Celebrating Inclusion on December 3
December 3, 2020

Celebrating Inclusion on December 3

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

December 3 is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The observance of the day aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

The theme for this year underscores the importance of building an environment where diversity and inclusion is extended to include those with disabilities. Diversity and Inclusion, or “D&I”, often refers to diversity in race, ethnicity, religion, and so on. But for those with physical, intellectual, social or learning differences, inclusion efforts are lacking, leading many to feel isolated.

“We have always known that social isolation is a real struggle for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. COVID-19 has only amplified these feelings of loneliness as many individuals with disabilities have been forced to limit the number of interactions they have with others in order to decrease risk of exposure,” said Amy Rembert, program officer at The Rees-Jones Foundation. “The circumstances right now are difficult, and I imagine even more so for children and youth with disabilities who are growing up in this environment. Now more than ever, I think it is important for youth to have access to safe, socially-distant enrichment opportunities and outdoor, recreational activities where they can connect with others, feel understood, and have a little fun.”

There are scores of nonprofit organizations across North Texas that provide individuals with diverse needs with unique opportunities to not only receive therapeutic services, but also combat isolation through community engagement and friendship building.

Young Life’s Capernaum Program

Young Life is a faith-based, national organization that focuses on sharing the Gospel with adolescents, teens, and young adults, and through doing so, building a network of young, Christian disciples.

Young Life Capernaum gives young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities the chance to experience the Gospel and develop fulfilling friendships in an environment that enables them to challenge their limits while building self-esteem through club, camp and other activities.
Marc, a Capernaum participant, expressed how much he enjoys club activities by sharing, “Jesus is love and peace, man, that simple. He wants to know you and love you because you are a blessing to him.”

The Young Life Capernaum model was inspired by the Bible…

In Mark 2, the Bible records the story of four able-bodied men and their friend with a disability. Eager for their friend to see Jesus, the talk of the town in Capernaum (kuh-per-ney-uhm), the men carried their friend on a mat to a home where Jesus was teaching. When the friends arrived, the crowds prevented the men from getting their friend anywhere close to Jesus. Undaunted, the men carried their friend to the roof where they cut a hole through layers of straw and hardened mud, and lowered the man to Jesus’ feet.

Moved by their bold faith, Jesus restored the man with a disability to wholeness and health. The lives of all five men — and the crowd who witnessed the event — were never the same.

Because of Young Life’s belief that intellectual or developmental limitations should not keep an adolescent from the presence of the One who promises fullness of life, it calls the ministry with adolescents with disabilities “Capernaum”.

“They’re the same as anybody else. They have the same hopes, dreams, but they have way less opportunities to engage in those. Jesus isn’t just a person for able-bodied people, he’s for all people,” said Nick Palermo, Young Life Capernaum founder. “Your disability does not disqualify you from Jesus.

The Capernaum program model is similar to that of traditional Young Life in that adolescents meet each week for worship, Bible study and fellowship. The difference is that Capernaum spends more time focused on worship through singing and music, and builds in intensity more slowly with time at the end to focus on take-aways from scripture and the lesson. The small groups are led by adult Young Life Leaders, who share the message of Jesus Christ and model His unconditional love.

At camp, Capernaum gives young people with disabilities an atmosphere of high adventure with one-on-one attention from a leader. Set in the scenery of God’s amazing creation, campers experience a week filled with fun, new opportunities and the Gospel. Since campers have one-on-one attention all week, they get to participate in as many activities as they’d like, such as horseback riding, mountain climbing and swimming. Because these young adults often attend camp at the same time as their able-bodied peers, all who attend are significantly influenced in a wonderful way.

Equest’s Competition Team

Equest is a nonprofit organization based in southern Dallas that provides equine assisted therapy to children and adults with physical, intellectual, cognitive, and social-emotional challenges. Its mission is to enhance the quality of life for individuals with diverse needs.

Equest athletes receiving their medals at the Area Special Olympics Horse Show (Photo Credit: Equest Website).

Among the spectrum of services that Equest provides to its clients is the opportunity to compete at horse shows as a member of the Equest Competition Team. Equest athletes compete in horse shows locally, nationally, and on occasion, internationally at the Special Olympics World Games. Throughout its 40 years, Equest has had the opportunity to cheer on three of its former clients in the Paralympics.

“Children with disabilities are often on the sidelines watching their siblings play soccer or perform in a dance recital. Their siblings are in the limelight. At Equest, when our clients have the opportunity to compete in horse shows it is their chance to be part of a team, to experience the exhilaration of competition, to show off all they have learned. They are being cheered on; it is their time to shine,” said Lili Kellogg, CEO of Equest.

Healthy competition contributes to experiential learning of life skills. It creates motivation to achieve goals, develops determination, and teaches responsibility, flexibility, patience, and camaraderie. It provides moments to experience the thrill of winning, the disappointment of losing and how to celebrate other’s successes. Not all of our clients win a blue ribbon, but all are champions.”

In addition to the life skills learned by being a member of a team, competition gives a sense of belonging and helps to foster life-long friendships. For many clients, being able to compete motivates them during their therapeutic riding classes; they want to advance their riding skills and in doing so, clients are building physical strength, cognitive processing, patience, stamina and concentration. All skills that will help them thrive outside of the arena as well.

The Rees-Jones Foundation support families with children or youth adversely affected by a disability by supporting access to adaptive youth experiences, animal-assisted therapy, traditional and nontraditional therapeutic services, and independent living programs. To learn more about the nonprofits that the Foundation supports, please visit https://www.rees-jonesfoundation.org/our-grants

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