Serving Special Needs

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One out of every 10 children in the United States has some type of disability. The parents of these kids are often tired and overwhelmed. As Reed Galin reports, one Tampa church is giving these moms and dads a break… and giving their children some new friendships.                

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(Locator: Tampa Palms, Florida)

For a few hours on one Saturday every month…

“You gonna be good…be good for Mama.”

…Janet McDonald leaves her daughter, Nicole and son, Dougie, here at St. James United Methodist Church.

Janet McDonald/ Mother of Autistic Children: “When you have children with disabilities, nobody wants to get involved. This means everything.”

She has 7-year-old triplets. Two of them are autistic. At the Nathaniel’s Hope Buddy Break program, her kids and other special needs children are paired with volunteers for three hours of play time.

There’s music and pets and it’s even okay to make a mess.

“I think we have enough shaving cream.”

Sally DePalma runs Buddy Break in Tampa. She understands these families better than most. Her daughter is autistic.

Sally DePalma/Buddy Break, St. James United Methodist Church: “Here at Buddy Break, we don’t treat the children any different than any other child. We love on them. We have fun with them. We accept them for who they are and where they’re at.”

It’s been tough for Janet who became a single mother a year and a half ago when her husband died from a pulmonary embolism. When she watches her children with their buddies at St. James, she knows she has a support system again.

Janet McDonald/Mother of Autistic Children: “This is the first time I don’t feel embarrassed. I feel that they’re welcomed.”

And at least for a little while, this mom gets a break.

Janet McDonald/Mother of Autistic Children: “Last time, I went to lunch for the first time in two years. I sat there in a restaurant and actually ate! It was fun!”


The Buddy Break program is available at no charge for families and it offers free activities and getaways for the parents and siblings of special needs children.

For more information, call Sally DePalma at 813-971-4790 ext. 234 or check out the church Web site.