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Every Saturday morning, I drive from Surrey to Vancouver for Bela. I’m just an aide, though, and only recently learned about Vanspec. Bela’s teacher has been commuting that same distance for the past two years. 

What wakes us up with a smile each Saturday is knowing that Bela is growing in love for our Lord. She lights up during class when listening to “Jesus Loves Me.” Her hands make a slapping sound when she prepares them to receive Communion. And each arts and crafts project she works on reinforces the core concepts of our shared Catholic faith. After her third year with her current teacher, Bela should be receiving the Sacraments of Reconciliation and First Communion! 

There is no better blessing than to witness the spiritual growth of a child. But to journey with a beautiful girl who happens to have Down Syndrome and autism is even more of a privilege. In just three months, Bella has taught me patience and resilience, humour and forgiveness. 

‘She gets upset for like ten seconds and then she’s over it,’ her mom explained. I find myself struggling to do what comes so naturally to Bella. She truly is God’s Christmas gift to all.

Serve and Be Served

Cecilia Cho, Teaching Assistant

It is my pleasure to write a testimonial for Vanspec. It is run by a group of dedicated and professional leaders, admin staff and volunteers whose primary focus is teaching their students and whose secondary focus is supporting each other as needed. The expectation is that every student will grow in self-esteem, spirituality, faith and the knowledge of the love of God, the life of Jesus, the Sacraments, the Holy Spirit and Our Blessed Mother. Each session begins with a prayer which sets the tone for the lesson.

At the first meeting at the beginning of each New Year the leaders and teachers go over the Vanspec prospectus and either learn, or recap, the requirements for ensuring the physical, emotional and educational needs of all staff and students. It is also an opportunity to familiarize them with the relevant available files, books, materials and activities. The many resources are clearly labelled and available for the students to learn and to make good quality and attractive models, pictures etc.

At Vanspec the ethos is peaceful, spiritual, active and fun. At the end of each session leaders, teachers and students meet to ‘show and tell’ what they have achieved during their lesson. This enables the students to feel confident, respected and valued as they do the same for each other. It is a joy to see children blossom as the year goes on and to journey with them to the Sacraments. Long may Vanspec continue to impart the faith so beautifully to little ones. God bless you.

Vanspec Ethos

Barbara Cook, Catechist

In the years that I have been involved in Vanspec, I have had the great pleasure of meeting many wonderful families and their amazing kids.  I have numerous great memories, but one stands out above all others.

In 2014, “D”, a young teen with Down Syndrome, was preparing for his First Communion.  The day had arrived for his First Reconciliation. His teacher had been ‘practicing’ with him; going over what the priest might ask, making sure that “D” knew how to respond and ensuring that he was not too nervous. As they walked down the hallway to the Vanspec chapel, his teacher asked him if he was ready. “D” gave her a very confident “thumbs up” and from his back pocket, pulled out a Superman cape. 

 He tied it at his neck and proceeded into the chapel to meet the Vanspec Chaplain.  Our Director at the time, Sr. Kathy Stark, looked at me and we both started to tear up.  His teacher and his mom, who had no idea about the cape, were speechless.

To this day, that image of a confident young man is his Superman cape still makes me smile and tear up. He is a true superhero!

A Different Kind of Superhero

Mena Sanders, Administrative Assistant

“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, where !?” was on the lips of each beaming student as they danced their way out of Our Lady of Sorrows Church, making their way to Vanspec Summer Camp. What an exciting adventure!

In 2010,  I became a part of this joyful family when Sr. Beth Ann asked me to help out for a few weeks. I made it clear to her as long as it was “only a few weeks”.  Those few weeks stretched out to 7 years of fun, friendships and spiritual growth both for me and for my students.

My first student was Christian whom I prepared for his ‘First Holy Communion’.  He had this beautiful smile every time we talked about the Eucharist.  He understood that the Eucharist was truly the Body of  Christ.  I will never forget the time I taught him to receive the host.  When I  held up an un-consecrated host  and said, “ The Body of Christ”. He replied,  “Amen! ” With a beautiful smile on his face he picked up the host and placed it in his mouth while beaming from ear to ear.  That smile was the greatest “Thank-you” a student can give a teacher.

