Message from the President: Shelly Christensen, September 2014

Shalom,

I’m Shelly Christensen, the new President of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) Religion and Spirituality (R & S) Division. I have worked in the spiritual supports field for over 13 years directing the Jewish Community Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities at Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis. In May I left JFCS to focus on my work in other communities. As we all know, there is much to do to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities so they may contribute to their own faith communities and share their gifts with others.

Shalom,

I’m Shelly Christensen, the new President of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) Religion and Spirituality (R & S) Division. I have worked in the spiritual supports field for over 13 years directing the Jewish Community Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities at Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis. In May I left JFCS to focus on my work in other communities. As we all know, there is much to do to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities so they may contribute to their own faith communities and share their gifts with others.

My husband Rick and I took our first 2 week vacation in over 25 years on a road trip to Baltimore, the Poconos, the Shenandoah Valley, and Ann Arbor, MI. We built our trip around the Reinventing Quality Conference in Baltimore. Bill Gaventa and I spoke about building community inclusion through places of worship. Joining us were DeAmon Harges and Rev. Mike Mather of Indianapolis’ Broadway United Methodist Church who shared their successful community engagement program.

In June I had the opportunity to study, learn, present, pray and collaborate with many wonderful colleauges at the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability (SITD). Held on the beautiful campus of Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas the SITD gathers academics, theologians, practitioners and others—people with and without labeled disabilities—to explore the inclusive intersections of theology and disabilities. Founded in 2010 in Pennsylvania through a project funded by the Pennsylvania Council on Developmental Disabilities, SITD is led by Bill Gaventa and core faculty including Hans Reinders, John Swinton, Tom Reynolds, Amos Yong, Erik Carter and Jeremy Schipper. The Bethesda Institute is now the primary and organizing sponsor of this international and, increasingly, interfaith annual event. I urge you to consider attending the Summer Institute in May 2015 in Atlanta, GA.

Also in June was the 138th Annual Meeting of AAIDD in Orlando, FL. We enjoyed fascinating keynote and session speakers who shared innovative practices in the field of ID/DD. The Religion and Spirituality Division held our annual meeting and forum following the conference.

Highlights included presentation of the Henri Nouwen award posthumously to Nella Uitvlugt. Nella was a passionate advocate whose dedication to supporting people with disabilities was matched by her immense contributions to our field. Nella was the executive director of Friendship Ministries and was a previous Division president. Nella’s husband Eric and her family joined us to accept the Henri Nouwen Award.

Sister Gabrielle Kowalski, OSF, Ph.D., professor emerita at Cardinal Stritch University was named an AAIDD Fellow. This prestigious honor is awarded only to those who meet several nomination requirements. Sister Gabrielle is a former president of the R & S Division and 2013 Nouwen honoree. Bill Gaventa was elected Vice President of AAIDD. We are proud of Bill and know that AAIDD will be enriched by his wisdom and leadership.

We thanked our outgoing President, Anne Masters, for her leadership. Under Anne’s watch the first two individuals earned the new Spiritual Support Professional Certification, Division membership grew, we held two successful annual meetings and community Forums and increased visibility of the R & S Division as a resource to AAIDD, and implemented a survey to guide our work plan.

The annual Community Forum featured national initiatives such as the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability, the Jewish Leadership Institute on Disabilities and Inclusion, and the Autism Society’s Faith Initiative along with the Austin Texas interfaith inclusion initiative. I hope you will take time to click on these links to read more about these collaborative and innovative initiatives. You can also see our first attempt at streaming the Forum from our Division website.

The R & S Steering Committee is meeting to discuss our plan for this year. I would like to thank them for their commitment and hard work: Don Healy, Dave Morstad, Neil Cudney, Christopher Phillips, Anne Masters and Bill Gaventa. If you would like to share your ideas for the Division, please contact me at: shelly@inclusioninnovations.com.

Warmest regards,

Shelly Christensen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s