2019-2020 CT LEND Trainees

Grisel Aguilar

Grisel Aguilar: Grisel is a parent trainee, as she has a child with multiple disabilities. She has been on the Commission of Disability for New Haven and works with elderly with disabilities, and has also advocated for academic, medical, and community services within the school system. Grisel wants to advocate for students with disabilities within the school system. She would like to learn more and research what legal, medical, and vocational services are available as well as whether these services are provided in Spanish. She plans to use her time at LEND to gain knowledge of the laws and available services so that she can serve as a better advocate for the Latin community and those who do not have sufficient English language skills and guidance to get the services they need. She is additionally working towards a Master’s Degree in Management and Organizational Leadership and a certification in Health Coaching.

Maura Beggin

Maura Beggin: Maura is a Pediatric Audiology graduate student at the University of Connecticut. She obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences from UConn previously. She has worked as a research assistant studying sign and spoken language acquisition previously, and is currently interested in studying cochlear implants, early language acquisition, and hearing conservation and protection. Upon obtaining her degree, she hopes to work as a pediatric audiologist in a hospital setting, focusing on early intervention and ensuring that all children have early access to language.

April Burke

April Burke: April is an advocate trainee whose personal experience with disabilities includes that she is a person with blindness, from birth, as well as that she has many friends with disabilities. She participated in Partners in Policymaking in 2013, worked at Windham Regional Community Council, and has served as a Connecticut Council on Developmental Disabilities member from 2014 to present. She is interested in disability policy, transportation concerns, and civil rights for people with disabilities. April is currently working on her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and plans to keep working within advocacy for people with disabilities. In particular, she wants people to know that disability programs should be offered more places!

Maureen Burns

Maureen Burns: Maureen is a graduate student in Nursing at the University of Connecticut. She obtained her Associate of Science Degree in Nursing from Regis College and her B.S. from the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She has worked as a nurse in long-term care and acute care settings and has worked in a GI/Hepatology specialty unit as well as in the Medical-Surgical Intensive Care Unit. She is interested in researching the experience of patients and family members with autism spectrum disorders who are admitted to the hospital, as well as how best to perform care for them. In the future, she plans on working as a Neurological/Neurosurgical Acute Care Nurse Practitioner and apply her LEND training to help her better care for individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders.

Rebekah Charles

Rebekah Charles: Rebekah is a graduate student in School Psychology at the University of Connecticut. Previously she obtained her B.A. in Child Psychology with minors in Applied Psychology in Education and Community Settings and Spanish from the University of Minnesota. She has worked as an educational assistant within a special education school, serving individuals with autism spectrum disorders, and has conducted research within a research lab focusing on language and cognitive development. She is currently interested in researching accessible and quality care for families and students with disabilities who are Native Spanish speakers, as well as in cultural competence among professionals. She looks forward to working as a school psychology practitioner in the field upon completion of her program!

Elizabeth Coleman

Elizabeth Coleman: Elizabeth is a Parent Advocate Trainee who is participating in LEND as a parent to a child with learning disabilities. She has provided 15 years of patient-centered care for individuals with geriatric and dementia disorders. In addition, Elizabeth has experience working with individuals on the Autism Spectrum, Cerebral palsy, and SLD/Dyslexia. Elizabeth is a Partners in Policymaking graduate and continues in her advocacy role for individuals with disabilities within the Evaluation and IEP process. Elizabeth is currently interested in the neurodevelopmental and related disabilities studies with a focus in appropriate assessments, services, accommodations/modifications, and inclusive education in the Least Restrictive Environment. She is eager to learn about adapted supports in schools, medical homes, and employment settings through LEND. Elizabeth intends to apply what she learns in Parent Action Team meetings for her daughter and families caring for individuals with disabilities in the community.

