DIC conference 2022

Conference  |  Presenters

Dr. Carmen Kennedy-Rogers

Panelist Presenter

Dr. Carmen Kennedy-Rogers serves as the senior program officer of K-12 Education for The Skillman Foundation. She leads the Foundation’s efforts to improve educational opportunities in Detroit.

Carmen most recently served as the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Avondale Schools in Auburn Hills, where she was responsible for providing leadership and vision to the District by supporting its efforts in planning, implementation, development, direction, review and evaluation of curriculum and instructional services. She oversaw the District’s federal programs, career and technical education services, assessments, research and educator evaluation services. Prior to that role, she served in five different Michigan school districts as a high school basketball coach, physical education teacher, athletic director, and high school principal at a turnaround school. Carmen currently serves as a board member for Wayne State University College of Education Board of Visitors and the Michigan Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development Board of Directors. Previously, she served on the Michigan High School Athletic Association Representative Council.

Carmen holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and three degrees from Wayne State University, including a Master of Arts in Sports Administration, School Counseling and an Education Specialist Degree. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership at the University of Michigan-Flint in 2020.

Carmen is married to Alex Rogers, Jr. and together they gratefully raise their son, Alexander Rogers, III. They reside in the Detroit Metro area with their rescue dog, Molly. Outside of work, she focuses on self-care by meditating, reflective journaling, living a healthy lifestyle, and spending quality meaningful time with family and friends.

Sarah VanderBaan

Panelist Presenter

Sarah VanderBaanSarah VanderBaan is the Director of Specially Designed Instruction and Student Services for Choice Schools Associates.  Previously, Sarah was at National Heritage Academies as a middle school Resource Program Teacher and West Michigan Special Education Content Leader. She also worked for Benton Harbor Area Schools and Wyoming Public Schools. Her teaching experience includes early childhood through high school general education and special education. Sarah received her bachelor’s degree from Aquinas College in Learning Disabilities and Early Childhood Education. Sarah received her Master’s degree in Specific Learning Disabilities from Grand Valley State University.

Sarah also received her Educational Leadership-Special Education Administrator endorsement from Grand Valley State University. Sarah lived in Hong Kong for three years and taught at The American School-Hong Kong. She has traveled all over Asia, including Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Free time for Sarah includes traveling, skiing, and spending time with her family relaxing in Northern Michigan. West Michigan is where Sarah calls home. Volunteering is important to Sarah as she serves on the Executive Board of Family Hope Foundation and on the J Board at The Van Andel Institute. Sarah enjoys collaborating with general education and special education staff to meet the needs of all students.

Katy Stokes, LMSW

Panelist Presenter

Katy StokesKaty Stokes, LMSW, is an Infant Mental Health Supervisor at Starfish Family Services and a licensed clinical social worker, specializing in families with infants and young children. She leads a team of infant and early childhood mental health consultants who support social-emotional health in children, families, and early childhood education staff.

Katy received her Master’s degree in social work from Wayne State University with a concentration in leadership development and a certificate in Human Services Management. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in voice performance from Michigan State University. She believes all people of all abilities and circumstances are inherently creative and has enjoyed incorporating music and arts into her clinical and community work.

Cassandra Phipps

Panelist Presenter

Cassandra PhippsCassandra Phipps is the Director of Children’s Initiatives for the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network (DWIHN) and has been with the organization since May 2021. Phipps provides management, oversight and coordination for all activities within the Children’s department and is responsible for the overall design and ongoing implementation of DWIHN’s system transformation efforts for children with serious emotional disturbance and their families. Phipps also works with families and children with mental health concerns, autism as well as those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Phipps manages a team of 10.

Prior to DWIHN, Phipps worked for Easterseals where she was Program Manager and a Clinical Home-Based Supervisor during her six years of employment there. She also worked at The Guidance Center as a Children’s Home-Based Therapist and Clinical Therapist.

Phipps is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Limited Licensed Psychologist dedicated to working specifically with children who utilize community mental services. She has provided quality care and services to some of the most vulnerable youth in Wayne and Oakland counties and has served in various leadership positions.

