One of the greatest challenges in leading a special needs ministry is always corralling enough volunteers for any given event. In addition to people throwing out the usual excuse of being “too busy”, there’s also the discomfort in working with the unknowns of disability. People who are not accustomed to being around those with special needs wonder what it will be like, if they will be competent or if too much will be expected of them. For our organization, a creative approach has provided a dual benefit.
We are extremely blessed to have a relationship with a terrific youth pastor who has a powerful story of salvation coming to him after years of suffering through the diagnosis of Tourette Syndrome. Besides having great vision for the youth he shepherds, he also has a wonderful sensitivity to families living with special needs because of what he has endured. That being the case, we have partnered with his large youth group to recruit volunteers for a number of projects. Here are some of the things we have been able to use their help with:
- Preparing & packaging of our gift baskets for Moms & Dads who need some encouragement.
- Fundraising for our programming where youth sell pens for the cause at local grocery stores on one “Super Service Saturday”.
- Serve as a “shadow” each week to a child who needs a little extra help in a Sunday School class, AWANA or VBS.
- Work in our respite programs, “Marriage Maintenance Madness”, where they watch and play with kids under the supervision of a trained adult.
Not only has this given us an ample number of volunteers, but it majorly changes the perspective of those serving. The kids don’t have to be made to accept or include others. After serving, it comes without a second thought. And the teens enjoy serving so much that they are anxious to know when their next opportunity is to serve. They’re not shy about telling their peers about working with the special needs kids either, which only draws even more to the ministry.
We have also found ways to meet concerns about safety and confidentiality. We cover ourselves by making certain of the following:
- Our insurance is reviewed to ensure that adequate coverage in place.
- Confidentiality, responsibility agreements are signed with the youth and their parents.
- Adults are competently trained in both the care of the children with special needs children AND the supervision and guidance of the youth.
- Parents fill out very detailed instructions and permission sheets for their special needs children, and communicate directly with those who will be watching their child.
If you are not using teen volunteers in your disability ministry, you are missing out on at least half of the equation. Connecting youth groups to your work is a powerful way to multiply your ministry and assure that it is carried on with passion in the next generation!