Each month, we’ll follow Ward member, Cindy Ziemba, on her adventures around the volunteer globe. Did you know there are over 100 unique roles filled by volunteers each month? Cindy will share the good, the surprising, the challenging…the authentic experience behind a wide range of volunteer roles at Ward Church, all serving to connect people to God!
I will admit my uncertainty about shadowing in the Special Needs Suite. Ward has a robust special needs ministry with many options (more on that below), but the kids who need the most support spend their service hour(s) with volunteers in a 5-room suite near the Chapel. My main concern was how well I could connect with them and understand their needs.
That concern disappeared within minutes of entering the activity space. A entered with a toy in hand. “Have you ever watched Fairly Odd Parents?”, he asked. Since it was a cartoon that my own kids had watched years ago, I told him yes, and that broke the ice. “Which character is your favorite?” he asked, followed by a number of other questions dealing with plot, character development, and his suggestions on future shows. When one of his buddies showed up, he went off to do an activity with him – likely because I was way behind his level of thinking on the topic.
I didn’t have a chance to get bored. “Come play!” L said to me, leading me into the next room to play roll-the-ball with her. We giggled as we pushed it back and forth.
Sherry Kosmalski, Ward’s Director of Special Needs Ministry, greeted families as students entered. The team of volunteers warmly welcomed the students and had an amazing awareness of them – who needed to be watched because of safety or health concerns, and what activities each student enjoys. The students clearly felt at home and comfortable.
After about 15 minutes of open activities, we were all called to the tables to sit for the lesson time. Again, the team knew how to engage each one. Two start by working on activity sheets to prepare them for the lesson; one enjoys having a Bible picture book open; another has laminated pictures on a card. One child engages best when involved, so that one became Zacchaeus while Elizabeth told the story, and Keith, a student volunteer, played the role of Jesus. From the live story-telling, students and leaders moved over to the media space, where we watched first the story of Zacchaeus, and then a modern-day parable to help deeper-thinking students apply the story to their own friendships.
After snack time, the kids were able to choose from a variety of activities. L was ready to play with me again and chose large duplo blocks, so we built and took apart buildings for about 10 minutes, when parents started arriving. L did a great job cleaning up the blocks and putting them away. Most kids were reluctant to leave the welcoming space and loving volunteers.
The support and care between leaders and parents was sweet and evident. Parents gave leaders updates on vacation plans, milestones, and family events while gathering their kids. One dad put his hand on my shoulder. “I just don’t know what we’d do without these people,” he said.
The volunteers lingered and Elizabeth, a college student, shared her career plans with me, which have evolved as a result of her experience in this ministry. I realized that where I had been uncertain that I could connect, I had instead discovered deep fellowship, and I was blessed to be pulled into it for a time.
We know prior to finding Ward, many of these families were turned away from other churches, where care for their children was unavailable. Some parents spent years taking turns attending church, so one could stay at home with their special needs child. Ward having this amazing ministry for every child is a gift and an honor. Ward’s special needs ministry includes Potter’s Wheel, a class at 9:30 for developmentally challenged adults; Capernaum Club for students (in partnership with Young Life Ministries) for teens and young adults up to age 26 on Tuesday evenings; one-on-one support for children integrated in WardKids small and large groups on Sundays, and the special needs ministry in the Special Needs Suite. The volunteer team also provides a monthly Parent’s Night Out for families whose children regularly attend Sunday mornings.
Although a number of volunteers had prior special needs experience, there are many who gave it a try, were coached by leaders, and learned they loved it. Interested in shadowing for a week? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions for Cindy about finding your spot on one of the many serve teams? Contact her at email@example.com