Dr. Kara Brooklier

The Power of Positivity: Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) for Treating Neurodevelopmental Conditions

Dr. Kara Brooklier has been a practicing pediatric neuropsychologist for over 15 years. Dr. Brooklier works with her team of staff psychologists and doctoral psychology trainees to conduct neuropsychological and differential diagnostic evaluations of autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, learning disabilities, and associated neurodevelopmental and medical conditions. She is Senior of Neuropsychological Services at The Children’s Center and is on the clinical training faculty at Children’s Hospital of Michigan and Wayne State University Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neurosciences. She provides autism training and support to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and serves on the medical advisory board for the Autism Alliance of Michigan. Dr. Brooklier is a certified Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) therapist and PCIT in agency trainer.

Topic Level: Basic knowledge/experience
Presented by: Dr. Kara Brooklier

One of the most powerful interventions we can provide to parents and caregivers is learning how to enjoy their challenging child. An often used saying in parent management is “connection before correction!” Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) is an evidence-based intervention for fostering positive connection and reducing disruptive and improving prosocial behaviors for a range of neurodevelopmental conditions for young children. This presentation will review the components of PCIT and application to disruptive behaviors disorders, autism, and trauma/attachment conditions. Finally, participants will experience therapist coaching methods for building parental enjoyment and positive attending skills.

Rosalva Osorio Cooksy, LMSW, IMH-E

Trauma in Young Children

Rosalva CooksyRosalva Osorio Cooksy, LMSW, IMH-E has been involved with infants, young children, and their families since 2008.  Working with families in southwest Detroit and her own lived experience has made her passionate to advocate for young children and their families. Currently, Rosalva is a field faculty at the University of Michigan, School of Social Work. She has served on the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health board of directors since 2011.  In 2021, she was asked to be a board member for the Detroit Institute for Children.  In 2022, she became a board member of the Alliance for the Advancement of Infant Mental Health.  

Topic Level: Basic knowledge/experience
Presented by: Rosalva Osorio Cooksy, LMSW, IMH-E 

What is trauma?  How do young children cope? Providing protective factors for these young children can build resilience.  This presentation will define trauma for young children and discuss what early childhood professionals can do to support young children and their families.  Participants will add at least one intervention to their practice in working with young children and their families.

Vickie Novell, LMSW, IECMH-E

Widening the ‘Window of Tolerance’: Social Emotional assessment and intervention as the foundation for growth and development.

Vickie Novell, LMSW, IECMH-E, is an Infant and Early Childhood Mentor and Trainer who has been working in the Early Childhood field for over 20 years. As an Infant and Early Childhood Therapist and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant, she has worked with very young children and their caregivers in a variety of settings. She provides workshops and training nationally and internationally on relational health and attachment, early childhood trauma, attachment-based early learning, and supporting the perinatal period and early parenting.  In addition, she provides individual and group reflective consultation for providers and early learning professionals.

Topic Level: General/All Ages
Presented by: Vickie Novell, LMSW, IECMH-E

This workshop will explore how to identify individual social emotional developmental strengths and growing edges for children and families of all abilities, through the lens of a Neuro-relational framework. Participants will learn about the ‘Window of Tolerance’ which explores how we express, both verbally and non-verbally, states of distress or regulation. Participants will learn ways to support children and families to a calm, receptive state through co-regulation, centering techniques, and body-based interventions. Participants will learn how increasing their own sense of self and calm state of being can support the children and families in their care, as well as reduce their own vicarious trauma and burnout.

Dr. Derek E. Daniels

Supporting Children Who Stutter in the Classroom and Beyond: Knowledge, Identification, and Inclusive Practices

Dr. Derek E. Daniels is an associate professor and graduate program director in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Wayne State University. He is a licensed and certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in stuttering therapy, and has presented locally, nationally, and internationally on stuttering. He also serves on the Editorial Board for the Journal of Fluency Disorders and Teaching and Learning in Communication Sciences and Disorders. Derek is a person who stutters, conducts research on psychosocial aspects of stuttering, and supervises graduate student training in stuttering therapy through Wayne State University’s Speech and Language Clinic. He has participated in many self-help events, workshops, and clinical training programs for people who stutter. Derek served as President of the Michigan Speech-Language-Hearing Association (MSHA) during the 2021-22 term.

