Music By Laurel Jean

Music By Laurel Jean
Music with a Message and a Mission

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Laurel Jean's Scrapbook

Sharing God's Guiding Glimpses into my Life of Music and Ministry

Monday, October 13, 2014

Continuing Education

I am pictured below with my fellow classmates from the United Methodist Heritage course offered this fall by the Charleston, SC District of the United Methodist Church. I have thoroughly enjoyed continuing my Christian education in this way, and participating in the life of the church as a Certified Lay Servant. The textbooks are available as Kindle electronic books. While the Kindle device is not really accessible to those of us who are blind, I can read Kindle books with the Kindle app on my iPhone or my computer, using the Voiceover app with its speech synthesizer or my Braille display.

I believe that one of the greatest challenges for any blind student is educating the sighted people in the classroom environment on the subjects of sensitivity and awareness. They don't know, and they don't know that they don't know until we tell them that they don't know. Sometimes, that process is a very lonely and humiliating time for any blind individual who takes on a system that is not used to being inclusive. Blind students on any level are invariably left out or singled out albeit unintentionally.

I do see progress in the church on the local level and beyond pertaining to the inclusion and empowerment of people with disabilities, and that is very refreshing.  People everywhere need to be made more aware of the different abilities of all, and I am honored to be among those whom God has chosen for that process.

Speaking of that, both Audrey and I were chosen and certified earlier this year by the United Methodist Women to serve as study leaders for the class "The Church and People With Disabilities,"  part of the UMW "Mission u" (formerly the "School of Missions." We were called last fall and began the certification process earlier this year. We had to read ten books, plus the course textbook and leader's guide. Then, we went for intensive training in Charlotte, NC where God put it on our hearts to teach the people who had been certified to teach us. After our certification process, we led the study on the South Carolina state level and were encouraged to submit our information for consideration on the national level. We are honored to have been selected to lead this study again next year on the South Carolina State Conference level.

The Americans With Disabilities Act was passed in 1990. Now, churches are beginning to realize that providing accommodations for people with all types of disabilities is more than just political correctness. It is our duty as members of the Body of Christ to empower one another to serve our Lord together.

Laurel with her 2014 Lay Servant Ministry UMC Heritage Class

Summer Camp

I am picctured below with summer day campers, along with Shelby and Miss Patty Smith (Director of Crane, a nonprofit organization that reaches out to children attending summer camp in the Charleston area).  Over the past five years, it has been an honor for me to present for this camp in partnership with Dixie Land Guide Dog Users, Inc. as part of Dixie Land's "Paws 2 Educate" Initiative.

Shelby, a fellow Dixie Lander and a high school senior,  accompanied me to this camp and for one morning, had her very own class and classroom, reading to different groups of kids and talking with them. She earned the respect of everyone there, including the Director and counselors.

Each in our own venue, we gave these summer campers, ranging in age from preschool to middle school, opportunities to talk with us and ask questions about blindness. We also asked them questions about their favorite subjects in school and what they wanted to be when they grew up. At the end of the day, we were all blessed from being able to dialog with one another.

Laurel, Shelby and Miss Patty with 2014 summer day campers, Charleston, SC

Bark Camp

Below, I am with Shelby, Audrey and Audrey's guide dog Jessie as we talk with high-school age youth attending the Summer Bark Camp sponsored by the ASPCA of Charleston, SC.

It has been a joy for me to serve in the Charleston, SC community, joining forces with Dixie Land Guide Dog Users, Inc. as part of Dixie Land's "Paws 2 Educate Initiative."

The ASPCA originally contacted the Dixie Land Guide Team to ask for a representative who could speak to Bark Campers about guide dogs. Then, we all learned that these young people had questions about more than just guide dogs. They wanted to see the technology that allows us to participate fully in the community, and they had all kinds of questions about blindness! Of course, everyone enjoys an opportunity to visit with Jessie out of harness. These young people also enjoy seeing their names in Braille, learning to be a proper sighted guide for a blind person and asking questions of Taylor, Shelby and Brianna about what it is like to be a blind student.

I thank God for every opportunity that He gives me to shine His Light. Ministry takes on all kinds of different forms, and I am honored to be able to help teach and empower young people in the community. Together, we can help make this world a better place.

Audrey, Jessie, Laurel and Shelby presenting for Bark Camp

Worship Arts Camp

The picture below was taken after the closing service of the 2014 Worship Arts Camp hosted and sponsored by Grace United Methodist Church, Charleston, SC. I was honored to serve as the piano accompanist and assist in coaching the Worship Arts Camp Youth Choir.

Shelby was able to attend and participate fully with her sighted peers. This proved to be a wonderful opportunity for her, and we were blessed by her talents and gifts.  I brailed lyrics for her so that she could sing in the camp choir, and she had a solo part in one of the songs. Her favorite part of camp was being able to participate in the drama. I Brailed the improv cards and drama worksheets that were given to the other students, and Shelby kept up very nicely. A senior in high school this year, she told me that she had never had the opportunity to explore the art of spoken drama before and that she especially enjoyed the improv classes.

At the end of the week of camp, the youth presented their very own worship service which was well attended by their families and friends. Shelby worked right alongside the rest of the youth and did a great job.

I thank God every time He grants me the opportunity to share in ministry with young people, both blind and sighted.

2014 Worship Arts Camp, Grace UMC

Play Ball!

Debbie pitching to Shelby, beep baseball outing Debbie, Shelby's mom, pitches to Shelby during our spring beep baseball outing here in Charleston, SC.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Dixie Land Guide Dog Users, Inc. introduced the sport of beep baseball to Charleston as part of Dixie Land's "Keeping Families Focused" Initiative. Beep baseball requires that all but three people on the team be either blind or blindfolded. The pitcher, the catcher and the umpire are sighted. The batter strives to hit an audible beeping softball that is pitched to him/her. If the batter hits the ball, one of two bases (first or third) is activated and begins to make a loud buzzing sound. If the batter gets to the base before the fielders get to the ball, a run is scored. If the fielders get to the ball first, the batter is out.

During this first game here in Charleston, blind people of all ages got the joy of hitting a ball as it was pitched to them, completely independently, some for the first time in their lives. I thank God for the blessing of being able to support this event and share in the fun!

Fellowship in the Word

Fellowship Bible Class, Grace UMC, Charleston, SC

Here I am with the Fellowship Bible Class of Grace United Methodist Church, Charleston, SC.

I have been blessed to continue to make Talking Bibles available to many of my blind brothers and sisters throughout the country. Recently, with the help of the Fellowship Bible Class of Grace UMC here in Charleston, 3 solar powered Talking Bibles were also sent to blind people in Haiti.

My most recent Bible recipient lives in Kentucky and is preparing to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church.

My thanks to all for the financial sponsorships which have allowed me to help shine God's Light on those who live in darkness.

A Little About Me

My photo
God continues to bless me with a busy and fulfilling life. Even after thirty-plus years, my music and ministry keep going and growing. Blind from birth, I am n avid user of Braille and the long, white cane, in addition to a variety of mainstream and access technology. While my blindness does not define me, I consider it to be a unique gift from God. With this gift comes my opportunity to serve as an advocate on behalf of my fellow members of the Blindness community, living and serving among blind and sighted folks of all ages, on all walks of life. To learn more about my music, ministry and outreach, please visit my Web site, and be sure to stay tuned to my Blog!