Two summers ago (2013), our parish announced a new religious education program: SPRED, or SPecial Religious EDucation. It's religious education for children with special needs.
And I felt one that "Holy Spirit nudge": Em, go, do this!
Now, I love children, but at that point I had had very little experience with children with special needs. And I hate trying new things. So I was scared.
But I went ahead, filled out the paperwork (I'd done VIRTUS training the year before, so that was taken care of!), attended the training sessions, and then plunged into it.
SPRED meets for 12 sessions during the school year, from September through April. The format of each session is as follows:
- Play time, in which the children each pick a sensory activity. This kind of settles them in and gets them ready for the lesson and for prayer.
- The lesson, in which there is a craft activity...for instance, coloring a cross that is labeled with the parts of the Sign of the Cross, then practicing it. (Even non-verbal children, for instance my friend Lu, whom I talk about below, can make the Sign of the Cross.)
- Then the children gather around one of the volunteers, talk a bit--especially in the first session after the summer vacation--about what they've been up to, then wash their hands in preparation for going to the Sacred Space.
- The Sacred Space is in a different room, with a table covered with a cloth. There is a cross, flowers, and electric candles on the table. Our Group Leader reads an (adapted) Bible passage to the kids, then goes around the room to each of the kids and volunteers with the day's message, for example: "N., Jesus says to you today: Live in My love."
- Then the kids sing a song, complete with hand motions, before we walk back to the first room.
- We set the table--the kids help--in preparation for the agape meal, a simple but yummy meal of bread with butter and jelly, sometimes fresh fruit, a pastry of some sort.
We'll call her Lu. She was 7 then, and she's a dear! She's non-verbal, but she can look into your eyes with the deepest look...it's like she's reading your soul!! ;-) Somehow--the Holy Spirit?--we bonded, through those soul-searching gazes, and my determination to try to get her to engage in the activities. (Lu would sit and amuse herself for hours staring out the window if you let her, but I like to try to get her to engage.)
The area where she does engage is music; she loves music of any kind, and will jump around and dance very happily.
It's always a joy when Lu walks in the door; I feel my heart leap, and her face breaks out in this huge smile when she sees me. Her mother and I have managed to meet up a few times during the summers; and she always jumps for joy (her mother calls it the "Happy Dance") when she sees me.
It's a joy knowing that, somehow, in some way that I'll probably never know in this life, I'm making a difference in the lives of these children and--please God!--bringing them closer to God.
God Love Y'All!