Welcome to Va-LEND

Welcome! Virginia Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (Va-LEND) is an interdisciplinary leadership training program at Virginia Commonwealth University. We are a project of the Partnership for People with Disabilities. Our program  is funded through a grant (# T73MC00040)  from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Health Resources and Services Administration. The grant supports an interdisciplinary training program to prepare health professionals and related disciplines in the field of childhood disabilities for leadership and advocacy roles. In addition we provide continuing education and community training and consultation/technical assistance.  We encourage you to explore our website to learn more about our program.

For updates about our activities follow our postings below.

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Poster Presentations at 2015 AUCD Conference

Va-LEND faculty and trainees have just returned from attending the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. Amidst sessions, meetings, and receptions, several poster presentations were made by members of the Va-LEND program. Trainees presenting posters were Becky Balog, Samantha Costanzo, Zipporah Levi-Shackleford, and Sarah Nockengost. Faculty members Beth Bader, Marie Chapin, Carole Ivey, Elaine Ogburn, and Tracy White helped support these presentations.

Samantha Costanzo’s topic was “Age Differences in Fine Motor Milestones between Ghanaian and American Children” and Sarah Nockengost’s was “Locomotor Training in Children with Lower Extremity Paralysis.”

Va-LEND alumna Shannon Haworth presented a poster titled “Growing and Engaging Leaders: Creating the AUCD Alumni Network.” Here’s some additional information from Shannon on her project: “AUCD will be creating an alumni association for graduating and former trainees. It will include a member directory, groups, facilitated discussions, and a mentorship program. If you would like to be a mentor or want more information contact shaworth@aucd.org.”


From left: Shannon Haworth, Marie Chapin, Elaine Ogburn, PC: Tracy White


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2015 LEND Book Adventure


During September and October, faculty and trainees will participate in Va-LEND’s Book Adventure program. This annual activity fosters community and engagement with books that address topics related to disabilities, life course, family centered care, and inclusion. This year, El Deafo (2014) by Cece Bell and Wonder (2012) by R.J. Palacio were selected for the book club. Trainees have picked a book to read and will participate in discussion groups held in a casual environment and led by a faculty facilitator.

Follow these links for more information on El Deafo or Wonder.



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Welcome 2015-2016 Training Cohort


Va-LEND is excited to welcome 17  trainees this year. We have 13 new long term trainees- (3) family discipline, (3) genetic counseling, (1) occupational therapy, (2) physical therapy, (1) public health, (1) social work, and (2) special education (an early childhood special educator and a teacher of students with chronic medical conditions).  We are also welcoming two new advanced medium term trainees-  (1) occupational therapy, (1) physical therapy, one medium term family discipline trainee, and one autism fellow. Welcome to the program!


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May Leadership Projects

playing pictureThrough recent clinical experiences, Paige Knowlson (Occupational Therapy Trainee), observed that while clinically substantiated and user-friendly screeners existed for Speech Therapy, the equivalent was not currently readily available for Occupational Therapy (OT).   A screener can be used by health and education professionals to determine whether clients, aged 18 months to six years, would benefit from OT therapy services. The ideal screener is basic enough to be used across various disciplines, but targets the developmental milestones appropriate to determining if performance deficits exist within the OT scope of practice.  A screener was developed and pilot tested across disciplines to determine accuracy results and ease of use.  The screener was compiled in 6 month increments, and packaged with all necessary testing items.  It was distributed to three speech therapists, who utilized the testing measure across three age ranges. The screeners found it to be understandable, user friendly, and sufficient in determining the need for further OT evaluation.  This screening tool is continuing to be developed.

Equine Assisted Therapy

Rhonda Wilder, Nursing Trainee, devoted her leadership project to developing an Equine Assisted Therapy Resource Guide. Within the guide, she listed certified equine assisted therapy programs in Virginia, their target audience, contact information, cost, and description of services.  This guide can be found here and on our resource page.  Equine assisted therapy is a treatment that includes equine activities and/or an equine environment to promote physical, occupational, and emotional growth in people.

