Current Trainees

New Hampshire

Megan BallardI graduated May 2017, from UNH with my BS in Communications Sciences and Disorders and am currently working towards my MS in Communication Sciences and Disorders. As an undergrad, I actively participated in two organizations that provided me numerous opportunities to take on leadership roles. Alpha Phi Omega is a co-ed community service sorority. I held the title of fundraising chair, fellowship chair, and sunshine chair. I also completed over 200 hours of community service. It was this organization that made me realize that I truly loved giving back to the community anyway I could. I held the title of event coordinator for the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association, as well. My proudest accomplishment was the mentorship night I hosted. The purpose of this night was to allow underclassmen a safe space to ask upperclassmen for advice about anything related to life or school. My professional accomplishments center more around my development as a clinician. This past year I really surprised myself. Back in September I remember how nervous I was at the thought of providing speech and language services to a real person. However, I am now confident in my abilities and I am comfortable not knowing something because I know I can find the answer. This past year I provided services to three clients who were very different from one another. With each client I successfully planned sessions that catered to their interests, I interpreted and applied effective approaches based on my client’s areas of need, and I built a strong rapport with each client and their family. This whole academic year has led to me forming a clinical judgment of my own and becoming confident exercising this judgement. The best part is, I truly enjoyed every part of it!

Jesse BurdwoodMy leadership experience began as an undergraduate at the University of New Hampshire. I initially began pursuing an associates in Community Leadership, a program that shaped many of my leadership qualities, before continuing on to receive my Bachelor of Social Work degree. I chose to intern with Jeanne Shaheen’s campaign for U.S. Senator, taking on the role of a volunteer supervisor and later managing multiple call centers. After graduating from UNH with my Associate Degree in Community Leadership and Bachelor of Social Work degree, I returned to an agency I had worked with for five years, Community Partners, an organization that provides behavioral health and developmental services in Strafford County. Although my role up until this point was direct service, I now took on new responsibilities, creating and implementing a school-to-work training program for adults with developmental disabilities. This program is still running today, six years later. My leadership experience at Community Partners helped me to be the successful candidate for a position as the coordinator and teacher of Project SEARCH, Seacoast, which is part of a national vocational training program for transitional youth with developmental disabilities. My students had training placements at Portsmouth Regional Hospital. This two-year experience would become my largest and most rewarding leadership role to date. In addition to supervising two career trainers, my focus was to implement curriculum and communicate with more than 20 supervisors, monthly meetings with the CEO, and advocating for my students with a variety of hospital workers, case managers, and guardians. Building on my previous experience, I was able to accelerate my learning in those two years about communication, leadership, compromise, and advocacy. Although I found it rewarding and challenging, I decided to leave that position to pursue my Master of Social Work degree to further prepare me for leadership roles in this important and rewarding field.

Bridget CroninI am a 2017 graduate of Miami University in Oxford, OH where I obtained a BS in Speech Pathology and Audiology. This program granted me the opportunity to begin my direct clinical experience at the undergraduate level. Through this clinical experience, I was able to work hands on with people of varying abilities. Furthermore, during my time at Miami University, I spent five semesters as an Undergraduate Assistant in the Department of Family Science and Social Work. In this capacity, I worked with over 300 college undergraduates as the primary communicator for students to contact regarding course questions, concerns and necessary accommodations. Through both the experiences of facilitating small group discussions (including topics related to the field of disability) and working with students who had disabilities, I better learned how to increase my flexibility. I was able to adjust my approach to help each student succeed, individually. Both my interactions in the Miami University Speech and Hearing Clinic and my work with the Department of Family Science and Social Work drove my excitement to pursue my Masters in Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of New Hampshire. A professional goal of mine has always been to collaborate as a part of an interprofessional team. In my continued work with other professionals, I can better identify how I can fill the large voids regarding awareness related to the field of disability that persist today. Through community awareness, not only do I want to bring issues of inequality to light, I would also like to highlight the abilities that people labeled “disabled” have. It is important to highlight these abilities to the community in order to foster a dynamic society where each individual can exist in an environment where they are able to express what they can do, instead of being overshadowed by what they cannot.

