Special needs respite is a concept that needs to sweep the country. This post details first steps and provides resources churches can use to make it happen.Special needs respite should be a component of every special needs caregiver’s life. Unfortunately, finding good respite care is difficult in many parts of the country. In the final post in Cameron Doolittle’s series about special needs respite, he shares many ideas and oodles of resources churches can use to create respite programs right where you live.

Special Needs Respite: How to Start a Program

We hear from senior pastors that often someone in their church wants them to ‘do something’ about special needs. But the pastor says, ‘My plate is so full. I’d love to do something, but I just can’t add one more thing.’ So how can we make this easy for your pastor and a huge win for your church?

God is using Jill’s House to bring respite and renewal to families affected by disability in the DC area and across the country. But this did not happen overnight. Here are a few of the resources we relied on as we built our programs. I hope they help prepare your church to ‘do something’ about disability ministry.

Step 1: Recruit Special Needs Respite Volunteers

First, you’ll need a group of committed volunteers. No matter the level of their enthusiasm and passion, one or two people will not be able to sustain an effective disability ministry. The easiest way to create this group of volunteers is to lead an Oxygen3 mission trip. Members of your church may not sign up to be a disability ministry volunteer, but they might sign up to join you on a three-day mission trip. Oxygen3 is an awesome opportunity for youth groups, small groups, and college groups to spend a weekend together, learn about God’s heart for disability, and see disability ministry in action. They’ll return to your home church ready to apply what they’ve learned. For more information, visit our website, oxygen3.org.

Step 2: Locate Special Needs Respite Coaches

Second, you’ll need advice. I recommend two amazing ministries (led by two friends of mine) that coach churches on building very doable, impactful ministries to families of children with disabilities: Matt Mooney at 99 Balloons and Marie Kuch at Nathaniel’s Hope. Check out Matt Mooney’s piece about rEcess or Marie Kuch’s amazing Buddy Break. By following their guidance, you’ll find that providing a high-impact ministry to families in your community is easier than you think!

Step 3: Learn from Special Needs Respite Pros

Third, you’ll need to learn from the pros. As your program grows, you should know there are some great “sherpas” out there who would be happy to guide you along the path. Jackie Mills Fernald at McLean Bible Church’s Access Ministry has put together some great tips for pastors. Joni & Friends was doing disability ministry before it was cool, and they have awesome resources to help churches. I particularly recommend Five Myths About Starting a Disability Ministry.

God hasn’t taught us to heal children with autism or genetic abnormalities, but He has given us the tools and resources we need to support their families. Our prayer is that as we serve them in Jesus’ name, they come to know—or trust more fully in—His infinite love for them.

Your Special Needs Respite Questions?

Do you have questions about how to start a special needs respite program where you live? Leave them in the comment box for Cameron to answer. Thanks!

special needs respite Cameron Doolittle

Cameron Doolittle has been President & CEO of Jill’s House since it opened in 2010. He loves that families find physical and spiritual rest through Jesus, and that Jill’s House is helping prepare a new generation of leaders to love children with special needs as God does. Before he came to Jill’s House, Cameron was the “new business launch guy” at Corporate Executive Board. He’s a graduate of Stanford University and holds a JD/MBA from UC-Berkeley. Cameron and his wife, Carolyn, live in Falls Church with their four young children.

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