Romania does not have a history of support for special needs adults or their families. Where the need is due to physical limitations, mental or emotional limitations or some combination, once the individual turns 16 they and their families are on their own. For many families this means someone must stay at home with the family member OR the family member is left strictly on their own. For those without family support the streets are usually the only option.
A member family of the International Protestant Church of Brussels is Romanian and has a special needs sibling in Romania. This situation came up at our Missions Committee and, after some talk and prayer we decided to do something about it.
In 2010 my wife and I traveled with the Romanian couple to Arad, Romania. With the financial support of our congregation, we took equipment and supplies to start a cottage industry of making greeting cards. We spent 10 days on site teaching volunteer staff how to use the equipment, and special needs clients how to make cards, tags, and the like. All the material for the start-up and the 1st year’s operations were donated by the congregation.
Once we returned we realized we could do more, and so, working with some of the same volunteers in Arad, in 2011 we created a very limited computer workshop teaching basic computer skills with equipment specifically designed for use by persons with physical limitations. Twelve months later we had our first “graduates” of the program, both of whom were able to find employment using their skills.
This success inspired the congregation and in 2012 a Missions work-camp traveled to Arad to accept the gift of a dilapidated house. In the period of one week, we removed all floors, plumbing, wiring and external “junk,” cleaned the property, and prepared it for refurbishment. For the first time during this work week, volunteers from a local church came to participate in our work. They were, quite honestly, surprised beyond belief that we would come at our expense to do something for the Romanians.
In 2013 we returned to Arad to plaster, paint, place flooring, plant, and do all the basic work to make the house into the workshop we had envisioned. At this point, the local congregation matched us volunteer for volunteer during the work week. In the following months professionals were contracted to provide all the finish work that we could not do…and, with only one exception, all of the labor was donated and this work was done for the cost of materials alone.
During Holy Week of 2014, a small group returned for the dedication of our project…a modern workshop, fully accessible, with computer lab, classrooms, workshop, craft room, kitchen, offices, and demonstration gardens. Here, individuals can learn skills as diverse as basic gardening to computer savvy, basic independent living to employment in one of the three cottage industries that have grown up around this project. As of this writing, the local congregation has taken on the responsibility for oversight and sustainability, 3 of the staff are employed and 3 new programs are projected for the Autumn.
Twenty eight special needs individuals are currently participating in various workshop events. A local congregation has become excited about ministry in their own back yard. And numerous youth, from our congregation and Romania have created new links and bonds in the process of making a difference.
We call that a success!
Rev. Dr. Murray Frick
The International Protestant Church of Brussels