St. Paul receives $10,000 grant from the ELCA Disability Ministry fund to support neurodiverse children, teens, and their families.
Last summer, pastoral resident Megan Eide saw a need to better accommodate neurodiverse children, teens, and their families. From this idea, the Social Spectrum group began to take shape with the goal to give participants a space to build relationships and collectively voice their ideas for ways St. Paul can be more hospitable toward families with neurodiverse family members.
Participants of Social Spectrum gather once a month to share stories and thoughts on a range of topics from children’s ministries and worship to autism resources in the Quad Cities. Megan has seen first-hand the impact this group has had on participants.
“There’s such a wide variety of ways that people participate and develop communally and spiritually. For a church to not only acknowledge that but to reach out and say ‘what more can we do?’ was monumental for them.”
Debby Reed knows first-hand some of the challenges families with neurodiverse loved ones face. Her adult daughter Jennifer was diagnosed with Asperger’s and while she is a highly functioning adult, Debby seeks to find more opportunities for Jennifer to connect with others.
“To have St. Paul explore these topics is huge for our family. One of the most important parts of the Social Spectrum group is the feeling that you’re not alone. You’re surrounded by other families that are figuring it out as well,” Debby said. “I feel hopeful that these conversations will raise awareness among other members of the church and provide more understanding and connection.”
Thanks to the generosity of the St. Paul Memorial Fund Committee, the initial pieces of the project were implemented last year. Noise reduction headphones, weighted lap pads, fidgets, and more tools were added to the Sanctuary, available at the ushers station. But Megan and others soon realized there were additional initiatives they wanted to champion and the timing was just right. The lower-level Education Wing was in the early stages of receiving its own makeover. But it was a fortuitous moment when Megan saw a first-of-its-kind grant opportunity from the ELCA Disability Ministries fund.
The Disability Ministries grant helps to provide funding for projects that aim to educate leaders on serving people with disabilities, supporting inclusive participation in congregations, and providing education to enable congregations to more fully welcome and support individuals with disabilities. A $10,000 grant was awarded to five congregations who submitted grant proposals (out of more than 60 applicants) and St. Paul was one of these five national recipients.
The St. Paul accessibility project will consist of a family-learning style Sunday school class and sensory-friendly space, training for staff and volunteers, and a buddy program that pairs neurotypical teens with their neurodivergent peers.
The grant covers specialized training and workshops for staff and volunteers. Training will be designed and led by five core consultants who are also St. Paul members. The buddy program operates in a similar fashion. Middle and high school-aged youth who exhibit a particular sense of leadership, compassion, and thoughtfulness have the opportunity to attend workshops and educational programs specially crafted by local graduate students. The objective of the group is to equip neurotypical teens with the knowledge and skills they need to act as buddies and advocates for their neurodivergent peers.