Tag Archives: disability

Lead with Love

If you have a disability or are the parent or guardian of someone with a disability, then you are very familiar with assessments for eligibility of services. These assessments are designed to identify whether  or not an individual requires support of some kind which would then lead to the kinds of intervention or available services. Assessments can be just a few minutes long or take hours and hours and require you to answer hundreds of questions.

As the parent of a young adult with severe autism, I have sat through my fair share of assessments and can assure you that they usually are not fun. This is mainly because the whole reason for the questions is to determine what my child can not do, what her weaknesses are, and why she needs support for daily living, etc.

No one wants to have to spend time focusing solely on their child’s weaknesses, because, despite the truth off all the information, this does not define our child, it is just a part of who they are. Unfortunately, it is the only part that is usually relevant during an assessment.

Recently, this idea of assessments came to mind when consulting with a local small church. I met with a very kind group of people who wanted to discuss how best to support a young person with severe autism. This is the kind of situation I get calls and emails about most frequently as Director of FIN. Due to the challenging behaviors, people leading religious education programs, Sunday schools and other children-focused ministries in churches and synagogues are often at a loss as to how best to include children with autism.

Discussing the situation of inclusion for a young child with autism always brings me back to when my daughter was nine years old. We had just started attending a new church and I was working with the director of the religious education program on how to understand and include Samantha. Even though this was over 10 years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. Do you know what sticks out most in my mind? The initial response from the director of RE. She didn’t ask about all the challenges and how we were going to accomplish including Samantha into Sunday school classses, she just said, “We will figure it out” and asssured me that the church would help. She asked me what Samantha liked to do and what she was like at home. I felt that Samantha was going to be loved and appreciated because of those questions, and I was right.  

The small group I was asked to join was assembled to address and develop strategies to include the child with autism. I have no doubt that they too want what is best for this child and family, as well as the congregation as a whole. I arrived with a small stack of books, resources from some of my favorite authors like Barb Newman, Jolene Philo and Shelly Christensen who have detailed suggestions as to how best to develop support and develop a positive inclusive environment. I brought along some Joni and Friends resources too and I threw in David Morstad’s latest book, “Whole Community” for a big picture look at the importance of developing inclusion.

It was an informal meeting and the group leader jumped right in with some ideas they had been thinking about and the conversation they wanted to have with the parents. As I listened to all their suggestions, it occurred to me that this well-intentioned meeting felt like a group that was assessing and solving a problem, much like the assessments I go through with my daughter to receive services.

Eventually, I chimed in with the suggestion that we back up to the initial talk with the child’s parents. How would I feel if members of my church started a conversation about my daughter with questions about her weaknesses, about the challenges and how to address them in the Sunday school class? I am pretty sure it would feel like an assessment. What is wrong? What are the weaknesses? How do we fix it or what do we provide to make this work?

I made the suggestion that perhaps they could start by asking the parents what their child’s strengths were? What does he do well? What does he like? Yes, the challenging behaviors do exist and need to be discussed to find a way to best support and include the child, but this young person is first and foremost a child of God, with their own set of gifts to offer the community.

The suggestion was noted and appreciated, I think. The group was a well-educated, smart and loving group of people who are all interested in what is best for this individual child, family and the rest of their children in the congregation too. I was glad to be a part of the conversation and hopefully had some good suggestions and helpful resources.

But what I came away with personally was an important reminder of what I believe we all must remember as we go about the work of developing supports and inclusion in our faith communities for people with disabilities or special needs. In addition to learning and utilizing best practice strategies to help our children be included in congregational activities, which very often means religious education classes, we must always start by seeing the person as a precious child of God, a person that brings their own gifts, talents, and special qualities to the table…and we must keep in mind how loved that individual is by their family and by God. We must lead with love.

 

TAMW-2019 Conference-A Lesson About Community

The FIN Conference that just took place on March 7-8 marks my 6th opportunity to be the lead in organizing a faith and disability conference. That All May Worship (TAMW)-2019, The Art of Inclusion was going to be the best event ever. I was thrilled with the theme related to another passion of my life, art and music, and started working on developing this event back in the early summer months.

