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Planted, Watered, Growing: Celebrating Disabilities Awareness Programs

By Rachel Chapman

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.”
1 Corinthians 3:6

UCC Disabilities Ministries (UCCDM) planted the seeds, The UCC Intercultural Relations Council (IRC) watered, but God gave the growth. And growth surely took place among the Church House staff during October, Disabilities Awareness Month.

The IRC which is made up of a diverse group of national staff volunteers, creates educational opportunities for the entire staff by recognizing various cultures on a monthly basis. Early in the year the IRC invited the UCC Disabilities Ministries Board to collaborate on presenting information and events that would offer the most education and awareness to the staff for Disabilities Awareness Month in October. The Board’s Advocacy & Education (A&E) Committee accepted the invitation and 6 months of meetings and planning began.

The objective was to have one event during each whole week during October. Little did the planners know of the added blessings that some of those events would have on participants. A&E wanted people to be aware not only of different disabilities and challenges people with disabilities face, but also ways of being more inclusive of persons with disabilities in daily activities.

First the planning committee looked for centers working with persons with disabilities to benefit from a planned staff community service project. The Eliza Bryant Village (EBV) which specializes in memory care for senior citizens, both independent and assisted living facilities, programs, and services, answered the call. They also offer a daycare program for seniors and persons with disabilities. The center has been a valued part of the Cleveland community for more than 100 years (www.elizabryant.org/).

UCC Disabilities Ministries Board members held their annual meeting in Cleveland in order to meet and interact with staff. The first staff awareness event on October 3rd was to make “Busy Bags” for EBV to use with its clients. The contents of the bags were selected to help with memory, sequencing and dexterity. The bags themselves were donated by the Insurance Board and conscious effort was made to purchase bag contents from a store that employs persons with developmental disabilities. The activity participants voiced appreciation to be not only do something that would be of benefit to others but the unexpected blessing to also be distracted from the church staff downsizing that was to take place on October 5th. On October 4th, the weekly Amistad Chapel worship service was led by DM Board members Rachel Chapman, Paul Fogle and Rev. Christina Fidanza. Local musician Lil Craig, a person living with a disability, sang 2 songs.

The planned event for week 2 was an art therapy workshop conducted by Shannon Scott-Miller, Executive Director of the Art Therapy Studio in Cleveland. The activity consisted of the participants tearing various types of paper, including those printed with words, to glue to a plaque. The acts of tearing the paper and being creative, reduces stress as well as providing a tactile experience. Workshop participants did not want the activity to end. Many stated how much they enjoyed it and even recognized the importance of stress relief, acknowledging the recent staff reorganization had taken a toll on everyone.

For week 3, the staff viewed a documentary and engaged in discussion over 2 days. The video, “Bottom Dollars: A Rooted in Rights Original Documentary”, covers the issue of sheltered workshops and how such businesses are legally able to pay people with disabilities low wages. Alternatives were discussed along with ways of promoting awareness, inclusion and equal pay.

The final planned activity for the staff was a brown-bag luncheon with the Director of Senior Outreach & Adult Day Services of the Eliza Bryant Village, Janna Davis. Ms. Davis shared the history of the 120-year-old facility and information about some of the services and programs offered such as: ability to be and serve in a federally designated Medically Underserved Area, offering rehabilitation services, providing a daycare program for persons with cognitive and physical impairments and safe, reliable transportation for seniors. She also shared how the donated “Busy Bags” (week 1 staff activity) are being used and enjoyed by Village clients. Ms. Davis told the luncheon participants of ways to continue the newly formed relationship between the Church House staff and EBV, individually and collectively. Ms. Davis answered questions some had about personal concerns for family members and future options. At the end of the program, Ms. Davis was presented with a donation of Beanie Babies to be added to the “Busy Bags”. The donation was made by UCCDM Board member, Dr. Kevin Pettit and his co-church member in Colorado.

In addition to the wonderful activities mentioned, UCCDM presented a fact about disabilities for every weekday along with weekly devotionals that were emailed to the entire staff during October. Positive feedback and gratitude were expressed by several staff members. The Board of United Church of Christ Disabilities Ministries appreciated the opportunity provided by Phyllis Richards, Chair, and the entire Intercultural Relations Council to further disability awareness. We look forward to working with the Council again in the future.

Find information about UCC Disabilities Ministries and opportunities to donate at UCCDM.org.

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