Our friend and colleague Nella Uitvlugt went home very unexpectedly to be with the Lord this past Wednesday night. On behalf of the Board of Directors and staff of Key Ministry, we would like to extend our deepest sympathies to Nella’s family, and to the staff and volunteers of Friendship Ministries. Here’s a link to Nella’s memorial page, and a feature story on her life from the Grand Rapids Press in 2011. Funeral services will be held on Monday, March 25 at 11:00 AM at Plymouth Heights Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids.
Nella Uitvlugt was the first person I ever met in the field of disability ministry…possibly before the official beginning of Key Ministry. I was in Grand Rapids doing a “lunch and learn” roundtable in what at the time the busiest ADHD clinic in the U.S. The physician who had headed up the clinic was a Christian and apparently attended the same church Nella’s family belonged to. I was flattered that Nella took time to come to see an “upstart”…she was-and continued to be-very gracious.
In our first or second year, I was having lunch in Downtown Cleveland with Kevin Kelley (one of our founding Board members), a member of the Catholic Charities Board and the VP of Disability Services for the Cleveland diocese. I’d served on the Catholic Charities Board in the past and assumed the diocese would jump all over the chance to work with Key Ministry. It turned out that the diocese had contracted with Nella and her team from Friendship and were so pleased that they had no burning need for what we had to offer.
Friendship Ministries developed a well-developed reputation for ministry with adults with developmental disabilities. She was the first person I recommended when ministry leaders were struggling with the issue of how to transition teens with autism and developmental disabilities into adult life in the church. I think part of Friendship’s success under Nella’s leadership was the way they avoided trying to be everything to everybody. Friendship has been successful by serving a underserved population with excellence.
Nella was on the invite list for our first Inclusion Fusion. Friendship hadn’t yet acquired a lot of tech support at the time and she had to graciously decline. I’m glad I hounded her into participating this past fall.
Because so many leaders are new to the disability ministry movement and never had the opportunity to learn from Nella, I thought the best way to honor her contributions to the field would be to share the video of her presentation from this past November’s Inclusion Fusion. Her presentation was on the topic Ministering Beside Adults With Intellectual Disabilities. As you’ll see, when Nella finally took the plunge into technology, she did it well!
I have no doubt that when Nella had the opportunity to meet Jesus face to face late on Thursday night, Jesus’ welcome began with the words “Well done, good and faithful servant. Our team was honored to have had the privilege of serving with her.
My Tribute to Friendship Ministries leader Nella Uitvlugt
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