‘Wonderfully Made’ Reaches Out to Persons With Special Needs

Nov 16, 2016
Wonderfully Made Ministry, plus family and friends enjoying a day at ReinDancer Therapeutic Riding Center in New Egypt. This was made possible by Director Alissa Risden and her awesome team of volunteers.

Ever since its founding 25 years ago, Bayside Chapel in Barnegat Township has sought to be much more than a house of worship. It has had a strong emphasis on outreach, seeking to go beyond meeting spiritual needs of the community.

Last February, the nondenominational church kicked off a new ministry, “Wonderfully Made,” open to children and young adults with special needs. The group of approximately 30 meets on Thursday nights from 7 to 8:30. The age range is 11 to 28.

“We’re providing a safe place where special needs persons can be socially active and be involved with many fun activities,” said the Rev. David Ridder, senior pastor.  “People with disabilities can sometimes feel isolated, and it may be stressful for the family and siblings because a person with special needs may need extensive care. We want to reach out to the person with special needs and their families.”

Bill Beuckman, who started the program, said the idea grew out of last year’s Christmasfest, where he recalled a girl introducing him to her brother.

“The girl was part of our youth group,” said Beuckman. “When I asked if her brother would like to be part of the group, she said he couldn’t because he has special needs.”

Beuckman said that encounter inspired him to develop a program for young people with special needs, and after he approached Ridder and other church leaders, Bayside gave him the green light.

“Ninety percent of families with special needs children are unchurched,” said Beuckman. “These kids become isolated, and many don’t have an opportunity to get involved in these fun activities.”

In the auditorium that also serves as a makeshift gym, the participants play basketball. There is also a smaller auditorium on the lower level, nicknamed “the underground,”  where the youngsters can engage in Foosball, ping pong, air hockey, karaoke and crafts, eat snacks and more. Each participant is teamed with a volunteer “buddy” who can assist him or her.

When they sing karaoke, don’t expect to hear Bruno Mars or Beyoncé.

“They’ll do Disney or Christian songs,” said Liz Lawler, Beuckman’s chief assistant. “Singing is a way to build confidence. We also might have time for Bible stories. And on the last Thursday of the month, we have a movie night. We’ve also taken some day trips.”

Lawler said that seeing the smiles on participants’ faces during activities makes it “all very worthwhile.”

“Thursday is their favorite night of the week,” she said. “The family members say they just can’t wait.”

But what the group’s founders are especially excited about is that in February, Wonderfuly Made will join more than 350 churches around the world to host a “Night to Shine.”  It’s a prom night for people with special needs, and was launched in 2015 by former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow through his foundation. On Saturday, Feb. 10, guests to Bayside’s event will arrive on a red carpet that includes photographers. Once inside, guests can get their corsages and boutonnieres, visit hair and makeup stations, and participate in a karaoke room.

“And there will be dancing,” said Brian Preiser, the church’s director of student ministries. “ We’re the only church in Ocean County having this night, and we might be the only one in all of South Jersey.”

During Valentine’s Day weekend of 2015, the foundation sponsored 44 simultaneous prom events in 26 states, as well as two locations in Uganda and Kenya. More than 7,000 people with special needs dressed in tuxes and gowns for their first prom experiences. Approximately 15,000 volunteers made the events happen around the globe, and at the end of the night, each of the participants was crowned as a king or queen of the night.

For 2016, the foundation held more than 200 proms in 48 states and eight different countries. Preiser said Tebow’s foundation provides each prom with financial support, decorations and gifts for each participant, and step-by-step guidance to make the prom a success.

Tebow himself has even shown up at some of the proms.

“I don’t think that will happen here,” said Preiser. “But still, this probably will be the greatest night of their lives.”

For more information about Wonderfully Made, call Bayside Chapel at 609-607-8323.

— Eric Englund


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