News Articles

7/28/97 Special-needs adults, youth get ‘midsummer boost’ at VBS

TUCSON, Ariz. (BP)–Albert “Red” Near, 28, lives with nine foster siblings and their caregivers in Tucson, Ariz. He supplements his income by cleaning rooms at the Doubletree Inn near his home. He participates in Special Olympics and often wins medals in 100-meter track and field competitions.
But what really gets him excited is Special Needs Vacation Bible School.
“All the guys and gals have the most wonderful time at the Special Needs Bible School,” said Near’s caregiver, Richard Price. “It really pumps them up for a month afterward. It’s a great midsummer boost.”
The fifth annual citywide VBS for young people and adults with special needs, slated this year for July 28-Aug. 1 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., is sponsored by Special Family Ministry of the Tucson-area Catalina Baptist Association and held at handicapped-accessible 22nd Street Baptist Church.
The VBS is perhaps the only citywide spiritual activity for special needs individuals in Tucson, government officials say, although several churches offer Sunday school classes.
About 50 students are enrolled for this year’s Special Needs VBS, ranging in chronological age from 5 to 55, in challenge from physical, mental or emotional handicaps and in religion from Catholic to Protestant. Some will be nonverbal; others will be blind and/or deaf; some will be in wheelchairs; others will find it difficult to sit still.
The Arizona Department of the Developmentally Disabled counts on its rolls 3,641 individuals between the ages of 30 and 60 who live in Tuscon’s Pima County, including people with mental retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and those who are autistic. All are welcome at the Special Needs VBS, director Weston Knipe said.
The VBS’ purpose is to provide a fun experience during which special needs Tucsonians will learn or be reminded of God’s personal love for them, said Knipe, a member of 22nd Street Baptist Church.
“It’s very basic doctrine,” he said. “The emphasis is teaching them they do have a Savior. Jesus frees them from their sins and gives them a way into heaven. We try to keep it that simple.”
Some people might question special-needs individuals’ need for or ability to discern spiritual knowledge, Knipe said.
“I don’t limit anybody as far as their disability,” Knipe said. “I tell all people about the gospel,” leaving the results to the Holy Spirit.
This year’s VBS, “The Wild and Wonderful Good News Stampede,” is based on materials produced by the Baptist Sunday School Board for a special-needs audience.
In Tucson, each day’s two-hour VBS session is late enough for those who are employed to attend, yet not so late as to overly tire them for the next day, Knipe said. Each evening session starts with flag and Bible bearers marching into the auditorium. There are songs and a Bible story. Small-group times are for additional teaching and craft projects, depending on the ability of the learner. Refreshments always are a big hit; so are musical and puppet activities.
On Sunday after VBS, 22nd Street Baptist Church celebrates Disability Awareness Sunday. In this worship service, Special Needs VBS participants called “The Joyful Noise Ensemble” sing a medley of praise choruses. An after-church luncheon for students, staff, family and friends is followed by clown and/or puppet entertainment.
“This is the most organized event of its type I’ve ever seen anywhere,” said caregiver Price, who worked with special needs individuals in Tennessee before moving to Tucson in 1991. “They don’t stereotype anyone and do everything according to an individual’s level. My guys and gals love the workers there. They look forward to it all year.”
There are no more than nine students, and at least three workers, in each class, Knipe said. The training for the 35 workers starts in April, to adequately prepare for people with varying special needs. A nurse is also on staff during the VBS to assist students having seizures.
“Yes, I love it,” said Near, who has Down’s syndrome. “Going every day. Fun stories. Fun gospel music from sound speakers.
“I get papers,” he added. “I like everything. It’s nice. It’s fun. It’s inside.”