In 2013 Mount Paran Church (Atlanta, Georgia) created a staff position to oversee special needs inclusion for all of its family ministry environments. Jillian Palmiotto, a former special education teacher and longtime children’s ministry volunteer, became the church’s first Family Ministry Special Needs Ministry Coordinator. A couple of weeks ago the newly named “Unlimited” Special Needs Ministry opened a sensory room. The room serves as a wonderful alternative environment for students who can benefit from the space during any part of their church experience. I was thrilled to be part of the room’s inaugural Sunday and loved meeting the students, families, and volunteers involved in the ministry. The staff at Mount Paran did a great job designing the new room and extra kudos goes to Jillian’s husband, who created the brilliant sensory wall.
I met Jillian after she had been on the job only a couple of weeks at Mount Paran. She mentioned a timeline she had just drafted, outlining goals for the ministry’s first year. Jillian is a girl after my own heart! Of course I begged her to share the planning document here. Like many of you, Jillian is navigating new territory, figuring out her own job responsibilities on a daily basis. Now, inching toward the end of one year on the job, Jillian points out that many goals from the original outline (shown below) have changed or moved into the ministry’s second year. As many of you already know, flexibility is arguably the most important attribute of a special needs ministry leader.
Mount Paran Church – Unlimited Special Needs MInistry
Year One Ministry Goals and Timeline
- Determine families and individuals impacted by special needs.
- Create ministry forms
- Individualized Plan (detailed for myself)
- Individualized Plan at a glance (summary for volunteers & staff)
- Contact Families for interviews
- Begin volunteer recruitment and establish volunteer pool
- Recruit mentor families
- Determine which existing volunteers inside preschool, children’s and student ministry environments are willing to be trained for inclusion model
- Create budget for the ministry
- Continue parent interviews
- Work with existing children’s ministry leaders to assess needs for buddies or other inclusion strategies
- Research paid, trained, and bonded childcare providers and agencies for emergency needs
- Plan transitional accommodations for large group and small group
- Train volunteers already working with students with additional needs.
- Provide pointers to students about including peers with special needs
- Work with ministry leaders and parents to begin transitioning identified students to individualized accommodation plans
- Recruit and train volunteers for transition environment(s)
- Continue working with preschool, children’s, and student ministry leaders to identify and meet the needs of students
- Begin planning training sessions to meet the needs of adults with intellectual disability
- Assess transitional plans for each student
Student A – Transitioning from elementary to student ministry
Student B – Transitioning small groups within same ministry area
Students C – M….
- Reassess volunteer pool and budget concerns (i.e. materials/equipment needs)
- Finalize budget needs for 2014 fiscal year
- Refine environment, goals, accommodations, progress and volunteer placement for each identified student
- Continue refining environments, goals, accommodations for identified students
- Make plans for new enrollment of students to come through special needs ministry
- Create plan for staff and volunteers to be rolled out as part of Lead Small training events
- Begin modifying curriculum as needed
- Set volunteer training goals and curriculum modification goals
- Focus on intense volunteer recruitment.
- Continue to assess effectiveness of program
- Schedule appointments to meet with and interview adults who need to transition out of youth ministry
- Begin monthly trainings for staff and volunteers
- Begin assessing inclusion opportunities for summer children’s ministry experiences
- Work with respective ministry leaders to discuss opportunities for smaller small group sizes
- Continue staff and volunteer training events
- Continue researching what is needed to make summer experiences inclusive
- Schedule meetings/interviews with identified adults with special needs who attend worship
Months 10 – 12:
- Continue outstanding items from previous months
- Reassess all aspects of current plan for ministry
- Revisit needs and goals of ministry (What is going well? What needs to change?)
- Explore additional long term ministry opportunities:
- Respite care
- Mother’s day out
- Day camps
- Parent support groups
- Questions for our team:
How can we improve the ministry for the kids?
What is better now than 1 year ago?
How do we move forward?
What kids are we currently serving?
What consistent volunteers do we have?
Commitment luncheon for special needs ministry?