Young adults with special needs, who are between the ages of 18 and 23, can sometimes live in an uneasy state of uncertainty, caught between their high school years and when the State of Maryland’s Employment Association will help find them employment. Dr. Barbara Gaver, who has two special needs children of her own, has seen the toll this gap takes and has come up with an imaginative solution to close it.

Last year, Dr. Gaver established the In My Father’s House Endowment for Disabilities Ministry in the Catholic Community Foundation. Her idea is to have parishes throughout our Archdiocese employ young adults with disabilities, adding dignity and purpose to those first five years of their adulthood. The fund will help parishes cover the salaries of these young people.

Dr. Gaver said, “I think Jesus gave me children who have special needs because he wanted me to understand firsthand the challenges they face and the struggles they go through. I often feel special needs children can be overlooked and undervalued. I’d like to see them play a more active role in the Catholic Church community. I have two children who were challenged, and I’ve seen them blossom into happier, more secure young adults when they became employed. Receiving a regular paycheck made them feel that their time and work were valuable. Their job gave them a purpose and an opportunity to make a contribution. It also helped them to pay some of their own bills.”

A pilot parish for the program, the Catholic Community of Ascension and St. Augustine (CCASTA), has already begun to lead this effort. Since last summer, CCASTA has employed Paul Jeske, now 19, as a facilities assistant. Paul, a critical member of the parish’s support staff, serves in many capacities essential to the parish: grounds keeper, maintenance man, administrative aide. When asked if the job has changed his life, Paul said, “It helped me get used to the working world and learn what it’s like to have a job.” His mother, Jen, said, “This has been life-changing for Paul. It has given him the confidence to know that he can do a good job and hold his own in the working world.”

“Paul truly is a valued asset to our staff,” said Michele Poligardo, Coordinator of Special Needs Faith Formation at CCASTA, “he is a super hard worker and will do whatever he is asked.” As for the program itself, Poligardo feels it adds great value to the parish community.  “Having the presence of people with special needs here,” she said, “reminds us that God wants us to live with simple joys and to love others unconditionally. I think the effect of this fund will be wonderful. It’s great for everyone to experience the dignity of work.”

Eventually, Dr. Gaver would like to see her In My Father’s House fund support catechesis for those with special needs, another area where she feels they are sometimes underserved. But for now, the focus remains on employment.

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