Gray Puryear, Vice-President with Karen Jackson, President (Faith Inclusion Network)Karen Jackson is from Norfolk, Virginia. She is a band director for a private K-8 school. Karen Jackson is the mother of three children, including a daughter Samantha who has autism. Karen Jackson is also the Founder and Director of the Faith Inclusion Network. Karen Jackson is an Autism Light because of her leadership of the Faith Inclusion Network and her advocacy for faith opportunities for autistic people.
Karen Jackson founded the Faith Inclusion Network in 2008. Karen Jackson and her family go to Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Norfolk, Virginia, where she serves as a Parish Advocate. The board of directors of the Faith Inclusion Network represent a variety of different faith communities. Karen was inspired to start the Faith Inclusion Network (FIN) by her daughter Samantha who has autism and continues to strive to successfully work out her faith as a teenager in the Catholic Church. The hope since FIN’s conception is to bring together experienced people and inclusive churches to help families integrate their disabled members into a faith community of their choice.
As the President and Founder of the Faith Inclusion Network, Karen Jackson is instrumental in helping to develop and accomplish the mission and goals of the 501c3 organization. The Faith Inclusion Network provides support for people with disabilities to be integrated into faith communities in the South Hamptons Road, Virginia area. According to their website, their mission is “helping faith communities to develop inclusive ministries for people with disabilities and helping families affected by disability to find welcoming and accessible places to worship in South Hampton Roads, Virginia.”
The Faith Inclusion Network (FIN) website has several helpful sections. There are sections about FIN’s mission and history, resources, a listing of participating faith communities divided by geographical area, and stories. One of the practical resources featured on the website is a link to a detailed publication on faith based ministry with disabled persons called Dimensions of Faith. For more information on the Faith Inclusion Network and the resources they provide visit their website at www.faithinclusionnetwork.org.
One of Karen Jackson’s stories of a time when her autistic daughter Samantha taught her about God was featured on a blog at Beliefnet written by Amy Julia Becker. In the story Karen Jackson explains how an occasion when Samantha said sincerely and clearly that “God is Great” taught her a valuable spiritual lesson. She says this about that incident:
But then I got a wonderful little moment from God, a few well chosen words from my daughter who speaks so seldom. I had to agree. God is great. And I realized once again that I am blessed to be a part of Samantha’s world and blessed to be reminded of some of the simplest lessons. God is great and God is good. And I thank God for the many blessings in my life…especially for the one wrapped up in the special package of my beautiful daughter Samantha.
Special thanks to Karen Jackson for helping diverse faith communities to be inviting to people with autism. Perhaps this type of network will be duplicated in other parts of the Nation and World. If you are interested in discussing the Faith Inclusion Network with Karen Jackson email her at Faith Inclusion Network.