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CARROLLTON (CBSDFW.COM) – At the Bird-Needham home in Richardson the noise of celebration was easily heard around the house.
“Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you,” sings mom Amanda Bird-Needham.
Michael was celebrating his tenth birthday. The day was even more special because doctors didn’t think Michael would live past age five.
“They had told me he would never walk – never talk,” Bird-Needham said. “He would have continual seizures, need a feeding tube – that he would never have enough brain activity to know that I was his mom.”
Michael suffered a spinal cord injury when he was a baby. He’s also diagnosed with Autism.
His mom, Amanda, was by his side to care for him throughout the day. She’s doing it thanks to her church.
“I couldn’t get through life without the group at the church,” Bird-Needham said of the Bent Tree Bible Fellowship in Carrollton.
The congregation is helping families restore their Sunday traditions by going out of its way to make a place for those with special needs children.
Volunteers wait patiently before the Sunday service. They look after the kids, giving parents a chance to listen, concentrate and pray.
The Roberts family said they are grateful they found the church.
Their daughter Amy looks like a child, but she’s actually 23 years old.
She’s been through more than 20 surgeries and now has a kidney from each of her parents.
Amy is able to sit through the service, but really enjoys working with the volunteers at the ministry.
“We were loved and accepted with our circumstances just like they are,” said mother Donna Roberts.
Circumstances were almost too much for Jackson Drake’s parents to overcome. He’s also severely autistic.
One Sunday afternoon, his father John struggled to describe how he felt before he heard about the ministry.
He choked up and simply said that he’s grateful for the program.
“We just found ourselves not going to church, rather than deal with him being upset in the setting they had for him. Or us taking him to church with us and not paying attention,” said Cindy Drake.
The Drakes are at church every Sunday now, or they at least try to be if Jackson is up to it.
The idea for the “Lifeguards Ministry” began 10 years ago.
“One individual noticed a family who was handing off a child in between services and they were worshipping separately,” said Michelle Harrell, director of Caring Ministries. “He introduced himself and said, ‘can I help you? I’ll sit with your son so you two can sit together.’”
Volunteers now look after more than a dozen special needs children every Sunday.
There’s also a support group at the church where parents meet every other Thursday to talk while their kids have a safe place to play.
“We can be brutally honest with each other with what is happening with our kids. There is no judgment,” Bird-Needham said.
For families like Michael’s, Jackson’s and Amy’s it’s a place they can always feel safe, understood by friends and comforted by faith.
More than half of the families who attend the church are now members because of the special needs ministry.