Oklahoma’s Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Other Related Disabilities (LEND) graduating class of 2014 had trainees from many disciplines, including nursing, developmental and behavioral pediatrics, occupational and physical therapy, speech and audiology, psychology, and genetic counseling. Along with the typical health professions students, the class also had a trainee representing the discipline of parent/family. In the class of 2014, OKLEND students included Ellyn Hefner, a mom of three children which included one with a developmental disability.

LEND is an interdisciplinary pre-service training program for graduate level students and others who will assume leadership roles to improve the health of those who have or may develop neurodevelopmental disabilities. The program is designed to give the trainees experiences in interdisciplinary teaming, which includes the family and the patient or person who is going to receive the care as part of the team. The program is a one-year learning experience which includes class time learning, community-engaged activities, and experiential learning, plus team and individual research projects. The trainees work together to learn from each other.

Prior to being accepted into the OK LEND program, Ellyn was a strong advocate for her son to ensure he would have the same opportunities as his siblings. She graduated from the Oklahoma Partners in Policymaking class sponsored by the Developmental Disability Council of Oklahoma. She also worked for the Oklahoma Family Network which is the Family-to-Family Health Information Center and the Parent-to-Parent Mentoring program for Oklahoma.

During her time in the Oklahoma LEND program, her LEND cohort leadership team research project was centered around developing an advocacy and training module for middle school students.  The focus of the project was based on peer-led, student-to-student training on People First Language and respectful interaction with students who have disabilities. The leadership team worked with a local Catholic school that two of Ellyn’s children and Ellyn herself attended. The team partnered with a group of students to create and deliver the training. This leadership project was a great success and had many meaningful outcomes, not only for the students of the school, but also for the OK LEND trainees, particularly Ellyn.

After graduating from OK LEND, Ellyn started advocating for her youngest son to attend the Catholic School that was her alma mater. Up until this time, this school had not accepted students with disabilities who needed more than minimal support in the classroom. With Ellyn’s persistence and passion, her advocacy paid off, and her son will be graduating from her alma mater this May.

Ellyn continued to grow in her leadership and advocacy, wanting to make Oklahoma a better place for people with disabilities. Her journey came full circle when the State Representative from her district decided not to run for re-election and suggested to Ellyn that she run for state office. After consulting with the people she trusted dearly, she decided to become a candidate for State Representative. 

On November 8, 2022, after many hours, miles of walking her neighborhood, and talking with as many people in her district as she could, Ellyn Hefner was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives representing House District 87.  From her lived experience as a family caregiver, through OK LEND, to the Oklahoma Legislature, Ellyn is taking a leadership role to improve the lives of all Oklahomans - with and without disabilities.

Written by Wanda P. Felty