Creating Powerful Partnerships Between Families and the Partnership for People with Disabilities

by Debbie Grosser, M.Ed., and Dale Pennell, C.A.S.

Mission of the Partnership for People with Disabilities

To partner with people with disabilities and others to build communities where all people can live, learn, work, and play together.

An interview with Fred Orelove, Ph.D., executive director of the Virginia Partnership for People with Disabilities

Question: Dr. Orelove, would you please describe services the Partnership provides for families of youth with disabilities?

Answer: The Partnership's Center for Family Involvement (CFI) works with families to increase their skills as advocates, mentors, and leaders so that family members and individuals with disabilities can lead the lives they want.

Current CFI activities include:

  • Providing one-to-one emotional, informational, and advocacy support to parents of children with special health care needs;
  • Providing training and technical assistance to parents and local school divisions on how to build and maintain effective Special Education Advisory Committees;
  • Hosting the annual Virginia Transition Forum Parent Summit;
  • Training Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams to write standards-driven, collaborative IEPs;
  • Developing a cadre of parent leaders in health care advocacy;
  • Supporting cultural brokers in the Latino and African American communities; and
  • Providing staff support to the Virginia Department of Education's Parent Involvement Priority Project

In addition to the CFI, the Virginia Leadership in Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Program (Va-LEND) provides opportunities for family trainees. Trainees are family members who complete coursework and other activities that enable them to become leaders in community advocacy efforts, assisting other families and professionals, and promoting family and professional partnerships.

Question: What services do you provide to youth with disabilities; to adults with disabilities?

The Partnership is committed to providing information and supports to individuals with disabilities to enable them to speak for themselves and to become leaders in their own lives and in the lives of others. In 2008, using funding from federal and state agencies, the Partnership established the Center for Self-Advocacy Leadership (CSAL). CSAL staff (which includes five self-advocates and two parents) provides information, as well as educational and mentoring opportunities for youth and young adults with developmental disabilities.

Current CSAL activities include:

  • Supporting individuals interested in AmeriCorps* service;
  • Training AmeriCorps programs on how to include individuals with disabilities in community service;
  • Mobilizing self-advocates to promote systems change in their communities;
  • Providing one-to-one mentoring for youth and young adults with disabilities in developing individualized leadership plans;
  • Assisting middle schoolers with significant disabilities in futures planning (; and
  • Providing financial support to the Arc of Virginia's state convention, the Transition Forum's Youth Summit, and the Fredericksburg DisAbility Resource Center's Youth Team.

The newest CSAL initiative will be the establishment of a statewide non-profit organization run by and for individuals with developmental disabilities.

*AmeriCorps is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, an independent federal agency whose mission is to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering.

Question: Are there costs associated with these services?

Answer: Most activities provided by the Partnership to individuals with disabilities and their families are free. Some workshops require a registration fee, and certain books or videos produced by the Partnership must be purchased.

Question: How can youth and their families create powerful partnerships with the Partnership?

Answer: The Partnership has a strong commitment to parents and individuals with disabilities as evidenced by the employment of eight parents and five self-advocates on various agency projects. The Partnership is dedicated to ensuring that the voices of disenfranchised parents and self-advocates are heard. Parents and self-advocates can assist the Partnership in achieving its mission by:

  • Connecting us with existing parent and self-advocacy groups
  • Connecting us with other parents and self-advocates who can be leaders
  • Connecting us with potential mentors
  • Informing us of issues in their community that impact their lives
  • Helping us determine our priorities based on their experiences
  • Serving on project advisory committees

Question: How can individuals access the Partnership's services?

Answer: Visit to learn more about Partnership projects. For more information about the Center for Family Involvement, contact Melanie Sterling at (804) 827-0197 or To learn more about the Center for Self-Advocacy Leadership, contact Dana Yarbrough at (804) 828-0352 or For more information about the family mentorship and family trainee programs within the Va-LEND Program, contact Elaine Ogburn at (804) 828-0073 or