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.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Networking in DC

Last week I was at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (the professional organization for religious studies and theology professors), and I attended an amazing session about religion and disability in congregational and seminary settings. We had a great conversation about creating open and welcoming congregations, and the other attendees seemed really interested in our project (I saw lots of pens moving when I mentioned John's book!).

Among the people I met were Ginny Thornburgh of the National Organization on Disability's Religion and Disability Program and Bill Gaventa, Director of Community and Congregational Supports at the Elizabeth M. Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities. I also learned about a program called SPRED, a Roman Catholic religious education program for special needs students. I was so excited to meet these wonderful people and hear about their work that I was practically jumping out of my chair!

By the way, I would love for us to consider as a long-term goal working with Monarch and one or more faith communities to host a "That All May Worship" conference.

I'll bring the handouts from the session to our next meeting, so you can all look over them.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Open Arms Meeting – Nov 16. 2006

Present – Matil Vallianos, Miranda, Sarah Lynn, John, Kathy, Brooke

Absent – Kay

John opened the meeting at 4:40 by introducing us to Matil works with autistic kids and is in her second year at Monarch. Before coming to Monarch she worked with autistic 2.5 year olds. She primarily works with SI and uses sign language used all day. Had a child with poor receptive and expressive language skills he is starting to sign spontaneously now. She works in a self-contained classroom all day at Monarch.

Miranda opens us in prayer.

Kathy shared a story of Henry, one of the boys in her Wings program, who went to a typically developing Sunday School class last Sunday. In that class the children sit on a special "prayer blanket" and light a candle, hold hands and pray. Henry sat with the group with his Buddy behind him and one of the three-year-old girls reached out and took his hand and smiled. He looked at their hands and then held out his other hand to the child next to him. Later when he was leaving class, the teacher got on his level and told him, "Goodbye Ryan. We love you." Ryan looked her in the eye and said, "Love you!" There wasn't a dry eye among the adults. Over and over our children do things that the experts say they cannot do. This can only be God at work.

John talked of the challenge of continuity of presence our committee has had. It is fine because we are still moving forward. However, not meeting as a group all the time can cause confusion because different parts are working at different times. Here is what is happening in John’s understanding:

We were going to start in a Catholic program, but two teachers went on maternity leave.
John observed at First Presbyterian Church (FPC) Wings program and decided to start there as the first pilot. A friend contacted him about a United Way grant ready to fund someone. There were only three days to the deadline. So they did a fast grant proposal but didn’t fund the pilot program because didn’t know at the time of the deadline that FPC Wings would be the program and the grant wouldn’t be given to an unnamed program. We will find out early Dec if we got the grant. The grant doesn’t affect the pilot project. It affects the model classroom at Monarch, and how to do structured teaching, sample schedules etc. and equipment. The folks in the program will come to Monarch to browse and see how to set it up. Then they can choose what to use to set up their program. It might be possible for those faith communities participating in the program to take out on loan different equipment to try it in their community before ordering it themselves.

We then reviewed the program description that John gave us and talked about what is being done. We decided that we will meet either at FPC regularily or in the model classroom at Monarch. There were more people closer to FPC than Monarch. Part of what we will do will be to develop learning modules that can be used in specific communities. Develop training for teachers and review the curriculum and adapt it to fit the community to make it more inclusive.

This is a work to help communities to open their minds to those with special needs. Special needs children teach us a lot too. We are all better people for the children having taught us as well.

Originally we began with the idea that the pilot program would be covered in the book, but the printing deadline was changed to August 2007. The program will be a chapter in the book not the whole book. The publisher, St Mary’s, wants it to speak to their audience who are Catholic. This will cause us to use more Christian verbage.

Model classroom will be portable. Might not be something for which the church pays. We are researching now foundations to appeal to for funding to provide materials for faith communities. To provide funding for us to come in and we would do it for them. They would hire us to do the work. We estimate that we will need $100,000 for 10 communities. Part of the money would be for the work of the team. The grant budget pays for the continuation of the program. There many be funding at denominational levels.

Curriculum review of materials will be done for FPC Wings curriculum. Kathy will give a copy of the curriculum to John. Everyone on the committee should send lists of stuff that you use that has been helpful to you. Send in great cheap alternative for equipment like weighted vests and lap pads. Brooke suggested using children’s stockings filled with beans and knotted every few inches to make a weighted snake or put it inside a furry sock to be a lap cat.

