Personal Assistance Services (PAS) in Rural America Advisor Bios

Community Advisors

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Agnes Flamand-Black Weasel

Agnes is from Montana.

Bert Rios, a man with short grey hair in a blue sweatshirt smiles

Bert Rios

Bert is a CWIC, benefits planner, advocate, IL specialist, and Living & Working Well Facilitator with S.M.I.L.E. in Arizona.

He has joined the PAS in Rural America advisory board so that individuals and caregivers in the rural areas he serves can have access to resources so they will be educated and empowered.

Denice Gilroy older woman blue shirt glasses

Denice Gilroy


I am an Executive Director for an Independent Living Center.  My focus and mission is to keep people in the home and community of their choice, part of that choice is having an accessible home and community. 

Here in AK PCA services and in home care is our primary focus for transitioning folks home from hospitals and institutions.

Greg English using a power wheelchair, while wearing a hat. A white and brown dog rests on his feet.

Greg English

Greg is from Wisconsin.

Irene Merchant an older woman with a grey shirt and glasses

Irene Merchant

I am from Nome, Alaska where my husband and I raised our four children.  After we retired, we moved to Palmer, Alaska where the weather is not as harsh and the winter is not as long.  My mother lived to be 102 years of age, recently passing in July of last year.  For the last 5 years she was bedridden and I became her main caregiver in our home.  We moved her from Nome to our home in Palmer five years ago mainly because at the time there were no services available for her in Nome. 

I decided to become involved with this advisory board mainly because of the many roadblocks we came up against in providing for her every need.  I am hoping that I can contribute and help those who seek assistance not as complicated and stressful as it was for us.

Leanne Beers a woman with brown hair and a grey shirt using a wheelchair holds a black dog with bright light blue eyes

Leanne Beers

Dr. Leanne Beers holds a PhD in Social and Behavioral Sciences/Human Services with an emphasis in disability and human sexuality. She also has a Master’s in Public Relations and Health Communications. Leanne was born with a neuromuscular disease and uses a power wheelchair. As a mother of two children, one of them also having a neuromuscular disease, Leanne strives to advocate for equality and human rights. Leanne has been working with individuals with disabilities for over 20 years utilizing her leadership skills and providing an education to others on the right to be recognized and accepted.  Currently living in Missoula, MT, Leanne has served on various non-profit Board of Trustee, as well as, various Community Advisory Boards (CAB) for disability research.

Leanne prides herself as a professional, advocate, and group facilitator for programs such as assertiveness, self-esteem, safety awareness for women, sex education, non-violent communication, disability, sexuality, and healthy relationships. Leanne loves spending time with her family enjoying the Montana outdoors and all it has to offer.

Ronni Hushka a woman with brown hair and a black shirt smiling

Ronni Huschka

Over the last 19 years I have worked older adults and people with disabilities to help coordinate in-home supports and services. I currently oversee the direct care workers who provide personal care, chore services and companionship to these individuals.

As an Advisory Board Member I would like to learn about the direct impact of the nationwide direct care worker shortage specifically in the rural areas across the US.

Sue Lockaby-Eakin an older woman with prosthetic arms using a wheelchair in a brown shirt with glasses

Sue Lockaby-Eakin

I am a native of Tucson, AZ who has multiple disabilities. With a M.S. in Rehabilitation Counseling, I have a strong interest in independent living and advocating for people with disabilities.

I also see myself as a lifelong teacher. As a consumer of the state Personal Attendant Services, I’m always looking for ways to improve the quality of services for both myself and others.

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KJ Rabe

KJ is from Texas.


RTC: Rural Staff

Rayna Sage talking into a microphone

Rayna Sage, Ph.D., Research Associate

Rayna Sage is a rural sociologist and began working with RTC: Rural in November of 2016. While attending Washington State University she earned her M.A. in Human Development in 2003 and her Ph.D. in Sociology in 2012. Between these two degrees she worked as a home visiting social worker for rural low-income families with small children. Utilizing primarily qualitative methods, Dr. Sage conducts her research to study and combat gender and economic inequality and enhance the vitality of rural labor markets and community support systems.

Justice Ender speaks into a microphone.

Justice Ender

Justice Ender has been a Communications Associate at the Rural Institute of the University of Montana since 2016. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Montana, and previously worked at a Center for Independent Living. Justice has spent the last decade in various roles as an advocate for people with disabilities, and is proud to be a Montanan and a person with a disability.


University of Montana Students

Current Students

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Lewis Black

Lewis is from Montana.

Past Students

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Autumn Drake

Autumn is from Montana.

A young woman with medium brown/blonde hair and a light blue dress smiling

Madison Bell

My name is Madison. I am studying Psychology and Sociology at the Univesity of Montana. I was born and raised in Missoula, Montana.

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