LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Reena Fish

Position: Project Life Replication Coordinator
School: Butler Tech
School District: Butler Tech
City, State: Fairfield Township, OH

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Music that Describes Reena

Reena Fish was nominated by her friend, Deborah Stroud.

"When I think of a LifeChanger, I think of Reena Fish. I have had the privilege of knowing Reena for over 20 years.  Reena is innovative and student-centered. When your think of Reena, you think 'transition.' Reena is a tireless advocate for quality transition services for youth and adults with disabilities.  It is Reena’s mission to ensure that students meet their dreams and live the lives that they were meant to live. Reena is a LifeChanger for students and their families.  What these individuals did not even think was possible, is now possible due to the work of Reena Fish," explains Stroud.

Who is Ms. Fish? Ms. Fish grew up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern, KY. Her parents continuously modeled caring for others, whether it was elderly relatives or a neighbor. She learned at an early age that helping others live their best life is important.

Knowing Ms. Fish's background, it's easy to see why she chose the field of special education as her career. What few people realize, however, is that even before her career in special education started 30 years ago, she supported adults with disabilities as a live-in residential support specialist. These individuals had spent most of their lives in an institutional setting, but were now transitioning to various Cincinnati communities, where they would begin new lives. During this time, Ms. Fish was a single mother finishing her degree in special education and beginning her career as a special education teacher. To say that the stories she heard from her institutionally emancipated friends played a factor in how she chose to educate and empower her future students and colleagues would be an understatement.  Seeing the gifts and talents in each of these individuals but knowing that society had not found them worthy of being a member of their own communities had a profound impact on her.

"I have known Reena for 20+ years in various professional roles, but also as a dear friend. We often collaborate on how to implement transition-to-adulthood best practice activities and strategies for our students.  We served in professional organizations and were members of several state-level committees for the Office of Exceptional Children, a division of the Ohio Department of Education," said Stroud. "Reena was also instrumental in using the transition standards developed by the Council for Exceptional Students to implement and teach Transition-to-Work Endorsement graduate courses for Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. During her time at Xavier, Reena was instrumental in teaching numerous professionals from the Southwest Ohio area to provide state-of-the-art transition services for their school districts."

Ms. Fish continues to be a mentor and friend to many of her past Xavier students. She's someone who they'll seek out for solutions and support for their students.

During her 30 years in the field of special education, Ms. Fish has held a variety of positions. These opportunities have provided her with a knowledge and skill set that showcase her great leadership qualities. However, it's her passion for making sure everyone see "differently-abled" individuals as people deserving of dignity and productive, satisfying lives that makes her the leader in the field of special education that she is today. She will always remind educators, employers, parents, and even the students that having success comes when expectations remain high. We will never know what we can do until we are willing to reach for it.

Throughout her career, Ms. Fish has worked in several capacities that include:

  • Special Education Teacher
  • Transition/Work Study Coordinator
  • Job Coach
  • Ohio Department of Education consultant
  • Project SEARCH Coordinator
  • Adjunct Faculty at Xavier University (Transition-to-Work Endorsement program)
  • Special Education Administrator (
  • Grant Writer
  • Project LIFE National Replication Coordinator (

In her current role as the Project LIFE National Replication Coordinator, Ms. Fish is now touching the lives of educators, community members, parents, and students nationwide.  Using her knowledge and passion as a catalyst, Ms. Fish is supporting Project LIFE replication teams within 10 schools in Ohio, 22 more throughout the United States, and one in Winnipeg, Canada. 

Developed by Butler Tech special educators, administrators, parent mentors, and other disability-focused personnel, Project LIFE is a research-based transition-to-adulthood program for students with disabilities seeking future employment in their community and more independent lives. Ms. Fish was given the unique opportunity in 2018 to be the Project LIFE Replication Coordinator. Today, she has provided training and ongoing consultative support to more than 30 teams of educators who each have the capacity to support up to 24 students per year.  When combined with the hundreds of students she has provided direct support to over the years, her life-changing reach has been long. 

"In conclusion, I believe Reena is very deserving of being a LifeChanger of the Year. Reena meets all of the criteria for this award.  She is a proven leader in her district, region, and state, with a record of excellent performance at the professional level.  She has always demonstrated the ability to make a beneficial difference in the lives of students, and this is always at the forefront of every professional decision she makes. Reena seeks to create a positive school atmosphere, as I know her colleagues, students and families would attest.  She is committed to producing a nurturing atmosphere, whether it be with her own special education students and parents, graduate students, or the educational teams she supports.  She is always available for questions and to provide resources or encouragement to others, and she'll always hold everyone to the highest of moral and ethical standards," said Stroud.

