Preparing Your Ministry to Receive Individuals with Disabilities

PLEASE NOTE: Our blog will be moving to a new domain soon! Be sure to subscribe at clcnetwork.org/blog to make sure you continue receiving this content in your email or RSS feed.

Kids at churchBefore you know it, school will be starting and your children’s and youth ministries will be starting again. How can you prepare your church to welcome the magnificent variety of God’s children into your community this ministry year? Director of Church Services Barbara J. Newman shares four tips for preparing your ministry to receive individuals at all levels of ability this year.

1. Offer a preview on your website.

“Something I’ve been recommending to many churches lately is to utilize your church website to give a preview of what visitors can expect at your church,” said Barbara J. Newman. “Similar to checking out hotel photos and your seat on an airplane prior to a trip, some individuals will benefit from photos or a video of what they can expect when they come to your church, church school class, or youth group.”

What does worship look like at your church? What kind of music can one expect? Who are the key people a child or teenager might meet? What does the building look like? Consider including photos, video, or music snippets on your website for potential members to use in getting to know your church. We share other items to consider on your website in this post.

2. Work with parents to create an information story.

Church Welcome StoryUsing elements from your website above and more personalized photos, create a story about what MAY happen when this individual comes to your church or a specific ministry. (For a pre-written story with customizable pages, consider the Church Welcome Story by Barbara J. Newman.) You can show details such as where they might pick up snack during children’s church, where they may stand when they sing in the choir, some of the friends they may meet on Wednesday night, and other details of their time at the church program.

“It is important to include words such as ‘maybe’, ‘perhaps’, and ‘probably’ in your preview so that if the order or details change, your story is still accurate,” shared Newman, “Also, try to stay away from giving specific times, and instead provide a sequence of events. Some individuals get upset if you are off by a minute or two if the specific time is listed.”

3. Ask the right questions.

The information you collect about an individual during the intake process can help you and appropriate leaders understand their gifts and needs, and use this information to create an environment where they are included and supported.

As you’re getting to know individuals and families at the beginning of the year, consider asking them to complete a survey to help you get to know God’s handiwork in their son or daughter. (Don’t worry, we have already created the survey for you — you can download it for free here)! This survey asks questions such as:

  • What activities does your family member enjoy doing the most?
  • Tell me a bit about your story. What has your journey been like over the last few years.
  • What are your goals and dreams for your family member as it relates to the church environment?
  • What is your biggest concern for that type of environment?

We invite you to use the information collected on this survey to create a confidential “welcome page” to share with appropriate leaders so that they can get to know God’s knitting pattern in this individual and create a place for him or her to grow in Christ.

4. Be equipped with the right tools.

“The furniture, seating options, toys, writing instruments, and other environmental factors can tell you a lot about how a school or church thinks about children,” said Newman. “I encourage children’s ministries to have a variety of seating options and attention tools (think wiggle cushions, carpet squares, thera-band and exercise balls), writing tools (such as fidget pencils and various pencil grips), and reading tools (like highlighter tape and EZC Readers) to accommodate for a variety of learning and attention supports that children need.”

Inclusion Tool KitWhen parents are determining if a church or program is the right fit for their son or daughter, the ministry setting helps them know if a church is open to a variety of individuals. “At CLC Network, we wanted to make it easy for churches and schools to try out different attention, writing, and reading tools, so we created the Inclusion Tool Kit. The kit contains tools with instructions and websites to create or order more. I always recommend that anyone that works with kids give these tools a try!” said Newman.

 

Barbara J. Newman photoBarbara J. Newman is the director of church services and a teacher consultant at CLC Network.

photo credit: 20120801-519 via photopin (license)

Six Tips for Celebrating America’s Independence Day

Six Tips for Celebrating America's Independence Day imageIt is almost the Fourth of July, which for many families in the United States is a time of festivity and celebration as we commemorate our nation’s independence with colorful parades, juicy BBQ’s, loud concerts, and booming fireworks.  These activities can bring many changes in routine and sensory stimulations that may be exciting for some individuals, but difficult for others. Marji Voetberg, one of our teacher consultants, offers these tips for helping all members of your family be prepared and equipped for your Independence Day celebrations.

  1. Prepare children for what to expect.

    This could include showing pictures from a previous year (if you have them) and/or YouTube videos about what to expect during the day. Describe what your son or daughter might see, hear, taste, etc throughout the day. If necessary, discuss that the noises from fireworks are not dangerous sounds. You could include all of these items in a personalized SocialStory (see an example here) that highlights the day’s activities.

