It’s Saturday night and most college kids are going out. Not Angela Dunlap. The Texas State University (TSU) senior routinely gets up at 5:30 a.m. Sunday is no different. She’s up at (or before) the crack of dawn, often making a 45-minute trip from San Marcos to Covenant where she is a caregiver for the Joy Ministry.
Cindy Young, a pediatric physical therapist, started Covenant’s JOY Ministry started in 2011. The Joy Ministry matches a volunteer “buddy” with a special needs child, making it possible for the child to attend and participate more fully in Sunday school. At the same time, the parents are able to attend worship together without worrying about their child.
Angela’s route to being a part of Joy Ministry was through the Covenant Preschool and Child’s Day Out program. Texas State required that she intern at a preschool. She and a TSU friend both interned at Covenant and because they loved their required two days here so much, they often came to help a third day as well.
“I worked with Ms. Jean (5’s teacher Jean Pravednikov). She is wonderful and so upbeat,” Angela said. “I loved everything she taught and how she taught it, especially how she emphasized social skills, and the way she taught empathy and kindness. She’d have the children talk to each other about their conflicts.I think we should focus more on that than just academics. That’s why I love preschool. Ms. Jean inspired me to really want to teach preschool.”
After her internship, Angela returned to the preschool to help with water day and graduation. Her enthusiasm did not go unnoticed. Children and Family Ministries Director (and former Preschool Director) Christy Milam loved Angela’s passion and she asked if she would be interested in helping with the JOY Ministry.
“Angela was such a wonderful intern. I didn’t know if she’d be willing to drive from San Marcos on Sunday mornings — that’s a lot to ask of a college student — but she was excited to help and she’s been such a blessing to the JOY Ministry,” Christy said.
“I love the idea of this place and their beliefs so I was happy to help. I love it here!” Angela said.
Angela’s first buddy was Micah, who has autism. “As soon as I got paired with Micah, I got a bunch of books on autism so I could know I was doing what was best for him. I have a book in my car with a bunch of sticky notes and highlighted sections.”
Angela brought scratch and sniff books, trying to find things that were more interesting than just reading. “I went in thinking I’d be so prepared for my first day with Micah. I have learned so much more form being with him than I ever learn will from reading a book.”
The two have a nice relationship. “We just clicked right away,” Angela said, expressing surprise at how willing he was to be close to her. The two have been paired since Angela started helping, and she has babysat for Micah and older brother Eli. “Micah and Eli are so smart and a couple of great boys. Their parents have raised the so well. I want to know how they did it. The boys are so well rounded.
“These are the people that I love to help because they deserve to have their Sunday at church with no worries,” Angela said. “The ministry is so great because the parents get to enjoy church. Their child with someone they trust and know and have contact with. The system is great and so forward thinking; it’s so accepting and inclusive.”
About JOY Ministry
Program founder Cindy Young said that early in her life, God placed a passion on her heart for children and specifically children with special needs. In addition to her job, she also felt called to create the JOY Ministry. “Many families with special needs children struggle to attend church as a family. Without this assistance in the Sunday school setting, these kids miss out on the chance to learn about God’s love and develop friendships within the church community.
“We work closely with the parent and the volunteer to make sure we have a good match. Support and training is provided specific to each child,” Cindy said.
Christy Milam, Children and Family Ministry Director, said, “It’s such an honor to be able to support the parents, giving them time to fill their cups in worship and Covenant activities. This program is one of the ways that we are able to serve the family as a whole are getting to fill the spirits of all God’s children. We are serving the family as a whole.
The ministry is always looking for volunteers. “We are frequently approached by new visitors who are trying to find a church community that can accommodate their children so our need for more buddies continues to grow,” Christy said.
To learn more about the JOY Ministry or to volunteer, contact Cindy Young.