The Dandy Award

Dandelion seeds flying

The Dandy Award comes around once every six months. The National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion gives an award in November and in March, celebrating the month we began, November 2014. Our first Dandy Award was given to two principals at St. Matthew Cathedral School. Located in the shadow of the great University of Notre Dame, in South Bend, Indiana, a principal said yes to a student with Down Syndrome who was a sibling and an integral part of a large, involved family. Rick Becker, the father of Nick, wrote a moving piece about how it felt to be included and welcomed as a family and for Nick. I found it on the Catholic Exchange and emailed Rick about his experience.

http://catholicexchange.com/catholic-schools-syndrome-hospitality

I asked him about Miss Retseck. And he answered all of my questions and more. He revealed that Miss Retseck had retired and that another principal was equally as welcoming, Mrs. Clark. These two amazing women seemed like the perfect recipients for our first Dandy Award.

That image of the dandelion is one we hold dear here. It is the best way we can illustrate the power of inclusion. Those seeds of welcome don’t just take root in one place, they launch into the world and spread their welcome everywhere…because everyone is influenced for the better when students with disabilities are part of the whole.

The Dandy Award is given to a person or people who are being inclusive without any formal system in place, no guidance, no large amount of money involved, no special degrees…just the decision to create a place of welcome and opportunity.

These people do this simply because it is the right thing to do.  No fanfare. No fancy brochures. No power point presentation. They just say yes.

It is done because these people actually live their lives as a social justice mission. They take a gigantic leap of faith — and the net appears. They figure it out and find a way to make it work. They think creatively. They find the funds. They make the decision to be inclusive and that simple decision changes everything. That decision influences children and families and members of the community outside of the school.

It ripples.

And with the Dandy Award, we honor that effort.

Last November we gave the Dandy Award to a principal and priest and faculty at Nativity School in El Monte, California. Sister Stacy and Father Alberto have created an inclusive oasis that is a model for their diocese. Sister Stacy has said YES. Not just one student with a disability is included at Nativity. Sister Stacy has welcomed several students with autism, a student with Down Syndrome and a stroke survivor. It was through Nathaniel, Maria Garcia’s son and a stroke survivor, that I first found out about the work at Nativity. Maria shared her joy at having all of her children attend Nativity together and her palpable excitement for the first day of school.

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[First day of school for Isabella- TK3, Owen – 2nd grade, Nathaniel – kindergarten — it’s no accident a picture of Mary and a prayer is above them.]

 

When we made the award, I asked Maria if she would be my emissary and hand the gifts of our appreciation to Sister Stacy, Father Alberto, Mrs. Martha Aguayo (the school secretary), Mars. Camarena (the kindergarten teacher) and Ms. Rose (the teacher’s assistant). She agreed…little did I know what an amazing job she would do. Maria decided to wait until the beginning of Catholic Schools Week to make the presentation at a school and parish mass. The mayor was there and other notable figures from their town.  Maria made a plaque that can be displayed at the school. [Note to self: all future Dandy Award Winners need a plaque too!]

 

Dandy Award Plaque

It says: “In honor of the inclusive efforts of Nativity School the National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion dedicates this Dandy Award on this day, January 24th, 2016. We are grateful for the leadership and vision of Sister Stacy and the efforts of all faculty and staff at Nativity School to create a school dedicated to compassion, learning, faith and social justice.”

Today, at mass, Sister Stacy, Father Alberto, Mrs. Martha Aguayo, Mrs Camarena and Ms. Rose came up and received their very necessary recognition for a job well done.

And in typical Sister Stacy fashion, who were at their feet? Why the children, of course.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.” and Sister Stacy lives it.

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Through some tears and smiles, claps and cheers, amazing people were thanked and children were welcomed.

No longer on the margins.

Full participants.

At my own mass today, the reading that touched my heart was this:

“Now the body is not a single part, but many.
If a foot should say,
“Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,
“it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.
Or if an ear should say,
“Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body, “
it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.
If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?
If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
But as it is, God placed the parts,
each one of them, in the body as he intended.
If they were all one part, where would the body be?
But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you, “
nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.”
Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker
are all the more necessary,
and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable
we surround with greater honor,
and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety,
whereas our more presentable parts do not need this.
But God has so constructed the body
as to give greater honor to a part that is without it,
so that there may be no division in the body,
but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.
If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it;
if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-30

Today, all of the parts were honored and today we all share in the joy. 

