Inclusion OUTSIDE of the Church? Let’s Party!

Special needs inclusion doesn’t have to occur only within the walls of the local church…it should extend into the community and into our homes. Attending a youth event or a church supper is wonderful, but think of the possibilities for building the Kingdom when we build lasting relationships that extend into our lives every day.

To do this, we need to have a hospitality mindset that takes into account the possible needs of our guests. Many times, when we invite acquaintances to a community event or a party in our home, we don’t know if they have any special needs. So, as we plan, we need to consider what will make our guests comfortable, using the knowledge we have about disabilities.

Recently, we offered to host a cast party for a teen theater company’s production of Xanadu. About 25 kids, along with adult directors and a couple of chaperones joined us to celebrate a great production. We knew some of the kids pretty well, and some we had never met. I didn’t know if any of the kids had been diagnosed with special needs, but for my own peace of mind, as the hostess, my planning included hospitality strategies designed to make every teen comfortable. Join me behind the scenes for some tips on “inclusive” party planning…

1. Food and Beverages. When inviting people to our home for the first time, I always ask if they have food allergies or sensitivities. For this party, there were none, but I did communicate that we would be serving hot dogs. I asked the kids to bring either chips or a dessert; this ensures that everyone will have at least one food item they enjoy.

2. Put out the welcome mat. Coming to an unfamiliar home can be anxiety-producing for some people.Therefore, it’s important to make the environment as predictable as possible. For this party, we hung a big sign on the front of our house so that everyone knew they were at the right place.

In addition, we put a sign on the door to let them know the etiquette for getting inside. My husband was stationed in the entryway (a quiet space) to ease the transition.


3. Have some fun…We created a few decorations that made a statement. This gave the kids something to talk about as they arrived, and also let everyone know that this event was special…a celebration! We wanted to recognize the hard work of the cast, crew and directors.

4…but not TOO much fun. Notice that our dining room was completely devoid of glitzy decorations. This was by design…we wanted a quieter space for any students who might need a break from the crowd and conversation in the kitchen/family room area.

5. Give them something to DO. The beginning of a party can be a little awkward as people arrive one by one, or in small groups. To ease this awkwardness, we had some fun 70’s glitz and glamour available (in keeping with the theme of the party!) The kids had a great time trying on sunglasses, visors and necklaces. These items also gave them something to fidget with, which can be very helpful for some students (and adults, too!)

Even Mitzie, the “Xanadog” got into the action…

6. Don’t go it alone. Be sure that you have plenty of support and supervision for your guests…this is necessary for safety! On the left is my friend, Jenny…she is awesome. 

7. Make it personal. Everyone likes to be individually recognized…and everyone matters! To accomplish this, we decorated the kitchen and family room with personalized stars. The guests had a great time finding  their star, and it allowed us an opportunity to learn their names (a bonus for us!)

These ideas are all based squarely in common sense…if you’ve planned a get-together for teens, you’ve likely done all of these things. However, I hope you’ll consider these inclusive planning strategies as you plan your next party, remembering that the tiny accommodations you make can truly make all the difference to your guests.

And a good time was had by all…


Extra Day, Extra Dollar: Help Us Grow by LEAPs and Bounds!

We’re having a little celebration for Leap Day this year, and YOU are invited!

It’s a luxury, isn’t it, to have an extra day? I love thinking of what I might be able to accomplish with the bonus time I get on February 29. Lately, my thoughts focus heavily on Key Ministry. We have much to be excited about in 2012…we’ll be speaking at several conferences, hosting JAM Sessions, writing curriculum adaptations, making materials and working with individual churches…ALL with the purpose of ensuring “a church for every child.” All of the services we provide are free to churches; we never want budgets to be a barrier.

We are making great strides, with many glimpses of heaven on earth…

  • A man who has Asperger’s syndrome has used some of our materials to raise awareness of special needs and offer support to others diagnosed with Asperger’s in his church.
  • Two high school students who have taken our training used the knowledge to reach out to students with disabilities at their high schools to include them in activities that foster friendships.
  • A family without a church home told us, after attending a respite outreach for which we had provided training, “This is the community that is reaching out to us.”
  • A children’s pastor emailed us after a consultation and said,  “I already feel like a weight has been lifted knowing that I have someone to walk this road with me ; You’re a true gift from the Lord!”

We really want to be a gift, and help the Kingdom grow by leaps and bounds…but we need your help! Please consider celebrating Leap Day by donating just one dollar to Key Ministry…think of what we could accomplish…

If 10 people each give $1, we can adapt a teaching tool for a child with an intellectual disability;

 If 20 people each give $10, we can create a new video training workshop for a church hoping to start an inclusion ministry.

If 30 people each give $20, we can launch a new inclusion ministry in a church.

Your support means so much to us. Please join the party…pray for us as we reach out to families and churches. Forward our website and blogs along to those who can use the information. And, if you are able, please consider donating an “extra dollar” to help us in this most wonderful work. Click here for more information.

Leaping with JOY!

Book Report: Don’t Sing Songs to a Heavy Heart

We’ve all experienced that awkward, tongue-tied feeling when approaching someone who is suffering: What should I say? And, we’ve all said the wrong thing at one time or another…or we’ve made the mistake of avoiding the subject of suffering (or avoiding the person altogether.)

Thankfully, Kenneth C. Haugk offers some help in his book Don’t Sing Songs To A Heavy Heart.  Haugk, a  pastor and clinical psychologist, founded Stephen Ministries with his wife, Joan. His writing is not preachy nor complicated, giving a foundation of truth on this profoundly difficult topic. He also discusses practical ways to understand how to manage conversations with people who are grieving, sick, or hurting. Haugk encourages readers to examine their own thoughts and “baggage” in order to serve effectively.

This book is more than a list of phrases to use and phrases to avoid. Haugk goes deeper by explaining the context in which our words can help and hurt. He also addresses our own need to “fix things” by offering platitudes, reading material and resources. He gives alternatives so that we can reset our patterns of support to ways that will edify and comfort. He describes how sometimes, when there is nothing to say, our presence, and sensitve silence, can be comforting to someone in need. In addition, Haugk addresses the use of humor and its role in healing.

Finally, Haugk emphasizes that we can play a small part in a much broader experience if we are able to carefully and lovingly respond to suffering. He reminds us that when we reach out to people who are suffering, we are “stepping into a holy place, into the other person’s unique universe of selfhood, need and pain. It is holy because when you enter in, you will find jesus alrady there ahead of you–in that unique person. What a privilege!”

Wishing you the privilege of comforting others~