I don’t want to give you the idea that it wasn’t a great training event. We had our biggest group of national faith and disability leaders yet be involved and our biggest number of conference attendees, not to mention our first ever Welcome Dinner to kick it all off. These talented disability ministry leaders, authors, researchers and speakers, many traveling by plane to attend, gathered for a retreat at Sandbridge, VA during the day on March 7 and most stayed to play a role at the conference sessions on Friday, March 8.

Group participating in FIN National Faith and Disability Retreat

We also reached a lot of people who are new to faith inclusion; vendors that represented arts organizations, people who traveled not just from the next town over, but from other states, to be with us to learn and engage in the conversation.

But what I elude to is the unexpected experiences related to this year’s event. As I continue to understand my role as an advocate, the leader of Faith Inclusion Network and a member of my community at large, my expectation for the conference and my appreciation for what I learned really affected me in a profound way.

If you were present at the very opening of the conference, you might have sensed a touch of chaos. That is primarily because of what transpired the evening before. As a group of four national guests were driving back from the Welcome Dinner at The Founder’s Inn and Spa to the Sandbridge house, they were in a car accident. An electric pole, hit by a drunk driver in front of them, landed on the top of the van. Luckily, no one was injured in either car but all of our guests were pretty shaken up.

The next morning, two of those passengers were not able to participate in the conference, including one of our breakout session presenters. We spent the precious prep time in the morning working out how to handle this and other conference staffing issues, not to mention my worry over how they were feeling.  Everyone was a bit out of sorts and the impact of “what could have happened” weighed heavily on many of our retreat guests and presenters, including myself.

The result of bringing together amazing, compassionate and caring people coupled with the kind of trauma several of them experienced with the car accident and you have a recipe for something remarkable. In the throes of taking care of all the people involved in the accident, I observed something that is really at the core of what FIN seeks to develop: community in action.

As soon as we all got word that our friends were in trouble, many of the group jumped up to help immediately. I was not feeling emotionally strong enough to drive by myself back to the scene of the accident to pick up our guests, so another guest stepped in without hesitation to drive us both back, while another person went ahead to check on them.

I immediately got word to the rest of the group who were praying and preparing for whatever needed to be done to care for our friends. Thoughts of any of them needing to be hospitalized filled my mind. Luckily, not only did everyone check out okay physically, but the rented van was drive-able and they all headed back to the retreat house.

As one person helped nurse a guest who was experiencing shock, several of us came around the driver of the van that was hit, to offer comfort, support and just a listening ear. It was a late night for many of us as we turned in, anticipating an early morning start to the Friday sessions for the conference.

All Conference participants engaging in discussion at the afternoon Community Conversation

The next day, our professionals got to work. Lisa Jamieson stepped in to give a presentation with no preparation and several community conversation host facilitators had to be changed around. What was amazing to me was that everyone did this without hesitation, only wanting to help make  sure all went as smoothly as possible.

For a hyper-planner like myself, the changes were a challenge but I learned that flexibility and creativity are key. Talk about ironic, huh? The whole focus of our conference, the theme of creativity and resolving tensions in community and in disability ministry was the very lesson I learned in dealing with the unexpected during this conference.

Why did this experience make such an impact and why tell this story? I believe that not only did we experience God’s protection (the results of this accident could have been so much worse) but we also experienced the true essence of community; a diverse group of people coming together, sharing their gifts and supporting one another through life’s joys and challenges. This is a big part of what FIN’s mission means. To develop awareness and support families affected by disability in our faith congregations is to intentionally develop a community, a community where everyone takes care of everyone else and a community where everyone belongs.

We are all safely back to our regular lives now, working in schools, offices, businesses. If you attended the conference, I pray that you felt that community and learned something you can take back with you to your lives and congregations.

Praise be to God!

Karen j.  

 

 

In Pursuit of Self-Care: One Caregiver’s Summer Journey to a Healthier Place

FIN is just getting started on planning a new event in May 2019 that will focus on supporting caregivers. So many of our families affected by disability include caregivers who need support as they manage taking care of family members affected by disability, other children, marriages and jobs. There is often not enough time to ensure they are taking care of themselves as well. In the following article, Karen Jackson shares her own experience as a caregiver and some strategies for moving toward a healthier lifestyle. 

