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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sharing Joy

Faith-based organizations fill gaps in social services


The rising costs related to special needs services and state budget cuts have left North Louisiana nonprofits scrambling to keep up while the number of those in need continues to climb. Area faith-based groups are stepping up to fill those needs in unique ways.

Faith-based social service groups are not a new concept. In fact, some of North Louisiana’s most significant nonprofits began as faith ministries.

Billie Tate runs a newer program called God’s Exceptional Miracles at First United Methodist Church in Shreveport. Tate described how those affected by special needs often feel isolated from church and other social settings.

Tate said GEMS has a limited budget and resources but that doesn’t stop her and volunteers from providing events that help families. Events such as the Spring Fling dance provide an opportunity for teens with special needs to interact with their peers in a social setting. The dance also utilizes FUMC’s youth group as volunteers in an effort to encourage them to accept those with disabilities and to look beyond the disability to see the individual. The young teens are only given one instruction by Tate, “Make sure everyone here tonight has the best time in the world.”

Tate said GEMS Night Out provides an opportunity for the rest of the family to get some precious time alone, such as a date night for parents or an opportunity for parents to spend time with siblings. “One of our single moms calls GEMS her family,” Tate said. “She has a child with multiple handicaps and two older children. GEMS Night Out is her time to do things for herself and the siblings, but also as her special needs child’s social activity.”

Evergreen Life Services is another faith-based service group that was established 55 years ago as Evergreen Presbyterian Ministries.

Terri Axelson, chief resource development director, said even though ELS is not a church, that association hinders their ability to apply for certain grant funding.

“Often, in our effort to develop unrestricted funding, we apply for grants through regional or national foundations that have restrictions upon funding a church entity. We were established by a Presbyterian minister to meet the needs of families of his church who had children with developmental disabilities. Our faith-based mission continues but to all faiths as we encourage and support our residents or individuals served to engage their own personal faith and attend the church of their choice.”

Axelson said ELS services bring joy to people with disabilities on a different level. She said tax-based funding does not cover the types of personal interest items like recreation or hobbies. “Sometimes it doesn’t even stretch far enough to meet typical room and board expenses,” Axelson said. “We hold fund-raising events like Celebrity Waiter in order to raise unrestricted revenue to provide a host of services that are not covered by the tax-based, limited funding.”

Holy Angels has also been evolving to provide a place for individuals with developmental disabilities since it was established in 1965 by the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady

Of Sorrows and the Catholic Diocese.

Holy Angels is an independent training facility licensed by the Department of Health and Hospitals. A staff of approximately 300 professionals and over 100 volunteers provide everything from medical needs to job coaching.

Its AngelCare program helps participants work toward reaching their maximum level of achievement, while the Champions for Individuals with Disabilities program is training the next generation of leaders in the fields of intellectual and developmental disabilities. Holy Angels’ residents receive salaries for the items they produce. Pottery, pillows and jewelry are sold in the Holy Angels Gift Shop and at area retailers such as Lewis Gifts, and they even have their own line of coffee called Holy Rhino, in conjunction with Rhino Coffee. Perhaps one of the most important goals stressed in the leadership group, however, is simply “to give joy on a daily basis by helping residents achieve their fullest potential toward a healthy, active and independent life.”

Sid Potts is a member of FUMC and is a major supporter of its GEMS program, and he also recently toured Holy Angels where he hopes to help expand Holy Angels’ jewelry-making program.

“The people running these programs like Billie Tate and Laurie Boswell of Holy Angels are making such a difference,” Potts said. “They are really worthy of support and a good investment in our community.”


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