Donors Create Communities of Belonging for Students
“I’ve never been to a sleepover at someone’s house because I’ve never been invited,” Andrew told his friends and me.
Andrew’s Circle of Friends — a network of student volunteers who commit to surround and support a student with a disability — immediately became quiet, thinking about what their friend just said.
Though Andrew’s Circle had covered many topics during their sixth grade year — such as conversation starters to use while walking between classes, appropriate responses when a peer pushes you by mistake, rules for new games introduced in P.E., and previews of field trips and schedule changes — they had overlooked asking Andrew to participate in after-school activities.
His friends needed to be reminded to intentionally include him outside of the school walls.
Andrew’s confession opened the door for me to talk with Andrew and his peers about the games kids play at home. Andrew had never heard of the crazy game called “Spoons”. What began as a sobering conversation about after school activities turned into a learning opportunity for all.
Andrew enthusiastically learned how to play Spoons, and his peers learned an important life lesson: friendship is intentional.
Andrew is not alone in his experience of friendship. From my conversation with teachers, I have discovered that while students may be nice, helpful, or friendly to students with disabilities, parents often express a desire for their child to be more fully known – a participant in reciprocal, meaningful friendships beyond the classroom. Intentionality on everyone’s part is necessary to create environments where belonging and mutuality can take place.
Thanks to the faithful support of donors, my CLC Network colleagues and I can come alongside Christian and Catholic schools to ask the tough questions and hold individuals and schools accountable to creating communities where each student— regardless of their ability — is known, celebrated, and loved.
As we serve sixty-five schools in nine states this year, our team is excited about the meaningful friendships that could develop among students with varying abilities and their peers through Circle of Friends and similar groups.
Fueled by donor gifts, we are eager to come alongside more groups like Andrew’s to help them grow in their understanding, knowledge, and love for one another.
Ultimately, we seek to help them grow more like Christ within the community God calls us to in 1 Corinthians 12:27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
Intentional, social inclusion reflects our faith.
-Social inclusion gives students the opportunity to show Christ-like love to others.
-Social inclusion helps kids understand that they have more similarities than differences. We are all children of God and each experience a need to belong.
-Social inclusion promotes the growth of everyone’s self-image as students better understand their own strengths and challenges and how they can help one another.
-Even if students do not become “best friends”, intentional friendships allow students to become more comfortable as they grow in their understanding of each other’s needs and desires.
-God created us for interdependent community. Because this often does not happen naturally for persons with disabilities (and some without), we must be intentional about relationships.
-Social inclusion impacts a community of believers. The interactions students have with persons who are different from themselves will impact their futures as they become neighbors, church members, business owners, and government officials.
Make a contribution to All Belong to help us create communities of belonging for persons of all abilities.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2017 Inclusive newsletter.
Becky Tubergen is the director of school services at All Belong.