The Christian League for the Handicapped, now known as Inspiration Ministries, had its official beginning in 1948 with the Lord leading the way. Reverend Charles Pedersen was a young minister at Dalton Bible Church and ministered to several shut-ins on a regular basis. One man was severely crippled by arthritis and bedridden but possessed such strength of faith and peace of mind that Charlie began trying to think of a way he could minister to other disabled people that they might have the same abiding sense of contentment.
While Charlie thought about this concept, a group of disabled Christians were meeting for Bible study and prayer in Chicago. They were praying for an able-bodied person to begin a Ministry for the disabled. Within two years, Charlie’s path crossed with this group. Charlie was encouraged by their story of faith and continued to explore the possibilities. Pedersen eventually was led to form a Board of Directors, and the League was incorporated in 1949.
In 1950, the Board established a summer camp on a piece of property on Lake Geneva calling it “Camp Hope”. However, the land was later found to be unsuitable for purchase. The need for living space for people with disabilities was obvious to Charlie and in 1953, a piece of property with several buildings in the village of Walworth was purchased and work began to make it accessible and convenient as a home for people with disabilities. On October 26, 1954, the Christian League for the Handicapped home was opened with three residents.
The League continued its summer camping outreach by renting facilities each summer. After the initial year at Camp Hope on Lake Geneva, property was rented in northern Wisconsin for camp. In 1960, the League began using Camp Willabay in Williams Bay, WI. During these years, chapters were forming in various cities and by 1957, there were 11 nationwide. As the Christian League became known, inquiries and interest in residency grew.
Because space to expand at the current site was limited, a new location was needed. In 1959, the League purchased a 141-acre farm in rural Walworth, WI and a major turning point was reached. The purchase of this land included a two-apartment farmhouse, barn, two silos, and a granary.
Although the League Board of Directors had no specific intention of running a farm operation when the land was purchased, a series of circumstances led to a farm family living in the farmhouse and running the operation which included crops and raising cattle. Eventually the farm operation was discontinued but the farmhouse continued to be used for staff housing.
The purchase of this land allowed the League to expand greatly, and it remains the present campus. The Occupational Home, Apartment wing and Workshop were completed and dedicated in May 1964. A gift shop was added in 1965 and in 1966, a second story was added to the Apartment wing due to the many requests for apartments. In 1972, a swimming pool was added to the Occupational Home. Construction didn’t end there. In 1974, two four-unit apartment buildings were built on the property, separate from the main residence. In 1976, two more followed, and that 4-building complex became known as the Meadows Apartments. In 1995, construction was completed on a major addition to the Workshop building, which housed the Resale Shop. A second addition was added in 1996 to expand the available garage space.
In 1963, while the League was building its new Occupational Home, a local mink farmer came to Charlie Pedersen and informed him that he was about to sell 19 acres of wooded land just south of the land the League already owned. Because of Charlie’s interest years earlier, he asked if the League would like first chance to purchase it. Charlie informed him that League’s finances were tied up in the new buildings. However, with a financing offer too good to refuse, the Lord made the way for the League to purchase the land.
A number of years later, a dream was realized when the ministry built its own handicap-accessible camp. The facility was named Inspiration Center, and although not yet entirely completed, the first camp session was held in August 1975. The facility was completed and dedicated in 1978 and featured six cabins as well as a 16-room lodge. Recreational opportunities were abundant and provided features such features as a basketball court, softball field, sand volleyball court, paved, scenic nature trails and indoor game room. Through a series of other transactions, the League now has a total of 35 wooded acres. Over the years, the League hosted numerous weeks of camp each summer as well as a variety of retreats throughout the year for people who are disabled and their families. Additionally, the Center was made available for group rental retreats for churches, other ministries and organizations.
Part of the League’s facilities includes housing, as the purchase of the mink ranch included a house. The League has also been blessed with donations of two other houses, which were moved to the site: in 1990 “the brick house” was moved from a site on Lake Delavan, and in 1991 “the stone house”, from a site in Elkhorn. The farmhouse continued to be used as staff housing until it was razed in June 1997.
In 1997, the ministry began to remodel the south wing of the occupational home which resulted in eight 2-person assisted living apartments to accommodate the changing levels of care needed for ministry residents. Additionally, the Board of Directors voted to go forward with a fundraising campaign for the addition of a new assisted living wing containing 12 single occupancy apartments and an administrative office building, as well as the renovation of the rest of the original home, which in September 1998 was renamed the Pedersen Center. Ground was broken for these additions in October 2000 and the additions were completed the following year. The DeKorte Wing was dedicated in October 2001.
Following years of study and consideration of alternatives, the Board voted to close the bookstore in 2005 completing almost 50 years of continuous operation. The resale shop moved into the bookstore building. A coffee bar and seating area were added, and the Resident Council named the new store Inspiration Place. It opened on March 15, 2005, as did a clothing outreach ministry sponsored by Calvary Community Church in the old resale space. In 2010, the clothing outreach outgrew the space and was relocated. In the years that followed, a second resale store was opened in the vacant space. In June of 2019, the Board of Directors voted to cease all resale store operations in order to focus on other ministry initiatives.
In June 1999 a decision was made to adopt a trade name for the ministry, Inspiration Ministries. Although Inspiration Ministries has gone through many changes over the years including the use of this new name, the mission remained the same – to help people with disabilities thrive and to help them discover and experience their God-given potential.
Between 2017 and 2018, Inspiration Ministries’ administration embarked on a quest to understand the needs and preferences of people with disabilities today, trends, service gaps and organizational best practices. After countless meetings and gaining critical insight from state agencies, legislators, schools, non-profit organizations, churches, families and other organizations, it became clear that community inclusion and integration, transition services and vocational training and employment for people with disabilities were issues that needed to be addressed. Over the course of several months, it was determined that a coffee shop in nearby Lake Geneva would provide an ideal setting to provide employment, training, coaching and transition services that would ultimately empower people with disabilities to live with greater purpose and achieve their individual best. In the summer of 2019, Inspired was given its name, a mission statement, vision statement and core values were adopted, a location in downtown Lake Geneva secured, and a campaign launched to raise startup capital. In the summer of 2020, renovations were completed on the space and the doors opened.
Inspiration Ministries continues to explore new ways to achieve its mission and vision so that more people with disabilities can be reached for Christ.