This is my favorite part so far: She just asked how many of us have kids with special needs. I was the only one who raised by hand. The rest of the room is folks who care about special needs ministry without being a special needs parent. (This is a BIG change from what I often see in sessions like this, where usually at least 10-20% - in not many more! - in the room has a child with special needs.)
The Fear Factor: Many of us are afraid to interact with those who are different from us. We need to start thinking by what people CAN do (their abilities) and not what they CAN'T do (their disabilities). It often fails to just put out a bulletin notice for volunteers because people are intimidated unless they clearly know the role they'll be filling.
IDEA: You can go serve at the Down syndrome or autism walk in your community or the Ronald McDonald House to help members of your church become more comfortable serving with people with disabilities.
Matthew 25:40 - "As you have done it until the least of these, you have done it unto me."
Volunteers DO NOT need a special needs background. They just need a willingness to learn and serve with compassion. Sometimes, volunteers can help you understand what they can do and want to do (for example, a senior citizen who is not able to chase after a child but would love to sit and read with one or make phone calls to check in with parents).
Our lives and churches are made richer places by people with special needs. "My son who never learned to walk or talk or eat by his mouth blessed my life in ways that our other children never could have."
It's okay to seek outside professionals (including college students who are professionals in training), but you want to be finding people within your church to serve as well.
Respite care is a GREAT way to train volunteers by giving them a chance to serve in a short-term, low-pressure, relaxed environment before they commit to regularly help on Sundays or mid-week ministries. You can use respite care as a way of recruiting longer term volunteers.
ALL teachers need to understand about special needs ministry, not just the volunteers who are serving directly with a child with special needs. Find people to help give respite to your volunteers at times to back them up or to come in and offer extra training, so that volunteers don't burn out and stay with your team for a long time. (Note from Shannon: If you invest in volunteers well, you won't have to recruit as much because you don't be losing volunteers who you need to replace as often.)
Intake forms help volunteers because the info on the forms can help them understand the needs of the child they're paired with. (Note from Shannon: I'll be posting our intake form here last this week if you need an example.)
Marie shared a lot of resources that can be found on their website here: Nathaniel's Hope's Resource Page
Questions people asked:
(I'll be posting about each of these with answers from me and Marie next week.)
- Our church had a special needs ministry but then we had some splits and now we're working from the ground up to reestablish something. What's the first step?
- Our church's biggest need is organizing respite care well. We have it quarterly with about 20-25 kids. How do we organize the team to go from that to stay on mission on Sunday morning?
- We just had fall kick-off, and now I have Sunday school teachers come to me and saying, "I think we have a special needs situation here." Now I feel like we have the cart before the horse. Is it okay for me to approach a parent to ask if there's some special need situation present so that we can serve the family and the child well?