Topic Level: Basic knowledge/experience
Presented by: Dr. Derek E. Daniels

Stuttering affects approximately 5% of children and 1% of adults. In any setting, a professional is likely to encounter a child who stutters. What does it mean to stutter? How do you know if a child is stuttering? When should a child who stutters be referred for speech therapy? How can classroom teachers, parents, and other professionals be supportive of children who stutter in the classroom and beyond? In this workshop, participants will learn facts and myths about stuttering, what it means to stutter, behavioral and psychosocial impacts of stuttering, and inclusive practices for supporting children who stutter.

Maia Brake, LMSW

DIR/Floortime Basic Provider

Maia BrakeMaia Brake, LMSW currently is employed at Starfish Family Services as a Preschool Behavioral Health Therapist using the Infant Mental Health (IMH) model. Maia’s professional focus is on working with young children and their caregivers.  Maia has a particular interest in working with children diagnosed with Autism and related disorders from a relational and familial approach. Maia holds a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family studies and a Master of Social Work, both from Michigan State University.  Maia is a Basic Floortime Provider and has used the DIR/Floortime model in combination with the IMH model for six years. Maia has experience working with children with neurodiverse needs in school, outpatient, and home-based therapy settings.  

Topic levels: Basic knowledge/experience
Presented by: Maia Brake, LMSW, DIR
Follow the Leader: Using Relationship-Based Play Therapy When Working with Neurodiverse Populations

This workshop invites attendees to explore a relationship-focused way of connecting with neurodiverse children. Maia will introduce attendees to the DIR/Floortime model through discussion and case examples. DIR/Floortime is a multidisciplinary model focused on building healthy relationships using a social emotional developmental lens. Maia invites attends to explore strategies for being with, connecting with, and following children into their worlds to promote greater feelings of togetherness and belonging.

Deborah Gershune-Aidem, MS, OTRL

Supporting Challenging Behaviors from a Sensory Perspective

Deborah AidemDeborah Gershune-Aidem is a Registered Occupational Therapist who graduated from Thomas Jefferson University with a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy.  She is currently a home based pediatric occupational therapist at Starfish Family Services with 16 years of experience.  During that time, Deborah has specialized in pediatrics with a focus in the following practice arenas: NICU, school-based services, pediatric outpatient clinics, and pediatric home-based services.  She has rounded her experience by working in skilled nursing facilities and fall risk management and assessment.  Deborah holds a certification as a Certified Kinesio Taping Practitioner.  Additionally, she is an adjunct professor at Macomb Community College in the Occupational Therapy Assistant program teaching courses in productive aging, clinical kinesiology, and pediatrics.  Deborah is also a guest lecturer at Wayne State University’s Occupational Therapy Master’s degree program for treatment approaches in kinesio taping, serial casting, pediatric feeding, and NDT approach.  Her accomplishments also include being a conference presenter for MI-AIMH, Starfish’s Fall Conference for Head Start, Starfish Staff, and Advocate and Educate, plus being published in the Infant Crier Magazine.

Topic levels: Basic knowledge/experience
Presented by:  Deborah Gershune-Aidem, MS, OTRL
Supporting Challenging Behaviors from a Sensory Perspective

There are a variety of causes of challenging behaviors in early childhood. Many times, they are a result of physical, emotional, and sensory dysregulation. As human beings, we all experience these forms of dysregulation and sensory sensitivities. For young children, these experiences can be overwhelming, confusing, and uncomfortable. It is important for all early childhood professionals to understand sensory processing and its role in challenging behaviors to better help children be successful in school, home, and the community. An occupational therapist will support participants in understanding sensory processing, the challenges children face in the classroom, and how occupational therapy strategies can support all children.

