Posted on May 5, 2014
Welcome to our PURE Ministry Network Ministry Spotlight series. We believe that we are stronger when we can learn from one another. By sharing our stories, we become part of a larger community. We pray this story inspires you as you minister alongside those we choose to call PURE.
I confess, I am a respite groupie. I’ve been researching respite care by visiting programs across my region for the better part of a year. And my calendar is dotted with appointments to visit many more of these ministry events. I call them “ministry events” because that is how I once classified respite. But my visit to ConnectAbility‘s, Sidekicks Respite Night, would change how I view the idea of respite permanently.
The atmosphere at check-in for this event more resembled a family reunion than a typical ministry event. There was evidence of all the standard registration paperwork and procedures, but that was secondary to the hugs and high-fives exchanged. When I heard respite volunteers inquire about how doctor’s appointments went during the past week, I knew this went far beyond an event where ministry was done within a 3-hour time span.
I watched as one volunteer brought in a group of PURE adults he had retrieved from a local residential care center. When asked how the trip went he smiled and replied, “They really like my sunroof.” As this windblown group tumbled into the fellowship hall with laughter, calling to their friends across the room, I knew I was soon to witness a new kind of respite.
As I adjusted my expectations, I began to notice that more than one of the parents who had dropped a younger PURE child was actively involved in the activities in the room designed for adolescents and adults. My first thought was that they were waiting to see if their child settled in before leaving the campus. After an hour had passed, I realized that for these parents respite didn’t mean a chance to drop their PURE child off and leave – but to stay and be connected to a very special community.
When I asked Jacque Daniel, President of ConnectAbility, about why some parents chose to stay at respite instead of spend time running errands or grabbing some precious downtime she said it is because they don’t want to miss out on the relationships they have through new found family.
“If you really want to know what ConnectAbility is all about it’s not respite or disabilities. It’s relationships,” says Jacque. “Our goal is to create environments where authentic relationships are developed.This goes for the kids and adults with (and without) disabilities.”
Personally, little rivals the despair that the isolation inherent to PURE parenting has brought to my life. I remember when I first realized that we weren’t being invited to birthday parties anymore. Then the invitations to hang out at a friend’s home began to dwindle until they were non-existent. Isolation began to replace the rich relationships I had shared with other families at our same stage in life. While social media has helped me “stay in touch” with some of the friends from my life before disability, it has also served to remind me just how different our PURE existence can be.
The goal of ConnectAbility is to replace that isolation with authentic relationships that extend past a respite event into the whole life of PURE families. It is about PURE children and adults developing rich relationships with each other. For the volunteers, the goal is to build relationships with participants and their families. For the PURE parents, the goal is to build relationships with one another. Jacque reports
Many people come thinking they are getting involved in a respite group. Then as the months pass, something magical happens and they find themselves lingering at drop off, going out to dinner with new friends during respite, getting together outside of our programs. Volunteers ask where folks are when they don’t come. They are Facebook friends. They are friends! And of course, the relationship that we ultimately point to is the one with the Creator and Lover of us all.
By becoming a part of a genuine community based on love and acceptance, a transformation happens in the lives of these PURE families. While some parents never get to see their child (especially the adults) in a social setting where they are accepted and having fun, at ConnectAbility it is routine. Everyone is “one of the gang.” For these parents, it’s more fun for them to be a part of that than to go out to eat or to the grocery store. For PURE parents, this is hope restored.
What I saw was true ecclesia in action. These “called out ones” have made their differences into a bond that is not easily broken. They are family. They are church. They are an example to the world around them of what real relationships can look like.