The Special Needs Ministry may not be Memorial Park’s biggest or most well-known ministry, but it is one that touches the lives and hearts of God’s often forgotten, ‘least of these’ who face difficult challenges in their everyday life. And to those volunteers who are willing to give an evening or two out of their month to love some very special people, the blessings are immeasurable.
Over 20 years ago, a visit to Memorial Park Church by quadriplegic author and inspirational speaker, Joni Erickson Tada, sparked the dream of Special Friends. Initially, the outreach ministry focused on the spiritual and social needs of adults w ith a physical handicap. Throughout the years, Special Friends has remained strong, but has developed to meet new needs, new volunteers and new ‘special friends’. It has been such a blessing to witness adults with special needs learning more about God’s love for them!
Today we have on average of 40 Special Friends, family members and volunteers who attend our monthly meetings. The special needs of these adults typically fall into a range of developmental disabilities, however there are also some with physical challenges as well. Special Friends provides an evening of worship, fellowship and activities for adults with special needs. Family and friends are always welcome along with our many MPC volunteers.
Who: Adults with special needs and friends What: A free night of Bible stories, prayer time, songs, birthday celebrations, games, movies, snack, crafts and fellowship. When: 2nd Tuesday of each month. September through May, 7:00–8:30 PM Where: Memorial Park Church, Fellowship Hall Why: So adults with special needs have a place to worship and fellowship with other Christians. Register: Contact Marlene Pugliese at 412-779-4634 or via email. Volunteer: Extra hands are always needed. All you need to do is show up ready for some fun!
What people are saying about Special Friends!
“I like seeing the kids sing…the universal language. I like the prayer time, the plays, everything, it’s everything you could ask for in a group. It’s safe, no one is going to intimidate the kids like in the outside world.” – Cheryl (SF Mom)
“Special Friends is my favorite day of the month, because I get to go and be with my special friends! It’s having Diane come in and tell me about riding Access to Special Friends, it’s about seeing Cheryl sneak in late after we’ve already started, it’s hearing Lorraine come up to me and say she’s never seen her daughter Lori give anyone a kiss like she just did to me, and so much more. It fills me up and energizes me!” – Marlene Pugliese (SF Coordinator)
In March of 2010 a new facet of our Special Needs Ministry evolved when we introduced Friday Nite Kids. This program was inspired and patterned after the successful Friday Night Owls ministry at Kirk of the Hills Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Friday Nite Kids began with four kids, and two Memorial Park families, and has expanded to include over 20 families from both our church and in the community, as well as over 50 volunteers. Friday Nite Kids was created to offer a fun night of supervised play and activities for children with special needs and their siblings so the parents can have an evening out.
Who: Children with special needs and their siblings (6 months through 12th grade) What: A free night of fellowship that includes large motor games and sensory activities, computer time, stories, snacks, and a craft. When: We meet from 6:00-8:30 PM on the second Friday of each month from September through May. We also hold a week-long Bible camp in July. Where: Tru Kids wing of the main church building. Why: So the parents can have a night out and the children are in an environment of acceptance, fun and love. Register: Registration forms must be completed prior to attendance. Contact Tammy Hawbaker by e-mail to start the registration process. Volunteer: Clearances to volunteer with children are required prior to attending. See our Child Protection Policy, and contact Tammy Hawbaker via e-mail with any questions or to get started.
What people are saying about Friday Nite Kids!
“When I first heard about FNK, I thought it was too good to be true. It's been hard to find a suitable baby sitter. There is a lot of joy in our family, but not a lot of free time for my husband and me to connect with each other. It's so great to know our children are in a safe environment where they're not just tolerated, but well-cared for and accepted for who they are. It gives us a chance to discuss other issues because we're not at all worried about our kids” – FNK Mom
“FNK is date night, but best part of FNK is the fact that when our son is there, he doesn't have to worry about his idiosyncrasies - no one tells him to stop. He is often excluded and ostracized because of his behavior. There's no problem at FNK because there's a common understanding that everyone is dealing with something similar. In addition, the program lets our older son (16 yr. old) experience being home alone. " – FNK Parent
“My Son absolutely loved it. He was so talkative after the event, which is rare for him. Thank you so much for making this such a great thing for kids like him. He struggles so much to find acceptance and fun, and you have truly created an atmosphere that supports and inspires him." - FNK Dad
"You see these children walking through the door, so excited to have an amazing evening of fun, love and fellowship. The kids with disabilities are not accepted everywhere, but they know that this is a safe place where they are respected and loved for who God wants them to be. And the volunteers who come into this have a wonderful camaraderie because they're supported on all fronts. You came in thinking you were going to help someone else, only to find your cup's been filled. When we work together, we learn where our strengths lie." - Kim (FNK Coordinator)
From FNK Volunteers: "I've seen miracles here. The children are a constant source of inspiration. The biggest miracle is watching children without disabilities interacting and forming real friendships with the children who do have disabilities. Here, they're all just children!"
"I prefer being around kids like this because they have so much heart and they're so happy. I'd like to work with special needs kids as a career."
"I'm able to help people who need my help, and that feels good."