SEBRING – Gary and Melissa Duffy and their daughter, Makayla, regularly attend church services Sunday, where they spend time in worship, song and praise.
But the rest of the week, the Duffys are focused on work, school and keeping an eye on Makayla, which makes their job as parents sometimes a bit more trying than usual.
Makayla, 9, has been diagnosed with autism, a developmental disorder that appears in the first three years of life and affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills.
The condition can take a toll on the day-to-day duties of mothers who often stay at home to take care of their children with autism and other emotional and physical disabilities.
To give Melissa and other mothers of children with disabilities a day to enjoy themselves away from the responsibilities to their special-needs children, a special “Day of Pampering” is being offered.
Hosted by Grace Bible Church, the Day of Pampering, which is free, will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 23 at the church’s children’s center, 4541 Thunderbird Road. During the day, mothers of children with disabilities will be treated to a morning and afternoon at the “spa.” Local professional hairdressers, stylists, nail technicians and massage therapists would be volunteering time to apply make-up, style hair and focus on fingernails.
In addition, a light lunch will be provided by Olive Garden, Sebring.
The event is part of the church’s Disability Outreach Ministry, an outreach group recently formed to give parents of children with disabilities -- like the Duffys -- the chance to worship without the distractions of their special-needs children.
“For Grace Bible to offer something like this, even if it’s for a few hours of relief for families, it’s a positive. It gives us a break to send our kids to another room, even if it’s just for a few hours,” said Gary Duffy, who has attended Grace Bible with his family for six years.
Grace Bible’s birth-to-college “Next Generation” Pastor Kendal Sheen, who has been at Grace Bible for about a year, said the Day of Pampering is open to any mother of special needs children in Highlands County. He said he hopes they’ll come out and take advantage of the special day. He said out of the church’s approximately 1,500 members, about 15 families have children with disabilities, mostly dealing with autism.
Sheen, an ordained minister for two years, said the Disability Outreach Ministry is fashioned after the Joni and Friends International Disability Center, a 35-year-old, Agoura Hills, Calif., ministry, which helps equip churches worldwide to evangelize and disciple to people affected by disabilities.
He said marriages are often strained with the pressure of tending to special-needs children and hoped the ministry -- and the Day of Pampering -- could help alleviate some of the hard times.
“We want them (parents) to know the ministry is offered. They can come to church and know that they’re children are being properly cared for,” he said. “The joy you get of being around these kids, it’s just so much fun.”
Another Grace Bible member, Doug Tait, said he and his wife, Pat, suggested the disability ministry after volunteering with Joni and Friends while living in Chambersburg, Penn.
He said they felt since they were “blessed” with 12 normally-developed grandchildren, they should give back to those who have special-needs children.
“We have here at the church volunteers and directors trained for special-needs chidlren, which is important. These kids have needs and concerns that need to be taken care of,” he said.
To attend the Day of Caring, call (863) 382-1085 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.