It seems ridiculous to ignore the personal value of anyone, for any reason. Yet, people with disabilities face this on a daily basis. As they go to school or shop for groceries, they are often painfully aware that others only see their disability. Those who are blind may have to stand by patiently as people talk to their companions rather than to them. Families of children with autism know they may be just one outburst away from being asked to leave a restaurant.
That reality makes a Special Touch Summer Getaway a refreshingly different experience for persons with disabilities and their families.
At a Getaway, campers have fun, worship, and hear the gospel message, all tailored to their specific needs. Throughout the week, campers learn that each person is special to God and he loves them just as they are. They are taught they have talents and gifts to contribute to the body of Christ and are encouraged to use those gifts, both at camp and in a disability friendly home church.
Special Touch Ministry was started in 1982 by Charlie and Debbie Chivers. Started as just one camp, Special Touch is now a nationwide U.S. Missions ministry, serving people with intellectual or physical disabilities and their families and challenging churches to be more inclusive. This summer, there will be ten different camps across the U.S.
Kimberly Ferguson, a missionary associate with Special Touch in New England, worked for several years in secular care settings. She learned about the stigma and isolation people with disabilities endure, although she was frustrated by not being able to share her faith with clients. Through her ministry with Special Touch, Kim is able to remind them that they are not defined by their disability. “So many people, including some ministries, assume wrong things about disabled persons,” she says. For example, people with cerebral palsy may have trouble speaking, but that does not mean they have an intellectual disability as well. Because of such wrong perceptions, some campers arrive with years of hidden bitterness.
Special Touch works hard to keep costs affordable for campers. Each camp depends on volunteers to serve as a special companion for each camper during the week. Volunteers are well-trained, and a Caregiver-In-Training (CIT) program is available for teenagers, ages 14–17. There are also volunteers for typical camp duties like kitchen work or organizing sports.
After camp, families are encouraged to connect with a Special Touch Chapter and continue in a discipleship program to reinforce themes taught at camp. Local pastors are invited to attend chapter meetings and help campers transition into a disability friendly church. Camp volunteers are encouraged to share about their experience and increase awareness about welcoming people with disabilities in church.
Special Touch Ministry needs caring people to help create special summer memories for someone with a disability. You might be just the right volunteer to help that person realize how much Jesus loves them. Visit SpecialTouch.org for this year’s camp dates and to apply to be a volunteer. You can also sign up a camper, learn more about becoming a Disability Friendly Church, and find a Special Touch Chapter near you.