  2. Have a plan.

    Explain to your children how you expect to stay together at the event. For example, will everyone wear the same colored shirt? Or stay within a certain distance? Be sure to share what to do if you get split up.

  3. Bring the right tools.

    Especially for fireworks, it may be helpful to bring blankets (wrap your child in for deep pressure), ear plugs, sunglasses, etc. These tools can provide sensory input breaks/decreased input.

  4. Use a camera.

    If you’re headed to fireworks or an event where there is a lot going on, bring a camera that your son or daughter could use. Looking through the camera at the event brings the focus in to one object/event and may help your child feel less overwhelmed by all of the things that are going on.

  5. Talk about food.

    Be sure to discuss candy consumption guidelines in advance. This is particularly important if your son or daughter has any food allergies.

  6. Think ahead.

    In general, think about what triggers there may be for your child in any of the celebratory events. Prepare your child and yourself for how to handle those triggers.

Alternately, some families prefer to avoid Fourth of July celebrations because of the excitement. For these families, it may be a good idea to shut your windows and turn on any fans as loud as possible in the evening. Find a fun family activity or movie to enjoy that allows your family to spend quality time together indoors.

Regardless of what your family does, the main goal is to plan ahead for the holiday and prepare your family for what to expect.

Do you have additional ideas? Share them in the comment box below!

MarjiVoetbergMarji Voetberg is a teacher consultant for CLC Network.

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Pierce’s Gifts: A Blessed Partnership

Reuben and Pierce

Mr. Van Til and Pierce work together in the storage room at West Side Christian School.

You need to walk quickly to keep up with Pierce. He’s one of West Side Christian School’s (Grand Rapids, MI) hardest workers, and one of the fastest. When he and Reuben Van Til, West Side Christian’s custodian, get together, it’s all business… and Pierce clearly loves it.

Depending on the season, Pierce and Mr. Van Til will rake leaves, shovel snow, or work in the garden. “Once it snows, he has his own snow shovel,” Mr. Van Til shares. “Typically at recess he’ll just take that out and clear the sidewalk, without ever being asked.”

Pierce came to West Side Christian in fourth grade, after attending a public school. Right away, he began staying after assemblies to help clear the chairs. His teachers also noticed his interest in working with Mr. Van Til. Kim Mast, paraprofessional, remembers,

“Pierce would be doing reading, writing, and math. Every time Mr. Van Til rode the tractor or walked by, he was very focused on that. He wanted to see what Mr. Van Til was doing, so we would start watching. That’s how we discovered Pierce’s gifts were in manual work and his interest was in whatever Mr. Van Til was doing.”

The next year, Pierce’s teachers arranged for him to officially work with Mr. Van Til. “It makes school much more enjoyable for Pierce,” Mrs. Mast explains. “Just like gym or art class makes school enjoyable for some kids, this kind of work makes school fun for Pierce… It makes for interesting sentences in writing. If Mr. Van Til is the topic, it really helps. It’s so much more interesting to Pierce than other things.”

“If it’s a snow day, Pierce has tears in his eyes,” shares his mother, Koley Hockeborn. “He wants to go and be part of the school. He’s learning from the other kids, too.”

Pierce has a cognitive impairment, and was placed in a segregated classroom for his early schooling. A neighbor encouraged his mother to consider West Side Christian for Pierce, noticing that when he was around other kids his ticks and language would improve. After meeting with West Side Christian’s leadership and teachers, “They said they could teach him. It was scary and a big step, but he has improved in leaps and bounds.” Pierce is now reading, he is learning penmanship, and he is doing multiplication.

“The academic piece is hard for Pierce, but his gifts are his strength and hard work,” explains Maria Bultsma, Educational Support Services Coordinator.

“This arrangement is really using Pierce’s gifts as best we can. He’s still spending time in class, but he’s using his gifts to do things like distributing the milk, picking up chairs after chapel, and paper recycling. The scheduled days with Mr. Van Til are motivation for him.”

Pierce and Reuben working together

Mr. Van Til shows Pierce how to use the leaf blower.

