Sophomore Tarren Bingham spends a portion of his free time volunteering with the special needs population through Special Opportunities Abilities and Relationships (SOAR) at Grace Church with campuses in Overland Park and Olathe.
He became connected through his mother’s career as a special needs paraprofessional at an elementary school and has been involved with the program for five years.
“She told my family about it, and we all went and volunteered and fell in love with the ministry and have been getting more and more involved ever since,” Bingham said.
Ninety percent of individuals with special needs and their families do not attend church due to churches not having the necessary resources, the family not feeling welcomed or even some churches asking the families to leave the church.
However, Bingham said Grace Church’s pastor is able to relate to the families who have children with special needs.
“The pastor that leads this ministry, Stephen ‘Doc’ Hunsley, had a son with Autism who ended up passing away when he was very young,” Bingham said. “Doc knows how it feels to be a family with a child with special needs and wants to create that inclusive environment where everyone feels welcome to worship the Lord.”
Bingham said he is able to gain real-life experience from his involvement with SOAR for what he is hoping to do later in life as a pastor who leads a special needs ministry.
“I am majoring in interdisciplinary studies with a focus in special education and religious studies, so basically a create your own degree for Special Needs Ministry,” Bingham said.
“I have gone from Volunteer to Apprentice to Summer Intern to now being the Camp Assistant Director [in the summer] as well as the Weekends Director at the Olathe campus.”
The Baker dance team is also connected to SOAR and volunteered with the program during the fall semester. Junior Lexi Weidman said she enjoyed the one-on-one aspect of SOAR.
“We got one kid to hang out with for the whole night, and they had really fun activities for every age and skill level,” Weidman said. “There were slides, swings, crafts and games for the kids to play.”
According to Bingham, SOAR allows families of individuals with special needs to get a break from the 24/7 care they provide to their loved ones.
Bingham said his favorite part of the program is hanging out with the participants and learning how to live with zero care of what another person thinks about you. He said SOAR impacts everyone involved in one way or another.
“It even impacts the volunteers because a lot of people say that the volunteers are changing the individuals with special needs’ lives, but really, they are changing ours,” Bingham said.
Interested students can contact Bingham for more information. The primary volunteer opportunities are every other month, Friday R&R nights, the SOAR Camp, July 15-20 and during weekend church services at any of the three Grace Church campuses.