Rayna Aylward

A White woman with blond hair who is smiling

Rayna Aylward

National Disability Mentoring Coalition

“The power of mentoring, for me, is summed up in two quotes, one from my dearest mentor and the other from one of my favorite writers.

Susan Daniels asked me when we first met, “Tell me why I should care about you.” This question so startled me that at first I couldn’t say a word. But once I began to search my heart for an answer, I came up with a powerful sense of my value and worth, and the skills and energy I had to offer the world. It was one of the most empowering conversations I ever had, and it has become the first question I will ask every person I mentor, no matter their age or background or circumstances. You realize that EVERYONE is worth caring about, if only we can identify the special gifts we carry.

The second quote is from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is key to the mentoring relationship: regardless of the content of what is being learned and conveyed, it’s the quality of how you make each other feel that will make all the difference.”

We are proud to induct Rayna Aylward into the Susan Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame.

Rayna is a co-founder of and advisor to the National Disability Mentoring Coalition, which focuses on strengthening the awareness, quality and impact of mentoring for individuals with disabilities. She also serves on the board of PolicyWorks, a national nonprofit that promotes mentorships leading to career connections, and is an active volunteer with several community action and social justice organizations.

As a presidential appointee under President Obama, 2009-2013, Rayna served as Special Assistant to the US Secretary of Education, with a policy focus on college and career readiness and school to work transition. She initiated the Department of Education’s first internship program for youth with disabilities, an interagency collaboration and partnership with the District of Columbia school system that has become a federal model.

From 1991 to 2009, Rayna was Executive Director of the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, a corporate foundation serving children and youth with disabilities. As the Foundation’s first executive, she launched several signature programs, including the Congressional Internship Program (in partnership with the American Association of People with Disabilities), which enables college students with disabilities to take part in summer internships on Capitol Hill. Under her leadership, the Foundation provided the first national funding to such nonprofit organizations as Partners for Youth with Disabilities (Boston), Kids Included Together (San Diego), and Project SEARCH (Cincinnati). Working with the Mitsubishi Electric companies, she also mobilized corporate employees to initiate volunteer programs addressing needs in their local communities.

Rayna has extensive overseas experience, having served as a teacher, journalist, and diplomat in Latin America and the Middle East. Throughout her career, education, inclusion, and cross-cultural communications have been priority themes, and mentoring younger professionals has been an ongoing commitment.

A Chicago native, Rayna received a BA in English from Beloit College and an MA in Literature from Boston University.