Disability Network Lakeshore is a center for independent living in Holland, Mich., dedicated to “rethinking disability . . . raising awareness, and making accommodations.” Each year since 2011, the group has been presenting the Ability Award to recognize individuals making progress in the advancement of creating inclusive communities. The 2018 recipient is Rev. Mark Stephenson, director of Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church.
Stephenson was selected for the award from among 13 nominees. It was presented at an October 29 dinner featuring David Rendall, author of The Freak Factor, as keynote speaker.
“This is an opportunity to recognize not just the one who’s chosen for the award but to recognize all these nominees and for the community to celebrate and to say, ‘Wow, there is some really good work going on,’ most of it behind the scenes,” Stephenson said.
The ministry of Disability Concerns, which Stephenson has served as director since 2006, strives to create communities where “Everybody belongs. Everybody serves.” It offers resources to churches encouraging healthier communities that embody the whole body of Christ.
“I happen to be a point person for that ministry, but there are just huge numbers of people doing a huge amount of work across North America, so to me, this is a recognition of the hard work of a lot of people,” Stephenson said.
Todd Whiteman, director of Disability Network Lakeshore, agreed that the annual award is a time to see work of many individuals honored. “This is as much about awareness as it is anything,” Whiteman said, noting that celebrating acts of inclusion generates new work in that area. “Every year I get emails almost immediately after the event asking, ‘Hey can we meet; I want to talk about how I can [begin a new project].”
Stephenson was previously recognized by Bethesda Lutheran Communities Directors with an award distinguishing those who are dedicated to serving and helping the spiritual lives of those with disabilities. That recognition was made in 2014.