Dave recently spoke at the Bishop Ricard Conference in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. While there he had the opportunity to learn about a great religious formation program for children with special needs called Son Treasure. He sat down with Holly Hoskamer, who runs the program with her husband Wray, at St. Sylvester’s Church in Navarre, Florida.
Holly described Son Treasure as a “respite and faith formation program for parents to attend Mass while we work with their children in a safe and secure setting.” The couple started the program six years ago to help their son Christopher, who has autism, and other children with special needs in the parish.
She went on to explain that for the first half of each session the kids are learning about their faith in the classroom before transitioning into the church for the second half of Mass. “It is a bridge program to transition students with autism and other special needs over to the church and into the pews in time for the Eucharistic Liturgy.”
The program uses teen and adult helpers to support the students. “Wray, my husband, helps out. He’s my logistics guy. He sets up the room and organizes activities. Our helpers break out individual kids to work on specific stuff, especially when they are close to being able to receive their sacraments.”
The program makes use of strategies and approaches that work well in special education and applies them to teach religious content. For instance, “A visual schedule is used. Kids pull off each item as they do that part so it’s interactive. If they need to bounce, we have a therapy ball and even a small trampoline they can use in class.”
The catechists use unconsecrated hosts to teach reverent receipt of the Eucharist. “This allows for repetition and practice, both of which are effective ways kids with special needs can learn. We use the Adaptive First Eucharist Preparation Kit to prepare the kids for First Holy Communion.”
Holly explained that the students enjoyed a stained-glass craft so much that a mosaic craft is being planned for later this year.
Holly was happy to talk about the program’s successes. “A child in our program has autism and sensory processing disorder. For a long time he would simply repeat the last word or phrase he heard. But then one day he came into the class and said to the other students, ‘Welcome, my brothers and sisters,’ gesturing with his hands like the priest on the altar. One day he just said, ‘I have Jesus in my heart.’ We knew then that he was ready to receive Communion.”
It was wonderful to hear stories like this one and to learn about the different ways catechism and sacramental preparation for people with special needs can be done at the parish level. Holly, Wray, and all of the teen and adult helpers are doing an amazing job, and so are the kids in the class. We give a great big shoutout to everybody who makes this and programs like it a success.
Copyright 2017 Dave and Mercedes Rizzo