How are the mission and goals of Special Life Network implemented?
Special Life Network is an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) public charity founded and established in The Woodlands. We are governed by a board of directors that have other professional jobs, but are actively involved in the organization, heading up various leadership teams and projects. At Special Life Network, we believe “Every Life is Special®.” This is a message for the heart. To accomplish our purpose of facilitating integration opportunities for individuals with special needs, we incorporate three core strategies; increasing awareness, providing education and training, and networking resources. In this way, we support needed changes and adaptions, so all can be included and supporting that Every Life is Special!
Through SPECIAL LIFE® Fun Family Events and Activities, we directly serve special needs individuals and their families and help connect families with each other and with adaptive programs in churches and the broader community. (Examples of these include our SPECIAL LIFE® Fun Family Bowling, Family Skate Nights - wheelchairs included, and Holiday Craft Making, organized groups to attend area events, and we have partnered with area churches and organizations to do combined events such as the teen and adult program, “VBS for VIP’s.”)
By networking resources and providing education and training, we have helped churches start up or grow special needs ministries. We have met with church leaders, shared best practices, and provided tours of existing Special Needs Ministries to share example models for other churches interested in starting a Special Needs Ministry within their congregation. We held our first Disability Training event in partnership with Joni and Friends in 2005. Since then, Special Life Network has provided several disability training events for the community and for Special Needs Ministry volunteers. In 2010, a new Special Needs Resources section was published in the Interfaith of The Woodlands Directory. The project was a collaborative effort between Special Life Network and Interfaith of The Woodlands. The Special Needs Resources section continues to be a part of each annual directory.
We established SPECIAL LIFE® Ministry Network Meetings and the SPECIAL LIFE® Lunch for Special Needs Ministry Coordinatora. Through the networking of area churches, we provide encouragement and support for Special Needs Ministry leaders and share knowledge and resources to help churches better reach out to individuals with special needs and the families that support them.
In addition, we have provided SPECIAL LIFE®ASL (American Sign Language) classes for the community, attended by area teachers, parents of special needs children, church volunteers, adaptive program directors, and other interested individuals. We have provided ASL workshops designed specifically for Special Needs Ministry volunteers. We also designed a free SPECIAL LIFE®E-Community website providing resources and information on disabilities, a community calendar of events for families to find out about programs and events offered for the special needs community, and the capacity for discussion forums.
Special Life Network also connects with area other community organizations to increase special needs awareness and the need for adaptive programs and network resources. Previously, we met with the executive directors over the YMCA’s in The Woodlands and Conroe to discuss the need for adaptive programs and facilitated a Public Forum that resulted in the startup of an adaptive swim program at the Conroe YMCA, and later, the hiring of a recreational therapist to develop special needs programs. The Conroe Family YMCA now offers several adaptive sports programs including the Leap of Faith therapeutic riding program. Today, The Woodlands Creekside YMCA is running a 3-day a week adult day program for individuals with special needs.
Special Life Network has also provided financial support to local programs that support integration opportunities or adaptive programs for individuals with special needs. (Top Hands Horse Show at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Conroe YMCA to put in a wheelchair lift in their pool, Leap of Faith Therapeutic Riding Scholarship Program, Panther Creek Inspirational Ranch, Best Buddies at College Park High School, Best Buddies at Oak Ridge High School, SPECIAL LIFE® Student Club at College Park High School, and most recently Camp Read Alot, a new community reading program for children with special needs.)
Our SPECIAL LIFE® Vision 2020 is our plan designed to take our community to the next level of awareness, understanding, and leadership specifically as it relates to the development of more opportunities for individuals with special needs to be active and included in our community. The first stage was initiated this year with the inaugural Walk, Run and Roll, a SPECIAL LIFE® Community Event, held September 27, 2014 at Rob Fleming Park. Our objective was to create and implement a repeatable fun family community integration event.
The Walk, Run and Roll provided an opportunity for participants and volunteers alike to experience what inclusion looks like while learning real facts about special needs and ways to adapt. The 1.5 K walk included runners, walkers and wheelchair rollers, all participating together. A festival followed, full of fun games and activities that incorporated education and ways to adapt so everyone is able to participate.
We also had fun entertainment, brief talks from area community leaders, (Dr. Ann Snyder, President and CEO of Interfaith of The Woodlands and Dr. Sherry Sellers Vinson, Director of Meyer Center for Developmental Pediatrics, Texas Children’s Hospital) and educational puppet performances by Conroe Kids on the Block and the interactive drum line, Let them Drum. There were 300 people in attendance and volunteers were recruited from area Boy Scout Troops, National Charity League, Sam Houston University Kinesiology class students, the Sam Houston Chapter of Project Sunshine, The Woodlands Chamber of Commerce - Community Relations Team, College Park SPECIAL LIFE Student Club and Interact Club, Houston Northwest Medical Center Rehab Services Department, as well as area churches that have Special Needs Ministries. Whether people attended as a participant or a volunteer, awareness was raised and education about special needs provided in this fun festival setting!
April 15 2017 marks our 12 year anniversay, and we are looking forward to the many opportunities ahead. How can you help? Register on our website, sign up to volunteer, or be a donor or sponsor. If you believe in our cause, we ask that you join us on October 7 at Flemming Park in The Woodlands, Texas for the 2017 Walk Run & Roll and celebrate with us that Every Life is Special!