Commissioners on Disabilities

LACCOD Executive Board Members

2023-2024

Commissioners on Disabilities

The Commissioners on Disabilities serve as advocates for equity, inclusion, and independence within the community they represent. Tasked with advising the Board of Supervisors, County departments, and other stakeholder groups, their primary goal is to ensure that the needs and rights of individuals with disabilities are acknowledged and supported. By actively promoting accessibility and understanding, they strive to create a more inclusive and accommodating environment for the populations they serve.

LACCOD Commissioners Bios

 

Lourdes Caracoza,
1st Vice President

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Commissioner Lourdes Caracoza was appointed by Supervisor Hilda L. Solis of the First District on May 15, 2015.
Commissioner Caracoza is the President/CEO for Alma Family Services, an organization established in 1975 in East Los Angeles by parents to provide a comprehensive range of multilingual community-based services for those with special needs including emotional, physical and/or developmental delay and their families.

Commissioner Caracoza considers herself fortunate to have grown up in East Los Angeles with a strong sense of family, community, and service. Having a brother with Down syndrome allowed her to broaden her sense of community understand the importance of advocacy and foster a desire to work with the developmentally disabled.

In 1985 Alma Family Services allowed her to come in and assist and later manage the social rehabilitation program. Five years later, she left to pursue other callings in the community, but left with a continued commitment to serve the developmentally disabled.

During the next 13 years Commissioner Caracoza served on Alma Family Services’ Board of Directors and chaired for one year. 

Approximately 20 years ago, she was asked to return to Alma to assist in the development of additional services at Centro Estrella. In collaboration with a great team, they have been able to develop support services that range from advocacy training, specialized aquatic classes, community Integration training, behavioral health services, parenting classes, and inclusive preschool, a resource library, socialization training program and support groups. This multipurpose center has been recognized as a model. Families are made up of many talents, strengths and needs, how fortunate to belong to an organization that is inclusive in trying to serve the whole family not just parts of the family. Lourdes believes it is a wonderful opportunity to play a role in the enhancement of families’ lives.

Hector Ochoa, Commissioner

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Commissioner Hector Ochoa was appointed by Supervisor Hilda L. Solis of the First District on April 28, 2015.

Commissioner Ochoa is currently an Advocate for the Southern California Resource Services for Independent Living (SCRS-IL). SCRS-IL provides a wide array of programs and services to persons with disabilities in Southeast Los Angeles County and beyond including advocacy, peer counseling, housing assistance, information and referral, personal assistance services, independent living skills training and assistive technology.

Commissioner Ochoa is involved in numerous organizations and is also a former Counselor and Event Coordinator for the California Youth Leadership Forum and the Lead Organizer for ADAPT Los Angeles. He is a true advocate by heart and profession and is dedicated to ensuring disability rights for Los Angeles County residents.

Margaret Peggie Reyna, Commissioner Treasurer

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Commissioner Margaret “Peggie” Reyna was appointed by Supervisor Hilda L. Solis of the First District on April 28, 2015.

Commissioner Reyna is the Project Director for Peace Over Violence’s Deaf, Disabled & Elder Services Program, including the Right Response Collaborative, and the “LoveMeNot” Anti-Stalking Project. Ms. Reyna holds a B.A. in Special Education with emphasis on Deafness. Herself hard of hearing from domestic violence, Peggie is a nationally recognized speaker in the fields of intimate partner violence, teen dating violence, child abuse, stalking and women’s self-defense. She is best known for her pioneering work in the Deaf and Disabled communities and has been published in “Deaf Life”, “WE” magazine and “New Horizons”.

Commissioner Reyna has made numerous media and television appearances including Silent Network’s “Off Hand”, “Good Morning America”, “Southland Today”, “L.A. In The Morning”, “The Leeza Show”, “Up Front”, “Deaf Mosaic”, “Don’t Be a Target” 95 & 96, NBC’s “Save Our Streets” and “Lifestyle Magazine”. In 1995 Peggie was chosen as a featured subject for KCET’s “Life and Times”; in 1996 Commissioner Reyna was the subject of an ABC Monday Night Movie of the Week (“Breaking Through”) and in 2000 Peggie was a featured speaker in a domestic violence/stalking education video project with “Air Tokyo” which aired nationwide in Japan.

