by Sally Patton
See me beautiful each and every day. Could you take a chance? Could you find a way to see me shining through In every thing I do, And see me beautiful.
—lyrics by Red Grammer, from the “Teaching Peace” CD
When I started the Involve Project over 14 years ago, I was hoping to find a way to welcome all the children who come into our Unitarian Universalist congregations—even those children who come with a special needs label. I discovered that becoming welcoming is a process of seeing all children as beautiful. This became the essence of the Involve workshops, which then led to effective teaching strategies that help us see the beauty shining through no matter what a child’s behavior or attitude. Now the Involve Project is coming to an end. It is time for religious professionals and volunteer leaders in our congregations to take over the training and teaching.
The Involve Project started in 1999 with a survey of UUs concerning the challenges congregations encountered trying to minister to children with special needs labels. I wrote seven Involve newsletters for religious educators, funded by the Unitarian Sunday School Society and published on the Unitarian Universalist Association website. This helped me obtain a grant from the UU Funding Program to write the book Welcoming Children with Special Needs, A Guidebook for Faith Communities, published in 2004 by the UUA. Next, funding from the Veatch Program allowed me to train religious professionals and volunteer leaders around the country. During my years with the Involve Project, I conducted approximately 85 workshops ranging from four to fifteen hours for approximately 2,000 participants. I gave sermons and talks, consulted with many congregations, and wrote A Faith-Based Sexuality Education Guide for the Inclusion of Children and Youth with Special Needs to go with the UUA’s flagship Our Whole Lives sexuality education curricula.
Equual Access, a UUA Affinity organization, has created and is currently field-testing a disability/ability action program similar to the Welcoming Congregation Program which recognizes congregations that actively welcome LGBTI visitors and members. Rather than me providing training for all the religious professionals whose congregations sought certification, I was asked to write a guide for religious professionals incorporating my workshop material so that each congregation can train their own volunteers to be used in conjunction with my book. I am delighted to be able to end the Involve Project with a concrete resource that religious professionals and congregations can use to become self-sufficient. Empowering religious professionals to welcome all children was the Involve Project’s original intent. I’m glad that the closing of the project leaves supports in place for many more of us to continue the process of seeing all children as beautiful.
One place to find resources developed under the Involve Project remains my website, Embrace the Spirit of the Child. Here you will find: document downloads for the faith-based sexuality education guide and the new training resource, under “Workshop Downloads;” new writing and blogging; information about arranging a private consultation; and more about my second book, Don’t Fix Me I’m Not Broken, Changing Our Minds about Ourselves and Our Children.