In Pursuit of Self-Care: One Caregiver’s Summer Journey to a Healthier Place

I am writing this article for that mom or caregiver out there struggling to take care of herself, overwhelmed with the responsibilities of taking care of multiple children, maybe some with special needs and some just at a challenging age. He or she also takes care of her home, her spouse and probably holds down a job.

Everyone tells her how important “self-care” is, but she can’t seem to get a grasp on truly putting herself ahead of all the other people and responsibilities in her life. If that is you, I hope you will read on. If its not, then I am guessing you know someone like this; caregivers who need your love and support…And the encouragement and opportunity to take care of themselves as well.

As a 23-year veteran parent with one out of the house, one high school-er and an adult child with special needs, (not to mention recently having turned 50!) the self-care dilemma had come to the forefront of my life. Facing pre-diabetes, high cholesterol and a multitude of other issues, I had to admit, I wasn’t taking very good care of myself…and I needed a plan.

This past summer I embarked on a little project I called “A Healthier Me”. My project included self-care aspects regarding my physical, emotional and mental well-being.  Ironically, it was also an extremely stressful summer caring for my daughter, Samantha who had been struggling with extreme anxiety. Somehow, with a combination of stubbornness (I have plenty of that), faith and a good plan, I made it through this summer and can honestly say I am now in a healthier place. I may not be exactly where I want to be ultimately, but I have made progress.

The following is an outline of my experience. I pray it is helpful for you and might inspire you to get to a healthier place too.

  1. Faith

Before I even began setting goals, I prayed for God to bless this experience and help me find the time, energy and resources I needed to make it happen. In mid-May, He led me to a local personal trainer business called Fitness Together.  One of the owners just happened to be a recent author of a faith and fitness book called 365 Power Diet, How to Overcome Obesity and Strengthen Your Faith with New Habits that Last a Lifetime by Marti Carrier. I took it as a sign and not only purchased the book but registered for my evaluation and first ever personal fitness training session.

  1. Support and Encouragement

I started a secret Facebook page (did you know that was a thing?) and invited ten of my most encouraging friends. You know, the ones who build you up and keep you going. I am blessed with a lot of those kind of people in my life but really you only need one or two.

On my secret page I posted about food, exercising and a lot about my personal training experience. I also tried to be honest about my emotional challenges. I had lots of great comments and feedback from my friends.

My husband was also very encouraging and, despite the extra cost associated with the personal training and healthier food, encouraged me to do it. He was also up extra early in the morning sometimes if I was out exercising helping take care of our daughter. I am very blessed to have his support and I also enjoyed sharing my little successes along the way with him.

  1. Goals

I am a goal setter and this was a prime opportunity. I set some specific goals, like working with a trainer, finding a nutritional plan that would work for me and running a 5K. Posting my goals, even if only for a few friends, helped me to stay focused and motivated.

  1. Emotional Eating Issues

I am the textbook definition of an emotional eater which is one of the reasons I was so overweight. A bad day teaching? Not enough sleep? Medical problems with my daughter? My answer was usually comfort food at some point in the evening.

My biggest prayer in the beginning of the summer was to find the self-control and strength to fight the urge to de-stress with food. I relied heavily on my faith here and as I made this issue a daily prayer focus, I could feel myself developing more self-control. Of course, I had relapses, but I have made big strides.

  1. Nutrition Plan

There are more diets and nutritional plans out there than anyone can count. I think I have tried most of them. For me, a lower carbohydrate, higher protein diet has helped me stabilize my blood sugar. I have done Whole 30 in the past but currently consider my diet Paleo. Whatever you choose, make sure you check in with a doctor to ensure it is a healthy plan for you.