Megan DaudelinI am a graduate of the University of Maine at Farmington where I obtained my B.S degree in Rehabilitation Services. This degree helped me understand the human service field more, as well as learning about the ways to help different populations of people live and work independently and successfully. It provided me a lot of insight on the services that are available as well as which direction to go in for my future career. From undergraduate to my current graduate studies I have volunteered and interned in different places around human resources. I’ve volunteered at a Clubhouse, an elementary school, and more recently with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Throughout these, I’ve worked with people who were diagnosed with disabilities. Having these experiences, I learned a lot about the need of services for children and families with disabilities to help them be successful independently but have the supports in place that they need. Advocating and working with families and children with disabilities has been my motivator since I started school. Having a personal connection to it, my cousin was diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disability when he was born. Having this firsthand experience and my education, I’ve learned that advocacy and assisting people with disabilities is a passion I have and something that’s in high demand. I knew from this personal experience with neurodevelopmental disabilities that I want to be that advocate for people. I want to be able to assist children and families with disabilities so that they can live an independent, supported, and successful life.

Meaghan FosterI am a graduate of the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT, where I obtained a BS in Diagnostic Genetics. This degree provided me with a breadth of research and scientific method. While in college I also participated in a student organization called InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and decided post-grad to join staff with the organization. I have spent six years working with college and university students in leadership development and faith exploration, as well as developing the staff and volunteer team to work all across the state. Much of this time has been spent doing public relations, community outreach and fundraising. A year ago, I gave birth to a son with Down syndrome. This brought the experience of those with neuro-developmental disabilities, and their families, into focus for me. I am particularly aware of the medical communities need to communicate diagnoses in a better way. I have spent hours in doctors’ offices talking about my son; some are more winsome than others are. This role, as a mom has made me a more humble, perseverant and realistic person. I want to see a world where the lives of those like my son are valued for the possibility, not for the limitations that are the highlight of most perceptions.

Beverly KetelI am a graduate of the College of Financial Planning, in Denver, CO where I obtained a MS in financial planning and a BS in accounting with a minor in computer programming from the Southern New Hampshire University. These degrees provided me with an array of analytical skills that have complemented my outgoing personality in the field of finance. I spent almost three decades working face-to-face with the public, building a financial practice aimed at personal planning for individuals saving for their children’s education and their own retirement as well as tax and estate planning which, in some cases, involved protecting the assets of children with disabilities. Some of the several financial designations I have acquired included the CFP, ChFC, CLU, CASL, CLTC, which have furthered my knowledge for more complex cases. When I was in my 30s, I had suffered my own personal health crises, which provided me with an even broader and more empathetic approach when coaching others in their financial interests and needs. I have put my experience to work on the Oyster River PTO, Kiwanis International, and Toastmasters and as Deputy Treasurer for the Town of Madbury. I am also a cub leader for the Boys Scouts of America. In 2001 the NH Chapter of ABWA named me Business Woman of the Year. Participating in these roles has increased my leadership skills where I have learned that working together effectively provides greater outcomes and resources for the children we serve. As a child, my parents taught me that sharing, caring and serving were essential qualities. However, it wasn’t until my son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes that I truly learned what the power of being an advocate meant. Through the NH Leadership Series and personal research, I have gained resources and insight into how to advocate for my son who had been discriminated against at a local daycare since the age of 3 and recently won his discrimination case with the school district. Recently I have been advocating for my son’s service dog to be allowed to join him at school. If successful, he’ll be one of the youngest students to have a service dog attending school alongside him. I hope to build upon my current foundation and advocate further to break down more barriers of discrimination for all children with disabilities.

Michelle LongI graduated from the University of Vermont in 1997 with a BS in Secondary English Education. I went on to teach English at Oyster River High School for four years before becoming a market researcher and focus group moderator with a firm in Portsmouth. These work experiences helped hone my skills as a teacher, writer, researcher and advocate. My twins were born in 2007, and over the course of the next 5 years, we struggled to find appropriate help for our son who we suspected was on the Autism Spectrum. In addition to weekly outpatient therapy, we hired a LEND Trainee and Occupational Therapy graduate student to work with us in our home, and my journey toward becoming an occupational therapist began. I am currently an MSOT student at the University of New Hampshire and will graduate in December of 2018. A deep respect and appreciation for individuals with disabilities is at the core of who I am. I was raised by parents who worked in group homes for adults with neurodevelopmental disabilities, and we took in foster children and adults with various disabilities throughout my childhood. This upbringing gave me a unique perspective, allowing me to better understand the needs and challenges faced by these families. Perhaps more importantly, however, these experiences allowed me to see clearly that all individuals have important gifts to share with the world, regardless of ability or diagnosis.

