Celebrating Special Needs Ministry Volunteers – Ada Bible Church
Ten days ago I was perusing my Facebook newsfeed and saw the following status update for my Facebook friend, Sally Brown:
“Ada Bible Church has a Special Needs Ministry with the BEST volunteers ever. Thank you Craig and Melinda Koetsier for opening your greenhouse to us for food, fun, and a hayride.”
Sally is the Special Needs Coordinator for Ada Bible Church (Grand Rapids, MI). Through this blog we made a virtual “connection” some time back and followed up with a wonderful phone conversation. As a way of staying in touch we became Facebook friends (what a blessing!) As soon as I saw Sally’s status update (above), my ears perked up. I contacted Sally and she was gracious enough to give the background on the event and provide incredible examples of how Ada Bible Church brilliantly creates community for its participants and its volunteers!
Family/Volunteer Harvest Party
The pictures shown are from the ministry’s family Harvest Party. The event was hosted by church members who own a greenhouse with an ideal set-up for fall fun. Believing in the value of the church’s special needs ministry, the church members graciously offered their spectacular property to host a memorable ministry event. All of the ministry participants and volunteers were invited to bring their entire family for activities including a hay ride, a hay corn maze, various fall themed games (e.g. apple core toss), as well as slider slushees and caramel apples. Sally Brown shares,
“Ministry activities like this facilitate an interaction and bond between our families affected by special needs and our volunteers. The volunteers (and their spouses!) are building relationships with each other and our special needs families. At the same time every attending child (typical and with special needs) is benefitting from a meaningful shared experience with their greater church family.”
Special Needs Ministry Kick-off Dinner & Treasure Hunt
This past September the special needs ministry hosted a ministry kick-off event, honoring the participating families of the ministry students and the volunteers. The church kitchen prepared a meal of easy finger foods served family-style at each table, so that parents didn’t have to get up with their children. Various church staff members attended the social, actively interacting with the families. Because parents of children with disabilities often have fewer opportunities to network, providing the means for these families to meet and converse with the broader church ministry team was important.
Ada Bible church is a multi-site campus. As a result, many ministry participants and volunteers are not well acquainted with their counterparts involved on the other campuses. The kick-off dinner served as a way to pull everyone together for the purpose of building their network of in-church relationships. The event also provided an opportunity for the special needs ministry to promote the church-hosted parent support group (a bi-weekly meeting) and monthly respite night.
To liven up the kick-off dinner, Sally had the idea of creating a treasure hunt throughout the church property. She solicited donations from a number of local businesses and contacts – and was thrilled with the response she received: TGIFriday’s (the restaurant chain) donated $10 gift cards; church members with connections to the Christian music industry obtained a number of popular Christian music CD’s; the church received several books from the Rethink Group and Orange Parents; and the list of fun donations goes on. Every person attending – including family members of volunteers – left the event with a prize in hand.
“The treasure hunt was the real excitement builder for the event. Everyone came together in a pretty remarkable way – soliciting donations, providing the gifted treasures, and hiding the countless clues and prizes. The treasure hunt was so much bigger than any one person could have taken on alone. And the families absolutely loved the activity. Every participant left feeling like a winner – and our ministry is still running on the energy of that event.” – Sally Brown
Brown noted the unintended benefit of putting on an event like the hayride or ministry dinner is that parents reticent to attend church will often come to a party. These events have been very successful entry points for several families who have one spouse hesitant to either attend Bible study or a setting like the parent support group. Brown stressed the importance of keeping the ministry gatherings focused on building community. From her experience, a number of parents warm slowly to either the idea of an active relationship with God – or – fully processing their child’s special needs diagnosis. Several parents have become more active in the ministries of Ada Bible Church after the events described above.
Volunteer Pool Party
Each June a church member offers their pool as the setting for a special needs ministry volunteer event. Families of the volunteers enjoy interacting outside the church setting and in a way their entire family can benefit from the gathering.
As I listened to Brown share the details of all Ada Bible Church does to celebrate their special needs ministry, I couldn’t help but think “Oh, to be a volunteer in this ministry?” There is no doubt that every family affected by special needs is blessed by these events. But the idea of creating opportunities that facilitate community building and personal fulfillment for the volunteers is no less important. What mother doesn’t want her child to attend a hayride? What family wouldn’t enjoy a treasure hunt? And how GREAT is it to experience the joy shared at these events from the perspective of a ministry contributor?
** Sally Brown has graciously agreed to serve on the Q&A Panel for the Special Needs Mini-Conference at the 2011 CMX in Lexington, KY **
For more on Ada Bible Church’s special needs ministry see Dan Scott’s blog post, “Thinking Orange Special Needs.” Dan Scott is the former Director of Elementary Programming for Ada Bible Church and provides an influential voice in the broader community of children’s ministry.
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