NH-ME LEND Virtually Showcases Scholarship, Leadership, and Resilience

On May 1, 2020 twenty-one trainees from the 2019-2020 New Hampshire-Maine Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (NH-ME LEND) Program convened the first ever Virtual Capstone Poster Session and end of the year Celebration. (Pictured above: screenshot taken during one of the virtual poster presentations.) Concluding the spring semester online, this dedicated group of trainees remotely collaborated with leadership partners to complete capstone projects throughout Maine and New Hampshire.

Betsy Humphreys, NH-ME LEND Program Director, noted that the culmination of this year’s program required an exceptional response in an unprecedented time in order to acknowledge the hard work required by the 2020 graduating cohort. She paid special tribute to the trainees’ resilience. “The LEND experience requires one to be fully present. Trainees who engage in the program show up intellectually to engage in rigorous course content, critical inquiry, teamwork and community projects.  They show up emotionally to engage in the many personal growth opportunities that LEND affords. This year, trainees had to show up in yet another way – under challenging circumstances during this COVID-19 crisis.”

The response to the virtual Capstone Presentation was overwhelming! Trainees were joined online by over 70 attendees, including faculty from the University of New Hampshire (UNH), University of Maine (UMaine), and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center; leadership partners who mentored the trainees’ during their community placements; and other state disability leaders.

The trainees’ posters showcased their emerging scholarship and leadership development from community placements in New Hampshire and Maine. These settings included state agencies, public health initiatives, community health centers, advocacy organizations, and partners in the developmental disabilities network. “We can see the impact you make on our communities at  large,” said Cari Moorhead, Dean of the UNH Graduate School. “[It’s] the essence of what it means to be a land-grant institution.”

UMaine trainee, Carolyn Coe, completed her leadership project, The Impact of Current U.S. Immigration Policies on Individuals with Disabilities and Their Families, with Rylin Rodgers, Director of Public Policy and Sarah Mueller, Disability Policy Fellow from the Association of University Centers on Disabilities. Coe concluded that the Public Charge Rule and the Remain in Mexico Policy negatively impacts individuals with disabilities and makes it harder for legal U.S. immigration for low- and middle-income people. She spoke of the inhumane and inaccessible conditions in detention facilities and Mexican encampments. “U.S. immigration policies fail to protect the rights and dignity of people with disabilities.”

A poster by Maria Sieper entitled A Review of the New Hampshire Parent Information Center Volunteer Advocate Training Program documented her findings from a comparative study of similarly-sized advocate training programs in the U.S. in order to better understand how advocates are trained and supported to help other families. She also conducted a focus group with NH volunteers to evaluate program goals and assist in program improvements.

The virtual session wrapped up with congratulatory remarks individualized for each trainee by their faculty mentor. Though physically apart, the cohort was together in spirit. Betsy Humphreys closed the session, “This is an extraordinary group of LEND Leaders who ARE making and will continue to make a difference in the lives of children and youth with developmental disabilities and their families.”

All of the 2019-2020 NH-ME LEND Program capstone posters may be viewed on the UNH Graduate Research Conference website, Student Research Media Gallery.

For more information about NH-ME LEND, please visit the program websites at the University of New Hampshire and the University of Maine.