American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD)

  • Fellow, 2016 for meritorious contributions to the I/DD field
  • President, 2014-2016, Religion and Spirituality Professional Network

Faith Inclusion Network of Hampton Roads, National Board Advisor

Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month, co-founder and organizer

Jewish Leadership Institute on Disabilities and Inclusion,
co-founder and mentor

I’m Shelly Christensen—and I wear many hats. I’m a wife, mother, grandma, daughter, friend, and professional. While these labels tell you something about me, they don’t tell the whole story. And each one of us has a story.

I was working as the catering manager at our family’s hotel in Minneapolis when one of our children was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in second grade. Of course, I knew it had to be my fault. After I got over my own guilt getting in the way, I began to advocate on his behalf in school. I learned the laws governing students with disabilities and became quite proficient at intimidating educational professionals who brushed off my concerns.

The one place that never posed a struggle was our synagogue religious school. I thought that all religious schools were places of refuge from the constant stream of disability-related challenges. This was not the case.

Although good intentions prevail in many faith-based organizations, turning those intentions into action posed the question of how.

The long story short is that I was hired to work as the program manager of the Minneapolis Jewish Community Inclusion Program. Innovation was the key to working with diverse congregations and other faith-based organizations to help them open their minds, hearts, and doors to supporting people with disabilities and mental health conditions. I also supported many people as they sought to belong and be included in the richness of faith community life.

After thirteen years, I became a full-time consultant and started Inclusion Innovations.

I love the work I get to do, with congregations, faith-based and secular organizations, and colleagues who are part of the growing disability inclusion community. No matter the size, location, or type of organization you are part of, belonging and inclusion are the hallmarks of our faith traditions.

I’m a consultant, keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, and author, working with faith-based organizations internationally. My new book, From Longing to Belonging—A Practical Guide to Including People with Disabilities and Mental Health Conditions in Your Faith Community, is the result of experience, innovation, and belief that everyone who wants to belong, contribute, and participate can do just that!