When our family first heard of Buddy Break, we thought it was too good to be true. We had nothing but questions. The dialogue went something like this:
Wait, volunteers will watch our kids for how long? THREE HOURS. Did you say it was free? YEP. They'll just take Elsa, right? NO, THEY'LL WATCH ALL THREE OF YOUR KIDS. Um, why? BECAUSE THE VOLUNTEERS LOVE THE LORD AND WANT TO SERVE YOUR KIDS. But... why?? THEY BELIEVE ELSA IS A MASTERPIECE, CREATED BY GOD FOR A PURPOSE.
Cue tears of disbelieve, elation and humility. Free time for Dan and me? Made possible by a group of volunteers who see our child's specialness? And who want to support our entire family? Even when we started to grasp the breadth and depth of the ministry, the wonder persisted. But as it turns out, it wasn't too good to be true. It was, and is, 100 percent for real.
Here's the scoop: BUDDY BREAK is a free respite program offered at our church FBCG about one Saturday a month. It's part of a national organization called NATHANIEL'S HOPE that is dedicated to sharing hope with special needs kids and their families. If your child has special needs, that child and all of his or her siblings get paired (one-on-one) with a "buddy" while the parents get a three-hour "break."
Three hours may not seem like much time, but we sincerely plan our family calendar around it so we don't miss. Here are some of the things we've done during Buddy Break:
- Researched and purchased home electronics
- Test driven minivans
- Mulched our front and back yard
- Built and stained a new back patio deck
- Constructed a backyard playset
- Taped and painted our upstairs hallway
- And, after someone told us we shouldn't always work on Buddy Break, grabbed coffee and went on a bike ride
So, as you've gathered, the free free time offered by Buddy Break is obviously amazing. But our other favorite part of Buddy Break is the Christopherson family. All of the families who serve through Buddy Break are fabulous, but I'm pretty sure we have the best buddies (just sayin').
The beautiful, lovely Patti watches Elsa, and her sweet daughters watch our littles. All three LOVE spending time with this incredible family. When we tell Elsa's sisters where they're going, they literally jump up and down and scream "Yaaaaaay!" FBCG's Buddy Break in Geneva, Ill., is the biggest one in the country, serving just shy of 100 kids each session. The team divides the church into tons of fun activity spaces. Our girlies tend to gravitate toward the ball pit, free play room, game room and gym. (Christophersons: You have no idea how much your selfless service means to us. You are family, as far as we are concerned!)
But back to Elsa and the other special kiddos in attendance. They are the reason for and focus of the program. The blessing of Buddy Break for our "VIPs" is best described by my sweet friend Sharon, whose son Kurtis has special needs and attends alongside Elsa:
Parents might view Buddy Break as a much-needed break from the daily care of their special needs kiddo, which it is. But I think our kids benefit mutually from the break from us. It's good for Kurtis to meet and interact with new and different people, and engage in activities, routines and social situations that aren't dictated and controlled by me. It gives him a chance to be more independent. He and his buddy, Tim, have a good time together with lots of laughter! It also gives him the opportunity to be active enjoying some of his favorite things, like ping-pong and shooting hoops with his buddy and with other kiddos/peers. For me, Buddy Break offers the peace of mind in knowing that Kurtis will be safe and well-cared for even though I am not present. I can spend my morning knocking things off my 'to do list' sans worry about how he's doing. I also come back to him a little bit refreshed by my "me" time Buddy Break has afforded me.
Buddy Break is truly worth all of this praise and more.
If you, or a friend with a child with special needs, might benefit from Buddy Break, there may be an opportunity near you. Check out the list of locations on the Nathaniel's Hope website.
And if you live in the western suburbs of Chicago, and want more info on the FBCG Buddy Break in Geneva, email the fabulous Jaimie Valentini at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Jaimie and I lead Masterpiece Moms, another amazing FBCG program. The next Masterpiece Moms is May 21.)