Church reaches out to people with special needs

Having a child who falls outside society's parameters of "normal" or "typical" can be isolating, to say the least. As any parent of a special-needs child can tell you, there are precious few churches that reach out to these young people to try to teach them about life and spirituality.

Lawrenceville First United Methodist Church understands that not only can these young people be reached and taught about God, they too have an important place in society. In fact, the church offers several programs for children and adults with special needs.

Cindy Walters, director of Children's Ministries at the church, said, "Parents of special-needs kids usually learn about programs such as ours by word of mouth. There has to be a trust level."

Surprisingly, the Pathways program for young children has been the slowest to grow in numbers. Walters attributes the slow growth to several factors.

First, parents have to hear about the program. Second, parents of a young special- needs child sometimes wish that, even for one hour, their child could be in a "normal" setting being a "normal" kid. In other words, they are reluctant to have their child labeled.

But the programs at Lawrenceville First United Methodist are not about separating and categorizing children. They are about inclusion and giving the children a safe place to experience art, music, socialization, spirituality and acceptance.

According to Walters, it takes a lot of volunteers to make the programs work. There is always adult supervision, and while no program except Respite offers a nurse on hand, children with autism, Fragile X syndrome, physical disabilities and other circumstances learn, experience and grow in the care of the dedicated staff and volunteers at the church.

Bridges is a Sunday school class for special-needs students age 16 and over. This class meets at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays. In this setting, students experience Christian education and acceptance.

Pathways is a Sunday school class for special-needs children age 4 to 15. This class meets at 9:30 a.m.

Special Needs Respite provides rest for special-needs parents and is an opportunity for individuals with special needs to experience activities and events created for them. This program is offered once a quarter. The next scheduled date is Sept. 19.

EQUATE is a special- needs youth ministry that meets monthly during the school year. Geared toward high-functioning special needs students in grades 6 through 12, EQUATE includes activities such as games, crafts, music, pizza parties, ice cream socials, special guests and more. This program will resume in September.

For more information about these classes, call Walters or Lisa Johnson at 770-963-0386, ext. 116, or visit www.fumclv.org.

Lawrenceville First United Methodist church is located at 395 W. Crogan St. in Lawrenceville.