As an active member of the National Domestic Violence Hotline Board, Commissioner Reyna was chosen as a spokesperson for the hotline kickoff at the White House in 1996. Under her guidance LACAAW’s Deaf & Disabled Services Program was a recipient of the 1998 Crime Victim Service Award presented by the Department of Justice, Office of Victims of Crime, and in 2002 she was named a recipient of the Sunshine Lady Foundation Advocate Peace Award. In May of 2003, Commissioner Reyna received the prestigious “Angel of Peace” award from the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles. Ms. Reyna was recipient of the End Abuse Long Beach 2010 award for 25 years of outstanding service. In 2014 Ms. Reyna was given a special “Advocate Over Violence” recognition from Peace Over Violence. Commissioner Reyna is an outspoken advocate for all survivors of violence against women and children.

 

Michael Agyin

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Danielle G. Sheppard, Commissioner

Commissioner Danielle Sheppard was appointed by Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell of the Second District on August 10, 2021.

Commissioner Sheppard is the Program Coordinator of the College to Career (C2C) Program at West LA College. College to Career (C2C) is comprised of programs of instruction designed to provide young adults with intellectual disabilities (ID) and autism (ASD) with higher education and vocational training. Students are enrolled for three years and receive supports to be successful with coursework, to participate in activities on campus, in the community, in work-based instruction and to secure/maintain competitive integrated employment. C2Cs are located on the campuses of eight California Community College campuses across the State, including West LA College.

Commissioner Sheppard is a consultant and liaison to many programs and projects pertaining to equity and inclusion, disability awareness, and adult transition, and is also a former Counselor and Manager at the State of California Department of Rehabilitation. She is a passionate, dedicated leader in the community concerning disability rights for Los Angelenos.

John B. Troost, Commissioner

Commissioner John B. Troost is currently the 2nd Vice President of the Commission on Disabilities appointed by Supervisor Kenneth Hahn of the Second District him in 1975. Moreover, he was re-appointed by Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke in 2000 and by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in 2015.

Commissioner Troost has served as President for the Commission from 1982-1984 and 2011-2012, was Vice President from 1980-1982 and 2nd Vice President from 2013-2015. He also represented the Commission from 1978-1982 as a member of the Citizen Advisory Committee for the Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department, during the planning stages of the Kenneth Hahn Regional Park & Recreational Area in Baldwin Hills. Presently, he serves as a representative of Los Angeles County Commission on Disabilities to the Access Board of Directors of Access Services, Inc. He continues to serve as Chairman of the Education Committee for the Commission since 1978.

Commissioner Troost also serves his community as a member of two Handicapped Advisory Committees at the Los Angeles Southwest College and the Los Angeles Trade Technical College. He has served the City of Culver City as a member of their 504 Ad hoc Committee and with their Disability Advisory Committee.

Commissioner Troost holds an Associates of Arts Degree (AA) in History from El Camino College, and a Bachelor of Science Degree (BS) & master’s degree (MS) in Education from the University of Southern California. From 1989 to 1992, he worked as a Handicapped Specialist/Work Ability III, Program Coordinator at LA Trade Technical College. Since 1995, he has been a member of the Culver City Optimist Club, a service club that donates toys to hospitalized children.

Commissioner Troost has over the past four decades, worked as a Vocational Counselor for various independent living programs, and has spent several years working within California’s higher education system as a researcher, fundraiser, and teacher.

 

Leonora Gorelik, Commissioner

 

Louise Smith, Commissioner

Louise Smith

Commissioner Louise Smith was appointed by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl of the Third District on June 20, 2017.

Commissioner Smith is a post-polio survivor who is retired from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She worked at the medical center for 34 years in the capacity of Manager of the Division of Transfusion Medicine. She holds a BS degree from Arizona State University and a MPA from California State University Northridge. In her professional capacity, she served on many State, National and International boards and committees pertaining to the field of Transfusion Medicine, blood labeling, blood collection and Immunohematology.

Since retirement, Commissioner Smith serves on her Homeowner Association as a Board of Director and was appointed to the City of West Hollywood’s Disabilities Advisory Board. Her interests are in the availability of health care for the disabled community and encourage furthering education for people living with disabilities.

Maggie Soleimani, Commissioner

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Commissioner Maggie Soleimani Esq. was appointed by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl of the Third District on April 7, 2017.

Commissioner Soleimani is an attorney admitted to practice in the State of California since 1989. She is also a California licensed real estate broker in commercial and residential properties. She is active in many communities and philanthropic organizations and is a big advocate for children and young adults with special needs. 

She is currently serving as the chair of the Assessment Appeals Board for the County of Los Angeles.

 

Carlos Benavides, President

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Commissioner Carlos Benavides was appointed to the Commission by Supervisor Don Knabe of the Fourth District on June 15, 2014.

