Today’s guest post is from Meaghan Wall, who will be returning as a special needs workshop speaker at the Orange Conference 2014. (More info to come about the OC14 special needs track. Checkout the OC13 special needs breakouts in this previous post.) To celebrate opening day for OC14 registration, we thought we’d run a contest for a FREE OC14 registration along with today’s post. To enter the contest, please provide the following information about yourself or the person you’d like to nominate:
- Name and email address
- Church name, city, and state (or country)
- How you help your church with special needs inclusion
- How the OC14 special needs track will help you (300 words or less)
- Email your entry to firstname.lastname@example.org by midnight 10/8/13
- Put OC14 Free Registration Contest in the subject line of your email
Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming….
Welcome to the Bite Club!
While it’s exciting to have fresh and enthusiastic faces, there’s always a little anxiety when a new volunteer begins serving in our ministry. I find myself worrying if I’ve given the new ministry helpers enough training, if they’ll be able to handle the kiddos who are a little more challenging, and most of all, if they’ll enjoy serving. I’ve never claimed that working in the special needs ministry environment is easy.
Six years ago Maddie, who was a fifth grader at that time, approached me with a desire to help in our special needs ministry. I was comfortable welcoming her to our volunteer team since she had been thoroughly interviewed and approved by our church’s YES! (Youth Engaged in Service) Coordinator. And like all other volunteers in our ministry, she participated in our required training before her first Sunday of service.
On Maddie’s first Sunday, she arrived dressed in her “Sunday best” and eager to get involved. Though she started out a little timid, hanging tightly to her friend who was already an experienced ministry volunteer, she began to relax as the morning progressed. It wasn’t long before she was interacting with our ministry participants. She was reading with the kids, helping them with their crafts, and encouraging them by singing all the silly songs. Everything was going great until right before it was time for parent pickup. In the blink of an eye, without any warning, one of our kiddos turned around and bit Maddie right on the shoulder. He didn’t just nip her, he sunk his teeth in. It was a true bite.
Hearing a gasp, I turned to find Maddie’s eyes as big as saucers and welling quickly with moisture. Certain that tears were eminent, I ran towards Maddie while another volunteer brilliantly ushered off our little biter to work on a puzzle. I surveyed our biter’s damage and got Maddie settled with an ice pack. After we caught our breath and determined Maddie’s injury was relatively minor, I looked at her and said,
“Welcome to your first day in special needs and welcome to the club….the BITE CLUB.”
It wasn’t long after Maddie’s infamous first-day bite, that we created a formal symbol to mark a volunteer’s rite of passage into the “Bite Club”. And for the past six years, every new club member is presented with a keychain at the time of their (unexpected) initiation. Many club members receive and display their keychain with great honor.
Thanks to the attitude of Maddie, we turned a tension into a positive shared experience that ultimately started a well-loved tradition inside our ministry. Now, when a volunteer has their first bite, after making sure everyone is alright, we call for all present club members to circle around their newest initiate. At this time I grab a keychain from an on-hand stash and present the earned award with great fanfare to the (recovering) volunteer. Inevitably our little ceremony generates a new wave of stories about the latest incident and bragging rights are quickly claimed. Not surprising, our Bite Club members proudly use their symbolic awards and love being asked about it in the community. I have lost count of the conversations that make their way back to me where a Bite Club member shares the story behind their keychain while also talking about their love for our church’s special needs ministry. ~ Meaghan Wall