The Hays Daily News

On Saturday afternoon, several members of Celebration Community Church hosted a Valentine's Day party for the residents of Via Christi Village, 2225 Canterbury.

"This group is a group of individuals with developmental disabilities that attend Celebration Community Church," said leader Connie Holloway. "It's an active group that does a lot of community activities and a lot of activities with the church. It's just a group of individuals that's sharing their love for Christ with everyone they meet. They love being able to go out in the community to do activities."

The group just completed a yearlong fundraising campaign for Heifer International, in which they raised approximately $1,400 for farm animals the organization uses to help poverty-stricken communities throughout the world.

Heifer International works with communities to end world hunger and poverty. According to its website, the organization links communities and helps bring sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty.

Holloway said one of the biggest benefits to these community outreach events is overcoming the stereotypes individuals with intellectual disabilities have in society.

"I think it's an overall awareness that the community can see the individuals out there," she said. "Just because they have a disability does not make them different from any other church member, and it helps them to be a part of the community and feel a part of the community and not be separated."

The members of the small group paired with residents of Via Christi for Valentine-themed crafts, games and refreshments. While they participated in the various activities, members of the small group and the residents were able to socialize.

"The individuals that you see today, the residents of Via Christi, are intermingling with them, and it's just a way they can share their faith," Holloway said about the members of the small group. "I mean, they are out there sharing their faith with all of God's children."

One of the group members, Ryan Hoag was paired with Via Christi resident Mabel Schmidt.

"My favorite part about small group is helping and serving God," he said. "I like helping people like this and helping with (Vacation Bible School)."

Another group member, Jessica Boeckner, echoed Hoag's thoughts.

"My favorite part about the group is going out and doing all this stuff for all the residents," she said. "It gives me something to do."

Started three years ago, the group meets every Sunday after Celebration's 10 a.m. worship service for Bible study and fellowship. Celebration Community Church, 5790 230th Ave., hosts five weekly services.

"My favorite part is seeing them blossom, seeing them grow stronger in their faith because we not only just do community activities, but every Sunday when we have small group, we are talking about the message that the pastor has given that Sunday," Holloway said. "We're learning the Bible, and we're learning what it means to be a Christian and living a Christian life."