Disabilities Don’t Stop Fun at Harvest & Hayrides

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PORT DEPOSIT, Md. — Autumn fun doesn’t get much better than hayrides, pumpkin decorating, and hot cider. But for many individuals with disabilities, fall activities can be a bit overwhelming rather than exciting. Pleasant View Baptist Church (PVBC) in Port Deposit, partnering with The Banquet Network (TBN) with support from the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D), offered a unique opportunity to provide a more laid-back fall festival for these families. PVBC Senior Pastor Harold Phillips and his wife, Corkie graciously opened their home for the “Harvest & Hayrides.”

Antoinette, with Edwinna Reed said she likes how the air smells in the fall. (photo by Sharon Mager)

TBN Executive Director Katie Matthews, with her husband CJ, the pastor of Bethany Columbia, and Communications and Marketing Manager Allie McCarty, with her husband Seth, set up a “pumpkin patch” and prepared a decorating station with paint and fun accessories. Harold grilled hot dogs as young people talked, threw balls, and swung on a swing set. Corkie helped with decorations, greeting guests, and preparing the food area.

Harold loaded a tractor bed with hay bales and gave the group a ride for several miles to PVBC and back to his home. Riding with their parents or guardians and a few PVBC church members, guests had fun chatting with each other about their pets. One boy said, “I have a cat named Raven.” Another said, “I have a bunny named ‘Cheeseburger.’ One young man asked for selfies on the hayride to show his daddy. Some were loud, others reserved, concentrating on pieces of hay or waving at cars. One young lady sat with her mother, smiling shyly as the tractor bounced along.

Anbao Chen, with Seth McCarty, loved petting and holding the little dog who roamed the yard. (Photo by Sharon Mager)

Returning to the farmette, a few guests were excited about “picking” their pumpkin to paint, while others headed to the barn. The horses and the donkey (named Barnabus) were a big deal, as was a small poodle-type dog that happily wandered around. Some guests were bold, walking fast and close enough to have the farm animals nervously backing up, while others were much more tentative and found themselves backing away.

Katie said, “Even those that were fearful loved being around the animals.” Harold, she said, gently modeled the correct way to approach the horse and donkey and how to be gentle. “One of my favorite parts was watching our daughter Jade teach a teen boy named Anbao how to feed the horse, and he loved it!” Ambo also was fascinated with a poodle-type dog that wandered around. He was petting the dog or holding it as much as possible. Katie said she loved seeing Anbao’s face light up when he was with the dog. She said many who aren’t around people with disabilities don’t realize that even if someone who can’t or isn’t talking is still communicating — pointing, or with their eyes, or their huge smiles.

Shelley Stolle with her son Jimmy who is affected by autism. Shelley is married to Tom Stolle, the BCM/D associate executive director. Tom initiated a special needs/disability initiative through the convention. (Photo by Sharon Mager)

Katie said, “We were so impressed with the Phillips family. Harold and his wife really cared. They didn’t just do this because it’s a nice thing to do, but they really cared about it.” Speaking as a mother of a child with disabilities, Katie said, “C.J. and I both felt this was a great event for our kids. Usually, they get overstimulated, and it’s not actually fun. Then we have to go home and deal with the behavior issues and overstimulation. This was perfect, enjoyable, and not chaotic — it was calming.”

Katie also shared about one young woman who appreciated the afternoon as it filled a need. “One of our guests is incredibly lonely and isolated as a person with a disability. So many events and organizations and support groups are available when you are younger, but not for young adults. This girl said she had a great time and asked, ‘When can we do it again?’” She wasn’t the only one. Katie said a young adult man with disabilities kept talking about having an event in December, and he decided he would do that and set a date, and had everything planned out and was talking to everyone about it.

Parents were pleased with the event. Jackie Tackettnd, with her son Tyion, said This is something he can go out and go to – different from the ordinary thing. We don’t get off too often since the pandemic.

Harold and Corkie were both happy. “It was a wonderful day, and we were honored to be able to do it,” The couple was actually doing double duty that weekend, piggybacking off of a fall festival for the church, with over 200 people the day before, but Harold said Corkie has the gift of hospitality and is thrilled to interact with guests.

Harold was also energized by the Harvest & Hayrides. “I love kids who have disabilities and their families,” said Harold. He told how he used to teach in a school for children with disabilities and found it truly enjoyable. He grew to be very comfortable and to love the students.

Jade Thomas and Z’aid Black enjoy petting one of the Phillips’ horses. (Photo by Sharon Mager)

PVBC now has several people with disabilities in their congregation, and they are striving to meet those needs. Harold said he recently baptized a woman with a three-year-old who is affected by autism. The woman has been asking about ministries for her child — the need is there, he said, and they are and will continue to respond and expand that ministry. Harold said the church is blessed to have several members who work in the field of disabilities/special needs. Now that the church’s gym is completed, Harold said he also hopes to host a Tim Tebow’s Night to Shine.

Churches interested in learning more about disabilities ministries or that would like to host an event for individuals with disabilities can contact The Banquet Network.

The Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware is committed to disabilities ministry, seeking to equip churches to minister to individuals with disabilities in partnership with TBN. Contact the BCM/D or the Banquet Network for more information. 


Feature photo: Harold Phillips drives a tractor for a hayride as guests chat, laugh, relax and have a good time. Z’aid Black turns back to flash a smile. (Photo by Sharon Mager)