director of policy & Advocacy
Julie J. Christensen, LMSW, PhD, is the Executive Director at APSE – the Association of People Supporting Employment First. Julie had served as Director of Public Policy and Advocacy since January 2019. Prior to this, Julie served on APSE’s National Board of Directors and co-chaired APSE’s Public Policy Committee from June 2017-December 2019.
Before joining APSE, she was the Director of Iowa’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD), Center for Disabilities and Development (CDD), at the University of Iowa. Julie’s background encompasses work in schools, not-for-profits, government and higher education. For the past 15+ 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 currently maintains an adjunct faculty appointment in the University of Iowa School of Social Work. Her research and policy work has focused in the areas of transition, employment, quality of life, and leisure and recreation participation of people with disabilities across the lifespan. Julie also currently serves as the Senior Disability Policy Fellow for the Harkin Institute at Drake University.
Professional Development Director
Erica spent the first half of her career as a teacher in an integrated classroom from 2000-2006. She then worked in the private sector, advancing to Director of Educational Programs at Falls View Academy where she developed program opportunities through Supplemental Educational Services (SES) and Extended Learning Programs (ELT) across the state for students with disabilities and underserved populations. In 2015 she began working in Vocational Rehabilitation Community Employment at the Center for Human Services Education, create materials and provide trainings to school personnel on options for students with disabilities after high school. As a Special Education teacher herself she was unaware of how many young adults with disabilities are unemployed. Bridging the gap between the high school and college/work became her passion. In her most recent role as the Associate Director of the CHSE, she had the opportunity to oversee contracts that provided training and education to agencies that provide Supported Employment across NYS. A highlight of this position was collaborating and organizing the yearly NYS APSE Conference in Lake Placid, NY. Erica and her husband live in Fairport, NY with their three children. In her free time she volunteers as a Parent Representative on the Committee for Special Education.
systems Manager and program support
Sarah joined APSE as project coordinator in 2016. Sarah assists with CESP™ program, membership, and conference coordination. She has worked in the administrative field for a number of years helping teams with project coordination and quality assurance. Sarah received a bachelor’s of science in applied psychology from Pennsylvania State University.
Director of Operations
Erynn Pawlak is an Accounting and Finance professional who has worked extensively within the nonprofit world, specifically in the overlapping areas of human and environmental rights. She is excited to have the opportunity to apply her professional knowledge to APSE. Employment First advocacy is near and dear to her heart.
After receiving her B.S. of Agricultural Economics from Colorado State University, Erynn went on to receive her MBA in Finance from American Public University. Erynn uses her love of “big picture thinking” to help focus on specific operational needs that help propel businesses and non-profit organizations. She continues to manage her consulting firm, Content Llama Consulting, in order to help small businesses and entrepreneurs. Erynn is the founder of a local parenting group, OMG We’re Parents! which brings together families of children with special needs, in order to enjoy outings, exchange information and network within the community.
She is also a lifelong Girl Scout and continues to lead a group of very special girls. Erynn spends her days on her little chunk of land in Clarksburg, MD with her husband, two young children, two dogs, a flock of chickens and soon-to-be goat. She enjoys cooking, leatherwork, writing, camping and traveling.
Christa P. Rainwater
Director of Membership and Chapter Engagement
Christa P. Rainwater is a passionate leader committed to social justice, member development and engagement, and equity and inclusion. Christa began her career as an educator — teaching Introduction to Women’s Studies courses at the collegiate level, sociology, geography, and American Government at the middle and high school levels. In her most recent role at the International City-County Management Association (ICMA), Christa led ICMA’s women’s initiatives, drove equity and inclusion programming, chapter development and engagement for ICMA’s student chapters and Women Leading Government state chapters. Christa brings membership experience, project and organizational management skills, and relationship-building capabilities — as well as a strong personal desire to advocate for people with disabilities and the people who support them. She has a master’s degree in political science with a concentration in feminist theory from the University of South Florida and a master’s degree in Secondary Education from George Washington University. Christa lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband, son, and two dogs.
Kari began her work in supported employment as a job developer in 2014, working with individuals with disabilities and businesses to find and maintain employment opportunities. In that role, Kari saw first-hand the relationships that can come between job seekers and businesses around common interests and the success that can happen when one’s interests, skills, and needs for employment are considered.
A Nebraskan originally, Kari lives in Des Moines, Iowa and has worked (remotely!) since 2017 with National APSE. Kari was elected to the Iowa APSE Board of Directors and currently serves as Chapter Board President.
Kari graduated from Iowa State University with a Masters in Education and Drake University for a Bachelors of Arts, then earned the Certified Employment Support Professional™ (CESP) credential in 2015. Now she manages the CESP program, as well as serving in marketing roles for APSE (like sending APSE emails, posting to social media and developing the podcast!).
Kari enjoys time outside reading in the hammock, riding her bike, playing with her labradane Phil, walks and listening to podcasts, connecting for coffee over Zoom, and learning!