Debora MagalhaesMy name is Debora Magalhaes and I am an occupational therapy student at the University of New Hampshire. I was born in Brazil and moved to the United States when I was 5 years old. Before entering the University of New Hampshire, I did not know exactly what I wanted to study in regards to a major but I knew that I wanted to enter a profession that helps others. Once I learned about occupational therapy (OT), I knew immediately that this was what I needed to be doing. One of the aspects of OT that really spoke to me and to my life experience is the fact that an occupational therapist works with patients, based on their own goals and needs. As an OT, I hope to work with kids with special needs and help them carry out everyday activities. I first learned about my passion for kids with disabilities while volunteering at Camp Sunshine, a camp specifically accommodated for kids that are terminally ill. I have volunteered at Camp Sunshine for almost 5 years now and it is life-changing experience every time. I have also worked as a camp counselor at Reed academy, a camp for boys with all types of special needs, including anger management, bipolar disorder, depression, autism, Asperger's and other emotional disabilities. Additionally, as part of my fieldwork requirement, I was placed at an early intervention setting called Richie McFarland Children’s Center in Stratham, New Hampshire. Richie provides early intervention services to children and their families in need. I was able to work directly with children with various diagnoses and their families to help them reach their goals. As an OT, I will get the satisfaction of improving the health and life of children every day.

Kelly ManningMy name is Kelly Manning. I received my bachelor’s degree in Psychology and my associate’s degree in chemical dependency from Keene State College. In my time at Keene State College, I was a member of many community service clubs including Circle K, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Adopt A Grandparent and College for Every Student (CFES). I also had the opportunity to lead an alternative spring break trip to a YMCA in North Carolina. One of my favorite volunteer opportunities was at LifeArt. LifeArt was a community resource center run by Monadnock Developmental Services where individuals with developmental disabilities and community members had a space to gather during the day. LifeArt provided a variety of classes throughout the week. I created a scrapbooking class. I loved how welcoming everyone was at LifeArt and my experience volunteering helped steer me towards looking at job opportunities at Monadnock Developmental Services (MDS). I started working at MDS as a direct support professional working with two individuals out in the community. After about a year, I was offered a vocational trainer position at Project SEARCH. I have worked for the Project SEARCH program for the past six years. Project SEARCH is an international vocational training program for individuals with developmental disabilities. Individuals have three internships within the hospital. When the yearlong program is complete, our job developer helps them find employment in the community. The best part of my job is watching the interns grow throughout the year and seeing them complete tasks they never thought they could. In 2015, I was awarded the Monadnock Region Direct Support Professional of the year and the State of New Hampshire Direct Support Professional of the year.

Caroline McNamaraMy name is Caroline McNamara. I am a graduate of the University of New Hampshire (UNH) in Durham, NH where I obtained a BS in Occupational Science. I am currently pursuing my graduate degree in Occupational Therapy at UNH. Over the years, I have worked with many individuals and families of individuals with both physical and neurodevelopmental disabilities. In my family, I am the youngest of four children. My older brother has Dandy Walker Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and Autism. Growing up with my brother was an eye-opening experience. It provided me with many opportunities to meet wonderful people including therapists, family members, and, employees of great organizations. My family continues to be very involved with Special Olympics RI. Through this experience, I have been able to volunteer alongside many families with children and adults of varying abilities and needs. My passion for working with these families has continued while I have been at UNH. Professionally, I have recently completed a clinical placement with an occupational therapist at an elementary school in RI. This placement allowed me to work with a number of different children with varying needs which expanded my clinical reasoning, and professional development skills. I have been able to enhance my communication and leadership skills from speaking and working with different families and professionals in both RI and NH. I truly look forward to working with the LEND community to raise awareness and advocate for families and their children with varying needs.

