Maryland church provides VBS for kids with special needs

BERLIN, Md. (BP) — For years, Berlin First Baptist Church (BFBC)children’s director Shannon Diehl pondered the idea of the church hosting a Vacation Bible School (VBS) for children affected by disabilities. It seemed like a natural fit for the woman with a background in working with young children with developmental delays. But fear kept her from doing it.

“It was on my heart, but I pushed it down. I thought I couldn’t do it,” Diehl said. That is, until this summer, when God again prompted Diehl and then opened doors and provided resources.

With counsel, training and assistance from Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D) disability missionary Katie Matthews, grants from the BCM/D and the Eastern Baptist Association and an excited and willing church family, Diehl and her husband, BFBC pastor Brad Diehl, prayerfully led the congregation in bringing the idea to fruition.

The church hosted its first VBS for children with disabilities June 17-20. Volunteers ran the unique VBS in the mornings, Monday through Thursday. In the evenings, they offered VBS for neurotypical families throughout the week.

In addition to the usual prep work for VBS – recruiting volunteers, decorating, lesson planning, and activities – the church also created a sensory room and recruited “buddies,” who would stay with their assigned students for the entire program, walk them to the various stations, help them as needed and be their friend. Volunteers also assembled sensory bags for each child, including noise-canceling headphones, electronic doodle pads, fidget toys, biting toys and a snack.

The children engaged in the activities in their own unique ways. At the opening celebration, some sat with their parents and shyly watched while others were all in – singing with gusto and huge smiles, a few dancing, and one or two waving their arms.

After the celebration, the kids followed their buddies through the “tropical rainforest” story time area. Some sat on the floor in a circle, others stood by the doorway, and a few were a bit clingy and not comfortable entering the room. They were led to another area for a one-on-one activity.

Students heard the story of creation from Pastor Brad, watched a science demonstration and then headed outside for recreation time, which included a new ADA swing on the church’s playground.

Anisa Impasto drove an hour to bring her two sons, Phillip and Nathaniel to the event. Katy Harlan, who brought her 9-year-old son Jeremiah, said there are some good groups in the area that help families with disabilities. Still, she’s glad to have a VBS where Jeremiah can go where he is safe and cared for, and she doesn’t have to accompany him.

“I want him to learn about Jesus,” Harlan said. “When I say something, it doesn’t always click, but when someone else does, it clicks.”

Annie Young, who brought her 4-year-old twins JJ and Bria, was impressed with the church’s efforts.

“They were especially good at keeping the lights and music down low, creating a sensory room and increasing the number of volunteers,” Young said. “I felt it was very well planned. They were also very ‘in tune’ with the kids’ needs. They had visual schedules with pictures. We’re grateful. Otherwise, we wouldn’t even have tried.”

Five summer missionaries from a Baptist Collegiate Ministry in Mississippi, helped

“We all had a great week,” Diehl said. “We were really blessed and encouraged, and we’re super glad we did it. … I was surprised by parents saying there was nothing like this for their families. I’m excited to give them something.”

The church plans to use what it learned during the VBS to host periodic three-hour “Respite Nights” for families of children with developmental disabilities.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sharon Mager is communications specialist for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. This article originally appeared at BCMD.org.)

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