Disability Ministries Committee logo using  stylized person standing and another seated in wheelchair whose arms form the horizontal arm of the cross between them.  Logo says Making the Rough Places Smooth - Removing Barriers Is. 40_4
Fall 2016
Vol. 6  No. 3
Woman in wheelchair with pet dog sits in front of ramp and sign that reads Living Grace UMC
Christy and Riley Outside Their New Home


of the

United Methodist

 Disability Connection

Greetings in Christ!   
As we celebrate Thanksgiving, we are thankful if we have adequate housing, but tend to take our homes for granted. Few of us are aware of the housing crisis that affects many with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Demand for affordable housing is fueled by the fact that the average one-bedroom apartment costs nearly as much as or more than the average total monthly SSI income of persons with disabilities. Nearly one million adults with disabilities are living with parents or other caregivers aged 60 or over who may not be able to continue care-giving  much longer. Vacancies for accessible housing are non-existent, and the number of new accessible units has not kept up with the demand. Persons may wait many years for their name to make it to the top of the list for affordable public housing. Establishing new group homes is often stymied by city zoning ordinances and neighborhood opposition. (See links below for information sources.) 

The good news is that some churches and church-related organizations are addressing the housing shortage. This issue highlights four innovative programs that could be replicated by other churches and agencies. All are eager to share their stories and help others benefit from their learning curves. The Housing Position Statement issued by AAIDD and The Arc is a good place to start your congregational or committee education process. The involvement of many more of us in finding housing solutions will be essential to solve the coming crisis and avoid unnecessary institutionalization or homelessness. Be thankful, but begin to research the needs and realities of your community and join others to support affordable, accessible housing for all of us!
Lynn Swedberg, Editor
In This Issue
GA Congregation Changes a Member's Life
A Place to Call Home in Nashville
Apartment Complex in NC Offers Supported Living
Friendship House at Duke
News: Naomi Mitchum Receives the 2016 Pitzer Award
Upcoming Events
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Georgia Congregation Changes a Member's Life
Every now and then a church has an opportunity to change a person's life! Four years ago Living Grace UMC in Columbus, GA, stepped out in faith to provide accessible housing near the church for member Christy Odom. After the church merged with another congregation and moved, Christy could no longer get to worship using her power wheelchair and had to depend on rides from members. Wanting to stay independent, she turned to the church for help locating an affordable rental near the new church, but nothing met her needs. Pastor Roy White discovered a member-owned, recently vacated property nearby, but the house was in terrible condition.

The church accepted the challenge of making the home habitable and raised twice the
yellow house with long ramp
The house after renovation
budgeted $5000! Beginning in July 2012, Living Grace volunteers cleaned and did  interior demolition and rebuilding while the owner managed structural repairs. Others in the community got wind of the project and contributed. A ramp ministry team from Midland United Methodist Church built an access ramp. Local vendors donated or discounted cabinetry, paint, appliances, and other items. By Halloween the home was furnished and ready for Christy to move in. Church members, volunteers, and news crews waited to see her joyful reaction to seeing her new home.
Some life tasks are difficult for Christy because her cerebral palsy affects her coordination. Christy's life is enriched by her dog and best friend, Riley. Both factors were taken into consideration in the remodeling. Doors have lever handles that Riley can open. The fenced back yard offers a place to run.

The church continues to negotiate the financial aspects of this gift. Christy pays the same amount as she did for her prior living situation, and the payments go towards purchase of her home. State Medicaid laws had to be considered prior to setting up the transactions.

Pastor White shares that having Christy as part of the congregation has increased church members' awareness of the need for finding new ways of doing things so that she can participate. Because holding standard offering plates is challenging for Christy, the church purchased four new offering baskets with handles so that she can serve as usher. Living Grace installed automatic door-opening pads on two primary doors so she and others can enter without waiting for assistance. The church is renovating the restrooms, especially the door handles, so that Christy can get back out once she enters the women's room! Members are now looking to reach out to others who could  benefit from the improved accessibility.

Christy and friend standing at microphone with cross on fabric banner on the lecturn front
Offering the opening prayer
Christy works to increase awareness in the South Georgia Conference by representing disability concerns on the Advocacy team. In that role she offered the opening prayer for Annual Conference this year. Last year she wrote How Accessible Are We? for the South Georgia Advocate, urging churches to find ways to become more wheelchair-friendly.

