A Christmas Extravaganza

As most people are aware who know me through FIN and the disability community, my daughter Samantha is severely affected by autism. The past couple of years especially, have been a struggle as we help her through some challenging anxiety and medically related issues. For Samantha and many other people in our community with severe developmental disabilities, it can be very difficult to participate in community events and gatherings. Instead of risking a meltdown or maybe not even being able to get in the door because of anxiety, we opt to stay home.

Yet the social, community-loving person in me never gives up and I am grateful to the many organizations and faith communities in Hampton Roads that are striving to be welcoming, understanding and inclusive, making it easier to participate in the community.  From organizations like Virginia Stage Company that is offering a sensory-friendly performance this week (Theater for Everyone-Wed. Dec. 12) for people with disabilities and their families, to faith communities who intentionally welcome and celebrate people families affected by disability, I sense a developing tide of awareness in our community. I share the following story to encourage all who are working hard to develop awareness and provide opportunities to support individuals and families affected by disability. Thank you and God bless!

Karen Jackson,

Executive Director, Faith Inclusion Network

A Christmas Extravaganza

The other night, my daughter and I attended a beautiful gathering put on by the youth of Grace Community Church (EY2S Missions) in support of The Chosen Ministry, a social ministry for adults with disabilities that Samantha and I attend regularly. This “Christmas Extravaganza” included dinner, music, fellowship time, preaching and even a modern, adorable Christmas play. It truly was an extravaganza, but so much more in terms of their efforts to make everyone feel loved and welcome.

When Samantha and I arrived at the church, we were greeted by at least a half dozen members of the youth group, all at the door with the sole job of welcoming us to the gathering. Samantha shyly made her way into the well-lit church, her eyes sparkling at the sight of the holiday lights. She loves all things Christmas and I could tell she was excited to be at a party!

Samantha and Samantha posing for a quick picture at the end of the evening.

We made our way in the gathering room and were immediately befriended by a young intern named Samantha. She works with Pastor Jeff Montgomery coordinating the work with their youth and EY2SMissions. After just a few moments, it was clear to me that she has a heart to love and connect with people with disabilities. I enjoyed watching her speak with my daughter, unfazed that Samantha was not speaking back but none-the-less making a connection.

The evening continued with dinner served by the joyful and engaged youth. We also listened to the testimony of a friend of ours, Jenny, who has a disability and also a gift for sharing her faith and her story. “How perfect”, I thought, “that this gathering encourages people affected by disability to not only participate, but to lead!”

Jenny and Pastor Jeff

I enjoyed my conversation with the other people at our table. A sweet couple next to us shared that their son has Aspergers. They live close to the church and participate in many of the activities offered. I was thrilled to observe that their 15-year old son had a part in the youth’s entertaining Christmas play. Even though we just met, I could tell these parents were proud of their son for participating on stage. He really did a great job!

As the evening progressed, I realized that Grace Community and their youth were living out their faith and doing everything so right in the way they strive to love and include everyone.  Regardless of the person’s abilities or behaviors, the feeling of acceptance was palatable.  From the warm welcome to the understanding of inclusion, this place is actively building leaders that will one day be engaged, understanding adults. This gives me tremendous hope and it was a blessing to be a part of the evening.

Members of EY2S Missions Youth Group at Grace Community Church

Samantha didn’t want to leave that night, and who could blame her? She felt welcomed, accepted and understood. (And so did I.) As the youth were busy cleaning up and putting up the tables, Samantha and I reluctantly headed out, feeling the warmth of true acceptance. It was an extravagant night, and we feel blessed to have participated. Thank you, Pastor Jeff and the EY2S Missions team. God bless!