Meet our dedicated A-Team leaders!
Susan (Sue) Hankner
Sue Hankner is the parent of two chronological adult age sons diagnosed with multiple disabilities including significant intellectual or developmental delays (I/DD). She has been advocating for her sons, ages 47 and 42, since they were born.
Sue’s post-secondary education background is in human development/child development, the psychology of learning and in business. Her formal post-secondary studies were at Iowa State University and the University of Minnesota.
Her career after college began as a home-bound infant special education teacher in St. Paul, MN. She taught special education at Mounds View High School in the Mounds View School District located in northern suburbs of St Paul/Minneapolis. In the 1980’s she was employed as education committee staff in the Minnesota Senate and later as the Director of the MN Legislative Commission on Public Education. She is a past director of the Laurentian Environmental Learning Center – owned and operated by the Mounds View Public Schools. She retired in 2017 as Safari Club International Foundation (SCIF) Director of Education and Humanitarian Services where her responsibilities included operations of the American Wilderness Leadership School in Jackson, Wyoming, the International Wildlife Museum in Tucson, AZ and all other SCIF education and humanitarian programs.
Sue’s activism includes five years’ professional experience in government relations with the MN Rural Electric Association. She served a total of 10 years on the Mounds View, MN City Council with 2 years as Mayor. In 2020, she joined the Minnesota Families and Advocates Coalition (MNFAC) as a steering committee member. She is a co-founder of A-Team Minnesota, Inc.
With decades of work, education and personal related experience and continuing studies Sue supports a full array of service options for people with intellectual or developmental delays. She believes there is a spectrum of identifiable disability characteristics within I/DD diagnoses. When well informed person-centered planning assists in determining appropriate services, which is like an IEP in education, the availability of a full array of options is necessary from which to choose. She advocates for existing programs and businesses providing measurable and valuable services to people with I/DD. She advocates for research and development of new programs and businesses (a form of rethinking) that provide opportunity to add value to a full array of options from which to choose. She encourages parents and their family members to advocate on behalf of their loved one with I/DD.
Sue advocates for A-Team My Choice.
Dawn Kovacovich has been a lifelong advocate for her young adult daughter, Laura, who was born 3 months prematurely with multiple disabilities, including OCD and autism. After a seven year wait for an opening, Laura was able to move into a supported group home in Park Rapids, MN, near her beloved work program. Dawn and her husband, Michael, continue to reside in rural northern Hubbard County, near Bemidji. Dawn and Laura pioneered many of the practices still used today for students with autism and severe behavioral disorders in their local school district, beginning with the establishment of a sensory room with a swing. Since then, Dawn has written several published articles and countless letters pertaining to preservation of disability support systems for the most severely handicapped population. She and Laura have both testified before the MN House of Representatives and have met privately with several other lawmakers.
Dawn earned degrees in Recreation Therapy & Program-ming and K-6 Elementary Education from the University of MN-Duluth, followed by Special Education graduate courses at Bemidji State University. She worked in the Duluth area as a Recreation Therapist at a DT&H center and in the mental health unit of Miller Dwan Medical Center. She has taught music, technology, Special Education, and Elementary Education until her retirement in 2019. Dawn also owns and operates Windhill Kennels, a small, purebred Golden Retriever breeding business. She continues to teach as a substitute for grades K-5; most recently long-term subbing for a Distance Learning classroom during the pandemic.
Dawn has been an activist and community volunteer in many capacities over the years, including providing advocacy and leadership pertaining to education and environmental issues. She is currently on the steering committee for MNFAC and the board of directors for Hubbard County Developmental Achievement Center. She was instrumental in helping to get A-Team Minnesota off the ground in April of 2021, developing a website, Facebook page, brochure, and orientation materials. Along with education, Dawn also enjoys copy-editing, persuasive writing, photography, and web design. She is passionate about spreading the message that people with disabilities are an important part of the community and should be allowed the same civil rights and freedom of choice as everyone else, including the choice to receive supportive services with other disabled adults if that is their need or desire. She was eager to join forces with other A-Team members to promote this important cause.
James (Jim) Clapper
Jim Clapper and his wife, Karen, are parents to their son, Bob Clapper, who was born in 1987 and diagnosed with Down Syndrome. As Bob moved through transition from school into adulthood, Jim and Karen became more involved with the state and federal processes that fund Day Training and Habilitation services (DT&H), Employment services, and supported living services. Jim also got involved with a local DT&H and Employment Services provider, Midwest Special Services, through his work at 3M. Jim served on their board for over 12 years and was Board Chair for three years.
In 2016, Jim and another parent advocate, Julie St Marie, initiated the disability advocacy organization, Minnesota Families and Advocates Coalition (MNFAC). MNFAC continues to educate parents and family members about the critical issues concerning the funding and services that are or should be in place for people with Intellectual and/or Developmental Disabilities (I/DD). MNFAC members, including Jim, have also spent quite a bit of time testifying or otherwise lobbying the Minnesota State Legislature to make statute changes to improve services and support for people with I/DD.
In 2021, Jim and other members of MNFAC decided to initiate an A-Team chapter or chapters in Minnesota to further advance advocacy for people with I/DD. MNFAC and A-Team Minnesota will continue to work together in the foreseeable future. There are many big challenges at both the state and federal levels and the combined efforts of MNFAC and A-Team Minnesota will help to defend the entitlements that are currently in place and fight for those that are needed in the future.
Meet Our A-Team Advisors
Susan Burns, of S Burns Legal, is a business lawyer whose specialty is working with businesses in growth mode. Her transactional practice focuses on service providers, microbiology consulting, tech startups, and innovative industries. She has graciously contributed time, legal expertise, and advice to A-Team Minnesota.
As a trusted attorney and on-call business partner, Susan serves as general counsel and strategic business advisor to her clients. She excels in finding creative solutions to sticky issues and, if the situation requires talent that is not in her skill set, Susan works with a trusted network of professionals that she has carefully curated with over the years.
Her career has focused on “doing well by doing good” and one of her guiding principles is “a bit of world-bettering is always encouraged.” She thrives on working with businesses that are making a buck and a positive impact.
Before starting her own law firm, Susan’s work ranged from general practice with small law firms to large-scale litigation with the largest Minnesota law firm, and she served as in-house counsel to banking and telecommunications companies. She currently holds leadership roles in the American Bar Association’s Section of International Law, currently as Deputy to the Chair and Co-Chair of the Food, Ag & Cannabis Committee. Susan is also a board member of the Minnesota Organic Advisory Task Force.
A Minnesota native, Susan earned her J.D. from Hamline University School of Law (now Mitchell-Hamline) and her B.A. from the College of St. Benedict. She holds an LL.M. in Food and Agriculture Law from the University of Arkansas.
Susan loves interacting with engaged clients and audiences.
John Wayne (JWB) Barker
JWB has supported adults with disabilities since 1980. For the first 10 years, he worked in the residential sector, opening some of the first SLS group homes in MN. Then, for 8 years, he worked as a consultant with 12 states on long term care policy for seniors and people with SPMI and I/DD. For the last 23 years he has been the Executive Director of Merrick, Inc., a day program in Vadnais Heights providing life enrichment services and supporting centered-based, crew, and direct-hire work for 375 adults with I/DD. He has served on too many DHS disability workgroups to count and is a respected thought leader having posted more than 40 editorials on disability issues.
Join Our Leadership Team!
Do you have a special talent, skill, or leadership ability that you would be willing to share? A-Team Minnesota is hoping to expand into regional chapters with leadership representation in each part of the state. Let us know if you are able to step up and help with this important cause!