The Right Plan for Grace

It’s been a long road to learning for Grace and her family. After trying more than three different schools in her short school career, Grace has advanced one grade level in her first six months at Northpointe Christian Schools.

Grace was born with a brain disorder that affects her processing and memory, and she lost her hearing in one ear in Kindergarten. When her public school began to focus on developing “life skills” at the expense of her learning, her parents enrolled her in a couple of specialty, segregated programs. Finally, a friend recommended they look into Northpointe Christian Schools (Grand Rapids, MI).

“We were unsure about putting her back into a regular school environment when she was so far behind,” explains Christy, Grace’s mother.

“But from the beginning it was never about their program, it was about Grace’s needs. I don’t know how they do it but they have the right plan in place for her.”

Grace came to CLC Network for testing almost immediately. “We had spent so much on testing at other places,” Christy recalls. “But this was the first time we were allowed to watch the testing happen. Doug Bouman [director of evaluation services] pointed out so many things that we didn’t realize before, and he showed us that she could learn. I wish we had done the testing at CLC Network years ago!”

Thriving at School

The plan put in place by Northpointe Christian and CLC Network has helped Grace thrive in the new environment. Now in fourth grade, Grace is doing some grade-level work and is making progress in reading and math. Last year she would have told you she couldn’t read. Today, she is reading chapter books! Christy gets tears in her eyes when she marvels at Grace’s progress.

“I thought that she would always live at home. Now she could even go to college.”

So, when the opportunity came along to help her employer make a gift, Christy jumped at the chance. She is a senior team leader for Matilda Jane Clothing, so she held a two-day online trunk show at the end of March. The company will contribute 20% of her sales from that time to CLC Network, and Christy is giving an additional 10% to Northpointe Christian Schools’ Student Union.

“I wanted to give back to the places that have given us so much, and to share my story with the families that are still out there,” Christy shares. “No words of gratitude can possibly express how grateful I am to CLC Network and the staff at Northpointe Christian for all the help and support that they have given to our family.”

Elizabeth Dombrowski photoElizabeth Lucas Dombrowski is the advancement director at CLC Network.


Connections Church: Connecting All Members of the Body

Connections Church logoWalking into Connections Church (Wyoming, MI), you may notice that there is something distinct and unique about the building, the atmosphere, and the people. The building is not a sanctuary with an organ in the front, nor a room filled with pews and Bibles. Rather, there are couches in the middle of a large open space, and a fireplace against the wall. Games are on the outskirts of the room, and a storage closet with some snacks and eating utensils reside in the back of the building. As I walked through the building and talked with the pastor of Connections, Rev. George Grevenstuk, it became clear to me that Connections is a place of warmth, welcome, and acceptance.

Pastor George explains, “The mission of our church is to connect neighbors to God, others, and our community.” One of the ways in which Connections Church does this is by reaching out to those in their community who have special needs.

Their reaching out was something that began with a simple prayer walk. Pastor George shares,

“It was sleeting that night, but the members of Connections decided to go on a prayer walk. It hit me that the church had two fifteen-passenger vans, and we decided that we were going to do a prayer ride instead. I went through the plan with the folks and I said, ‘sometimes you just get a feeling that you need to talk to somebody. You take that risk and you try to help. And sometimes you feel like you did absolutely the right thing. That’s God speaking to you.’”

That night, they noticed a house with a wheelchair ramp. They prayed for the people in the house, and after a few more prayer rides, the church discovered that the people living in this house, as well as many other people in the surrounding houses, had special needs.

Getting Equipped

As a church that’s focused on serving those in their neighborhood, Pastor George realized that they needed resources to support their neighbors with disabilities. He contacted CLC Network and received the G.L.U.E. Training Manual and DVD, a set of church training materials that takes an individualized approach to including children and adults with disabilities. They watched the training DVD, had workshops with their congregation, and brainstormed ways in which they could best contact people with special needs and put what they learned from the training materials into practice.

