Caring Hands: Helping Parents of Special Needs Children

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.


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”.


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!


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!

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    1. Andy White

      special needs young people

      We have a ministry that helps special needs young people as well. It began 30 years ago and has changed a lot over time. We began helping children much as the above ministry described. But we learned that when the children grew up that they were often not as well cared for. Adults loose their cuteness. So we began to focus on helping with special needs adults. We discovered next that some of these people had potential no one had really seen before. So we set out to determine how to help these people achieve goals that made them feel independent to whatever degree was possible. This presented abundant challenges! Next we saw these special people respond to the call of God as we shared the Gospel with them. We saw some of those mentally retarded people light up with joy and often begin to sing praises to God spontaneously. Some of the autistic people actually began to speak after 20 or more years of silence. At this point we have a Coffee House, the people are employed and have responsibility and get to interact with the public. We have gardens, chickens geese, and a dog that belongs to one of the boys who lives here now. This is all one block away from Main Street! Our special needs youth teach us lessons in humility, kindness, faith and give us so much more than anyone could ever imagine. I commend the good people in Berlin for their ministry and pray the Lord gives us all a vision for the needs in our communities.

    2. Kevin L.

      What a great program! My brother in law is a special needs person (now an adult) so I understand how hard it is and how appreciated any kind of help is. It sounds like a lot of thought was put into the program to take care of the children, parents and caregivers. Thank you for doing this, and we will pray for them all

    3. Kate Kleinert

      God bless you

      Although I do not have a special needs child, I was my husband’s caregiver for 10 years. Being a ‘day-after-day’ caregiver is a challenge that no one can understand unless they have done it. Finding a way to allow these parents a break to be able to attend Sunday services is a hug from God – and it is given through your arms! God bless you for caring enough to take action.

    4. Debbie H

      Those who work with and care for special needs children and adults are very special themselves.

    5. Natasha M

      Special needs

      My daughter has special needs and we found early on how many churches are unprepared, uncomfortable, or (in some cases) unwilling to care for those with special needs within their church. We became involved in our church because they have a special needs ministry. I admire such bodies of believers who are at least willing to learn. God bless them!

    6. Mark - Holmes Co.

      I think Rebecca did another good job on this article. She won’t tell you this, but as a friend & neighbor I’ll share with you that Rebecca is a very sharing, caring person. She has also volunteered at a home for children & adults with special needs and helped with a prison ministry that cares for babies born to mothers in prison so the mothers can be assured their children are getting good care and also brought in to visit the mothers regularly. I admire people like Rebecca who so freely give their time, effort, and love to help others, and not “just” those in our own community. As we are parents to teens our hours seem to be so filled up, but I hope that some day, Lord willing, we will find ourselves with time to share with those in need like Rebecca does.

      1. Amish Girl-Rebecca

        Thank you, Mark ! Maybe I’ll have to share those experiences at a future date.
        Andy, I think your program sounds wonderful. Here many of our mentally challenged adults find work at The Holmes County Training Center’s Workshop.

    7. Alice Mary

      Without words

      After reading this post and replies, I am without words to express how valued all who are mentioned here are (children, volunteers, parents, other helpers). It is heartening to know there are those “willing to learn” how to make a positive difference in the lives of these special children and their families. May you all be blessed a thousandfold…and I’m grateful for the example you’ve shown the rest of us! Thank you!

      Alice Mary

    8. Carolyn B

      Rebecca Miller, thank you for this post. Erik, thank you as well.

      Being a disabled-from-birth person myself, I have a question: if these children are not so fragile that they can be taken out of the home to the daycare facility, why aren’t they able to attend church or social events with their parents?

      Excluding children of any ability from worship is a bad idea in my mind. Giving parents a break is a valid need which I do support. Many churches host a children’s church during the main sermon so parents may attend to the pastor’s words without interruption. And I do understand that children with autism spectrum disorder may not be able to handle large crowds.

      Please understand that I don’t want to come off as argumentative or confrontational but simply curious from the children’s perspective. Again, thank you for a very informative post which I did enjoy reading immensely.

    9. Amish Girl-Rebecca

      Carolyn B, These children would be disabled in a way that the parents do not get much out of the sermons if they take them along. In Holmes County there are many disabled children attending church with their parents, but once they are so disruptive that the parents and others miss much of the sermon the parents choose not to take them. In an Amish church there is no such thing as a children’s service. These children we care for would not be able to understand any of the sermon anyway. A few of them have some autism.

      1. Carolyn B

        Rebecca, thank you for the explanation. I appreciate it very much. Please keep your posts coming. I’ve loved every one.

    10. Harriet


      What a very nice article. Thank you so much for sharing it with us and thank you for doing such important for your community.

      John 13 tells us that the world will know we are Christians by our love for one another. Your love for others is very evident. You have been given a very important mission in life. God bless you for doing such a wonderful job.

    11. Beautiful ministry

      Such a wonderful, caring ministry.

      “And in that day the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of these whom the world may consider as the least, you did it to me.’ (Mat 25:40 (adapted))

    12. Caring hands

      You people are doing really a great job.Sometimes parents miss the church sessions because of their children as they need special attention, but you’ll have solved this problem. Keep helping the needful and researching new programs beneficial for special children.

    13. Helping hand

      This is a very moving program, my nephew was diagnosed with autism and bringing him to the church has always been a problem due to his hyperactivity. Thank you for sharing it through this article, I never knew that such programs like this exists, you play with them, change their diapers and cook them lunch whilst parents serve to God. Communication with them is difficult, therefore patience and focus are needed when taking care of these children.