In an effort to build a more inclusive and welcoming space for members of its community, All Saints Parish has scheduled a meeting for the parents of children with special needs.

The meeting, scheduled for Saturday, June 17, will be a venue to begin to build a network of families of children with special needs in order to identify the ways in which the parish can better aid each family.

“Our initiative is taking what we have to date and really hoping to broaden it so that it’s reaching the people who maybe don’t know that this is an opportunity,” said Amy Ford, one of the primary organizers. “This is an option for them, for them to know that the parish is committed to making this happen. Now is the time to do this.”

Ford stressed that the meeting is not aimed toward building one set program, but rather to identify the current needs of families in the parish and work with parish families to suit the needs of each child.

Current special needs programming at All Saints Parish is based on the Sunday school curriculum “Adaptive Finding God,” a program from Jesuit-based Loyola Press. Ford said that the parish plans to keep the curriculum intact, though it hopes to partner with families develop various ways to implement the program depending on the needs of each family.

Norm LeBlanc, a member of the committee and the father of a 21-year-old son with autism, said that at this phase of the organization process, simply getting the word out is key.

“Isolation can be a big barrier if you don’t understand your child — it’s huge to overcome,” he said.

When LeBlanc’s son was younger, he struggled to succeed in a mainstream Sunday school setting because of his sensitivity to sensory stimuli. Eventually, LeBlanc recalled, he was asked by a Sunday school teacher to not bring his son back.

The lack of the parish’s ability to meet the LeBlanc family’s needs — the parish had no curriculum for children with special needs at that time — led the family to make do with what they had, utilizing various resources in the parish community, including the help of Ford.

LeBlanc hopes that Saturday’s meeting might introduce families of children with similar needs to each other, providing a network of support that wasn’t as readily available to his family when raising their son.

“You can feel very isolated if you don’t have an outlet of some kind, or feel that somebody can understand where you’re coming from,” said Ford.

Ford began looking further into special needs programs after attending a workshop hosted by the Diocese of Portland’s Office of Lifelong Faith Formation in 2015. Titled “Partners in Faith Formation of Children and Youth with Autism and other Developmental Disabilities,” the workshop introduced Ford to the necessary information and resources to better serve the Parish.

“We can’t do everything for everyone, but we can do what we can,” Ford said.

Ford and others from the parish first began to raise awareness by distributing informational cards titled “All Are Welcome: How to Be a Church of Open Doors” in church pews. The cards urge churchgoers to “make the parish a more welcoming place for newcomers, persons with disabilities and persons with special needs” and provide a list of detailed actions to take.

Saturday’s meeting will be the first of several, and Ford plans to host a follow-up meeting for families of the parish in Boothbay and Newcastle.

The meeting will be held at St. Charles Borromeo at 10 a.m. If those interested are not able to attend the meeting, contact Ford at (207) 725-2624 or email [email protected] rg.

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