Special Needs: How One Chicagoland Megachurch Is Getting It Right

Special Needs: How One Chicagoland Megachurch Is Getting It Right

Willow Creek Community Church gives pride of place to a group that most of society fails to value.
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As a relatively well-known and well-resourced megachurch in South Barrington, Illinois, Willow Creek Community Church often has the opportunity to do things that other churches and organizations could only dream of.

Take their Care Center, for example:

Three years ago, the church opened a brand new, 60,000 square foot facility on campus to provide hope and dignity to those in need with food, car repair, clothing, dental and even legal services, becoming "one of the nation's largest all-encompassing church outreach operations under one roof." This relatively new facility now serves tens of thousands of unique families every year.

If the Care Center is any indication, Willow Creek has a pattern of raising the value of those that society most often devalues, and their special needs ministry, Special Friends, is no exception.

Just recently, Teaching Pastor Steve Carter shared an exciting development at weekend services in early June, saying that the church had “called in the foremost leaders in creating spaces for kids with disabilities, and they began to dream.” What these experts in the fields of behavioral and cognitive therapy came up with, Carter said, was “a space that is unlike any other special needs space on the planet.”

Carter's announcement was the public unveiling of the brand new, recently-completed Special Friends space at the church; a long-awaited and much-needed project for their growing ministry to families with special needs.

For the past several years, leaders of Willow Creek have been doing everything in their power to raise up the value of those affected by special needs in the church, whether through the regular events of a weekly ministry or yearly Special Friends fishing derbies and theatrical productions.

According to Senior Pastor Bill Hybels, even as all of those great things have been going on, leaders at Willow have become increasingly aware of the difficulty that families of children with special needs face in simply being able to attend church, let alone being welcomed with open arms when they do.

As part of their long-term response to such obvious need, the church raised a large sum of money to create a space designed specifically for those with disabilities and special needs. The new space includes sensory nooks to help calm and sooth special friends who are having trouble controlling their emotions, areas designed to foster connection between special friends and even a space for teaching and worship.

At Willow Creek, the people who are most often overlooked or written off by other churches have now been given the best space in the church—a space specially designed to fit their unique needs and something entirely unheard of until now.

Kudos to you, Willow Creek, and may other churches follow your example in valuing and caring for the least of these.

To read more about this new space for people with special needs, you can view the church's official announcement here.

Cover Image Credit: Willow Creek Community Church

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​An Open Letter To The People Who Don’t Tip Their Servers

This one's for you.
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Dear Person Who Has No Idea How Much The 0 In The “Tip:" Line Matters,

I want to by asking you a simple question: Why?

Is it because you can't afford it? Is it because you are blind to the fact that the tip you leave is how the waiter/waitress serving you is making their living? Is it because you're just lazy and you “don't feel like it"?

Is it because you think that, while taking care of not only your table but at least three to five others, they took too long bringing you that side of ranch dressing? Or is it just because you're unaware that as a server these people make $2.85 an hour plus TIPS?

The average waiter/waitress is only supposed to be paid $2.13 an hour plus tips according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

That then leaves the waiter/waitress with a paycheck with the numbers **$0.00** and the words “Not a real paycheck." stamped on it. Therefore these men and women completely rely on the tips they make during the week to pay their bills.

So, with that being said, I have a few words for those of you who are ignorant enough to leave without leaving a few dollars in the “tip:" line.

Imagine if you go to work, the night starts off slow, then almost like a bomb went off the entire workplace is chaotic and you can't seem to find a minute to stop and breathe, let alone think about what to do next.

Imagine that you are helping a total of six different groups of people at one time, with each group containing two to 10 people.

Imagine that you are working your ass off to make sure that these customers have the best experience possible. Then you cash them out, you hand them a pen and a receipt, say “Thank you so much! It was a pleasure serving you, have a great day!"

Imagine you walk away to attempt to start one of the 17 other things you need to complete, watch as the group you just thanked leaves, and maybe even wave goodbye.

Imagine you are cleaning up the mess that they have so kindly left behind, you look down at the receipt and realize there's a sad face on the tip line of a $24.83 bill.

Imagine how devastated you feel knowing that you helped these people as much as you could just to have them throw water on the fire you need to complete the night.

Now, realize that whenever you decide not to tip your waitress, this is nine out of 10 times what they go through. I cannot stress enough how important it is for people to realize that this is someone's profession — whether they are a college student, a single mother working their second job of the day, a new dad who needs to pay off the loan he needed to take out to get a safer car for his child, your friend, your mom, your dad, your sister, your brother, you.

If you cannot afford to tip, do not come out to eat. If you cannot afford the three alcoholic drinks you gulped down, plus your food and a tip do not come out to eat.

If you cannot afford the $10 wings that become half-off on Tuesdays plus that water you asked for, do not come out to eat.

If you cannot see that the person in front of you is working their best to accommodate you, while trying to do the same for the other five tables around you, do not come out to eat. If you cannot realize that the man or woman in front of you is a real person, with their own personal lives and problems and that maybe these problems have led them to be the reason they are standing in front of you, then do not come out to eat.

As a server myself, it kills me to see the people around me being deprived of the money that they were supposed to earn. It kills me to see the three dollars you left on a $40 bill. It kills me that you cannot stand to put yourself in our shoes — as if you're better than us. I wonder if you realize that you single-handedly ruined part of our nights.

I wonder if maybe one day you will be in our shoes, and I hope to God no one treats you how you have treated us. But if they do, then maybe you'll realize how we felt when you left no tip after we gave you our time.

Cover Image Credit: Hailea Shallock

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Short Stories On Odyssey: Dorothy

This time it's not a dream...

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She stared at her tea and thought about it.

And it wasn't like anything else, because it was everything, and it wasn't like the sky wasn't blue that day, but it looked different.

And she had that stupid grin on her face, and her eyes were actually shining, and she felt this was the place, her silver lining, when everything would change for the better.

She is following the yellow brick road, and she's making my way to Oz—the emerald city.

She's making strangers her friends, bringing life to the tin men, giving brains to scarecrows when it's the lions who are scared…but tonight, they are emerald kings, and the magicians can't refuse them, the dark witches won't confuse them, over the rainbow, wait for her.

This time it's not a dream.

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