Ryan Wolfe serves as Pastor to the Developmentally Disabled community of Stark County through his staff position at First Christian Church in Canton, OH. Ryan served as a speaker for this year’s Inclusion Fusion Special Needs Ministry Web Summit, during which he described an initiative to provide playing fields on his church’s campus for Canton’s Challenger baseball league.
We had a little mix-up yesterday and the incorrect article was posted on the blog about an initiative launched by Ryan’s church to provide guardians to spend time with and advocate for the needs of adults in their community with developmental disabilities that’s serving as a focal point for First Christian’s Christmas outreach. Here’s the post Ryan intended to share…
Working in the field of developmental disabilities can be a very rewarding profession. Every day there are new advancements in technology and research that enhance the lives of people with disabilities and it is exciting to witness this first hand. At the same time there are harsh realities that professionals, family members and those with disabilities face everyday. The statistics of the rate of abuse and neglect of people with disabilities versus the typical population is very disheartening. You can go on the Disability Scoop website and read story after story and statistic after statistic of abuse and neglect of people with disabilities. As a Pastor to the Developmental Disability community here in Stark County, Ohio these statistics and news stories are much more to me than numbers or print in a newspaper. I have sat beside and talked with people who have been abused in institutions. I have looked in the eyes of people who have been neglected by group home staff. These statistics and news stories are not just happening in other places around the world or even in third world countries, they are happening right around me. Somehow I knew that this was unacceptable. But what really could the church do about this?
As I began to learn more about the prevalence of abuse and neglect I kept hearing the verse, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.” (Proverbs 31:8). It became clear that I needed to research more about this issue here where I live. What I found out is this…In the county where I live there are well over 30 individuals with developmental disabilities on a guardian waiting list. Some have been on this list for over three years and one person recently died while on the waiting list. The agency who provides paid guardians for individuals have a client load of 62 clients per caseworker. That is more than double the national average of 30. The more I thought about this the more unacceptable it became to me. So what does it mean when an individual is placed on a guardian waiting list? It means that this individual has no family, friends or relatives who are willing or able to advocate for this individual. A professional must step in to take on this role in that individual’s life. Imagine for a minute what that really means. This often means that every single person in this individual’s life is paid to be there. Imagine how you would feel as a human being if the only people in your life were paid to be there. Think of the isolation, loneliness and vulnerability that you may feel.
This is where I felt that the church could really make difference in the community and in the lives of people individually. If someone could step in to this person’s life who is not paid but who wants to be there as an advocate and a friend the rate of abuse and neglect could dramatically be reduced. I started to work with our local Guardian Support organization, our local county Board of Developmental Disabilities and our Probate Judge. When I came to them and said that I would like to eliminate this waiting list with volunteer guardians from my church and other local churches they were very excited and willing to figure out how to make this work. Currently I am in the process of recruiting, training and placing volunteer guardians from my church. This is all a coordinated effort of all of these organizations and my church partnering together. We are very much on the front end of this Guardianship Initiative but I feel certain that it is really something that can work. The first volunteer guardian that I have recruited is already paired up with an individual from the waiting list and has already been able to make a difference in this person’s life as an advocate and a friend. But the reverse is also true. This individual from the waiting list has made a difference in the volunteer guardian’s life as well. I believe that this Guardianship Initiative can work not only in my county but across Ohio and even across our nation! If you would like more information on how to start something like this where you live please contact me. If you live in Stark County, Ohio and want information on becoming a volunteer guardian contact me as well. Thank you to Key Ministry for supporting churches and ministries who are trying to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves and trying to ensure justice for those being crushed.
Ryan Wolfe (330) 456-2600 x253
Looking for a unique Christmas gift for the person who has everything…including a relationship with Jesus? Consider something from the Key Catalog! You can sponsor anything from an on-site consultation at a local church, the addition of a new site for church-based respite care to a “JAM Session” to help multiple churches launch special needs ministries in your metropolitan area. Click the icon on the right to explore the Key Catalog!