Sister Stacy and Father Alberto we thank you for your leadership and vision; your joy and your welcome. We are grateful for your hard work on behalf of all students.

Mrs. Martha Aguayo, Mrs. Camarena and Ms. Rose thank you for your incredible work day in and day out. Each of you has created a safe space for students to thrive and feel welcome.

To the rest of the faculty and staff at Nativity School, we are proud of you…those dandelion seeds are blowing and together you are sowing the seeds of joy in unity, joy in acceptance, joy in loving one another. We are so grateful to each of you.

You matter and together we are better.

God bless you.  ~Beth

Below are Maria Garcia’s words…her story and her thankful heart. I am grateful for all that she has done on our behalf:

“Good Morning everyone! My name is Maria Garcia and I’m a new mom at Nativity Catholic School. I am by no means new to the parish. I grew up in this parish and graduated from this very same school! I enjoyed my years here and I hope my children love it just as much as I did. You, kids, are very lucky to be a part of a school that resembles a family atmosphere. As you are attending a school that teaches the Gospel it is so important to live out the Gospel as well. Nativity is a school that does this starting from Sr. Stacy, Fr. Beto,…on to the faculty, teachers, the parents and students. Yes, I see YOU students living out the Gospel too! This is truly a blessing. And I want to thank all of you for welcoming our family! I especially want to say thank you for welcoming and including my son, Nathaniel.

My husband, Daniel, and I have four wonderful kids, Owen, Isabella, Juliet (the noisy two year old at the 9:00am mass), and Nathaniel who is a stroke survivor. When Nathaniel was one day old, he started having seizures, stopped breathing, and was rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. After a CT scan, we found out he had a stroke. I’m grateful that God gave him more time with us! I cannot begin to tell you how scared I was and the late nights not being able to sleep because of constant wondering what his future is going to be like. As a parent you want the best for your children- and that to me, education and spiritual development-wise, was being able to enroll ALL of my children into Catholic school. It was very difficult to find an inclusive Catholic school. Every school we called prior to Nativity (a total of 10- 5 in San Diego and 5 in the Downey area) were fearful of including my son into their school. They probably never had the education of how to greet a family of a child with special needs. Because of their fear, Nathaniel was not given a chance. How would that make you feel, if your brother and sister were able to go to a certain place but you were not? How can I justify to my son the reason of why he cannot go to Catholic school with his siblings is because he learns differently? I wanted them to be together and included -as a family. After being told “no” by several parish schools, I started losing hope-even feeling distant from our faith.

As I often do as a special needs mom, I was searching the internet late at night and discovered the National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion. Beth Foraker, the founder, is an advocate for full inclusion within Catholic Schools. A special needs mom herself, Beth has developed a network of Principals, nuns, priests, teachers, parents and other influential people that get inclusion! Sr. Stacy and Father Beto are both part of that network now! Beth Foraker created the Dandy award to recognize those that are willing to take the leap of faith, to include all children despite any fears, and to those who are willing to figure everything out as they go. Nativity took the first step and said, “yes!” (I’m sure most of you met Miss Martha…she can brighten anyone’s day…she certainly brightened mine that day)! And both Mrs. Camarena’s and Miss Rose’s enthusiasm for trying their best to educate all children in the class, puts a light on Nathaniel’s face that I’ve never seen until he started attending Nativity.The first step for a Catholic school to become inclusive starts with having the support from the principal and you are one amazing, compassionate principal, Sr. Stacy! Sr. Stacy and Fr. Beto, I’m sure they all said yes because you were behind them 100%! -Being inclusive is the right thing to do and Nativity School and its faculty believes in living the message of Christ! Thanks to you, Nathaniel thrives at this school and has made major progress since starting here. Thank you for giving my son a chance.

This is only the second Dandy award to be given. The award is not just for Sr. Stacy- it is for everyone! It is no coincidence that this award is being given during Catholic Schools Week … Nativity is an awesome Catholic School and should be recognized as such!”

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