Individuals with special needs, especially those on the Autism spectrum, often have difficulty in the area of social skills. This can be especially true in building and maintaining lasting relationships with others, including peers. I have been a volunteer Ministry Leader with Champions Club for four years. In my time with this ministry, I have witnessed how this program not only provides spiritual growth for the children, teens, and adult members with special needs, but it has helped many members cultivate lasting relationships that extend beyond the walls of the church.
During my service, I have two boys, both on the Autism spectrum, who have developed a lasting friendship through their connection at Champions Club. The first thing they both ask when they arrive for service is if the other one is here yet. Not only do they spend free time during service talking with one another, but their families have also connected, and they do things together outside of church. The boys also invite each other to big events such as graduations and birthday parties. As volunteers, it was so special to us to watch this friendship develop and bloom between these boys. However, I will never forget the look of hope and excitement on the faces of their parents when we shared with them about the friendship that was developing, and when they first witnessed them socializing with one another. They were filled with so much love and happiness to see their sons developing a lasting friendship.
We also have two younger girls who both have Down Syndrome who have also built the most beautiful friendship. They also look forward to seeing each other every week at service and tell their parents all about their friend. During service, they play with each other, hold hands to walk between the classrooms and make sure that each other are fully cared for. They are truly inseparable, and their friendship brings so much joy to them, their parents, and all of the volunteers.
In addition to the friendships that are formed between the members, it is a true joy to see the relationships that the children, teens, and adults form with the volunteers who serve every week. So many of the children greet the volunteers with big smiles and hugs. They often ask about a volunteer if they are not there for a week and show so much joy when the volunteer returns the next week. We have one adult who knows everyone's name and asks every week where each missing volunteer is at. It is so fulfilling to know that what we are doing through Champions Club matters to these children, teens, and adults. It is a place they not only love to attend but look forward to each week – and not just for the fun things they get to do during service, but also for the relationships that they have developed. I love how Champions Club focuses on growth and development in so many areas. It is designed to not only teach about the love of Jesus, but also to develop their behavioral, social, and emotional skills. The curriculum is designed to teach about emotions and friendships and volunteers are trained to model and teach those social skills needed to develop and sustain lasting relationships.
Your child may be struggling with developing lasting friendships and relationships at the moment, but I encourage you to trust God and stay hopeful. Just as I have seen God do it for so many of our children, teens, and adults at Champions Club, I believe that he can do it for all individuals with special needs.
Proverbs 27:9 "Just as lotions and fragrance give sensual delight, a sweet friendship refreshes the soul" (MSG translation).
Champions Club Volunteer – 4 years