The Salvation Army Kenai Corps welcomes ‘wigglers’

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Corps finds a creative accommodation for an active child.

By Karen Gleason – 

The Salvation Army welcomes everyone, including those with special needs. It’s a promise—and sometimes it’s a challenge.

The Kenai (Alaska) Corps faced that challenge some time ago when a new family came to the corps, where Envoys Craig and Jeannie Fanning are in charge. The family included a woman with a newborn baby girl and a young son.

“When this family came to our corps, their son was…very busy,” Jeannie Fanning said. “You can tell the difference between a child acting out, and a child who is extremely busy. I knew he could not sit still.”

Fanning said he just couldn’t stop his body from moving. During children’s church, while everyone was watching videos, his constant movement became distracting to the other children. 

“I really loved this little guy and didn’t want to separate him from the other children, but I knew I had to figure out a way so he wasn’t causing a distraction,” she said. Fanning also learned the boy was homeschooled because the schools weren’t receptive to having him in a traditional classroom.

Fanning came up with an idea, the “wiggle wall,” and she got the teen group involved. The plan was to paint one of the walls in the multi-purpose room.

“This would be a special wall,” she said. “The rules were: you could not make noise, but you could wiggle on that wall.”

The wiggle wall was a success. It worked exactly as Fanning had envisioned.

“Some of the other kids wanted to be on that wall, too, but the rules stood—no noise,” she said. “I allowed the kids without wiggle issues because I didn’t want our little man with wiggle issues to feel separated or ‘different.’”

After a while, when the novelty wore off, the kids who didn’t need the wall didn’t bother with it anymore.

Later, while a video was playing during summer Vacation Bible School, the boy walked over to Fanning and whispered: “I really need that wall.”

Fanning said he went right over to the wall and all was well. With the wiggle wall, Fanning had created a way to accommodate an individual with a special need, without excluding or ostracizing him.

The boy’s mother, Sarah*, found a church home where she could relax and be at peace.

“For us, finding a church that not only tolerated my active child but welcomed and accommodated his needs has been a blessing,” she said. “Knowing he had an outlet for his energy made it easier for me to relax and focus as well. So often, my son has struggled with what to do with his excess energy and many places do not offer constructive outlets, so he ends up excluded or we simply do not go.”

But at the corps, Sarah began participating in the Home League and Bible study group.  “Now we have a wonderful church family,” she said.

And her son? He’s now involved in judo and competes state-wide, as well as competing in various Native Alaskan sports. 

“The wiggle wall helped me get my wiggles out,” he said. “Without it, I would still have a need to wiggle but would get in trouble. It was nice of [Envoy Jeannie Fanning] to do that for me. Church wouldn’t be the church I picture now—a fun place where I can learn about God.”

While he no longer needs the wiggle wall, it stands ready at the Kenai Corps for the next boy or girl who does.

*denotes name change

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