For more information about Butler Tech or Project LIFE, you can visit the following websites. Ms. Fish also maintains the Project LIFE website, Twitter and LinkedIn sites for the program.

Project LIFE (@ProjectLIFE13) / Twitter

 Project LIFE | LinkedIn

Comments (10)

Deborah Ann Stroud Posted over a year ago

Reena is a Life changer. Not only does she tirelessly advocate for her students and their families, she is also there to support the teachers to ensure that they have the resources and training to transform lives. Reena is an individual who is there to support you not only professionally but personally as well. If you have a personal crisis, Reena is there to help you in any way she can. Reena does not like to let people know what she does for you, but when I came out of the hospital recovery from spine surgery and a broken ankle, she was there to bring me flowers, food and cleaned my house for me. Reena even left a list for the person to come in that night to help me to know wat I needed done. I am not the only one that she goes out of the way for, she is there to support you with a listening ear and even go with you to an event as a support. I know that wen Reena trained professionals about transition, they still email her on what to do about certain situations. I know not Reena has a passion to help transforms lives of her students but for the people in her lives. Reena is an inspiration to anyone that knows her. She has a way to reach out to anyone and they feel comfortable around her. Reena is genuine and the people that meet her know that immediately. I nominated Reena for this award because I feel she embraces the definition of a Life Changer.

Diane McCollom Posted over a year ago

Reena Fish is an outstanding advocate for students. She works tirelessly so students can have a better opportunity at an awesome career. Reena puts others first and their needs. Congratulations Reena….you are so deserving as a candidate for this wonderful honor! ????

Patrick Wong Posted over a year ago

Reena epitomizes a selfless person who serves others with little or no concern for herself. She exemplifies what is good and honorable in our lives. I am honored to have known Reena for twenty years as a colleague, friend, and mentor. She has the distinction of advocating for individuals who cannot speak for themselves. Reena is innovative in her approach to working with systems that do not always promote individuals and families. She seeks to find the talents and gifts and not the weaknesses. She has changed my life through her love and care in difficult times. She is a Life Changer!!

Sarah Rihm Posted over a year ago

I knew Reena for many years when she worked for several school districts. However when I retired and then worked with her at Project SEARCH at Miami University, I really got to see her in action with our students. She was such an advocate for them and challenged us and them to make it happen! She was always ready to deal with the difficult situations and we all learned from each other (including our students!) She has done a wonderful job of helping school districts and organizations see the value of Project LIFE in her current position. Very proud of you, Reena!

Melissa Shannon Posted over a year ago

I couldn’t agree more with the statement above. Reena is one of the most inspirational people I know. I met her as a college student when she brought a group of students to one of my college classes and she inspired me so much to make me change my life course. I am so lucky to be able to call on Reena when I need to brainstorm anything and help problem solve situations to better the lives of those we work with. She is an outstanding person and most deserving!

Rhonda Haynes Posted over a year ago

There could not be a better candidate for this Life Changer of the Year Award. You have worked your whole adult life making a difference in trying to better people's lives. You have ALL of our support!!

James Sexton Posted over a year ago

Reena is very dedicated to her job and loves her students a brilliant and caring teacher!!!

Brenda Hammons Posted over a year ago

Rena is an inspiration, her heart and vision to help others goes beyond her, it’s amazing to watch her love on her colleges and students.

Sally Williamson Posted over a year ago

Reena is a remarkable woman and a dedicated educator for young people with disabilities. Her support of work study programs for young adults is awesome. The Project Life program she is marketing across this country is outstanding and achieves the goal of helping young people prepare for work. Many of these young people would not have that opportunity without Project Life. Reena has continued to enhance and develop the program and is able to help school districts implement this exemplary program. She is always evaluating the needs of young people with disabilities and making revisions in the program to meet the needs of our complex world of work. She is definitely a life changer as thousands of young people will complete the program and seek employment that in the past would not have been possible. I stand in awe of her. I worked with her several years and have seen first hand her dedication and passion for young people.

Latrice Johnson Posted over a year ago

Reena is a amazing person. She's very caring and always helping people. She definitely deserves this ??