Abdul Fatawu Abdulai
Abdul Fatawu graduated from the University for Development Studies, Ghana, receiving a BA in Development Education studies. He completed a literature-based research study on Trokosi practice and its effects on girls who have been Trokosis or residents of villages where this practice is carried on. In addition, he was a full-time intern for Community Aid for Rural Development, where he worked one-on-one with women, children, and people with disabilities assisting them in improving their lives. His undergraduate work at the University for Development Studies thoroughly trained him in various research methodologies.
He is a second-year student in the University of Minnesota MA Social Work program. Through the MNLEND program and his passion for policy advocacy, he hopes to learn how to improve systems that recognize various disabilities at early stages by connecting families with services and eradicating the stigma around disabilities, especially in many African countries. MNLEND's interdisciplinary opportunities would help develop his larger professional goals of advocating for families' and communities' needs and best practices. Moreover, MNLEND will offer a sense of community that will serve diverse groups. Being part of a team with his background will prevent his team from 'segregated life, integrated practice.' Also, this goal aligns with two social work values, such as competence and the importance of human relations.
Kalee Abu-Ghazaleh is currently in her fourth year pursuing a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. She previously graduated with honors from the University of South Dakota with a Bachelor of Science degree in Dental Hygiene in 2011. Kalee has a long history of community service that spans over 15 years. She is trained as a Guardian ad Litem, and has spent hundreds of hours serving to protect abused and neglected children in state custody. Many of the children she has worked with are affected by neurodevelopmental disabilities, so working with this population of children and adolescents has a special place in her heart.
Within dentistry, she provides oral healthcare services and supplies to underrepresented communities by regularly volunteering with organizations such as the St. Francis Dental Mission, Remote Area Medical, Delta Dental Smile Mobile, Hope Dental Clinic, and Give Kids a Smile. Kalee also volunteers on the weekends at the Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis.
Kalee envisions MNLEND program training to help develop her ability to improve the quality-of-life outcomes for children and young adults with NDDs, as well as their families. She wants to be an interdisciplinary leader and advocate to improve systems in the field of dentistry, including dental student training, to ensure competent providers are equipped to care for patients of all abilities. Kalee also hopes to gain a better understanding of the perspective of the families and self-advocates to improve the future care she provides to each unique patient.
Sahra is dedicated to supporting her son who has Down Syndrome and is passionate about sharing what she has learned about Down Syndrome. Sahra leads outreach to the Somali Community for Gigi’s Playhouse and also created a group to support Somali moms of children with Down Syndrome. She cares deeply about inclusion and is a strong advocate for community living. Through LEND Sahra hopes to learn more about neurodevelopmental disabilities so she can share that information with her community. She also hopes to learn new ways to help and support others.
Lucy Littlewolf Arias currently is the Preschool Development Grant Tribal Nations Lead at the MDE. She earned a BS in Child Psychology and a M.Ed. in Parent and Family Education from the University of Minnesota. Her career in early childhood includes research, being an educator of children and parents, advocacy, professional development and public health. She firmly believes in helping families and communities create healthy environments for children to thrive in. As a MNLEND Fellow it is my hope to gain more knowledge and leadership skills to continue to advocate.
“Through the MNLEND Fellowship I hope to continue to gain leadership skills so I can be one of many the many knowledgeable, interdisciplinary leaders in the neurodevelopmental disabilities (NDD) field. Leaders in this field are needed, because continued advocacy is needed in the field of early childhood education and services. I am painfully aware of the rise in NDD in not only my American Indian community but the broader community as well due to opioid exposure during pregnancy. Broad understanding of the long-term consequences is not understood widely in communities and the services needed to serve the children and families affected.”
Milena Bates is a bicultural immigrant and a proud member of the disability community. Aside from being a parent and self advocate, she works with community members directly to provide individualized support, and has formal roles in multiple local and state organizations. Some of her advocacy goals are: education to expand understanding of accessibility, improve access to alternative communication and assistive technology, reach immigrant communities and provide support, disability justice as it intersects with other margins of oppression, creating systems of peer support, and disability advocacy led by self advocates.
Milena is honored to be a part of the LEND program and is looking forward to growing her leadership skills and having guidance to maximize the impact of her work.
Andrea is a first-generation immigrant from Peru. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Youth Studies from the University of Minnesota. She is committed to better serve families and to meet the needs of an increased population of children with Autism through a commitment of implementing new research-based strategies, recognizing biases, and being a resourceful leader in her community.
She worked serving families in different capacities such as connecting them to resources, providing early childhood education at home, facilitating parent groups, and providing mental health skills training to youth at Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio (CLUES). Currently she is the Parent/Caregiver Empowerment Specialist in a new initiative to form leaders in the Latinx community for caregivers of young children.