Lily MorganI received my undergraduate education at the University of Vermont and obtained a BS in Environmental Studies, focusing on ecology and conservation. I cherish this education or its wisdom and importance for our world today. Throughout my studies, I had multiple experiences that incorporated humans within the environment and I began to shift my interest. My study abroad programs, personal journeys, and anthropology classes made me realize I want to work with human sustainability within the larger context of society and the natural world. Even still, for six years I worked for a variety of land trusts and non-profit organizations, and taught environment education. I enjoyed these experiences and felt even more compelled to work with people. More than anything else, my own personal journey sent me on my path to become a therapist. I am currently working on my Masters in Social Work through the University of New Hampshire. Additionally, I just completed my two-year comprehensive training in Hakomi Psychotherapy – a methodology that emphasizes mindfulness-based and somatic therapeutic work. I am currently working towards certification. Six years ago, I encountered some physical trauma that led to an ongoing struggle with autoimmune disease and chronic lyme. Working through this suffering, I became more interested in modalities of holistic healing. This is what led me to my degree today. Experiencing what it is like to have an invisible disability, in addition to the birth of my cousin with Down syndrome and my brothers struggles with learning and development growing up, and grew my interest in ableism and caring for others.

Julia PheiferMy name is Julia Pheifer, and I am a recent alumna and current graduate student at the University of New Hampshire where I am pursuing my MS in Occupational Therapy. I grew up in a household that cared for infants who were born addicted to drugs and came to our home directly from the NICU. As a foster sister to these innocent babies, the stage was set for my interest in working in pediatrics in the future. This experience was truly eye opening, as I was able to take on the role of caring for someone less fortunate and inspired me to help others. My many years of interacting with children as both a volunteer, employee, and temporary sister led me to choose a graduate fieldwork placement in Early Intervention. This placement allowed me to gain knowledge in neurodevelopmental disabilities in children under the age of 3 and built upon my leadership, communication, and clinical reasoning skills. I am looking forward to making a difference in this diverse LEND community and taking my leadership skills to advocate for this community and beyond.

Emily ReaganI am a second-year graduate student in the Communication Sciences and Disorders program. I first became interested in leadership opportunities as a sophomore in high school where I was student council president and held the position for the following three years. As a freshman at Emerson College, I joined an Americorps program called Jumpstart that focuses on providing high quality education to preschoolers in low-income communities, with a focus on literacy and language skills. I was a member of a team of college students my first year with Jumpstart, going into preschool classrooms and helping to run sessions. I held a “team leader” position the following two years, and worked as a program assistant my final year at Emerson with Jumpstart. At Emerson, I was also heavily involved in the National Student Speech Language and Hearing Association. In my 4 years of involvement with this group, I held positions as Social Media Representative, Treasurer, and President. Since coming to UNH, I was elected Student Representative of my graduating class, attending weekly meetings with faculty and helping to problem solve situations to help enhance the experiences of graduate students in the Communication Sciences and Disorders program. I enjoy being a part of a group and working collaboratively to accomplish a shared goal. I look forward to furthering my leadership skills with the LEND program.

Sarah SadowskiI am excited to participate in NH-ME LEND Program as a Family Trainee. My husband Jon and I have four terrific kids and our lived experience as parents of a child who experiences Cerebral Palsy dramatically shapes our work and our worldview. My Master’s degree is from Clark University in Worchester, MA where I received a fellowship to study social change and international development. My BA is from the University of New Hampshire. I first became interested in policy as a tool for social change while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sofia, Bulgaria where I had the opportunity to write issue briefs for members of the new Bulgarian Parliament. I also had the opportunity to work and study in Mexico and Guatemala before returning home to my native New Hampshire. I serve as the Executive Director for the New Hampshire Association for the Education of Young Children (NHAEYC) and am inspired by what a difference access to quality childcare and early educational opportunities makes for all children. Prior to my current role, I focused on state-level policy issues related to the health and well-being of New Hampshire families at Kids First Consulting and at the political consulting firm Civix Strategy Group. Prior to that, I served as the Community Engagement Director at New Futures bolstering advocacy efforts for effective behavioral health policies. I am an alumna of the New Hampshire Leadership Series and currently serve on the board of the New Hampshire Children’s Trust, The Children’s Place and Parent Education Center, and am a steering committee member of the New Hampshire chapter of MomsRising.

