When Rev. Jeff Duke found out that a young member of Covenant United Methodist Church with mild Asperser’s Syndrome liked to draw, he approached the child's mother with the idea of drawing with him.
Duke ultimately reached out to an organization called Families Helping Families and to Autism Society of Greater New Orleans for guidance and direction on how to instruct the child. This inquiry grew into a community painting project for persons living with autism.
During fall and spring lessons and weekly summer art camps, participants gather at the Chalmette church to paint and to be in an environment where they are free to be themselves. A completed painting is used as a guide, and each painter is assigned a volunteer or a parent to work with them. A canvas, easel, paints and brushes are provided to participants with a sketch pre-drawn on the canvas. Currently, participants in the program range from in age from seven to 38, with a range of functionality with their autism.
During weekly sessions, the paintings are kept at Covenant UMC; after the last session, the art is auctioned during a celebration with food, music and fun. Best of all, the artists get to keep the money from the sale of their artwork.
As an outgrowth of the painting project, the church is launching a worship service for persons with special needs on April 22. "It was during conversations with the parents that I began hearing about the struggles that people were having fitting into a local church," said Rev. Duke. "Many of the people haven’t been to church in several years because of challenges with sitting in a typical worship setting. This new worship service will be geared specifically to them, with a very experiential and creative approach. It will be a place where they are free to draw close to Jesus Christ--and will be open to anyone who wants to try something different."