Nikki O’Donnell, MA, LLP, Child Psychologist

The Super Power of Resilience: Helping kids cope through struggle

Nikki O'DonnellNikki is a Master’s Level Psychologist with over 17 years of clinical experience working with people of all ages. Nikki is passionate about serving the community in which she lives as an outpatient therapist at Viewpoint Psychology & Wellness in Commerce.  Nikki is a fireball of energy creating big change in youth mental health. Her diverse professional relationships span a vast array of fields and allow her the ability to cultivate change through community connections. Nikki is working to reimagine the way that mental wellness skills and knowledge are integrated into culture- ensuring generational impacts. Nikki is a sought-after public speaker, co-owner of ViewSpire and Words of Hope 4 Life, and was named one of Oakland County’s 40 Under 40 for 2020.

Topic levels: Basic knowledge/experience
Presented by: Nikki O’Donnell, MA, LLP, Child Psychologist
The Super Power of Resilience: Helping kids cope through struggle

This session will cover more than ever, children are needing the kind of support and guidance that will help them develop solid resiliency skills. Psychologist Nikki O’Donnell will discuss the importance of struggle during childhood as well as simple strategies for helping kids develop next level coping skills to deal with the every changing state of the world. Parents, teachers and clinicians will learn new, creative and engaging techniques for implementing these tools in a variety of settings.

Jennifer J. Bock and Bradley Przymusinski

Self-Care in the Pandemic Classroom

Jennifer J. Bock, of Rochester Hills, Michigan is a wife, mother to an amazing dog, April, fierce advocate for children and families, and a lifelong learner. Graduate of Oakland University Master of Education in Special Education, Emotional Impairment Certificate, EI Endorsed. Graduate of Michigan State University Bachelor of Arts College of Education Major, Special Education ~ K-12 Learning Disabilities, K-5 Elementary Education. Jennifer serves as Lead Special Education Consultant at Detroit Institute for Children. Accomplished in the field of Special Education, Jennifer has 14 plus years of experience working with students of diverse populations in emotionally impaired, special education, and general education settings. She is skilled in delivering effective programs for special education students with profound social, emotional, and academic challenges. 

Bradley M. Przymusinski, LMSW is a school social worker for Detroit Institute of Children. He has provided special education services at a variety of schools in the metro Detroit area over the last five years. Brad works closely with teachers, administrators, and other special education providers to provide comprehensive support for students. Brad has helped design and provide service for the summer (SLIDE) and (LEAP) programs hosted by DIC to help bridge the gap of learning loss over the summer. Brad serves on DIC’s Crisis Response Team which works with schools to manage the response to crisis (death, loss, tragedy) as well as DIC’s TIC (Trauma Informed Care) Team and is a certified provider in the Coaching and Smart Connections as a part of Trauma Smart.

Topic Level: Basic knowledge/experience
Present by Jennifer J. Bock and Bradley Przymusinski

In this session we will explore how teachers/providers can practice self-care in the pandemic classroom as we navigate through the changes of in-person, virtual, remote or hybrid learning. Additionally, we will explore how this has changed classroom management from an academic and social/emotional standpoint. Participants will discuss resources and supports that have been successfully implemented and will also discuss roadblocks and hurdles and the challenge that they present and how to overcome then. Participants will also discuss tools that are useful, how to embrace change and how to leverage technology. The goal being to keep a future-focused attitude while maintaining a work-life balance.

Lohren Carter-Nzoma and Heather Eckner

Puzzles & Pieces Throughout The Pandemic: A Public School Perspective

Lohren Nzoma and Heather EcknerLohren Carter-Nzoma
MAT in Special Education Principal, ExceptionalArts.Ed

Lohren Carter-Nzoma is a Detroiter, life-long educator and lover of learning and the cultural arts, more specifically Traditional African Dance and Drum. She holds a Bachelors of Arts from Oakland University and a Master’s in the Art of Teaching (MAT) in Special Education and a Supervisor’s & Director’s Approval from Grand Valley State University.   She currently holds the position of Assistant Superintendent of Exceptional Student Education for Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD), the largest school district in the state of Michigan with approximately 8,500 students with identified exceptionalities and 114 schools.  This includes running the Wayne County Regional Education Agency’s (WRESA) moderate to severe needs center-based programs.  Ms. Nzoma served as the Deputy Executive Director of Gifted & Talented Education (GATE) for DPSCD.

