SHARE hoping for volunteers for New Year

SHARE recently hosted a candlelight dinner and service for parents of special needs children in the Permian Basin. The event offered free childcare and a dinner along with entertainment and testimonials. (Courtesy Photo)

SHARE staff members are taking some time off for the holiday but are likely asking Santa for the one thing they need most — more volunteers.

In this post-COVID world the number of volunteers is down for the Sharing Hands A Respite Experience (SHARE). The nonprofit offers a much-needed shoulder for those raising special needs children including Down syndrome children and autistic children and those with other medical issues.

Many on the SHARE staff have special needs children and they have learned to navigate the often complicated world of difficult health, insurance and education struggles that come with raising a special needs child.

They also understand how isolating it can be for families with a child of special needs. There are fears for the hard things — like the future of the child — and the everyday things like attending events or even a simple trip to the grocery store.

SHARE offers respite care for the families for four hours on certain Friday nights. They need more volunteers to help with the respite care and with other events. Cali Trowbridge, marketing and development director for SHARE, said volunteers for respite care have one job — playing with the children.

“Sometimes people hear special needs and get nervous and don’t know what it would look like. We have staff members who are in every room during respite care and they handle the “special” part of special needs kids.”

The SHARE staff poses with Santa Claus at the Sensory Santa event, which allows children with special needs a chance to see Santa in a quieter venue. (Courtesy Photo)

She said volunteers are needed to play with kids … to walk with them and talk with them and hold their hands. It is meant to be laid back for the volunteers.

She said volunteers fill out an application and there is a background check with a quick turnaround. They need volunteers and welcome people who can volunteer for shifts each month. “We want them to be comfortable so if they don’t want to work with very young children that is fine they can work with older kid. We welcome anyone to come and play with the kids.”

She said the volunteers they currently have are a great group but they need more.

Volunteers recently helped with a Sensory Santa event that offered special needs children the chance to interact with Santa in an quiet and calmer atmosphere and gave parents a chance to get a good photo with Santa.

Volunteers also watched about 80 special needs children recently while their parents attended a candlelight dinner at Crossroads Church, which often generously offers space for respite care and events, Trowbridge said.

Parent Ken Hartman attended the very first candlelight dinner hosted. “It was one I’ll never forget. My daughter, Olivia, and I were the first guests to arrive. When we arrived, we were greeted by people we did not initially know, but warmth and welcome were very present. The evening was magical and by the end of it, no one was a stranger but rather a new family sharing a common bond of love, care and understanding. Our hearts were full,” he said.

“I’ve fortunately had the opportunity to attend several SHARE candlelight dinners over the years with each just as touching and special as the one prior. This event continues to be the highlight of our family’s Christmas season. I only wish this was something all families of children with special needs everywhere could experience — a sense of belonging, family, acceptance and love. It is truly magical.”

Trowbridge agreed and said she has leaned on both Morgan Cadena, MOJO speech therapist, and Traci Hopper, director of SHARE, on what she calls her journey with her 7-year-old autistic son. Hopper is a widowed mother of three, including an adult daughter with Down syndrome.

Hopper has been with SHARE since it started. Both Crossroads and Midland’s First Christian Church have offered space for SHARE. First Christian is where SHARE was born.

She said the only qualification to become a member of the group is to have a special needs child. Their official statement is “supporting their efforts to establish and maintain strong and successful families.” The group was founded in 2005 by the Rev. Tom Jones, a special ed teacher in West Texas, as a small church ministry offering respite care for families.

Since that time, SHARE has added support groups, home respite care and even a collaboration with local hospitals to provide NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care) support. They have also expanded to host conferences on genetics and transitioning to adulthood.

By 2014, the headquarters was moved to Midland Shared Spaces, and in 2015, a collaboration with Agape Counseling and Samaritan Counseling began to offer professional counseling to parents and siblings.

SHARE became a nonprofit in 2009 and now has a staff of six full-time and one part timer. They work in Odessa and Midland and surrounding areas.

The camaraderie that comes from various SHARE events is critical, Trowbridge said. There is also guidance on the rights of special needs children. Valuable advice from those that have been and are still there, Trowbridge said. All services and events are free to the families.

The Friday night respite sessions offer parents a safe place to leave special needs kiddos with folks who understand them for a few hours. Families of special needs children often feel isolated but a local nonprofit’s mission is to help guide them on what they call the “journey.”

SHARE recently hosted a candlelight dinner and service for parents of special needs children in the Permian Basin. The event offered free childcare and a dinner along with entertainment and testimonials. (Courtesy Photo)

SHARE helps families navigate their journey with a special needs child touching on everything from advocacy to education to playtime to a sense of community for Permian Basin residents.

“Our big push is to let the whole Permian Basin, not just Midland and Odessa, know that we want to help them.”

She said her own experience with SHARE saved her. “I needed to get out of the house and my son needed to socialize. We have gotten so close to other families and it helps to have support. It was amazing to feel fellowship and a connection with others.”

The group makes sure that families have a calendar of events, which also includes mom and dad nights out and Sibshop, which is just for siblings. There are counseling times and support groups, again all offered for free.

Top Soccer was offered in the Fall in Midland and offered free soccer for special needs children of all ages. Hopper was there checking on the young athletes and handing out red soccer shirts.

The group now gets funding through the state that is designated for children with special health care needs. They do not work with mental health issues, ADHD, bipolar or schizophrenia. Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and autism are their main focus.

SHARE now partners with different agencies on the mental health side to help families with therapy. Hopper is a valuable resource for parents learning the ropes.