Gavin is a Child of God

Gavin videoWhen he started fifth grade this year, Gavin VanDerVeer’s teachers at Grand Haven Christian School (Grand Haven, MI) were trying to determine his goals in the area of spiritual growth.  “Often, we don’t know what students with Down syndrome will really get until we try,” Cindy Brace shares. “We wanted him to learn bible memory like the other students, but his would need to be shorter.” CLC Network encourages teachers to determine the most important idea that a child needs to understand, rather than memorization when a child has a cognitive impairment. Brace recalls,

“So we took the most important idea that Gavin needed to learn and turned that into his bible memory for the year.”

In order to teach Gavin the idea, his teachers started with a flashcard reading program on the iPad and with the sign language for “I am a child of God.”  Gavin has a routine – when the flashcard pops up with the word “Jesus” he finishes it with “loves me.”  With the next flashcard for “God”, Gavin then says his bible memory: “I am a child of God.” Now, Gavin signs and says “I am a child of God” spontaneously. Cindy recalls when she recorded this video:

“We were doing math the other day and he just started saying this. That’s when it hit me, he’s got it! So I took the video and he was proud to watch it, too. Now he says it often.”

Your contributions this year enabled CLC Network to help Gavin and other students with disabilities learn in their Christian schools.  We are deeply grateful for your support, and encourage you to consider CLC Network in your charitable contributions this season.

Elizabeth Dombrowski photo

Elizabeth Lucas Dombrowski is the advancement director at CLC Network

Graduation Among Friends

Kloosterman family

Jonathan enjoyed celebrating his graduation surrounded by family and friends.

“If you had told me 20 years ago that my son would graduate from high school, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Bob Kloosterman shakes his head in amazement.  His son, Jonathan, graduated from South Christian High School (Grand Rapids, MI) this past spring.

“When we enrolled Jonathan at Dutton Christian School (Caledonia, MI) all those years ago, we didn’t know what to expect.  It was all so new,” he recalls.

“But we saw almost immediately that we didn’t have to worry.  Someone was going to watch out for him.  And his teachers have done a really wonderful job.”

For most students with disabilities, graduation is a very big deal.  And for someone as social as Jonathan, it was extra meaningful to walk across the stage with his classmates.  South Christian offers a certificate of completion, which serves to verify that students have completed goals within an alternative track of study throughout high school.

“I really liked walking down the aisle at graduation with my friends and getting my diploma,” shares Jonathan.  “But I was a little nervous.”

“He was nervous about the graduation ceremony, but the person before or after him helped make sure it went smoothly.  That’s the kind of thing that’s really special to me,” admits Bob.

“When I was that age, my generation was not always so accepting and nice to kids with disabilities.  But I can’t remember anything negative from his entire school experience.”

Congratulations to Jonathan and his peers on their graduation and best wishes on their next steps in life!

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

10 Children’s Books that Teach Inclusion

Summer is a fantastic time for exploring new books that foster meaningful conversations between children and adults. Help children understand and welcome peers with and without disabilities by reading one or many of these books this summer. Whether you’re a parent, children’s ministry leader, or summer school teacher, you’ll enjoy sharing these stories with the kids in your lives. Be sure to add your own favorites in the “Comments” section below!

Note: All book descriptions are from Amazon unless otherwise noted.

  1. All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome by Kathy Hoopman

    All Cats have Asperger SyndromeAll Cats Have Asperger Syndrome takes a playful look at Asperger Syndrome (AS), drawing inspiration from the feline world in a way that will strike a chord with all those who are familiar with AS.Delightful color photographs of cats bring to life familiar characteristics such as sensitive hearing, scampering at the first sign of being stroked and particular eating habits. Touching, humorous and insightful, this book evokes the difficulties and joys of raising a child who is different and leaves the reader with a sense of the dignity, individuality and potential of people with AS.This engaging book is an ideal, gentle introduction to the world of AS.

  2. All Kinds of Friends, Even Green!All Kinds of Friends, Even Green! by Ellen Senisi

    More than just a story about friendship, ALL KINDS OF FRIENDS, EVEN GREEN! looks at difference—such as being in a wheelchair or missing toes—in a unique way. With this beautifully photographed and engaging story, children discover that living with disability and facing its challenges can be seen as interesting, even positive. With an Afterword about disabilities, Moses, and iguanas, the story provides material for discussing inclusion at school and home.

