Students pursuing careers working with persons with disabilities received a significant boost toward their goal in fall 2011 with the distribution of APU’s Joni Eareckson Tada Scholarship, which helps identify, encourage, train, and prepare undergraduate social work and practical theology students called to that work. The first award went to Angelica Guangorena ’12, with seven more scholarships earmarked for APU students throughout the next three years.
“My ultimate career goal is to work with children with autism,” said Guangorena. “That God chose to bless me through this scholarship validates that I am going in the right direction by pursuing my passion.”
The scholarship honors Tada’s legacy of championing persons with disabilities worldwide. An internationally known speaker and author, Tada founded Joni and Friends International Disability Center, a ministry that coordinates outreaches and advocacy efforts throughout the world. “I’m deeply honored that APU established this scholarship,” said Tada. “But I am even more excited about how APU students are getting involved in disability ministry and receiving special training to share the love of Christ with special needs families.”
Peggy Campbell, the scholarship’s primary donor and APU Board of Trustees member, describes the importance. “Serving on the Board of Trustees has afforded me an ideal position to see APU’s God First motto lived out in so many avenues,” said Campbell. “It is tremendously encouraging to know that Joni’s longtime commitment to those with disabilities, and those with family and friends with disabilities, will continue to equip students like Angelica to use both their spiritual and professional strengths to serve this community.”
The scholarship coincides with the creation of the interdisciplinary course Suffering: Theological and Practical Perspective on Disabilities. Mary Rawlings, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Undergraduate Social Work, identified the need for curriculum that helped students understand the theology of suffering. Rawlings and Cheryl Crawford, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Practical Theology, co-developed and co-teach the class, aligning with Crawford’s desire to increase content on disabilities in the curriculum for practical theology.
The course develops an understanding of the impact disabilities have on the lives of individuals and families, increases awareness of current available resources in the community, helps students develop a personal theology of suffering, and uses this knowledge to articulate strategies churches can implement to better meet the needs of those with disabilities.
“Our goal was to combine both a theological and social work perspective to best prepare students for working alongside persons with disabilities,” said Rawlings. “We are thrilled that this scholarship invests in future Christian leaders who express a passion for working with people with disabilities. Joni’s work and the efforts of her center exemplify what we hope to accomplish in our students: an effective combination of faith and skilled service.”