How any church can “Make ‘M Smile”

I’ve wanted for many years to attend Make’ M Smile, an annual community festival held in Downtown Orlando every year on the first Saturday of June to celebrate children and adults with special needs and their families by Nathaniel’s Hope, a wonderful Christian organization that has helped churches from all across the country to launch respite ministries serving special needs families. The Orlando celebration his grown to involve tens of thousands of people with dozens of sponsors, including corporations not normally associated with Christian events. The entire undertaking seemed so overwhelming that it was hard for me to imagine that many other churches would be capable of hosting something so large.

I was delighted to learn several months ago that Make ‘M Smile was coming to Ohio. I was more surprised to hear it would take place in Hartville, a small town about equidistant between Akron and Canton, and hosted by Harvestime Apostolic Temple, a church committed to serving families of kids with special needs but considerably smaller than several in the area with well-known disability ministries.

The folks from Harvestime put together a wonderful event together with the leadership team of Nathaniel’s Hope. There were a wide variety of activities and stations located around the park and lots of happy people to welcome and hang out with the VIP guests.

The therapy dogs were certainly a big hit!

The staff from Cleveland’s contemporary Christian music station (95.5 The Fish) were there to do a live broadcast.

Quite a few organizations serving families with special needs were in attendance including this group from Pegasus Farms, a facility offering equine-assisted therapy.

There were plenty of activities over the course of the day. It got pretty hot as the day went on, so there were no shortage of volunteers to sit in the dunking booth or visitors to the snow cone cart. The Stark County Department of Developmental Disabilities brought a large contingent with them to help connect families with available services in the area. Free lunch was provided. Of course, Nathaniel put in a special appearance.

New friendships were made…

Given that the event was called Make ‘M Smile, the evidence suggests the day was a rousing success! Smiles were had by all!

My biggest takeaway from the event is that Make ‘M Smile represents a great model for a summertime special event to share God’s love with kids and adults with a broad range of disabilities. Marie Kuck and her team have developed a model for a celebration that churches of all sizes might easily replicate, with each event taking on its own unique flavor from the sponsor, the event venue and the mix of participating disability-related organizations.

Make ‘M Smile would be most impactful for churches with an established disability ministry. It wouldn’t make a lot of sense for a church to host the event if they aren’t prepared to invite and welcome their VIP guests and their families to a weekend worship service. Hosting an event might serve as a great catalyst for relationship building between church leaders and disability organizations in the communities they serve. While this  event serves as evidence that a large church isn’t necessary for success, the ability to recruit volunteers and to execute a good publicity plan would be essential.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Make ‘M Smile events were available in as many cities as the Night to Shine proms hosted by hundreds of churches every winter?

Interested in hosting Make ‘M Smile in your community? Reach out to Marie and her team  at Nathaniel’s Hope to learn more about making it happen!

In Mental Health and the Church: A Ministry Handbook for Including Children and Adults with ADHD, Anxiety, Mood Disorders, and Other Common Mental Health Conditions, Dr. Stephen Grcevich presents a simple and flexible model for mental health inclusion ministry for implementation by churches of all sizes, denominations, and organizational styles. The book is also designed to be a useful resource for parents, grandparents and spouses seeking to promote the spiritual growth of loved ones with mental illness. Available now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, ChristianBook and other fine retailers everywhere.

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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