By: Joanna Lindstrom, L Professional Writing
Vision directs us where we are supposed to go. For Heather (Shaw) Haubenschild, vision has directed her profession, her faith, and her community.
With her strong community in place and unparalleled enthusiasm, Heather set out to accomplish her vision: to provide necessary, community-based services for children with special needs at little to no cost to the family.
It started with her. Upon graduating from college, Heather landed a job working with the local “child-find” agency that helps identify children with special needs and match them with services. This was an important part of her journey because she not only learned about services available in her state but, perhaps most importantly where there were gaping holes.
“Across all sectors and services, respite care was virtually non-existent,” Heather said. “I’ve heard Colorado ranks 49th out of all states in terms of providing respite care for families with children with special needs.”
Profession, vision and need soon intersected with her faith. For years, Heather and her family attended a the large and thriving community, Southeast Christian Church. While the youth and children’s ministries were thriving, there were no services for children with special needs. The choice for these families to not attend was far easier than being called out of worship to go the nursery several times, or even the fear of being judged.
Heather went to action. She spoke with the children’s ministry team passionately about the need and set a plan in place. Within months, the volunteer-led Sensory Friendly Room was opened. The first volunteers were Heather and her husband who provided weekly care for four children with special needs.
Today, six and a half years later, the Sensory Friendly Room is now an integral part of the church ministries with 12 regular children, paid staff and many volunteers. Each week volunteers provide a safe, welcoming environment for children who are considered “higher needs.” Children can choose their own activities to help them grow in their faith their own way.
Just this year, Sensory Friendly Room expanded to include six children in the Buddy Program. In this program, teenagers are paired with a child who needs a little extra support in their typical Sunday school room. Children involved have special needs that require some additional assistance in large groups.
And the vision keeps growing! Beginning this year, Heather started partnering with the nonprofit organization, Night Lights, that provides a monthly night of respite to families with children with special needs. Night Lights specifically partners with local churches – like Heather’s – who have the resources, rooms, and volunteers in place to provide this needed night out for parents, free of charge. Unlike many respite programs, this is available for all children with special needs AND their siblings. Volunteers are paired one-on-one with all children and they do all the things they would with a “babysitter” – play games, do crafts, watch movies.
As Heather has transformed services for children with special needs in her community her greatest desire is to now watch it grow to a place of long-term sustainability. That’s long-term vision where all of us LeaderShape graduates are directed.
We want to share all stories of LeaderShape visions coming alive. What’s your story? You could be featured on an upcoming LeaderShape blog. Or maybe your vision has been adapted since your original retreat. If so, you’ll relate to next week’s blog story about Heather’s roommate and confidant, Caroline.
Joanna (Thomas) Lindstrom is a writer/editor and the third roommate of Caroline and Heather. She primarily writes grants for medium-sized nonprofits but also dabbles in blog, newswriting, and fiction. Joanna lives in Colorado with her husband, toddler, and slightly neurotic Schnauzer. She loves living close enough to meet with Caroline and Heather regularly. Visit her online: lprowriting.com