  1. Exercise

Mandy, Personal Trainer at Fitness Together

I delved into personal training 3X/week for most of the summer. The time of day that had the least impact on my family and caregiving responsibilities was 5:30 AM. With my daughter getting very little sleep (and therefore getting very little sleep myself) there were mornings I barely could get out of bed. I had an awesome trainer though. She became an great personal support and didn’t even mind when I had the occasional breakdown because of my lack of sleep. Thank you, Mandy!

I also began getting more cardio exercise. I used to love to run but had injuries that kept me from running and sometimes from even walking for exercise. The strength training helped build up my back and core enough to get my body in a better place to be able to run.  Yesterday I registered for a 5K race. Even if I come in dead last, I will consider running the race a victory.

  1. Emotional and Mental Health

Taking care of someone who has special needs, not to mention if they are going through a particularly difficult season, is not just physically draining, its mentally and emotionally draining as well. I wish I had the answer for everyone here, but some things I found that helped me were developing my prayer time and finding ways to physically relax. In the past I have gone to counseling, which I highly recommend, but did not pursue this summer.

I have long been in the habit of taking time in the morning to read the Bible, pray and journal. Lately, however, I felt like I was in a bit of a rut. My journaling had become more complaining than anything else. So, I began to use my journal time to ask God questions. “What should I do about this or that?” “Should we try a new medication for our daughter?”, “Who should I call for help on Sat. night?” etc.…And then, I just waited and I listened. Miraculously, my stress level came down as I handed over questions to God and was urged one way or another with answers to my questions.

Physically relaxing also became a pursuit for me. Since I love being in water, (and summer is a good time for that) I tried to get to a pool or the ocean as much as I could. Toward the end of the summer, as my daughter was feeling better, she came along too. Between a little more time in the water, a few professional massages and more quality prayer time, I began to see a reduction in my stress level.

Moving Ahead

Author, out for a run in early September

The summer is over and I am very glad to have taken the time to make some significant changes in my self-care strategies. I am hopeful to continue to take better care of myself and get to an even healthier place. My “A Healthier Me” project gave me the focus I needed to jump start a transition to healthier habits.

An important, unintended result of my summer endeavor was realizing that I could focus on taking care of myself, even during difficult times and even as a mom to a child with special needs. I felt like God wanted me to know that He not only loves and cares for me, but He wants to help me be the best I can be. It is not selfish to take care of myself, rather it is an important part of my journey. I am blessed to be able to keep learning and hope you too will be inspired to put self-care on the top of your list as you continue to be the best caregiver and person you can be.

 

Essay Contest: Blog #3 Colleen Stefanowich

I have known Colleen and her parents through Young Life Capernaum and then The Chosen Ministry for many years and have always appreciated her quick smile and willingness to help.  Colleen is a friend to many, including myself and  my daughter Samantha who has autism.  Whenever we visit Church of the Holy Family‘s Chosen Ministry events and run into Colleen, I can be guaranteed a huge hug and that she will go out of her way to say hello to Samantha, understanding that Samantha cannot respond in kind but accepting and so loving all the same.  

It doesn’t surprise me then, that Colleen is so involved at her church and that she has an incredibly positive attitude. Thank you Colleen for submitting this essay and allowing us learn a bit about you. -K. Jackson

MY INVISIBLE DISABILITY

BY COLLEEN STEFONOWICH

“That is why for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in   persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10)

Growing up with a disability wasn’t easy but having two siblings that I am close to helped even though they couldn’t take it all away. But them listening to me helped me growing up.  I felt bad for them, but I also thought they had it made.  I felt bad for them because they didn’t choose to have a sibling with a disability but they got one anyways. They also had to watch struggle with things that came easy to them. I also had to do things a bit differently than they did growing up. They never treated me any differently because of it.

I thought they had it made because in school, they were able to be in classes with other normal kids. They also got to do some rites of passages in life I never got to do. Things like get their licenses and go to a university.

I have a disability called dyscalculia, which is not a very well known or a very common disability, not very many people have heard of it. Dyscalculia is a math disability, so everything that has to do with math isn’t easy. For example, things like telling time (unless it’s a digital clock), making change, counting money, doing math , reading music. Reading certain numbers will actually overwhelm my brain because it’s way too many numbers, and my brain will   actually shut down because its way too many numbers too look at.

