The Journey

Whitworth Alumna Follows her Dreams of Caring for Those with Disabilities
By Shelby Simmons

Nicole Remy, '06, watched intently as the eggs scrambled and the hashbrowns fried. She took no part in cooking the breakfast burritos while working at Wildhorse Canyon, a Young Life camp in Oregon. Remy only stood back and encouraged the woman who prepared the food.

Each week, four women under Remy's care took turns preparing the same dinners for each other. Repetition was key. They made the same meals until they had mastered them. Remy's job was to assist the women in their everyday tasks.

Remy loved her job at Mark 2 Ministries, an organization dedicated to helping adults with disabilities learn to live and work more independently. Between Mark 2 Ministries and Capernaum, another Young Life ministry for people with disabilities, she has worked since high school with people who have been.

"It's just a natural relationship for me," Remy says. "When I'm around a person with a disability, there's just something in my soul that comes alive."

Remy learned early in high school that she has a heart for people with disabilities. She spent three years as a teacher's assistant for a special-education P.E. class. Remy became good friends with some of the students and took three of them to the Winter Ball her junior year.

"It was that night that I knew I wanted to work with these people," Remy says. "I fell in love with the population. Somehow, so me way, I knew that whatever I did it would incorporate people with disabilities."

In college, Remy searched for a way to minister to people with disabilities. She soon discovered Capernaum, a branch of Young Life that actively seeks out teenagers and young adults with disabilities in order to share the Gospel with them. Capernaum reaches out to the 51 million Americans with disabilities and has 94 locations around the globe.

The moment she learned about the organization, Remy was convinced that she had found her calling. However, Spokane did not have the program, so Remy spent a year with a standard Young Life team at North Central High School. She found herself consistently drawn to students in the special-education program and started bringing them to Young Life.

"When I see them and I spend time with them, I learn so much more about Jesus than I could ever teach them," Remy says.

She longed for a Capernaum program in which disabled students could be around others like them and share the same struggles.

Remy's persistence and dedication played a large role in starting a Capernaum program in the Spokane area. Students with disabilities from all over Spokane gathered once a month to play games, participate in activities and hear messages from the Gospel. The goal was to make the club as much like other Young Life clubs as possible.

"We wanted them to have the same Young Life experience that everyone else was having," Remy says.

The reason for having a separate club is to let the students be around other people like them and to allow them to work with leaders who are especially drawn to people with disabilities. The club is a place where these students can feel comfortable and welcomed and cab experience firsthand the love found in the Gospel.

Like other Young Life clubs, Capernaum tries to tailor its messages and activities to its specific audience.

"It's really just audience analysis," Remy says. "Dig into their world."

Remy often tried to relate with the students by talking about a movie they loved or communicating a message using arts and crafts.

Although she loved working with the students, Remy is not afraid to admit that the job came with its own set of difficulties. Remy says it is hard to find other leaders with a passion for people with disabilities. It is also tough to communicate the Gospel to the students.

"It's really hard to tell if they understand what you're saying to them," Remy says.

The most rewarding part of her job was when she really knew she'd got through to one of her students. While in college, Remy took one boy to Young Life for four years. He heard the Gospel over and over again, but progress was slow.

"I never thought he got it," Remy says.

After a meeting one night, Remy gave the boy and some other students a ride home. The boy turned to the other students and told them all about who Jesus is and why he came to die for them. Remy was shocked at the information he had retained. Moments like these remind Remy that all of her dedication is worth it.

As a theology and speech-communications double-major, Remy has spent most of her academic life struggling with theological concepts or studying disability ministry. Often, it was easy to get caught up in her studies, Remy says.

"Capernaum was kind of my saving grace. It just brought me back to the heart of the Gospel. It's important to think about theological issues, but when it comes down to it, Jesus is the most important thing," Remy says.

As part of her year-long independent study on disability ministries, Remy attempted to create a Capernaum curriculum that could be used year after year. She ran into difficulties, however, when she realized just how specialized each message needed to be. A mix of participants calls for different messages and a different ways of presenting them.

Spokane's chapter, Capernaum Greater Spokane, has seen great success. However, the club is not immune to the struggles other Capernaum sites face. Young Life is a ministry to high-school students. Most students with disabilities graduate from high school between the ages of 18 and 21. After graduation, many of these students have no church family to minister to them in their adult years. Only 10 to 15 percent of churches in the United States have a disability ministry, according to a study conducted by Young Life.

"Capernaum is their church," Remy says.

The club will not turn away past members due to their age, but it is geared primarily toward younger students. The fact that those who have graduated are adults and need to be treated like adults can be problematic, Remy says.

Mark 2 Ministries is one attempt to solve the problem of the lack of adult disability ministries. Remy spent her first seven months after graduation working in Wildhorse Canyon with Mark 2 Ministries.

In partnership with Young Life, Mark 2 Ministries is designed to help prepare and train adults with disabilities for jobs and independent living. According to a 2002 U.S. Census Bureau report, less than half of Americans with severe disabilities have jobs. Nearly a quarter of adults with severe disabilities live below the poverty level, compared with about 8 percent of adults without severe disabilities. Mark 2 Ministries works to narrow the social and economic gap between those with and without disabilities.

The program also strives to evangelize, disciple and integrate them into local churches.
After fulfilling her commitment to Mark 2 Ministries, Remy returned to her hometown of Spanaway, Wash. Her heart for people with disabilities has not changed, but her experience taught her that she is more drawn to Capernaum's ministry. She missed doing outreach work while at Wildhorse Canyon.

When Remy returned to Washington, she left behind the four women that she spent seven months working with so closely. The women continue to live and work at Wildhorse without Remy.

"It was really hard to leave because I love each one of those women and each one of them taught me something different," Remy says. "At the same time, I know that those relationships will continue, and I was able to leave with a greater appreciation of people who work with the population."