When a Community Cares

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When a Community Cares

by Elaine Tomski

It isn’t very often you can say everyone wins.  In the game of Scrabble, only one person uses the letter tiles first.  Only one person wins.  In Corn Hole, perhaps two people can win, if playing doubles.  In volleyball, a whole team of folks will win, but a whole team of folks will also lose.  At the Community Care Center, no one loses.  Each and every person benefits as lives are enriched.  As Jeremiah 29:11 reminds, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”

In May of 2011, the Community Care Center sprung out of a realized need to support those with special challenges as well as their caregivers. A few volunteers in the Intercourse, PA area served less than a handful of participants.  They could all fit around one round table at lunchtime.  They opened the contents of their lunch boxes together just one day per week back then.  Today, the Community Care Center serves more than 60 special students ages 2 through 59 over the course of three days per week.  Now include over seventy staff members or volunteers to the mix.  Can you imagine the number of tables required at lunchtime now?  Can you also imagine the laughter?  Do you hear the chatter?  Do you notice the sparkle in the eyes of dear friends as they munch the contents of their lunch boxes today?  This is exactly what you will find at the former Leacock Elementary School, now home of the Community Care Center in Gordonville, PA.

The Community Care Center is a nonprofit organization created to glorify God by meeting the needs of, and improving the quality of life for, individuals in their community.  It is funded solely by donations and staffed by community volunteers to create a safe environment for people with special needs.  These special creations of God are the first winners.  They benefit from the Community Care Center (CCC) in multiple ways.  One of the greatest benefits is in finding a place to belong.  At times, it’s difficult for people in the community to understand the challenges and reactions of those with special needs. These students are aware of the difference. They don’t always feel like they fit in a world of typical individuals.  Being at the Care Center with peers allows students to relax and feel fully accepted. This acceptance gives them the confidence to risk, to learn and to thrive.

According to CCC Administrator Miriam Oberholtzer, students have the opportunity to attend the Center on Tuesday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The Center is also open on Wednesday and Friday from 1:00 to 6:00 p.m.  There are five different groups created to meet the various needs and abilities of the students. Because God created people with a desire to learn, whether 2 years old or 59, each participant is considered a student.   The five groups of learners are fondly called Dolphins, Starfish, Penguins, Flamingos, and Sea Gulls.  A staff member leads each group, and a volunteer assists each student.   Having a one-on-one caregiver is one of the achieved goals and amazing benefits of the care center.

Each CCC student has challenges and abilities that are sometimes driven by genetic codes such as Down’s Syndrome, Rett’s Syndrome, and Fragile X Syndrome, just to name a few. Other students are on the Autism Spectrum.  These labels or syndromes do not define a person’s entire existence,  they simply let the staff and volunteers understand how to best help students overcome frustrations and reach their highest potential.  The goal for each student is driven by need. When a new student is registered, Miriam Oberholtzer begins the process by seeking the parents’ goals for the student.  She also gains all of the knowledge parents can give concerning physical care needs.

The activities carried out at the CCC are intended to teach mental, emotional, communication, social and life skills.  The day begins with devotions and singing as each group follows its own specialized schedule.  You may find Dolphins or Starfish involved in making a food craft, painting, or spending time in the multi-sensory room.  It’s amazing how much fun a student can have when, in reality, they’re doing physical therapy.  Other exercises to keep these students moving include a chi machine, treadmill and quadriciser.  On a nice weather day, you may find Dolphins and Starfish in a game of Fishy, Fishy Net, playing on a swing set, or even having a fun water battle.

Penguins might be doing Bible memory work, finishing lessons, accomplishing meaningful jobs, or even taking a group walk.  Many of these students learn by way of the Rapid Prompting Method.  Being on the Autism spectrum, the Penguin students have communication challenges.  If you can imagine having the ability to think and reason in one part of your brain while another part of your brain makes it difficult to speak what you know, you will get a tiny glimpse of what it’s like to be non verbal autistic.  Group leader Emily Martin and volunteers assist these students with communication devices such as picture boards and keyboards.  Once these students are able to communicate, their level of frustration goes way down. Their coping mechanism of physical stimming (self-stimulatory behavior) may decrease as well. After getting beyond the communication barrier, it’s easy to see that many of these autistic students are learning at or above grade level. Caregiver Martha King loves working one-on-one with Samuel in the Penguin group.  She says, “These children know more than we think they know.” Martha has noticed the students love to work and work hard.  She adds, “Like everyone else, they need to have a purpose.”

