All Belong Center for Inclusive Education has a proud history of pioneering inclusive education in Christ-centered communities. Today, we draw on 40 years of special education experience and 30 years of inclusive education expertise to faithfully build belonging in Christ-centered schools and congregations.
The Christian Learning Center (now doing business as All Belong Center for Inclusive Education) was founded in 1979 in order to compensate for a lack of non-public, religiously affiliated school services in the greater Grand Rapids (MI) area for students with disabilities. When the Pine Rest Children’s Retreat closed, a group of passionate advocates and parents formed CLC and launched three self-contained, segregated classrooms on the campus of Seymour Christian School.
Sponsored by the Grand Rapids Christian School Association, CLC brought in students from across West Michigan. In order to better serve them, we created CLC Resource Rooms at a number of Christian schools. These served as foundations for launching some of the country’s first inclusive education efforts.
Pioneers for Inclusion
In the late 1980’s, CLC leadership and staff learned about the concept of inclusion, called “supported education” at the time. Pioneering a complete shift in the generally accepted approach to students with intellectual disabilities, physical differences, and/or learning or behavioral challenges, the boards of CLC and Zeeland Christian School approved the launch of West Michigan’s first Christian inclusive education program on Zeeland Christian School’s campus. On August 29, 1989, 17 students with disabilities became the first students to participate in this program.
By the 1990s, parents that enrolled a child using CLC’s services within a Christian School were paying up to $9,500 more per year in additional tuition fees. It was then that CLC established and advocated the concept of Tuition Equity: each Christian school partnering with CLC no longer charged an additional tuition fee to parents of students with disabilities. Christian schools were able to demonstrate that students with disabilities belonged as much as every other student. R.H. “Bear” Berends, executive director from 1981 to 2015, calls this the proudest accomplishment of his career, and we encourage schools to follow this model today.
Growing at a rapid pace, CLC was now providing Reading Recovery services, along with services for students with academic talents. Oostburg Christian School in Wisconsin joined CLC as the first out-of-region satellite program in 1998.
Led by director of evaluation services Doug Bouman, CLC adopted a neurodevelopmental approach to learning as defined by the national non-profit, Schools Attuned, and Dr. Mel Levine’s groundbreaking book, A Mind at a Time. CLC became the only Midwest Regional Training Site certified by Schools Attuned, an honor that remains today.
In celebration of our 35th anniversary in 2014, this short video was created to honor the first-generation of leadership, including R.H. “Bear” Berends, Doug Bouman, Barbara J. Newman, Phil Stegink, Bev Van Noord, Judi Warner, and Greg Yoder.
Becoming a Network
To represent the network of Christian schools serviced by CLC, the organization adopted the DBA (doing business as) CLC Network in 2005. As CLC Network worked with individuals and families within Christian schools, organizational leaders discovered that persons with disabilities were beginning to be welcomed at school, but not always at church. Fueled with a passion for inclusive church community, CLC Network launched the church services division in 2007, led by Barbara J. Newman.
In 2008, CLC Network transitioned from a teacher placement service to a nonprofit consulting and advocacy firm, an important step to bringing our ministry of reconciliation to communities across North America. Today, we continue our work of equipping Christ-centered congregations and schools to glorify God through purposeful, innovative inclusion of persons with varied abilities.
All Belong: Boldly Sharing Our Heart
Launched in 2019, the All Belong brand articulates the heart of our forty-year mission—that persons of all abilities belong within community. The redefined brand identity positions us as the go-to resource for inclusive, Christ-centered communities and shares our commitment to faithfully build belonging. Thanks to the support and efforts of donors, partners, and advocates, together we are creating a world where communities are marked by belonging for persons with varied abilities.