Some parents may take the opportunity to nap. Others may go to the grocery store all alone or catch a movie. I’m not sure what my husband and I did when we dropped our kids off at Buddy Break for the first time. However, I do remember the extreme relief we felt as we were finally able to have a few hours away from our children. As any parent of a special needs child can tell you, caring for a special needs child can be draining and exhausting. Finding a safe, reliable, and loving environment can be especially difficult when your child has one or more special needs.
We first became acquainted with the Buddy Break program when our family moved to Florida five years ago. We had moved thousands of miles away from our family and friends and were in desperate need of a break. My husband and I were overjoyed when we found out about Nathaniel’s Hope’s Buddy Break, a free respite program for children with special needs and their siblings. At Buddy Break, every child is paired up with a buddy, who has undergone a background check. Located at over 120 churches in 20 states, Buddy Break is rapidly expanding. My favorite aspect of Buddy Break is that children with special needs are considered VIPs. In a world where stares and bullying can be commonplace, it is refreshing to find an environment where all kids are recognized as important and celebrated.
In addition to Buddy Break, Nathaniel’s Hope offers other programs for families with special needs. At Christmas time, Nathaniel’s Hope hosts Caroling for Kids, which shares hope and encouragement with patients, families, and caregivers at children’s hospitals and with home bound VIP families on Christmas Day. Additionally, free toys are provided to VIP families with financial need through Nathaniel’s Toy Shop. Birthdays and special days of VIP kids are remembered on the VIP Birthday Club website. VIP kids who have relocated to heaven are remembered through Nathaniel’s Hope’s Hall of Hope. These precious lives are remembered online with inspirational stories and with cards sent to the families on the child’s birthdate and home going date. Perhaps the largest event that Nathaniel’s Hope hosts is the annual Make ‘m Smile event held at Lake Eola in Downtown Orlando. Now in it’s 15th year, the festival has grown exponentially. For kids and adults with all types of special needs and their families, the event is hosted on the first weekend of June to celebrate Nathaniel, who is the inspiration behind Nathaniel’s Hope.
When co-founders, Tim and Marie Kuck, gave birth to Nathaniel, they were thrust into the world of “special needs parenting.” A world where many of us expend all our energy in taking care of our children. After Nathaniel passed away, the Kuck’s decided in 2002, to give back to the special needs community through Nathaniel’s Hope. Our family has been so blessed by the ministry of Nathaniel’s Hope. Their events have been venues for our children to have fun, make connections and affirm their importance and value. Nathaniel’s Hope also provides a bridge between the special needs community and the general population, bringing awareness and understanding to those may never otherwise come in contact with a special needs family. For more information about this wonderful organization visit them online: http://www.nathanielshope.org.