"Learning To Love"

Western Youth Department releases disability training videos

Listen to this article

“Learning to Love” series aims to equip youth leaders

By Hillary Jackson – 

The West’s Territorial Youth Department began the rollout of “Learning to Love,” a three-part video series aimed to equip youth leaders to better understand and serve those with disabilities, March 2. 

The videos are hosted on the SAY Network website and will be released every other week. As disability is both widespread and nuanced, the 10-minute videos will focus on physical disability, autism and ADHD. The videos include interviews with both parents of those with disabilities and experts, and take the perspective of a youth worker. 

The idea for the videos stemmed from the department’s past annual Boot Camp, which included a workshop on special needs ministry for youth leaders. After the department stopped holding the event, it didn’t stop the need for special needs ministry training. Eighty percent of families with special needs children don’t attend church, according to Journal of Religion article “Religion and Disability: The Experiences of Families of Children With Special Needs.”  

“When we cut [boot camp], we recognized youth leaders still needed training,” said Youth Event and Project Manager Heather St-Aimé.

St-Aimé and Youth Media Producer Abraham Guevara set out to create a resource for special needs that would have a similar impact to the old workshop. Before she started the project, St-Aimé thought she’d devote one video to special needs ministries. As she became more informed, it became apparent the department needed to do more.

The pair spent 14 months researching and connecting with experts and parents of those with disabilities in an effort to help those in ministry better understand the special needs population and their families, by bringing awareness and breaking down barriers.

“I hope that they start seeing the people with disabilities and seeing their actual needs and feeling more confident in meeting them,” St-Aimé said. “I want them to be aware the needs exist, the people exist, the people want to be included…I want them to feel called to action.”

In the first video centering around physical disabilities, Major Nancy Helms, College for Officer at Crestmont Director of Field Training, talks about her experience raising her son, Cameron Helms, in the church. Cameron was born with brain damage and is deaf and has cerebral palsy. 

“I want them to take Cameron because they want him,” Helms said in the video. “I would say for most special needs parents in the church, they don’t want to have to be the burden. They want somebody else to realize their kid’s special without the parent having to tell them.”

In the same video, the team interviews Pastor Jennifer Felix, who has spent more than a decade at Crossroads Church in Corona, California, serving those with disabilities. Felix gives suggestions about how the church can be more inclusive, like using person-first language. Instead of saying the “autistic boy,” say “the boy with autism” or simply use his name.

“Individuals with disabilities are hungry for friendships and for relationships in the same way that we are,” Felix said in the video. “The church needs to pave the way in that displaying that each person with a disability has intrinsic value.”

In addition to the “Learning to Love” videos, the youth department will have special needs ministry resources available on its website, including books, articles, and a youth profile that every corps can do. St-Aimé said they are working on an inclusive resource for the three most commonly requested emblems, too.

“I’ve been in church ministry my whole life, but none of us ever were proactive in taking steps to help,” said Guevara. A dad himself, he started seeing the situation from the special need parents’ perspective from behind the camera. 

“The attitude was humility and a willingness to learn,” he said. “I think those things have affected me at church and my daughter’s school…My eyes have been opened.”

Salvation Army employee among selections for new Salesforce-led initiative

Salvation Army employee among selections for new Salesforce-led initiative

Impact Labs will utilize the Salesforce platform to find solutions for complex

How to express love in the right language 
Gary Chapman

How to express love in the right language 


You May Also Like