Amish church member Rebecca Miller gives us an inside look today at an important program in her Holmes County, Ohio community.

One of the obvious strengths of the Amish is their strong web of community support. Parents of children with special needs are among those who need a little extra help at times. And that’s what led to the program which Rebecca shares with us today.

CARING HANDS

Several years ago someone in this community had a vision – saw a need.

That someone recognized how having handicapped children who couldn’t attend church could be a burden for the parents, how trying to find a caretaker could be a challenge, and how they would sometimes end up missing church and other social gatherings to stay home with their “special” children.

This vision grew into a plan, which led to discussions, involving others, having meetings, which eventually led to a program we now call “Caring Hands”.

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To provide a facility, Share and Care Thrift Store in Berlin bought a small house next to their store. Although most of their profits go to missions in Haiti, they also wanted some of it to stay local.

The house was cleaned, painted, and several rooms child-proofed by local volunteers. Furniture, dishes, toys, etc. were donated. The fridge and pantry were stocked with food. A local couple was chosen as volunteer coordinators. An ad was run in our community-wide church newspaper asking for volunteers, and calls started coming in.

Now on any given Sunday (and occasionally on Saturdays) there will be 2 or 3 volunteers here to care for these special children. We usually have anywhere from 2 to 6 children at a time. That’s all we can handle here.

Here’s how it works (from a caretaker’s viewpoint):

Early in the week or sometimes 2 weeks in advance I get a message from Ruth asking, “Would it suit you to be at the House (Caring Hands) on Sunday (date). So I’ll leave her a message as soon as I can. By the end of the week she will leave me another message with details like who I’m working with, who we’re caring for, what time I get picked up.

Sunday morning : We get picked up around 7 o’clock, then we’ll go pick up the girls and maybe get some last minute instructions from the parents. We also have a book of written instructions at the house.

First we get each one settled in their spot. A few of them need breakfast yet. And so the day progresses – playing with them, cooking lunch, feeding, changing diapers, and whatever goes with taking care of children. Most of these children can’t talk, feed themselves, nor are they potty trained. A few can walk. If they’re all happy, it’s not hard to care for them, but when they cry it can be tough, because they can’t tell us what they want. We’ve had some very interesting experiences!

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Typically by late afternoon we clean up, take out trash, pack up diaper bags, load up girls and head home. Sometimes we’re asked to stay for the evening if the family has supper plans.

We are never asked to volunteer on our own church Sunday or to give up our own plans. Ruth has a whole list of volunteers she can contact. On average each girl gets her turn about every 6 weeks, sometimes more often, depending on the circumstances.

Once a year we all get together for supper. This brings together the volunteers, their parents, the board members, the children we care for and their parents. It’s an interesting evening of fellowship and sharing stories with the parents. It also gives our parents a chance to see the children we care for and meet the others we work with.

I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be involved in a program like this. I’ve made many great friends. I would also like to take this moment to ask our readers to take a moment and pray for the parents of these “special” children. It takes much love, endurance, strength, and acceptance to care for these “angels”.

Let us do all we can to lighten their loads. We have the opportunity to be a blessing and therefore be blessed. “Let us pray for each other, not faint by the way.” Many blessings to all of you!