Bouncy castles, bean bag toss games and costumed children spanned Liberty’s Tolsma Indoor Track at Green Hall on Oct. 28, for Thomas Road Baptist Church (TRBC)’s annual Harvest Festival for children with special needs.
This evening event ran from 6 to 8 p.m. and allowed the children to have time to enjoy a Halloween-harvest themed event away from the other children who would take part in similar events over the next few nights.
Liberty students, in association with the Liberty Chapter of Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), joined together with the church to spend one-on-one quality time with a variety of exceptional children. Each student helped with face painting, games and being a friend — some even climbed into the bouncy castles with the children to help those who could not bounce for themselves.
“I have grown to truly appreciate their (The CEC and their student volunteers) willingness to serve,” Children’s Ministry Director Toy Hine said. “They are so willing to do whatever.”
With more than 55 special needs children in attendance and an estimated 85 students volunteering their services for the Friday night event, parents of special needs families from TRBC and around the Lynchburg area were able to take some time for themselves, knowing that their children were in good hands.
“It gives them a break so they can drop their kids off and go have dinner and come back,” Hine said. “There is about an 85 percent divorce rate among special needs families. The stress is just so high. We want to be a little inspiration and a little encouragement to have them keep going from week to week.”
The kids, while at this event, were partnered with a volunteer. These volunteers then stayed with their assigned child throughout the night, helping them in whatever way they were needed, from cutting up their pizza for them to simply sharing a laugh.
“I’m not going into special education, but it’s been a really good experience,” sophomore Jessica Mook said. “It’s just a really neat opportunity to spend time with these kids and see what they are like.”
The name, iKids, according to Hine, stands for ‘made in the image of God’ – a mission statement for the TRBC organization and Hine personally.
“I have such a passion for these kids. Jesus died for them just as he died for us. Not all of them understand that but they all understand a little bit because they have God living inside them,” Hine said. “God made them in his image and he died for them, so that is probably the underlining passion of why we do this.”
The Liberty chapter of the CEC, in collaboration with I Kids TRBC staff, hold these events as a form of ministry to the Lynchburg community, according to Liberty’s CEC president Bekah Mercer.
“It is wonderful and I think it is a great mission for families in Central Virginia that have children with Special Needs,” Liberty CEC’s founder and Associate Dean of Education Dr. Beth Ackerman said. “I think if Jesus were to walk the face of this earth you would find him around kids with special needs. That’s where he’d be — with the sick, the lame, the blind. That’s where churches and our students should focus their attention.”
The iKids program is part of the children’s ministry at TRBC, holding weekly Sunday school programs, while putting together seasonal festivals for both the kids and their parents. The iKids Harvest Festival for exceptional children has been an annual event for about five years running, in addition to the Christmas event, Breakfast with Santa, the Valentine’s day movie night and the spring Easter Egg Hunt.
“Tonight’s been a really good turnout. We’ve seen lots of new faces, and I’ve seen a lot of the kids I’ve seen before,” volunteer senior Emily Murachanian said, who has helped out with the event for the past three years. “This is one event that I wish that not only education majors but everyone would take part in because it is life changing. I’ve left a lot of times thanking God for the time that I’ve had here.”
To volunteer to help with CEC events, sign up on the CEC bulletin board in the Education Department, join their group on facebook by searching “Liberty University CEC Chapter” or email firstname.lastname@example.org.