Disability Ministries Committee logo using  stylized person standing and another seated in wheelchair whose arms form the horizontal arm of the cross between them.  Logo says Making the Rough Places Smooth - Removing Barriers Is. 40_4
Feb. 2018         
Vol. 8, #1
Two men lean into a cart they are pushing on the church gym floor
Helping Hands members 
(photo credit Paul Jeffrey)


of the

United Methodist

 Disability Connection

Greetings in Christ!   

This issue introduces you to congregations that are making a difference by offering employment and job training to people with a variety of disabilities. I thank Fred Bowden from Royal Oak First UMC in Royal Oak, Michigan, for bringing this topic to our attention.  He reached out to the Committee, sharing his excitement about the job skills program (described in the second article below) that he runs.  His enthusiasm is contagious, and he hopes that more people "catch the bug" and develop similar programs.

In developing countries, the unemployment rate for persons with disabilities is as high as 80-90%. In industrialized countries, persons with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed as persons without disabilities. These rates do not include persons who are underemployed or have given up trying to obtain work. Complex reasons for the statistics include limited opportunity, discrimination, and income limits for obtaining needed services. 

The disparities between options available to persons with and without disabilities have many consequences. Without meaningful paid employment, people are trapped in poverty and have limited life choices, which may lead to depression and low self-esteem. Churches can make a difference! Communities would benefit if even half of the more than 335,000 churches in the US* offered positions such as the one held by Eve Newman (described in the first article).  Maybe your church will be the next to do so!

Lynn Swedberg, Editor  
In This Issue
* Congregations Can Provide Employment
* Michigan Congregation's Janitorial Training Program
* Putting Faith to Work
* Day-Hab Ministries
* Resources
* Upcoming Events
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Congregations Can Provide Meaningful Employment
Eve Newman takes pride in her work as assistant custodian at Centennial UMC in Roseville, MN, a job she has held for 13 years. She has an intellectual disability that doesn't limit her ability to work, or to find the work meaningful. Eve sees keeping the church clean as serving her church and serving God. "I do my praying as I'm cleaning," she said. She works independently cleaning the entrances, classrooms, and bathrooms, keeping track of tasks she finishes by means of a checklist. Eve is the unofficial greeter for people who enter the building while she cleans the entrance. She was delighted when Vacation Bible School students noticed and thanked her for the good job she does.

Eve serves as a self-advocate representative on the DisAbility Ministries Committee of the 
Short woman with big smile wearing the yellow committee T-shirt with 2 paintings of angels behind her
Eve displaying her artwork at Centennial UMC
UMC, where she shares her gifts and gives voice to concerns of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Eve's mom Debby Newman (who represents parents and the North Central Jurisdiction on the DisAbility Ministries Committee) notes that Special Olympics participants typically introduce themselves by their name, where they live, and where they work. Work is a central piece of our identity, yet work is hard to obtain for many people with disabilities..

While Eve found work due to her mother's efforts, many adults never have that opportunity. Debby is now developing a position in the community for another Centennial member, based on that person's interests and abilities. Debby states that "this is one area where we church volunteers can make a difference. With the Holy Spirit providing momentum, change is possible."

Janitorial Training Program is a Win-Win Proposition for Michigan Congregation and Participants
Some churches provide unpaid day training opportunities, which may eventually lead to paid employment. Fred Bowden, Building Manager and Head Custodian at Royal Oak First UMC, MI, is proud of the congregational ministry he helped develop. Five days a week, 6-8 participants arrive from local agencies serving adults with disabilities. Job coaches accompany the workers, and give direct supervision as needed Fred greets the workers with a smile and written lists of tasks to be done. He is generous with praise for jobs well done, believing that he has a chance to improve self-esteem in persons who don't typically get a lot of positive input.

Two men stand behind table with upturned chairs on it
Travis and Fred
(photo - Laurie O'Donnell)
Travis Walls is a church member with a disability who works several days a week with Fred in addition to another part-time job. His mother, Laurie O'Donnell, reports that Fred has helped Travis develop a stronger work ethic as well as expand his skills. Fred recognizes that tasks such as helping prepare cooked meals and sack lunches for the church's outreach ministry, doing laundry, and cleaning translate into skills the participants can contribute with at home. Other tasks include paper shredding, setting up tables and chairs, and preparing communion elements. Filling Travis' days with meaningful activity is important, because too much free time is detrimental to him as it would be to any of us!

Fred believes that the church offers a safe haven where individuals can learn work skills in a friendly environment, free from the prejudice often encountered in the outside world. Fred knows the workers by name, and treats them age-appropriately as fellow employees. Church staff and members also get to know and interact with the participants.

Fred's mother raised him to "treat everyone with respect, even if they looked different." He
Two men carry a table in the fellowship hall
(photo - Laurie O'Donnell)
also had two uncles with disabilities. He believes that the workers are a blessing to the church, and that the love the church expresses to them in return makes a difference. Their work makes a genuine contribution - having an extra pair of hands makes many tasks go much more smoothly. Visitors make comments such as "your building is always so clean - it's lovely!" Fred would be delighted to consult with other congregations that are interested in developing a similar program. So far two churches have taken him up on that offer.

Putting Faith to Work
Transitioning from pre-vocational work into paid community employment is another area where churches can make a difference. Congregations are natural sources for networking, as many congregants employ people or have connections with people who are employers. Putting Faith to Work (PFTW) is an initiative that taps into this resource and teaches congregations how to assist individuals with disabilities to gain and keep meaningful employment.

