When it comes to disability ministry conferences, The McLean Bible Church Accessibility Summit is the gold standard. Celebrating its 13th year, this years summit with 30 workshops and over 60 disability-related exhibitors, did not disappoint. Jackie Mills-Fernald held a lovely pre-pre-conference luncheon for those of us speaking. It was such a treat to hug and meet in person others whom we only seem to connect with in virtual ways throughout the remainder of the year.
(Pictured above at Jackie’s luncheon [l to r] sitting Barbara Dittrich, Katie Wetherbee, standing Jolene Philo, Cindi Ferrini, and Rebecca Hamilton)
Afterward, tours of the remarkable, cutting edge Jill’s House respite center were given, with updates by Director Cameron Doolittle on their national outreach to replicate this model.
Arriving at the Summit with my own head barely attached, I discovered that I had failed to print out the most important of our session’s handouts. As I approached Jackie Mills-Fernald in a panic, she assisted me in her unflappable, characteristically humorous way. We journeyed through the church with Jolene’s flash drive on a quest to print the hand-outs. Unable to find a stapler upstairs, Jackie led me through the Beautiful Blessings area searching for one. Initially unable to locate a stapler, we did find some nifty sheriff’s badges, one of which I was able to sport for the remainder of the evening. Sensing that I was drunk with power, announcing that I was the Sheriff of the Accessibility Summit, Jackie graced my other colleagues with their own badges later in the evening. (Note: Shared humor makes for great camaraderie during a conference.)
Prior to the main session, 3 pre-conference workshops were offered. Jackie Mills-Fernald and her outstanding team from McLean brought participants up to speed on the inclusion and special programming they do so well in their presentation “Access UNplugged”. A tour of McLean’s Access Ministry facilities was included, and seeing what they have really helps visitors imagine how they could adapt these things in their own church. “Reaching Out to Special Families” was another of the concurrent workshops with an excellent panel of some of my favorite people including Jolene Philo, Karen Jackson, Lisa Jamieson, and Cindi & Joe Ferrini. Each of these parents of children with special needs were able to share from their heart the needs and challenges facing families that churches should be addressing. The final workshop, which I attended, “Soaring Toward Greater Independence” offered a parent/educator/doctor panel including Emily Colson, Barbara Newman & Dr. Jane Barbin. What struck me most about this presentation was the creative problem-solving discussed when it came to seemingly impossible life-skills training.
(Pictured above Emily Colson, Barbara Newman & Dr. Jane Barbin)
After the pre-conference workshops were completed, participants had an opportunity to visit the many exhibitors on display. That’s where I was able to catch up with the fun-loving and innovative, Matt Mooney of 99 Balloons. I was able to tell him that our ministry had accidentally plagiarized the name of his respite program rEcess. Ever the gentleman, Matt embodied the nature of the mutually supportive leadership we share at the conference, stating he didn’t care that we had unintentionally copied his name, he was just glad to see us providing respite.
As dinner was provided, relationships continued to blossom both with other leaders and families seeking information. I not only had fun connecting with my colleagues from Key Ministry and Saddleback Church, but I was also able to chat with a parent we serve who was there from Oregon, another leader there from Colorado, and a local sibling attending the conference. Needless to say, this creates a great incubator of thought.
If people were getting drowsy after the dinner, speaker Clay Dyer certainly woke them up! Opening up the Summit’s general session, Dyer motivated attendees with his personal story. Born with no legs, no left arm, and only a partial right arm, Dyer will kick most people’s tail. He approaches life with humor, sass, and no tolerance for copping out. If you weren’t able to attend the conference, you would do yourself a great favor by checking out his videos on his website, especially on a day where you’re feeling sorry for yourself.
(Pictured above Clay Dyer whose motto is “If I can, you can.”)
As the rain poured down, Summit attendees concluded the night by making their way to their first workshop. I had the great privilege of presenting on the topic of Parent to Parent Mentoring with my colleague and fellow Board member, Jolene Philo. We found participants to be fully engaged as we discussed best practices in mentoring and made recommendations based on the program our organization had spent two years developing. A colleague had to finally extract me from the classroom as people had lined up to speak with me at length after the session, a good problem indeed.
(Pictured above Barb Dittrich, Executive Director of SNAPPIN’ MINISTRIES answers questions on parent mentoring)
While I was obviously not able to attend the other 11 concurrent workshops at that time, I did run into people who were raving about Harmony Hensley’s barefoot insights on recruiting volunteers, Katie Wetherbee & Amy Kendall’s wisdom on the culture of the classroom, and the Ferrini’s reassurance regarding siblings of children with special needs.
Once back at the hotel, a number of us enjoyed some time together debriefing and getting better acquainted over a soda, water or tea. Our waiter may have been cranky, but that didn’t dampen our joy in connecting with one another. Blissfully exhausted, we didn’t make it a very late night, knowing that we needed to get an early start in the morning.