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At BonFIRE, everybody belongs — including you

By JD Flynn

While summer vacation is almost here, my family is already thinking about going back to school in August.

In fact, we’re thanking God every day for the upcoming school year.

I have two children with Down syndrome — my son Max is 11, my daughter Pia is 10. In the fall, they’ll enroll as students at our local parish school here in the Archdiocese of Denver, alongside their little brother, and their friends from the neighborhood, and the kids they see at Mass each week.

Not long ago, most parents of kids with disabilities thought their kids would never enroll in Catholic school. There were too many obstacles, or the costs were too high, or the schools just weren’t ready.

Including people with disabilities in Catholic schools benefits all kids. An inclusion mindset helps teachers tailor lessons to the needs of each student, helping every child reach their full potential. But more important, inclusion gives students the chance to live the pro-life mission of the Church — to experience that every single person has dignity, and to learn to love people who think, or talk, or act differently.

But for a lot of kids like mine, the goodness, and truth, and beauty of Catholic school has long seemed just out of reach. And that means Catholic school students have missed the chance to know and love people with disabilities, and to experience the fullness of the Church’s pro-life mission.

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The good news, though, is that across the Archdiocese of Denver, something beautiful is happening.

God is at work.

A few years ago, a group of parents and supporters, working with the Archdiocese of Denver, launched the FIRE Foundation, a Colorado nonprofit which gives grants to help kids enroll successfully in Catholic schools.

Because of donors across the archdiocese, the FIRE Foundation will give out some $360,000 to our local Catholic schools this year, supporting salaries for special education, along teacher training, and professional development.

That money will help 35 students with significant disabilities — mine among them — enroll successfully in 10 Catholic schools across northern Colorado.

Because of the FIRE Foundation, kids across the archdiocese have a new chance to learn to love as Christ does, and to see each other through the eyes of God the Father.

Pope Francis told the Church last year that knowing and loving people with disabilities can awaken in all Catholics “an awareness that frees us from sorrow and lament — even for good reason — and opens our hearts to praise.”

The pope added that all Catholics — every single one of us — is called to a kind of solidarity with people who have physical and intellectual disabilities.

“With regard to the disabled,” the pope said, “there can be no us and them, but a single us, with Jesus Christ at the center, where each person brings his or her own gifts and limitations … we are all part of the same vulnerable humanity assumed and sanctified by Christ.”

In fact, the pope urged Catholics to do all that we can to help people with disabilities to be fully included in our Christian community, to “open the door to participation of each baptized member in the life of the Church.”

Catholics across the Archdiocese of Denver are living that mission. And I’m proud that the good work of the FIRE Foundation is helping to make it possible

On August 26, the FIRE Foundation will hold BonFIRE, the annual fundraiser to support inclusive Catholic special education. It’ll be a great night — and for an important cause. We hope you’ll join us.

Every single child belongs in our Catholic schools. And you belong at BonFIRE. We can’t to see you.

For more information, visit firefoundationdenver.org.

J.D. Flynn is a board member of the FIRE Foundation and the editor of The Pillar.


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