For her leadership project, Andreina Andueza-Croce (Physical Therapy runTrainee) explored the need for community based fitness programs for teens and young adults with disabilities to address decreased fitness levels and to promote healthy lifestyles.   The Tuckahoe YMCA addressed this need by creating a Pilot Fitness Program for Teens with Aspergers.  The main objectives of the fitness program were that the teens would learn fitness terms and concepts, gym etiquette, and would demonstrate general improvement in fitness.   The fitness program was held twice a week for eight weeks total; there were eight teens (ages 14-18) and five coaches in the program, including Andriena. As a coach, Andreina helped the teens gain independence with the fitness machines and provided a fun and safe environment to encourage the teens to continue participating in physical activity.  At the end of the eight weeks, post-fitness measures were collected and the teens demonstrated improvements in each of the fitness activities.  Not only did the teens show improvements in fitness levels, but the program also fostered friendships and socialization among the teens.

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Leadership Projects

BeckyBecky King (Social Work Trainee) developed and implemented several presentations and a webinar on Virginia’s Medicaid Waiver Redesign Initiative.  These presentations and webinar were for families, self-advocates, and providers.  Presentations were made to the Arc of Roanoke, the Arc of Augusta, and the Arc of Southside. The objectives of the presentations included increasing awareness of system change initiatives in the I/DD service system among families, self-advocates and providers, and educating families on national movement of more inclusive services and policies driving change.

Laura BellFor her Leadership Project, Laura Bell (Occupational Therapy Trainee)  initiated the development of objective measures for Occupational Therapists seeking to work in the VCU Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).   The objectives included determining appropriate resources to assist in the development of NICU competencies, researching the role and skills Occupational Therapists bring to the NICU setting, finding appropriate steps individuals can take in order to obtain necessary knowledge and skills, and finally developing a detailed set of competencies.  This is the beginning of an ongoing process.

For her Leadership Project, Lindsay Bailey (Genetic Counseling Trainee), explored how to talk about hereditary cancer at the end of life.  The aims of her study were (1.) to identify potentially effective and appropriate methods of delivery of cancer genetic information to Lindsay Baileyfamily members of patients with terminal cancer, and (2.) to assess the impact that the exploration of hereditary risk of cancer has on the family members of the dying patients.  Communication with a health care professional, communication between family  members, and methods of communication were explored.  Emotional responses of participants were assessed.  The study found that the best method of delivery of hereditary cancer information needs to be explored further because the preferred method was often situational and varied based on each person.  Also, it is important to be cognizant of the wide range of emotions that a family member of a palliative care patient with terminal cancer experiences and adapt communication appropriately.

Melissa Beyer (Genetic Counseling Trainee) did her Leadership Project about Melissa BeyerHuntington’s Disease (HD).  Huntington’s Disease is a rare, progressive, neurological disorder characterized by changes in movement, cognition, and psychological disturbances.  Typically, individuals with HD begin to show symptoms in their thirties or forties.  There is no cure for HD.  Melissa presented her findings and developed a handout to educate healthcare providers about HD, specify who should care for individuals with HD, and identify unique challenges that young people at risk of a developmental disability face.

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Recent Leadership Projects

A proposed book study of Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper was designed as a reading curriculum and catalyst for student disability awareness and learning. out of my mindMeredith Heiner (Audiology trainee) performed a pilot study on a 5th grade class in Chesterfield.  The students were asked to participate in a pre-test (prior to reading the book) and a post-test (after finishing the book) regarding perceptions and attitudes towards children with disabilities.  The goal of this book study is to increase students awareness of disabilities, influence attitudes towards disabilities, and foster inclusion of children with disabilities in the school settings.

siblingsAlicia Kohn and Sarah Beth Slabach (Physical Therapy trainees) organized and designed a workshop for siblings of children with special healthcare needs in partnership with the Children’s Museum of Richmond.  The workshop was created to provide an outlet for siblings to discuss personal experiences and interact with children who have similar experiences.  The trainees developed a guide so that these workshops may be replicated in the future.

