Karen Jackson knows the many challenges faced by parents of
children with disabilities. A wife and working mom of three, including a
daughter Samantha who has autism, she has lived and learned more than
could be captured in a college course about advocating for a child with
But, far from keeping her lessons to herself, for
more than 11 years, Jackson has been dedicated to helping other families
raising their children to thrive as much as they can in school, society
at large and, most importantly, in the Church.
Catholic, was already facilitating a parent support group at her church
in Virginia, when, on Jan. 1, 2008, she prayed a specific desire of her
“I prayed that if there was something more I could do to
help other families affected by disability to find a church home, I
wanted to do that,” said Jackson.
On the internet, Jackson found
resources from other Christian denominations, including the Rev. Bill
Gaventa and his efforts on faith inclusion and Erik Carter’s book,
“Including People with Disabilities in Faith Communities.”
book) has a section on starting a network,” said Jackson. “I knew then
that I had my mission to begin Faith Inclusion Network (FIN) of Hampton
The process of starting the organization and continuing with her other responsibilities was daunting.
really had no idea what I was doing,” said Jackson. “I struggled with
balancing everything when we first got started. I was excited and
passionate and had to realize that my family didn’t necessarily share
this excitement and passion with me. I had to figure out how to balance
my teaching, ministry and family, including caring for my daughter,
Samantha, who needs 24/7 supervision.”
And there was a sometimes-steep learning curve.
on, I contacted a priest who had a disability about being involved in
FIN,” said Jackson. “I wanted to hold a prayer service for those who
needed healing from the hurt they had experienced from being excluded
from faith communities. I did not express myself well enough, however.
only heard ‘healing’ (‘curing’) and thought I wanted to hold a prayer
service to pray for (a cure) for people with disabilities. I learned a
valuable lesson in being very careful about how to speak about healing
with the disability community.”
Jackson’s home parish supported her efforts, hosting Faith Inclusion Network’s first meeting in May 2008 and a book launch in 2015 for Jackson’s, “Loving Samantha.” But the network rapidly grew into its own office space.
May 2009, Faith Inclusion Network held its first conference and added
services, including networks for families to connect with welcoming
congregations, local workshops and “community conversations” on faith
and disability topics. An annual clergy breakfast brings local pastors
and rabbis together for sharing a meal and more.
“This has been
very popular so far,” said Jackson, “and has connected us with people in
the area we might not have had the chance to meet otherwise.”
year’s retreat and conference (March 7-8) will bring together people
from across the U.S. And Jackson and her team have more plans in the
works, including a national faith and disability leaders’ network and
ways to help others around the country to start a chapter.
For all the network’s growth, Jackson knows its heart remains family and the daughter who inspires her.
Samantha cannot tell me what she is thinking,” said Jackson, “I
appreciate not only her participation, but also her inspiration behind
event ideas. And I also appreciate that she seems to proudly wear her
Pratt is an award-winning author, speaker and patient advocate. Her website is www.maureenpratt.com.