Winston-Salem Faith Communities Collaborate to Include People with Special Needs

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Leaders of faith communities and families are invited to learn about welcoming and supporting individuals with special needs at a workshop in conjunction with the Autism Society of North Carolina on Oct. 24 in Winston-Salem.

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We’re excited about this enhancing our congregation, but we are even more excited about it enhancing the entire community.

The Autism Society of North Carolina (ASNC) and G.R.A.C.E. Ministries will present a free, full-day workshop titled “Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities: How Faith Communities Can Help” on Saturday, Oct. 24, in Winston-Salem. The program is supported by The Winston-Salem Foundation.

G.R.A.C.E. Ministries aims to create greater acceptance in the community for individuals with special needs and help faith-based organizations to include them in existing services, said Steve Jones, who has a son with autism and helped create the organization. “These youths will all grow up to be men and women, and they will need to integrate into society,” Jones said. “They should be able to hold jobs and do other meaningful things to enrich their lives in the community.”

Rev. Dr. George Banks, pastor of Goler Memorial AME Zion Church, said, “We’re excited about this enhancing our congregation, but we are even more excited about it enhancing the entire community. … Everyone should feel the right and have the opportunity to reach the goals that they have set for their lives.”

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines said he was glad the faith leaders want to add to the city’s resources. “I’m just so pleased that Rev. Banks and Goler and Mr. Jones believe in this effort to bring a collaboration of religious institutions together to learn more about this issue … and to be able to develop programs to help the individuals be very productive members of our community.”

The workshop is aimed at clergy, church leaders, church members, and families of children with autism and other special needs.

Workshop objectives:

  • Understand autism and the challenges families face
  • Learn how faith communities can welcome and support families
  • Connect to local resources for help

Speakers will include:

  • Elizabeth R. Crais, PhD, CCC-SLP, ASHA Fellow Professor and Coordinator of Doctoral Studies, UNC-CH Division of Speech and Hearing
  • Rebecca Edmondson Pretzel, PhD, Associate Director and Director of Services, UNC-CH Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities
  • Louise Southern, M.Ed., BCBA, ASNC Associate Clinical Director
  • Wanda Curley, ASNC Autism Resource Specialist

The workshop, which will also feature a community panel, will run from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Goler Memorial AME Zion Church, 620 N. Patterson Ave., Winston-Salem. Registration is free and includes lunch; participants are asked to register online at

“This is just the beginning for G.R.A.C.E.,” said Rev. Banks. “This is going to be a ministry that is going to impact this great city of ours.”

“Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities: How Faith Communities Can Help” is made possible with generous funding from the Harriet Taylor Flynt Fund of The Winston-Salem Foundation, a community foundation that supports charitable programs in the greater Forsyth County area. Founded in 1919 with a $1,000 gift, it now administers approximately 1,300 funds and had total custodial assets of $384.3 million at the end of 2014. In 2014, the Foundation granted $24.8 million to charitable causes, over $2 million of which was through the Community Grants program. Learn more about the Foundation here:


  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. As many as 1 in 58 children may be diagnosed with ASD in North Carolina, according to a prevalence study by the CDC study of 8-year-old schoolchildren.
  • The Autism Society of North Carolina has worked for more than 45 years to address areas of need and expand services for the autism community in North Carolina. ASNC works to directly improve the lives of individuals affected by autism by providing advocacy, education, and services. For more information, call 1-800-442-2762 or visit

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David Laxton
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