Our new church on mission: Pre-prom for kids with Autism

I wasn’t thrilled with having to get a part-time job.  Vanda, my wife, reminded me that God uses our situations – even situations we might see as a bump in the road – to do amazing things.  And so he did.

My first assignment as a substitute teacher for Summit Academy was with the Autism Unit on the west side of Youngstown, OH.  There are always at least two teachers in a classroom, and since Kristen Dimas was on maternity leave for the first few weeks of the school year, I had a steady gig filling in for her and working with Michelle Walsh.

Patti McSuley, Vanda's hairdresser

Patti McSuley, Vanda’s hairdresser

Not only did I have no experience as a sub; I had no idea what autism was.  I’m still learning. But, I also learned how awesome the teachers at this school are.  They use their own money to provide school supplies for the kids and go out of their way to raise funds so that the kids can do extra things.  School is exciting because of them.  And, the staff love these kids!  They worry about them when things aren’t going well and are overjoyed with every accomplishment.  And . . . they have fun with the students.  The teachers want to be around them and the kids know it.  Not only have I learned a lot about autism, I’ve witnessed firsthand the kind of people gifted by God with the ability and passion to provide an appropriate haven for his children.

Last week I sent in the paperwork to incorporate Village Church in the state of Ohio.  It’s a new kinda church called a missional community.  I’ll tell you more about it later, but for this post it’s important that you know the missional emphasis that comes with it.

Yummy food from Chrystal Catering! They gave us a great deal.

Yummy food from Chrystal Catering! They gave us a great deal.

Our goal isn’t to own a building but to meet in homes or other cozy places in groups of 20-45 people every week who share their Christian experiences and meet with all the groups combined in a setting our culture refers to as “church” once or twice a month.  The goal is to give practical evidence of Jesus Christ to our community through our finances and our time.  There are ten of us in Village right now that have been meeting bi-weekly since January.  Here’s where the pre-prom comes into the picture.

Back in January, I asked Michelle Walsh (the teacher) what our little church could do for the Autism Unit.  She mentioned that they had planned a pre-prom the year before that hadn’t materialized and she thought that whatever we could do to help would be greatly appreciated.  So, I asked Village if we could help out, and the rest of the group urged me to say that we would do the whole thing!  The idea just took off from there.

Cathy Lewis (black top) and her friend Maria Morales - who later hung out at the prom and made a friend of one of the students.

Cathy Lewis (black top) and her hairdresser friend Maria Morales – who later hung out at the prom and made a friend of one of the students.

Village Church provided the food, decorated the room that the YMCA of Youngstown let us use for free and Vanda and Cathy Lewis asked their hair dressers to donate their time and skills to do the girls (and some of the boys) hair.  The Giving Closet ministry of Evangel Baptist Church, where I am Outreach Pastor, donated prom dresses to the girls and both churches combined to donate nice clothes for the boys.  And, to top it off, Kelly Druschel of Village Church told her friend from WKBN TV about the prom and got them to send a reporter to cover it.  Summit Academy had been trying for news coverage for a long time and it didn’t happen until this event.  The teachers got a lot of people to help as well.  I’ll include a picture of the sponsor board that shows everyone who pitched in to make the prom a success.  The teachers were, and still are, so very thankful because the kids had such a great time.

I feel a little foolish now.  This part-time job idea wouldn’t have been my first choice.  But, “. . . we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:28, NLT)”

From my perspective this was one of his greatest masterpieces, and I couldn’t me more thankful to be following such a brilliant Shepherd. (More Pictures below!)

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Backdrop made by Cathy Lewis

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4 thoughts on “Our new church on mission: Pre-prom for kids with Autism

  1. I have been working with people with autism and with intellectual disabilities for a few years now. Working with them has added a new special dimension to my life. I’m so glad that you also have had this opportunity!

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