Her goal as a MNLEND community fellow is to share her experience of direct service and advocacy, broaden her knowledge about strategies for working with neurodiverse individuals, and develop partnerships with community leaders. She is driven to create meaningful change in her practice and support its ripple effects in the community at large.
Nell has worked for Special Olympics for the past eleven years as their program assistant, helping with the athlete leadership program and health programs. She also volunteers with Gigi’s Playhouse as a coach for their inclusive young athletes program and is a volunteer and board member for Thrive Mighty, an inclusive wellness center. Nell often speaks to various audiences about her experiences growing up having a disability, inclusion, and health and wellness.
Nell is excited to learn more about how she can further help make changes within the disability community, support people with disabilities, and continue to do advocacy work. She is also a weightlifter.
Caryn Donahue is a second-year master’s student in speech-language pathology at the University of Minnesota. Caryn completed her B.S. in Communication Sciences and Disorders and her B.A. in Psychology at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire with minors in Spanish and American Sign Language. As a graduate student, she participates in her department’s Bilingual and Multicultural Emphasis Program, works in Dr. Finestack’s Child Language Intervention Lab, and is pursuing a Disability Policy and Services Certificate. Caryn is passionate about working with children with NDD and their families. She is especially interested in early intervention services and cultural and linguistic diversity.
Through MNLEND, Caryn looks forward to learning from and collaborating with students and community members from diverse backgrounds. Her goal is to grow her leadership skills, cultural competence, and knowledge in disability policy and services so that she can become an impactful clinician and advocate for her future clients.
Jenny Gibson is a second-year master’s student in speech language pathology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Within her department she is a member of the Bilingual and Multicultural Emphasis Program. Jenny also completed her undergraduate career at the UMN where she received a B.A. in speech-language-hearing sciences with a minor in leadership. In high school, Jenny was diagnosed with ADHD, which fueled her passion for working the individuals who have neurodevelopmental disabilities and disorders. After years of struggling and feeling insecure, Jenny’s diagnosis allowed her to receive the help she needed to exemplify her full potential. As a future speech-language pathologist, Jenny doesn't want any child with a neurodevelopmental disability or disorder to fall through the cracks and lack proper support growing up, such as she did. Once Jenny graduate’s, she hopes to be an effective advocate for and work with neurodiverse children, ensuring that they receive timely diagnoses and feel confident in their abilities. As a LEND fellow, Jenny is eager to learn more about disability policy and further develop her advocacy skills through interprofessional collaboration.
Siuho Gong is a third-year audiology graduate student at the University of Minnesota. She is a member of her department’s Bilingual and Multicultural Emphasis Program and is involved in the UMN Listen Lab, headed by Dr. Winn. She has spent time in her youth participating in disability awareness and volunteering in the Deaf community, and she carries this passion forward with her today to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities. As a LEND fellow, she hopes to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the issues that face the disability community and to learn how to best serve her future patients with neurodevelopmental and related disabilities.
Annika Grassl is a second-year master’s in Public Health student studying public policy and administration.
Annika grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis. She completed two bachelors degrees at Drake University before receiving a master’s in International Development from Brandeis University before returning home to Minnesota to continue her focus on disability.
Her primary area of interest is access to healthcare for children with intellectual disabilities and special healthcare needs. Her passion for this topic comes from personal experience as a woman with Cerebral Palsy and associated conditions.
Tayler is a neurodivergent activist dedicated to mutual aid, interdependence, and collective liberation. Through her work as a direct support professional and a nonprofit employee, Tayler has centered the principles of disability justice. She is committed to the reclamation of knowledge and reciprocal learning.
She is passionate about using art as a way to uplift the voices of our true leaders, catalyze advocacy efforts, and empower people with disabilities and their families to demand justice. Tayler intends to user her MNLEND experience to gain a better understanding of the relationships between art and the able-bodied supremacy dominating our culture, and the historical and contemporary contexts where these situations fill material and spiritual needs.
Kadar Hadis was born in Somalia but grew up in the United States. He did his undergrad at the University of Wisconsin River Falls in Business Administration and Management Information Systems, and his Masters at St Mary’s University Twin Cities in Health and Human Services Administration. Kadar has been working as a Social worker for last five years at Hennepin County. He is interested in child development and mental health and look forward learning more about child development.
Shayna Hamiel graduated with her BSN from the University of Minnesota in 2005 and worked for 15 years as a pediatric and pediatric ICU nurse at Hennepin Healthcare. She is currently a Doctor of Nursing Practice student in the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Primary Care program with a special interest in neurodevelopmental disabilities.
