Jason Beloungy, Access to Independence Inc.

IB’s Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet Dane County’s professionals. This week features Jason Beloungy, assistant director, Access to Independence Inc.

1. What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job and why?

I’ll start with what is rewarding, since that is what motivates me to do this work. One rewarding aspect of my job is being able to be a part of an organization that is a rarity in the nonprofit world. The majority of people who provide advocacy and services at Access to Independence (ATI) are people with disabilities — this includes management and line staff. Another rewarding aspect is that I get to be part of an organization that works toward positive outcomes for the rights and independence of people with disabilities, and simultaneously works to improve our communities, systems, and policies so that all people with disabilities have the same opportunities to live the “American Dream” by addressing the physical, institutional, and societal barriers that still exist. The challenging part of my work is trying to do more to increase our reach and efforts, but balance enough time to do development activities that will help ATI grow. It is also challenging to see when there are no answers or assistance ATI can provide to address someone’s homelessness, unemployment, or lack of long-term care services.

2. Who do you look up to or admire in business and why?

The business I am in is disability rights and services, and there are so many people in my business who have dedicated their lives to empowerment and advocacy. That said, I look up to and admire someone I had the privilege of working for, and that is Kelly Buckland, the executive director of the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL). Kelly has been a leader in the disability community, and is a national figure on a number of issues. Kelly broke his neck at age 16 and experienced direct discrimination, being kicked out of public places because his wheelchair was a nuisance or because he just wasn’t wanted there. Kelly has used his life experience to fight for the civil rights of people with disabilities, taking leadership on issues like parental rights, employment, and promoting the value and importance of independent living centers, such as Access to Independence.

3. What has been the high point of your career so far?

The high point of my career was my time working as a policy analyst for the National Council on Independent Living, in Washington, D.C., during the height of the healthcare reform effort in 2009. I have always been passionate about changing systems to improve the lives of many, and that moment in my career allowed me to not only work on a large scale in advocacy at the federal level, but to be involved in one of the most significant pieces of legislation in decades. I was able to give my passion and energy to bolster the final bill by including provisions that would improve the lives of people with disabilities through access to health care and long-term care.

4. Thinking back on your career, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

I would tell myself to continue to work hard to meet my goals, but have a little more patience and be a little more realistic about how long those goals would take. I would also tell myself to find a better balance between work and family, which requires working smarter, and not just more.

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5. What would you say are the best things about living and working in Dane County?

So much can be said about what Dane County has to offer, but for me, I value the ability to work in Madison — being connected to the business community, the nonprofit and human services communities, as well as state and county government — and only need to drive 35 minutes from my eastside office to the Village of Belleville where I live. As someone who prefers rural and small-town life, but also prefers the pace that comes with working in Madison, Dane County allows me to do both. Dane County also has a lot of people who live and work here who are leaders in the disability community — locally, statewide, and nationally. Dane County now has the state’s only annual Disability Pride Festival, which occurred this year on July 25. Similar festivals also happen in much bigger cities like Chicago and Boston.

6. Do you have any secret talents or abilities that people would be surprised to discover?

I enjoy honing my culinary skills on my outdoor smoker. I do many of the usual foods like ribs, but I also make my own venison summer sausage, which takes about 10 hours from start to finish. I entered my first BBQ Rib Cook-Off in Belleville last year with my BBQ team, Savage Animal BBQ, and we’ll be competing again this summer. Our team name is actually a rock n’ roll reference, which confuses people. I also make my own dry rubs and sauces for the added challenge and reward.

7. What are your guilty pleasures?

I would say that bow hunting white-tailed deer in November is a guilty pleasure. The reason I say this is come November, I take a number of days off work just to get up at 3:30 a.m. to drive 40 minutes to my hunting spots in western Dane County. I then spend my time in the hills and woods, sitting on a small hang-on tree stand for as many as 13 hours, just to have a split moment to make a good shot. This doesn’t include the time doing things some may consider odd, like spraying scent-eliminator in my SUV each night before a hunt, and washing my hunting clothes in detergent that smells like dirt.

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