Should Families With A Special Need Volunteer?

I guarantee you that most of you will have an immediate, resolute answer to the question “Should families with a special needs volunteer?”  You will either quickly respond, “Of course, they should,” or “Of course, they shouldn’t!”  It’s a funny conundrum in the disability ministry community for which there is likely no definitive answer.

There many advantages to having those in the special needs community volunteer in disability ministry.  For starters, no one has their finger on the pulse of the community’s needs like one who is in the thick of it!  They’ve “walked a mile” in the shoes of those they serve.  These individuals are keenly aware of what the challenges are as well as their solutions.  They know what their peers are expressing as concerns.  And they can come up with creative remedies that “experts” sometimes miss.  This makes these people uniquely qualified to address certain challenges.

Another valuable asset to using families with a special need in your volunteer pool is that these people have a vested interest in the success of the ministry.  They have a passion for those who are being served.  Their heart breaks for others who suffer in similar ways to themselves.  And that motivates these volunteers to go the extra mile for the population being served.  There’s no substitute for the simple gift of having another person who identifies with your plight.  This can be tremendously edifying to those being served, whether they be child or adult.

There are disadvantages as well.  No doubt, these families are taxed.  With the continual stress of dealing with the diagnosis itself, running to doctors, visiting therapists, additional financial challenges and other obstacles, energy is at a premium.  Time is also at a premium.  This may make these individuals less reliable volunteers, with good reason.  However, it can be challenging keeping a ministry humming along in a smooth fashion when you have volunteers who jump in and out of service or fail to show at the last minute for their assigned duty.  And if they hold a key position, a back-up had better be in the wings lest the operation come to a screeching halt in the case of a last minute crisis or emergency.

Furthermore, these individuals may be so entrenched in a life with special needs, that they are unable to see the bigger picture.  Stability is often favored in these families over trying something fresh and different.  And at times the attitude of “We are the experts because we live with this” can diminish these volunteers’ willingness to completely switch gears with new methods.  We all need to pull away, stand back and get a broader view of what best practices are, what new tools are available, and what needs to be addressed.  Sometimes, families who are pushing through the daily living with these challenges don’t have the perspective to possess those more global approaches.  These obstacles can easily create a source of friction.  And asserting yourself as a leader with a family that is challenged can truly be daunting.

All of these things taken into account, have you explored the course to which you are currently using?  What are your thoughts on this issue?  Have you guarded against some of these issues with a specific protocol?  Examining our paradigms only helps us to make God’s ministry better!

  1. #1 by drgrcevich on April 18, 2012 - 11:37 am

    I’m not sure we have a large enough sample size on this one, but I’ve observed firsthand challenges when a parent of a child with special needs is responsible for LEADING a ministry, especially when a single parent is given that responsibility.

    An expectation I’d have for full inclusion is that families would be doing all of the activities the leaders of their church deem important for spiritual growth…including service. Where parents serve would ideally be determined by their gifts and talents and passions…but I could see some advantages in encouraging parents to serve in areas that would encourage the formation of relationships outside the special needs community.

  2. #2 by Jana Kaye Kuhnert on April 19, 2012 - 4:24 pm

    We have always been a service minded family. But it wasn’t until our limb-different child began volunteering to be a camp counselor with Camp No Limits that God began to refocus our services in a new direction. What began with a dream of our son’s, NubAbility Athletics Foundation, God is quickly multiplying the opportunities to serve Him in the limb-loss community. To say that families of special need kids should feel obligated to serve is wrong. But for us, it is the path that we have been placed on. We are now working with national entities to better the lives of the limb-loss community and to raise awareness of their ability to live a life with no limits. To watch my son give back is priceless.

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