Volunteer Advocacy Project



Realizing the challenges parents face in advocating for their children with disabilities, The Volunteer Advocacy Project (VAP) trains interested individuals to become special education advocates so they can provide instrumental and affective support to families of children with disabilities in Tennessee. Since its inception in fall of 2008, The VAP has trained more than 300 advocates across the state.

Components of The Volunteer Advocacy Project (VAP)

The VAP training is comprised of two parts: (1) a 40-hour training, and (2) the linkage of the volunteer advocate with four families of children with disabilities.

  1. Forty-hour training: Every participant attends a 40-hour training. In the training, various topics related to special education advocacy are taught: evaluations and eligibility, individualized education plans, assistive technology, discipline provisions, behavior intervention plans, non-adversarial advocacy techniques, legislative change, least restrictive environment, and extended school year services. The training also has various speakers including professors, attorneys, parents of children with disabilities, and advocates. Reading assignments of relevant laws and regulations accompany each class session.
  2. Linkage with four families:After graduating from the class (completing the 40 hours of instruction), each participant commits to working, at no cost, with four families of children with disabilities.

Expanding Across the State

The VAP has multiple sites across the state of Tennessee. The main site is in Nashville. From the Nashville site, the training is video-conferenced to other areas. In the past, the training has been video-conferenced to: Memphis, Martin, Mountain City, Jackson, Chattanooga, Cookeville, Crossville, Johnson City, Harrogate, Dickson, Bolivar, Mt. Juliet, Smyrna and Knoxville. For each region of the state, various agencies work with the volunteer advocates.

In order to participate in the training as a distance site, at least 3 participants per location must sign up. This promotes the development support networks throughout the state, in addition to training individuals.

Interested in VAP Fall 2018 Training?

The Fall 2018 VAP training will be held Mondays from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Central Time (10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time) from Aug. 20 through Nov. 5. If you're interested in more information on the upcoming training, please complete this survey.

If you have any questions, please contact us using the information found in the “Contact” box below.


For parents of a son/daughter with an autism spectrum disorder who is leaving high school in Spring 2016 or 2017, click here for information on the Volunteer Advocacy Project-Transition.


Ellen Casale is a doctoral student in the Special Education-Low Incidence Disabilities program at Vanderbilt University. She received her Education Specialist degree in autism spectrum disorders from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and her master’s degree in Special Education from Vanderbilt University. She has assisted with the Volunteer Advocacy Project since fall of 2016. Ellen has worked as a special education teacher in a variety of settings, in-home interventionist, autism specialist and diagnostician, and district special educational specialist. Ellen’s research interests include improving educational, behavioral and functional outcomes for individuals with severe disabilities.

Kelli Sanderson is a doctoral student in the Special Education-Low Incidence Disabilities program at Vanderbilt University. She received her master's degree in Special Education from California State University at Long Beach in 2015. Kelli participated in the Volunteer Advocacy Project in the Fall 2015. Prior to her graduate studies at Vanderbilt, Kelli worked as a behavior interventionist and teacher serving students with moderate/severe disabilities in Los Angeles, CA. Kelli’s research interests include family-practitioner collaboration, transition services for students with severe disabilities, postsecondary education, and disability advocacy.


If you have questions about the training, please contact:
Ellen Casale
Kelli Sanderson

If you would like to request an advocate, please call (615) 601-0825. Please leave a voicemail with your name, phone number, and location (city/county). We will return your call during business hours from Monday to Friday. We make every effort to return calls within 24 hours.