Erin DeMaio

Erin DeMaio: Erin is a graduate student in the UConn School Psychology program. She obtained her B.A. in Psychology, with a minor in Public Health, from Montclair State University in 2019. During her undergraduate career, she worked as a peer mentor with other undergraduates and as a job coach for young adults with disabilities. She also worked in two research labs, one focused on trauma and resilience and the other studying cognition and neurocognitive disorders. She is interested in the cognitive development of children in relation to social, emotional, and behavioral influences and looks forward to using her training to implement evidence-based interventions to promote student success and create a healthy, positive school climate.

Denise Drummond

Denise Drummond: Denise is a parent trainee, as she has a child with a disability. She is also a Policy Analyst for the State of CT Commission on Women, Children, Seniors, and Equity & Opportunity. She has been a member of several support groups and attended many classes, seminars, and trainings around advocacy skills. When working with support groups, she helps provide resources and connections to support services as well as training to mothers to help them improve their skills at advocating for their children. Current areas of interest include disability awareness, the post-school transition, support services within college, cultural awareness and stigma within minority communities, and supports for minors with disabilities to help them manage once their caregivers are gone. Denise hopes to learn more about how she can assist and advocate for families raising children with disabilities as well as how she can be an advocate for people with disabilities. She also plans to take her experience from being a policy analyst and use it to help create and pass legislation to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities so that all individuals may fully participate in society.

Libby Easton-May

Libby Easton-May: Libby is a parent trainee, as she has a child with a disability, and is person with a disability herself from a past brain injury. She has worked in health care advocacy, advocacy within the school system for her daughter regarding 504 meetings as well as providing support at PPT meetings for others, and has 30 years of experience as an executive in the Medicare managed care industry examining compliance auditing and improvements that could be made. She also has completed CPAP training. She is interested in supports that can be provided in general education classrooms as well as how their provision can be monitored and enforced, and is additionally interested in girls with ADHD-Inattentive subtype. She plans to gain more knowledge in relevant areas so that she can better participate in future advocacy work.

Mary Etter

Mary Etter: Mary is a community trainee with 30 years of experience at various non-profit organizations. Fourteen of those years have been at agencies providing support to people with developmental disabilities, predominantly in finance and operations but recently as executive director of the Bristol Adult Resource Center (BARC). As part of her executive director role, she participates in advocacy through testifying in writing and in person for the legislature. She is also the current president of Connecticut’s chapter of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. She is interested in birth to three, autism, and fetal alcohol syndrome, as well as in aging issues and family involvement with agencies. Mary plans on using her experience with LEND to better serve individuals with developmental disabilities through BARC and her advocacy.

Ariana Glyde

Ariana Glyde: Ariana is a graduate student in Audiology at the University of Connecticut. She received dual Bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Communication Sciences from Pennsylvania State University previously. While completing her undergraduate degree, she worked as an accessibility specialist evaluating and ensuring the accessibility of online courses for those with visual or hearing disabilities and conducted research on relationships and stress. She currently works in a lab conducting research on cochlear implants. She is also interested in conducting research on family dynamics and perspectives of healthcare and the quality of health services for individuals with disabilities, as well as in learning more about advocacy. In the future, she looks forward to becoming a pediatric audiologist and work overseas participating in humanitarian efforts within audiology.

Nicole Gottschalk

Nicole Gottschalk: Nicole is a graduate student in Audiology at the University of Connecticut. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Communication Disorders, with a minor in Linguistics, from SUNY New Paltz previously. She has worked as a head counselor and an administrative assistant at a camp for adolescents and adults with disabilities. She is conducting research on rate discrimination and sentence recognition for adults without hearing impairments and is also interested in how to help clients remember more information upon leaving their appointments and increase their independence. She plans on working as an audiologist specializing in working with children and adults with disabilities upon degree completion.

George LaBoeuf

George LaBoeuf: George is a community trainee with a decade of experience working with individuals with disabilities in a variety of roles, including residential counselor, behavior therapist, advocate, and case manager. He works in schools, homes, and communities to serve individuals with disabilities with the aim of increasing independence and improving quality of life. As the chair and member of local advocacy groups, he has provided testimony and participated in lobbying efforts on key legislation in Hartford as well as in Washington, D.C. George also participates as the member of a committee that evaluates programs and services throughout Connecticut. He is currently interested in transition and the continuum of care into adulthood, disability rights and excellence, and family support and empowerment. Through LEND he hopes to learn more about disability epidemiology and develop his research skills while contributing to a community of other like-minded individuals from a variety of different disciplines and backgrounds. In the future, he plans to continue working as a social worker and advocate for individuals with disabilities.

