ST. CHARLES – One look at the lovable face of Steele the labradoodle and Missouri Baptist children were put right at ease.
“We like to hang around at check-in because many of the kiddos are anxious and Steele will get them excited, or at least a little distracted, to go into the childcare room,” said Ann Stevenson, Disaster Relief (DR) volunteer, member of First Baptist Church, Richland, and Steele’s handler.
Steele is a professional therapy dog and has been part of the Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief team, along with Stevenson, for two years. The pair was part of a team of 18 DR volunteers who provided free childcare to the messengers who attended the 2016 Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Annual Meeting Oct. 24-26 here. The team served 30 pre-registered children ages 0-7.
Christa Bertram, member of Southside Baptist Church in Fulton and mother of three boys ages 5, 4, and 1, utilized the childcare provided despite being hesitant at first.
“My four-year-old has some sensory processing issues so I never know how he might react to a situation,” Bertram said.
But after contacting Angie Hurd, childcare coordinator for Missouri Baptist DR, Bertram was reassured that DR volunteers are trained to handle children going through traumatic events and who have a variety of needs.
“I felt very confident that all my boys would be in excellent care with them,” she said. “And it’s been an awesome experience. They call it ‘children’s church.’ They’ve had a wonderful time and were excited to go back each day. Oh, and of course they can’t stop talking about how great (Steele) the dog is.”
Hurd said this is the first year her team has provided childcare during the MBC’s annual meeting, though they have helped at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in the past.
“I’ve always wanted to do it, but this year was the first year we were asked to do it,” Hurd said. “I was excited to offer this to our young families.”
And Hurd said the childcare ministry is not just free babysitting.
“We have games and crafts, Bible stories and music time and our volunteers are gifted in those areas,” she said. “We know that kids who are away from their families—and this is especially important in a disaster situation, need routine, even if it’s a new routine.”
Many of the childcare volunteers are retired teachers who have always felt called to minister to children while others fell in love with this ministry “on the job.”
“We have four men working on our team and it’s just so neat to see them grab a truck and start playing,” Hurd said. “I think sometimes women need to have things just so and I’m thankful for our guys who are just ready to get on with it and play.”
And Steele, who is a certified chaplain through Canine Assistance Rehabilitation Education and Services (CARES, Inc.), only added to the fun and DR’s qualified volunteers.
“Steele can sense the emotionally neediest person in the room and go sit by them,” Stevenson said. “He does it with the children he senses need him the most. He has a way of making everyone feel at ease and important. This animal’s unconditional love is so similar to God’s love for us. Steele just loves others. That’s his ministry.”
For more information about how to join the Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief Childcare team, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Dwain Carter, Disaster Relief Strategist, 573-636-0400 ext.314.
For more information about Steele or to schedule him for a public speaking event, like his page on Facebook under “Steele, the Professional Therapy Dog.”