Church Reaches Out to Families of Special Needs Children

Post a Comment » Written on June 8th, 2009     
Filed under: News
SAMMAMISH, WA (June 8, 2009) – Au Huen and Erik Hollander read about the special needs ministry at Pine Lake Covenant Church (PLCC) in the local newspaper and followed their GPS to get there.

The ministry has assisted the entire family. “Our son feels comfortable, is enjoying his experience, and most of our friends have come from church,” Hollander says.

The church developed the ministry in the fall of 2006. The need for the ministry to children and teens arose when newcomers Amy and Calvin Rapada desired the opportunity for their severely disabled son to attend church. The couple worked with PLCC to create the ministry.

Amy is an educator who has presented workshops across the country to help congregations develop special needs ministries. She also is a member of the Covenant’s Disabilities Ministry Resource Committee.

In 2007, she published “The Special Needs Ministry Handbook,” which offers step-by-step instruction on how to establish a special needs ministry for children ages pre-school through middle school. For a previous story on the book, click here.

“It means so much to us to have a church that welcomes our son and has a special place just for him.”

The “reverse inclusion classes” ministry at PLCC is designed for children and teenagers with learning, physical, mental, emotional, developmental differences or health impairments that preclude them from participating in a typical classroom environment.

PLCC turned one of its rooms into a specially designed classroom. A one-to-one teacher/student ratio is provided as needed. The ministry also features peer modeling and lessons and activities specifically tailored to individual needs.

Five children with significant special needs participate in the reverse inclusion classes each week, ranging from six to 16 years old.

Another five students with moderate disabilities are integrated into the regular Sunday school program. They either function independently in a mainstream, but supportive setting, or have an adult nearby to redirect them as needed.

For some, Kidmo  – a video based, interactive Sunday school curriculum – allows for plenty of wiggle room and enables them to progress from the special needs classroom to total inclusion.

“It means so much to us to have a church that welcomes our son and has a special place just for him,” says Susan Burchard, who attends the church with her husband, Jarred. “All the volunteers are wonderful, and it gives us such a peace to know that our son is in good hands.”

Burchard adds, “We rarely get to go anywhere as a whole family, so it really is a special place for us.”

“We thought we would minister to them. What we found is that they minister to us.”

Church members of all ages assist with the ministry: four trained teachers, 15-20 adult volunteers, several teen volunteers, and six elementary student volunteers serve the children with disabilities. “The volunteers have really taken ownership of this amazing ministry,” says Alison Pringle.

They rotate once a month with some choosing to serve more often. Each class includes a weekly craft and many hands-on activities for the children. Two musicians alternate Sundays, playing guitar and singing songs with the kids.

“This is probably everybody’s favorite part of the morning,” Pringle says.

Because families with special needs can often feel isolated, they are encouraged to join a Life Group at Pine Lake Covenant. Additionally, to provide insight to church members, families with disabilities have given testimonials during worship services.

Training recently was provided to Stephen Ministries participants to help them stay connected with the special needs families. Stephen Ministries trains members to provide one-on-one care to families.

The entire congregation has benefited from the ministry. “When we began, we were motivated to share the compassion of Jesus with people who often do not find a place in the local church,” says Senior Pastor Chris Breuninger. “We thought we would minister to them. What we found is that they minister to us.”

For more information about the ministry, contact the church or email Amy Rapada.

For resources provided by the Evangelical Covenant Church, click here.

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