As children with special needs grow into adolescence and young adulthood, social opportunities grow more and more scarce. Gone are the days where the entire school class is invited to a birthday party. Sports teams have tryouts and limited rosters. Independence is expected and rewarded as many receive their driver’s licenses. As a result, teenagers on the autism spectrum or with other disabilities are left behind and become more and more socially isolated.
To combat this reality, Candi Carter, a parent of a special needs teen and member of St. Luke’s, Montclair, launched a program called “We’ve Got Friends!” Twice a month, teens and their caregivers gather in the Rectory for pizza, crafts, and a dance party. They enjoy each other’s company without expectations or an agenda; it is simply social fun.
St. Paul’s, Chatham is preparing to launch a second chapter of “We’ve Got Friends” on April 5, 2019 from 5 - 6:30 PM. This teen hangout for those with disabilities will offer a similar social opportunity, including pizza, games, and music. “We’ve Got Friends” is an extension of an already vital ministry for children and families with special needs at St. Paul’s, which includes Ash Wednesday and Holy Week worship services for those on the autism spectrum and a summer Day Camp called, “It’s My Turn” each August.
Our goals for all these opportunities is to communicate God’s love for each and every child through the welcome and love they receive here at St. Paul’s. Secondly, we want to create an environment where all children are celebrated for who they are and ensure that they too have a group of friends. And finally, we want to offer parents some respite. Being a parent of a child with special needs is exhausting, both emotionally and physically. It can also be isolating. Both “It’s My Turn” and “We’ve Got Friends” create a supportive and accepting community for both the caretaker and the child.