Christine W. Lai is the cofounder and Executive Director of Special Education Legal Fund, a nonprofit organization in Connecticut dedicated to leveling the playing field for families in special education by providing information and resources to enable families in need to successfully advocate for their children in special education. Since 2018, S.E.L.F. has provided over $550,000 in grants for hundreds of families across 60+ school districts in Connecticut and Westchester County, New York. Those grants have, since S.E.L.F.’s founding, yielded over $6.6 million in educational improvements for the students receiving those grants. Since S.E.L.F.’s founding, Christine has created, launched, and disseminated all of Special Education Legal Fund’s programmatic work, including the Legal Assistance Program, the Parent Education Program, the bilingual special education curriculum Proyecto de Educación Especial, and the Advocacy Support Program.
Christine graduated from Columbia College, Columbia University with a degree in History in 1995. After graduation, Christine began her career on Wall Street in sell-side equity research covering property-casualty insurance companies at Sanford Bernstein and J.P. Morgan. In 2001, Christine began her buy side equity research career at Chilton Investment Company where her responsibilities included European banks, insurance companies, and nonbank financial institutions. Christine returned to her first love, insurance, a few years later at Carlson Capital where her role encompassed global insurance on both the life and nonlife side.
In 2004, Christine’s real life finally began when she and her husband Craig Elkind had their first child, Spencer. Spencer’s personal journey and diagnosis of autism have formed the backbone of Christine’s community service and nonprofit work since the mid 2000s. Through a friend, Christine became involved in Abilis – first through its Autism Committee, then as a chair of various fundraising events including twice co-chairing Abilis’ annual gala, then as a Director, and finally as Board Chair. Christine joined the Board of Directors of NEXT for Autism (formerly New York Collaborates for Autism) in 2016 following her time with Abilis, as she was exploring national programming efforts available to improve the lives of children, teens, adults and families impacted by autism. At NEXT, where she was a board member for 3 years, she served on the Audit Committee as well as Liaison to the Junior Board.
Education has been the other significant theme in Christine’s community service work. Christine has volunteered for the Columbia University Alumni Relations Committee since 2004, interviewing hundreds of aspiring Columbia students over the past eighteen years. For the past five years, she has been one of three cochairs of the Columbia University’s Alumni Relations Committee of Fairfield County responsible for managing alumni interviews for Early and Regular Decision admissions at the College and School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS). Christine has also been deeply involved in her children’s schools, serving as Chair of the Connections Committee (DEI) at Greenwich Country Day School for two consecutive terms. She has volunteered extensively the annual fundraising galas at Greenwich Country Day School, Winston Preparatory School, and Harvey School.
All of this brought Christine to Special Education Legal Fund. Having experienced firsthand the difficulties parents have advocating for their children in special education, Christine found that she could not let go of her experience advocating for her own child until she had found a way to help families similarly struggling in the system.
Christine and her husband, Craig Elkind, have been residents of Greenwich since 2002 and have two children – Spencer (18) and Wesley (16).
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