Open Arms Project

A communication tool for the Open Arms Project, whose mission is to help religious educators of all faiths welcome and support every learner.

Friday, February 09, 2007

JOY Ministry conference

Here's the address for Graceview's JOY Ministry:

The conference looks great, and I'd love to go. Thanks, Brooke, for telling us about this!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Next Step

Howdy folks,

Thanks so much for sending me your terrific superhero descriptions. I am in awe of your many gifts and talents!

Watch your emails for two documents:

1. a revised plan.
2. a rough draft of the observation template.

The template consists of a first page of general observation that we will all use when we observe, and a second page for each of us in our special role. (gleaned from your superhero sheets)

Remember please that this is a first draft, and is open to your suggestions and changes. Feel free to discuss modification of your role, as well as individualizing your template page.

A request: Please email me with your availiabilty in the next two weeks for an afternoon meeting.

Thanks so much!


Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Dear Kathy, Have a wonderful birthday and have a ball in Hawaii!!


The Superheroes of Open Arms

Monday, January 08, 2007

"Journal of Religion, Disability and Health"

As I mentioned at our December meeting, I recently met Bill Gaventa, editor of the "Journal of Religion, Disability and Health," and after discovering the journal is planning a special issue on inclusive religious education, I contacted him for more information. His reply:

" Miranda, great. Plans at the moment...not quite settled on who will be the organizing guest editor. I think it will be Erik Carter at the University of Wisconsin, but I need to finish that up with him.He is finishing up a book right now for Brookes Publishing on welcoming and inclusive congregations, and lots of good stuff on inclusive religious education. I will pass this on to him, and someone will be in touch."

This could be a good opportunity for us to publish an article or essay about Open Arms.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Meeting Notes of Open Arms Core Team
December 14, 2006
Present: Miranda, John, Kay, Matil, Kathy, Brooke
Saralynn was greatly missed, but was excused due to a family emergency.

The meeting opened in prayer led by Kathy around 4:45. Several members were late due to traffic, and the busyness of the season. All agreed that it is important to start on time so that our work can be concluded in a timely manner.

Kathy reported the church has approved the use of their special needs program as the pilot project. The church request the right to read the chapter about the church before it is submitted for publishing and that all observers have a background check or proof of one done within the last six months before they enter the classroom with the children. This is church policy on anyone who works with children.

All Core Team members should complete the paperwork attached to an email sent by Kathy on Sunday and bring or email proof of a check by December 28 to Kathy.

The governance structure of Kathy’s church is that it is run by a session of elders elected from the body of the congregation with rotating terms of two years. The session is run by three stated clerks who are elected from the body of the sitting session. The moderator of session is the senior pastor.

Advising the senior pastor and the executive pastor is the Advisory Council which is composed of the three stated clerks, the chair of Finance, and one at-large representative who is elected by session, but not necessarily from among sitting elders. The current at-large representative is Kathy’s husband.

This council advises the pastors on the daily governance issues of the church, reviews the work to date, and prepares the agenda. Items needing to be included on the consent agenda (those which will not be discussed individually but passed as a group) are submitted to this group before the monthly session meetings. Session has committees chaired by a sitting session elder with members of the congregation and staff sitting on the committee. The committees report on their work to session and if session approval is needed, a motion is made by that committee.

The committee governing the special needs program is the Grow Team which governs all children and family ministry. The special needs ministry also has a sub-committee composed of the founder of the program (Stacie Williamson), two elders, two parents, two Buddies and chaired by Kathy. This sub-committee advises and oversees Kathy’s work for session. Stacie sits on the Grow committee and reports on the special needs area. In addition to the governance structure, there is a staff reporting structure. The director of the special needs program reports to the Kids and Family Ministry Director who reports to the Executive Pastor. Each item which needs church approval goes through all channels before approval is granted.

Kathy will email a copy of her lesson plans to John for review. After he has looked at them we will determine whether there is a need to make copies of the Gospel Light curriculum for each core team member. As soon as the new curriculum outlines have arrived, Kathy will send those to John as well.

