The Bluebird Special Needs Bible Class at Rivermont Baptist Church turns 50 this weekend and will have an open house in the church’s main sanctuary at 11 a.m. Sunday.
The class, which meets at 10 a.m. and welcomes children and adults with special needs, has been a resource for families who had few or no other options to keep their children safe, entertained and educated. church.
“It touched a lot of lives,” said Rivermont Baptist elder Kerry Young. “Celebrating 50 years is an important milestone.”
Young said more than 130 students with special needs have passed through the classroom doors over the years.
“It’s still going strong,” said Young, whose father, the Reverend Jerry Young, helped start the program. “We are usually five, sometimes 10 people who come every Sunday.”
And then there are the volunteers who come every Sunday to help children and adults with their various needs.
“They’ve been faithful for 50 years and still are, and I’m impressed with their dedication and sacrifice to these kids,” Young said.
The class was the brainchild of Front Royal resident Arlene Keifer, who had a son with special needs and had been considering the idea of a church-based class for a few years until she learns that Rivermont Baptist had space to accommodate the program she was considering.
Several volunteers renovated two cinderblock storage rooms under the church, she recalled in a memoir she wrote about the Bluebird class in 2010.
Over the years, the class grew in size, while its teachers, many of whom had experience working or volunteering with the special needs community, nonetheless learned by trial and error.
The class is named after Avis Earley, a church member who submitted the winning submission in a naming contest, Keifer recalled in his book.
A similar class at the time in Alexandria was called the Robin class, named after the daughter of famous musical duo Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, who died as an infant of complications from Down syndrome.
Keifer wrote that her idea for a class in Front Royal came from the Robin class and that Earley also recalled this class when she suggested the class name Bluebird.
“It’s a wonderful ministry and there aren’t many ministries like this,” Young said. “We just hope that this ministry continues. We are trying to grow it. We are trying to involve more people in the ministry.
Some students are driven by their parents on Sundays, but many others are driven by program volunteers who now have a van to pick up students from class and drive them home afterwards.
“Many of them…it’s the highlight of their week,” Young said. “They come and there are all kinds of activities. People pay attention to it and it is a blessing.
Sunday’s celebration will include a special song presentation, a slideshow of photos from all the years, and a short video by Jerry Young.
Jerry Young, who is 90 and lives in North Carolina, will not be able to attend on Sunday, his son said.
But his presence will be missed, since he was pastor at Rivermont for 44 years.
“He was just starting to work well, then he retired,” his son said with a laugh.
Young said the community is invited to come out on Sunday and see what the program is up to.
“The 50th anniversary is not only an anniversary, but we also want to renew interest in the class,” he said.
Even among those who come to regular church services, he said, “Many people don’t realize all the blessings happening under their feet.”
Contact the church at 575 Catlett Mountain Road, Front Royal, by calling 540-635-5835 or visiting rivermontbaptistchurch.org.