by Katie Peterson
Special to The Leaven
When the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas special-needs ministry first launched in October 2016, the Kansas Department of Aging and Developmental Disability Services helped kickstart it with a grant that funded the needs of the program.
With those funds now beginning to run out, it is up to fundraisers, organizations and individuals to help keep it going.
During the summer, Kansans for Life teamed up with the special-needs ministry of the archdiocese to do just that.
“Swing for Life” golf tournament, held June 4 at the Painted Hills Golf Club in Kansas City, Kansas, said golf tournament lead Tom Treacy, not only helped raise more for the ministry.
“It also promoted the belief that one’s level of dependency does not equal the level of worth both in and outside the womb,” he said.
Partnering with special-needs golfer Pattie Garbeff for a fundraiser called “Puttin’ with Pattie,” the ministry took over a hole and raised more than $1,250 for the ministry.
“When Tom first approached me, my first thought was toward his sense of charity and generosity,” said Tom Racunas, special-needs ministry lead consultant.
“How amazing that this guy would be thinking about our respite care program and would want to do something to help,” he said. “I felt tremendous gratitude and still do. It was a great day full of purpose and fellowship.”
Now this fall, a wide range of outreaches are available for both those with special needs and their loved ones.
A special Mass was held Oct. 12 for Mental Health Awareness Month, and parents and catechists continue to work with those with disabilities to prepare them for reception of the sacraments, Racunas said.
Now in its third year, the special- needs ministry provides catechesis and services, but also education — including information nights about financial planning, special-needs trusts, the ABLE Act, guardianship and other legal aspects.
One of the ministry’s most meaningful programs, though, is the respite care night, which takes place every month.
“It was on [Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann’s] heart for a long time to start the [special-needs ministry],” Racunas said. “The respite care program was started specifically because the families he listened to said they needed respite care. They had taken advantage of respite care programs sponsored by some of the non-Catholic churches in the area, but they wanted respite care within a Catholic environment, so we started it.”
The respite care nights give a break from caregiving for families who have a child with a disability, Racunas said. For four hours, once a month, these “friends” — age 5 or older with special needs — join with a volunteer buddy and choose from a wide range of activities including arts and crafts, sensory activities, recreation and leisure activities, outdoor play and movies.
The evenings also include dinner and a prayer service.
“Our friends just choose whatever they want to do for however long they want to do it, and we just have a good time,” Racunas said. “We’re trying to build community and build relationships within a Catholic/Christian setting but, at the same time, keeping everybody safe and happy.”
The respite care program, known as BREATHE, is named after St. Andre Bessette, said Racunas, and stands for “Bessette Respite Embracing Action Towards Holy Encounters.”
“We are active, we’re alive, but the point is that we are engaging in a relationship that builds a holy encounter between the person we’re serving: us to them and them to us,” he said. “They have gifts to give us, and we have gifts to give them.
“Only 15 percent of us are born with a disability or acquire a disability as a young person,” said Racunas. “Eighty-five percent of disabilities are caused by accident or illness or aging, so we’re all vulnerable.”
“Disability is part of the human condition,” he continued, “but by virtue of our baptism, we all have a place at the eucharistic table. So, we need to create a space and a sense of belonging for everyone.
“All means all.”
To donate to the special-needs ministry, send contributions to the Office of Special Needs at the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, 12615 Parallel Pkwy., Kansas City, KS 66109.
For more information about the ministry, click here.