Holly LaBrecque

Holly LaBrecque: Holly is a second year Public Health PhD student at UConn. She is a former LEND trainee and is a current member of the Early Childhood Intervention Doctoral Consortium. Along with LEND, she assists the UCEDD with Early Childhood Personnel Center projects and has previously assisted with Learn the Signs, Act Early trainings. Holly recently completed her thesis for her MPH program titled “The Exposure to Disability-related Content and Attitudes toward Persons with Disabilities within the UConn MPH Program. Her goal is to work in academia after obtaining her degree and continue researching early detection and intervention for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities.

Nicole LaCasse

Nicole Lacasse: Nicole is a Master’s/Sixth-Year student in UConn’s School Psychology program. She obtained her B.A. in Psychology, with minors in Deaf Studies and Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, from Boston University in 2018. She has worked on research around child learning, preschool development, school mental health, and behavioral assessments and interventions. Currently, Nicole is interested in social-emotional learning in schools, autism, and promoting the wellbeing of Deaf students. She also is looking to learn more about policy and law affecting children with developmental disabilities, and effective policy advocacy. As a school psychologist, she plans on advocating for her students and working to facilitate children’s wellbeing.

Shannon Langdon

Shannon Langdon: Shannon is a graduate student in Special Education at the University of Connecticut. Previously, she obtained her B.S. in Exercise Science with a Psychology minor from Sacred Heart University and her M.Ed. in Counseling with a focus in rehabilitation counseling from Springfield College. She is also a certified rehabilitation counselor (CRC). Shannon has worked in the past to help individuals with disabilities obtain individualized employment, as well as served as a transition specialist helping individuals transition from school to work. She is interested in researching postsecondary transition for individuals with disabilities as well as the development of effective IEP and 504 plans. Upon completion of her degree, Shannon plans to work as a professor researching and conducting policy advocacy in the area of IEPs, 504 plans, and transition planning.

Melanie Merritt

Melanie Merritt: Melanie is a graduate student is Social Work at the University of Connecticut. Previously, she graduated with her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Anthropology from Western Connecticut State University. She has worked previously with individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their families, as well as in a high-school working with students receiving individualized educational services. She has also done research on the impact of income on student’s academic success in high school as well as done some policy work around integrated work settings for individuals with disabilities. Melanie is interested in conducting research around social biases and exclusion and its impact on individuals with disabilities in educational and work settings, and plans to use her position as a social worker in the future to advocate for those who are experiencing injustices or who are discriminated against.

Melissa Pierce

Melissa Pierce: Melissa is a Master’s/Sixth-Year student in the UConn School Psychology Program. Previously, she graduated with her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Human Development & Family Studies from UConn in 2016. She has worked in the past as a summer camp director and a substitute teacher, and has helped conduct research on student-driven curriculums. Currently, she is interested in mindfulness and mind-body health as well as in social and emotional learning curriculums for students. Upon completion of the School Psychology program, Melissa looks forward to being a practitioner supporting students with a whole-child perspective.

Jeff Reitmeier

Jeff Reitmeier: Jeff is an advocate trainee whose personal experience with disabilities comes from his experiences with mental health concerns as well as his work with individuals with mental health concerns and developmental disabilities. He has worked as a behavior analyst for years developing behavior management programs for individuals with challenging behaviors. Through his work he has participated in different types of advocacy and believes that education and modeling the power of treating individuals with respect and allowing choice are powerful tools for change. Jeff also loves horses and volunteers at High Hopes, a therapeutic equestrian riding program. Currently, he is interested in research around promoting healthy family systems and early childhood interventions. He would like to learn more about the resources available in Connecticut and state of the art practices he can use to best support families in his role as an advocate for families with children with special needs.

