Have you ever ridden a bike or an electric scooter from one sidewalk to the next? Maybe you’ve pushed a stroller up a curb or rolled your luggage down that little cement ramp on the sidewalk? If you have, chances are your life has in some way benefited from curb-cuts. But, these useful ramps haven’t always been around.
In the early 1970s, student Michael Pachovas struggled to get around his college campus using his wheelchair. Michael was exhausted by the countless obstacles that prevented him from accessing the places and things he needed. One night, Michael and his friends took matters into their own hands and poured a small cement ramp themselves. This makeshift ramp was by no means made with outstanding craftmanship, but that night their handiwork was completed with a sense of triumph.
When campus police discovered this new addition to the sidewalk, they considered arresting Michael and the “activists” who helped him. But, they decided not to punish a group of students who sought to provide what many of us take for granted: mobility.
Historically, navigating most cities and public spaces using a wheelchair was a significant challenge. Fortunately, Michael and his friends’ public protest of the lack of accommodations created a ripple effect that would change the world as we know it. In 1972, the city of Berkeley responded to his actions by creating their first official curb-cut. Twenty-five years later, the Associate Director of Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living, Gerald Baptiste, called Michael’s ramp, “ … the slab of concrete heard round the world.”1
Through ongoing activism, new legislation was set into motion. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act and said, “Let the shameful walls of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”2 This Act prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities and led to increased access to basic resources that most Americans took for granted, like public transportation, restaurants, dorm rooms and — yes — even sidewalks. In the coming years, hundreds of thousands of curb-cuts were cemented all across the U.S.
But something even more unexpected followed. A study conducted by local architects at a shopping mall in Sarasota, Florida, revealed that 9 out of 10 pedestrians went out of their way to use curb-cuts when given the opportunity.3 These sorts of ramps not only benefited people who use wheelchairs, but also mothers pushing strollers, workers with heavy carts, travelers with luggage and the list goes on and on.
This phenomenon, referred to as the “Curb-cut Effect,”4 calls to mind to an important biblical truth: Care for the vulnerable in our community is care for our entire community. When we provide welcoming on ramps for the most vulnerable among us and prioritize their needs, everyone benefits.
In Scripture, we see Jesus not only caring for the vulnerable, but He intentionally pursues them when no one else will. We find Christ in the margins, leaving the 99 safe and secure, to find the one vulnerable who needs help. Whether He was reaching out to a person with a shattered mind, physical brokenness, or someone who was socially ostracized, Jesus modeled His teaching, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Luke 5:31-32).
As churches and individuals follow in the footsteps of Christ, pursuing those who struggle with brokenness can feel challenging, especially in this difficult cultural landscape. Research confirms what we are all innately feeling. Mental health disorders have nearly doubled in the past 20 years,5 and 90% of Americans agree that we are living in the midst of a mental health crisis.6
During a crisis, the most vulnerable are always impacted the most. As we look at this mental health crisis in our world, we must ask ourselves: Who is the one out of the 99 that we should pursue? Who is severely impacted by this mental health crisis? Who is the most vulnerable? Children in the foster care system are some of the most vulnerable in our communities. And, as a by-product of trauma, children in foster care are three to four times more likely to be impacted by mental health issues.7
If we follow Jesus into the margins, we will more than likely find ourselves among those who have experienced trauma. In fact, we see this example all throughout Scripture — in the life of the early church . In James 1:27 we read, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction … ” Caring for orphans and widows means we will specifically be caring for individuals who have experienced trauma firsthand through the devastating loss of parents or a spouse. In other words, pure and undefiled religion is to care for those who have felt the difficult effects of trauma.
This invitation stands for us today, as God is raising up churches who are called to modern-day ministry. By learning trauma-informed care, churches are being equipped to reach children in the foster care system who have been caught up in this mental health crisis. Families and communities of faith are discovering how to create welcoming on ramps for those who are facing substantial obstacles today.
As we’ve learned from the “Curb-cut Effect,” when we care for the one, the 99 will also reap the benefits. When we turn our focus to the vulnerable, our entire community will experience a blessing from the overflow.
At WinShape Homes, we partner with churches to bring healing and restoration to children and families through the gospel. One of the ways we do this is by helping church leaders and their communities become trauma-informed. Through evidence-based practices, rooted in biblical values, we believe these resources will better equip you to serve children in the foster care system.
About the Author:
Austin Ludwig is a proud foster care alumni who is passionate about making disciples. Prior to serving as the Marketing Manager of WinShape Homes, Austin served as a pastor at RiverStone Church and has been in full-time ministry for over a decade. As an artist and communicator, he now shares God’s redeeming story through his music and digital content. After a childhood of neglect and abuse, Austin experienced healing and restoration through the gospel within a local church. He now believes churches all around the world can become equipped to care for vulnerable children and families.
- Steven E. Brown, “The Curb Ramps of Kalamazoo: Discovering Our Unrecorded History,” Independent Living Institute, 1999, https://www.independentliving.org/docs3/brown99a.html.
- Paul Simmons, “When the Shameful Walls of Exclusion Finally Came Tumbling Down: A Historical Background of the ADA.” Rocky Mountain ADA Center, February 17, 2020, https://rockymountainada.org/news/blog/when-shameful-walls-exclusion-finally-came-tumbling-down-historical-background-ada.
- Frank Greve, “Curb ramps liberate Americans with disabilities—and everyone else.”
McClatchy Newspapers, January 31, 2007, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/article24460762.html.
- Angela Glover Blackwell, “The Curb-Cut Effect.” Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2017, https://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_curb_cut_effect.
- “Reducing the Economic Burden of Unmet Mental Health Needs.” The White House, May 31, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/cea/written-materials/2022/05/31/reducing-the-economic-burden-of-unmet-mental-health-needs/.
- Deidre McPhillips, “90% of US adults say the United States is experiencing a mental health crisis, CNN/KFF poll finds.” CNN, October 5, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/10/05/health/cnn-kff-mental-health-poll-wellness/index.html.
- V. Greiner and S.J. Beal, “Foster care is associated with poor mental health in children.” The Journal of Pediatrics, 2017, 182, 401–404.