Making Space for Special Needs Ministry
At Chapelstreet Church in Geneva, Illinois, its special needs ministry—Masterpiece Ministry—has grown out of a belief that all children are loved and valued by Christ. Masterpiece Ministry is devoted to helping children with special needs and their families experience love and acceptance during worship, instruction, and fellowship.
Creating Programs for Special Needs
One of the primary ways that Chapelstreet serves families and their children with special needs is by hosting Buddy Break, a free respite program where youth (ages birth–20 years old) with special needs and their siblings can make new friends, play fun games, enjoy crafts, stories, music, and activities. Meanwhile, their parents get a break from ongoing caregiving responsibilities for three hours. Chapelstreet hosts Buddy Break every five to six weeks.
According to Jaimie Valentini, leader of Masterpiece Ministry, attendance at Buddy Break has grown much faster than they anticipated. “There’s an unmet need in our community for families with disabled children, both for respite for the parents and special opportunities for the children,” says Valentini.
Making Space for Special Needs
Along with a need for respite from the demands of caregiving, Valentini and the staff at Chapelstreet also realized that families with special needs children also simply needed physical spaces that adequately accommodated their children's needs. In 2015, Chapelstreet invested in a new ministry space devoted specifically to Masterpiece Ministry as part of the church's overall building project. This new space, designed and built by Aspen Group, features over-sized bathrooms to accommodate wheelchairs, and adult-sized massage tables that double as changing tables. Because of their height, size, and stability, parents can manage diapering needs of any size person.
Aspen also created a new check-in area, which features a Dutch door that directs kids into the children's ministry space without giving them a way to run out. This small, but thoughtful, detail gives Sunday school leaders a little extra time to talk with families without their kids darting off unexpectedly.
Another important space that Aspen built into Chapelstreet's special needs ministry area is a "quiet room," a small space with two chairs and soft lighting that provides a calming, peaceful environment. For individuals who experience a high sensitivity to light and sounds, the quiet room can provide a haven of comfort and peace, both for those with special needs and the people who care for them.
All of these facility details and the expertise of Valentini and her volunteer team make it possible for Chapelstreet to provide ministry for children and youth, who present with a wide array of needs and limitations, including autism spectrum disorders, speech delays, physical impairments, neurological disorders, developmental delays, behavioral problems, emotional issues, cognitive impairments and learning disabilities. Valentini and other leaders share some additional tips if you're thinking of creating a special needs ministry at your church.