2 older women and a young adult  male sit together at a table with refreshments in front of them
PFTW team gathering 
  ( photo courtesy of Kennedy-Vanderbilt Center)
PFTW team members come from a variety of backgrounds. The team gets to know the individual with a disability, and helps discover his or her strengths and gifts. Many adults with disabilities lack formal resumes, so identifying skills, interests, and traits based on volunteer work and other activities can be crucial. Next, the team brainstorms about settings where the person's gifts might be put to use. Only then do they start naming potential employers and reaching out to them. The key is to think creatively, beyond the obvious and typical types of job possibilities. If needed, congregational teams contact community services that provide job coaching or help fund initial job development.

Adelaide Viennau and her son Preston, who is on the autism spectrum, participated in a PFTW team at West End UMC in Nashville. Though not church members, they were warmly welcomed into the team - so much so that Adelaide stayed involved with the team after her son found employment. The group helped him decide what kinds of work he wanted to do, and what tasks wouldn't be a good fit. Through networking he found part-time work doing data entry for a Vanderbilt University research department, specifically for a project related to autism. He is now in his third year on the job, and is embraced for who he is by fellow workers. The job has been a good fit.

Some PFTW congregational teams meet on an ongoing basis, while others are time-limited but could be reactivated as needed. Organizers found that congregations most open to developing a job support team either had existing disability ministries with participants who needed employment, or had job search ministries that could be expanded to include adults with disabilities.

The need is enormous. Statistics shared in the PFTW manual include the following:
* "19.5% of people with disabilities participate in the workforce, versus 68.2% of people without disabilities."
* "Only about one quarter of young adults with severe disabilities are employed up to two years after leaving high school."
* "Up to six years after leaving high school, barely half of young adults with autism have held a paid position in their community any time since high school."

The manual provides step-by- step instructions that can be adapted to any congregation willing to take on this ministry, along with examples from churches who have participated in the process.  See the Resource section below for links to these materials.

Church-based "Day-Hab" Ministries Help Fill the Gap
Not everyone with a significant disability is able to find paid employment. Other churches reach out to their communities with "Day-Hab" programs providing structured volunteer and social opportunities that meet much of the same needs as prevocational programs. Consistency and continuity are important. The ministries below have been mentioned in previous newsletters, but it is important to recognize that these congregations are continuing and expanding their outreach and impact.

University UMC in San Antonio, TX, offers the Helping Hands day-habilitation 
Two women hold pieces of protective floor tiles they are putting away in the church gym
               ( photo credit Paul Jeffrey)
prevocational program as part of their comprehensive Special Needs Ministry.  Helping Hands serves 63 participants who do similar jobs as at Royal Oak. They set up and take down the protective floor tiles for the Skate Church service. Other tasks include preparing the 3000 candles and holders for the Christmas Eve service, and preparing Bingo cards for the 200-300 adults who attend this activity each week. The program has a spiritual component, and includes a walking group after lunch to provide exercise. The ministry recently launched a satellite program at the Bourne First UMC. This program was highlighted in the November 2012 newsletter.
The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, KS, sponsors similar Adult Learning and Sonflower Bakery programs. These are components of Matthew's Ministry.  A new initiative offers two internships at a time, which, if successfully completed lead to part-time paid positions within the church. A staff job coach works with participants, but also trains church employees to support independence in the workers. Each position is designed individually, with the designer helping church departments identify tasks that could become part of a new position. Tasks include keeping the sanctuary seat back pockets filled, helping prepare for conferences, and collating papers. Participants receive work evaluations, and are treated as much as possible like typical employees. See the April 2011 newsletter for more about the Sonflower Bakery ministry.

Breaking Barriers - the disability newsletter from the Christian Reformed Church and Reformed Church in North America: Winter 2018 issue focuses on employing people with disabilities.

Collaborative on Faith & Disabilities: 
Putting Faith to Work program explanation and link to order the manuaCover of Putting Faith to Work manual
Putting Faith to Work hour-long  webinar from 11/15/17

Job Accommodations Network  answers questions about workplace accommodations for persons with disabilities.

Resources for Churches Concerning Employment of Persons with Disabilities - two page handout compiled for the DisAbility Ministries which includes the above links and others that address a variety of perspectives and resources regarding employment issues relating to churches.

Upcoming Events
March 21, 2018                                                                         Webinar                              The Fellowship of Kindred Minds: Collaborative Pastoral Care with People with Intellectual Disabilities.  Presenter: Anna Kate Shurley.  Sponsored by the Collaborative on Faith & Disabilities. 

April 6-7, 2018                                                                          Knoxville, TN
Joy!  A Disability Conference
For more information, see the  Joni and Friends website.

May 4, 2018                                                                              Downer's Grove, IL
WISE Congregations for Mental Health Conference,                                            Sponsored by the UCC Mental Health Network.  See more at their website.

June 11-14, 2018                                                                      Raleigh, NC
Summer Institute on Theology and Disability 
Annual international gathering of scholars in the field of disability theology as well as practitioners and others who care about disability and the church.  See SITD website.   

Summer 2018                                                                           Santa Cruz, Bolivia
6th Annual Embracing Disability in Bolivia
UMVIM trip sponsored by Christ UMC in Kettering, OH
For more information contact DisAbility Ministries Committee member Rich Schultze.                                                          
As always, we hope and pray that the ministries described in this issue will inspire other faith communities to take similar steps.  Remember that Committee members and Resource Persons are available to consult with you, and that we would love to hear what you are doing to make your churches disability-friendly!  And please consider making a donation to our Advance #3021054 account so that we can continue our grants program and ministry when our funding ends this summer!  
DisAbility Ministries Committee of The United Methodist Church