OHIO — July is Disability Pride Month and one Northeast Ohio church is advocating for inclusion through sensory rooms and a “Special Needs Ministry.”
Faith Williamson is always on the move.
“I get a lot of steps in on a Sunday," said Beth Golik.
She is the director of the Special Needs Ministry at Bay Presbyterian Church in Bay Village.
Faith loves music, specifically Veggie Tales.
“She’s a really good DJ," said Golik.
Golik has known Faith for eight years.
“She is just such a joy to be around," said Golik.
The Special Needs Ministry has been around for about 20 years.
“Well, I pretty much have the best job," said Golik. “There are, you know, a dozen or more families who would not be able to attend church, who would not be able to be part of a worship service, part of a community of faith if their children were not able to attend on a Sunday morning.”
Every Sunday, Faith, alongside other teens and adults, come to “In His Image,” which is one of the church's two sensory rooms.
“I’ve heard some heartbreaking stories of families who have basically left other churches because they were not welcome,” said Golik. "So, some of our students have sensory issues. So either they desire more sensory input or they don’t want sensory input.”
Golik said there are usually between two and five students in both sensory rooms during both service hours on Sunday.
“Pretty much 1 to 1 (ratio) with volunteers in these two classrooms," she explained.
This allows parents like Dianne Williamson to worship in peace.
“It was very hard for me to concentrate on the message because I’m so concerned about 'Oh, my daughter’s making noise. Is she bothering anyone else?,'" said Williamson.
Now Faith and others like her can attend church in a way more suited for their needs.
“She matters. She matters," said Williamson about her daughter. "And they take care of her, and they’ll do whatever they have to, to take care of her.”
Down the hall from "In His Image" is the "Lakeview Sensory Room."
The Lakeview Sensory Room is for pre-K and elementary school-aged children.
“We’ve designed it in a way so that all of our students no matter if they’re verbal or nonverbal, whatever their learning differences are, they can do things like learn the memory verse and learn the Bible basics," said Golik.
Golik is passionate about helping other churches find ways to practice what they preach by providing a welcoming and loving environment for all.
“Really the church is missing out if people with disabilities are not part of it," said Golik.
On Saturday, July 24, Bay Presbyterian Church is hosting its quarterly “Respite Event."
Each child is paired with a trained buddy to enjoy a variety of activities and give parents a break for a couple hours.
This event is how Dianne and Faith found the church years ago.
The event is free to families with children who have special needs, but it requires registration in advance.