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Create a Variety of Special Needs Ministry Volunteer Opportunities

August 1, 2010

One of the best ways a church can build congregational buy-in for special needs accommodation is by providing service opportunities outside of just childcare and buddy rotation.   Publicizing a need for assistance outside of one-on-one care accomplishes two things:

1) The valuable gifts and services of many church members may be utilized.  Tapping into these talents and resources may free those called to provide childcare from otherwise administrative duties associated with a special needs ministry;

2) Once exposed to individuals with differences and disabilities, oftentimes prospective volunteers grow more comfortable with the idea of helping with one-on-one care.

Amy Kirby, Director of Shades Mountain Baptist Church’s (Birmingham, AL) Hand-in-Hand Ministry explains, “Not everyone is wired in a way they can roll with the punches in the way we have to each Sunday.” After observing a number of special needs self contained classroom settings, including Shades Mountain’s, it isn’t hard to understand Kirby’s statement.  At any point in time a participating child may erupt in boisterous song, leave the craft table early for an unplanned activity, or find a partner to pair up with for unscripted creative movement.  Indeed the type of volunteer who fits well in the special needs environment is someone not easily rattled and who can seamlessly accommodate the children’s changing needs.  Kirby acknowledges that not every church member is well suited for this area of service.   However, she points out, “What church members often don’t realize is that there are numerous other ways to assist a special needs program.  One of our ministry’s most valuable volunteers is a person gifted in accounting and organization.  This lay person is tasked with coordinating the monthly volunteer rotation and handling various administrative needs for our ministry.”

Ideas for special needs volunteer assistance opportunities

  • Lead music in self-contained classroom(s) – one-person guitar, small praise team, or even expressive singer with CD player.
  • Recruit puppeteers from pre-teen and youth ministries to present puppet shows.
  • Prepare art for classroom crafts and activities (see McLean Bible Church’s Art for the Heartvolunteer crafts ministry.
  • Creating seasonal décor or sensory murals for special needs environments.
  • Coordinate master volunteer schedule of buddies and classroom teachers.
  • Create, maintain, and update special needs ministry website.
  • Produce graphic design for marketing pieces and website.
  • Photograph or video program events for website and in-church ministry publicity.
  • Receive ministry participants immediately before programming, taking note of changes in individuals’ medication, schedule, or other areas potentially affecting their time in church care.
  • Perform data input for new participants’ and updated intake forms.
  • Help with volunteer training event preparation.
  • Plan, book and publicize expert guest speaker series.
  • Serve as a greeter to outside guests attending special needs lecture series.
  • Serve as church care contact for a family of a member with special needs.  Help parents and siblings connect within church and offer physical service as appropriate. (e.g. Stephen Ministry).
  • Set up and coordinate service activity involving special needs ministry participants (e.g. food drive).
  • Donate snacks, crafts, classroom equipment, music aides and other requested items.
  • Plan and host a fun activity for ministry participants, families and/or siblings.  Recruit different Sunday school classes or small groups to take on a social or respite care event.
    • Skit Night or Talent Show
    • Family Easter Egg Hunt
    • Bowling Night
    • Puppets & Popcorn
    • Pools & Popsicles
    • Movie Night & Crafts
    • 50’s Dress-up & Soc-hop
    • Museum Tour
    • Christmas Dance
    • Friendship Banquet
    • Picnic at the Park
    • Dress-up or Character Costume Party
    • Fall service project

For anyone on the hunt for volunteer best practices I highly recommend Jim Wideman’s book Volunteers that Stick (Group 2004).

Like this post or any of its content?  See the blog entry Rules for Repost.

Amy Fenton Lee

  1. Amy, here is the link to Special Buddies you asked for. Hope you can access the information. Thanks also for asking. I didn’t think to put in a link because I assumed it would be easy to find.

  2. What a great list! This would be useful for any children’s program, where so often people are nervous about working directly with even typical kids. 🙂

    We have a couple of volunteers who are happy to work in the special needs room as long as they aren’t the person “in charge.”

  3. My church has had a special needs ministry for many years. We run a “buddy program” for kids with special needs, many of whom have Autism.

    Thank you for posting this!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Volunteering Around the Internet | Kidmin1124
  2. The Children’s Ministry Blog Patrol (August 2010) | Dad in the Middle
  3. Top 10 Posts & Blog Update « The Inclusive Church
  4. Finding Special Needs Ministry Volunteers « The Inclusive Church
  5. Kidmin1124 Volunteer Champion of the Week « The Inclusive Church
  6. Special Needs Ministry Emphasis Sunday (& Family Picture Wall) « The Inclusive Church

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