Making a difference is what Lynn and Barbara McNeely aim to do through their ministry, Hidden Miracles.

The ministry began a little more than four years ago with a vision to provide services, fellowship and love for Ellis County families with members who have special needs.

The McNeelys’ son, Travis, has cerebral palsy. Their experience as the parents of a child with special needs has given them a sense of love for other families who are living a similar lifestyle.“We’ve become known around the area but we’re hoping to expand to other individuals as well as churches and teach them how to deal with special needs children,” Barbara McNeely said. “When we first moved here, there was nothing here for special needs families so we’re just wanting to let others know that there is a place especially for special needs families now.”

Hidden Miracles serves as an operating ministry of Cowboy Church of Ellis County, providing several programs geared toward families with special needs.

“The Cowboy Church of Ellis County has embraced our ideas with a passion and they always offer their help,” McNeely said, noting volunteers have been very helpful. “We are not able to do any of our programs without the wonderful network of volunteers we have. They embrace us and they actually want us here.”

The ministry’s programs include respite night, which is designated for caregivers of children with special needs to be able to take a break and enjoy some much needed time for themselves.

Children’s church is a fairly new entity offered for children with special needs during the 10:30 a.m. church service, with trained volunteers assisting the children in a special classroom and also including them in the main children’s service.

Nursing home/community outreach is a program designed for those who are homebound or in a nursing home, with Hidden Miracles also offering support groups that provide a chance for fellowship, friendship and the sharing of ideas with others who are the family or friends of someone with special needs.

“With our respite night, we average anywhere from 20 to 25 people a month,” McNeely said, saying attendance includes children with special needs and their siblings. “We started respite night to give parents a chance to have alone time for themselves or a date night.

“We also have community events and support groups to involve the community and to bring them out,” she said. “We’ve had support groups in the past because we believe that spending time with other special needs families is very important because, in a way, we all share a common bond. We know what others are going through and we all could help strengthen other families. There may be other places that provide services for special needs families but as far as I know, we are only ones doing respite night.”

The ministry has received a tremendous amount of support from the community toward its programs, especially the children’s church, she said.

“The community response has been amazing toward our children’s church, which started on Nov. 5,” McNeely said, saying the children’s church allows parents to create a bond with the church family.

“We have an average of 18 volunteer teachers and five or six children right now,” she said. “We had three kids to show up for the first one, but we’re hoping to get anywhere from 10 to 15 kids in the future, but in order to do that, we would like to get the word out there that the children’s church even exists.”

The church, which is funded by donations, provides sensory videos and other sensory equipment for the children, including crafts, coloring and playtimes.

The ministry is hosting a fund-raiser to help purchase equipment for its respite night program, including therapy and sensory equipment, tactile toys, tricycles, craft items and others.

“We want to get more activities for the children, but we need the funds to get them,” McNeely said. “The equipment is so expensive and that’s the purpose of the fund-raiser. We received $6,000 in December 2003 from a private donor and that’s what we’ve used until now.”

The fund-raiser is a raffle to win a custom room mural by local artist Jamie Kelly. The drawing will be held Feb. 14.

“We’re hoping that by involving youth, kids will learn to embrace special needs children instead of picking on them,” McNeely said, saying she is blessed to have a child with special needs.

“I feel blessed to have a special needs child because God doesn’t just give them to anyone,” she said. “If it hadn’t been for Travis, I wouldn’t know the people I know and I wouldn’t be able to be involved in any of the activities I am involved with now.”

E-mail Chicarra at chicarra.dense@waxahachiedailylight.com