The AAIDD Reimagining Spirituality Leadership Award

Purpose and Focus of the Recognition

The Reimagining Spirituality Leadership Award celebrates the influential contributions of someone who has uniquely demonstrated a local, national, or international impact in furthering opportunities, access, and support for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in their spiritual lives and communal participation. This award recognizes the creative and impactful ways the recipient has promoted opportunities for persons with IDD to experience personal spiritual growth, develop enriching relationships, and participate in spiritual or religious communities. 

Award Criteria

  1. Demonstrates respect for the dignity of choice and the unique identity and interests of each person.
  2. Demonstrates a capacity to expand and enhance our understanding of the spiritual needs and gifts of individuals with IDD.
  3. Demonstrates a devotion to follow a sense of call and vocation in relationships, or in community, with individuals with IDD.
  4. Demonstrates the understanding of and the capacity to blend the theological and practical dimensions of spiritual supports and service with others.
  5. Demonstrates, in one’s life and/or work, the competence to build bridges of understanding that is based on the foundational principle of respect for human dignity. 

Nomination Procedure

  1. The deadline for nominations for the 2023 award is December 15, 2022. For more information, contact Sarah Hall at
  2. Nominations should include:
    • A letter highlighting (a) the professional and practical experiences related to spirituality and the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities and (b) why you are nominating this individual and why they should be considered for the Reimagining Spirituality Leadership Award.
    • A brief biography and/or vitae of the nominee.

History of the Award

Created in 2001 as the Henri J.M. Nouwen Award, the award was intended to reflect the compassion, commitment, ministry, and servanthood of Nouwen, finding rich value in the lives of people with disabilities. In 2021, the Religion and Spirituality Interest Network of AAIDD began discussion acknowledging relevant changes in the years since the award’s establishment. Factors that played a role in the discussion included:

  • The perspectives and lived experience of people with disabilities and changes in cultural attitude,
  • A maturing relationship among people of all abilities—one that has evolved from mercy to mutuality—and,
  • The contributions of many other leaders in the IDD field, and the corresponding increase in literature.

It was time to ‘reimagine’ the award while continuing to value the element of leadership at the intersection of faith and disability. Beginning in 2021, the interest network is proud to present the Reimagining Spirituality Leadership Award.

Past Award Recipients

  • 2023 Karen Jackson
  • 2022 Dr. Jeff McNair
  • 2021 Shelly Christensen
  • 2020 Rev. Terry DeYoung
  • 2019 Rev. Andy Calder
  • 2018 Lida Merrill
  • 2017 Thomas Hoeksema
  • 2016 Benjamin T. Conner
  • 2015 Barbara J. Newman
  • 2014 Nella Uitvlugt
  • 2013 Sister Gabrielle Kowalski
  • 2012 Rev. Bill Gaventa
  • 2010 David Morstad
  • 2008 Rev. Joseph D. McNulty
  • 2007 Nancy Eiesland
  • 2006 Ron Vredeveld
  • 2005 Sara Simon
  • 2004 Charles Luce
  • 2003 Jimmy Olin Pierson
  • 2002 Ginny Thornburgh
  • 2001 Sr. Sue Mostellar