Focusing on FME - Family Mentoring Experience

At the heart of Va-LEND is the Mentoring Family who share and open up their lived experience to Va-LEND Trainees to help them on their journey as they become leaders and advocates in the disability community. Each month an FME story will be highlighted and celebrated.

African American female to left, male in the center and white hair female to righThe Lipton-Lessors Family

Shirley, India, and Dylan have participated in the FME for 9 years. Dylan has multiple and complex special needs. He was born prematurely and battled an infection for 101 days in the NICU, and has been in and out of the hospital several times over this time. The Lipton-Lessors became interested in participating in the FME after meeting the former FME coordinator an event. They were happy to participate and very grateful to have the opportunity to help in the development of new trainees.

This wonderful family believes the FME offers a positive service to families with children with neurodevelopmental disorders and disabilities. They feel there is a huge need in the medical services fields to know much more about the depth and breadth of what life is like outside of the treatment. They also feel the mentoring experience helps the trainees to understand and balance decisions when making treatment plans as well as assists them as future professionals.

The Lipton-Lessors have learned from their many years as a mentoring family that it is really important for trainees to not be afraid to ask many questions because this is key to helping them learn and better understand what life is like for the families and the children. India suggested that trainees not be shy and come with specific ideas of what they want to learn so families can expand from the trainee knowledge from there. In addition, she said that It is helpful to go to a variety of locations, be willing to be open, help out a bit, and expect a little bit of adventure. This makes it worth it!


Reflections From Elaine Ogburn, First FME Coordinator

I had the pleasure and the honor of working (part-time) for Va-LEND for 19 years, from 1999 to 2018, as the Family Mentorship Experience Coordinator.  My primary qualification for the job of “family discipline faculty” was my daughter Becky, who has Down syndrome.  From accompanying me to LEND faculty meetings (7:30 am!) before her preschool opened, to enjoying FME picnics over many years, to presenting along with me at LEND and other VCU classes in her late teens and early 20s, Becky participated in many aspects of my years at LEND and in my early years was almost as well-known to the LEND faculty as I was. 

Families are the heart of the FME, and during my years 115 generous families participated in the FME, giving our LEND trainees a chance to get to know them and their children with disabilities through several visits with them at the family’s home and other places key to their life.  The trainees’ mission was to get to know their mentoring families not as clients, or patients, or students, but as PEOPLE.  Individuals of all ages who just happen to have disabilities and their families who best know, understand, and love them have lived experience that their service providers definitely need to tap in order to best serve them.

A person can go to school to learn to be a doctor, teacher, or any other professional discipline, but the only way to learn about being a person with a disability or a family member is to live that life.  That’s real commitment!  The more that professionals embrace and tap the gifts and lived experience of individuals with disabilities and their families, the better the services provided to people with disabilities will be in real life.   Go family discipline!  Go person- and family-centered care!


Family is at the Heart of Va-LEND

FME Family Bethany Sizemore, husband and son in front of fireplaceFor 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.  Learn how family is at heart of Va-LEND.