KATY MAGAZINE NEWS
August 27, 2020
By Natalie Cook Clark
For families with special needs children, the impact and isolation from the pandemic can be more stressful. Aside from their role as mom or dad, parents have needed to fill in as teachers, therapists, and more. To help with the effects of the quarantine, groups in Katy are reaching out to help these families and their children feel connected and loved.
Katy group, Focus on Friends meets at a local park prior to COVID-19. Photo courtesy: Deb Ambrosi.
Pandemic Greatly Impacts Special Needs Families
While many businesses have reopened and schools have resumed virtually, life is anything but normal in Katy as families continue to experience the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Parents Take on New Roles
Parents with special needs children have taken on more roles as they try to explain the increased separation and adapt to these unusual times.
“Staying connected during the pandemic is important for everyone but vital for the special needs community and their families,” says Pastor Whitney Peper, who leads the Courage worship service specially designed for those with special needs and their families. “They are overwhelmed and feel isolated and left behind as they can’t be in school, groups, and therapies.”
“My heart goes out to all of our families with the new way of teaching virtual,” says Deb Ambrosi, who founded Focus on Friends in 2013. “Many of our group members have attention issues and behavior issues. Sitting in front of a screen for extended periods of time must be very difficult.”
Focus on Friends is an active Katy group with almost 500 members. Their goal is to connect families with special needs children and provide them social opportunities. From field trips to playdates and more, this group helps fight the isolation that often limits families from traditional activities and outings.
“I started the group for my daughter,” says Ambrosi. “She was struggling finding friends and was very isolated. I knew there had to be other families dealing with similar issues - I just needed to connect with them.”
The Ambrosis adopted their daughter in 1998 when they lived in Canada. “She was our Foster Baby for almost two years before we were able to adopt her,” says Ambrosi. “She had been prenatal exposed to drugs and alcohol and this exposure adversely affected her brain and caused an injury.” Ambrosi has three sons who were involved with playing sports and spending time with friends.
“They were invited to all sorts of social events and birthday parties,” says Ambrosi. “The phone never rang for my daughter. When we moved back to Katy in 2013; I knew I had to find friends for her.”
Learn More About this Katy Group
COVID-19 has suspended the Focus on Friends in-person group activities, but they still connect through their private Facebook group. They are always welcoming new members, and encourage anyone struggling as a family with a special needs child to get connected.
Katy Church Creates Service to Accommodate Special Needs
Finding a place to worship with a special needs family member can be challenging and very limiting. In Katy, families can attend the Courage Worship service held at St. Peter’s United Methodist Church on Kingsland Blvd. Families come from all over Houston and across religious denominations - from Church of Christ, the Catholic church, and more, to worship there.
Communion is served in the Courage Service. Photo courtesy: Whitney Peper.
A Service for All People
“The Courage service is for all people,” says Pastor Peper. “We designed it for the special needs community by making adjustments to make the environment more welcoming and accommodating.”
Before the pandemic, Courage met each Sunday at 5 p.m. at St. Peter’s. Currently, the church is holding virtual worship services until they start to phase into in-person worship. Sermons can be found at the church’s website and Courage’s Facebook Page.
The Courage service allows space for wheelchairs, one piano to limit sensory stimulation, and shorter service times (30 minutes) without changing the week’s message.
“We allow families to worship as a family knowing they are safe and in welcoming environment where they can be themselves as God made them,” says Pastor Peper.
"We've enjoyed having a place where we are welcome, just as we are, to have an informal time of worship as a family together," says Katy Mom Jana Miller. "Our son is not able to be quiet during a worship service, but at Courage, being noisy is ok!"
Connecting During a Pandemic
While the Courage service can only meet virtually for now, they connect with their families through Zoom Courage, support groups, driveway meet-ups, calls, and notes, to stay connected.