Connecting the Community through Block Parties

Rev. George Grevenstuk

Rev. George Grevenstuk, pastor at Connections Church (Wyoming, MI)

One of the ways they connect with the people in their community is through block parties. At these parties, people within the community gather together to eat, play games, and develop relationships with one another. After going through the G.LU.E. training, Pastor George wanted to connect to his neighbors with special needs by inviting individuals from a local group home. However, he quickly learned that it would take more than an invitation to help these men and women feel welcomed.

Though the members of the group home would attend block parties, they would quickly leave after finishing their meal. After the group attended a block party one evening, Pastor George reached out to them and thanked them for coming. Upon thanking them, the facilitator looked at him with tears in her eyes and explained that she expected him to ask that they leave and not come back, due to the many reactions that they had experienced in the past. Pastor George explained that having them leave was the very last thing he desired, and he invited them to attend their church and block parties as often as they wanted. Ever since then, the members of this group home have been attending services at Connections Church.

Today, about one-third of the people at Connections have disabilities. The other two-thirds of the members are people who come from broken families and homes. Pastor George explains,

“It’s simple. It’s about our mission… To connect neighbors with God, others, and our community. And it’s about love. And for some reason, people never get tired of it.”


Jacki Sikkema photoJacki Sikkema has a background in Special Education and currently serves in the Church Services Division at CLC Network.

DisArt Festival: Influencing Perceptions about Disability through Art

"Art is everyBODY"Opening this Friday, April 10, the inaugural DisArt Festival will enliven Grand Rapids (Michigan) with art exhibitions, a fashion show, a film festival, theatrical and dance performances and many more opportunities to celebrate diversity and break down prejudice.  Much like inclusive education, these activities will challenge our presuppositions and help us look more closely at our lives.  Even more radically, Disability Arts can influence cultural change and connect people to each other in new ways.  The entire festival will run April 10 through April 25.

While there are many events to explore during the two week festival, here are a few events that you and your family may enjoy:

Family Activity Days: Friday, April 11, April 18 and April 25

On the three Saturdays of DisArt (April 11, 18, & 25 from 1:00-4:00 p.m.), the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art will provide a hands-on art-making activity in which each family member will have an important role to play.  Using colorful paper, straws, and pipe cleaners, families will work together to create their own hanging sculpture.  The sculpture will be complete only when all components are together, underscoring the importance of each person’s contributions.

Fashion Show: Friday, April 17

Enjoy a fantastic night of disability fashion on Friday, April 17 from 7:00-8:00 p.m.  Models with disabilities will show off exquisite fashion designed specifically for the disabled body.  See the DisArt Fashion Runway Show at the Woodbridge N. Ferris Building, 17 Pearl St. NW in Grand Rapids, MI.

DisArt Family Fest: Sunday, April 19

The Wave Room at Celebration Theater North will feature the DisArt Family Fest on Sunday, April 19 from 3:00-5:00 p.m.   There will be interactive workshops, art activities, and performances followed by a free movie.

American with Disabilities Act Legacy Bus Tour: April 24-25

On April 24 (10 a.m. – 4 p.m.)  and April 25(12-5 p.m.) you may visit the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Legacy Bus Tour at the DisArt Hub (50 Louis St. NW, Grand Rapids, MI).  Commemorating the 25th anniversary of the ADA, the bus has been touring the country with a one-of-a-kind exhibit that provides history, education and interactive experiences surrounding disability and civil  rights.

DisArt Performance: Saturday, April 25

DisArt’s Final Performance will be on Saturday, April 25 from 7:00-8:30 p.m. at the Wealthy Street Theatre (Grand Rapids, MI).  You will enjoy music, art, theatre, dance, song, and stories – not just our stories, but our DisStories.

You can learn more about the DisArt Festival and the Year of Arts + Access on the DisArt Festival website or the DisArt Facebook page.

Tom Hoeksema Sr.Tom Hoeksema, CLC Network Board member and retired Calvin College professor, serves as Chair of the DisArt Experiential Education Committee.