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Let’s take a peek at what the oldest students are learning and doing.  Aside from the always-fun art time, the Flamingoes and Seagulls also love to accomplish purposeful tasks.  Their time at the CCC includes projects such as cracking nuts, shelling beans, mixing play dough, making candy kabobs and crafting personalized key chains.  They serve everyone at the CCC by helping to keep the Center clean.  It’s always a fun day of service when these students go to Christian Aid Ministries to help bag rice and beans.

In recent years, these two groups have added both Math and Reading classes to their schedules.  Staff member Mary Jane Lapp, a former schoolteacher, now prepares lessons for the Flamingos and Seagulls.  Since many of these older students no longer attend regular school, they benefit from brushing up on the skills they’ve already learned.  Mary Jane says, “Instead of losing their skills, the math and reading lessons keep these students refreshed.  The lessons also help with self-confidence.”

Last, but not least, one of the favorite activities mentioned by many staff members and volunteers is the game students of all ages love to play. Can’t you just imagine the infectious laughter of students playing a lively game of Duck, Duck, Goose?  Perhaps you would join the circle, too?

Students aren’t the only winners at the Community Care Center.  The staff and volunteers are quick to express gratitude for being part of something bigger than themselves.  Miriam Oberholtzer states, “One of my greatest joys as administrator is in seeing volunteers find their purpose.”  She says they find fulfillment in striving to help the students overcome the challenges they face.  At the CCC, both staff and volunteers experience purpose and feel inspired while learning how to relate to a variety of special needs.

Sarah Moyer works on communication with students using the newest technology device called the Tobii.  This electronic tablet pronounces a word chosen by the student’s eye-gaze. Incredible! Such technology is expensive, costing upwards of $15,000, but so very valuable when a student can finally give voice to his thoughts.  Sarah shares the many communication successes in her CCC monthly newsletter article called Communication Updates.  In the January 2016 issue, Sarah says, “I am humbled to be part of helping our students to communicate and break out of their silent prison.” John Stoltzfus also works in communications. Among other things, he works to make sure the speech devices are operating properly.  This technical guy is always well appreciated.

Having a special needs nephew first attracted Martha King to volunteer at the Care Center.  Now a Caregiver, she so enjoys her days there.  Serving in the Penguin group, she wouldn’t trade her team student for anyone.  Working with a nonverbal student was challenging at first, but Martha began learning all she could about autism.  Martha says, “It is amazing how fun it is to work with Samuel!”  Getting to know Samuel has shown her just how much he knows.  “He doesn’t miss a thing!”  She is fulfilled by helping him do what other children like to do and adds, “He is such a blessing in my life.  Now, I don’t even know what I’d do without the Care Center.”  Martha finds she has become more patient.  “Working at the Care Center shows us what life is about and to appreciate what we have.”

In addition to scheduling the math and reading lessons, Mary Jane is one of the staff members who makes the transportation arrangements.  Mary Jane, Martha and Miriam plan seventy to eighty rides each Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.  No two days are exactly alike.  What a challenge transportation must be!  Mary Jane says, “It’s more than a job.  We’re here to help, not for the money. Everyone is really close.  It’s like we’re family.”  Just as Mary Jane teaches, she in turn is being taught lessons of her own.  Concerning her special students, she adds, “We should all be more like them in spirit.  They notice the little things more.”

We haven’t stopped counting the winners, yet.  Let’s add in the parent or caregiver.  As much as they adore the special gift of a person God has entrusted to their care, sometimes they simply need a break.  Perhaps they need to be given time to focus on a spouse or the other children in the family.  Maybe they need the freedom to accomplish uninterrupted cleaning or shopping.  And who doesn’t need social time with friends?  Special needs caregivers appreciate this luxury, as all parents do.