I was recently diagnosed with a vision problem called keratoconus.Basically, that’s just a big fancy word  for cone shaped cornea, which causes major vision problems, and potential blindness. I actually had a procedure done on November 15,2017 to help salvage the vision left in my right eye.

My church family is nothing short of amazing!! I sing in the choir, help with children’s church, and sometimes Sunday school by being a buddy for other students with disabilities. There have been some choir members   who give me rides home from church and practice. I have another choir member who so graciously helps me up and down the stairs from the choir loft for communion. I also have another choir member who has typed up the words to the songs in a bigger font so I am   able to see the words better due to my low vision. They have all done this without anyone asking them to do these things. All of these things have made it possible for me to feel an important part of the choir.

I love my Church of the Holy Family!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Courage

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Katie’s daughter June Ivy

I have a friend who is, like myself, the mom of a child who has autism. Katie is funny, loving, a bit younger than me and I realized today, much braver than I.
Katie Moorman and I have known each other for many years. We met through the group Living in Holland, a Christian support group for moms raising children with special needs. Although 10 years plus difference in age, with children at very different stages, we have developed a close relationship through a shared interest in writing, strong faith and an of course, being moms to children on the spectrum.
My involvement with both FIN and Living in Holland has given me the opportunity to walk alongside many other parents raising children with disabilities. There may be nothing I have done in ministry more important than listening and praying with these moms and dads, people who share a similar parenting journey. Just like anything else in life, it is difficult to truly understand another’s experience until you have “walked in their shoes”. The shoes, I have found, are at times painful, uncomfortable, more than anyone can or should have to bare.
But I and thousands of other parents of children with severe disabilities choose to don those shoes every day and courageously rise to the challenges of care-giving.
At times, the shoes are pretty comfortable; there are many moments of joy in my life as a mom. When I witness all my children interacting in a loving way, watch my daughter learn a new skill, or participate in normal family outings with no major behaviors-these are great experiences and moments I treasure.
Today however, I read a post from my friend and blogger, Katie and I remembered that all too often, our shoes are different than most, and they can sometimes be almost unbearable. Katie’s daughter June is turning 7 years old. She has various disabilities, including autism. For years Katie has been challenged by June’s behavior of smearing feces all over the house and all over herself.
I have not lived through this particular kind of behavior, but it is not difficult to imagine how challenging this would be. Through our LIH group meetings and private conversations with Katie, I have gotten a glimpse of how hard dealing with this kind of behavior has been on her and the whole family. But especially on Katie as the primary caregiver.
When I saw Katie’s story today http://ivajune.blogspot.com/2016/06/birthday-present-kryptonite-body-suit.html with a picture of her beautiful 7 year old daughter covered in feces, my heart just about stopped. I read the poignant blog post and then sat amazed that she could post the picture and the story. But it is the truth. It is reality and parents deal with things like smeared feces every day.
So what does any of this have to do with you, your faith community, your ministry, your life? Why should it matter that this mom decided to show you the truth about a challenging behavior- one that only us special needs moms may have even heard of but most, including myself, would not be brave enough to share publicly?
It matters because we are people of God, we are called to love and support each other. The need for understanding, support and encouragement in the disability community is great. Some of our Hampton Roads faith communities have started respite programs, others support groups. Still others have begun to reach out to families of children with disabilities to help with child care so that the parents can go to worship together.
What can you do? What can your faith community do to support families that walk a challenging parenting road or who are truly in crisis?
Contact us if you would like more information or have an idea to share. And pray. Please pray.
Karen Jackson-http://faithinclusionnetwork@gmail.com

Autism Moms Interview #6 Katie Moormann

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Katie Moorman and I have been friends for many years.  We first met at Living in Holland when I helped to facilitate this parent support group at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church.  When it was time to hand over the reins, so to speak, of coordinating LIH, I knew (maybe even before Katie did) that she was the natural choice to lead.  Now many new families are meeting as part of LIH at Crossroads Church in Norfolk and our little group is stronger than ever!