Previously as Assistant Director of Special Education for Ann Arbor Public Schools, Lohren was responsible for all special education programming K-12 in a cohort of 20+ schools and supervised School Social Work as well as growing a district-wide Behavior Support Team in collaboration supporting students with a variety of extreme behavioral challenges.  Adding to her broad experiences in education, she worked as State Compliance Monitor in collaboration with the Michigan Department of Education. Ms. Nzoma worked as a central office administrator for one of the largest charter school organizations in Michigan with an extensive special education department spanning across 7+ states.  Lohren also worked in Detroit’s long-standing and beloved, Nsoroma Institute, African-Centered School (Detroit, MI).  Lohren Nzoma describes herself as “keeper of the culture” a mother, sister, Identical twin, and now, a “Me-Me” to her eldest daughter’s son! She understands that separate but equal is a delusional concept and vehemently uses her space and locus of control to give space to others without access to the same space or opportunities.. 

She is an active member of the Council of Exceptional Children (CEC), Michigan Association of Administrators of Special Education (MAASE) as well as a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated®-Lambda Pi Omega Chapter.

Heather Eckner, M.A.Ed.
Director of Statewide Education & Outreach, Autism Alliance of Michigan 

Heather serves as the Director of Statewide Education & Outreach for the Autism Alliance of Michigan (AAoM) leading efforts under the organization’s education pillar which includes programs and strategic initiatives aimed toward systems change. Most notably are the statewide education coalitions that Heather convenes connected to special education at both the grasstops and grassroots levels.

She holds a BS in Accounting from the Pennsylvania State University and MA in Education from Ursuline College. In her role as an instructional assistant at Wayne State’s College of Education, she develops and delivers family programming to increase parents’ knowledge and confidence in navigating the special education system. Heather has general education classroom teaching experience comprising the inclusion of special education students and is the parent of children who receive special education services and supports. Heather’s extensive knowledge encompasses all areas of eligibility and the continuum of services in Special Education with a training emphasis in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Dyslexia. 

Heather is a 2021 fellow for the Michigan Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (MI-LEND) program, an interdisciplinary leadership program that prepares emerging leaders with the goal of improving the health of infants, children, and adolescents with or at risk for neurodevelopmental disabilities and other related health care needs.

She is now in the Leadership Detroit Class XLII for 2022. Leadership Detroit is a community leadership program for executives in Southeast Michigan that aims to create awareness of key issues that affect the Detroit region and to challenge emerging and existing community leaders to bring about positive change in the community through informed leadership.

Heather’s dedication to advocacy is driven by her commitment to education and passion for social justice. She participates in various community roles as a member of the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor as well as serving on committees, executive boards, and by collaborating in advisory groups and coalitions.

Topic levels: Basic knowledge/experience
Presented by: Lohren Carter-Nzoma and Heather Eckner, M.A.Ed.

In this session we will provide an overview of the current education policy landscape as it applies to students with disabilities and special education. During these ever-changing times, it is important to discuss the challenges and opportunities as we look forward to best meeting the needs of children/youth. Approaches to family engagement will be woven throughout the discussion.

Melissa Dochych and Hetal Patel

Sensory Processing: Impact on Social Skills in the Early Elementary Years

Melissa Dochych and Hetal PatelMelissa Dochych
MOT OTRL,Occupational Therapy Consultant, Autism Alliance of Michigan

Melissa Dochych, MOT OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist with over 8 years of experience providing direct care to children and their families in the outpatient medical setting as well as within the school system. Melissa earned her master’s degree in Occupational Therapy from Wayne State University in 2012 and is a board-certified occupational therapist licensed in the state of Michigan. Melissa has worked with children with numerous diagnoses including Autism Spectrum Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder and difficulties, Down Syndrome, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, genetic syndromes, and children with overall developmental delays. 