Shayna lives in East-Central Minnesota and has a vision of improving access to neurodevelopmental assessments and disability services in her rural area. As a LEND fellow, she hopes to expand on her knowledge through interdisciplinary learning and collaboration and to improve her leadership skills in disability advocacy for her children and her future patients.
Deeqa Hassan is a Somali American immigrant mother of four children who has lived in the Twin Cities for the past 22 years. She has called NE Minneapolis home for most of those years and has a deep and abiding connection to the local community she is part of.
Deeqa has worked as a healthcare interpreter for 15 years and currently works as a Care Advocate Coordinator at Children's Hospitals & Clinics of MN where she has been fortunate to engage in passionate advocacy for children with developmental delays and complex medical conditions.
Deeqa is also the legal guardian and primary caretaker of Asha Hassan her beloved younger adult sister with severe and global neurodevelopmental disabilities.
Through the MNLEND program she hopes to find new ways to connect with her sister, the patients she works with, and her community at large. Deeqa hopes to advocate for and to broaden her knowledge, expertise, and advocacy through the LEND fellowship.
Stephen Hays grew up in Rochester, MN and received his bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Minnesota. In the years prior to graduate school he worked as a mental health case manager, serving those who suffer from severe mental illness and helping them to access a variety of resources within the community. He is currently enrolled in the University of Minnesota’s genetic counseling program where he is continuing to hone his skills as a clinician. His previous experience working with underserved communities has fueled a desire to continue evolving as an ally and advocate for those whose voices are often unheard. Through MNLEND, he hopes to become more aware of his own biases and areas of growth. He will also use this experience to gain expertise in working with children and families with neurodevelopmental differences so that these skills can be utilized in the field of genetic counseling.
Dr. Belle Khuu is currently a Postdoctoral Associate at ICI. She is employed in Advanced Rehabilitation Research Training Community Living and Participation (ARRT) fellowship. Belle's current research training includes collaboration and working with other experts in the IDD area. She obtained her Ph.D. in social work at the School of Social Work. She also completed a master's in community health promotion in public health and clinical social work and a prevention science minor. Her undergraduate studies were in psychology, sociology, and philosophy with an Asian American studies minor. She is also a mother of two beautiful and rambunctious children. She is passionate about system changes that honor the desire and preferences of historically excluded racial and ethnic groups. As an MN LEND fellow, her goal is to explore the intersection of disability, race, and policies affecting families and children with NDD, mutually learn from other disciplines, and build upon her leadership skills to prepare her to become an expert field of disability studies.
Erika Lamboglia joins the MNLEND program as a community fellow. Erika completed a Master’s degree in Social Work from Columbia University and a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and Spanish from St. Cloud State University. She has seen the intersectionality of disability across social service settings through her work in schools in New York City and as a Child Protection Social Worker at Hennepin County. She most recently advocates for students and families receiving services from Minneapolis Public Schools as co-chair of the Special Education Advisory Council. Erika tirelessly advocates for inclusive environments for kids with disabilities as she navigates systems for her daughter.
Erika is enthusiastic about creating more inclusive environments within recreation and education. She looks forward to the interdisciplinary approach of MNLEND and hopes to gain insight from others interested in improving the lives of kids with NDD and their families.
Erica Lee is a first year Master of Social Work student at the University of Minnesota. She received her BA in American Studies at Macalester College. Previously, Erica has worked in various arts and tech spaces to foster more inclusive and equitable spaces with and for marginalized people. As a women of color feminist, she believes in the intersectionality of all struggles and decided to pursue a MSW degree to support the mental health needs of marginalized people, especially bicultural folks, immigrants, and qtpoc. As a MNLEND fellow, Erica hopes to learn how to be a better advocate for people with disabilities and work together to provide mental health support that is person- and family-centered.
Emma Marino is the Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare Physical Therapy resident of the 2021-2022 term. She received her Doctorate of Physical Therapy at Saint Louis University in May of 2019. From there, she worked with patient’s across the lifespan with neurological diagnoses at The Shirley Ryan Ability Lab’s Day Rehabilitation program in an interdisciplinary setting. Upon, discovering her love and desire to work primarily with pediatric patients she applied to the Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare Residency. With a goal to expand her base of knowledge and expertise she plans to pursue a pediatric clinical specialty in physical therapy. During her time in the Minnesota LEND program Emma hopes to work in an interdisciplinary setting to continue to increase formal and informal education opportunities for patients, families, and caregivers of individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities.
