Sharon’s Story

“All I ever wanted was to belong.”

SharonWhen I met Sharon, her life was devoid of the one thing she wanted more than anything. She wanted to belong to a synagogue, to her Jewish community. It took over 14 years to find a synagogue that would accept and accommodate her needs. Imagine being in Sharon’s shoes. She had never even said the Mourner’s Kaddish for her mom or dad in a synagogue.
That all changed for her one morning when she received a visitor.

I was that visitor.

Eleven years later Sharon is fully involved in her synagogue. She reads from the Torah, chairs a committee, and belongs to the Sisterhood. She is an active member, well-known in the congregation, not for her disability, but for what she adds to the fabric of the synagogue.
Sharon and thousands more people like her who are disconnected from their sacred community because of disability are the reason I started Inclusion Innovations. In order for Sharon to achieve her goals, the synagogue had to become the place where she could authentically belong.
Inclusion Innovations is a change leader for sacred communities to develop inclusive practices and programs that invite, encourage and welcome people with disabilities and their families to participate with meaningful and self-determined choices.
I founded Inclusion Innovations to expand my practice in sacred community inclusion based on my experiences as Program Manager of the award-winning Jewish Community Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities, a program of Jewish Family and Children’s Service in Minneapolis. Inclusion Innovations is a young and vibrant organization built upon the sacred mandate of including all people as communicated to us through Biblical texts and the writings of our ancestors.
Inclusion Innovations takes our good intentions and works with our client partners to turn them into meaningful actions that support a shift to welcome all with the greatest understanding that everyone has a role to play in sacred community life. When we are all invited to share our own gifts and strengths, we all benefit.
As a parent I know firsthand how difficult it is to navigate the world when a family member has a disability. Nearly 20% of families are impacted by disability. My family found understanding, comfort and acceptance in our own synagogue. Now I consult with congregations across North America to assess and envision how they can provide the welcome mat for people with disabilities and their family members.
Shelly Christensen
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