Hetal Patel
MA.CCC-SLP, Autism Educator, Autism Alliance of Michigan

Since joining Autism Alliance of MIchigan in 2017, Hetal has been a key team member in the development and implementation of our training programs. Hetal has provided educational training to hundreds of community members, families and clinical and business professionals. She is a licensed Speech/Language Pathologist (SLP) with over seventeen years of experience working with children and adults with developmental communication disorders, including Autism Spectrum Disorders. Hetal received her Bachelor of Science and Masters of Arts degrees from Wayne State University. She has worked in the healthcare systems in southeastern Michigan, consulted in the educational system and continues to practice as an SLP.

Topic level: Basic knowledge/experience
Presented by: Melissa Dochych MOT OTRL and Hetal Patel, MA.CCC-SLP

Session description:
This session will give a brief overview of the sensory systems and how it directly impacts a child’s social interaction at the early elementary age.  Attendees will be provided with practical strategies and tools to achieve better sensory regulation in the school and clinical setting in order to increase social interaction with peers and academic success.

Course Objectives:

  • Understand the 8 sensory systems
  • Understand neurotypical social skills development
  • Gain a better understanding of the sensory system and how it can directly impact social skills and behavior in children
  • Learn practical strategies and tools to increased regulation and social skills

JT Jester

“I want to share my story so people who feel alone and discouraged might feel will, less alone and more confident.” – JT

Author. Speaker. Adventure Enthusiast

Topic Level: General/ All Ages

By the time JT Jester was three years old, he had spent 250 days in the hospital, and he endured sixteen major surgeries before he was sixteen. Diagnosed with VATER Syndrome, a rare combination of several birth defects. JT’s life was anything but easy.

On top of his physical challenges, he suffered dyslexia and short-term memory loss, which made learning nearly impossible for him. Yet JT pushed past his physical and educational roadblocks to achieving what many people told him he would never do—learn to read, graduate from high school, attend college, and become a successful motivational speaker, influential podcast host, and bestselling author.

Untether: Inspiration for Living Free and Strong No Matter What the Challenge available on Amazon

Ara M. Hachigian, MBA, CTP-E

Vice President of Operations, Detroit Institute for Children

Ara HachigianAra M. Hachigian, MBA, CTP-E holds the title of Vice President of Operations at Detroit Institute for Children (DIC), leading a team of 80 outstanding therapists, Social Workers, Special Education Teachers and Psychologists.  A Certified Trauma Practitioner by Starr Commonwealth and the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children, Ara works with schools, Headstarts and agencies impacted by acute and secondary trauma, specializing in under-served populations and children with special needs.

In early 2021 DIC completed an extensive training and certification in Trauma Smart presented by St. Luke’s Hospital’s Crittenton Children’s Center in Kansas City, MO. DIC is one of three nationally recognized Trauma Smart partners in the state of Michigan. Ara also leads Detroit Institute for Children’s Crisis Response Team which works with schools to manage the response to crisis (death, loss, tragedy).

Topic levels: Basic knowledge/experience
Presented by: Ara M. Hachigian, MBA, CTP-E

Introduction to Trauma Informed Resilient Schools/Centers- Breakout Session
Trauma Informed Resilient Schools teaches school professionals how to create trauma informed schools and classrooms. The training focuses on resilience, exploring the core values and beliefs of educators and places an emphasis on understanding how trauma impacts children and their school experience. This course provides information and concrete actions that answer not just the “why” but also the “how” to create the best classroom and school supports for traumatized students and the school professionals who serve them.

Fostering Connections with Children of Trauma- Breakout Session
Fostering Connections with Children of Trauma helps professionals understand how certain ways of communicating with traumatized children can foster better relationships so that learning can happen. Using the model of Trauma Smart, participants will learn some very easy ways of communicating with children in the moment and helping to overcome challenging behaviors and communication barriers to improve learning and overall learning environment.

Additional Presenters and more to come…






2045 E. West Maple
Suite D-407
Commerce Township, MI 48390

Contact Us

The Detroit Institute for Children currently serves more than 5,000 children with special needs in schools, Head Start, and Early Intervention programs throughout Detroit and Southeastern Michigan. The DIC provides speech language pathology, occupational therapies, social work, psychological services and special education consulting.

The Detroit Institute for Children is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. All contributions are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law.

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