  3. Be Good to Eddie LeeBe Good to Eddie Lee by Virginia Fleming

    This book is an excellent tool to begin discussions with children in grades Preschool-6 about forming friendships with a child with a disability. Before you begin reading this book, tell the children gathered, “When we are done, I’m going to ask you which person in the story knew how to be the best friend.” You will have a great discussion and open the doors to talk about the way in which you want children to treat one another in your setting. (Available from CLC Network.)

  4. Body Building: Devotions to Celebrate Inclusive CommunityBody Building: Devotions to Celebrate Inclusive Community by Barbara J. Newman

    This book features 6 weeks of 7 devotionals. Each devotion highlights a passage of Scripture as well as a story from an inclusive Christian school or church. The devotion book also offers opportunities for those reading to submit a story from their own community to CLC Network for possible publication on the website or in a future book. We are delighted to offer this truly unique and inspirational resource written by Barbara J. Newman with theological support from Dr. Andrew J. Bandstra. (Available from CLC Network.)

  5. Don't Call Me SpecialDon’t Call Me Special by Pat Thomas

    This delightful picture book explores questions and concerns about physical disabilities in a simple and reassuring way. Younger children can find out about individual disabilities, special equipment that is available to help the disabled, and how people of all ages can deal with disabilities and live happy and full lives. Titles in this series for younger children explore emotional issues that boys and girls encounter as part of the growing-up process. Books are focused to appeal to kids of preschool through early school age.

  6. Little RainmanLittle Rainman: Autism – Through the Eyes of a Child by Karen Simmons

    Recommended by world-renowned author and speaker Dr. Temple Grandin, this children’s book paints a picture of what life is like for children with autism. Unique illustrations accompany a child’s voice as he explains the different ways he thinks, sees, hears, and feels. This book is great for reading to children with or without autism to encourage acceptance and understanding. Written by Karen Simmons-Sicoli, mother of a son with autism, this was one of the first books of its kind and it continues to be a classic in the autism community.

  7. The Little CupcakesThe Little Cupcakes by Anthony King

    The Little Cupcakes is a beautiful and engaging learning journey, encouraging children and parents to talk with each other about tolerance and diversity in a caring, sharing, sensitive way.

  8. We'll Paint the Octopus RedWe’ll Paint the Octopus Red by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen

    As six-year-old Emma anticipates the birth of her new baby brother or sister, she vividly imagines all of the things they can do together. Emma feels ready to be a big sister! Then when the baby is born, her dad tells her that it’s a boy and he has something called Down syndrome. Finally she asks, “If Isaac has this Down thing, then what can’t he do?”. Her dad thinks about it, then tells her that as long as they are patient with him, and help him when he needs it, there probably isn’t anything Isaac can’t do. In this touching story, Emma helps her father as much as he helps her to realise that Isaac is the baby they dreamed of. The book concludes with a set of commonly asked questions about Down syndrome with answers for children and how it might affect their sibling and family. For ages 3-7.

  9. You Are SpecialYou Are Special by Max Lucado

    In this heartwarming children’s tale from the best-selling pen of author Max Lucado, Eli the woodcarver helps Punchinello understand how special he is–no matter what other Wemmicks may think. It’s a vital message for children everywhere: that regardless of how the world evaluates them, God cherishes each of them, just as they are.

  10. You've Got a FriendYou’ve Got a Friend by Joni Eareckson Tada

    Benjamin, sad and lonely in his wheelchair, receives help from two angels when they create the opportunity for him to fix his old friend Tony’s flat bicycle tire.

How about you…what books about disability and inclusion do you recommend?

Note: If you purchase these books through Amazon, CLC Network (Christian Learning Center) will receive a percentage of your purchase through AmazonSmile.


Why Saying “Congratulations” Matters

For today’s post, we asked our friend Dan Quist, Church Relationship Coordinator at Elim Christian Services, to share this personal story on the importance of celebrating each newborn’s life.
babyfeet - storyvillegirl

Photo credit: storyvillegirl,

I had the opportunity to present the 5 Stages at a church in Hudsonville, Michigan, in January 2014 and in attendance was a friend of mine from high school.  I have not kept in contact with her, outside of seeing her Facebook posts, since we graduated in 2002.

