Frontline Initiative Spirituality

Training natural supports in your faith community


Lisa Burcke is project director of Direct Support Professional Opportunity at the Arc of Mississippi.

Quality of life is in the details. We are made to concentrate on the bread and butter of fee-based services for people with disabilities and never seem to get to the bread and wine of life. Recently, members of the congregation from the Chapel of the Cross Episcopal Church in Madison, Mississippi contacted the Arc of Mississippi with an interesting question: What could we teach a group of volunteers from their church that would qualify them to support their pastor’s family with regard to their son with disabilities?

Easy answer: use the College of Direct Support. There are so many courses and lessons that speak directly to natural supports. A curriculum of 29 lessons was put together which included portions of You’ve Got a Friend, Safety, Intro to Developmental Disabilities, Positive Behavior Supports, Supporting Healthy Lives, Maltreatment of Vulnerable Adults, Teaching People with Developmental Disabilities, and Community Inclusion. Every lesson selected addressed specific needs expressed by the volunteers.

“The lessons were of immense benefit to me because I had no experience around people with disabilities,” said Barbara, a church volunteer. “I had great fears that I would do something inappropriate or not be vigilant enough which could cause injury to the child. The lessons gave me the confidence and enthusiasm to spend time with our pastor’s son with Chapel of the Cross, Madison, MS out fear. The lessons were crucial in that they instructed me to do the things the child wanted to do as opposed to what I thought he should do. For example, at the Natural Science Museum he only wanted to watch the alligators. Normally, I would have wanted him to view everything in the museum but I came to understand that watching the alligators was the most meaningful to him. The lessons also helped me communicate with him and know how to help him understand and utilize proper behavior. I highly recommend these lessons for people who have no experience with persons with disabilities not only will they help specific situations, but they changed my total outlook on all who have disabilities. I am no longer afraid to look people with disabilities in the eye and greet them cheerfully.”

The College of Direct Support is managed not according to the number of DSPs employed but by the number of people being served and supported. This design purposefully allows the curriculum to be used by all of the people who interact with a person with disabilities. Pastors, Sunday school teachers, peers involved in youth and adult groups, nursery workers, and others would benefit from such an opportunity but none more than the person they support.

Quality of life is often measured by the number of unpaid (natural) supports in a person’s life. If Medicaid doesn’t pay for the support, does that mean the support is not valid or needed? Consider the spiritual lives of the men, women, and children you support. The College of Direct Support can facilitate the strengthening of relationships with other members of their congregation. The essence of who and what we are is contained within the relationships we have with others as well as our Creator. Help others be accessible to people they care about and you will have made a difference.