By Deb Silverthorn
The Faith Inclusion Network of Dallas (FIND) Symposium is a day of action for parents, educators and faith leaders. Programming begins with registration and refreshments at 9 a.m., and the first keynote at 9:40 a.m., on Tuesday, Feb. 25, at Temple Emanu-El, 8500 Hillcrest Road.
“We are moving beyond the concept of inclusion to the goal of integration. It’s time for everyone to feel as if they truly belong with their congregational family,” said JFS Director of Special Needs Partnership and Programs Lorraine Friedman. “The Faith Inclusion Network of Dallas event is a day of action — a day to get things done.
“Regardless of the faith we follow, we’re all called in our traditions to be inclusive. We are created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image,” said Friedman. “From this day there will be action, people in our communities will be affected and together we’ll be whole, complete and more meaningful. We’ll bring that to the families living with special needs and each of them will bring that to us. Opening the dialogue to create true communities of belonging is what the day is all about.”
Rev. Bill Gaventa, founding director of the Collaborative on Faith and Disability and the Institute on Theology and Disability, will be one of the symposium’s keynote speakers. “There are all kinds of people in God’s creation and we need to learn to bring everyone together, to appreciate the gifts and talents of all,” said Rev. Gaventa. “The only label should be ‘child of God.’ Each of us is meaningful.”
He added, “We need to relearn what it means to take care of each other. Beyond inclusion, it is more important that people feel like they belong, that they are connected — that is priceless.” said Rev. Gaventa. “It is the gifts and strengths of every human that we must focus on and we will all be the better for it.”
At 10:45 a.m., and again at 1:15 p.m., one-hour breakout sessions will have parents, educators and faith leaders hearing from community experts, together sharing their experiences, strengths and hopes.
From noon to 1 p.m., during a one-hour lunch catered by The Market (under Dallas Kosher supervision), guests will hear from Vance Gilmore, director of Belong disABILITY, and Rev. Ramsey Patton, Associate Minister of Care and Engagement Ministries — both of Highland Park United Methodist Church.
Joining Friedman on the FIND advisory council are JFS’ Marketing Manager Jamie Denison; Rev. Tom Hudspeth (Lovers Lane United Methodist Church); Liz Irvin (Highland Park United Methodist Church); Dr. Hind Jarrah (Texas Muslim Women’s Association); Eileen Kreisler (founder of the Lomdim special education project at Temple Emanu-El); Nagla Moussa (National Autism Association of North Texas); Rev. Witek Nowosiad (Children’s Hospital Plano and Beyond Karate); Rabbi Amy Ross (Temple Emanu-El); Alison Schuback, a community member living with special needs, and her father Mike, as well as Melissa Waldon (Catholic Diocese of Dallas).
“We have a responsibility to broaden the scope of how we bring people into our communities, how we serve them and how we make space for them to share their abilities with us,” said Rabbi Ross, Temple Emanu-El’s director of Learning and Innovation, who oversees Youth Learning + Engagement. “We are greater when we come together — clergy, educators, community leaders and families from throughout our city’s faith communities. The lives of those living with special needs and their family members will be enriched, as will all of ours.”
Beginning at 2:30, the group will share in table talks, led by the advisory council, with closing remarks and a goal of boots on the ground immediately bringing action in each sector of the community.
“The Faith Inclusion Network of Dallas symposium is a wonderful opportunity to convene change-makers to improve inclusive practices for those with special needs and their families in places of worship,” said JFS’ CEO Cathy Barker. “We hope to see a great representation of the Jewish community, of all communities. At JFS, we value collaboration and innovation and we think this opportunity will further Dallas’ inclusive movement.”
For more details, or to register for the Feb. 25 FIND symposium (RSVPs requested by Feb. 10), visit find2020.org.
By Deb Silverthorn