Bayshore Community Church is looking to support families with special needs by providing a once-a-month respite.
Program Director Birgitta Canfield said she and her husband had attended a fundraiser for rEcess and fell in love with the program’s mission.
“It was started by a company called 99 Balloons — it was a parent who had a child die after 99 days. They had a really big heart for special needs,” she said. “We were touched by the fundraiser and thought, ‘Maybe we should check that out for Bayshore.’ We came back to our church and chatted with them about it, and they were excited to jump right in.”
The rEcess program provides respite experiences for parents of children with disabilities and their siblings up to 18 years old, at 25 sites in three countries.
“The families we have have mostly been with the church, but it is open to anyone in the community,” said Canfield of the free program.
Held on the second Friday of every month from 6 to 9 p.m. at Bayshore in Millsboro, the program allows the families to check their kids in for a night of fun at the church so they can have a night without the kids.
“The cool thing is they can bring siblings as well, so it’s not just geared toward the child with special needs — it’s geared to their siblings as well, because we realize that can be an overlooked peer group,” she said, adding that foster and adopted children may participate in the program as well. “We love foster and adopted kids.”
Canfield said the nights are usually themed, such as “Christmas” or “Valentine’s Day,” and begin with a simple craft.
“If your child has a special need, they’ll have a one-to-one volunteer. The nice thing is, if parents are concerned about their children with special needs, they’ll have someone who will be with them the whole night,” she explained. “Then we usually do a few games that are really interactive and fun. It’s just a really fun, upbeat environment.”
Depending on the weather, sometimes the kids will go outside to play for a period of time, or they’ll watch a movie.
“We wanted to open it to the community. We have a few families who attend who are involved in church. It’s been a slow start, because I think a lot of families who do have children with special needs are maybe hesitant to get out… It’s a little harder to get out of the house, and they want to make sure they can trust people.”
All volunteers involved with the program are trained, Canfield added.
“We do have a medical person on-site,” she said. “I know that’s a concern. We’re all trained volunteers, and then we have a nurse that comes to every rEcess, in case of emergency.”
The program essentially follows the school calendar, in that it runs from September to May, with summer months off.
Canfield said that, so far, the response to the program has been great, with one family that hasn’t missed a single rEcess.
“The response has been great. The families that have been utilizing it,” she said. “We want to love on the families in the community, let them know they’re not alone, and we’re here for them.”
More are always welcome, noted Canfield, who said the church welcomes everyone with open arms.
“We’re trying to raise awareness to families with kids with special needs and let them know they’re not alone. That they have a community here that will support them.”
Those interested in registering their children for rEcess or to learn more may contact Brigitta Canfield at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bayshore Community Church is located at 36759 Millsboro Highway in Millsboro.
By Maria Counts