A new Young Life program is offering community and support for young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Gig Harbor and the Key Peninsula.
The program —Young Life Capernaum — provides a monthly space for teenagers and young adults with special needs to meet and enjoy games, fellowship and the support of other families, said director Miri Sampson.
“We have kids of all abilities,” Sampson, 29, explained. “Every kid in Gig Harbor and the Peninsula and beyond, regardless of ability, should have a safe place ... everyone has something to offer. We don’t want anyone to fall through the cracks.”
With 11 years experience as a youth pastor, Sampson comes to Capernaum from a personal experience: of her three children, her 4-year-old son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
“You feel very alone and isolated as a special needs parent,” she said. “For me, those teen years are so critical. I know (Capernaum) will be there for my son when he’s that age.”
We have kids of all abilities. Every kid in Gig Harbor and the Peninsula and beyond, regardless of ability, should have a safe place ... everyone has something to offer. We don’t want anyone to fall through the cracks.
Miri Sampson, director of Gig Harbor/Key Peninsula Young Life Capernaum
Sampson approached the local Young Life director about Capernaum and was hired in December 2015 as Capernaum’s director, launching the program in early 2016.
With 18 families participating in the monthly program, Sampson is working to build a community of support for parents and siblings.
“We aim to be a support to these families,” she said. “We’re building relationships with the families and parents as with the kids.”
The Capernaum leaders that help facilitate the group form a critical piece of the support system, Sampson said, with peer leaders, grandparents, teachers and community members joining to make sure everyone feels included and is participating.
With 33 years of Young Life leadership experience, Joe Kempston is fulfilling his retirement plan as a regular volunteer for the Gig Harbor Capernaum group.
“The leaders are a good group of people ... I love being part of the diverse team that’s there,” Kempston, 75, said. “We’re just getting started here in Gig Harbor and we’re just getting the word out. It’ll be fun to see what gets out.”
Capernaum also has a personal connection for Kempston, who has a special needs granddaughter in her 20s, and he observed that he began to feel more drawn to supporting and connecting with these families.
(Capernaum) gives them a place where they just feel normal and it’s very special to feel normal. I think it makes them feel a whole and complete. They have an adult friend that can communicate with them that they’re tremendously loved by God and okay the way they are. I think it connects them.
Joe Kempston, Capernaum volunteer leader
“As you get older the more tender your heart gets towards these kids who happen to have a disability,” he said. “It’s a privilege to be around them ... they’re honest. They’re loving. They love friendship.”
Sampson agrees that the sense of community and friendship is strong within the Capernaum meetings.
“There’s so much joy,” she said. “Just an unbelievable amount of joy in that group.”
The format for Capernaum is similar to other Young Life meetings, Kempston explained, but the safe and special place that the meeting holds for these special needs teens and young adults is apparent.
“It gives them a place where they just feel normal and it’s very special to feel normal,” he said. “I think it makes them feel a whole and complete. They have an adult friend that can communicate with them that they’re tremendously loved by God and okay the way they are. I think it connects them.”
There’s nothing that’s going to shock or surprise us (at Capernaum). We’re a safe place for these kids to be themselves. We meet these kids and these families where they’re at...we’re knitting our lives together.
This sense of connection and community is exactly what Sampson is looking to create with Capernaum throughout the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula community.
“There’s nothing that’s going to shock or surprise us (at Capernaum),” she said. “We’re a safe place for these kids to be themselves. We meet these kids and these families where they’re at ... we’re knitting our lives together.”
Young Life Capernaum meets from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. the third Wednesday of every month at The Pavilion in Sehmel Homestead Park, located at 10123 78th Avenue NW in Gig Harbor.
For more information on Capernaum, Sampson can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the Gig Harbor/Peninsula Capernaum Facebook page.