Telegram Staff Writer
Everybody needs a break.
Nothing could be more true for parents of special needs children.
'Their job is 24 hours a day, seven days a week,' said Marsha White, volunteer with the special needs ministry at Temple Bible Church. 'It's tough to find a few minutes for a shower, much less an evening out.'
That's where TBC's His Kids program comes in handy.
'Every second Tuesday of the month, the parents can drop their kids off and go do what they want for a couple of hours,' Ms. White said. 'They can have a date night, go grocery shopping, pay bills or take a bubble bath. All those little things they've been putting off because they don't have time.'
Susie and David Marek of Salado are grateful. They've been participating since last fall along with Logan, their 14-year-old autistic son.
'Logan can stay here and have fun,' Mrs. Marek said. 'And we can go out to eat and relax for a bit.'
All of them look forward to His Kids Tuesdays.
'The days are marked on our calendars,' Mrs. Marek said. 'And as soon as we pick Logan up from one of the nights, he's already talking about the next one.'
'It's a blessing to a lot of families,' said Lisa Prince of Temple, another mom. 'It's so much easier to take an evening off when you know your children are safe and happy.' The respite nights are not the only activities His Kids offers. The program also features a Sunday school class a weekly Bible study.
'The kids really get the chance to get to know each other,' Mrs. White said.
That's important to Mrs. Marek.
'There's not as many things for special needs kids to do as other children,' Mrs. Marek said. 'So when there's an opportunity for Logan to socialize and learn, it's good to take advantage of it. It lets him develop a sense of independence he would not otherwise get.'
At the July 14 respite night, there were about 20 youngsters in the His Kids classroom. They were coloring, talking and playing. And if they got hungry, there was some pizza for them to eat.
'Once everyone gets here, we go to another room where there's more space to play,' explained Cameo Jones, 8, of Temple. 'We play hide and seek, and we dance. I like to do cartwheels.'
Miss Jones is the sister of Garrett, one of the special needs kids.
She likes to come to His Kids nights because she enjoys spending time with her brother.
'And everyone else is my friend too,' Miss Jones said.
Siblings of special needs kids are welcome to participate in respite night activities, but like their parents, they have the night off.
'The siblings don't have to keep an eye on their brother or sister,' Ms. White said. 'They don't have to feel like they have to watch out for accidents. They're here as guests, and they are here to play like everyone else.'
Sometimes the siblings feel like they are too big to play. When that time comes, they're welcome to participate in His Kids as a volunteer.
Jordan Prince, 14, sister to 8-year-old autistic Gracie is one such sibling.
'She'll stay and help out when she's not too busy with school,' said their mother, Mrs. Prince. 'She'll help the littler kids with coloring or lead some art projects.'
For the special needs kids, the best part about His Kids night is the 'middle part,' said 8-year-old Holston Sloan.
'That's when we get to anything,' Sloan said. 'There's parades, funny face making, laughing really loud and cutting up paper.'
And if all 20 children can't agree on the same activity, then they split up into groups and take turns doing it all.
'My favorite is hide-and-seek,' Sloan said. 'The dance contests are cool too.'
Joshua Dubcak, 15, of Temple can't dance because he has muscular dystrophy and is confined to a wheelchair. But he makes a great DJ.
'I like to pick out the music,' Dubcak said. 'And when nobody wants to dance, I'll just put something on for us to listen to.'
It's not often for someone new to show up at His Kids activities, but it does happen, Dubcak said 'it's real easy to get involved.'
'You're like an automatic friend,' Dubcak said. 'Somebody does or says something to make everybody laugh, and then it's easy after that.'
As an example, Dubcak crossed his eyes and invited Logan Marek to a copycat duel.
'Hey Logan, look at me,' Dubcak said.
And Logan, who is known for 'the best impressions ever,' couldn't resist the challenge.
Forty seconds passed in silence, and then cross-eyed Logan gave Dubcak an ear-to-ear smile that the whole group burst with laughter.
The jury's still out on who won, but the two competitors are good friends who like to see their friends happy and laughing, even if it's at their own expense.
---A family effort
There's one family who's always at the His Kids respite night at Temple Bible Church.
That's Sharon Aguallo of Belton and her two daughters: Rebekah, 19, and Raquel, 17.
They come each month to volunteer with the special needs program.
'All these babies need is someone to come talk to them, feed them and dance with them,' Mrs. Aguallo said.
A daycare worker at the Central Texas Children's Center, Mrs. Aguallo's 20-year career has always been focused on special needs children.
While she was at TBC on July 14, Mrs. Aguallo held 10-year-old Dallas Williams on your lap.
'You've got to stand up and stretch those legs, sweet girl,' Mrs. Aguallo told the girl.
In response, Dallas held her head up, grinned and then yawned and closed her eyes.
Mrs. Aguallo didn't mind. She just rocked the little girl and patted her head.
Dallas slept while the other children played a racing game. Rebekah and Raquel were at the head of the line, showing the youngsters the rules of the game.
'You have to jump from square to square,' Rebekah said. 'And if you miss, you fall in hot, boiling lava and you have to go back to the end of the line.'
The kids were laughing, so were the sisters.
In about five minutes, Dallas raised her head, braced her hands on Mrs. Aguallo's shoulders and straightened her crooked hips and legs. Unable to speak, the girl said nothing, but she smiled at Mrs. Aguallo.
'That's a girl,' Mrs. Aguallo said, hugging Dallas. 'Good job!'
Dallas fell back asleep, and the others continued their game.