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PACER Stories

Nicole Williams, M.D.

One wouldn’t think a puppet show could influence someone for life, but that’s what happened to Nicole Williams, M.D.

Newly graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School, she begins a residency in pediatric neurology at Stanford University this summer. She recently returned from a month in Bangladesh where she worked with children in a hospital as part of her medical studies. Throughout her professional journey, PACER’s COUNT ME IN puppets played a role.

Nicole met the puppets in 1985 when she was a third grader in Shoreview. She brought home a notice of a COUNT ME IN show at her school, and it sparked the interest of her mother, Gloria Williams, who has a cousin and niece with disabilities. As Nicole grew up, Gloria learned more about PACER’s COUNT ME IN project, became a puppeteer, volunteered at PACER many years, and then coordinated the puppet projects as a PACER staff member.

For 20 years, the puppets and their message of inclusion have been part of the Williams family. During that time, the puppets often came home with Gloria between shows. Nicole and her younger sister Angie became well acquainted with the puppet characters, the disabilities they portrayed, and ideas from the scripts their mother practiced.

Nicole’s interest in helping people with disabilities continued. She became more aware of her cousin’s needs. She did a speech in high school on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). She volunteered at a residential facility for people with disabilities. She met with Carolyn Allshouse of PACER’s Health Information and Advocacy project to discuss their mutual interests.

All the influences came together when she wrote her residency application, and she realized PACER’s impact on her life, Nicole said.

"PACER is amazing. I’m so impressed with PACER’s quality involvement with children with disabilities and their families in all ways," she said. Nicole has some time before she needs to decide whether she’ll work in academia or private practice, but she does know that her job will involve helping children with disabilities—thanks, in part, to PACER’s COUNT ME IN project.