Morgan SiskaHello, my name is Morgan Siska and I want to thank you for taking the time to read my short biography. I am an advanced generalist social worker, having received my MSW in 2006 from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and am recently a social work PhD candidate at Simmons College in Boston, MA. I took the opportunity to work as a social worker in the UK from 2006 to 2014, where I did direct work with children and their families in fostering, child protection, and what is known as children in need – families identified in need of support and advocacy service. I worked in collaboration with schoolteachers, head teachers, the local education authority, health visitors (child development nurses that visit all children until age 5), school nurses, and youth offending services to provide wraparound services. Poverty, family isolation, parents with mental health difficulties, parents with substance abuse problems, neglect, and abuse were early adverse life issues that were experienced by many of the children that I worked with and many of the children that I worked with were overrepresented, compared to the general population, in the extent of diagnosed disabilities and delays as well as social and emotional difficulties. That adverse life situations and various social systems appeared to increase children’s susceptibility to developmental difficulties was one of the more sobering elements of my professional development. It made it more evident that the social work role within children services was also a habilitative/rehabilitative role. My cultural upbringing of advocacy and social justice has led to me becoming a social worker which has likewise made me look for societies disenfranchised, marginalized, and those who are subject to systems which homogenize their experiences. Interestingly, it is only when I began doing qualitative research and had to reflect on my experiences that I became so much more aware of the developmental disabilities within my own family whereas they were part of normal life. This has allowed me to view developmental disabilities and disabilities as something that is normal but also, I have the social justice interest of giving individuals the greatest chance of accessing what life can offer them. This informs my practice as a researcher whereby my research leads to some sort of policy or intervention change for the better, whether that research be about how to have earlier and more easily accessible early intervention services to research that asks how to preemptively provide services and interventions for children who have faced adverse life circumstances without creating social stigma for that child and their family.

Alison WagnerMy name is Alison Wagner and I recently graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a BS in Nutrition and Dietetics. Completing this major has helped strengthen my communication, leadership, and critical thinking skills. Throughout my college career, I had the opportunity to work in several different clinical settings, volunteer with children, and enhance my counseling skills. Having taken a course on nutrition for children with special health care needs, I increased my knowledge on how to apply nutrition and dietetics to children with different disabilities. Advocating for and helping children with disabilities is something I enjoy and find great importance in. I believe working with children is a very rewarding experience. Having volunteered at ADA Camp Carefree and at FIT NH food shelter in Manchester, NH, I have engaged with children with Asperger’s, ADHD, and other learning disabilities. These experiences have made me more empathetic and patient individual. I believe that any child has the right to a healthy life with a plentiful support system, and look forward to participating in LEND this fall!

Stephanie WinnMy name is Stephanie Winn, and I graduated from UNH with my bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2014. While at UNH, I participated in undergraduate research with an IROP grant and studied quality of postnatal care for mothers and babies in rural Nepal. Over these past 4 years as an RN, I have worked at two local hospital in their respective cardiac intermediate care units and became certified as a progressive care nurse. My experience in the ever-chaotic inpatient setting has provided me with valuable insight regarding interdisciplinary care teams, and how to effectively communicate and advocate for patients. Additionally, I have taught in the Nursing Simulation Lab at UNH, assumed the role of Graduate Assistant for the nursing department, and have worked as the RN at Camp Allen. This summer camp is for children and adults with various special needs, and is where I first became interested in working with individuals with various disabilities. Currently, I find myself back at UNH working towards my Masters in the Family Nurse Practitioner program. Upon graduation, I intend to work in outpatient pediatrics or family practice. In either setting, I will be working with individuals with various disabilities. As a new provider, I am excited to participate in LEND and learn how to better care for and support patients and their families.

Susan ZimmermanI am a stay at home mother of two boys ages 13 and 16. My 16 year old has Down Syndrome and was recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Over the past 16 years, I have been actively involved in the disability community on a volunteer basis. One of my greatest achievements was to cofound Best Buddies NH, a non-profit organization that fosters friendships between individuals with and without disabilities throughout New Hampshire schools. Over the past 5 years, I also have been a volunteer at the New Hampshire Healing Sport Association in Sunapee NH where I coach children and adults with a wide range of neurodevelopmental and physical disabilities skiing in the winter and kayaking in the summer. Most recently, I have become Co-Chair of a working group through ABLE- NH called “Disability Diagnostic Dialogues.” We are a small group of educators, health care providers and advocates who are committed to improving the ways in which medical teams deliver disability diagnoses to parents. I became involved with this group after attending the NH Leadership Series on Disabilities. Prior to having my sons, I was working as a Research Associate at Dartmouth’s Psychiatric Research Center in Lebanon, NH. My primary role was to coordinate a study at the VA hospital in White River Junction that focused on interventions for elder veterans with mental health and alcohol related problems. I also have a PhD in Sociology from Brown University and am a published author. I have written many articles in the areas of women’s health and medical sociology and my dissertation was published as a book in 1998. My background in Sociology and love for in-depth interview-based research, combined with my experiences as a mother raising a child with multiple challenges has led me to start a new project. Two years ago, I began interviewing mothers who have children with disabilities. My goal is to analyze these interviews and write a book about our shared experiences. I am very excited to participate in LEND, knowing that this traineeship can only further my ambitions to become a researcher, writer and advocate for the disability community.