Each child is different and brings his/her own strengths into the class. There is the joy and child-like innocence that radiates from them. They have taught me to ‘just be in the moment and take one step at a time’. Teaching at Vanspec is a joy and I can truly say that it has taught me patience and understanding. 

Vanspec has also given me the opportunity to channel my love for craft-work into my lesson plans. Every week I look forward to creating something fun with the students while teaching the faith. So just come and join us in singing  “I’ve got the joy…down in my heart” and together we can bring the love of God to these special children.

The Joy of Teaching Vanspec

Dorothy Lee, Catechist
Vanspec has been a wonderful program for our daughter, Mary.  She has been involved since she began Grade 1 in 1995. Sister Beth Ann welcomed us so warmly and I never minded all those years of driving over to Vancouver to the Vanspec Centre to take Mary for her lesson. 
Along with Mary came high school girls from St. Thomas Aquinas High School who either taught or assisted teachers at the Vanspec Centre. My van was always full. I would spend the hour in the chapel and have my quiet time to pray and then drive everyone home.  Later on Sr. Beth Ann managed to get our teenage son, Patrick, to come along as a counsellor to camp, which he did for 4 summers. 
There were so many fundraisers during those years to raise money for the program and camp including the dinner/dances, car washes, craft fairs,  raffle ticket sales etc.  The highlight was the 7 course Italian meal which was part of the dinner dance held in November. That’s where we raised most of the funds for the following summer’s camp.  So many of our close friends came out and supported the event which has left many happy memories for all of us.  Of course, there were so many Christmas parties and nativity pageants also performed in our Our Lady of Sorrows gym.
Vanspec has played a huge part in Mary’s life and our family life over the years and I will always be grateful that Mary made her First Holy Communion and Confirmation with the help of the dedicated, volunteer teachers.

The sisters of St. Mary of Providence will be so missed!

Photo provided by Margot MacLaughlin for Vanspec

A Wonderful Program for Our Daughter

Margot McLaughlin, Parent

A chance encounter at a catechist workshop was where I first learned of Vanspec, at the time administered by the Daughters of St Mary of Providence fostering faith enrichment to individuals with special needs.  Upon my request to visit the center, Sr Rhonda Brown referred me to contact Sr Kathy Stark who showed me around the Main center, soon afterwards I volunteered.  The Sisters had all returned to their base in USA due to personnel shortage, and since September 2017, the Coordinator, Lucy Rodjito, is at the helm of this ministry under Education and Formation Ministries and Outreach Office of the Archdiocese of Vancouver.

The individual whom I was assigned, was eager and forthcoming to introduce herself upon first contact.  She garnered a unique presence with her persistence to practice her needs and to proclaim, “I did it!” at her achievements.  Her mother fervently brings her to the Main center once a week rain or snow, where we would revisit activities and to expand where appropriate to fit her learning skills corresponding to the Liturgical calendar.  And she has no hesitation when reminded that: “Jesus loves…… (she confidently claims) ………ME!”  Along with other individuals with their respective activities, I am inspired and reassured of God’s love for his children during the show and tell period before they leave for the day.  Being conscious of her mother providing 24/7 nurturing needs to her daughter, I am mindful of my student who has internalized over time, our one on one interactive routine, as such, our lesson time simultaneously allows her mother the respite away from caregiving knowing her daughter is engaged in a safe environment.  Punctuality is part of my commitment:  to get ready before they arrive on Saturday mornings at the center.   We are many parts but we are One Body (1 Cor. 12:12).  Volunteering is a passage of reflective encounters certain to enlighten an ongoing faith formation of the true presence of God reverently revealed and recognized.  It is no coincidence our friend with special needs is given the name by her parents, “Faith”.……, the gift of life.

The One-to-One

Mildred Briones, Catechist

The Eucharist is the centre of our lives as Catholics, and it has become the foundation of my life as a Christian and as a Religious Sister. Jesus truly present in the Eucharist gives us the strength to continue to accept God’s daily invitation to follow in His footsteps. Prayer, Adoration, and the Sacraments are the precious means given to us to help us hear His call and to say “yes.” If He calls, say Yes!

If He calls say “Yes”!

Sr. Rhonda Brown, DSMP

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