At worship, Caroline distributed bread for communion while her mom sat in the back, crying softly. My daughter Kalie volunteered to read—something she wouldn’t have done in our home congregation even though she knows everyone there. My daughter Jenna took part in a skit—new for her too. Hearing kids asked my daughters how to sign words and finger-spell their names, laughing when their fingers couldn’t keep up or when they didn’t get it right the first time. They willingly trailed along to the interpreter when Jenna wanted to talk with them and they couldn’t understand everything.
During the 2006 Definitely Abled Youth Leadership Event, we met youth from the U.S. and the Virgin Islands— youth with autism, with physical disabilities, with sight impairments, with Down syndrome and more. A sister ministry of the ELCA Youth Gathering, DAYLE took place on a Sunday through Wednesday morning before the first of two gathering weeks. Youth with many types of challenging conditions--physical, cognitive, developmental--attended with a parent/adult companion, and in a few cases, a peer companion.
Parents of kids with disabilities know how rare it is that their child can be fully involved. Under the theme “Strengthened by God to Serve,” based on Philippians 4:13, DAYLE activities were planned so everyone could be involved. Everyone interacted, and no one hung back.
Over those three days I watched youth grow and stand taller. Cole, who has autism, initially stayed close to his mom and didn’t speak. But on the second day, he greeted us and introduced us to his sister, saying, “This is Jenna and Kalie and their mom.” Cole’s mom was amazed, saying he’d never done that before. He didn’t speak to us again, but we were thrilled by his new venture and connection to us.
During a talent show, Jon, who lives with Down syndrome, danced and received huge accolades from the crowd. Katie, who has the ability to hear but not speak, gracefully performed ballet and dance moves. Emily, Dayle and Megan danced from their wheelchairs, while other youth danced with them and around them.
The worship band, Dakota Road, let Darnall, a youth from the Virgin Islands, come up and play a guitar after he expressed fascination. They helped him position his fingers to play chords during a song. As everyone applauded and took photos, Darnall beamed like he’d won a Grammy.
In a keynote speech, Judy Siegle, a wheelchair athlete and author, offered her story and experience with depression, anger and acceptance. She shared how God’s plan may include your disability and that success is possible for everyone.
Kalie decided to run for the Definitely Abled Advisory Committee and now serves with two other young adults, Willaim and John. After learning about Darfur, Sudan, at a Fall 2006 Washington, D.C., leadership event, she spoke about Darfur to our congregation.These youth are excited about their future. Many are gaining greater independence against what we would consider incredible odds. All of them are definitely abled. Now I’m asking you: Help the definitely abled youth in your congregations find DAYLE—the opportunity of a lifetime for them to be strengthened to serve.
Check out this week's articles:
Church & state: (right) Exploring the superstitions behind the wall of separation.
In Luther's view: 'Two kingdoms' doctrine draws line of separation.
Where peace is in their hands: Palestinian children learn to resolve conflicts among their peers.
U.S. a divided house: Religion tempers political views.
Also: Discrimination, racism.
Also: More habits.
Also: HIV travel restrictions.
Sonia Solomonson (right) blogs about "harvesting your journal" and leaving a legacy.
Julie Sevig blogs about "Pennies for Peace."
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