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Leadership Projects

In recent weeks two Va-LEND trainees have presented their leadership projects. These are innovative projects related to the field of disabilities that the trainees have developed with the guidance from their faculty advisers. Below are highlights of these projects.

preschoolCary Upshaw, Special Education Trainee, designed a Powerpoint presentation to educate Head Start staff on the benefits of preschool inclusion, as well as provide support, encouragement, teaching aids and resources to the Head Start staff.


tricycleLindsay Dawson, Physical Therapy Trainee, established a partnership between REACHcycles and VCU Physical Therapy students.  REACHcycles is a non-profit organization with a goal to create mobility and independence for children and veterans with disabilities in the greater Richmond area.  Physical therapy students were able to volunteer at assembly and delivery events in which adaptive tricycles were assembled and fitted to each child.  (REACHcycles is a local chapter of a national non-profit AMBUCS.)

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AUCD Conference, 2014

Va-LEND Trainee, Zipporah Levi-Shackleford received a scholarship to attend the AUCD conference last month in Washington DC.  Recipients in turn were to write an essay about their experience at the conference. Zipporah took it a step further and created this video.


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Congratulations to our Va-LEND Trainee!

Catherine Marchetti, a current Va-LEND Trainee was named Richmond Teacher of the Year!  We are proud of her accomplishments!  Read more about her here.




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Exciting News on Va-LEND Graduates

In recent weeks we have heard exciting news from four of our Va-LEND graduates. We are proud of the accomplishments of all of our graduates and pleased to share this news.

shannon_haworth_300wShannon Haworth
Shannon Haworth has recently accepted a job at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) in Silver Spring, MD. She is the new senior specialist for the LEND team.  Prior to this job, she worked for the Partnership for People with Disabilities as the Project Manager for the Virginia state autism implementation grant, and served as the Clinic Coordinator in the Va-LEND interdisciplinary clinics. She continues to co-teach the Interdisciplinary Teamwork course in the Va-LEND curriculum with another Va-LEND graduate, Carole Ivey, PhD, OTR.

IMG_20141029_094814 (1)Maria Isabel Frangenberg
Maria Isabel Frangenberg has recently accepted a position with AUCD, as well. She will be working with AUCD’s Disability and Inclusion Fellowship program which is a new initiative to increase diversity, ensure cultural and linguistic competence throughout the network of university centers on developmental disabilities (UCEDDs), and cultivate partnerships at the national level to address issues of disability and inclusion. Prior to moving to Maryland a year ago, Maria Isabel also worked at the Partnership for People with Disabilities as the Latino Community Liaison in the Family 2 Family Center. In addition she preceded Shannon Haworth as the Va-LEND Clinic Coordinator and co-taught the Interdisciplinary Teamwork course in the Va-LEND curriculum with Carole Ivey, PhD, OTR.

Vicki Beatty
Vicky Beatty
On October 19, 2014, the Greater Richmond ARC, serving people with developmental disabilities of all ages, presented Vicki Beatty with its Ladybug Award at the annual ARC Ladybug Wine Dinner fundraiser.The Ladybug Award recognizes an individual who has demonstrated meritorious service to young children with disabilities and their families in greater Richmond.  Vicki is the founder and head of Virginia Parent Advocates LLC which provides advocacy for children enrolled in special education services, and offers workshops and life plans. She is a well-respected parent advocate in our community.

Read more: http://www.lite98.com/onair/kats-online-cafe-1178/childrens-advocate-vicki-beatty-receives-greater-12893848#ixzz3HRtIf3qQ

Jessica JaggerDSC_0530
On November 11, 2014 Jess Jagger will receive the 2014 AUCD Young Professional  Award at the AUCD national conference in Washington, D.C.  This award is presented to professionals in the disability field under the age of 40 years who have demonstrated dedication and commitment to people with developmental disabilities and their families through their work as a bridge between the academic sector and the community. Currently Jess is the Data Surveillance Section Head, Behavioral Health Integration for the US Marine Corps, Headquarters Marine and Family Programs. Throughout her career she has demonstrated leadership in the field of disabilities through her scholarly achievements, research and work on policy issues.

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