Palmer Family Church Ministers to Those with Special Needs

Palmer Family Church Ministers to Those with Special Needs

By Rev. Ryan Nelson, NDI Disability Ministry Coordinator | 18 Mar 2024

Disabled Playground

As the USA/Canada Region begins work blessing our communities, I felt it would be encouraging to share the work of one of our churches in Palmer, Alaska. Pastor Joe Parreira and his congregation were able to bless their community with a playground designed for individuals with special needs. After speaking with Pastor Joe and the Palmer Family Church of the Nazarene administrative director, Amy O’Brien, I felt the need to share what God has done and how he has worked through this church and community. This article will share how the church came up with the idea of a specially designed playground and how Palmer Family COTN was able to make it a reality.

              Palmer Family Church hosted an event called Night to Shine, which is a prom for people with special needs. We, at Palmer Family Church of the Nazarene, have hosted this event in the last two Februarys. Night to Shine is a worldwide event sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation. This event has brought an overwhelming response from the community. Family members and care givers of people with special needs are so grateful that they get to experience the love and support from the community.

Out of this response, we knew that we needed to create a permanent local community space that embodied all the goodness that came from Night to Shine. We have over 12,000 people in our community with special needs, so having an outdoor recreation opportunity for this population and their caregivers was a need. None of the parks in our community were designed to be accessible or inclusive for individuals with special needs. Palmer Family Park is something we created to help our community members with special needs feel included. The park also bridges a gap so people of all abilities are playing and interacting side by side. 

We were able to create community partnerships through the Night to Shine events, where we learned more about the needs of our community (like the park). These partnerships also taught us what a park would need to have in order to be inclusive and accessible. Palmer Family Park is the first inclusive and accessible park in our area, which means it’s inclusive of people of all abilities and also accessible for anyone who uses a mobility device. 

The park is estimated to see approximately 8,000 visitors a year. On warm weather days, the park has hosted around 50 people at the park at any given time between 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. We continue to see many visitors each day. Palmer Family Park features equipment that isn’t available at any other park in Alaska — specifically the We-Go-Round, which is like a merry-go-round that is wheel chair accessible. We also have restrooms, benches, and a pavilion. The entire park is fully fenced as well. We often hear that this park is like a "lower 48” park. The project cost came in at just over one million dollars and took many funders to make it possible. We praise God that the park is completely paid off. 

We often hear stories about park visitors and their family members who have special needs who are getting to play and enjoy an outdoor space. Some of these visitors have never been able to participate recreationally before. The relaxed and fun atmosphere of the park invites visitors to stay longer. We have had local school buses with students who have special needs come to play and local assisted living homes come to visit as well. 

In addition to Palmer Family Park, Palmer Family Church of the Nazarene has a partnership with the local high school. Through this partnership, Palmer Family COTN is able to bring in local high school students with special needs who work at the church to gain work experience. Pastor Joe and the leadership team at Palmer Family COTN assign these students with tasks to complete as part of this partnership.

I am proud of the work that Palmer Family Church of the Nazarene has been able to accomplish with the Lord’s leading. I look forward to what God has in store for this congregation as they continue to pray and seek ways to serve those in their community. Please join me in praying for Pastor Joe and his congregation as they pray and dream of their next steps in blessing individuals of all abilities.


              Rev. Ryan Nelson

              Disability Ministry Coordinator

              Church of the Nazarene