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Charleen Katra Wants You To Know What the National Catholic Partnership on Disability Can Do For You

For Catholic parents with a newly diagnosed child, there are many places they can turn for answers to their medical questions; doctors, specialists, and therapists. But when it comes to their spiritual questions, many find their local parishes unprepared or unable to help. Some parents even meet with resistance or refusal when they inquire about their child receiving the sacraments.

However the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is clear; children (and adults) with special needs have the right to receive the sacraments and be included in parish life. But where can parishes and parents turn for help and information if their diocese does not have an office for the disabled? Enter the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD).

Founded in 1982, the NCPD works to educate and bring resources to dioceses so that they may better serve the people with disabilities who reside within their boundaries. Ideally, each diocese should have an office, or at least a contact person, for priests and families to reach out to with questions. If a diocese does not have such a contact, or if a family's questions fall outside the relm of a contact's expertise, the NCPD is there to bridge the gap and help find neccesary resources.

In December 2019, Charleen Katra stepped into the executive director postion, taking over for Janice Benton who'd held the position since 2004. In a recent interview with Accepting the Gift, Katra shared what NCPD currently offers to dioceses and parents, and her hopes for the future of the organization.

Drawn to pursue a degree in special education after reading a story about Helen Keller in fourth grade, her faith and education first came together when she was asked by her parish Director of Religious Education to help a boy with intellectual delays prepare for his sacraments. When word got out to other special needs parents, Katra found herself educating a larger group of special needs children in their own class. From there she took on a position for the diocese of Galvaston, TX overseeing their disabilty ministry. Along the way, she learned about the NCPD.

"I've been on the [NCPD] board and connected to them for 20 years," she said. "At this stage in life, I'm grateful to be allowed to serve from a different vantage point- at the national level. I was thinking retirement, but I was willing to take on this position. God has opened the doors and I just tell him to use me where I can best serve. He must feel there's something here I can do."

Katra's main goals are raising awareness and fundraising. The NCPD is still not well known and Katra is hoping to change that and grow the organization to help meet the needs of the Church's growing special needs population. Katra sees the NCPD's roll as more important than ever with many dioceses making cutbacks to staff due to the economic fallout from COVID-19.

"It makes us all the more relevant," she said. "We need to be here for those Catholics without local support. We need to get on the map."

The NCPD website offers links to help parents and parishes find contacts in their diocese, online special education training, resources for the blind and deaf, adapted faith formation lessons, catechetical help, and so much more. And Katra said, if you can't find what you need at your parish, diocese, or on their website, let her know. And let Catholic publishers know too, she added. Katra wants to make sure Catholic special needs parents know what resources are available to them, and if a parent needs something that isn't available, she wants to make sure the NCPD helps move along the development of new, necessary resources.

"[The Church] has a lot to do, but we're moving in the right direction," Katra said in response to how the Church is currently meeting the needs of special needs individuals and their families. "There are parents who still don't know that their children can receive the sacraments. We're here to say yes they can. Good things are happing in the Church."

Parents facing difficulties at their parish regarding their child's reception of the sacraments can point the person in charge of faith formation to the NCPD to receive guidance and learn about possible accommodations

"It's a baptismal right," Katra said. "For any person in faith formation who is not versed in what the Church teaches-tell them to contact us, and we'll be happy to help them. Any parish program we can open, we're happy to do that. And if parents need help, tell them to contact us. We will hold their hand and walk with them. That's our job."

For more information on the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, visit their website at ncpd.org. For information on modifiying your classroom to accommodate all types of learners, check out Katra's new book, written with John E. Barone, The Adaptive Teacher: Faith-Based Strategies to Reach and Teach Learners with Disabilities (affiliate link).




Kelly Mantoan is the founder of Accepting the Gift. She blogs at This Ain't the Lyceum.



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