The group discussed some of the things needed in choosing a curriculum and what should be included in the program to help those trying to choose and adapt a curriculum. John asked us to reflect on those things and be prepared to list them. The discussion of the group included:

Choosing curriculum – We need a bullet list of standard modifications
We need specifics on how to adapt the story for this group of children.
We need to talk about how you decide what to do to meet the needs of each individual child and then how to meet the needs of each child with the group as a whole.

Brooke talked about asking her mom (a national trainer of teachers) about the typical reaction to stories of a child in the developmental range of the children in her class and how we sometimes need to supply the answers to the questions based on how a child of that developmental age would respond.

We need clear guidelines to support the leaders in deciding how to deal with the varying group dynamics since every child is not present every time the group meets.

We talked about having a library at the model classroom of modifications for different situations and needs. Perhaps those ideas are what the book is to be, but also including other resources for people to check out and return.
We also talked about having a library available in each classroom for the volunteers and parents to use.

Brooke said we need to include questions like, “What is the crux of our faith? What is the most important thing I want children to know?”
We need to be prepared for both a lesson structure based on stories from the Bible or governing text of the faith and for lessons based on concepts such as being a friend, or obedience with the faith text as the basis. We need to talk about how to modify the delivery of the lesson to fit the children in the program.

All agreed that one of the prevailing beliefs of this group is to help children be able to experience God’s love fully.

United Way Grant Proposal
John reported that we have not heard the results on the grant proposal for the model classroom yet. He will keep us posted.

Miranda updated us on her research about the different faiths. She has done some on the Presbyterian faith. She went over some of the tenants found on line and discussed that they are governed by an elected body, are of the reformed faith and that there are two main branches. The church we will work with is of the more liberal of those branches, but is one of the most conservative of the churches in that branch.

She will boil all the information she found into a one page chart that will help us in strategizing how to encourage the faith communities with which we work to make the modifications needed for special needs. One thing she has discovered in her research is that there are often differences between what the paper says about governance and what is done. We will need to talk with someone in the know at each faith community in order to help them work the structure of that location.

WonderFULLY Made
Brooke handed out samples of the work she did to convince her church to begin a special needs program called WonderFULLY Made. The work is very thorough and can work as a resource for the work we will do in other communities. She also talked some about the Special needs Sunday they recently had and told us to check their website for samples of the sermons given and for pictures. Brooke will email information with the special link to the sermons, videos of her children and quotes from parents about what the program means to their family. The website is under construction but should be up soon. She handed out information about the Kids Night Out her program offers. For details, contact Brooke.

New Input
John asked for Kay and Matil to give any new ideas they may have had since the last meeting.

Kay talked about the changing groups with which she works all the time. She agreed that we need to help leaders understand how to modify for the groups as well as for the individual. There are three dynamics at work in our programs most of the time. There is the need to modify for the individual child, the needs of this group of children and the needs of this group of volunteers. The children change in their responses when any of the members of the group change. We need ideas to support leaders in this area. We need to list things they can do to make a connection with the child, the group and each volunteer.

The group talked about the need to help leaders learn how to recruit volunteers and how to personalize their service so that it makes a difference in their lives. We need to have open arms to volunteers as well as the children. We need to empower each volunteer so that they have ownership. We need to allow them to do the work and help leaders learn how to allow the volunteer to do the work.

Kathy mentioned that one way they support volunteers is to have a parent work with the volunteer and the child once every three months so the volunteer can learn techniques that are working now with the child. The discussion went on to say we need to include questions in the information from parents that asks things like: “In what size groups (if any) does your child work best?” or “How long does it take your child to warm up to a new person, group or situation?” Perhaps we need a directory of learning levels and what to do to support the child at each level.

Matil shared that she is looking forward to the observations and visiting the Sunday School classes.

Phase Review
The group reviewed the Phases as listed on the Open Arms Program Description. We cannot do the training modification until after we have done the observations so we need to move that to Phase II. We will start curriculum review as soon as Kathy sends the lesson plans to John. We will have a copy of the Gospel Light curriculum or whatever curriculum is to be used in the resource area of the WinGS room so that observers can take it down a review it.