Maine

Katharine AppleyardKatharine is a conditionally licensed clinical professional counselor. She and her family live in Bangor, Maine. She enjoys movement and being outdoors. As a family, they enjoy playing pickleball, which is a hoot. She strives to live in a community that supports authentic being and is dedicated to breathing deeply in these many moments that constitute a life. Katharine has provided clinical counseling to college students who are exploring their identities, as well as, those who are learning to cope with depression, anxiety, trauma, and grief. For over 20 years, Katharine has connected people to resources and facilitated communication between diverse voices and experiences. Katharine has received training and practiced as a mediator in conflict resolution, nonviolent communication, and restorative justice. Katharine has assisted first-generation college students and adult learners experiencing career change in completing their goal of finishing school and gaining employment. Katharine has also worked with children on the autism spectrum and their families. Katharine has a master's degree in education specializing in clinical counseling from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. She holds a bachelor's degree in art from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. Katharine grew up in Maine and after some time away, she is happy to be back.

Tucker ConleyI am a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst where I received my BA in English. During my time at the University of Massachusetts, I learned many life lessons. As a person with Autism, communication has never been my best skill. Even though communication is still difficult, UMass transformed me into a better communicator. I’ve always been a bit socially awkward, but my involvement in my local Best Buddies chapter in school improved my social skills a little bit. I’m an introvert and can be shy at times, especially with people that I don’t know. I was never the best test-taker or paper-writer in school. Yet despite not having top marks, I was able to graduate college. This is a feat, which I feel is quite an accomplishment, considering many people with disabilities don’t even get the opportunity to go to school. After school, it took me a little time to re-establish myself and to figure out what the next steps in my life would look like. Living in the dorms at school taught me how to co-exist with roommates and I eventually decided to move from a parent’s house to the AIM Program in Portland, Maine, an apartment complex for people with disabilities to learn more skills on how to be independent on their own. After a couple of years, I moved into two different apartments. I still have help with staff, although I am more independent than I used to be, and can do some things easier, such as cooking basic meals. Eventually, I became a board member of Speaking Up for us, an organization that deals primarily with addressing the current issues that people with disabilities within the state of Maine face. Speaking Up For Us has provided me with many challenges, such as having the confidence to speak at the yearly conference or testify on behalf of SUFU in Augusta. Yet despite these challenges, I persevered and have been serving the role of Board President for SUFU for the last year, which has made me into the better person that I am today.