Pierce’s favorite job is riding the tractor. “Last week when we were doing leaves, we’d fill my trailer full of leaves and he rides in the trailer. You don’t see him a whole lot happier than that, and it was a big help to have him out there with me,” says Mr. Van Til. “He likes it when we go in the storage room. He takes my keys and opens the door and turns on the lights. He’s a very hard worker, he works just as hard as I do.”

Pierce’s mother has noticed the difference in Pierce. “Pierce’s teachers at West Side Christian know him, they are so in tune with him. He and Mr. Van Til took to each other right away, and now he’s learning life skills. They created this program for him,” Mrs. Hockeborn shares. Mrs. Bultsma credits CLC Network teacher consultants for providing additional brainstorming and encouragement. “They have provided insight to possible options [for Pierce],” she reflects. “Most of all, [CLC Network consultants] have listened to our concerns and have been very encouraging to our staff.”

“We are working on goals for his future, what he might do after books and after school,” adds Mrs. Bultsma.

“There is a lot of learning going on, a lot of happy things, and a different kind of learning. Pierce has a lot of gifts given to him from God and we’re just trying to figure out how to use those gifts.”

Before working at West Side Christian, Mr. Van Til built custom cabinetry. He’s had the chance to show Pierce his shop and hopes to teach him about a few tools and their basic functions. “It’s a lot nicer than my garage,” says Pierce. “I got to try the air hose,” he remembers with a smile.

Watching Pierce and Mr. Van Til together, their connection shines in both of them. As Mr. Van Til reflects, “It’s advantageous for me and for Pierce to be doing this. I feel a little more important when we work together. It’s not the most glamorous job in the world but I’ve always felt called to be here and share some of my knowledge with the kids.”

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 Inclusive newsletter – a biannual newsletter published by the CLC Network advancement office. Sign up on the CLC Network website.

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

5 Tips for Summer Church Inclusion

First Baptist NashvilleIn the summertime, many churches put their Church School programs and other school-year activities on hold, which creates a new routine for everyone involved.  While some of us like change, a new routine can be difficult for some individuals, particularly individuals with disabilities. Here are some tips for your church to make sure everyone has a smooth transition into the new routine during the summer months.

  1. Communication with Key People

    As you are trying to develop a plan for the summer months, make sure you communicate with the individual, his or her family members, and any care providers. Creating a survey is one way these needs can be communicated to one another (download a free sample survey here). Or, something more informal, such as sitting down and grabbing coffee, works well too. Just be sure to ask rather than assume, what exactly is needed during the summer months.

  2. Summer Church Inclusion Action Plan

    Once you have spoken with the correct people, come up with a plan together about the best way to include the person who has a disability during these summer months. The plan should include ways an individual can use his or her gifts to be involved in areas such as worship, fellowship, and service. This plan should include steps and recommendations for the individual as well as the congregation.

    For example, an individual might worship with praise ribbons during Church School. During the summer months (or even during the rest of the year!), you may want to make praise ribbons accessible during your congregation’s worship time. Make sure that everyone is aware of this change, and that all are welcome to participate. If you are looking for an action plan guide, CLC Network has a “Church Inclusion Action Plan” in the G.L.U.E. Training Manual (available for purchase here).

  3. Schedule/Calendar

    Create a schedule or calendar for the person who has a disability so that he or she is able to anticipate the new summer routine. For example, create a schedule of the order of worship for your service. Or, a calendar of special events your church has over the summer. Be sure to communicate this schedule in a way that is best for the individual, such as using pictures in addition to words.

  4. Preview the Setting

    Allow the person with a disability to come to church before the service and allow him or her to walk through the new routine. For example, rather than heading to Sunday School right before the sermon starts, have him or her practice walking back to a seat in the sanctuary.

  5. Respite Care

    While respite care is hopefully happening throughout the year, this care can be especially important in the summertime as school is out and there is ample amount of free time during the day. Recruit volunteers to spend time with the person who has disabilities while his or her family runs errands, goes out to eat, or simply takes a nap.

As you continue to include those with disabilities into your congregation and navigate the new routine that summertime brings, we hope you find some of these tips helpful and beneficial! You can find additional inclusion tips for Vacation Bible School in this blog post.

 

Jacki Sikkema photoJacki Sikkema has a background in Special Education and is a former church consultant for CLC Network. She will work at Grand Rapids Christian Middle School as a 5th grade teacher in the fall.

 

photo credit: 2008-VBS-Monday-272 via photopin (license)

 

 

 

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.