It took only about 10 months to build, but the new state-of-the-art Ability Tree R.E.S.T. Center in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, has been a dream in the making for U.S. missionaries Joe and Jen Butler for years.
The Butlers are the founders of Ability Tree and minister under AG U.S. Missions Intercultural Ministries. Since 2010, the Butlers have been working to minister to children with disabilities and their parents through Ability Tree. On Saturday, they cut the ribbon to their new 10,000-square-foot facility with an estimated 200 officials, staff, and community members present.
“It’s above and beyond ‘state-of-the-art’ in regards to helping families and individuals dealing with disabilities,” states Larry Moore, Arkansas district superintendent. “It’s such an opportunity for respite for parents and families — it was fascinating to me.”
Joe Butler says the facility has few peers across the United States as it offers a vast array of indoor and outdoor activities and areas specifically designed to capture the attention, stimulate, and involve children with disabilities.
“The R.E.S.T. stands for recreation, education, support, and training,” Butler says. “The center offers a sensory playroom that provides physical and interactive activities, such as a rock climbing wall, hip-hop interactive activity box, monkey bars, padded trampoline, and a sensory integration swing system to name a few. We also have a multisensory room offering creative interactive activities for children as well as a calming comfort room for times when a child may become over stimulated or simply needs time away from others.”
Other features include a half-court basketball/volleyball court, arts and crafts room with Lego center, a huge covered patio and an outdoor play area made of synthetic grass turf with conga drums, grandioso chimes, wheelchair platform swing, a four-way accessible seesaw, drop shot, spinner, and more.
But perhaps what’s just as significant is that the new facilities provide the room and equipment needed for training.
“Where they were before,” Moore observes, “they did not have an adequate place to train people. This provides opportunities for people to go there and be trained on how to really minister to those with disabilities and their families.”
“This is a potential prototype that could go nationwide,” Wayne Huffman, senior director of Intercultural Ministries, says. “This is an incredible state-of-the-art facility birthed out of a family who has a son with disabilities and a passion to minister to families in similar situations.”
Butler says that the new R.E.S.T. Center will quadruple Ability Tree’s capacity to families, adding that the center has already seen an influx of families, a huge increase in volunteer applications, and many new faces who he says have been “blown away” by what the new facility offers.
Although the R.E.S.T. Center is designed specifically for kids with disabilities, Butler says that the center has drawn a lot of interest from kids without disabilities as well.
“We’re currently open five days a week, Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Fridays to 10 p.m.,” Butler says. “However, on Saturdays we’re open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to the community, where community kids of all abilities can come play.”
Butler explains that the new facility is designed to also be a resource and training center. He welcomes churches across the country who want to better include individuals with disabilities and their families into their ministry to connect with the R.E.S.T. Center.
Phase II of the R.E.S.T. Center — an indoor interactive treehouse — is slated to be started in April, while Phase III — the purchase of the adjacent property to build and provide housing for new missionary staff as well as expand the current gym, is still two years out.
Currently, Ability Tree has four locations: the national branch in Arkansas, two more branches in Florida, and a branch in New Jersey.
“Our desire is to see the Church become the most inclusive place on the planet,” Butler says, “and we hope to be a part of that.”
Source: AG News