St. John’s Episcopal Church, Marietta, PA
The goal of WE SHARE is to provide a safe place for families with children of special needs to come together not only to enjoy the fun and fellowship but also to create friendships that offer support and encouragement, especially in the moments when caring for these children feels overwhelming. The ministry succeeds in achieving this goal and we all have been blessed and enriched by their presence which has raised awareness and appreciation for the challenges that the parent’s face every day.
WeShare meets once a month in the church Parish Hall. It is usually the second Saturday of the month. The program starts at 5 pm and goes until 7 pm. The whole night is very informal. First, the program starts with a meal, then watch a movie. It is usually a Disney movie or some sort of child’s movie. There is also a craft time, fellowship time, give away books, and if there are any birthdays for the month, the program will celebrate that child with a cake and ice cream and a gift. During the time of crafts, the kids and parents either are playing with toys, coloring, doing puzzles, or just talking to one another. No child is forced to participate in any activity that they don’t want to do. Parent’s must stay with their child, or whoever brought them. There is no drop off of children/adults.
On an average night, we have between 20-30 people. 6 children/adults come regularly. Our volunteers come from our congregation. We have had as many as 50, but that was when other churches in Lancaster decided to join us for the evening. We operate on a limited budget. At one time we received grants and have been sustaining off of that. Most of the time, I just foot the bill. I cook and Rev. Gina brings anything I ask her to bring. We try to do a full meal every month. As the weather gets colder, meals will be hot and I do a lot of homemade soup. When our supplies get low, I will put a sign-up sheet in the parish hall and ask for donations of food items. Usually, by the end of the night, we also will read a story or two to the kids. At the very end of the night, the kids take their craft home and 2 books to keep. We have a wide variety of Intellectually Disabled adults. Most of them function on a 10-12-year-old. We do have 3 in wheelchairs. Also, we have some younger children who are nonverbal and are such a joy. They always make their needs known. At Christmas time, each child gets a gift, as we also try and do the parents too. Mother’s Day we make sure the mom’s get a little something. Father’s Day is usually a candy bar of sorts. It is a great group of families and we are always looking for more people to join our night.
We got started in January of 2011. Father Nelson Ballira wanted a Sunday School to be taught. Because I was a mom of 3 special needs children, and also worked in the IU 13 for a few years, he and I discussed that a Sunday School would be very difficult to get up and running without the appropriate staffing. We then met with Deacon Nancy at the time and decided to form a core group of people who were interested in participating in a leadership team. We originally had 8 people. After many months of planning monthly meetings, we started our first Fun Night almost a year later. We had funding from Operation Understanding, Private Donations, a grant from Joni and Friends, and Diocese of Central Pennsylvania Congregational Development Project Grant. We have been going strong for nearly 6 years now. We still are operating on our original funds.
This program takes place the second Saturday of each month from 5pm-7pm and the schedule is as followed:
5-6:00 pm dinner
6:30-7:00 celebrate birthdays if there are any. Book giveaway and free time to play.
We are very flexible depending on what the group wants to do and how overwhelmed a child may become. We have a room with rocking chairs in it, and a sofa, that if a child gets overwhelmed, the parent or caregiver is welcome to take the child to calm down, or just regroup.
People who may be interested in coming or volunteering may email Paige Nein at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the church and leave their name and phone number with the secretary, Jana at St. John’s, (717)426-3189.