If you could take the vision of the body of Christ, as described in 1 Corinthians 12, and put it into practice in supported care homes, you would embody the practices described in this new book by Cara Milne, who serves Christian Reformed Classis Alberta South/Saskatchewan as Regional Disability Advocate. Although Milne never quotes Scripture nor references Christian principles, Building Community: Practical Ways to Build Inclusive Communities for People who Are Vulnerable (2017) paints a beautiful vision for community as the Bible pictures it.
She has particular “vulnerable people” in mind. In the preface, she says, “ . . . my lens has always been from the perspective of someone with a developmental disability. How do we help someone who is unable to connect easily with others? How do paid staff play a role in helping someone make friends? How do we begin to build up someone’s self-esteem in a genuine way?”
The nine brief chapters of Building Community answer these questions and more by addressing language, belonging, inclusive practice, building community both outside and inside the home, taking responsibility, contributing to community, building relationships, and concluding with a top ten list of practices for community building.
Each chapter ends with questions for reflection and discussion. These questions can be used for personal reflection, but they would be even more helpful if support home staff read and discussed a chapter a week over nine weeks.
Although Building Community’s target audience is support home staff, this book gives helpful advice for children and youth ministry directors and church volunteers as well. Her final chapter, "Where do we begin?", specifically applies community building to church programs and other groups such as Scouts. In addition, stories and ideas from the rest of the book can apply in church situations as well. For example, in her chapter on building responsibility, Milne describes the danger of “Velcro staff,” which can be an equal danger when churches support the involvement of a child with developmental disabilities in church programs. As important as they are, people who support others can become a barrier to their making connections with others. To illustrate, Milne describes a relationship that developed between her daughter Natalie and a child with a developmental disability. They attended a weekly class together, but over time Milne noticed that Natalie stopped talking about her new friend. When asked why, Natalie said, “Oh mommy, I don’t have to play with her anymore. The teacher-lady does it now!” That “Velcro” teacher was so stuck to Natalie’s friend that no one, even other kids who had developed a relationship with her, could connect with her.
Memorable stories like this one pepper Milne’s practical book to illustrate the principles she describes, and I appreciate that she includes stories about supporting people in their spiritual concerns. I hope and pray that Building Community gets into many hands; the quality of life of people with developmental disabilities will improve for those whose support persons read it and put it into practice.