Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.” Matthew 25: 37-40 (NIV)
The holidays are quickly approaching. As you have started to compile your gift list, have you thought about the families of special needs children? Granted, there are many fine charitable organizations to which we can give of our time and energy this year. Special needs families are often overlooked in our zeal to be generous at Christmas time. Here are a couple of ways you can include this often neglected group of folks. You just might be entertaining angels unaware in doing so.
Parents’ Night Out – Give some thought to providing free child care for the children of parents who might need to do some Christmas shopping unhindered by their children. Block out a time of 3 hours or so (afternoon or evening) to get to know these children at your church Fellowship Hall.
- You can provide lunch or dinner; pizza is always a favorite.
- Divide the room into play stations. Have a corner just for girls, complete with dolls and other “girlie” activities. Have another one for boys, with trucks and other “boy” favorites.
- Show a favorite Disney video.
- Sing Christmas carols.
- Bake Christmas cookies together – supervision required.
- Make a Christmas craft or wreath for the children to take home.
- Have a brief devotional time during which you can read the Luke account of the birth of Jesus. NO heavy evangelism; simply let the children know this is why we observe such a special time of remembrance.
- Provide a nearby “quiet” room for children who might need space.
- Provide a list on which the parents can put the child(ren)’s name(s) and a phone number where they can be reached in case of an emergency.
- Have a nurse present for the evening.
This might sound daunting at first, but there are individuals in your class who have gifts in some of the areas mentioned above and who are looking for a way to infuse special meaning into their Christmas celebration.
How do you find these families? You can contact your local Special Olympics Director and ask him if he would pass out a simple flyer to his groups. You can find any local sport teams who welcome special needs athletes. You can get to know who the special education teachers are in your local schools and ask them to pass the word about your event. (Be careful here since school systems are prohibited from advertising church events).
If this initial service project goes well, you might want to consider repeating the event at Super Bowl Sunday or Valentine’s Day…and the list can go on and on.
Area Group Homes – The Baptist General Association of Virginia, through HopeTree Family Services, now operates 20 group homes for special needs adults throughout the state. A quick glance online can show you where these homes are located. One might be near you. In addition, the Community Services Boards in most locales also operate group homes. You can go online at your local government website to find where these are located. This second group is not as open to visitors as are our Baptist homes, because of privacy issues, but you can still have a relationship with their residents. Keep reading to find out how.
- Christmas Party – Ideally, a class can put together a party to be held at the home itself. This can be arranged through the Baptist homes fairly easily if one os located near your church. Some of the suggestions for Parents’ Night Out can also be applied here. Sing some Christmas carols, provide refreshments, read the Christmas story, and provide gifts and/or goodie bags for the residents. Take time to play some games and get to know the residents.
- Provide Gifts – in the case of the CSB homes, you might contact someone at the office and find out what particular wishes of gifts the residents want/need. For a number of years, the church I served gave gifts to the residents of a nearby group home, and the entire project was done anonymously. The residents were referred to on the list we received by initials only and then included sizes and other information (ages, personal likes/dislikes) about the gifts for each person.
While we never met the residents, we derived much personal gratification from participating in this project each year. I remember one year that there was a name on the list of a girl about the same age as my special needs daughter. I had so much fun buying gifts for this girl and I took particular delight to do so, since my own daughter was no longer living.
Please keep in mind this startling statistic: Families touched by special needs are the largest unchurched people group in the U.S. You can be the conduit to be “Christ” to these folks who desperately
Mary Buchner retired from Spring Hill Baptist Church and serves as a Sunday School consultant in the area of Special Needs Ministry for the BGAV. She also co-directs the annual Special Needs Retreat at Eagle Eyrie in Lynchburg.