A talented writer, Katie shares the very real challenges that affect her family as she and her husband raise a child with multiple disabilities.  I know all autism moms (and dads) will appreciate her honesty and insights.  Love you, Katie!- K. Jackson

 Interview with:  Katie Moormann

Coordinator of Living and Holland Ministry at Crossroads Church, 1127 Surrey Crescent, Norfolk, VA 23508

Mom to: Iva “June” Moormann, age 6 1/2

Contributing author for,  Loving Samantha by Karen F. Jackson

http://www.ivajune.blogspot.com

How old was your child when she was first diagnosed with autism?  How did you feel when you received diagnosis?

Katie: June was 18 months when we asked the neurologist for a diagnosis-mainly so we could start getting help and benefits. At that time he diagnosed her with: Intellectual Disability, Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy and (possible) Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Over the years, the diagnosis took shape and form. We started telling people she had Autism and the doctors would just write it on her forms as one of her diagnoses. Last year at the age of 6 we formally had her evaluated by a psychologist and it was confirmed that she had autism. When I told my neurologist he kind of laughed and said, “I already diagnosed her with that”. I felt numb when I received the diagnosis. The grieving process is cyclical and ebbs and flows.

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How has living with autism affected your family?

Katie: Autism has been the hardest diagnosis of all three of June’s diagnoses. It is the thing that affects our family the most and I would say that I DAILY struggle with anger about June’s autism because it cuts into our lives in such drastic ways. I think the hardest part is that our life can’t be “normal”. We can’t just pack up our car on a Saturday afternoon and head to the beach. There is a lot of planning involved, emotional restraint and extra people who come along. Our home is always an “open book” for all to see where we daily have people coming into our house giving us advice, therapy and even though there is respite, it is not respite from being emotionally exhausted and being the “on” mom. I think one of the hardest things that we can’t do is order a pizza and watch a movie and relax on a Friday night. Because somebody always has to follow June around who is either standing directly in front of the TV or in the corner gagging herself or spitting everywhere, or who has turned the oven on, or who has dug in her poopy diaper and eaten it. Or maybe she just wants to climb in the kitchen sink. Yeah, forget the movie. My oldest child has become protector and babysitter at a very young age and my youngest has become a professional whiner because she longs to be the baby but her older sister has snatched her place. My husband and I fight about how to handle June’s autism. That’s a strain. Glorious Saturday mornings come and we can’t go outside and do yard work together while our children bounce around our yard. That’s what we miss.

What is currently your greatest joy as an autism mom?

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Katie: There are moments where I see my daughter in a different light-where she gives me a piece of herself that she hasn’t before. My greatest joy is seeing these things for the first time. When June is sick, all she wants to do is cocoon up into a ball with her zebra-fleece blanket and cuddle. I don’t get that often-even from my neurotypical kids- and I treasure those moments. When she is fascinated by what seems to be the mundane, she slows me down and helps me to see art. She shows me the lights and the colors dancing, music thumping, trees swaying. It doesn’t take much to make her happy. She’s not begging me for the newest toy on the market. She just longs to connect with her world in its most natural state-to feel her bare feet against the earth, to dip her fingers into the lake, to spend hours in the tub, to run a fork under water, to listen to the same song over and over again.

It also gives me great joy to watch other children and adults connect with her. Those children and adults are rare. But when they reach out and touch her, or stoop down to her level and say hi, or swing her around and pick her up, or bounce her on her knee, or talk to her because she is listening, that is truly beautiful.

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Has autism affected your faith? How?

Katie: Yes. Autism has affected my faith. I was never angry at God or shaking my fist at him. But autism has showed me more about God’s image. If He created June in His image, then I am seeing a different part of God that I’ve never seen before. June is pointing me toward the beauty of nature, music and art and I am listening. I also see the body of Christ standing around June and our family to uphold and support us. We couldn’t do it well alone. I have also seen my husband in a different light. He is the most patient person I know when it comes to June. And the way he loves her reminds me of the way God loves me. Unconditionally and fully, deeply.

 

 

Sharing our story…thank you CBN!

