Thanks to a fruitful partnership with a Chicago-based organization, Our Lady of Light Parish in Cubero, NM has been able to make accommodations for disabled parishioners.
The Pathways Foundation is a non-profit group centered in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and one branch of their outreach efforts concerns church accessibility for parishioners with disabilities.
“The Pathways Foundation honors congregations across the United States,” said Joanne Meyer, who represents the “Inclusion in Worship” branch of the foundation. “We give annual grants of up to $1,000 to parishes that have parishioners with disabilities and want to be more accessible.”
Sr. Ellen Corcoran, the parish administrator for Our Lady of Light, saw an article in Catholic Extension magazine about the work of the Pathways Foundation, and realized that her church needed to be more accommodating.
“She read the article and it really opened her eyes,” said Meyer. “They had never thought about accessibility.”
Sr. Corcoran decided to get the young people of the parish involved. One of the options available through the foundation is the “Junior Open Hearts Award”, a grant that is open for applicants between the ages of five and 18.
“I contacted some of the youth in our parish and asked if they wanted to help, and they were very willing,” said Sr. Corcoran. “The foundation has training on their website that provides awareness of what some of the needs of the disabled might be. Once they took that training and started looking at our parish, we began to realize what we needed to do to make our parish more accessible.”
That was several years ago. Since then the parish has applied for and received a grant for each yearly project. The first to be tackled was the issue of parish restrooms, which were not wheelchair-accessible. The next year, Sr. Corcoran and the youth group noticed that the gravel in the parking lot made it difficult for those with wheelchairs or walkers to move from their cars to the church entrance. They successfully applied for the grant a second time and were able to install a concrete slab which allows cars to drive up and unload disabled passengers.
Other projects have included improvements to outdoor lighting, a ramp to the church doors, and the removal of a couple of pews inside the church.
“In the training they explained that it’s good to have a place inside the Church that is more welcoming for people with walkers and wheelchairs, so we removed a pew on each side,” said Sr. Corcoran. “People who had been coming before that point had to stay at the back, so now they feel that they’re more a part of the assembly. One woman was so delighted when we showed her that she now had a new place to sit, with her family members able to sit next to her.”
In the future, Sr. Corcoran and the youth of the parish hope to add a ramp to the parish hall.
“This congregation is a wonderful example of who we like to help,” said Meyer. “Once they realized what needed to be done with accessibility, they just took off with it.”
Sr. Corcoran said that she feels grateful for both the involvement of the young people and the help provided by the Foundation.
“It was wonderful of them to give us a greater awareness of how to make our church more accessible,” she said. “We need to make sure all people feel welcomed.”
To read more about the Pathways Foundation, or to find out about their grants, visit pathways.org