She owes her success to her parents, who had high expectations for their daughter. Furthermore, her parents worked to ensure Jill was fully included in the general education setting throughout school, even though she was born with a physical disability and lost her sight completely in the eleventh grade. She and her husband adopted their son from Guatemala, which helped them understand the joys and barriers that parents who have children with disabilities face. They have worked hard to keep their son, Rudy, included within general education courses at his neighborhood school, even as new needs and disabilities became evident. Rudy is on track to graduate from high school in 2022 and has faced many new barriers made more intense by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ms. Hrinda-Patten is not the typical Executive Director. She pitches in to teach a class at the Youth ENVISION Summit, her passion project for encouraging the next generation of youth living with disabilities.
Norma LewisMission Employment Connector
Norma is the youngest of 5 children and lives in Girard, PA. With her wonderful husband, Rick, she has raised her two adult children, Michael and Rebecca, and now has a precious grandson, Riley. Having been active in youth groups and her church, as well as having owned her own business for 13 years, Norma saw a need to guide young people she hired. In 2019, she was certified by Marc Gold & Associates as a Discovery Facilitator and Job Developer and is excited to lead Mission Empower’s Discovery Program.
When she’s not helping young people prepare for their futures, Norma is either spending time with her dogs, traveling with her husband in their RV, or tending her garden. She is thrilled to work with Mission Employment and is committed to helping Erie County youth lead fulfilling lives.
Katie HetzAmeriCorps VISTA
As an AmeriCorps VISTA serving Mission Empower for the 2021-2022 year, Katie works to build Mission Empower’s capacity, focusing particularly on the Mission Employment program. In May 2021 she graduated magna cum laude from Chatham University, where she double majored in music and creative writing. Mission Empower has also touched Katie’s life, providing her with educational advocacy during adolescence. Currently a graduate student and national service member, she is excited to provide support to one of the many advocates who helped make a bright young adulthood possible. Katie is a poet, pianist, insatiable reader, and aspiring nonprofit professional.
Arthur PeapplesAccounting Manager
Art moved to Erie as a small child and has lived and worked here for most of his life. He has been a small business owner in the home improvement industry, and also worked as a tractor- trailer driver. Art recently graduated from Edinboro University earning Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting. As the Accounting Manager at Mission Empower since 2017, Art keeps our accounting functions running smoothly.
Darlene BrownMission Read Coordinator
An Erie native, Darlene attended City of Erie public schools prior to studying business at Mercyhurst College and Penn State Behrend. She pursued her lifelong dream to become an educator, earning an Elementary Education degree at Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend, Indiana. In 2004, Darlene and her family moved to Granger, Indiana for her husband’s job. She worked for the South Bend Community School Corporation for nine years as a substitute teacher, teaching assistant, and instructional assistant with reading and math. She left the classroom to be a full-time caregiver to her terminally ill husband, who passed in September of 2018 from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). She returned to the Erie area in 2019 to be closer to her children and family.
Darlene believes that learning is an individualized process which every person is capable of, and that assisting students along this path is a teacher’s privilege. She enjoys being an advocate for children with disabilities and helping to unleash the potential within each student. She believes that through a collaboration of efforts, students can be taught to achieve the established skills set forth by society and surpass the expectations previously placed upon them.
Darlene is a widow, mother of six adult children, and grandmother. She now makes her home in North East, Pennsylvania.
Alexander DoleskiYouth Leader
Alex graduated from Harborcreek High School and currently attends Edinboro University, where he majors in middle school science and social studies as well as special education for kindergarten through 8th grade. He enjoys skating, spending time with his family at the peninsula, and taking care of his plants. Alex successfully completed a paid work experience in 2019 under our Mission Employment program as a high school student. His first-hand experience with Mission Empower enriches his connection to the youth we serve and positions him as a role model for our Youth Envision community.
Elaine SmithMission Employment Connector
Born and raised in sunny Southern California, Elaine brought her warm heart to Erie at the end of 2021. She is an experienced caregiver and has worked in daycare and at schools.
One of her most memorable experiences was volunteering to participate in activities with her high school’s special education class, which showed her the joys and opportunities of working alongside those with disabilities. She credits her dedication to service to her mother, who, as a teacher, instilled in her the value of making every child feel important.
Elaine resides nine-year-old daughter, Hazel, and is still getting accustomed to Erie weather!
Joseph PhelpsWeb Consultant
Joe graduated from Allegheny College with a bachelors degree in Environmental Science and Studio Art (double major). He was inspired to create a successful program those who have disabilities during college when he led a chapter of Best Buddies International. Joe was the youth program coordinator for Youth ENVISION, focusing on developing a two-pronged Transition Success Pilot Program utilizing best practices of self-advocacy / determination and building social capital of youth ages 14-18 in Erie County. He now serves the organization remotely, focusing on web development and design.