(Air1 Closer Look) –Parents with special needs children frequently suffer severe social isolation, made worse recently by COVID-19. Feeling misunderstood and overwhelmed, many of these families are routinely left out of parties and playdates and often find themselves unwelcome even at church. “Recognizing the needs of families impacted by disability is something that we can all do,” says Marie Kuck of Nathaniel’s Hope. Acknowledging it can be scary to interact with people with disabilities, she nevertheless encourages, “tear down those walls and build friendships.”
Kuck was personally drawn into the world of disabilities more than 20 years ago when her son Nathaniel was born with multiple health problems. After he passed away four years later, she kept the rich, rewarding relationships she had built with other special needs families along the way. She then co-founded the ministry named for her son to cheer and celebrate all special needs kids, whom they call ‘VIPS’ (Very Important People). Nathaniel's Hope sponsors special outdoor festivals, operates free birthday and Christmas toy clubs and provides training for churches to serve these tired and lonely families.
Overwhelmed with the responsibilities of a special needs child, a mom or dad or other caregiver rarely get even one moment to themselves. “There’s no greater cup of cold water you can give a family impacted by disability than a break,” explains Kuck, which is why NH partners with churches to provide respite care called ‘Buddy Breaks.’
For a period of 3-hours, Buddy Break volunteers do crafts, play games and laugh and sing with the special needs kids to show God’s love through acceptance and friendship. Exhausted parents are deeply grateful. “We have story upon story about moms just going to the church parking lot, reclining her chair and going to sleep for 3 hours while their kids are at one of the respite programs because they just can never get a break.”
The Buddy Break training is designed to equip people who have no experience of disabilities and to help remove any residual hesitation. “We’re afraid of what we don’t know, so if we spend time with kids and get to know them then we get comfortable.”
Churches both in the United States and overseas have received the Buddy Breaks training from Nathaniel's Hope.
“We’re just giving the church a tool to be able to do what we believe the church wants to do anyway,” explains Kuck. “It’s a great outreach to the community to reach people that are hurting, and are just looking for hope and some practical help.”