Look at the questions or reflections for the church to think about so that they are ready for it to happen. Miranda’s role is important in this piece so that we have a real good understanding of the faith tenants that will match up to our goal in that faith community. Sometimes the leaders are not in touch with the overarching tenants of the community. Miranda will provide research for the area. General documents for everyone then we should stick to Hebrew scriptures once we are connected then we can use New Testaments as well. We want to connect the need for a special needs program to the church’s mission statement.

Brooke has a proposal packet to help with a tool kits for how to sell it at the church. Miranda can get us governance structures in the community so we know how to approach things. To be successful we must combine our talents to gain the strength of the group. Look at the reflection piece and see if it reflects the things we need. What needs to be added?

Planning for the Pilot- roles

What remains to be done at FPC for approval to be the pilot project?
· Criminal Checks for Open Arms committee members – John said the Monarch employees can share their criminal checks with us. Kathy will get the forms to everyone else so the church can do the checks.
· Kathy needs copies of documents for parents to sign for release forms that include video taping for use by the committee in evaluating and advising the program.
· John will email to Kathy the two page explanation document so she can send it to the appropriate people at FPC.
· The business office of FPC needs to review the two page document and any financial, legal or insurance obligations that might be incurred as a result of the pilot project
· The session (body of elders that govern the church) needs to approve the two page document explaining the pilot project because the church’s name will be used in one chapter and because it affects curriculum. If we make the agenda for the November meeting, it can be approved now, if not, it cannot be approved until January because the session meeting in December has been cancelled.
Advance prep for the community already done
Kathy will do a write up of the governance structure and how we work here and who the people are that are the decision makers.
The committee will develop persuasive reason for why to do it – scripture reference and mission statement. Everyone should send the references that they have used to John.
John will focus on the lives of key persons in scripture who are called to serve because of their special needs. Story of Moses and the staff where Aaron and Hür help him hold the staff is the perfect metaphor for not taking things out of the hands of special needs children but supporting them in doing it. Brooke offered Luke 14 where Jesus says to go out into the world and bring them into the church so my house will be full. Kathy offered Deuteronomy 6:4 – 9 and Matthew 18:1-6.
Brooke will share the compatible mission pieces from her packet of information she prepared for her church.
Kathy will share the mission statement just completed by FPC.
Everyone start collecting stories of the children that can be used in the book. Brooke did a video that was used in Awareness Sunday. We could make one to be used to help churches raise awareness of the needs for the programs.
We need to come and see Brooke’s program at St. John’s. Wonderfully Me Sunday will be a yearly event and we can go next year. The sermons are on line and we can get copies. The pastor talks about Brooke in the sermon. They have multiple sermons on Sunday. The whole Sunday School lessons were about people with special needs and how to deal with them including sign language.
Development of teacher training modules. John will do them. He will work with whomever – Kathy would like to help with it. IF you are interested, let John know. Observation of what is needed in the program will impact the modules. Some of the committee may do video taping when they come to observe. We will use the tapes to review with volunteers and to teach.
Our role is primarily advisory so that the ownership of the ideas is left with the faith community. We prepare a presentation of recommendations and then we support them as they implement things.
The person we are connected with is probably going to be invested in changing things and we can support them in the change by being the committee of experts to say what works to the decision makers.
Curriculum review – Everyone will look at it from your area of expertise. Kathy will bring the curriculum next time or you can go to http://www.gospellight.com/children/ to see some of it. She uses the curriculum for 2 and 3’s as well as that for fours and fives since her children range developmentally from 2 to five years.
Plan the next meeting to decide and plan Phase II on Thursday, Dec 14 at 4:30 at FPC.

Use the blog again . Miranda will send out directions again. Matil’s email address is Matils2000@yahoo.com. Post minutes on the Blog. You can get emails when there is something new on the blog if you sign up for the feature. Miranda will send directions for how to do so.

Meeting adjourned at 6:05.

What a wonderful Team!

Hello Everyone,
A special thanks to the team for making me feel so welcome.:) I am truly honored to be a member of such a needed project and look forward to all the experiences we will share together. As you see, I am now on the blog. Have a good day everyone. I will check blogs later for updated postings.
Cheers,
M:)