What a treasure it must be to discover that a constantly-by-your side child is excitedly waiting to leave your side on care center day.  Excited to go spend time learning, serving and laughing alongside some of their best friends.  What assurance it must give a parent to know their dear one will safely engage with loving staff members and volunteers in quality one-on-one time.  What peace it must give to know your child will be in a place where they experience the freedom of acceptance.  Gratitude fills a parent’s heart at hearing the “beep, beep” signal of the cheerful, capable drivers who transport their excited students to the Center.

Finally, let’s add the community to those who benefit.  All students attend the Community Care Center at no cost!  Zero. Not only does this no-cost opportunity benefit the students and their families, this gift of the CCC also benefits the community as it cares for its own.  As spelled out in the center’s mission statement, Community Care Center provides support and therapy for those with special needs and their caregivers, by the community, for the community.

Nine community members serve on the CCC Board.  There are also three church leaders selected to advise as needed.  According to Eli Beiler, Chairman of the CCC Board, a Finance Committee was added in 2012. He says, “That was an important part of keeping the organization functioning because they were able to put all their energy into fundraising.  We could not function without the prayers and the financial support of the community.”  Members of the CCC Finance Committee are in line right behind Eli in thanking community supporters.  The expenses of the CCC include general expenses and ongoing transportation expenses, plus the high cost of equipment and the communication devices which allow so many students to have a voice again.

Community support is evident at the annual Haystack Supper and Awareness Meeting.  Blessings abound at this event.  The students and staff deliver an inspiring program, and the board provides guidance and leadership.  A team of people carries out the silent auction.  The food committee prepares over a thousand delicious meals.  Volunteers help dish food, clean up, usher, and assist with parking and traffic control.  So many people come to serve and to share their talent of giving.  Much needed funds are raised and so is the awareness that special needs students in the community are valuable, capable individuals.  Each one is perfectly full of potential.  They simply have been given challenges others don’t have to face.  “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” Psalms 139:14

Another lovely way the community supports students at the Care Center is through birthday greetings.  Student birthdays are published each month in the CCC Newsletter.  Following, encouraging birthday notes are penned and mailed by caring folks in the community.  What a joy it is for the sender to place a greeting in the mailbox.  What a thrill it is for students who find many birthday greetings in the mailbox and to open each one!  Martha Sue Stoltzfus took the time and effort to thank everyone who sent cards for her 25th birthday.  Please read her handwritten note recently published in the CCC Newsletter…

Martha Sue's Letter Pic

Simply expressed, the Community Care Center would not exist without the community, and the community would not be as rich without the Community Care Center.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a student, a staff member or a volunteer.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a parent, a caregiver or a member of the community. It’s a win-win-win-win situation! Everyone benefits.  Everyone wins.  And God is glorified.

In Matthew 22:37-39 “Jesus said unto him, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’” God calls each of his children to first love Him, and then serve others. There are times The Lord calls his children to travel the globe in order to serve. At other times, He calls his children to serve right where they are in their own community.

Perhaps you are in search of meaningful purpose.  Perhaps you are noticing the needs of special children and their caregivers in your community.  Maybe you are feeling the nudge to serve special people and their families. Remember, the Community Care Center began due to a realized need, with only a handful of caring people. One step of faith at a time will take you on a path only God can reveal.  Eli Beiler is willing to help you take the first step.  If you desire more information on how to start helping special needs people in your own community, you may give Eli a call at (717) 687-6086.  He is willing to share advice, suggestions and encouragement based on their CCC experiences.  Leave a message and he will return your call at his earliest convenience.  As the need arises, the Community Care Center board will also be willing to assist in your community’s special needs journey.

If you would like to support the Community Care Center, here are several choices:

  1.  Pray for us.
  2. Purchase one or more of the items created by our students.
  • Name Key Chains (Custom made to order) $3.00 each, $2.75 for orders of 12 or more.
  • Pocket Watches (Made with wooden beads) $16.00 each
  • Doll and Snowflake Keychains $3.00 each Please specify if you want certain colors.  Shipping available for orders of 12 or more keychains.
  • Please add $6.00 shipping to your total.
  • Orders can be mailed to: Community Care Center, PO Box 65, Intercourse, PA 17534. Or call (717) 768-8806.
  1.    Send financial donations to Community Care Center, PO Box 65, Intercourse, PA 17534

 

All of life is sacred.

Each one of us is created to care.

Let all we do, be done to the glory of God.