In 1985, "outreach" was established as a priority area for Bethesda through the founding of the "National Christian Resource Center" (NCRC). For 25 years, the outreach activities positioned Bethesda as a national leader in the production of curriculum resources and staff training materials for thousands of support providers, teachers and ministries around the world.
For the church community, the NCRC produced resources and sponsored workshops designed to inform people about disability ministry. For the professional community, it became one of the leaders in the field in the production and distribution of video-based training materials for direct support staff.
In 2009, the NCRC gave way to the Bethesda Institute with a commitment to expand our vision and become the innovation generator for the organization, and a thought leader in the field. The Institute was formally staffed in 2010 and the strategic plan targets four key areas in which to concentrate our work.
• Professional Training
This includes the development of staff training resources as well as professional and leadership training opportunities. We regularly explore partnership opportunities within the fields of education and disability services. In addition to our continuing work in video training development, we provide consulting services to other providers (often those who are in 'problem solving' situations) and are currently exploring web-based resource development and a number of leadership conferences.
• Spiritual Life Resources
The Bethesda Institute is becoming the largest producer of disability ministry curricula in the world. Our three-year project called Cross Road Journey is made possible through the funding partnership of the Good Shepherd Auxiliary. We also publish Breakthrough, a quarterly newsletter for parents, pastors and teachers with an interest in disability ministry; and Reflections, an online daily devotion series.
• Public Policy
Bethesda's efforts in public advocacy exist as a part of the Institute. We engage hundreds of advocates through the Bethesda Voices advocacy program and its related social media activity. BethesdaVoices.org keeps advocates updated on current critical policy issues and provides opportunities to contact representatives. We are beginning to lay the groundwork for some applied research in the area of self-advocacy ethics and efficacy.
• Innovation and Exploration
There is a strong experimental and practical research focus to our work. We are exploring possibilities of post-secondary options both for young professional in the field and for young adults with disabilities. We are investigating technology in disability support and the establishment of national leadership conferences on key ethical, theological and leadership issues in the field. Most significant at the moment is a comprehensive collection of initiatives designed to build and support business and enterprise development among people with disabilities.