Crystal CronCrystal Cron is a Community Health Worker and health justice activist working with migrant and seasonal farmworkers in Southern Maine. After growing up in poverty in Maine, Crystal obtained a degree in Psychology hoping to better understand and serve the social and emotional health of her family, her community and of people living in poverty. Nearing graduation Crystal realized that while she maintained a strong belief in accessible mental health services, her real passion was fighting for equitable and universal access to healthcare. Following her graduation from Suffolk University, Crystal became a full-time caregiver to her 90-year-old grandmother, serving as an interpreter, advocate, home health worker, social worker and support person. Navigating the complex healthcare system was incredibly challenging and these challenges were compounded by language access issues, racism and classism. Stepping into the exam room was often a painful experience, and was just as much political as it was about seeking care. Being a caregiver further strengthened her desire to fight for a just and equitable healthcare system that truly serves the needs of patients and not profits. Crystal is pursuing a career in nursing, so that she can combine her clinical, advocacy and social work skills to provide care that is prevention focused and patient- and community- centered. In her role as a Community Health Worker with Maine Mobile Health Program, she has successfully established and managed a new program in Southern Maine, and has connected over 80 Spanish-speaking workers to primary, dental and vision care, many of whom had never accessed healthcare. She plans to use her experience with the LEND program to develop meaningful, culturally and linguistically appropriate materials and protocols to educate and support non-English speakers in Maine who have or are caring for family members with neurodevelopmental disabilities.
April FournierWhile my initial career path was insurance and finance, after my son Asher was diagnosed with autism in 2010 my priorities shifted after I saw the incredible power of early intervention and special education. This led me to leave the field of finance and pursue careers in residential and community services (RCS) as a behavior analyst technician and eventually to lead the team as the RCS Supervisor in York, Maine for Providence Human Services. I then moved into classroom experience with Easter Seals Maine as an Ed Tech and then lead teacher in a 1:1 special purpose classroom. Eventually I came back to Child Development Services as an IEP Team Administrator where I have been working serving families in the Portland area since 2014. My other passion is roller derby, which has taught me so many more skills than just the physical ones. I've had to retire from playing, but in retirement I've had the opportunity to be the co-founder of the first all-indigenous women's World Cup Roller Derby team which had women from more than 20 tribes from all over the globe, the first of its kind.  I currently serve on the committee for Diversity and Inclusion, who ensure that the global organization's policies are inclusive, non-discriminatory and work for all participants and abilities. I am a graduate of the University of Maine in Orono where I had the great pleasure of obtaining my M.Ed in Special Education with a great cohort of professionals, some of who I work with on a regular basis and some who I was meeting for the first time. The concentration is Early Intervention, but I feel that the content is certainly relevant to many age groups. I have also continued to be a fierce advocate for my son and for children in Maine as part of my role as mom and role at work. My interest in politics helped me make the decision to go through training with Emerge Maine and I'm very interested in public policy and helping to influence the people in charge who make the policies that impact our most vulnerable Mainers. I believe that my role as mom, professional and community member makes me uniquely qualified to look at policy and practice through a different lens.

Allan FrenchI am a graduate of the University of Maine at Augusta where I obtained a BA in pre-medical Biology, along with minors in both Psychology and Honors Leadership. While there, I served as an officer in the Honors Program Student Association, first as Director of Activities and then as President during my final year. As part of my capstone requirement for biology, I travelled to Haiti and volunteered at a health clinic in a remote mountain village where many of the patients presented with severe malnutrition and developmental disabilities. I helped these children by engaging in coordination exercises such as playing catch or assisting them to build muscular strength with practice walking. Also during my tenure as President of the Honors program, I served as a student ambassador and Civic Scholar for the Office of Civic Engagement. In the time since my graduation, I have been employed as a CNA in nursing homes throughout Southern Maine, working closely with an elderly population that are afflicted with numerous degenerative diseases, sometimes including severe developmental disabilities. My experiences there were sometimes overwhelming, brought me to tears and helped mold my compassion as a caregiver. Serving and advocating for persons with developmental disabilities is a challenge I was born into. My cousin was born with Cerebral Palsy, Asperger’s syndrome, and a seizure disorder. I began at a young age learning to cooperate with her needs in our home, and later was her most trusted advocate while attending school. I also have another cousin who was born with Spina Bifida, and is paralyzed from the waist down, necessitating a wheelchair for her transport. Each summer for a number years as a teenager, I would stay with her and provide meals, daily routine activities, and escort her to events for kids her age, helping her to adjust socially. My personal experiences have helped mold my compassion and understanding for persons with developmental disabilities. I feel I am a natural advocate for persons born with such disabilities, especially children. I have been able to use my family dynamics to be a better steward, and my hope is to use the resources of the LEND program to expand upon my personal experiences and provide the same compassion and empathy in professional settings in my future.

Cheryl StalilonisI graduated from Anna Maria College in Paxton, MA in 1980 with a BA in Social Work, and an interest in medical social work and gerontology. I worked at several long-term care facilities, and was a strong proponent for resident rights, running the resident council forums, assisting with activities, and contributing to in-house newsletters, where I enjoyed interviewing residents and telling of their experiences. I assisted families with adjustment to age-related issues, and end of life concerns. I enjoyed working with a team to meet resident needs, and later became a hospice volunteer. After my youngest son was diagnosed with a developmental disability, I began to work in the realm of disability; providing family support through several different community programs, and learning all that I could to support my child with multiple areas of need. I have learned so much from him, and others in similar situations. I have worked with the Autism Society in Maine, and have done presentations on ASD, community outreach, and assisted families with educational and other needs. I have taught art at an adult day program, and now assist with respite care. I have become a strong advocate for my son, and enjoy close relationships with other parents, teaching about autism and related needs, and being more involved recently with organizations working within the system to affect positive change.