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.

Apply for the Fall 2018 VAP 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. To apply for the program, please complete the following application: https://is.gd/VAP2018Application. Applications will be processed and confirmed applicants will receive information for registration and payment.

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


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.


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

If you would like to request an advocate for a school-age child with disabilities, please call The Arc Tennessee at (800) 835-7077 or (615) 248-5878, ext. 306, or email VAP@thearctn.org. Please provide your name, phone number, and location (city/county). A representative will return your call during business hours from Monday to Friday. Representatives make every effort to return calls within 24 hours.