Our Inclusion Sundays are up and running!
Trinity has always embraced a loving attitude of acceptance toward all people. Several years ago we gained two families with children who have special needs. We immediately began to retool in order to meet these families' needs and invited a special education teacher from Starkville Public Schools to train our Education Committee and teachers.
This year we wanted to take this program a little deeper. There are no respite programs for parents of children with special needs available in Starkville. Church can be particularly difficult for families who are worried about a congregation accepting the different behavior of their children. Many parents of children with special needs find church to be another day of work, sitting with them in educational programs, walking with them during the service, or keeping up with them during coffee hour. At Trinity, we wanted to do two things: 1. Provide appropriate worship and educational experiences for ALL children, and 2. Give parents of children with special needs a much-needed break on Sunday mornings to refuel themselves.
Alison Buehler became our Family Outreach Coordinator. She taught special education for seven years and put her experience to work at Trinity. She partnered with Phi Mu sorority to bring in "shadows" who are paired with children throughout our Sunday morning programming and hired Rosie Oppedal to coordinate Children's Church and Fellowship Time. A "respite room" was opened to give children a place to cool off if they need a break, and Suzy Lowry took on the job of finding new books on understanding people with special needs for our entire congregation. "This is really about reeducating our congregation, more than making any significant changes to our programming," Buehler said. "Understanding that some of our children will be loud during the service, or that their behavior is created by their disability is an important component for the success of this program."
Here is a typical Sunday Schedule for one of our youth with autism. Sasha comes to Trinity at 9:30 for worship with her mother. They sit near the back of the sanctuary near the "respite room." After about twenty minutes, Pastor Buren does the children's sermon. All the kids come down front and afterward, Sasha can either go to Children's Church with Ms. Rosie, where they read a story, do art, and play games for the remainder of the service, or she can remain with her mother for the service with the respite room available. If Sasha becomes antsy she can read books, draw, or take a phone into the respite room while her mother and brother listen to the service. The "shadow" volunteers meet the kids in Fellowship Hall with Ms. Rosie and help all the children participate. At 10:30, the congregation meets in Fellowship Hall for coffee, snacks, and friendship. Ms. Rosie and the shadows make sure all our students are taken care of, and then escort them to our educational programs at 11:00. The programming is fun, engaging, and designed to help all children grow in faith. The respite room is available during this time as well. Sometimes the volunteers walk a child who needs a break away from the activity until they are ready to rejoin.
"These children are precious," said Ms. Rosie. "Each one of them is a gift from God and we just love that they are able to be here."
For more information please call Alison Buehle at 662 694-0124.