Amidst crisis, Maine LEND trainees find way to advocate virtually

Maine LEND trainees
Maine LEND trainees gather for a virtual meeting with U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine.

As the nation adapts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, trainees in the Maine Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) program at UNE have also adapted in continuing to meet, work, and advocate for the needs of children and families with disabilities — by moving their efforts online.

The LEND program is a federally funded project aimed at expanding resources to individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other neurodevelopmental disabilities in Maine. The program’s goals include training health care providers, parents, educators, and others to improve the health of children and others with neurodevelopmental disabilities.

Despite navigating a new virtual lifestyle, it has been a busy few weeks for the 10 LEND trainees, six of whom were scheduled to attend the Disability Policy Seminar in Washington, D.C., from March 22 to 25. 

The virus outbreak forced the conference to hold sessions virtually Monday, March 23, and Tuesday, March 24. On March 25, a team of seven LEND representatives organized and convened at a Virtual Capitol Hill Day with staff from the offices of Maine State Rep. Chellie Pingree and U.S. Sen. Angus King to discuss how the next COVID-19 response package should address the growing needs of people with disabilities.

The team included Kathryn Loukas,  O.T.D., M.S., OTR/L, FAOTA, clinical professor of occupational therapy and LEND training director, and Valerie Jones, L.M.S.W., Family Interprofessional Team (FIT) coordinator and assistant clinical professor of social work, along with five students: Kristy Moody (M.S.O.T., ’20); Caitlin O’Connell (M.S.O.T., ’20); Kelly Fritz, PT, D.P.T. ’18, UNE postdoctoral pediatric physical therapy fellow; Jacob Hufstader, self-advocate; and Kevin Schaefer, a Master of Social Work student at the University of Southern Maine.

The Maine LEND is currently accepting applications for trainees in several areas. More information and application materials can be found at: