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Ruby and Friends: Delighting in Community

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Ruby (pictured second from left) enjoys participating in worship alongside her friends at Living Stones Academy (Grand Rapids, MI). 

“I just wanted my daughter to be in a school where the bell rang, and everyone ran out to recess,” said Philip Douse, as he and his wife, Jodi, recalled their dreams for their twelve-year-old daughter, Ruby.

With a smile that lights up a room, Ruby is a joyful girl, full of delight and love for those around her. She communicates with expressions, subtle movements, laughter, and groans most understood by those closest to her.

Living with cerebral palsy in a world not accustomed to Ruby’s needs has made her parents’ dreams of birthday party invitations, school supply shopping trips, and recess participation difficult for their daughter. They did not think a traditional Christian education full of genuine friendships, weekly chapels, homework, and school bells was an option for Ruby — until they approached Living Stones Academy (LSA), an All Belong partner in Grand Rapids, MI.

Radical inclusion and diversity are central to LSA’s mission. Students of all ethnicities, economic backgrounds, and abilities are represented within the 160-student preschool through sixth-grade neighborhood school. In the eight years since the school’s founding, Living Stones Academy’s definition of what it means to welcome all members of Christ’s body is continually evolving. When Ruby’s parents approached LSA in Spring 2017 about her enrollment, the school desired to enroll her and knew their mission compelled it, but they were unsure of what this would entail. Thanks to faithful All Belong donors, teacher consultants came alongside school staff, providing confidence and tools to help Ruby and her family find belonging within the school’s community.

Lauren Newhuis, educational support services teacher, recalled All Belong’s challenge to embrace creativity: “We wanted to find a way for Ruby to participate in the school sledding party. Our staff got creative and had Ruby sit with a peer on the sled. It was the most joyful experience for Ruby and everyone involved!”

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“Olympic Bobsled” is a favorite recess activity for Ruby and her friends. Her friends are creative too. Inspired by the Winter Olympics, Ruby’s friends play “Olympic Bobsled” at recess; it’s not uncommon to hear Ruby squeal with delight as her friends vigorously push her across the playground. They never tire of this fun game!

Ruby loves spending time with her friends, creating a resounding joy that is felt throughout the school. Her presence has led to conversations among students about accessibility and the gifts and needs that every person has — a lens that will forever shape how these young students see the world. “Ruby has brought more joy to our school. She’s happy all the time and very nice to all her friends. She’s changed our classroom,” said her friend, Megan, who is quick to grab her hand in worship, work alongside her in class, and be present with Ruby when she is anxious. Megan continued, “Ruby has taught me that it doesn’t matter what people look like on the outside but what they’re like on the inside. What matters is their heart.”

Jodi and Philip are grateful — along with the LSA family — for the community enriched by Ruby’s presence and the ways they are growing together as the body of Christ. “The doctor told us Ruby would never walk or talk, and that we’d lose all our friends,” said Philip, “Well, she never walks, and she never talks, but we sit here because we have new friends.”

Perhaps the most radical part of inclusion is not the person being included, but the way inclusion makes the community more complete — a vivid picture of the body of Christ.

Katie Barkley 01
Katie Barkley

Katie Barkley was the marketing and communications manager at All Belong.