We will also need a section which tells leaders how to find the resource people needed for their children (i.e. Music therapist, OT, respite programs or info about the issue of each child)

Miranda will work to create our website with links to areas that leaders might need. It would have how to do outreach and how to help volunteers have “buy in” with things like homework done on the special need of their child. Some books to include on the list are Quirky Kids, The Explosive Child, The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun, and Helping Kids Include Kids with Disabilities. The group decided that a good idea for a fundraiser would be helping a program build its resource library.

John will redo the goals of the phases and email us a new version.

Defining Our Roles:
John talked about us viewing our roles on the team as our super powers. Many of us do things in several areas, but we need to allow one person to be the “go to” person for each area. We need to think about our backgrounds, our gifts and talents and write up what we would propose be our role on the team. We want to know the backgrounds so we can see where our experience and talents overlap. This will give us the depth we need as a team and may give us sub groups that will work together in helping a community create or revamp their program.

For example one role that is needed is for one person to be the documenter of what happens so that we can replicate it for other programs. We all agreed to submit a description of our backgrounds and ways to contribute in one page describing “What I would like my super powers to be” to John by December 28.

Reporting and Collating Structure
We discussed the way input would be given to Kathy and her program during the pilot. Kathy requested that info be given as we go when possible so that changes and learning can occur in context. We will meet as a team regularly and will submit written recommendations at the end of the observation.

There are some style preferences that may need to be considered as we work with other communities. We need to discuss more how the structure of the observation will work as we do the pilot.

During observation, team members may be silently observing or that may step in a model a behavior or technique to try. Part of working with our children is the need to try things and see what works. This will build the “tool kit” of the leaders and the volunteers.

Team members should be thinking about how we should work and what structure to use. Kathy shared that when she does consulting with other schools, she observes silently the first observation and then meets with the teacher to ask questions or exchange ideas. The second observation she might model some things and observe silently then meets afterwards to discuss with the teacher. The third meeting, Kathy teaches and the teacher observes and they meet. The fourth meeting the teacher implements the things she wants to use of Kathy’s feedback and they meet to discuss one last time. Kathy gives written reports after each observation so that the teacher can reflect and make modifications while she has the input of the consultant.

Meeting ended at 7:30.

  • We all agreed to submit a description of our backgrounds and ways to contribute in one page describing “What I would like my super powers to be” to John by December 28.
  • Next meeting at FPC on Friday, January 5 in room 122 from 4:30 – 6:30.
  • Kathy will email her lesson plans to John.
  • Miranda will boil the information about the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches into a one page summary on each.
  • Brooke will email information with the special link to the sermons, videos of her children and quotes from parents about what the program means to their family.
  • John will let us know about the grant.
  • John will redo the goals of the phases and email us a new version.
  • All team members should think about what structure to use for observation and for reporting to the community.
  • Pray for John’s pain and a clear diagnosis.

Friday, December 15, 2006

New Links Available!

I've been collecting links to various websites relevant to our project, and you can now access this list by going to my page ( is a site that lets you create a "favorites" list, add descriptive tags, and share it with the world--fun and highly addictive!). To bypass all the other stuff I'm interested in and go directly to the sites about religious education and special needs, click on the "open-arms" tag or go straight to this address: Please suggest additions to the list as you find them!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Upcoming Volunteer Opportunity!

Monarch Movers & Shapers

The Educators Committee is seeking volunteers who are interested and available to partake in Monarch's Challenger Campus holiday celebration on Friday, December 15th from 9am-noon. Volunteers are needed to share information and insight to students about holiday celebrations from different traditions (Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, traditions from countries and cultures around the world). The students will be traveling to different stations during this time, and each presenter will offer knowledge to a small group in a fun, fascinating way such as speaking and showing items specific to their culture (menorahs, Christmas pickles, etc.). Speakers may want to present a brief project, recipe, or share stories. Creativity is welcome! Please e-mail Kay ( as soon as possible if you are interested or know of someone who may be interested in volunteering. Even if you are only available for an hour or 2, we'd love to have you! Thanks!