STEWARTSTOWN, Pa. (BP) -- Special needs children and their families have a cadre of buddies at Stewartstown Baptist Church.
To share God's love with special needs families, the Pennsylvania congregation offers respite nights as an outreach to the community. Special needs children and their siblings come to the church for a fun night every other month while the parents get a date night, knowing their children are in a safe place with people able to provide the quality of care their youngsters need.
On Sundays, the church pairs special needs children with volunteers in what they call its "buddy system." Buddies sit with the children, support them and assist them in the church's worship services, Sunday School and Awana youth program.
For the buddies, it's a ministry that seems to be as much a blessing to them as it is to special needs families.
"There's just something real special about helping these little ones feel accepted and wanted," said Joan Theisen, who has been a buddy for about a year. "When you can be a buffer to help the children melt into the group and not feel they stand out, that's a good feeling."
Matt and Amy Hamulack wanted to be in church with their three children, but their daughter Addison is autistic and they didn't feel comfortable in other churches they visited.
"We didn't know where to go, and then we heard about the respite nights this church offers," Matt Hamulack said.
"The big thing is [Pastor] Lee and [his wife] Sandra have a special needs child," Hamulack noted. "Knowing there is someone who understands, someone who 'gets it,' and someone to help, that's a big deal for parents like us." The congregation helps his family with "the most important thing -- to know God and Jesus and to teach the kids."
Lee Peoples was called to lead the Stewardstown church in 2008. He and his wife Sandra have two sons, who were 2 years old and 4 months old at the time. Two years later, a church member who worked as an occupational therapist noticed that their son James did not appear to have age-appropriate motor skills. Read More