In February, 2015, the book Loving Samantha was published.  This was truly a project born out of love and a desire to bring hope to other parents raising children with autism and special needs.  Through what I am convinced is God-ordained meetings and events, Dawn Goeb with CBN found me and asked for a copy of my book.  In a few weeks, the story will air on the 700 Club.  I am in awe of God’s perfect timing and the amazing journey He continues to lead me on with Samantha and my work in faith and disability advocacy.  Praise God!

0261f76a893b31c2cece8e2cb60b551aI drove into the beautiful Regent University campus and found a parking spot in front of the impressive CBN building. I was just stopping in to give Dawn Goeb pictures to scan of my daughter Samantha. She wanted them to use for an upcoming show to be aired on the 700 Club.

The CBN story about disability inclusion, Faith Inclusion Network, my book Loving Samantha and our family has been a long time in the making. Our first interview with Charlene Aaron was last June, when the crew from CNB come to our house, pushed back the furniture in my living room and set up shop. It was a long but fun morning.

Dawn Goeb, Charlene Aaron in front of my home, June 2015.

As sometimes happens, our story got pushed aside to make room for more pressing news events. I occasionally wondered if it would be used, but didn’t think about it much, to be honest.

A few weeks ago, Dawn contacted me again with the news that the network was ready to proceed. The first order of business was to tape a short segment at the McDonald’s near the Granby St. Bridge in Norfolk. In Loving Samantha, I wrote a story about my experience with Samantha at just this McDonald’s restaurant.

The story is called “No Words Needed” and describes how Samantha reached out, in her own way, to a man who was homeless. Dawn’s idea to film at the site almost brought tears to my eyes. To think that one moment, that one story which happened so many years ago would be shared today? Amazing!

And so, I was now making my way into the massive CBN building, kind of excited because I have never been in there before. The building itself is quite beautiful and grand, with giant columns on the outside and an ornate lobby. But what really impressed me were the people inside. As Dawn and I made our way upstairs, we encountered half a dozen people who worked in various areas. Without exception, from the receptionist, to the janitor, to the sound and production people we met, everyone greeted me warmly and stopped what they were doing to engage in conversation. As Dawn introduced me over and over again, they asked about me, my interests and my story and had all sorts of questions. I have never felt so warmly welcomed and appreciated in a new place in all of my life. What a wonderful, uplifting experience!
Now I am more excited than ever to see the show that Dawn has put together. Not just because it will be an awesome way of bringing awareness to the mission of Faith Inclusion Network, but because so many caring and compassionate people from CBN were a part of it.
Thank you to Dawn, Charlene Aaron and all the people at CBN with a heart to share stories like those of my family and the work of FIN. Stay tuned for air times…..
K. Jackson

Building Disability Awareness with our Children

As a professional educator, it has often occurred to me that we as a community need to invest in teaching our children about disability inclusion if we are going to impact the future.
I have always found children to be delightfully honest and willing to consider news ways of thinking. It just makes sense that, during their most impressionable stages of development, we should give them the chance to learn about disability, learn about what makes people different.  We need to make the subject of disability a comfortable topic to discuss, giving them the appropriate vocabulary to be effective advocates. Perhaps this kind of education at a young age can build a foundation of awareness that will foster change in our society.

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This morning I had the opportunity to talk to students at Norfolk Christian Lower School in Norfolk, VA http://www.norfolkchristian.org/ about how everyone is unique, much like a puzzle piece.  I referenced the familiar Bible verse Psalm 139:13-14:
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Even the youngest Pre-K students there seemed to grasp the concept that we are all “wonderfully made”; unique, just like the many pieces of a puzzle.  After our little chat, the three student volunteers put their puzzle pieces into the full puzzle so we could see the whole picture.
“Just like a puzzle,” I concluded, “we are all pieces of God’s community, fearfully and wonderfully made. We are made to be in community with one another, not to stand alone.  We are unique pieces of one big, beautiful picture and every single one of us, regardless of ability or disability,  is an important part of the puzzle.”

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If your school (religious or public) or faith community is interested in a disability awareness presentation geared to your group, contact us at http://faithinclusionnetwork@gmail.com