Because we were friends on Facebook I was aware she and her husband had their third child about 11 months ago and he was born with Down syndrome.  She of course, like every new proud parent, posted a picture of him on Facebook with all his birth stats and explained he was born with Down syndrome.  Without even giving it any real thought I just wrote the typical “Congratulations!” on her post and then wrote a little bit about how I work at Elim and I would be more than happy to walk down this road with them as they figure out their sons unique needs.  Keep in mind I must have been the 50th or 60th person to comment on this post.

quist_quote2Before I posted it on her wall I sat there staring at it thinking, “What if she gets mad? What if she responds, ‘Who do you think you are, not talking to me in 11 years and the first thing you say to me is this?’” I was worried about her reaction, but I posted it anyway.  Flash forward to me talking to her face to face in Hudsonville about the day Owen was born; and for the first time I found out her reaction.  Through tear-filled eyes she recounted the details of that day and then mentioned my comment on Facebook.  She told me I was the first person to say, “Congratulations…everything was going to be ok…her son was going to be an incredible blessing in their life.”

Thinking back on this story has reminded me of a couple of things.

First, every life…EVERY life, is a blessing from God. Whether a baby is born without deficiencies, or with Down syndrome, or with cerebral palsy….. each life is created in the image of God.  My friend’s son was born with Down syndrome and will live with it his entire life, but God has a plan for him just like every baby born that day, or week, or month.

Secondly, I’m reminded that disability awareness is lacking in our world. We need to help others recognize that a baby born with a disability is not something to mourn.  God creates each of us uniquely, with different abilities.  Our abilities or inabilities do not determine our value; we have value because of who we all are – God’s children.  God has placed a call on each of our lives, including the lives of those with disabilities, and we need to equip each other and all of God’s children to answer that call.

We need to change attitudes.

I hope my story helps you start by saying, “Congratulations!”

Quist PhotoDan Quist has been the Church Relationship Coordinator at Elim Christian Services since 2012.  He has also served as a paraprofessional in Elim’s Autism program.  Quist has a degree in Secondary Education and a Master’s in Educational Administration.  He resides in Palos Heights, IL with his wife and two kids.

Sharing Jesus with a Child with Down Syndrome, Part 2

Earlier this week, Barbara J. Newman introduced us to a few tips for sharing the love of Jesus with a person with Down syndrome (if you missed it, read it here). She will continue with some fun & helpful ideas for sharing your faith. 

Be creative. How can you use the areas love and interest we brainstormed earlier this week to make the introduction? While the possibilities are endless, here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

  • Church Drama TeamMake a photo album. Put in a photo of Jesus and then pictures of you doing things with Him and for Him. Share this with your child often and explain how Jesus gotto be your best friend and your Savior. Perhaps as your child develops that relationship, he can have his own photo album to share. Some images you could include in the album:
    • Raising your hands as you sing to give him a hug,
    • Kneeling beside your bed to talk to him each night
    • Reading the Bible and learning all about His life
    • Hugging a sad person because Jesus asked you to do that for Him
  • Does your teen enjoy playing Capture the Flag? Put out one of the jail bases and the middle line that separates the two teams. In the Jesus capture the flag, we all get sent to jail for the things we do that make God sad (sin).  Jesus is the only way out of “jail”. When we say, “Jesus I love you. I don’t want to stay in this sin jail. I’m sorry”, Jesus comes to tag us and give us a free walk back to His team. Once we are on the Jesus team, we always get to stay on that team.
  • The Easter Book imageFind a Bible or Bible story at the interest level of your child. Read the salvation story, watch it on a video, act it out with wooden figures or puppets, or discover some iPad applications that help your child interact with the story. Make sure you treat this story differently than any other on your shelf. Treasure the book or item in front of your child. Let them know it’s the very best book ever – and it’s all true. Show the adoration and love you have for Jesus as you get ready to recreate that story of what Jesus did for us.

Keep the celebration going. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Friends at a CelebrationAs your child says “yes” to Jesus and to loving Him, remember the date. Let your child know that every year you will celebrate 2 birthdays – the day she was born in the hospital and then the day she was born with Jesus. This gives you a time each year to celebrate that relationship in a special way.
  • Use holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter as a chance for your child to think about getting Jesus a present. What might Jesus like? Sing a song that tells Jesus “I love you.” Make a video of your child dancing to a favorite worship song. Take a photo of your child and let her know that if Jesus had a refrigerator, this picture would be on it!

It’s my hope and prayer that this list of ideas will be a place to begin as you think of meaningful ways to introduce Jesus to your child. Remember, as God created each and every person, He also made each one able to connect and enter into a relationship with Him. I am encouraged daily by my students and friends with Down syndrome who have a vibrant and living relationship with Jesus Christ. 

Barbara J. Newman photoBarbara J. Newman is a church and school consultant for CLC Network and a special education teacher at Zeeland Christian School. She is the author of numerous books, including her latest, Nuts & Bolts of Inclusive Education. She is a frequent national speaker at educational conferences and churches. Contact Barbara at