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Neurodiversity Church

Organized by: Michael Shephard

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THE STORY:

URL for the interested: Neurodiversity.Church 

Hello everyone! My name is Mike Shephard. Me and my wife Jen were diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome (a high-functioning form of autism) at very early ages. We also have deep roots in the Lutheran faith. The combination of these two led to an idea that, over a period of almost two years, has blossomed from a mere "what if" into a formal plan of action -- starting a Neurodiversity Church!

So what makes a Neurodiversity Church different than any other church, you might ask? First and foremost, it caters to friends, families, coworkers, etc. of those affected by autism. Second, we would stream all services online, in a manner that also allows for later viewing. By doing this, we not only achieve a global outreach, but also allow members to view services away from sources of sensory overload, and instead view them in an environment where they are comfortable and at ease.

In addition, we also take precautions to ensure sensory overload is not reached if attending the services in person, such as maintaining a steady volume (no sudden loud noises here), avoiding the use of bright and/or flickering lights, and having adequate room so touching isn't an issue either. After pitching this idea to the autism community, we received much support and many suggestions, including:

- Carefully selected communion ingredients (no artifical dyes, preservatives, etc.)
- Special handling of audio to ensure there are zero "feedback" issues.
- Making sure we dim the lighting for those with visual sensitivity (no "light shows", spotlights, stage lights, etc. to be found)

Taking these into account, as well as adapting existing ideas, I came up with the following thoughts:

- Optimally, we'd have enough sunglasses and headphones for anyone that needs them
- Sermons (a few of which previously existed as prototypes) would cater to the issues those on the spectrum face on a daily basis.
- The sermons can also cater to a topic provided by a congregational request, such as the loss of a loved one, life struggles, etc.
- Suggestion box would be a thing (no, seriously -- listening to feedback is the key to any organization's success, religious or otherwise!)
- Down the road, we would also cover other neurological conditions (schizophrenia, for example)

This is, of course, a lot to start with, so we will be starting off small. Online services with autism-geared sermons and a suggestion email inbox might be all we can tackle from the get-go.

So why the fundraiser? As a full-time web developer with almost four and a half years under my belt, I still have close to $70,000 in debt. I believe I am making progress on this debt, however it is a painfully slow process. Paying off this debt is a crucial first step in starting the Neurodiversity Church. As long as I have this debt, I will not be able to pour my full heart and soul into my dream, and will instead have to rely on my current job to get me through financially. It is a difficult reality that I have come to terms with, and I have decided to reach out for financial help.

Just to provide a breakdown of the debt I currently have:
As of 9/11/2015, I have the following debt:

Student loans:
- $22,375
- Calculated payoff at minimum due: October, 2017 to March, 2018**

Car loan:
- $25,940
- Loan end date: February, 2021

Credit Card debt:
- $20,265
- Rough payoff date: July, 2016

Overall Debt:
- $68,580

** 6.0% to 6.8% loans to be paid off on October, 2017; 4.5% loans to be paid off March, 2018; dates based on Excel's NPER function


Providing a breakdown of the soonest I can pay this off:
As of 9/11/2015, these are the calculations:

At base salary rate, before taxes/benefits/etc.:
- 1 year, 4 months (16 total months)
- Payoff date: January, 2017

At take-home paycheck amounts:
- 2 years (24 total months)
- Payoff date: September, 2017

After food/phone bill/insurance/etc.:
- 2 years, 4 months (28 total months)
- Payoff date: January, 2018


Looking at the numbers, two years seems moderately long. However, here are a few points that should be noted:

- I am 25, my wife is 27 (closing in on 28), and both of us live in my parents' house. While we have no plans to move out yet, we also don't pay for rent, only for our share of food and utilities.

- I have been working full-time at the same job since April, 2011, when I started fresh out of college. If the last payoff date listed is accurate (even with a few months padding), I will need to have worked for seven years at the same job before being debt-free.

- Jen (my wife) last worked at a division that became defunct a month after her departure in October, 2014, and only has a QED. While we are currently closing in on multiple jobs (lots of ""behind the scenes" to the timing gap, feel free to ask though!), it won't fund this project on its own.

Bottom line is this:
Until I successfully pay off my debt, I (unfortunately) won't be able to even form a plan of attack for how to start this Neurodiversity Church geared for autism (and more conditions down the road).

Thank you for your consideration, and God bless!
Mike and Jen Shephard

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Michael Shephard

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