Amani Shirley

Amani Shirley: Amani is a graduate student in Social Work at the University of Connecticut. Previously, she obtained her B.A. in Legal Studies, with minors in Psychology and Criminal Justice, from Bay Path University. She has also obtained her American Bar Association approved Paralegal Certificate. She has worked as a mental health counselor providing in-home therapy and support to children and adolescents with psychiatric needs and their families. She additionally has some experience serving people with disabilities. In the past, she had worked on research with the Institute for Community Research, and her current areas of research interest include disabilities among racial and ethnic minorities and how genetics impact an individual diagnosed with a disability. Upon completion of her program, her future career goal is to become a Family Lawyer.

Brenda Stenglein

Brenda Stenglein: Brenda is a parent trainee, as she is the mother of a 21-year-old individual with a disability. She has been a special education teacher for 32 years, working with children with many different types of disabilities, and has also worked with a number of recreational and sports programs that work with individuals with disabilities, such as Special Olympics, Unified Sports, and Best Buddies. She is Vice President of Success SEPTO, a special education parent teacher organization, and is an active member of Camp Care, a member of the CT Council on Developmental Disabilities for six years, and a Partners in Policymaking graduate. Brenda has worked for over 30 years as a parent advocate, educator, and volunteer. Currently, Brenda is interested in the process of transition for people with disabilities from school to work, as well as in customized employment and working with community leaders and families to develop meaningful work experiences. Through LEND she hopes to develop stronger communication skills for advocacy within the community and legislature. She believes passionately that everyone must have a voice, and that people with disabilities should be able to choose their paths in life and be productive members of their community. To that end, she aims to become more involved with community organizations and bring more families together to create a louder voice for change.

Jenna Truglio

Jenna Truglio: Jenna is a graduate student in Speech-Language Pathology at the University of Connecticut. She obtained her B.S. in Public Health with minors in Psychology and Spanish from George Washington University in 2015. She has worked previously as a reading and math tutor for underserved students, provided health communications around tobacco control and sexual health, and as a researcher and evaluator studying domestic public health interventions in the areas of traumatic brain injury, tuberculosis, obesity, and maternal and child vaccines. Currently, she is interested in the impact of early intervention in children with autism spectrum disorder as well as family education and training and the use of alternative and augmentative communication systems. She plans on working as a speech-language pathologist in an urban setting upon graduation.

Michael Whilby

Michael Whilby: Michael is an advocate trainee whose personal experience with disability comes from his experiences with mental health concerns over the past several years. He has over 13 years experience working in business and finance fields and has a Bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies from UMass-Amherst and a Master’s in Management from the Florida Institute of Technology, but is currently transitioning into working in the social services field. He volunteers at Friendship Service Center, Inc., a homeless shelter serving individuals with mental health issues and substance abuse, as well as at an addiction and recovery house. He has graduated from CT’s Partners in Policymaking advocacy and leadership program and has completed a Recovery Support Specialist Certification program that helps him provide support and advocate for individuals with mental health and substance abuse concerns. Currently, he is interested in learning more about autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities and would like to gain skills in navigating healthcare services for developmentally disabled children as well as in leadership and advocacy for children and families. He would like to serve as an executive director for a social service program eventually, as well as serve on the board of directors at a homeless shelter. Additionally, he would like to continue to advocate for children, families, and adults with developmental disabilities.

Adam Zhitomi

Adam Zhitomi: Adam is a graduate student in Pediatric Audiology at the University of Connecticut. He obtained his B.S. in Communication disorders with a minor in Psychology from Southern Connecticut State University prior. He has worked in student government and as an orientation coordinator previously, and has conducted research examining the impact of animals on the social communication of individuals with autism spectrum disorders. He has also served as a data collector in an Audiology Lab. Currently, Adam is interested in hearing conservation and protection and cochlear implantation. Upon completion of his degree, Adam looks forward to working as a clinical audiologist.