There was a crowd of superheroes dancing to the beat of their own drum in First Christian Church’s gym this week.
They came to join the ‘Jesus League,’ to become super-followers of Jesus in the sixth annual Special Needs Vacation Bible School hosted by the Main Street congregation, and they found many sidekicks waiting to celebrate alongside them.
“We do buddies for every couple of kids or every kid depending on their needs,” says Meredeth Brown, who spearheads the custom-made, faith-based initiative with a team of volunteers. “Anything of a typical VBS, we adapt it per person, per guest. If they have physical limitations, we help them do the activity the best they can.”
It’s three days of fun and successes large and small: helpers cheered on guests of all ages as they danced, sang, crafted and learned about the Gospel.
First Christian Church utilized the pre-packaged ‘Jesus League’ theme in another all-are-welcome VBS earlier this summer and adapted it as necessary for their second, diverse crowd July 1-3.
It’s not just a safe space, one tailored to each guest’s individual abilities and limits. It’s an environment that celebrates their uniqueness, specially-tailored so they can dive in with gusto.
“We just try to make as many adjustments as needed,” Brown said. For example, “We have a sensory room – we can take them out if they get over-stimulated. It’s something of a comfort for some parents, that if (participants) have a meltdown, we’re not going to push them. We’re going to take time for them.”
The Special Needs VBS began in 2014 with 13 participants and has grown to, this year, 49 children and adults. Participants range from 4-years-old to “up,” Brown says: there’s no max age, no limit to who can jump in.
“We always have a big older group,” she said, many of whom know each other from similar extracurricular activities – old friends who race to hug every familiar face that walks in the door. Among the older crowd, the Special Needs VBS gives some opportunities that didn’t exist when they were children, when their differences or their needs ruled out such activities. “Some of them didn’t get to experience it when they were younger, and they get to enjoy it now. It just brings them joy, something to look forward to.”
It’s an awesome thing, according to longtime volunteer Shauna Gage. She’s a grandparents to a special needs child.
“I believe it’s very needed,” she added. “Not only for the kids, I think for the parents also.
“I love these babies.”
Among Bible-based activities, the week also includes treats and visits from Kilgore firefighters, police officers and others – sensory activities as well as chances to make new friends.
Linda Owens says she was in tears after dropping off Andrew and Abby at the VBS – tears of joy.
“Pure love was here. Compassion was here. Truth. Fun. Can you say above and beyond? This church just finished their regular VBS last week. Here they are, pouring out their hearts once again, and they’re pulling out all the stops,” she added. “Jesus League? Yes, that’s truly who they are. For when you’re in league with Jesus, you’re never judged or misunderstood. You’re loved. Valued. Seen. And you can rest and rejoice!”