Virginia Beach woman and church team up to start ministry for children with special needs

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Aimee Darby remembers exactly how stressful going to church could be for her family.

"I spent a lot of time sort of nervous and sweating 'cause I'm like, 'What are people going to think? How am I going to control her in this controlled atmosphere?'" said Darby.

Darby's daughter, Eliza Hope, had autism. Something simple such as going to church wasn't always easy for their family, and they aren't the only ones who feel that way.

"It would be very easy to not go. We have had those weekends where we don't have a babysitter," said Carla McDonald, who is the mom of a young boy with special needs.

But that's changed. Kids' Champions, the brainchild of the Eliza Hope Foundation and Crosswalk Church in Virginia Beach led by Pastor Steve Lentz, is a children's ministry for kids with special needs including autism and other developmental differences. For Pastor Lentz, it was important to make sure families weren't sacrificing their faith because they felt as if their child couldn't go to church.

When kids come to Kids' Champions, they get one-on-one time with a volunteer who helps engage the child in teachings.

"They're hearing the gospel, but it's in a way that's really going to speak to them," said Colin Pomory, a staff pastor at Crosswalk.

Volunteer Corrie Lentz said it's a great time for parents to relax while being at church. "This will be an opportunity for you to come and participate in worship while your child is safe and loved," she said.

It's made a big difference for some families, including Carla McDonald's.

"When we got out of the car, he [her son] ran, he ran down the sidewalk. So he could go in. and he was so happy. That is proof right there that it's a powerful, fun, impactful thing for him to come along," said McDonald.

Crosswalk Church meets at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays.

"This is an opportunity for my little family to walk out the door as a group. We don't have to find a babysitter for our youngest son. We don't have to leave him behind, he comes with us," said McDonald.

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