Christy was amazed by the support from her church. "I couldn't believe they would do this for me!" she stated. At the same time she believes that many congregations could assist others who also lack access to safe, affordable, accessible housing. She calls us to overcome our fears and find ways to get involved. 
A Place to Call Home in Nashville
In 1988, Belmont UMC in Nashville faced a decision about the best use for a house on the church campus. Learning of a housing shortage for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the church began planning for what became Homeplace. This non-profit corporation has provided a permanent home for three women through a unique church and community partnership.
Most of the 14 board members belong to Belmont. They offer in-kind support including legal and architectural services. One installed new kitchen cupboards when the house was being set up. If board members cannot do something, they seek out others who can! Sunday school classes provide yard and house maintenance. Church members have sewn quilts for the home. At the same time, residents have made cards and crosses used in the church welcome packet. 
Although the women are free to worship anywhere, or not to attend worship, all have
A short woman opens a wrought iron screen door and smiles
Welcome to Homeplace
chosen to affiliate with Belmont. Many members tell of receiving a hug from a resident just when they needed one. Others remember a resident's baptism and her affirmation that "I love Jesus, Jesus loves me!" making clear that God comes to all people. "The women have been a huge gift to us. They are a part of the community of faith and make it richer and better," said pastor Heather Harriss.

A visit to Homeplace reveals a house set in a typical neighborhood. When the church needed the space occupied by the original house, the board leased a house from Belmont University for a dollar a year. Rooms are decorated according to the resident's tastes, and the home is filled with photos from activities enjoyed together over the years. The costs of basic care are covered by the women's SSI income through a state waiver program. The church budget supplements this, and offers occasional grants for big ticket items such as exercise equipment and a new computer. 

An older two-story house with 2 dormers and a little library in front of it
Homeplace house
The home does not face the industry-typical staffing shortages because staff members enjoy their work and even request more hours. One caregiver has worked 24 years for Homeplace, and though technically retired still fills in as needed. Former staff members remain friends with the residents, taking them home for holidays or in one case inviting a resident to serve as bridesmaid.

Integration within the community is an important value. Church members stop by to take a resident out for ice cream or garage sale shopping. While retired now (with a retirement party coming soon), for many years the women held jobs in addition to attending day programs. One woman liked to straighten shelves in a local store, and was noticed and hired to do what she loved to do. Empowered by having money of her own, she independently bought and brought home a cat that was offered for sale in the store parking lot! 

Challenges come in the form of changes in government funding priorities, and in the health status of the residents as they age. Staffing now includes awake staff at night, and support from hospice for one resident who is nearing the end of her life. The church has made a lifetime commitment to these women, and promises each the chance to complete their lives at home, surrounded by loved ones.

Apartment Complex in North Carolina Offers Supported Living 
Providing housing for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is part of the culture of the Western North Carolina Annual Conference. Many NC churches partner with UMAR, the conference agency that provides housing, training, work, and arts opportunities for over 350 persons. Therefore, when the Huntersville United Methodist Church purchased property for a new church building, they included extra land to donate for the building of what they assumed would be a group home. In line with the realization that people with disabilities mostly prefer independent rather than congregate living, UMAR suggested a supported apartment complex instead. Named for long-time UMAR supporters (and 2003 Pitzer Award recipient) Margaret and Bishop Lawrence McCleskey, the apartments were constructed in 2012.
Man in wheelchair with his accessible apartment kitchen behind him
Adam shows his accessible apartment kitchen

Each of the nine apartment one-bedroom units is self-contained. Some are fully wheelchair accessible. Most residents hold jobs and participate in community programs. What makes this setting unique is the provision of support based on individual needs. Residents may receive assistance doing grocery shopping, learning how to do laundry, or budgeting. As little as five hours of services a week may ensure success. Outside programs are tapped if an individual needs personal care assistance. The key staff person is on-call via cell phone and can return if a crisis arises. Over time, the need for support has lessened and several residents have moved into fully independent settings.

The complex features a community center with a laundry room, full kitchen, living room, and tables for shared meals or playing games.  Residents gather to watch sports events on the large screen TV. All programming is strictly voluntary, and most socialization occurs naturally as residents visit back and forth in their apartments. Many of the residents walk next door to attend church services at the Huntersville UMC, where they are fully integrated as members, participants, and volunteers with food pantry, maintenance, and other projects.

Brick one story apartment buildings surround a lawn on three side
McClesky Apartments
Building the apartments required partnership with a number of organizations and donors. HUD funding covered most construction costs, which allows rent to be set at an affordable rate for tenants with limited incomes. Rent covers the majority of the expenses, but donations help with extras.

When asked what she would do differently if given another opportunity, UMAR President and CEO Marilyn Garner shared a dream of apartments embedded in a setting that is home to individuals from diverse backgrounds. If there were seniors living nearby, these tenants would be more than happy to help carry groceries and assist with chores. Interaction with veterans or single mothers getting back on their feet could also be mutually beneficial. Marilyn believes that being part of a larger living community would be the next step towards "helping residents be all they can be."

Friendship House at Duke Provides More than Just Housing
How does one bring about transformation in seminary students, helping them see that all persons are created in God's image? Perhaps transformation takes place outside the classroom, in authentic relationships. To that end, United Methodist-affiliated Duke Theological Seminary is exploring what it means for students to live in community with young adults who have intellectual disabilities.