Brittany Miller is a second year general practice dental resident at Hennepin County Medical Center. She received her undergraduate degree at the University of Pittsburgh and went on to receive a post-baccalaureate certificate in Pre-Medical and Health Professions at Duquesne University. She spent one year working at a crisis nursery providing support and resources for families experiencing a critical need for childcare. She then completed her DMD at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine in 2020.
Brittany hopes to utilize her time in the fellowship program to become a more competent healthcare provider for patients with disabilities. She believes that working with an interdisciplinary team will give her insight to the needs of the community expanding outside of the healthcare realm. She looks forward to developing her leadership skills so that she may assist members of the community in establishing a dental home that can meet their needs.
Genjang Nevil Nuvala
Genjang Nevil Nuvala is a Native from Cameroon. He is a third-year student at the college of Pharmacy at University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He currently works as a part time pharmacist intern at Abbot Northwestern Hospital & GeriTom Medical Inc. He also works with Lutheran Social Services as a positive support specialist for individuals with IDD.
He received a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Helsinki, Finland before moving to the United States in late 2016. Since his arrival in the USA, he has worked continuously in the disability community as support staff and as a community support staff for individuals with disability who chose to live on their own. He sees himself as a supporter and advocate for persons living with disability. As a LEND fellow, his goal is to understand nonpharmacological support for persons with IDD and to strengthen his advocacy for this community. He would like to understand the system of services and support available to persons with IDD and contribute to solving problems based on a systems approach in making things better for this community.
Hamdi Nur is a second year doctoral candidate in the Occupational Therapy program at the University of Minnesota. She completed her undergraduate career at UMN with a B.S. in Kinesiology. Currently, she works as a Mental Health Practitioner to provide support and community resources to young and older adults with disabling conditions. She has previous experience working with the pediatric population with neurological conditions.
As a LEND fellow, Hamdi hopes to gain the training and knowledge necessary to work with communities and systems in order to continue to promote cultural competency within the healthcare field. She also hopes to gain clinical experience and expand on her current practices of providing evidence-based care practice for individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities.
Ximon Pederson will be joining MNLEND as a first-year student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities working towards obtaining a Master’s and Specialist Degree in School Psychology. In her free-time, Ximona enjoys participating in the arts, paddle boarding, and playing pickleball.
Ximona’s aspired goal for the year with MNLEND is integrating herself within a community that both respects and advocates for diverse populations. She would also like to ensure that policies and resources within the Minneapolis area benefit individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities along with their caregivers. She is excited to enhance her leadership skills and create meaningful connections with the MNLEND community.
Danny Roherty is a 39 year old who feels like he has a lifetime of experience helping others. He is a founder of Uniquely Us Guild which is an Autism Advocacy & Autism Justice group who helps people not just with Autism but any neurological disability have a voice. How does he do it? Through groups and a podcast you can find on Spotify. He is a cat lover and loves music, movies and astronomy and enjoys outdoor activities like walking, basketball and bike riding. He enjoys Twins games and wants to go to Disney World and Universal Studios some day.
Danny is looking to LEND to help him expand his network and also gain valuable knowledge and experience in helping people who can't advocate or speak up for themselves and be a kind of support for those who can use a friend or mentor to help them and guide them in their life journey.
Txing Vang is a certified MnCHOICES Assessor/Social Worker for Washington County. Her role has led her to work with individuals and families from all racial socioeconomic status and backgrounds with a variety of special care needs including ASD and NDD. She has worked with the SNAP and Medical Assistance programs, was a certified Brain Injury Specialist, providing TBI education and resources to individuals, families, and community organizations. Txing is looking forward to increasing her knowledge in the NDD field and gaining leadership skills to apply towards her role at work and in the community.
Julie Li Yang is a graduate student in the Maternal and Child Health program at the University of Minnesota, School of Public Health. Her research interests explore the intersectionality of disability, gender, and race and its overall impact on quality of life.
As a parent to children with autism, she is driven to serve people with disabilities and advocate for safer and more socially inclusive environments.
As a MNLEND fellow, Julie is looking forward to strengthening her leadership and interdisciplinary skills to further advance her research in improving health outcomes for people with autism and other neurodevelopmental and related disabilities.
Raniya Yimam recently graduated from Hamline university with Bachelor’s degree in Public Health and Global studies. She firmly believes that every individual on planet earth deserves to enjoy quality health. Poverty, disability, race and gender differences should never be a limit to access to a healthy life. Health equity and social determinants of health are the specific focus area she desires her research to dwell on. The passion she has for public health emanates from her desire to assist the less privileged in the society. She wants to get involved in everything public health and assist those people with disabilities in society to live a valuable and productive life. Developing health policies seems the most viable strategy for aiding communities, and research is integral to developing these programs.