Special Saturday is an incredible ministry hosted at Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, TN. It is a respite program for special needs families. Once a month, parents of children with special needs can come and drop their children off for a morning full of music, crafts, snacks, dancing, Bible lessons, and games. The parents get to have a few hours “off” to rest, go on a date, and just have some kid-free and worry-free time to themselves. Meanwhile, their children get to spend that time in a loving, joy-filled environment with a “buddy” who loves on them. Parenting in general is a difficult job, and parenting a child with special needs adds another layer of difficulty. Everyone needs a break, and Special Saturday offers these hardworking parents a few hours to recharge.
Special Saturday was born out of a desire of one of these parents in the fall of 2006. “I just need a small window of time to be off-the-clock.” A woman named Gigi Sanders heard this need, and was faithful to act on it. With the strong support of Christ Presbyterian Church and the adjacent Christ Presbyterian Academy, Gigi was able to provide a space for these families to drop off their children each month. Special Saturday began with just five children and a few volunteers, who gathered in the CPA gym for a morning of fun.
Every single child that comes, those with special needs and their siblings, is individually paired with a “buddy,” a volunteer who spends their Saturday morning serving and loving these families. Since the very beginning, the vision of Special Saturday has remained the same, and every child that comes gets to hear God’s word and receive love in action through the body of Christ.
The ripple effects of this program are truly profound. There is no “one-way” ministry going on. Everyone involved (participants, parents, volunteers) has the opportunity to be moved and transformed by this amazing ministry. The parents are ministered to by receiving a scheduled time to rest and recharge each month, knowing that all of their children are in a place where they are safe and being loved on and cared for. The children with special needs are ministered to by their loving buddies as they love on these kids, play games with them, and show them the love of Christ. The siblings of special needs children are ministered to by getting to spend a morning playing with their siblings and kids in other families just like theirs! They have a buddy, too, and get the same love and attention as every other kid there. They get a morning “off” as well, knowing their sibling is being taken care of, and just get to play alongside them. The volunteers are ministered to by these sweet kids, by experiencing the love of God through giving up their time and creating lasting, sweet relationships.
Gigi Sanders best explained just how much of an impact Special Saturday has on everyone involved.
“This ministry has a profound layering effect. On the surface it looks like we’re doing something “for” these children and these families. But really, we are doing something “with” them. Our volunteers are being ministered to just as much as we are ministering to our special needs families. We all need God. And through Special Saturday, our volunteers’ lives are changed! The kids and volunteers are transforming each other back and forth, through the love of God.”
Special Saturday has developed so much since its humble beginnings. Five children, a couple volunteers, and a few games in the school gym has grown into 60-70 children coming per month! Volunteers come from all over Nashville. Many are from the CPC community, but people come from other ministries and churches to serve on Saturday mornings, and sports teams and their coaches from CPA volunteer together as well. An entire program of engaging lessons and activities that caters to the children’s needs has been developed that allows them to learn about Jesus and have fun! This growth has happened at the Lord’s pace – it all started from a small seed, planted by a simple desire for rest. Gigi Sanders was faithful with that seed, and the Lord has grown it by opening doors, connecting people, and equipping His people to love and serve.