The Friendship House model began at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, MI, and was brought to Duke by its founder Matt Floding. At Duke each of four apartment suites houses three seminary students and one young adult with a disability. The residents remain longer than the students, but the aim is to move into a more independent living situation by the time they are no longer young adults.
A diverse group of students and residents play guitar and other musical instruments during worship in a Friendship House apartment living room
Worshiping at Friendship House at Duke

Everyone in the program commits to the principles of becoming community by celebrating, eating,and praying together. In practice this means that participants share a Sunday night meal, celebrate milestones, and make time for prayer and theological reflection. Discussing theology takes on a different dimension when seminarians need to explain themselves in ways that allow everyone to join in the conversation. The openness with which the residents share prayer concerns helps the seminary students to be more real and vulnerable in their own prayers.

Students find many benefits from participating. One student who lived in the program from its inception noted that having resident friends helped to keep him grounded in the community, and to see connections between his studies and issues in the surrounding city. He learned that being in community meant making time to just hang out, and to be available for the tough times (someone getting sick in the middle of the night) as well as the fun times. A resident wrote an individualized Haiku poem for the student's birthday - of the best presents he has ever received because it showed how much the roommate understood and cared about him.

The movement is growing. One recent graduate is taking the model to the medical school arena. Vanderbilt has started a Friendship House and is expanding to a second house in partnership with Belmont University. Others are considering adapting the program for undergraduate students. An umbrella association, Friendship House Partners USA, offers on-line information and a handbook to download. Ultimately each program needs to fit its own context and develop its own structure and procedures.

Several of the housing units are owned by non-profit agencies, one by the host seminary, and one by a housing corporation. The model works because it is self-sufficient, offering affordable rents and limiting the use of paid employees. To be accepted into the program, residents must be able to care for personal needs. This is often the first move after leaving their parents' home and they may lack important independent living skills. While the seminary students are not caregivers or supervisors, working things out in community may require teaching social skills and offering feedback when roommates make self-limiting choices. Transformation comes in the messy process of learning what it means to be uniquely gifted individuals working together to form a community.

News: Naomi Mitchum Receives the 2016 Pitzer Award
On October 9, 2016, DisAbility Ministries Committee Chair Sharon McCart visited Chapelwood UMC in Houston, TX to present the 2016 Robert M. Pitzer Award to Naomi Mitchum, a longtime member of that congregation. 
Woman in power wheelchair smiling as standing woman holds the award.  The congregation members behind them are standing and applauding.
Sharon presents award to Naomi

The Pitzer Award recognizes outstanding contributions to the Committee's mission, which is "Through advocacy, education and empowerment, the Committee will lead the denomination in creating a culture where people with disabilities are fully included in all aspects of worship, leadership, mission and ministry."

With a long history in Christian education and disability ministry, Naomi Mitchum embodies the sharing of knowledge, compassion and leadership that enables this mission to advance. She is a mentor, teacher, editor, example and role model to those of us working in disability ministries. Without her and others like her, our task would be even more difficult. Her books, Every Child can Bloom in the Inclusive Classroom and Quick Look for Volunteer Emergency Responders: A Guide for Aiding Persons with Disabilities are packed with practical and usable information. Her website is the same. She has been of enormous help on several of the DisAbility Ministries Committee's projects, from the Leader's Guide for the United Methodist Women's "Disability and the Church" study to confirmation curriculum for adults with intellectual disabilities and more. 

The DisAbility Ministries Committee of the UMC thanks Naomi for all she has done and all she continues to do to move the UMC toward full acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities. Congratulations, Naomi!                                    (Submitted by Sharon McCart)

Upcoming Events
Giving Tuesday Global Ministries banner stating Because we have received_ we give light_  give love_ give life

November 29, 2016                                                     Giving Tuesday - Global Ministries

Please consider a generous gift to the committee Advance #3021054, which will be used to help local churches improve accessibility and implement disability ministries.  

March 10, 2017 That All May Worship - Pathways to Powerful Inclusion
                        Virginia Beach, VA
The 5th biennial event of the Faith Inclusion Network of Hampton Roads brings together a wealth of nationally-known speakers for a one-day training.  See more information and register through Eventbrite.

June 5-8, 2017 Summer Institute on Theology and Disability                         Azusu, CA

The 8th annual gathering explores the intersections between faith and disability from a global, interfaith perspective.  The call for workshops and luncheon roundtable discussions is open until Jan. 2017 - see the   Faith and Disability website for details. 
Here are the sources of information on the housing crisis provided above:

May the Spirit of the One who loves us inspire us to reach out and make a difference!
DisAbility Ministries Committee of The United Methodist Church 
Contact any of us through the Committee email address .