Meet our 2019 ABLE NRC Ambassadors

Denise Gehringer

Parent of an adult son with Down syndrome
Papillion, NE
ABLE Program: Nebraska

Assistant Director of Sheltering Tree L'Arche Omaha and member of the National Down Syndrome Advocacy Coalition. Worked on ENABLE program development and her son was the first ENABLE account owner in Nebraska. ABLE funds are for son's dream of living in his own house with a backyard.


Denise Gehringer's son Jacob riding a bicycle
Denise Gehringer's son Jacob Gehringer on model runway with Amanda Booth
Denise Gehringer's son Jacob and his dog Miller

Denise Gehringer’s Highlight from the February 2019 AchievABLE Newsletter

Denise Gehringer is a mother of four whose youngest son, Jacob, is a 23-year-old intern training as an office assistant at the Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Jacob has Down syndrome. Together, Jacob and Denise helped to bring about the establishment of their state’s Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) program, and Jacob was the very first ABLE account owner in Nebraska’s Enable program, opening his account in June 2016.

As one of our nine 2019 ABLE National Resource Center (ANRC) Ambassadors, Denise is more than Jacob’s mom. She serves as his guardian and conservator, in addition to her day job as Assistant Director at Sheltering Tree L’Arche Omaha, which builds affordable housing communities for people with developmental disabilities, and her work as a legislative advocacy agent for parent groups. Denise is very savvy about ABLE, having consulted with Nebraska First National Bank in the early stages of their Nebraska Enable program development, planning and throughout the entire launch process.

Prior to his internship, Jacob worked as a part-time pre-school aide and regularly deposited his earnings into his ABLE account. Just to be clear, Jacob isn’t using his ABLE account to shelter income or to reduce his countable income, since ABLE accounts don’t do that. Putting funds from his part-time job into his ABLE account allows Jacob to save and invest in his own future.

To date, Jacob has made two purchases with his ABLE funds. One has been a modified bike that he hopes to use as independent transportation to work one day. He also used his ABLE funds to pay for travel expenses to audition to be on the runway at the Global Down Syndrome Foundation “Be Beautiful Be Yourself” Fashion Show in 2017. He won that audition.

Other than these two qualified disability expenses (QDEs), Jacob has been diligent about saving money in his ABLE account. Just like every other individual in their early 20s who lives with their parents, Jacob can’t wait to move out of mom and dad’s house! His ultimate goal is to purchase a house of his own with a yard. He needs the yard for his dog, Miller.

Denise opened and also contributes regularly to Jacob’s ABLE account because, “As a parent, I want to make sure that the resources are available for Jacob to live as independently as possible. Additionally, when the time comes for his siblings to become his primary support, when my husband and I are no longer able, we want to make preparations so their lives will not be burdened financially.”

As one of our new 2019 ABLE NRC Ambassadors, Denise has a running head start on this role, sharing that, “Through my many connections to the disability community, I assist families supporting individuals with diverse needs, and thus I keep current on all ABLE information. I take advantage of the ABLE National Resource Center webinars and refer families I advise to the ANRC as the ‘go-to’ for information about ABLE.”

In early February 2019, Denise accessed the ANRC to learn details about other states that have successfully enacted legislation to waive Medicaid Claw Back Provisions. She then used this information to provide testimony at an ABLE hearing in front of the Revenue Committee of Nebraska’s Unicameral State Legislature on February 6, 2019. (Note: Nebraska is the only state that has a combined Senate and House of Representatives – “Unicameral”). Her hope is to repeal the Medicaid Claw Back in Nebraska and help more families, like her own, take advantage of the promise and opportunity ABLE provides.

Scroll Up