Commissioner Benavides is the current President of the Commission and Chair of the Patient Advisory Council at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center (Rancho).

Commissioner Benavides has a passion for life and independence is shared with newly injured patients as a Peer Mentor with Rancho’s Know Barriers program. He is also an accomplished graphic artist and digital photographer and has exhibited his work in several art galleries nationally. He is proud to serve as the County of Los Angeles 4th District representative on the Commission on Disabilities and will work tirelessly to ensure access to life for all.

Deaka Monique McClain, Commissioner

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Commissioner Deaka McClain was appointed by Supervisor Janice Hahn of the Fourth District on November 24, 2020.

Commissioner McClain is a lifelong advocate for the disability community. Through public speaking, volunteering, storytelling, poetry, and connecting with people on an individual basis, she uses her platform to continuously make positive changes. Having been born with cerebral palsy, Commissioner McClain knows firsthand the power of positive change and the value of using one’s voice.

After receiving a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Journalism from California State University, Long Beach in 2009, Commissioner McClain went on to receive a master’s degree in public administration in 2016.

Commissioner McClain is Co-Founder and Vice President of Public Relations of the Divine Victory Ministries Inc., a non-profit organization that strives to creatively bring awareness, education, and empowerment to the community regarding urban social issues. Through this organization, Commissioner McClain has codirected and produced “Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired,” a short documentary about being a survivor of domestic violence.

Commissioner McClain currently sits on ten boards that serve the disability community, including the Citizen’s Advisory Commission on Disabilities for the City of Long Beach, where she has served as Chair and Vice Chair. Commissioner McClain has also been a host on various boards, including the Harbor Regional Center, the Disability Rights Board of Directors, and the Nehemiah Project LA Regardless of her busy schedule, Commissioner McClain’s finds time to volunteer. 

Currently Commissioner McClain volunteers at the Disabled Resources Center and Zoe Christian Fellowship of Whitter (Zoe), where she attends church. At Zoe, she serves in the Media Ministry as an Administrator, Technical Director, and Camera Operator. Commissioner McClain enjoys a variety of hobbies such as reading, acting, directing, and hosting her podcast, Tunnel Vision.

Ramon Pizarro, Commissioner

Ramon_Pizarro

Commissioner Ramon Pizarro was appointed by Supervisor Janice Hahn of the Fourth District on April 14, 2020.

In 1993, at the age of 20, Commissioner Pizarro sustained a spinal cord injury leaving him with a C 5-6 quadriplegic condition. Following his injury, he worked very hard to regain self-independence and has faced many challenges along the way. Recognizing the need, based on his lived experiences, to help people with spinal cord injuries and mobility impairments lead a better quality of life, in 2014 Commissioner Pizarro founded the iPushrim Foundation. The Foundation’s vision is to help people live a better quality of life after injury.

As a former Commissioner of the Citizens’ Advisory Commissions on a Disabilities for the City of Long Beach, Commissioner Pizarro also volunteered to help others and gained extensive experience in collaborating as a team to help meet the needs of the disabled community.

Currently, Commissioner Pizarro is a dedicated volunteer at the Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Center (Rancho) who and has accrued over 1,500 hours of service to this health agency. He is also an active member of Rancho’s Patient Advisory Council, where he sits on various Ad Hoc Committees, including the Transportation, Medical Rounds, Language and Culture, and the CDOC Committee, to ensure that Rancho is family and patient oriented. Additionally, Commissioner Pizarro has also provided support and mentorship through educational support groups as a peer mentor for the KnowBarriers Program at Rancho.

Commissioner Pizarro’s main hobby is photography along with social media podcasting. He uses these platforms to share the beauty of the community along with disseminating valuable information and resources to people with disabilities. He is fueled by helping other individuals with similar mobility challenges and works tirelessly to make a positive impact in their lives with his motto, “Moving Towards Better Living.”

 

Cathy Gott, Commissioner

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Commissioner Cathy Gott was appointed to the Commission by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in March 2017. Most recently, on July 9, 2019, Commissioner Gott was reappointed by Supervisor Kathryn Barger to represent the Fifth Supervisorial District on the Commission.

Commissioner Gott is President of Education Spectrum, Inc., a center-based educational and social skills training center for children and adults with autism spectrum disorders. Education Spectrum opened its doors in 1996 and serves more than 400 families per year in and around the San Gabriel Valley. 

