If you are taking a walk in your neighborhood and see someone in an inflatable alligator costume, don’t be alarmed. It’s just Sam Roach, sharing love with his friends.
For the past several weeks, Roach, a Southeast Christian Church and Shine Disabilities Ministry member, and his community living support specialist BJ Levis have been traveling around the Louisville area, delivering baked goods and smiles to members of Southeast’s Hope class.
Hope is a class for adults with disabilities that meets Sundays. Each week, Levis and other volunteers teach the message of Southeast’s most recent sermon in an engaging, approachable way. Levis, who leads the class, had the idea to deliver cookies to class members shortly after the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order was issued.
“Sam and I were just looking for something productive to do,” Levis said. “I love to cook and bake, and Sam was eager to learn.”
Levis, 56, and Roach, 24, baked sugar cookies and decorated them to look like facemask-wearing emoticons. They packed Levis’ car and drove around to each Hope class member’s house, dropping off the cookies and an encouraging card on their front porches.
“It was pretty funny, honestly,” Levis said. “We would drop cookies off, ring the doorbell or knock, then sprint back to the car.”
Soon, baking cookies wasn’t enough. Around Easter, Roach had the idea to dress up as the Easter Bunny and wave and dance for his friends in their front yards.
“It was so much fun,” Levis said. “People from all over the neighborhood were coming outside to see what we were doing. There were families who wanted to get a photo with Sam, from six feet away, of course.”
“I got to make other people smile,” Roach added. “And I love dressing up in costumes.”
The Easter Bunny costume was such a hit, Roach stepped it up a notch and donned an inflatable alligator costume. The pair also organized drive-bys for class members’ birthdays and have written dozens of cards for Hope class members, hospital workers and church leaders.
Soon, Levis challenged others to join in.
“During one of our Shine Ministry Zoom meetings, I was leading the devotion and challenged people to write letters and cards to anyone they knew who worked in a hospital,” Levis said. “Before I knew it, guys from the Hope class were writing letters to doctors and nurses who have helped them. Some wrote letters to Kroger employees, thanking them for their hard work. It just blew me away.”
For Levis and Roach, baking for their friends was just a fun thing they could do to help people feel loved. But in the last couple of months, they have learned that small gestures make a big difference.
“We’ve gotten so many photos from people, taking bites out of cookies, smiling with their note cards,” Levis said. “It’s blessed us to know that they feel loved. This season has been even more isolating for a group of families who already feel isolated in many ways. I’m grateful to be able to do something that helps us feel connected.”
During COVID-19, the Hope class has been meeting over Zoom. Levis said that physical separation has not kept God from meeting class members where they are. In fact, meeting virtually has helped the class grow.
“In the past, when we were meeting at the Blankenbaker Campus, there were several people who weren’t able to attend class for various reasons,” Levis said. “But since we’ve started meeting over Zoom, we’ve actually added about five or six new people. Some didn’t even go to a church before, but were so excited to be able to join us on Zoom. They’ve been great additions to our class, and I’m grateful we get to love them and get to know them.”
Roach enjoys spending time with Levis so much, he even requested to change his last name to Levis.
“I love making deliveries and spending time with BJ,” he said. “She’s like a mom to me. I think she’s amazing.”
In the years Levis and Roach have spent together, Levis has seen much spiritual growth in her friend.
“When I met Sam, he would never read the Bible or pray out loud, but now he’s always volunteering,” Levis said. “He always starts his prayers with, ‘Hey, God. It’s me, Sam,’ and I love that. He has a genuine, personal connection with God, and he not only gets it, but he and so many others in our class live it out. I’ve loved seeing that grow in all of them.”
Though ministry looks different now, Levis is grateful for every opportunity she has to share God’s love with someone.
“I think it makes Sam and me smile even more than the people on the receiving end,” she said. “We’re just vessels sharing God’s love.”
To connect to the Hope class, contact Levis at firstname.lastname@example.org.