Every parent desires to see their children flourish and become increasingly independent as they enter adulthood. But for moms and dads of children with disabilities, this hope can feel uncertain.
“Once an adult with a disability turns 22, almost everything vanishes in terms of schools, programs or camps,” explains Christ Presbyterian Church member C.B. Yoder. “On average, 95 percent of these young adults are unemployed.”
For many years, Christ Presbyterian has offered a Sunday morning class for young adults with disabilities, providing great support to families on the weekend. Three years ago, however, a new opportunity arose that’s given the church an additional way to come alongside families with disabilities throughout the week.
It began when faculty from nearby Vanderbilt University proposed a grant-based study in partnership with several area churches, including Christ Presbyterian, to discover the best way to find meaningful work for adults with disabilities.
What started as a year-long study paved the way to the formation of the Christ Presbyterian missional community, Putting Faith to Work. Yoder was one of the group’s founding members and has seen it flourish as she and others have found ways to support families through finding both paid work and volunteer opportunities for young adults with disabilities who attend Christ Presbyterian.
“Instead of just searching for job openings, we learned to begin with discovering each person’s talents and gifts,” Yoder explains. “We started hosting get-togethers, called a ‘person-centered party,’ where parents invite people who know their child well. We discuss what the young adult enjoys doing, his or her strengths and so on. Then we begin to pray, asking God to show us a path forward for this young person.”
Throughout the last three years, the group has helped one young woman, Kate, find work in Vanderbilt’s housekeeping department. Another young adult, Clayton, began a position as a greeter at Nashville Predators hockey games. A woman named Katie received a job at a local pizza restaurant. And a young man named Nathan found work volunteering weekly at Christ Presbyterian, helping provide refreshments for church members Sunday mornings.
Yoder says she’s seen each young adult blossom as they’ve learned to take on new responsibilities. She remembers how Katie bubbled over with excitement when she received her first paycheck. “She loves going shopping, so being able to purchase an outfit with her own money for the first time was thrilling,” Yoder says.
For Katie and the others who’ve found meaningful work, the reality of a newfound purpose in their lives has resulted in a noticeable shift.
“They carry themselves a little differently,” Yoder explains. “There’s such value in earning your own money and becoming more independent. Work is a gift from God.”
Giving these young adults an increased sense of independence has also become a way to support their parents. For some moms and dads, the initial process of letting go is challenging (such as allowing their child to learn to navigate Uber in order to arrange for transportation to work). But once the young adults get the hang of it, their sense of freedom and accomplishment has brought pride to both parents and their children. It’s also begun making a difference among those in the community who’ve hired these young people.
“The employers of these young adults want them there--they’ve seen the value of their work,” says Yoder. “People such as Katie are faithful, responsible and do their jobs well. They’re reliable and cherished employees.”
They’re also image bearers of Christ, Yoder adds--a truth that becomes evident as people both at church and in the workplace gain more opportunities to get to know and work alongside young adults with disabilities.
“These kind of interactions put a face on a people group that often can otherwise seem invisible because they’re easy to ignore,” says Yoder. “The benefit for us and for employers is that young adults with disabilities go from anonymous to being known by name and valued for their contributions.”
For other missional community opportunities, and more information on how to start one yourself, visit christpres.org/missional-communities
© 2017 Christ Presbyterian Church. All Rights Reserved.