Faith Nitzel sees herself as someone with a certain love and compassion for special needs children that most people may not possess.
Nitzel attends a church with a special needs ministry. On Friday nights, the church sponsors an activity called SOAR, which stands for Special Opportunities, Abilities and Relationships. The special needs children can have a night for themselves while their parents go out to have a night away. Nitzel began getting involved in the ministry when she was 12 years old, but has been involved with special needs for as long as she can remember.
“I have a cousin with special needs,” Nitzel said. “He has Down Syndrome. So, I guess I’ve been involved with special needs my whole life.”
Nitzel originally thought she should major in culinary arts because of her love for cooking. However, during her second week into this semester, Nitzel met her SOAR program “buddy,” someone she is paired up with every day; after this meeting, she decided to change her major.
“My buddy is deaf, and I have to do sign language for him,” Nitzel said. “As I got know him, I realized that I really loved it and that is what I wanted to do.”
Nitzel said there are times working at her church when she does not know what a child needs, which can result in a meltdown. She must decide to not give up on the child and works through the problem until the child has what he or she needs.
In 2014, Nitzel was affected by the Overland Park Jewish Community shooting, where her brother’s best friend passed away. After the shooting, Nitzel said everyone came together and began living by his motto.
“It’s what he always said: live your life to the fullest and never give up,” Nitzel said. “So, everyone at my school and in the district picked that up. When a meltdown occurs and nothing I do helps, then I want to give up. But I can’t do that because I made a promise to the child’s parent. So, when things like that happen, I kind of just have to ride it out until I get some backup or the child calms down…For me, giving up is not an option.
Though communication and calming a child down is a struggle that Nitzel deals with, the gratifications of working with these children makes up for it. She enjoys knowing she is helping others and impacting these children’s lives, no matter how big or small her impact may be. Nitzel enjoys bonding with her buddy and knowing that he trusts her, and so do his parents.
“They’re basically leaving their child with a stranger while they’re at dinner or going to the church service,” Nitzel said. “So, when the parent comes to get their child back, it’s nice to know how much they trust me.”
Nitzel also must remember that every child is different and has different needs. Though it can be a guessing game at times, she said she uses patience and compassion to take care of the children.
“Know that not every autistic kid, deaf kid, or kid with other disabilities, are the same,” Nitzel said. “Each one is different and has certain needs. It’s up to us to make sure we know what those needs are.”
Story by Gracyn Shulista