Inclusive Faith-Based Communities Symposium
Keep Austin Faith Inclusive Symposium organizers (left to right) Suzanne Potts, Judith Sokolow and Kathy Hernandez.
Faith communities may have issues, questions and concerns that affect their ability and willingness to welcome and fully include people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Many faith communities in Texas have done a great deal to advocate for and serve the needs of Texans with IDD. Many are interested in networking and connecting with other organizations to receive training and assistance to provide an environment and services that would allow them to be more inclusive.
The Austin Interfaith Inclusion Network (AIIN) was created through partnerships with the OneStar Foundation, Jewish Family Service and Texas A&M University’s Center on Disability and Development. The goal of the AIIN was to promote the inclusion of people with IDD and their loved ones in faith-based practices, community services and programs. Inclusion successes, concerns and barriers would inform two annual symposiums that would feature expert presentation and focus on best practices, goal setting and collaborative problem solving.
OneStar Foundation conducted outreach to over 800 faith-based and disability organizations to begin the project. The initial meetings were held separately, and then all groups came together to form the initial AIIN.
The first symposium of the project, titled “Keep Austin Faith Inclusive.” included a keynote presentation by author Mark Pinsky, a presentation by Al Condelucci from United Cerebral Palsy, and sessions to create action plans for faith communities. The initial symposium had over 70 registered participants. The second symposium provided strategies, resources and next steps for faith and disability-related organizations to work toward greater inclusion. The second symposium had 100 participants. The event featured the first ever Faith and Inclusion Awards, Bill Gaventa as keynote speaker, clergy and disability panels, and self-advocates as additional speakers.
Each of the symposiums was followed by a general evaluation survey. A community inclusiveness survey was also conducted to evaluate lasting effects of the first symposium. This information allowed for continued outreach efforts, stressed the importance of individual supports, and need for changes within faith organizations. Attitudinal barriers remained the largest challenge reported for members with IDD.
The “Every Member Matters” toolkit on faith and inclusion in English and Spanish was developed for use and distribution at the symposiums. It was utilized alongside a website with resources, links and materials on faith and inclusion. This information and toolkits were also sent to Alaska, Minnesota, Illinois, California and Arizona for use beyond Texas. In addition to the outreach and education materials, AIIN representatives presented and provided training at conferences and through online webinars.
- Established an ongoing network of 150+ members on faith and inclusion
- Held two symposiums with 170+ attendees
- Held training presentations at three national conferences and three Texas conferences
- Distributed over 2,000 copies (English) and 500 copies (Spanish) of “Every Member Matters” toolkit statewide and nationally
- Filmed two “Central Texas Stories of Faith and Inclusion” video series with eight stories from self-advocates on faith and inclusion
- Scholarships were provided to 10 AIIN members for 2014
- Faith and Disability Inclusion Awards were solicited and awarded in both 2013 and early 2015