Back Special Needs Ministry launches, supporting kids with disabilities and their families
September 20th, 2013
By Kaylan Christopher, Staff Writer
It all began several years ago when parents, grandparents, friends, and teachers came together to dream about what could be. They all had the same goal—to support and love people with special needs and their families within the church.
In January, their dream became reality when a Special Needs Ministry was instituted and Ellie Axford joined our staff as the Special Needs Coordinator.
A longtime church member and former teacher at an inclusive school called Early Childhood Special Ed Preschool, Ellie has already volunteered for years in the Preschool and Children's Ministries to support children with disabilities.
"I first came to Vanderbilt to grad school for special ed. I got in the classroom and became passionate about it," she said. "Here, I wanted the kids to feel loved and comfortable and their parents to feel safe leaving their child in class while they worshipped together."
That's exactly why she was hired for the job. The main goal of the ministry is to support, love, and value the children with special needs and minister to the families who are living with a member who has disabilities.
Currently, there are 10-20 children and students involved.
Already, she's implemented a buddy system for children in Sunday morning classes. A "buddy" is a volunteer who sticks close to the child, offering care for them and peace of mind for the parents.
Longtime members Eddie & Jordan Lunn have a 6-year-old son with global developmental delay. They're some of the few who were instrumental in getting this ministry up and running.
"The church really rallied behind us as we tried to find a place for Hunter here," Eddie said. "So many times, when you have a child with special needs, you're a burden in a lot of places—or at least you feel that way. To come to a church where you're welcomed, a church that has a plan for you, is a comfort."
The ministry isn't just for kids. On Sundays, at 9:30 and 11:00 a.m., a teen class has also begun for middle school and high school students with disabilities (buddies optional). And in partnership with Missions and Kairos, it's hosting twice-a-month clubs for Young Life Capernaum.
Mike and Melanie Lawrence, who have a 13-year-old daughter with developmental disabilities, are grateful for the chance she now has to be with friends.
"For most families who have a special needs child, going to church isn't really an option. There's not a place for them to fit in. They can't go to a classroom or worship with their parents," Mike said. "We're very fortunate this church has started a ministry our daughter can be a part of with peers and have someone watch over her while we're serving in other areas."
Currently, there aren’t any options for adults with special needs, but that doesn’t mean they’re not working toward that end. Plans are being made to implement a buddy system and service options.
In laying the foundation for what the ministry will look like in the days ahead, Ellie says the parable of the large banquet in Luke 14 has come up over and over.
"Jesus told about a man who gave a large banquet and invited many blessed, wealthy people, but all them backed out. So the man went and invited the poor, maimed, blind, and lame instead to fill his table in his home," said said.
"Jesus engaged people with disabilities," she continued. "He cared for them. He spoke with them. He ministered to them. And He didn't wait for them to be healed or whole before showing them they had value. Sometimes they were just touched by knowing Him."
Families that deal with disabilities often feel isolated—even within the church. According to Ellie, it's oftentimes hard on marriages, other siblings, finances, schedules, and plans for the future.
"We just want to be able to ease those kinds of burdens on these families," she said. "Many of them are leaders, teachers, staff members here in our church. They're helping us. So we want to help them."
She continued, "Many people are afraid to work with individuals with disabilities. They don't want to say or do the wrong thing. But these children and students just want to know that you're there for them—that you love and care for them."
Eddie said, "This is an awesome opportunity to reach families like us and others in our community. I'm just proud of our church for stepping up to do it."
To volunteer with the Special Needs Ministry, contact Ellie Axford. No experience needed. Training provided.