Family is at the Heart of Va-LEND

Submitted by Jennifer Drummond

February 27, 2020

A family of 3 sit down close to each other, smiling. There is a mother, father, and 6-year old boy.
A family of 3 sit down close to each other, smiling. There is a mother, father, and 6-year old boy.

For over 20 years Family Mentorship Experience (FME) has been an integral part of Va-LEND. The goal of FME is for the mentoring families to teach the students about their life as a parent of a child with special healthcare needs. Trainees schedule at least five face-to- face visits during the academic year with their family and maintain an activity log. Mentoring families often participate over a period of years, and can choose to be part of Va-LEND for many reasons. "I chose to be part of this discipline at Va-LEND to raise awareness and advocate for people with disabilities.

Not everyone is aware of the daily challenges. Parenting is hard enough, however having a child with a disability definitely amplifies that. I feel like participating in this program lets our family give them (trainees) a 'bird's eye view' of our life including our challenges and victories," explained Bethany Sizemore. She and her husband Justin, are the parents of Carter, age six, who has speech, motor and cognitive developmental disabilities. As part of this process, trainees have the opportunity to have a closer view of families such as Carter's. As trainees spend time with families in different settings they have the opportunity to observe and ask questions not typically asked within their professional purview. The Sizemore family, who have been part of the Va-LEND program for two years, shared what a typical visit looks like for their family. "The trainee usually visits the home, the playground, and Sweet Frog Yogurt (my son's favorite) or has observed him in one of his therapies.

Each visit gives a different perspective and has lasted between 30 minutes to an hour." In the end, not only do trainees gain insight into the everyday life of the family, they nurture a personal relationship
. "This has been one of the most wonderful programs that we have been part of. Every family is unique in their own way and has their own story to share. You can read a book and study in a classroom all day, however, this personal collaboration between the trainee and mentoring family that Va-LEND offers is priceless," said Bethany.

Bethany and the Virginia LEND trainee smile at the camera with 6 year-old Carter