She holds her Master’s Degree in Public Administration, specializing in Non-profit Organization Management from the University of San Francisco. Recognizing the growing need for employment opportunities for adults with disabilities, she created Danny’s Farm. Opening its doors in 2007, Danny’s Farm employs and serves persons with special needs. Named for her twenty-three-year-old son, Danny, who has autism, the Farm is a labor of love. Commissioner Gott is currently the senior consultant for government relations for ETTA, and serves on Assemblymember Chris Holden’s Special Needs Advisory Committee, and is Founder of the newly formed Major League Baseball Players Association Alumni Wives Autism Alliance.

Commissioner Gott enjoys many civic and community activities and was appointed to the Board of Directors for the Los Angeles Universal Preschool by Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich. She has served on the California Legislative Blue-Ribbon Commission on Autism’s Task Force on Early Identification and Intervention, and is an Honorary Board member of the Los Angeles Chapter of Autism Speaks. She received the Most Inspirational Award in 2001 by the California State Assembly, and Woman of the Year Award in 2008 by the Los Angeles County Commission for Woman.

Commissioner Gott was selected by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Commission on Disabilities to receive the Annual Access Award for her outstanding work in the community and commitment to serve those with disabilities in October 2016. Commissioner Gott and her husband, Jim, raised their children in San Marino and currently reside in the Marina del Rey. Her husband, Jim, is a former Major League Pitcher & is currently the Pitching Coordinator for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Their younger son, Nicholas (22), is a senior at Harvey Mudd College, majoring in Computer Science. Jim’s son CJ (28) lived with them as a child. Both CJ and Danny have autism.

Jack Darakjian, Commissioner

Jack Darakjian

Commissioner Jack Darakjian was appointed by Supervisor Kathryn Barger in February 2018. He brings expertise and a wealth of knowledge to the Commission on Disabilities in the areas of mental illness, developmental disability, and advocacy for those with developmental disabilities.

Commissioner Darakjian serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Modern Support Services, LLC, a Glendale based agency that provides individualized community and home-based services, such as Supported Living Services and Independent Living Skills to individuals with significant psychological, emotional and physical challenges. In this setting, Commissioner Darakjian’s goal is to enhance the health and quality of life for individuals diagnosed with Autism, Down Syndrome, Intellectual Disabilities, Seizure Disorders, Cerebral Palsy, Schizophrenia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders, Bipolar Disorders, etcetera.

Commissioner Darakjian’s passion for empowering people and helping them to stand proud has included helping runaway teenagers at the non-profit 1736 Family Crisis Center, providing support, supervision, and education. He has also served as a Mental Health Worker at UCLA/NPI and at the Frank D. Lanterman Regional Center as Service Coordinator. Currently, Commissioner Darakjian also serves as an Advisory Council Member on the Disability Organizing Network, a statewide advocacy organization; and is also a Board Member of the Campbell Center as well as a Provider Review Committee Member at the Regional Center of Orange County.

Commissioner Darakjian has co-authored three research papers on addiction and was the recipient of “Character and Ethics” Award from the City of Glendale in 2014.

Andrea Edoria, Commissioner

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Commissioner Andrea Edoria was appointed by Supervisor Kathryn Barger of the Fifth District on July 3, 2018.

She was born and raised in Pasadena, is a graduate of the University of Southern California and is an Angeleno through and through. At the age of three, Commissioner Edoria suffered a brain aneurysm which resulted in a stroke. After twice being misdiagnosed, a mass was found at the base of her brainstem that doctors concluded was causing the stroke. At the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, a team of the nation’s best neurosurgeons, under chief surgeon Dr. Gordon McComb, performed an eleven-hour surgery to remedy the aneurysm and save Commissioner Edoria’s life.

Hence, Commissioner Edoria’s advocacy for people with disabilities began. She was the spokesperson for the Children’s Miracle Network, the non-profit partner foundation for all Children’s Hospitals nationwide. Commissioner Edoria has participated at various fundraising events sharing her life experiences and recovery. 

Today, Commissioner Edoria continues to act as a
proud ambassador for the Children’s Hospital for local and national events. Growing up lending her voice to children in hospitals or on the road to recovery has strengthened her passion to advocate for children and adolescents with disabilities. Through Commissioner Edoria’s advocacy, she hopes to improve the current landscape of disability services to accommodate those newly released from rehab, as well as children and adolescents coping with disabilities as they grow up.

In addition to public speaking, Commissioner Edoria is currently studying for the Law School Admission Test and is taking paralegal courses at the Pasadena City College in preparation for a career in law. Commissioner Edoria aspires to continue her advocacy for disabilities through her work as an attorney in the near future.

 

Department of Rehabilitation

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Little Person Representative

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Youth Representative (18-24 years old)

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